Seeking Higher Consciousness
A lot of people over a lot of years have tried to go beyond the normal perception of reality and reach the highest state of consciousness. And a handful have succeeded. In the 1890's a man named Edmund Bucke published Cosmic Consciousness, a book chronicling what he considered fourteen "for sure" realized souls and a host of "maybes". "There exists a family," he wrote, -sprung from, living among, but scarcely forming a part of ordinary humanity, whose members are spread abroad throughout the advanced races of mankind and throughout the last forty centuries of the world's history. The trait that distinguishes these people from other men is this: Their spiritual eyes have been opened and they have seen." Bucke's main hypothesis was that the experience of enlightenment, once possessed only by such men as founded the world's religions, is evolving into the human race. That experience, once obtained, transforms an individual from human to divine, he said, and it is to that state that all men are gradually heading.
If the proliferation of consciousness-oriented activities in recent years is any indication, Edmund Bucke may have been right. From bio-feedback to Zen comics to "mystic jogging", expanding your awareness is "in". More than one author has expanded his pocketbook by examining the frontiers of consciousness, and books on meditation have a ready-made market. But most people would rather experience it than read about it.
Your favorite sports heroes, for instance. It seems that half the Phillies are now chanting mantras, while not too far away, clinical psychologist Robert Nideffer is teaching the Buffalo Bills techniques of mind control. Tennis-star Cliff Richey is learning how to relax under pressure through psycho-cybernetics, as are Bill Singer of the California Angels and Dick Woodson of the Minnesota Twins. What has the silent majority to say about all this? Not much. They're too busy enjoying their own mystical experiences; at least so the New York Times Magazine would have us believe. In a recent issue, it published research done on 1,500 -average- American adults. Fifty per cent affirmed that they had had a "religio-mystical experience." Forty-five per cent had at one time or another felt "completely one with God or the universe." And almost half responded yes to the question: "Have you ever had the feeling of being very close to a powerful spiritual force that seemed to lift you out of yourself?"
Naturally, all this is of great interest to the social scientists, who are not by any means far behind in pursuing the leap into the unknown.' Psychologist Richard Alpert took LSD in the 60's, left first his body and then Harvard, and finally found a guru in India. Beginning in 1961 and continuing for many years thereafter, a Mexican shaman led anthropologist Carlos Castenada through psychedelic and astral worlds. And since then hundreds of young social scientists have begun sitting Zen and whirling with the Sufis, chanting and tripping, encountering, exploring everything from hypnotism to sorcery. They've discovered a lot of ways to go beyond what they thought they had to be, and to become for a little while a conscious drop of a vast ocean, bliss, a witness of creation, God.
A few scientists, like Richard Alpert, abandoned their old life and threw their entire beings into the search for the Beyond. Most, however, have returned from their days of wonder to laboratories and offices, and tried to make sense of it all But even infrequent glimpses of consciousness beyond ego have opened them, irrevocably, to thirsting for more. That taste of the Beyond beyond mind, beyond society, beyond limited identity – has begun a revolution in social science whose "consequences may be even more far-reaching than those which emerged from the Copernican, Darwinian, and Freudian revolutions," according to Willis W. Harmon of Stanford University. The telescope revealed to Galileo a new universe; psychologists who have dared to use inner telescopes have entered a new reality from which there is no turning back.
"Then let us begin to be ourselves and become our own best hope," writes Charles Muses in ending the Epilogue to Consciousness and Reality. "Then will the 1970's have marked a sizable evolutionary mutation to the truly Human, a king salmon's leap done by each. That leap will be principally negotiated by a deep change in human consciousness, signs of which are already on the horizon. So will Consciousness make new Reality."
So it looks like this: Higher Consciousness, knowing the mystery of life, has been around for a long time. Some people have lived in it; some have had flashes. The flashes seem to be getting more frequent. But as Edmund Carpenter remarked in the late 1800's, "If there is a higher form of consciousness obtainable by man than that which he can for the most part claim at present, it is probable – nay, certain – that it is evolving and will evolve but slowly, and with many a slip and hesitant pause by the way." In other words, the effort to break through into higher consciousness is immense, and so is the chaos and confusion that surround it.
It's all reminiscent of the fabled maze of Crete. Only this time, if you walk the maze correctly, you end up enlightened instead of dead. And this time, the maze is in your head. For those who aren't into Greek myths, let's put it this way: There are a lot of avenues in the city of your mind, a lot of trips to get into, a lot of streets to walk down looking for what you want. Some are well-lit with neon signs pointing the way to well-known methods of enjoyment; some are warm and frontporchy, secure and relaxing. Some take us into reminiscences, some into astral-tripping and cosmic games. But the question is whether you want to be on these city streets of the mind at all.
There's another way to go about getting to where we want to go – higher consciousness – and it involves leaving the streets of your mind behind, getting out of the maze completely.
Take a blimp. By simply throwing a few sand bags over the guard rail – or letting helium out of the jets – you can rise up out of city streets and hover in infinite skies. Looking below, it's possible to chart which streets go where, and which don't go anywhere. Real meditation has the same effect. First, it quiets the mind. At that point, you're not walking down any streets; you're not getting into anything; you've stopped. Meditate some more. Now you're rising out of the mind's maze; the city lies below. What you've just done, by meditating, is use your own God-given, natural and organic consciousness-raising mechanism.
Jacob Boehme, a gentleman of the 16 h century, didn't know about blimps. But he knew that in order to get to the highest experience, it's necessary to still the mind, to stop walking down its streets, and soar:
The scholar said to his master: "How may I come to the supersensual life, that I may see God and hear Him speak? His master said: "When you can throw yourself but for a moment into that place where no creature dwells, then you hear what God speaks."
Scholar – Is that near at hand or far off?
Master–It is in you, and if you can for awhile cease from all your thinking and willing, you will hear unspeakable words of God.
Scholar – How can I hear when I stand still from thinking and willing?
Master –When you stand still from thinking and willing of self, the eternal hearing, seeing and speaking will be revealed to you, and so God hears and sees through you. Your own hearing, willing and seeing hinders you, so that you do not see nor hear God.
Scholar – How shall I hear and see God, since He is above nature and creature?
Master – When you are quiet or silent, then you are that which God was before nature and creature, and that by which He made your nature and creature. Then you hear and see with that which God saw and heard in you before your own willing, seeing and hearing began.
Up in those pretty far out skies above the mind, there's a lot to experience. Boehme called the experience "God". Others have called it Nirvana. And scores of scholars have disputed its nature. But the question is not to define it, but to get there and experience it. Returning to Edmund Bucke,
The whole of Buddhism is simply this: There is a mental state so happy, so glorious, that all the rest of life is worthless compared to it, a pearl of great price to buy which a wise man willingly sells all that he has; this state can be achieved. The object of all Buddhist literature is to convey some idea of this state and to guide aspirants into this glorious country, which is literally the Kingdom of God.
You don't have to be Buddhist to want to go there. This is the core of every religion and it's the goal of every human being that's had a glimpse that it exists. Real meditation is more than a means of mellowing out, relaxing from daily tensions or sharing good vibes. It's the means to still your mind and enter the ultimate state of consciousness.
I do not doubt that interiors have their interiors, and exteriors have their exteriors, and that the eyesight has another eyesight, and the hearing another hearing, and the voice another voice. – Walt Whitman