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The Evolution Of Consciousness – Are All Creatures Conscious?

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Before we can begin to consider the evolution of consciousness, we have to ask when consciousness first arose. Are human beings alone conscious, or are other creatures also conscious? Is an animal such as a dog, for example, conscious?

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Dogs may not be aware of many of the things we are aware of. They are not conscious of much beyond their immediate world, the world defined by the span of their senses. They know nothing of lands beyond the oceans, or the space beyond the earth. Nor can dogs be aware of much beyond the present time.

They know nothing of the course of history, or where it might be headed. They are not aware of their inevitable death in the same way that we are. They do not think to themselves in words, and they probably do not reason as we do. And they do not seem to have the self-awareness that we do; they certainly do not get caught up in concern for their own self-image, with all the strange behaviors that engenders. But this does not mean that dogs have no awareness at all.

Dogs experience the world of their senses. They see, hear, smell, and taste their world. They remember where they have been. They recognize sounds. They may like some people or things, and dislike others. Dogs sometimes show fear, and at other times excitement. When asleep, they appear to dream, feet and toes twitching as if on the scent of some fantasy rabbit. They clearly are not just a biological mechanism, devoid of any inner experience. To suggest that they are not conscious is absurd — as absurd as suggesting that my neighbor across the street is not conscious.

Where dogs differ from us is not in their capacity for consciousness but in what they are conscious of. Dogs may not be self-aware, and may not think or reason as we do. In these respects they are less aware than we are. On the other hand, dogs can hear higher frequencies of sound than we do, and their sense of smell far surpasses our own. In terms of their sensory perception of the world around, dogs may be considered more aware than humans.

A useful analogy for understanding the nature of consciousness is that of a painting. The picture itself corresponds to the contents of consciousness; the canvas on which it is painted corresponds to the faculty of consciousness. An infinite variety of pictures can be painted on the canvas; but whatever the pictures, they all share the fact that they are painted on a canvas. Without the canvas there would be no painting.

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The pictures that are painted on the canvas of consciousness take many forms. They include our perceptions of the world around, our thoughts, our ideas, our beliefs, our values, our feelings, our emotions, our hopes, our fears, our intuitions, our dreams and fantasies — and more. But none of this would be possible if we did not in the first place possess the capacity for consciousness. Without it there would be no subjective experience of any kind.

Are All Creatures Conscious?

If dogs have the faculty of consciousness, then by the same argument so must cats, horses, deer, dolphins, whales, and other mammals. Why else would we require veterinarians to use anesthetics?

If mammals are conscious beings, then I see no reason to suppose birds are any different. Some parrots I have known seem as conscious as dogs. If birds have the capacity for consciousness, then it seems natural to assume that so do other vertebrates — alligators, snakes, frogs, salmon, and sharks. What they are conscious of may vary considerably. Dolphins “see” the world with sonar; snakes sense infrared radiation; sharks feel with electric senses. The pictures that are painted in their minds may vary considerably; but, however varied their experiences, they all share the faculty of consciousness.

Where do we draw the line? At vertebrates? The nervous systems of insects may not be as complex as ours, and they probably do not have as rich an experience of the world as we do. They also have very different senses, so the picture that is painted in their minds may be totally unlike ours. But I see no reason to doubt that insects have inner experiences of some kind.

How far down do we go? It seems probable to me that any organism that is sensitive in some way to its environment has a degree of interior experience. Many single-celled organisms are sensitive to physical vibration, light intensity, or heat. Who are we to say they do not have a corresponding degree of consciousness?

Would the same apply to viruses and DNA? Even to crystals and atoms? The philosopher Alfred North Whitehead argued that consciousness goes all the way down. He saw it as an intrinsic property of creation.

Consciousness & Biological Evolution

If all creatures are conscious in some way or other, then consciousness is not something that evolved with human beings, or with primates, mammals or any other particular degree of biological evolution. It has always existed. What emerged over the course of evolution were the various qualities and dimensions of conscious experience — the contents of consciousness.

The first simple organisms — bacteria and algae — having no senses, were aware in only the most rudimentary way: no form, no structure, just the vaguest glimmer of awareness. Their picture of the world is nothing but an extremely dim smudge of color — virtually nothing, compared to the richness and detail of human experience.

peterrussellWhen multicellular organisms evolved, so did this sensing capacity. Cells emerged that specialized in sensing light, vibration, pressure, or changes in chemistry. These cells formed sensory organs, and as they developed, the ability to take in information increased. Eyes are not only sensitive to light; they react differently to different frequencies, and can tell from which direction the light is coming. The faintest smudge of the bacterium’s experience had begun to take on different hues and shapes. Forms had begun to emerge on the canvas of consciousness.

Nervous systems evolved, processing this data and distributing it to other parts of the organism. Before long, the flow of information required a central processing system, and with it a more integrated picture of the world appeared. As brains evolved, new features were added to consciousness. With reptiles the limbic system appeared, an area of the brain associated with emotion. Feeling had been added.

In birds and mammals the nervous system grew yet more complex, developing a cortex around it. With the cortex came other new abilities. A dog chasing a cat around a corner holds some image in its mind of the cat it can no longer see. Creatures with a cortex have memory and recognition; they can pay attention and show intention.

With primates the cortex grew into the larger, more complex neo-cortex, adding yet more features to consciousness. The most significant of these was the ability to use symbols. Not only did this ability enable simple reasoning, it also led to a new form of communication — symbolic language.

Chimpanzees and gorillas may not be able to speak as we do, but this is not because they lack something in their brains; they lack a voice. They have no larynx, or voice-box, and cannot move their tongues as freely as we can. But they can use other forms of symbolic language. When taught sign language, such as that used by the deaf, they show a remarkable ability to communicate. Coco, a gorilla in California, now has a vocabulary of more than a thousand words, and composes sentences in sign language.

Language & Consciousness

For one reason or another, human beings evolved slightly differently. We have a well-developed voice-box, and after the first year of life the tongue frees up, permitting the complex sounds necessary for speech. With these two seemingly small advances, everything changed.

Being able to speak allows us to share our experiences with each other. Whereas a dog learns principally from its own experience, and builds up its knowledge of the world from scratch, we can learn from each other. We can build up a body of collective knowledge and pass it on from one generation to another — the foundation of a cohesive society.

This new ability has expanded our consciousness in several ways. Our experience of space expanded as we learnt of events beyond our immediate sensory environment. And as we learnt of events that had happened before our own lives, our experience of time expanded.

As well as using speech to communicate with each other, we can also use it to communicate with ourselves, inside our own minds. We can think to ourselves in words. Of all the developments that came from language, this has probably been the most significant.

Thinking allows us to conjure up associations to past experiences. When we think of the word “tree,” images of trees readily come to mind. Or if we think of a person’s name, we may find ourselves remembering past experiences with that person. Other creatures may well experience associations to past experiences, but their associations are almost certainly determined by their immediate environment; what is out of sight is out of mind. Thought liberated human beings from this constraint. We can deliberately bring the past back to mind, independently of what is happening in the present.

In a similar way, thinking expanded our appreciation of the future. We can think about what might or might not happen, make plans and take decisions. A new inner freedom had been born — the freedom to choose our future and so exercise a much greater influence over our lives.

Thinking in words opened our minds to reason. We could ask questions: Why do stars move? How do our bodies function? What is matter? A whole new dimension had been added to our consciousness — understanding. We could form hypotheses and beliefs about the world in which we found ourselves.

We could also begin to understand ourselves. We could think about our own conscious experience. We became aware not only of the many aspects and qualities of our consciousness, but also of the faculty of consciousness. We are aware that we are aware — conscious of the fact that we are conscious.

Consciousness could now reflect not only upon the nature of the world it experienced, but also on the nature of consciousness itself. Self-reflective consciousness had emerged.

Self-Consciousness

As we reflect upon our own consciousness, it seems that there must be an experiencer — an individual self that is having these experiences, making all these decisions, and thinking all these thoughts. But what is this self? What is it really like? What does it consist of?

Questions such as these have intrigued and puzzled philosophers for centuries. Some, like the Scottish philosopher David Hume, spent much time searching within their experience for something that seemed to be the true self. But all they could find were various thoughts, sensations, images and feelings. However hard we look, we never seem to find the self itself.

Not finding an easily identifiable self at the core of our being, we look to other aspects of our lives for a sense of identity. We identify with our bodies, with how they look, how they are dressed, and how they are perceived by other people. We identify with what we do and what we have achieved; with our work, our social status, our academic qualifications, where we live and who we know. We derive a sense of who we are from what we think, our theories and beliefs, our personality and character.

There is, however, a severe drawback to such a sense of self. Being derived from what is happening in the world of experience, it is forever at the mercy of events. A person who draws a strong sense of identity from their work may, on hearing that their job is threatened, feel their sense of self is threatened.

Someone else, who identifies with being fashionably dressed, may buy a new set of clothes every time the fashion changes, not because they need new clothes, but because their sense of self needs to be maintained. Or if we identify with our views and beliefs we may take a criticism of our ideas to be a criticism of our self.

Any threat to our sense of self triggers fear. Fear is of great value if our physical self is being threatened. Then we need to have our heart beat hard, our blood pressure rise, and our muscles tense. Our survival may depend on it. But this response is totally inappropriate when all that is being threatened is our psychological self.

Having our bodies repeatedly put on full alert is a principal cause of stress. We can easily end up in a permanent state of tension, opening us up to all manner of physical illnesses. Our emotional life may suffer, leading to anxiety or depression. Our thinking and decision making can likewise deteriorate.

Fear also leads to worry. We worry about what others might be thinking of us. We worry about what we have done or not done, and about what might or might not happen to us. When we worry like this, our attention is caught up in the past or the future. It is not experiencing the present moment.

Perhaps the saddest irony of all is that this worry prevents us from finding that which we are really seeking. The goal of every person is, in the final analysis, a comfortable state of mind. Quite naturally, we want to avoid pain and suffering, and feel more at peace. But a mind that is busy worrying cannot be a mind that is at peace.

Other animals, not having language, do not think to themselves in words, and do not experience many of the worries that we do. In particular, they do not experience all the worries that come from having a vulnerable sense of self. They are probably at peace much more of the time. Human beings may have made a great leap forward in consciousness, but at our present stage of development we are no happier for it — quite the opposite.

Transcending Language

There is, it would appear, a downside to language. Language is invaluable for sharing knowledge and experience — without it human culture would never have arisen. And thinking to ourselves in words can be very useful when we need to focus our attention, analyze a situation, or make plans. But much of the remainder of our thinking is totally unnecessary.

If half my attention is taken up with the voice in my head, that half is not available for noticing other things. I don’t notice what is going on around me. I don’t hear the sounds of birds, the wind, or creaking trees. I don’t notice my emotions, or how my body feels. I am, in effect, only half-conscious.

Just because we have the gift of being able to think in words does not mean that we have to do it all the time. Many spiritual teachings seem to have recognized this. In Buddhism, for example, students are often advised to sit with a quiet mind, experiencing “what is” without naming it in words or putting it into some category — to see a daffodil as it is, without the labels “daffodil,” “flower,” “yellow” or “pretty.” To see it with the mind in its natural state, before language was added to our consciousness.

Sat Chit Ananda

Returning the mind to this simple pre-linguistic state of consciousness is not easy. A lifetime of conditioning makes it hard to stop thinking and let go. This is why many spiritual teachings include practices of meditation designed to quieten the voice in the head, and bring us to a state of inner stillness. In Indian philosophy, this state is called samadhi, “still mind.”

Furthermore, it is said that when the mind is still, then one knows the real self, and the nature of this self is, according to the ancient Vedic teachings, sat-chit-ananda.

It is sat — “the truth, unchanging, eternal, being.” It is always there, whatever our experience. It never changes. It is not a unique self; it has no personal qualities. It is the same for everyone. It is the one undeniable truth — the fact that we are conscious.

It is chit — “consciousness.” It is not any particular form or mode of consciousness, but the faculty of consciousness. It is that which makes all experience possible.

And it is ananda — “bliss.” It is the peace that passeth all understanding, that lies beyond all thought. It is the state of grace to which we long to return; from which we fell when we began to fill our minds with words.

This is the self that we have been seeking all along. The reason we have had such difficulty finding it was that we have been looking in the wrong place. We have been looking for something that could be experienced — a feeling, a sense, an idea. Yet the self cannot be an experience. It is, by definition, that which is experiencing. It is behind every experience, behind everything I see, think, and feel.

What the mystical traditions around the world seem to be saying is that the self, that sense of I-ness that we all feel, but which is so hard to pin down or define, is actually consciousness itself. The pure self is pure consciousness — the faculty of awareness common to all sentient beings.

Moreover, when we come to know this to be our true essential nature, our search for identity ends. No longer is there any need to buy things we don’t really need, say things we don’t really mean, or engage in any other unnecessary and inappropriate activities in order to reinforce an artificially derived sense of self. Now we discover a deeper inner security, one that is independent of circumstances and events. Here is the peace we have long been seeking. It is right here inside us, at the heart of our being. But as with the self, we have been looking for it in the wrong place — in the world around.

Our Evolutionary Imperative

With the advent of human beings, the awakening of consciousness took a huge leap forward. Consciousness began becoming aware of itself. But at present this leap is only partially complete. We may be self-aware, but we have not yet discovered the true nature and potential of consciousness. In this respect our inner evolution has some way to go.

Throughout history there have been those who have evolved inwardly to higher states of consciousness. They are the saints and mystics who have realized the true nature of the self. Such people are examples of what we each have the potential to become. There is nothing special about them in terms of their biology. They are human beings, just like you and me, with similar bodies and similar nervous systems. The only difference is that they have liberated themselves from a limited, artificially derived sense of identity and discovered a greater peace and security within.

In the past the number of people who made this step was small, but the times we are living through make it imperative that many more of us now complete our inner evolutionary journey into full wakefulness.

The many crises that we see around us — global warming, desertification, holes in the ozone layer, disappearing rainforests, polluted rivers, acid rain, dying dolphins, large-scale famine, a widening gap between the “haves” and the “have nots,” nuclear proliferation, over-exploitation, and a host of other dangers — all stem in one way or another from human self-centeredness. Time and again we find decisions being made not according to the merits of the situation at hand, but according to the needs of the individual or special interest groups. Governments strive to hold on to power, businesses seek to maximize profit, leaders want to retain their status, and consumers around the world try to satisfy their own needs for identity and security. In the final analysis, it is our need to protect and reinforce an ever-faltering sense of self that leads us to consume more than we need, pollute the world around, abuse other peoples, and show a careless disregard for the many other species sharing our planetary home.

Even now, when we recognize that we are in great danger, we fail to take appropriate remedial action. We continue driving our cars, consuming dwindling resources, and throwing our waste into the sea because to do otherwise would inconvenience ourselves.

The global crisis now facing us is, at its root, a crisis of consciousness. The essence of any crisis, whether it be a personal crisis, a political crisis, or, as in this case, a global crisis, is that the old way of functioning is no longer working. Something new is being called for. In this case the old way that is no longer working is our mode of consciousness. The old mode is destroying the world around us, and threatening the survival of our species. The time has come to evolve into a new mode. We need to wake up to our true identity, to make the step that many saints and mystics have already made, and discover for ourselves the peace and security that lie at our core.

With the advent of human beings, evolution has ceased to be a blind affair governed by random genetic mutations. A new degree of freedom has appeared; we can think ahead and determine our own future. Our further evolution is now in our own hands — or rather, in our own minds.

Our next step is to rise beyond the handicaps that came with the gift of language and discover who we really are. Then, free from the need to reinforce an artificially derived sense of identity, we will be able to act in accord with our true needs — and with the needs of others and the needs of our environment.

Relieved of unnecessary fears, we will be in a much better state to cope with the many changes that we will undoubtedly see over the coming years. Liberated from unnecessary self-centeredness, we will be free to care for each other, to offer others the love we so much want for ourselves. And we will be in a much better position to build a new world — one that is not so driven by this halfway stage in the unfolding of self-consciousness.

Our task is to manifest this change on earth, now — both for our own sakes and for the sake of every other creature.

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Consciousness

Parables For The New Conversation (Chapter 13: The Marriage)

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The following is a chapter from my book ‘Parables For The New Conversation.’ One chapter will be published every Sunday for 36 weeks here on Collective Evolution. (I would recommend you start with Chapter 1 if you haven’t already read it.) I hope my words are a source of enjoyment and inspiration for you, the reader. If perchance you would like to purchase a signed paperback copy of the book, you can do so on my production company website Pandora’s Box Office.

From the back cover: “Imagine a conversation that centers around possibility—the possibility that we can be more accepting of our own judgments, that we can find unity through our diversity, that we can shed the light of our love on the things we fear most. Imagine a conversation where our greatest polarities are coming together, a meeting place of East and West, of spirituality and materialism, of religion and science, where the stage is being set for a collective leap in consciousness more magnificent than any we have known in our history.

Now imagine that this conversation honors your uniqueness and frees you to speak from your heart, helping you to navigate your way more deliberately along your distinct path. Imagine that this conversation puts you squarely into the seat of creator—of your fortunes, your relationships, your life—thereby putting the fulfillment of your deepest personal desires well within your grasp.

‘Parables for the New Conversation’ is a spellbinding odyssey through metaphor and prose, personal sagas and historic events, where together author and reader explore the proposal that at its most profound level, life is about learning to consciously manifest the experiences we desire–and thus having fun. The conversation touches on many diverse themes but always circles back to who we are and how our purposes are intertwined, for it is only when we see that our personal desires are perfectly aligned with the destiny of humanity as a whole that we will give ourselves full permission to enjoy the most exquisite experiences life has to offer.”

13. The Marriage

On the patio of the village restaurant on the island of Allandon, the restaurant chef and the village florist sat uncomfortably on a hot afternoon waiting for their children to arrive. The daughter of the florist was to marry the son of the chef, and the two women, who had not met previously, both felt it was important to all get together to set the wedding arrangements in motion.

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“Where are those two?” asked the florist.

“No sense of responsibility, their generation,” said the chef.

After a few more minutes of uncomfortable silence, the chef said, “Well, let me be the first to welcome you into our family.”

“No, no, it is I who welcome you into our family,” replied the florist.

They gazed out towards the East Beach and still saw no signs of their children.

“Well, perhaps we might start,” said the florist.

“Yes, we should,” replied the chef.

“I will be happy to help you select an appropriate gift for your son to give me,” said the florist.

“Gift?” asked the chef.

“Yes, during the ceremony the groom is joined with the bride after his gift to her mother is accepted,” the florist said.

“You mean the groom is joined with the bride after her father walks her down the aisle and gives her away,” quipped the chef.   “There is no aisle,” said the florist. “It is more of an open space, so there is room for the drummers—and the chickens.”

“Chickens?” the chef responded. “Do you think this is a wedding or a circus?”

Just then the chef’s son plopped down on an empty chair beside them, surfboard in hand and wearing only a bathing suit. “The circus sounds fun,” he said.

“You’re wet!” said the chef.

“And you’re late,” said the florist.

“I know,” said the florist’s daughter, who leaned her surfboard against the wall. “The ocean was so perfect, it just kept pulling us back in.”

“Be serious,” said the chef. “We are having some problems with the wedding arrangements.”

“How can there be problems?” asked the boy laughing. “You cook the meal and she’ll arrange the flowers.”

“No, the ceremony,” the chef said. “She is saying it should be outside with loud noises and wild animals…”

“You are talking about our tradition!” replied the florist. “And it’s better than being cooped up inside watching a stiff procession.”

“Our ceremony is sacred, and it respects the seriousness of the event.”

“We feel a marriage should be a celebration.”

“I agree—a celebration, not a farce,” said the chef.

The florist took a deep breath, not wanting to cause a scene. She turned to her daughter. “See then, you need to make a decision now. Arrangements have to be made.”

“Yes.”

“So are you going to do it our way or her way?”

“Yes,” the girl said with a smile.

“What?” asked the florist.

“Yes,” the boy repeated. “Our answer is ‘yes’.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” asked the chef.

“We trust you can figure it out,” said the boy. And with that, they took up their surfboards and trotted back towards the beach.

In our world of duality, opposition would seem unavoidable. We have noted that it is the perpetual opposition of yin and yang that keeps our world and our lives in motion. However as we become more aware that we are beings that can choose to come from a place of unity, our Dao Self, rather than a place of duality, our Ego Self, we create the possibility for dealing with opposition as an occasion for fostering harmony rather than as a reason for conflict.

In the new conversation there is a subtle shift away from the need to stand firmly on one particular side of an issue. While converse can mean opposite, conversing does not have to imply opposing. When presented with a choice between opposing ideas it becomes possible to say yes—not to one or the other choice, but to choice itself. In celebrating together the very fact that we have choice, we honor our differences. The prospects of this awareness are exciting. Once it is grasped by a critical mass of people, it will suddenly become unthinkable to engage in a serious fight about anything on the planet.

But first, we have to work through some long-standing habits of thought that our ancestors left us with. We are still in a place where having differences continues to have negative connotations, because we continue to believe who we are is grounded in those differences. For example, if our identity is mainly tied to the particular culture, nation, race or creed we belong to, we are already setting up barriers to the possibility of dissimilar people and groups coming together as one.

Historically, tribal groups brought people together into a view of the world that established rules and values for all the individuals of their group to follow. These tribes tended to be very protective of the values that distinguished them from others because it was thought to ensure their survival. Nietzsche said it this way:

No people could live without evaluating; but if it wishes to maintain itself it must not evaluate as its neighbor evaluates. Much that seemed good to one people seemed shame and disgrace to another: thus I found. I found much that was called evil in one place was in another decked with purple honors. One neighbor never understood another: his soul was always amazed at his neighbor’s madness and wickedness.

Now there is much to be said about the beauty and magnificence of human collectives such as cultures, races, or religions that are bound together by common values and a shared way of thinking. They represent a form of fulfillment of our most basic desire as human beings—the desire for unity, the desire to be part of something larger than our individual selves. But while cultures may have become strong and able to maintain themselves based on the values they adopted, there was often an inbred tendency to hold all other ways of experiencing the world as wrong. To actually give credence to the value system of an adversary was a most dangerous and self-defeating strategy. It demonstrated weakness, and was a threat to a people’s survival and proliferation. To some, protecting their collective identity even meant promoting their views and traditions beyond their boundaries. In the process, instead of exchanging divergent ideas and practices with others in the pursuit of higher knowledge and mutual understanding, people exchange swords on the bloody battlegrounds of war, with the objective of establishing one set of beliefs as ‘right’ and the other as ‘wrong’.

In recent times there has been a shift in the manner in which cultures interact. Modern transportation has facilitated travel and immigration as never before. Living in modern cosmopolitan cities exposes us to many of the world’s cultures in everyday life. If nothing else, this exposure forces us to acknowledge that there are many habits, customs, and lifestyles that are different from our own. As well, technological advances such as the Internet and an increasingly mutually-dependant world economy has amplified cross-cultural communications exponentially. The man-made walls around cultures and nations have never been more porous. And as the nations of our world are compelled to pull open their curtains and face each other, tolerance for diverse ideas and perspectives on how to live is the rule of the day. In other words, tolerance has become an economic necessity.

The allure of a tolerant world is that it provides the perception that all ways of life are respected, and that matters of difference will be resolved peacefully and without blame or judgment. In reality this is not the case. A show of tolerance is often done more for convenience and prudence rather than as a true recognition of the potential value of another culture’s ideas and values.

During my time in Korea I discovered some of the limits of the mind-set of tolerance. Now first, understand that I had always considered myself wonderfully tolerant of other cultures. While I had not adopted all the ways of Korean culture during my three plus years living there, I never considered them to be wrong or inferior to my own ways. I enjoyed Korean food and learned to be quite proficient with chopsticks. I had picked up enough of the Korean language to live and get around. I even started to realize that certain behaviors, ones that would have been considered ‘rude’ in my own culture, were perfectly natural in the context of Korean life, and I could adjust my reactions accordingly. And so when I happened to fall in love with a Korean girl and eventually asked her to marry me, I was doing so with no fear of experiencing the proverbial ‘culture shock’ often associated with such unions since I felt I had already embraced her culture. In fact I was the one who pushed for a traditional Korean wedding ceremony.

My wife-to-be Hyun and I planned to pay for the wedding ourselves. She suggested that her parents were not in a financial position to pay for the wedding, and to her delight I was in full agreement. As we were discussing the guest list, she informed me that all the friends of her parents whose children’s weddings they had gone to had to be invited. Although I didn’t really like the idea, I went along with it when I heard that they would all be giving substantial amounts of money as gifts. Later on, as I was adding up the costs for the wedding, I asked her how much money we could expect to get from these friends of her parents. She looked at me a bit strange. “None,” she said, “all that money is going to my mother.”

“Excuse me?” I asked, incredulous. I figured I must have misunderstood something. She repeated what she had said. I must have asked her five times to make sure I got the story right before finally exploding into a rage.

“How could that money be going to your mother? It’s our wedding! It’s our gifts! It’s for us! We’re even paying for the wedding! That’s ridiculous! That’s the most selfish thing I’ve ever heard of!”

Hyun was fully taken aback by my outburst, and was in tears for over an hour. When she finally mustered the strength to respond, she came out angrily: “She had to pay out money at all their weddings! It’s normal. It’s the only way she can get that money back. It’s her money!”

In Korea, money is traditionally distributed up through the family, usually the mother, and redistributed down to the children. It’s a complex system that ties in with family real estate, in a way that protects its members and helps them make prudent decisions. I had heard about this, but never gave it much attention. The idea never bothered me because I was never affected by it. But now that it was affecting me, I was angry about it. All I could think of was that I was paying for a stranger’s meal so he could put some money in my mother-in-law’s pocket. My anger was an indictment not only against Hyun’s mother, but also against the whole culture in general for having what I suddenly felt was a ludicrous system.

But it really wasn’t. It was just different, and totally self-consistent. Hyun’s parents had always been honest and very generous with me. The last thing they would want to do is take money that they didn’t think belonged to them. Hyun’s parents worked hard and scraped by to help Hyun and her brother and sister get through university. In contrast, my brother, sister and I all paid our own way through university. This was not because our parents loved us any less. Our culture tends to put a high value on independence and fosters autonomous separate family units, while Koreans put more emphasis on interdependence and keeping family ties strong. If I was to be married to someone of a different culture, I suddenly realized more was needed from me than mere tolerance.

Tolerance still maintains the notion that ours is the ‘right’ way and theirs is the ‘wrong’ way. This polarity lays in wait, potentially manifesting as violent opposition when triggered by circumstance. Without a real desire to actively delve into the way others see the world, and be challenged by these different views in ways that matter to us, it might be difficult to fully come to grips with our own ethnocentricity. Today I feel very fortunate to be married to someone of a different culture. I am reminded in the daily events of our relationship that simple tolerance is not enough to heal the conflicts and misunderstandings that arise in a way that generates true harmony.

It is striving for what I call true acceptance, not simple tolerance that opens the door to overcoming the opposition that leads to conflict. Through acceptance we entertain the possibility that our own way of thinking may need to come under scrutiny from time to time, and that perhaps the other person’s way of thinking is right. And in its purest form acceptance even goes beyond that, to the most subtle and uplifting precept of them all: that all ideas have value, that it is not a question of right and wrong, but simply a matter of perspective. Here, the ideas that make us different are no longer obstacles but opportunities, to learn, to grow, to come to a greater awareness of what our lives are really about. In my marriage, striving for this kind of acceptance for my wife and her culture has not only meant greater harmony but also a fuller, richer appreciation for the diversity that exists around me.

Humanity as a whole suffers when groups of people remain too attached to their own collective identity and world-view. It seems a not-so-divine comedy that the history of humanity has been marked by an inability to embrace our cultural and racial differences, one of our greatest gifts to one another. This inability is at the core of the racism and discrimination that is still active in the world.

In his speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963, Martin Luther King spoke of emancipation from the slavery of outmoded ideas. He spoke of a day that would see the Negro, as he called his own, liberated from oppression and racial injustice. But even beyond a vision for his own people, his dream had universal significance. He sought to advance the truths that the Declaration of Independence, written almost two hundred years earlier, had deemed self-evident: that all men (and women) are created equal. He dared to speak of a day in the future where different races and creeds would walk side by side, beyond the clutches of discrimination, and “all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: ‘Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!’ “

His speech remains one of the most dramatic appeals for all of us to liberate ourselves from our deeply rooted habit of judging one another. And this appeal has been taken up by the new conversation. The new conversation is not about changing the words we use while leaving the beliefs intact. Certainly words are powerful, and to some extent they are transformative, but simply being proficient in politically correct terminology is not enough. While some of us pride ourselves on our ability to suppress judgment from our world and hide it from ourselves, this does not bring about healing. It only puts off confrontation until another day. If judgment and discrimination are still our inner guiding principles, the damage will eventually manifest.

At the same time the new conversation is not designed to censor judgment and discrimination. If a racial slur is someone’s deepest truth, we are better to allow its expression than to suppress it. If we really want to be helpful, we will do best not to judge the person for saying it. In this way we are helping the person get an unimpeded look at themselves. When they are ready to learn from it they will.

I have personally found this to be one of the most challenging aspects of the new conversation. I don’t want to condone discrimination, but at the same time I don’t want to be judgmental. I’m not always sure if simply being silent is enough, but I do know that it would be inauthentic for me to go along with the joke (i.e., smiling or nodding when asked, “You know how those people are, eh?”) Certainly if I am directly asked what I think, it is incumbent upon me to take the risk and speak out from my heart. But if I am not asked then I realize I need to muster some compassion for where the other person is coming from. It’s a bit of a high wire act, and I have needed lots of practice to learn to balance myself.

In the new conversation we are asked to walk this thin line because we have seen that discrimination cannot be healed by confrontation, and have learned that judgment can only melt away in a larger space of acceptance. If we are going to come together in any profound way, we all need a space to expose our whole selves. That means our light and our darkness. Let’s face it: none of us are completely free of judgment. And if we accept this, it helps us to be easier on each other, and more importantly on ourselves. After all, the ability to listen and speak with acceptance comes from self-acceptance which, paradoxically, is cultivated when we feel accepted by others. At stake in this is our shared longing to fully express our unique selves, and the hope that our diversity can lead us to experience our most sublime sense of unity.

Today, there are signs that we have gotten closer to Dr. King’s lofty vision. True, the world as a whole does not yet value acceptance as the highest attribute of discourse. In some parts it remains forbidden to access or speak about ideas different from the accepted norms of the nation or culture. Wars based on ideology continue to be fought because we continue to fear that accepting those whose ideas are different from ours will threaten our survival. But despite all appearances, I believe our world is evolving from a scattered collection of bordered nations into a harmonious global village. One day we will all be free. The nature of our consciousness, like the universe, is to expand. And while we are going through some growing pains today, no longer certain about what is right and wrong, about how our differences can all fit in together, there will be no turning back. We have become alienated from the identities we were born into, and we are getting too smart to label ourselves by the founding ideas of our cultures. The Pandora’s box has opened and the conversation has begun. And the more we talk, the more we will enjoy the fact that each of us seems to see things a little differently, no longer satisfied with being pushed back into a box that has become too restrictive to contain us.

As we endeavor to become fully human, to actualize ourselves, we get a glimpse of the importance of being informed by the distinct character and nature of all human beings, not just those who think the way we do. We are gaining the courage to question our deep-seated beliefs that there is only one view of the world, and only one meaning to life. The slowly emerging consensus is that the seemingly disparate ways of seeing the world and giving meaning to life are all dazzling colors that together form the mosaic that encompasses the human experience.

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Consciousness

The Power of Human Emotions & How Schools Are Failing To Teach Children How To Deal With Them

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In Brief

  • The Facts:

    Human emotions effect our physiology, state of mind as well as others around us. Modern day education does not teach children about the importance of emotion and how to regulate and deal with it.

  • Reflect On:

    How are children supposed to be mentally 'fit' as adults if they are not taught how to deal with the various emotions they experience throughout childhood?

What exactly is education? Today, many view it as an opportunity to learn, thrive, and excel in the world. Others see it as a necessary step toward obtaining a piece of paper that ensures one’s entrance into the professional world. Regardless of your take on it, however, one thing is certain: From a very early age we are forced into a system that demands our presence and attention for hours a day and for years of our life. Each child is required to learn an accepted version of reality in order to fit into the specific mould desired by the elite. Just like television, a large part of school is simply programming, and we don’t really learn much about the world — or ourselves.

Perhaps this is why Mark Twain said, “I have never let me education interfere with my intelligence,” or why Einstein told the world to “never confuse education with intelligence,” and that “education is what remains after one has forgotten one has learned in school.” 

School these days seems less about learning and more about rote memorization. Are we critically thinking enough, or questioning enough? Or are we simply being bred to become robots, all of us entering into the same human experience, “educating” ourselves in order to further perpetuate a broken system? We learn concepts and ideas that fit within the current paradigm and structure of society, but not about how to care for ourselves and become well-adjusted adults. Are we really being educated? Or simply groomed to become ‘good’ consumers?

“I don’t want a nation of thinkers, I want a nation of workers.”

– John D. Rockefeller

Another problem with the current education model, as pointed out by world renowned education and creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson, is that it was designed and conceived for a different age. Today, new information and discoveries are constantly emerging in all fields, questioning what we once thought we knew, and that includes how people learn. Unfortunately, unless you have an amazing teacher who is passionate about our world and new information, children suffer in this system.

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In fact, prior to the late 1800s, education was a private practice that took place in private institutions or through home schooling. That all changed in 1902 when John D. Rockefeller created the General Education Board in conjunction with Frederick T. Gates, a close friend and business and personal advisor. The General Education Board was responsible for funding the American public school system, and provided over 100 million dollars in 1902 while continuing their support beyond 1902. If we follow the money, it becomes clear the general education board was responsible for the creation of the American public school system. Does education not play a large role in manipulating the consciousness of human beings?

“Knowledge has to come from somewhere, and that can’t be a classroom.”

Edward Snowden

Emotions in School

School is an experience primarily comprised of learning information — rarely questioning it, but rather taking it in as fact. While we learn about many subjects, very few of them have any real impact on our lives. There are absolutely no classes dealing with human emotions, for instance.

According to sociologist Thomas Scheff, a big supporter of emotional education from the University of California, many Western societies simply view emotions as an indulgence or a distraction, and less important than other things. And he’s right — we are often taught to bury our emotions so we can be more productive, and we are made to feel as though our emotions are not as relevant or important; they always seem to come secondary, if at all, especially within an educational setting. Scheff, among many others, believes that emotions provide valuable information, and yet we are taught not to listen to them. “Just as dangerous,” Scheff said, “is the practice of hiding one emotion behind another.” He has found that “men, in particular, tend to hide feelings of shame under anger, aggression and, far too often, violence.”

Many of the issues and problems that arise in our lives stem from the fact that we really have no idea how to process or address our emotions. As a result of this lack in our education, a child who has not paid any attention to their emotional body develops bad habits and behaviours to compensate, until they learn how to properly process their emotions, if they ever do.

How Do We Go About Doing This?

The good thing about teaching emotions is, they can be implemented into any class and any grade. For example, if you were trying to teach emotions in a class with a number of kids who are about to graduate high school, a great starting point might be to illustrate just how much of an effect emotions can have, not just on a mental level, where unresolved emotions lead to negative action, but on a physical level as well.  The Institute of Noetic Sciences is doing some great work in this area, creating more awareness about non-material science and how our thoughts/emotions have an observable effect on physical material reality. The mind-body connection is truly powerful, and we should be teaching people how to harness that power.

An internationally recognized nonprofit research and education organization, the Institute of HeartMath dedicates itself to helping people reduce stress, self-regulate emotions, and build energy and resilience for healthy, happy lives. HeartMath tools, technology, and training teach people to rely on the intelligence of their hearts in concert with that of their minds at home, school, work, and play. They’ve discovered that emotional information is “actually coded and modulated” into the magnetic field that surrounds all living things.

As HeartMath Director of Research Dr. Rolin McCratey tells us, “By learning to shift our emotions, we are changing the information coded into the magnetic fields that are radiated by the heart, and that can impact those around us. We are fundamentally and deeply connected with each other and the planet itself.”

All of these facts, published researched papers, and more can be accessed at heartmath.org.

Related CE Article: What Science is Telling us About The Heart’s Intuitive Intelligence

One the most popular programs to begin teaching emotions was developed in 2005 by Marc Brackett, David Caruso, and Robin Stern of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence.

It’s called RULER.

“The Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence uses the power of emotions to create a more effective and compassionate society. The Center conducts research and teaches people of all ages how to develop their emotional intelligence.” 

It’s currently being used in more than 1,000 schools in the U.S., implemented for grades k-8.

The name, RULER, is an acronym for its five goals: recognizing emotions in oneself and others; understanding the causes and consequences of emotions; labelling emotional experiences with an accurate and diverse vocabulary; and expressing and regulating emotions in ways that promote growth.

What Exactly Are the Kids Taught? 

RULER teachers kids to to focus on the underlying theme of an emotion they are experiencing rather than wasting energy trying to define it precisely. Grace Rubenstein from Ted.Ideas reports:

When an emotion grips you, explains Stern, understanding its thematic contours can help “name it to tame it.” Even though anger is experienced differently by different people, she explains, “the theme underlying anger is the same. It’s injustice or unfairness. The theme that underlies disappointment is an unmet expectation. The theme that underlies frustration is feeling blocked on your way to a goal. Pinning down the theme can “help a person be seen and understood and met where she is,” says Stern.

Just taking the time to contemplate an emotion when you feel it, and think about why it might be arising, is critical for emotional health. Typing these words here and now, I still find it unbelievable that we have chosen not to deal with such an important aspect of what it means to be a human being. Emotions are something all of us experience, yet we have no guidelines or advice on what we’re supposed to do with them.

Rubenstein offers an example of how RULER functions in the classroom:

RULER’s lessons are woven into all classes and subjects. So, for example, if “elated’ is the emotional vocabulary word under discussion, a teacher would ask students in an American history class to link “elated” to the voyage of Lewis and Clark. Instruction reaches beyond the classroom, too; kids are prompted to talk with their parents or caregivers about when they last felt elated. Researchers at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence has found RULER schools tend to see less-frequent bullying, lower anxiety and depression, more student leadership and higher grades. So why isn’t emotional education the norm rather than the exception?

Emotions are something all of us experience, all the time, every single day. They can be confusing, and hard to navigate, especially when they’re negative. By including emotional education into the school system, I believe future generations would be far less depressed, angry, and confused. They would be better equipped to handle difficult situations in their lives, and find it much easier to express their feelings in a healthy, productive way.

There’s still a long way to go when it comes to understanding human emotions, and how to teach/discuss them in the classroom at different grade levels, but RULER is an amazing step in the right direction and I hope we see more programs like this being developed in the future.

 

 

 

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Consciousness

Mercury Retrograde Is Sick Of Being Blamed For Your Problems

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In Brief

  • The Facts:

    Poor Mercury retrograde, it gets blamed for so many of the problems that people feel come up during the cycle. But the truth is, what gets triggered in us is no one's 'fault' but our own.

  • Reflect On:

    Is it better to look outward for why we feel a specific way? Or to perhaps look inwards and explore what may be triggering us within?

This isn’t meant to offend anyone, it’s simply here to spark a meaningful reflection. I have long said this, as we do have astrology content posted on CE a couple times per month–astrology can help you with reflections, but it is not meant to be a crutch or meant to explain away your challenges as something you don’t have to take any responsibility for or action on.

Think about it. You wake up late, you speak poorly to someone, someone speaks poorly to you, you have a bad day, something doesn’t go right… in these moments people will become wonky, triggered or upset. Then, they may blame Mercury retrograde, or maybe the full moon, or maybe something else for why they are feeling this way. And while there can be truth to cosmic cycles having an impact on humanity’s consciousness, this doesn’t explain how we react. It’s also true that as we deal with that which triggers us, these energies don’t affect us in the same way any longer. I covered this in significant detail in my favorite documentary I’ve made called CE3: The Shift, which you can watch on CETV here.

Things happen in our lives, someone says something, we see something, or something occurs in our day, if we have a trigger within us that gets struck by these events, that external event is merely acting as a mirror for you to reflect on that particular trigger you have. We often feel that “someone else’s” or “something else’s” stuff or energy is always imposing on us and making us feel bad and thus there is nothing we can do, except of course just wait for the Mercury retrograde cycle to end or block the person that is triggering us.

But let’s think for a moment, is blaming how we feel on Mercury Retrograde, any other astrological cycle, or someone else really going to get us to a point where we are empowered and have moved past the habits, patterns, beliefs and limiting blocks we have in our lives? Or might we be better off seeing what might be coming up in our lives in a given moment, writing it out, taking some time to reflect on how we truly feel about it and seeing what changes we can make? After all, don’t we sometimes use beliefs about something to explain why we feel a certain way? Is it really true that we never have ‘problems’ outside of these cycles or triggers?

Image of a cute animal, appearing sad, with text over top to help prove my point.

The truth is, social media is rife with posts about “no bad vibes allowed,” “cut out anyone who is not right for you,” or posts blaming astrological cycles for everything we feel. There is this ‘pop spirituality’ culture of seeming spiritual in our lifestyle as a trend, but perhaps not truly living authentically to the teachings or reflections we’re trying to represent. This often keeps people remaining as a victim and in blame mode when it comes to what gets triggered within us. In many ways, we’d rather run away from or block the things that bother us than face them head on and ask, “why does this bother me to begin with?”

A great summation of the pop culture I’m referring to.

Sure, that’s not always a comfortable question, and no I’m not saying simply let an ‘abuser’ continue to abuse without getting out of the way, I’m simply saying there is a difference between an abuser and someone who has a different opinion than us that we can’t seem to handle and triggers our emotional state. What better definition of slavery is there than to be allowing other people to control our emotional state and send us off into rollercoasters because we don’t want to focus on asking why we are so bothered by something?

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The truth is, if we block that person or run from that person, we will be met with someone else who will once again trigger that same pattern in us because on a deeper level, don’t we want to be free? Doesn’t it make sense for that trigger to be struck once again so we can deal with it this time?

The point here is in self responsibility and taking action on being different. Perhaps many of the challenges we experience during something like Mercury retrograde are actually always there, we just pay closer attention to them during this time because we’re clearer on who to blame for it.

Accidents happen.
Computers break.
People forget things.
We feel emotional.
And people can be mean or inappropriate.

… regardless of Mercury retrograde or any other cycle.

The only questions we really have to ask ourselves are: what life do we wish to live, and what state of being do we wish to be in? One where we are empowered and working through patterns that hold us back or create unnecessary suffering? Or one where we sit back, point to external cycles as a reason for why we feel the way we do, only to repeat that cycle once again shortly thereafter?

The Takeaway

Personally, things can sometimes come up in my life as a challenge, whether it’s Mercury retrograde or not. Do I have more during Mercury retrograde? I can’t honestly say that’s true. What I can say is that if I’m struggling with something in particular and not making the time to address it, I can come up with all sorts of reasons as to why I feel the way I do and why things happen, most of which all point outwards.

But I know deep down that it’s me that can do the work to free myself, and so I’ve always been one to swiftly do the inner work instead of waiting around and making excuses or blaming outside forces.

If something triggers how you feel during the next Mercury retrograde, or anytime for that matter, set 30 undistracted minutes aside for yourself and write out how you are feeling and why. Push yourself to go deep and ask yourself the tough questions. What is truly bothering me about this? What belief system is being triggered? Did someone really do something wrong to me? Who says it’s wrong? Can I put myself in their shoes and understand their position? Am I repeating a pattern of negative self talk or self-imposed limitations? What stories am I telling myself?

Do this, and the next thing you know the worst thing that may happen during a Mercury retrograde is you may have to restart your computer–if you even notice Mercury retrograde at all.

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