We are familiar with taking care of the things that make up our everyday lives: our house, our car, our bodies, our relationships, our career. We know that if we don't maintain these things, they will degrade and become a problem for us.
But how often do we take care of our awareness? Perhaps it is just too close to us to consider. Our awareness is the medium through which we experience our live. We make the assumption that what we are aware of is reality. But quite often, perhaps most of the time, our awareness is filled with noise of various kinds. Physical discomfort, urges of the body, negative emotions of various kinds, distracting thoughts, internal dialogue.
If we observe our inner experience, we often discover that these inner distractions are not reality, but rather a source of distortion of reality which can produce unhappiness, a sense of meaninglessness, and behaviors of various kinds that get us into trouble. So some of us seek to reduce this noise, this distraction, this rust that has come to cover the mirror of our awareness.
If we have had peak experiences, moments of clarity, we know how different our life looks than when our awareness is filtered by this inner pollution. If you have ever had fish in a tank you might think of the times when you realized it was time to change the water, because the fish were living in a tank of their own dirt. How to clean this dirt from the mirror of our awareness?
In the wisdom traditions, there have been a wide variety of methods developed for cultivating a higher level of consciousness, which I call “up-shifting “. These include, for instance, the use of body movement, chanting, visualization, and ingestion of psychogenic substances, stressing the body, emotions and mind in various ways, self-observation, contemplation, meditation, and prayer.
If we are to learn to work consistently from a higher level of consciousness and Self, we need methods to help us upshift which can be employed in our everyday life. Seven such methods, are particularly useful. These are intention, attention, relaxation, release, acceptance, compassion, and meditation.
Up-shifting is an intentional act. Our awareness may well be shifted by inner or outer conditions, by an inspiring, awakening, or painful experience. But up-shifting, is an act of volition. We choose to navigate our awareness to a higher level. Consider this aphorism: “What am I doing on a level of consciousness where this is real?” (The Lazy Man’s Guide to Enlightenment by Thaddeus Golas 1971, p.45)
This aphorism can act as a kind of switch, from a level of consciousness at which I “buy into” limiting thoughts and feelings which may have an undesirable, negative quality to a more positive, expanded level of consciousness at which I recognize that the problem is not necessarily in the world, or even in me, but is instead more specifically in the way I am perceiving, understanding, thinking about the situation.
This shift in attitude of awareness can be very profound. It represents the shift between ego and Self. We can think of ego as that voice that is speaking incessantly in our head. It is a “mentally created sense of self” which evolves from the time we can begin to think in words. We tend to get identified with this voice and buy into its fears and hopes and concerns. We spend a great deal of our time entrapped in the ego, and come to believe that we are our ego, and that the ego is real.
The problem is, as Ekhart Tolle puts it, the ego is composed only of thought and is therefore not real. Somehow the ego is aware of this precarious existence and is therefore in the continuous process of recreating itself every moment of our waking life. It’s continuous mode of action is internal dialogue, through which it controls our attention and presents its continuous flood of opinions, preferences, complaints, plans, schemes, and many other activities which it believes are its job in life.
Unfortunately, the ego utilizes some mechanisms which are intrinsically negative. These revolve around making our ego feel superior by making others look inferior. The ego endlessly seeks to write a screenplay in which it is right, and others are wrong, others have wronged us, and we are the victim, we are the hero, others needing our rescue. The stories vary but the basic theme is always the same, and the purpose is to reinforce that our ego deserves to be the center of the universe, and that its preferences and opinions should be respected over all other.
The unspoken assumption is that we are our ego, the all and everything of our existence. This is the assumption that our ego cannot bear to be challenged, and it is this challenge that can set us free. The first step in the adventure of up-shifting is to realize our entrapment in an automatic attentional attitude in the world in which our ego is king or queen. We might survey this kingdom and realize that its impoverishment and intrinsic negativity. And we might then set the intention to up-shift into a higher state of awareness.
This first step, a clear, sincere, and profound intention is the key to success in the work of upshifting. It is the key to creating a new life. One might consider this world to be a school where we come for certain experiences, and for some great purpose. The turning point lesson to be gained in this world is, that we are living in a world of psychopathy, that this world, governed as it is by a distorted and deified ego, is insanity. This one insight can free us to realize that we are not finding what we are looking for in this world, because it is not here. We also discover that our fears and frustrations of not being able to accomplish or deal with our lives on our own are realistic, because we cannot deal with this life on our own. We become open to a world of possibility and help from within ourselves, and from others, and from a divine intelligence beyond the ego. With this realization we can form a sincere intention to upshift into a new relationship with life and with Self.
It is one thing to be awakened by a shock delivered by the world and quite another to intentionally awaken ourselves. The effort to awaken ourselves can be born out of a yearning for something that we feel we lack, or a frustration with our current state of affairs. The path to awakening often begins with practice in cultivating one’s attention. We tell our children to “pay attention” which suggests that attention is somehow valuable. Study meditation, and we are asked to “watch our breath”. In the Gurdjieff tradition, we are taught to direct our attention to the “sensation” in our bodies. Ekhart Tolle suggests that we attend to the “aliveness within”. These are all tricks to direct our attention to that which is more real in us; our breath, our aliveness, our sensation, all more real than the drifting inner dialogue in which we are lost most of the time.
In the moment we direct our attention in this way, we are suddenly more awake, literally rising up into a higher level of awareness where an increased quality of life and experience is possible. It is through this intentional cultivation of attention that we shift our attention up out of the endlessly empty diversions of the ego into something more substantial. What we discover, however, is that his shift in awareness tends to be a fleeting phenomenon. Attempt to follow the rising and falling of your breath, and you will find that, very soon you will be somewhere else, lost in a reverie, thinking about something else.
Persistent attempts at such exercises reveal a terrible truth, which is the extent of our automaticity. We discover the degree to which we are conditioned, automated, very predictable beings. Our perception of the world is programmed, our self-image: that to which we aspire, and our negative view of our limitations and weaknesses, our prejudices against others, our likes and dislikes, our fears, our beliefs about what is possible, all subject to automaticity.
We can see this automaticity in others, but we seldom recognize it in ourselves, because we experience most of our lives through this automatic level of energy. The process of upshifting is significant because, in shifting to a higher level of awareness, it becomes possible to become a different kind of person, living in a different kind of world.
The initial stages of the work of upshifting, of awakening in most of the traditions that have pursued this goal begin with the work of taking stock of oneself, through self-observation.
There is a profound trick in this activity. In the act of observing oneself, one immediately shifts one’s level of awareness, one directs one’s awareness, and in that moment, we are no longer operating at the automatic level of awareness. The process of self-observation provides us with a direct and immediate means of awakening and working at staying awake.
There is a second benefit to self-observation. When we recognize something in ourselves that we dislike, we tend to rush out to change it. And very often, we pick the wrong thing to work on, and we work on it in ways that do not produce benefit. Anyone who has worked on modifying a deeply programmed habit has encountered this difficulty, losing weight, stopping smoking, becoming a better listener, overcoming procrastination. Such attempts seldom succeed the first time, and if we persist, we discover that the behavior we are attempting to change has deep roots in our psychology and physiology, in our past programming. Self-observation provides the foundation of understanding required for successful self-improvement.
The product of persistent attempts at self-observation is a heightened awareness of our inner world, which, quite often is an uncomfortable experience. We become aware first of all of the degree to which we are automatic in our experience. Secondly, we become aware of the degree of our negativity, of which we previously were quite unaware. The intensity of this encounter is, conveyed well by Maurice Nicoll’s description of human negativity. Maurice Nicoll was a British neurologist and psychologist who studied directly with Gurdjieff and Ouspensky and spent the last 20 years of his life teaching the method, created by Gurdjieff, which has come to be called the “Work”.
The greatest filth in a man is negative emotion. An habitually negative person is a filthy person, in the Work sense. A person who is always thinking unpleasant things about others, saying unpleasant things, disliking everyone, being jealous, always having some grievance, or some form of self-pity, always feeling that he or she is not rightly treated and so on – such a person has a filthy mind in the most real and practical sense, because all these things are forms of negative emotion, and negative emotions are dirt. (Maurice Nicoll, Psychological Commentaries p.161)
The recognition in ourselves of the degree of our negativity, and the power of that negativity to destroy the quality of our lives can be a profoundly disturbing experience. The power of this experience can drive us to take action to change our ways, and often this takes the form of some kind of intense effort, and here we encounter a paradox in the business of upshifting.
Our negativity pertains to a lower level of consciousness, it is a part of our automaticity. Overcoming negativity, then requires that we “rise up” out of our automaticity. Here is the paradox: there is a direct correlation between higher consciousness and deeper levels of relaxation. One tangible way of connecting with this idea is to consider our experience on vacation. By the time we go on vacation we tend to be worn out, tense, and our life tends to have taken on a kind of routine flatness. The automaticity of our lives becomes palpable at such a time. Then we go off on vacation, and very often, in the beginning of the vacation, we feel out of sorts. The stimuli that held us in a certain behavioral pattern disappear, and the feelings we have held in check begin to surface, and we may for a time feel even worse. But if we persist in relaxing and letting go, we may get to the point where a shift happens, we have a really good laugh, we engage in some really vigorous exercise, we experience something really different, and suddenly the lights come on, colors are brighter, the taste of food, the sound of music becomes more enjoyable. We are somehow more present, more awake, and our life is suddenly more real.
It is important to remember that the process of self-observation and working on ourselves to clean up our negative emotions serves the important purpose of clarifying our awareness so our truly human capabilities become accessible to us. The important point here is, once we have become aware of the extent of our automaticity and negativity, we then need to work on relaxation. Otherwise, we will act on our negativity through the very negative programming which we are trying to change. John Bennett has provided a way to understand the potential depth of relaxation and its significance.
“EVERYTHING that has happened to us is registered in our bodies. This produces innumerable tensions and blockages that prevent the free flow of energies in us. To keep one’s body a fine instrument for every purpose and particularly for our spiritual experience, it must become free from these blockages.
For this, the secret is relaxation.
There are seven stages of progressively deeper relaxation. The first three are of the physical body : relaxations of the muscles, then of the nerves and finally of the blood-vessels. Then come stages concerning the inner state or psyche. The first stage of psychic relaxation is the stilling of one’s feelings to a state of complete peace and contentment. Thoughts are still present but no longer disturb. Then comes the stage when the mind relaxes and there are no more thoughts ; just a state of consciousness, but with awareness of distinctions.
A deeper stage comes when all distinctions disappear: a pool of pure consciousness. Then the ultimate question may present itself: “Am I free from all attachments to anything?” and one day one can say “Yes!”.
Seventh and final stage is the full abandonment of one’s own egoism and of attachment to any state of existence whatsoever.”
John G. Bennett
It is one thing to relax, and another to let go. As we relax, we become more aware of where and how we are holding on, to tensions in the body, to emotional patterns, to habits of thinking, attitudes, and prejudices. Then, if we are lucky, or skillful, there is a moment of release. Perhaps the most common example is the sigh, that delicious moment of letting go of tension, accompanied by a subtle a shift of feeling, and even a certain emptiness of mind. The sigh is a simple reflexive act through which our inner state can shift in a positive direction.
There are other such natural release maneuvers that are common, but usually unexamined phenomena, such as the yawn, crying, laughing, singing, yelling, and “talking it out”. Note that all these examples include an emphasis on exhalation. Consider an interaction with an angry, upset person, a customer or co-worker. The person is angry and upset about some problem that has taken place. They are angrily describing the situation to you and of course, they are right, the victim of some slight or perceived misconduct, and everyone else is wrong and guilty. They are in a negative emotional state of blaming.
You patiently listen to them, you hear them out without interrupting or arguing, and after some time, after they have expressed their upset (probably several times), if you pay attention you may notice the person take a deeper breath, with a slight shudder on the inhale, and then sigh.
If you watch their eyes, during this sigh, you will see their eyes relax and open, and suddenly the person appears less angry, more open, softer, and suddenly pensive. If the conversation continues, you may even hear the person divulge some new information, which may suggest that the individual may themselves have contributed somehow to the problem. This information often makes it possible to understand the situation more fully, and if the interaction has to do with problem solving, make it possible to resolve the issue successfully.
In this example we can begin to appreciate the dynamics and value of release, as a mechanism through which we can upshift from a negative, contracted, limiting state of consciousness into a more positive, open state in which problems can be resolved.
There are a great many opportunities to let go. We live in an era of excess of all kinds. Whatever our personal tendency is to overdo, we have the opportunity to exercise it these days. We can overdo our cravings, our appetites, our neediness; for security, for belonging, for reassurance, for control. Any and all can become fuel for the compulsive tyrant within, which wants so badly to be in charge.
If we have done some work on ourselves to become aware of our personal tendencies which get us into trouble, then the observer, the witness has some perspective on the tyrant. There is probably some inner tension present, some wish to learn how to let go, so we can become freer of the burdens we carry inside. Letting go is a learnable skill.
There is a physical component: learning to stretch, breathe deeply, and release the diaphragm where we “hold on” inside.
There is an emotional component: wherein we need to find a way to “unhook” the feeling attachment that binds us to the issue at hand.
There is a cognitive component: in which we recognize the repetitive thought patterns that accompany negativity and decide what is to be released, based on some new insight.
One useful model for deciding what to let go of is the idea that there are three kinds of work: there is my work, there is your work, and there is God’s work. Another way of saying this is, we need to focus on what we can control. There are a wide range of issues which are uncontrollable and unchangeable, but our need for control can get the best of us, especially in the form of perfectionism, or an overblown sense of self-importance.
When we are caught in the grip of a concern that consumes us, it is worth asking: Do I have the competence, the position, the power, the authority, the responsibility, or the right to change this thing? If the answer is no, then it makes sense to ask what one can do about it. What is my work here? Getting on with doing that work, the work we should be doing, often creates the space in us to let go of what we can’t do anything about.
There is a trick in this consideration about what to release. The trick is to become increasingly aware of cravings and control issues. Both of these evolve out of our lower self, our ego. If we can begin suspending our tendency to just go along with cravings and control impulses, we have the opportunity to make a real choice to act in what is really our own best interest.
Letting go on the emotional level is a different skill. If the hook is emotional, then there is often some hurt involved, some lower emotion which contaminates the clarity of the mind.
Dr. Gerald Jampolsky M.D., who has studied the subject of forgiveness deeply writes:
The unforgiving mind, contrasted with the forgiving mind, is confused, afraid and full of fear. It is certain of the interpretation it places on its perceptions of others. It is certain of the justification of its anger and the correctness of its condemning judgment. The unforgiving mind rigidly sees the past and future as the same and is resistant to change. It does not want the future to be different from the past. The unforgiving mind sees itself as innocent and others as guilty. It thrives on conflict and on being right, and it sees inner peace as its enemy. It perceives everything as separate.
Whenever I see someone else as guilty, I am reinforcing my own sense of guilt and unworthiness. I cannot forgive myself unless I am willing to forgive others. It does not matter what I think anyone has done to me in the past or what I think I may have done. Only through forgiveness can my release from guilt and fear be complete. (Gerald Jampolski, Love is Letting Go of Fear p. 66)
For Jampolski, learning to forgive comes back to dealing with the ego. He says that the ego’s thought system is based on fear, guilt and blame. The ego is constantly in the process of proving that it is right and others are wrong. The only emotions it understands are the lower emotions of fear, and guilt, which it constantly seeks to avoid, largely by attempting to control, and to blame. So, when our ego is in charge, we are always at odds with everyone else, in conflict. This probably sounds a bit insane, and it is. Unfortunately it is the common insanity of life in the world these days.
Fortunately, there is a way out. If we can realize that we are caught in the grips of the unforgiving mind of the ego, we can seek escape. We must find some way to let go, because it is the ego that is holding on to the insane thoughts and painful feelings. Most of us have experienced the relief of finally letting go. Instead of falling into an abyss, we usually find ourselves falling into peace. As Jampolski says:
We can look on forgiveness as a journey across an imaginary bridge from a world where we are always recycling our anger to a place of peace. That journey takes us into our own spiritual essence and the heart of God. It takes us into a new world of expanding, unconditional love. (From: Forgiveness, The Greatest Healer of All, Gerald Jampolsky, M.D. p.18)
This does not mean we become a doormat or willing victim. It means we become free of the real abuser, our own ego, so we can deal with other people and ourselves fairly and effectively.
"Begin not with the idea that you are doing a favor to someone who hurt you, but that you are being merciful to yourself. To carry an anger against anyone is to poison your own heart, administering more toxin every time you replay in your mind the injury done to you. If you decline to repeat someone's offense inwardly, your outward anger will dissipate. Then it becomes much easier to tell the one who hurt you how things must change between you." From: "A Little Book of Forgiveness", by Dr. Patrick Miller, Viking Books, 1994.
One of the best reasons to master upshifting is to avoid pain and to deepen one’s enjoyment of life. A life dominated by material self, operating on automatic energy is a life doomed to accident, and the negative consequences of unconsciously self-centered behavior. A life dominated by reactional self, by what we usually call “ego” is a relatively empty, flat life, largely preoccupied by the incessant demands of the voice in the head and all of its preferences and opinions and blaming.
Byron Katy presents a very elegant and effective method for upshifting out of the grasp of the reactional self. She points out that the ego gives us pain by trapping us in an endless stream of thought, which it wants to believe are valid descriptors of reality, which we then buy into.
Unfortunately, the ego is not very accurate, or deep, or perceptive, or consistent, and, given that it is primarily reactive, it tends to be oppositional. It tends to be in opposition to whatever is presented to it in the moment. Whatever is going on, it has a better idea. And the ego must, of course, always be right.
Byron Katy’s “Work” as she calls it, is for those of us who have had it with the superficial, painful life served up to us by the ego. Her approach is quite simple. She presents four questions to ask when we are in the grip of the ego. When we are unhappy with someone, or ourselves, or anything that is presenting itself in the moment. When we find ourselves suffering in the grip of an unhappy ego about “what is”, she instructs us to examine, to inquire into the thoughts that make up that unhappy inner dialogue. It is important to note that the simple act of realizing that one is in the grip of unhappy inner dialogue is itself an act of up shifting. When we are aware of the inner dialogue of the ego, we are no longer completely trapped in the ego. She suggests that we write the thought, which is actually a belief, down. Then we ask ourselves four questions about the belief:
Is my thought true?
Am I absolutely certain it is true?
How do I feel when I hold this belief?
What would I be if I did not hold this belief?
Then she instructs us to turn the idea around. Her method is best learned directly from her books or videos. But the point I want to make here is, it is in the nature of the ego to act in opposition to the present moment and convince us that its position is a correct description of reality, and if we buy into this belief, our lives become an endless process of blaming and complaining, and fixing, and competing. What is lost are the moments of deep presence, of direct contact with the real world, with our true nature, with other people.
When we are “trapped in our heads”, and under the hypnotism of the ego, we live in a very flat, dimensionless world. We are literally cut off from the reality of life and our own nature and other people. The endless chatter of the ego in the head presents us its version of reality, and as Byron Katy puts it: Everyone is a mirror image of yourself, your own ego coming back at you (Living what Is, p. 27). Lost in ego, we are asleep in a drama of our own making, based on our history which lacks substance, and meaning, and happiness.
Here is a story about shifting from the drama to the reality of the moment.
There was once a man who lived in the countryside. One day there appeared a magnificent horse which seemed to belong to nobody in the vicinity, which took up residence with the old man. The people of his town gathered about in amazement at the beauty of the horse. They congratulated the old man, exclaiming at his good fortune. He response was “say only that a horse has arrived”.
The King heard of the wondrous horse and offered a great fortune to the man, who quietly decided not to sell. The townspeople gathered about and criticized the man for his poor judgment saying that he was missing out on a great opportunity. The man said, “Say only that I have decided not to sell the horse”.
Then one day the wondrous horse disappeared, and again the townspeople gathered about bemoaning his lost opportunity to sell the horse to the King. The man said “Say only that the horse has disappeared.
Later on, the great horse reappeared, this time with a herd of horses of equal beauty, and again the townspeople gathered about extolling the man’s wisdom and good fortune. The man said only “Say only that the horse has returned”.
The man’s son was very fond of riding the horse, but one day he fell and broke his leg. The townspeople gathered about and bemoaned the sad misfortune which had occurred as a result of the horse. The man said only “Say only that my son has broken his leg”.
And then it came to pass that the King made war on a neighboring country and all the young men were conscripted into the army. The man’s son, due to his injury was unable to join in the battle, in which most of the young men were killed or injured. The townspeople gathered about…
What the story does not describe directly is the quality of life experienced by the old man. Consider the psychic space taken up by the voices of preference and opinion such as those expressed by the townspeople- or your own ego. Consider the richness of experience that might fill a life, not cluttered with such inner turmoil.
Gratitude and Compassion
The most common human gateway to the highest levels of awareness (which, according to our model is unconditional love) is through the experience of compassion. When we feel compassion, we are motivated to act on the behalf of others out of an experience of oneness, out of love. The purpose of this section on upshifting is to provide methods whereby we can raise our level of awareness volitionally. In relation to compassion and love, this presents an age-old question: can we learn to love? Is it possible to intentionally and volitionally work at becoming a more compassionate and loving person?
Some say that the purpose of a human life is to answer this question and fulfill the potential to become a fully compassionate and loving person. By fully, I mean unconditionally loving, loving out of the realization of our unity with other creatures, and not because of some personal preference or benefit that we realize from acting in a loving way.
One way that we can work at becoming more compassionate is by meeting up to the challenges that life presents us in a manner that meets some standard of compassionate treatment. The world’s religions provide such standards in the form of religious law, and codes of conduct. Such codes are excellent protection against the distracting and destructive forces of the lower self and ego and provide a quality of life in which we can experience love.
Following rules, however, is not enough to produce the experience of love and compassion. It is a common human experience to be in the face of a situation in which we fail to experience love and compassion. Love does not seem to be something we can produce out of ourselves volitionally, it appears to be something that we participate in we can receive it, and we can pass it on.
In the spiritual traditions of the world the source of love and compassion is the divine source, which is described as constantly flowing into this world, sustaining, and nourishing it. For instance, in the Islamic tradition, this love and compassion is called “Rahmet”, and is described as “providing at every moment exactly what is needed by every being to fulfill its purpose in life”. This is a very great statement, and very much at odds with the characteristic Western attitude that “you are on your own in this world, and you better take what you can get". This latter attitude could be described as the life philosophy of the lower self. The former attitude, the based on an understanding that we are constantly provided for, that the fundamental force that upholds this world is love, could be described as the life philosophy of the higher self.
This “higher self “philosophy provides a very different basis for approaching life. In this view, a fruitful human life is lived by adopting an attitude and life posture which is in alignment with the flow of love in the world. We can seek to live in a way that does not distract us or cut us off from this love, and thereby have the opportunity to act as a viable conduit of that love in caring for our fellow beings.
Meditation is increasingly acknowledged as a practice which provides a wide variety of benefits such as stress relief, increased resilience and mindfulness, and enjoyment in life. What is not so commonly known is that the purpose of meditation is to make it possible for human beings to access their higher potentials. These potentials include the ability to be more present and therefore more perceptive of our current circumstances, which alone provides a wide range of adaptive benefits. There are other potentials, however, that are less widely appreciated such as intuition and creativity.
Intuition is a controversial subject that has been very difficult to analyze and understand from a scientific point of view. There appears to be a strong dichotomy in attitude about intuition, some people being absolutely certain it is a real function and essential to a deeper understanding of oneself and the world, and some people who dismiss intuition as an invalid concept.
It is my experience that intuition is a valid function. It might be defined as a process that gives us the ability to know something directly without analytic reasoning, bridging the gap between the conscious and nonconscious parts of our mind. Intuition may to be the ability to access the contents of the subconscious mind. The dynamics of intuitive problem solving are very much like the creative process, which consists of:
Defining a problem one wants to solve.
A period of intensive study or engagement with the field of action that pertains to the problem.
A shift of consciousness achieved by “sleeping on it”, going for a walk, having a drink or a smoke, talking to someone about the problem, and then, at least for a moment, letting the subject go.
Recognizing the answer to the problem in a moment of insight in which the creative solution presents itself “whole and complete” and usually in the form of a visual image, words heard in the mind, or a feeling in the body.
It is interesting to note that the higher levels of the E series (previous section) include creativity and unconditional love. These might be considered the two most uniquely human of all qualities, and perhaps the most essential to our continued survival. Meditation has been used for millennia to enhance these functions. I am focusing here on intuition, however, because intuition is our ability to see deeply into the situation at hand. The purpose of meditation is to create the quality of consciousness required for this deep seeing. And all of the upshifting methods described here previous to meditation: intention, attention, relaxation, release, acceptance, and compassion serve to create the conditions in which the meditative state is possible.
The state of meditation is often viewed as the ability to sit still and quiet our internal dialogue. These are both very valuable, and for most of us, very difficult accomplishments. Through this quieting we can learn to volitionally experience a state of relaxation and peace which has many benefits. The purpose of meditation, however continues from this initial quieting to a far more profound experience.
Rudolph Steiner in his introduction to Theosophy provides a way to understand this idea as he describes the three elements of a human being.
By body is meant the means by which the things in our environment, … reveal them— selves to us. The word soul designates the means by which we link these things to our own personal existence, by which we experience likes and dislikes, pleasure and displeasure, joy and sorrow. By spirit is meant what becomes apparent in us when, as “quasi—divine beings,” …, we look at the things of the world. In this sense, each person consists of body soul and spirit.
The key words in this quotation are “as quasi-divine beings”. These words describe the human being in a state of intuition which can be produced by meditation. Steiner is not saying that the human beings in our ordinary state experience spirit as we look at the things of the world. We do have such experiences in rare moments, and these have been called “peak experiences” by Abraham Maslow. Steiner is here defining the word soul as our experience as it is linked to our personal existence though likes and dislikes. It is important to recognize that the early stages of training to prepare for meditation involve the releasing of strong preferences, especially negativity thereby reducing the distortion and distraction of our consciousness that negativity produces. It makes a clearer consciousness possible.
In later stages of the preparation for meditation the work focuses on letting go of our attachment to the things we find positive, the things we are identified positively with.
This may seem a strange thing to do, to let go of our pursuit of pleasure as well as entrapment in negativity. The reason for this “letting go” is, until we let go of attachment to our preferences, our consciousness is conditioned and colored, and distorted by these preferences. The only way we can verify this for ourselves is to engage in sufficient self-observation to see how limited and flat, and conditioned our everyday awareness is, in contrast to the moments of true clarity we have experienced. It may be easier to understand this if we consider that our experience of the world is actually a construction of the mind/brain, and as such is subject to the influence of all of our conditioning.
The purpose of meditation is to polish the “mirror” of our awareness, to “cleanse the doors of perception”. A simple approach to meditation is this:
Sit and observe the flow of your thoughts, feelings and sensations.
When you can observe in this way without being carried away by some thought, then sit holding a single thought in mind.
When you can hold a single thought in mind for 10 minutes without distraction, then sit, holding the mind empty for 10 minutes.
It is likely that if you take this practice on, you will discover the need to work with intention, awareness, relaxation, release, and acceptance. These are tools for cleaning up our inner life, for putting our inner life of awareness in order. As we use these tools, as we gain more inner clarity, we begin to experience more moments of peace, and joy, and gratitude.
This is not an accident. Putting our inner house in order, cleansing the doors of perception, healing our inner hurts, correcting inaccurate thoughts and assumptions, all these things produce a clearer inner space in which we can connect with, be enlightened and healed by connection with our higher nature, the part of us that is truly human.
In these moments of connection, the world we perceive is far more beautiful, the feelings we feel are deep and profound: compassion, love, joy. And our knowing, our understanding deepens to a degree that we gain access to wisdom as a guiding force in our lives, and we can find more peace. This is the beginning or the work of becoming truly human. We make a space in us in which we can connect with our higher nature. And then, it is a matter of bring our life into harmony with the reality that our higher nature presents to us.
This is where the work of building organizations that bring the best in us begins. It begins with our own inner life, so we become an ever more consistent source of clarity, and compassion, and peace.
Copyright Kim Payton, P.H.D. 2022