The Annunciation Trust

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Consciousness 3

I met with my friend some weeks ago and was telling him what a rich summer I’d had: time to be with family and time to pray, read, think, explore and mull. I felt greatly blessed, not least in all the movement and activity in my soul. I’d had a series of meaningful dreams, and bursts of intuitive knowing as a result of which some significant progress felt as if it had been made in my soul’s journey.

 

He wrote to me a little while later to say that he’d never previously paid much attention to his dreams, indeed was hardly aware that he’d had any, but subsequent to our meeting he’d wanted to take his dreams more seriously and had been surprised to find that he then had a number which he remembered on waking and which he’d found meaningful

 

I replied that “One of the funny things in life, in my experience, is the way that if you open your mind to something [in this case dreams] then you quickly become conscious of their presence. It’s as if we have to turn a ‘welcome’ sign on first”.

 

I’ve often noticed this with people who are contemplating a significant change of direction in their lives. Such a change usually feels very daunting and scary and they are rightly apprehensive of the risks and dangers they might encounter. They fear that they might even come to realise that they’ve made a mistake!

 

I recall the story of the Buddhist monk fleeing Tibet after the Chinese invasion and crossing the mighty Himalayan mountains to safety in India. On his arrival he was asked how he had managed such an incredible and dangerous journey alone? He replied: “One step at a time”.

 

At times of change, my instinct is to take one small, maybe symbolic, step in what feels like the right direction and then to wait. It is surprising how often what is needed next will then come and find you: you don’t have to find it yourself, but rather wait for it to pass your way and for you to recognise and seize it. You will often then experience what I call a ‘following wind’ which will carry you onwards on your journey.

 

But it won’t last long.  As with all religious experience, it will flourish for a while and then fade, and the temptation is to give up, assuming that you’ve made a mistake. Better, to see the fading as an invitation to continue to trust your experience despite the lack of current supporting evidence, and to be aware that you aren’t in control of what you have experienced.  Very likely it will come again at a time not of your choosing.

 

I am chuckling as I write this. I have just written two pieces about ‘Consciousness’ and sense that they are incomplete, but am not sure how to complete them! Suddenly I see that what I have written here has provided me with the clue I need.

 

The 3D material world doesn’t come with any meaning supplied: we are not born into this world with a set of instructions entitled ‘The meaning of life’, clutched in our fists. If we want meaning, and we are ‘meaning seeking’ creatures, then we will have to seek it ourselves. The means of doing so are available to us, through our basic need for relationship with others and the Other; and through using our imagination. The responsibility for utilising these means rests with each of us.

 

I can’t remember who said: “Your mind is free to interpret the world any way it wants.”  But they were right.  We can use whatever lies on the spectrum of consciousness as the lens[es] through which we will make our interpretation of the world, through which we choose to seek meaning.  Our soul, the part of us that seeks meaning and purpose, is like a garden, we need to nourish there what we judge to be good, and weed out what we judge will harm us. If we neglect our garden soul it will become a wilderness, and life will seem meaningless.

 

We have great power if we choose to use it: we can access all manner of ‘other worlds’, like the world of our dreams, if we choose to do so. We have the power to shape who we are; how we see the world; how and where we will seek meaning and purpose. Not all the possibilities on the spectrum of consciousness will necessarily open for us, but some certainly will, and probably more than we expect: instance my friend and his dreams.

 

And we have particular God given gifts and guides in our ‘Memories of Home’, and in Jesus in all of His guises, human model, resurrected Lord and personal friend, and Cosmic Christ Who meets us in blessing everywhere and in everyone and everything.

 

 

Consciousness 2

There seems to be agreement that there is a spectrum of consciousness in our minds, and that all parts of the spectrum are ‘hard wired’ into the human brain, are part of what we’re given, and are therefore both available and, in principle, trustworthy.

 

The spectrum of consciousness includes the following:

[1]      Problem solving orientated thought using information from the 5 senses

[2]      Feelings and relationships

[3]      Use of the imagination

[4]      Waking dreams and visions

[5]      Dreaming

[6]      Intuitions

[7]      Revelations of the unconscious

[8]      Spiritual experience

[9]      Silent contemplative being

 

Different societies place value and trust in different areas of the spectrum. Western, secular society places great emphasis, for example on problem orientated thought using the five senses. Other societies have given more credence to visions and religious experience.

 

Moreover, there will often be a variance between what people acknowledge publicly and what they practise in their private personal lives. For example, leaders of the past have often made major public decisions on the basis of dreams and visions.  Any political leader today announcing that a decision had been made on that basis would be publicly ridiculed. But many people, myself included, regularly make decisions that affect their private lives on that basis.

 

Every society assumes that its own pattern of trust and distrust across the spectrum, is normative and therefore ‘correct’, and may ridicule and even persecute alternatives. But there is no obvious reason for accepting that the assumptions of any one society are ‘correct’, or even ‘better’ than those of another. They are simply different.  It might be more fruitful to ask: ‘Do the assumptions we as a society and I as an individual take for granted, serve us well?’ Do they make our lives meaningful and richer?’   To do that we, need to cultivate a degree of self-awareness and detachment.

 

The ideal scenario would be to have equal access across the spectrum, and to be sufficiently self-aware as to know which part of the spectrum to go to and when. So, for example and put very crudely, if you want to catch a train to see a friend you need to use [1]; if you are deciding who you want as a life partner you’ll go to [2] and maybe [6]; and if you want to achieve inner peace you’ll learn to meditate by activating [9].

 

Few decisions are in fact made using only one part of the spectrum, but one part may drive the decision.  I remember when we were looking for a house to buy we had a series of ‘tick boxes’ drawn up using [1]: the house we bought met some but not all of those criteria, for they were overridden as soon as we walked into the house we eventually chose as we ‘knew’ [6] that it ‘felt’ [2] right. We’ve not regretted our decision, and are not unusual in having made it in this way.

 

The worst scenario is to be so exclusively wedded to one part of the spectrum as to be blind and dismissive of the others and the wisdom they access. Not least because if our brains give us the whole range its reasonable to assume that we need all of it. My hunch [6] is that we all use most of the range more than we realise; and that if there are parts of it that we don’t use, then we could train our minds to do so. My experience is that most parts of the spectrum will usually grow with practice.

 

The spectrum divides basically into three areas: firstly, the rational thinking side of the mind located in [1] which deals mainly with verifiable information; secondly the feeling, side of the mind mainly located in [2] which deals with our relationships with others; and thirdly, the imaginative side of the mind mainly located in [3-9] which deals primarily with acquiring meaning in life.

 

Each area deals with a different aspect of human living, so that to function well we actually need access to all of them, but many of us will feel more comfortable dealing with one area over the others. The solution is for everybody to trust the expertise of others in their respective specialist fields, and to a degree we do that.

 

Our society rather specialises in facts and information. We have the technology to give us instant access to as much information and more, than we might need. And we expect, in a rather fundamentalist manner, that everything will do ‘exactly what it says on the tin’. It’s in our feelings and relationships with others/Other that we seek meaning in our lives. We use our imaginations in leisure pursuits like gaming and reading, but we’ve largely lost the assumption that our imaginations might be valuable guides to questions of meaning, like those I raised in my previous post.  I think they are in fact very reliable guides, and that our loss of trust in them leaves us much impoverished.

Consciousness 1

Who am I?  I can answer that by giving you my name, age and nationality. I could supply my contact details and let you have a photograph. You could follow me round and see where I sleep and eat; with whom I spend my time; the clothes I wear and how I look; you could observe what I do and where I do it. And you’d think that you’d end up with a pretty good idea of who I am.   But the person whom you will have watched, is not who I think of as being the real me: it’s not whom I consciously know myself to be.

 

Unless I look in a mirror I never see the person you’ve been watching, and I have a limited idea of how I might have come over to you.  The person I think of as the ‘real’ me, is the inner life, the activity of my conscious mind: the person who was feeling, thinking, reacting in my head, while you were watching me. You could watch and have very little idea of what was going on in my conscious mind. You could end up none the wiser as to who I know myself to be.

 

With the help of GPS you could say exactly where I am at any given time. You could weigh and measure me, and be precise about my size. But I’d be hard pressed to say where and what my conscious mind is, for it has no position in space. I tend to think of it as behind my eyes, because that’s where I am aware of it, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that’s where it actually is. And if I close my eyes I’m not at all sure where it is.  The human brain can be dissected on a table, my mind can’t be.

 

Neither is it easy to place it in time for it seems to have a rhythm and pace of its own. Something that happened years ago may be more really present to my mind than what happened a few minutes ago. My memory can put my inner self in a place I haven’t physically visited for many years, and my hopes can place me well into the future. And as to where and when my dreams take me, I often have no idea. And yet this is who I know to be the real me.

 

This raises all manner of interesting questions about consciousness, about which there is currently much fascination, but little hard information and agreement. That’s not such a bad state to be in: fascination with interesting questions is much to be preferred to answers.

 

[1]      I am very aware that I have only a limited control over my mind, my inner life often seems to have a ‘mind of its own’. Why does a memory suddenly pop up in my mind when there has been no conscious trigger for it to do so?  Why do I get these occasional ‘eureka’ moments, often on waking in the middle of the night, when what was an insolvable problem, is suddenly abundantly clear?  Where does a seemingly original and creative idea come from?

 

[2]      It is possible to make a conscious decision to try and be more aware of what is going on in my mind: to become more self-aware.  Some people find this easier to do then others, some seem to have a positive gift for it, others shy well away from it. Does it matter?  I think that it does.  Knowing oneself is surely key to accepting oneself, becoming oneself, and achieving some degree of inner contentment.

 

[3]      Discovering which of the voices and choices that influence how I feel and behave are mine and which are other peoples which I have unconsciously absorbed, and which are those of the culture in which I’ve grown up, is essential to that process.  I can deliberately choose which of those voices to heed and encourage and which to send packing. I can set out to change and shape who I am, if I wish.  If I do so, I am likely to discover that this inner self is on an interior, often lonely, but potentially deeply rewarding, journey, through life, to which I am invited to wake up and trust. I’m also free to ignore it, but the journey will go on anyway.

 

[4]      Does consciousness only exist within my body?  Recent studies on after death experiences, near death experiences, out of body experiences, religious experiences, visionary experiences seem at the very least to suggest the possibility that consciousness can and sometimes does.

 

[5]      Does consciousness exist just within me, or does it relate to, belong to, or is a part of, something beyond itself?  That might seem a silly question, but a child coming across a television or radio for the first time is likely to think that the pictures and sounds are produced by the equipment they see in front of them. Whereas we know that the television and radio will be picking up signals from elsewhere, possibly a very long way away.  Might our minds be able to pick up signals coming from outside itself?  And if so from where or what or whom?  And how does it do so?  Can it ‘tune itself’ in if it chooses?

 

[6]      Being present at the birth of my children left me full of awe and wonder at creation. Understanding something of the biology didn’t seem to remotely do justice to the experience. Where did this gift of life come from?

Death poses the same question. I’ve seen someone die, and the reality of their dead body after death, and I know that something has gone out of it. The life force, the energy, the consciousness of the person is no longer there. But where has it gone?

Where does consciousness come from and where does it go to?  Is it the part of us that survives death?  Does it pre-exist our birth?

 

[7]      Our minds seem to have a powerful need to relate to other minds. We want to share what we think, and feel; to communicate our loves and hates, when we are hurt, and when we are joyful; what we hope for and our deepest desires. It is important for us to have what’s going on inside us acknowledged and affirmed by others.  Meeting someone who seems to understand and relate to who we consciously know we are is a source of huge delight and can unite us most profoundly. Its also a source of great anger if we subsequently feel ourselves betrayed.

How can we reveal our inner lives that others might know them? Unless we have some self-awareness how likely is that to happen?  Are we willing to take the necessary risks involved in doing so?

And how do we learn to read the inner lives of others? Is it through the voice, what they say and how they say it, or the eyes?  Do they express it through their body? Or the way they dress?  By the choices they make?  Or is there something indefinable that we recognise but would find difficult to put into words, and can we trust it?

 

I find these questions fascinating. But to what extent are they answerable?

 

Memories of Home

Some years ago Roy Gregory and I edited a book entitled ‘The God you already know’. The thrust of the book was that most people with whom we came into contact, in a spiritual direction setting, deep down knew already what they needed to know about God. They mostly didn’t need new information. What they did need was to get in touch with what they already knew and begin to honour and trust it.  Hence our title.

 

What we didn’t ask in that book was, why is this so?  Why do people already seem to know not only about God, but also about what they need to do to deepen their relationship with God? How did they acquire this knowledge?  Where did it come from? They must have learnt it somewhere, and it isn’t obvious to me where.

 

Roy and I also majored on the largely unrecognised value of religious experience. The evidence suggests that the vast majority of people claim to have had a religious experience at some point in their lives, although many would not use religious language to describe it. But people don’t talk about it, and it tends to get buried and forgotten.  Is this the source of peoples’ inner knowledge of God?

 

I’ve puzzled over this question for some time, and my puzzling was sharply focused by having an operation for cancer followed by six months of chemotherapy. There’s nothing like a brush with cancer to get the grey matter working overtime on matters of life and death, and their meaning.

 

It intrigues me that there is speculation about what happens after death, and even a quiet confidence in many that there is in fact something beyond this life. But I’ve never heard people speculating about where we came from before birth.  I find that strange.  I was present at the birth of each of my four daughters and every time I was overwhelmed by a sense of incredulous wonder at the miracle of new life: I understood something of the biology, but it didn’t seem adequate to explain where this spark of new life came from.

 

To my mind the question of ‘is there life before birth?’ must be linked with the question ‘is there life after death’?  I’m fascinated by Deepak Chopra’s notion that every life is framed by two mysteries: birth and death. But we only consider one of them, birth, as a miracle. The reality, I suspect, is that both are miracles and both are gateways from a previous state into a new one. This is not an original idea.

 

In his ‘History of the English church and people’ St Bede [673-735] tells how King Edwin consulted his advisers about whether he should embrace the Christian faith, and one of them said:

“Your Majesty, when we compare the present life of man on earth with that time of which we have no knowledge, it seems to me like the swift flight of a single sparrow through the banqueting-hall where you are sitting at dinner on a winter’s day with your thanes and counsellors. In the midst there is a comforting fire to warm the hall; outside, the storms of winter rain or snow are raging. This sparrow flies swiftly in through one door of the hall, and out through another. While he is inside, he is safe from the winter storms; but after a few moments of comfort, he vanishes from sight into the wintry world from which he came. Even so, man appears on earth for a little while; but of what went before this life or of what follows, we know nothing.  Therefore, if this new teaching has brought any more certain knowledge, it seems only right that we should follow it.”

 

The new teaching did indeed bring some more certain knowledge, certainly about life after death but also of where we come from prior to our birth.  I am repeating what I have written in “The Cosmic Christ” and so I will keep it brief. John’s Gospel begins by telling that the Word, was with God from the beginning, was involved in the creation of everything, and is the light of every human being, but laid down divine status to become human, before dying and returning to God. Paul speaks in very similar terms.

 

I assume that this template is ours too: Bede certainly thought so: we are with God in the beginning, before birth, and return to God after our death. It seems reasonable to wonder if we might have brought some memories, some distant echoes, of that life with God that we left behind, with us at our birth.?  But are there any grounds for believing that this might be true? Well, I think that there is some circumstantial evidence.

 

[1]      It struck me that those who work with children, nurturing their spiritual development, might have some insight into this. So I read Rebecca Nye’s book ‘Children’s Spirituality’, and read that many workers in this field have come to the conclusion that nurturing spirituality in children is more a matter of nurturing and encouraging what children already in some sense innately know, rather than rushing to put ‘in’ what they appear not to have: i.e. that children seem to come with some knowledge of the divine ‘fitted as standard’.

 

[2] Poets seem to have recognised this too. Here are the words by William Wordsworth from ‘Intimations of Immortality’ from Recollections of Early Childhood.’

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:

The soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,

Hath had elsewhere its setting,

And cometh from afar:

Not in entire forgetfulness,

And not in utter nakedness,

But trailing clouds of glory do we come

From God, who is our home:

Heaven lies about us in our infancy!

Shades of the prison-house begin to close

Upon the growing Boy,

But He beholds the light, and whence it flows,

He sees it in his joy;

The Youth, who daily further from the east

Must travel, still is Nature’s Priest,

And by the vision splendid

Is on his way attended;

At length the Man perceives it die away,

And fade into the light of common day.

 

[3] I have written elsewhere about Beauty. For me beauty stands in line with other ‘eternal verities’ like truth, peace, hospitality, friendship, justice, and many others, which seem to share certain common characteristics. They are not easy to define; yet there is general agreement about what constitutes them; we reckon that we’d recognise them when we saw them; and crucially, while expressions of them may vary, knowledge of them seems to be common across all cultures.  Now why is this? Why this universal knowledge of things non-material?  Where does it come from, and why do we all seem to possess it?

 

[4] It appears to be a common feature of life, and one seemingly necessary for our growth, that we are forever having to leave the familiar for the unknown: from the very beginning when we leave our mother’s womb for what awaits us outside; through to leaving home for nursey and school; to leaving one school for another; to leaving the home and family unit we’ve grown up in to start another; to leaving one job to start another; and so on, with finally having to leave all that we’ve loved and valued when our death calls us.

 

This is surely true on a corporate level too. We humans have our origins in Africa, but most of our ancestors left that original home for new homes across the globe. And we have never ceased from doing that: humans have always been on the move. We’ve always been migrants: we’re all immigrants if you go back generations.

Does this pattern teach us something new, or might it be a regular reminder of a deeper reality we have known before and that we can’t easily forget?  Is it somehow hard-wired into us all?

 

James Hollis in his book ‘What matters most?’ suggests that “We are all exiles, whether we know it or not, for who among us feels truly, vitally linked to the four great orders of mystery: the cosmos, nature, the tribe, and self?  He quotes Herman Hesse’s Steppenwolf approvingly, “We have to stumble through so much dirt and humbug before we reach home. And we have no one to guide us. Our only guide is our homesickness.”

 

He also reminds us that most cultures have a myth of an original expulsion from Paradise, as Jews, Christians and Muslims do in the Genesis story. Feeling expelled from Paradise might just another way of saying that we have memories of a home that we have left behind.

 

The Bible takes up St John’s template by beginning with such an expulsion and ending with the creation of a new heaven on earth. Perhaps our memories are not just things of our past, but also a blueprint for our destination.  As Rubem Alves says: ‘what we have lost makes itself present as longing & desire’.

 

To sum up: my experience in spiritual direction is that deep down most people know what they need to know about God, but have lost touch with that knowledge and no longer consciously trust it.  Those who work nurturing the spirituality of children seem to have come to a parallel conclusion: that children come with an innate spirituality that needs nurturing and encouraging.  Poets know of this, and there is a Christian tradition of our pre-existence before birth that supports it. The common human experience of the ‘eternal verities’ seems to point to a similar conclusion. And we seem to be hard-wired for growth through the experience of leaving behind and moving on, but taking our wisdom with us.  All of this seems to me to hang together.

 

This doesn’t constitute proof of the existence of Memories of Home, but I don’t think that proof either for or against is an available option here. We have to make our decision on a different basis. I suggest that we apply the question ‘If this is true will it make life more meaningful and rich or less?’

 

 

The Cosmic Christ

I’d like to share some thoughts arising from the Cosmic Christ of Whom I wrote in ‘Which Jesus’.  John in the opening chapter of his Gospel writes of Jesus as the Word of God Who ‘was with God at the beginning, through Whom all things came to be; without Him no created being came into being. In Him was life, and that life was the light of mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never mastered it.’

 

Paul speaks similarly in Philippians 2:5-11.  “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death– even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

 

This divine template is clear: the Cosmic Christ has existed from the very beginning of everything, has been involved in the creation of everything, and is the light of every single human person who ever was and ever will be, and that light has never been put out; He emptied Himself, became a human being and was crucified; and God then raised Him from death and exalted Him to sit at God’s right hand.

 

Its only recently that some of the implications of this teaching have begun to sink in, and they are simple yet profound. They change everything.

 

1] I believe that this is not only the divine template for Jesus but ours too: that, like Jesus, we come from God prior to our birth and that we return to God after our death, and that our lives only truly make sense within this bigger picture.

 

[2] Jesus of Nazareth sought to live His life is response to the loving God from Whom He came, by living a life and a death rooted in the divine spark [the light] within Him, in preparation for His return to God after His death. Our task is the same, although what specifically that means will be different for each of us.

 

[3] This is not just your story and mine. It is the story of every human being who ever was and who ever will be. All come from God, and the inner light of the Cosmic Christ burns in each. That’s not just the men and women of the Old and New Testaments, but the women and men of all cultures, faiths and times. The divine spark of the Cosmic Christ is the light of everyone; it is the image of God in everyone; a common, if un-named experience of everyone.

 

[4] This changes our understanding of the role of the Christian Church. The Church doesn’t consist of the select few in whom that divine spark burned brightly. The Church’s point of distinction is rather that it knows the good news that the divine spark of the loving God is in everyone.  If this is true then our attitude to people of other faiths and no faith should be one of humble openness and mutual respect.  We all possess the seed of God-given wisdom.  We all have some inner experience of God.

 

[5] So the Church’s mission is not as we have imagined it. We are not to tell people of a God they do not know. We are rather to name a God they already know, but may not have named. We are to be open and share what God has revealed of Godself to us, and to humbly listen to what God has revealed of Godself to them.

 

Some years ago Roy Gregory and I edited a book entitled ‘The God you already know’ based on our experience of listening to men and women who wanted to talk about God and their experience of God. Our conclusion was that most people did not need new information: but what they appeared to welcome was a safe place where they could begin to articulate and trust what deep down they already knew, hence the title of our book.

 

The Cosmic Christ has taken the ideas Roy and I expressed in ‘The God you already know’ to a new and deeper level for me.  All men and women possess the divine spark of the Cosmic Christ within them. They already know about God. This is true across all cultures. Such is the graciousness that the Cosmic Christ reveals.

 

 

 

 

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