RAISING CONSCIOUSNESS – The Time Is Nigh
“Meditation is not a drug to make us oblivious to our real problems. It should produce awareness in us and also in society” (Thich Nhat Hanh)
“No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it” (Albert Einstein)
A bat flaps his wings in Wuhan and causes a hurricane in New York…..well this is a slight alternation of the famous chaos theory “Butterfly Effect” postulated by Edward Lorenz in the Sixties, but it serves to remind us of the interconnectedness of all beings on the planet. How I behave and interact with others around me undoubtedly has a much wider impact on the society in which I live and ultimately on the whole of mankind through the ‘knock on’ mechanism.
For many thousands of years man has contemplated the nature of reality and his own place within that. From the sages of India to the philosophers of Greece, we have wrestled with the existential question of why we exist as embodied beings and what is our purpose in life.
The philosophy of yoga is deeply embedded with the theory of karma, a psychological process through which we accumulate memories that carry a positive or negative emotional charge and hence condition our future behaviour. Yoga also incorporates the idea that this gift of life (and all the previous ones, given the belief in reincarnation) is an opportunity to evolve, which we can either grasp or squander.
So given all of the above, might we not seek to raise our level of consciousness as individuals, which can then translate into a transformation within the collective consciousness of mankind. Let us consider three key questions:
a) how does raising our consciousness level help us and the community,
b) what techniques might we adopt in this process and
c) why is it important to do so now?
I shall attempt here to address briefly each of these questions but prior to so doing it is worth highlighting that whilst ‘raising consciousness’ ultimately is about spiritual awakening, we first have to ‘use the mind to go beyond the mind’, that is to say we need to apply our cognitive abilities in order to change often deeply embedded thought patterns to seek the ultimate goal of self realization – a paradigm shift in our understanding of the nature of reality. So the mind is the tool we employ, which translates non coincidentally into the word ‘mantra” in sanskrit meaning literally “instrument of the mind”!
The benefits of raised consciousness include greater discernment in our decision making, which is often connected to another benefit, namely the ability to recognize our initial emotional reactions to events and circumstances and hence hop off the emotional train early before we have traveled too far. A very simple example to illustrate this point might be how we respond to an upsetting email: in the unaware state of mind, we might well answer with a knee jerk reaction driven by the emotions of anger and indignation, however, in a state of raised consciousness we have the self control to check the rising emotions and respond, rather than react, in a measured and thoughtful way. We have not become robots without emotion, but we can now redirect our mind so that our emotions no longer control us. In simple neurological terms, we our utilizing our cortex to override the limbic system which is the seat of our emotions. Raised consciousness also leads to greater focus and less distracted behaviours, so that our ability to complete tasks requiring deep concentration improves. In addition, another by-product of raised consciousness is a greater sense of compassion, as our natural sense of empathy, putting ourselves in another’s position and recognizing their suffering, can translate into love towards those suffering and hence action to help them.
Let us now consider what technique might help us to achieve this goal. Most activities involve our brain interacting with the external world via input from our senses, but to raise consciousness we really need to withdraw from external objects of awareness and bring our focus inward. So meditation techniques can provide us with the tools to do this. There are many styles of meditation and different people will resonate more or less with certain techniques. One very popular and well studied form is loving-kindness meditation that has been shown to enhance compassion. In an experiment by the Max Planck Institute in Germany referred to in the book “Altered Traits”, it was found under fMRI studies that individuals without any instruction who were shown graphic videos of people suffering, experienced emotional discomfort “with only their negative circuits for emotional empathy activated”. However, another group of volunteers received brief instruction in compassion focusing on love for those suffering rather than just empathy with the suffering itself. This second group saw very different brain circuits activated similar to those activated by a parent’s love for their child.
Other experiments have demonstrated that improvements in attention and memory can be seen by novice meditators in just a couple of weeks. More experienced meditators seem to demonstrate lower levels of cortisol, a key stress hormone and reduced levels of inflammation, and there is substantial evidence that inflammation is linked to many diseases, such as heart disease and auto immune disorders. A calming of the mind is also achieved through the slowing of the breath and hence metabolic rate that naturally occurs in deeper meditation There are further altered brain activities demonstrated by extremely advanced meditators, who spend their whole lives dedicated to self realisation, but for most of us that may be beyond our realm of possibility, at least in this lifetime!
Finally we might ask why is now the moment to focus on this? Well the answer is simple. This virus has not only raised concerns about a health pandemic that impacts the globe, it has also dramatically impacted the whole structure of our society with regard to the 3 “E’s”: education, economics and entertainment. Everything has been turned on its head, and maybe this is exactly the right moment to review how humanity has been abusing the planet, mistreating each other and behaving with unbridled arrogance and selfishness.
As Mahatma Gandhi once said: “the world has enough for everyone’s need, but not for everyone’s greed”.