Capital from Villelongue
Photograph by the author
In order to understand the action of personal consciousness and its relationship to awareness, it’s useful to see how many different individual conscious entities — molecules, plants, animals — combine together in communities across the surface of our planet. We can be sure this process is universal, reflected and multiplied throughout the Multiverse.
Yet there is no need to think on this vast scale in order to understand how this functions; and in fact thinking on the vast scale question is a mistake, because we become attracted to it and draws us away from its reflection in the mirror, which takes place in us and is right here where we live within ourselves. The human mind loves to stare up at the stars, so to speak, while stumbling around and tripping over every object around it.
The impressions that we take in at any given are enormously complex; it would be quite literally impossible to trace out the sum total of all the molecular ignitions and neurological registrations that take place in one nano second as an impression enters the human body, and there are many millions — probably trillions, all taken together, because every molecular neurological event is an impression on a tiny scale. Multiply this by one second, and there are trillions of trillions; multiply by a minute or hour, and one organism is taking in so many impressions, recording so many molecular relationships, that there is no computer anywhere, no algorithm writable, that can keep track of all of it. (Then we need to multiply it by the number of independent organisms, of course, both within us and outside of us, and so on. You see the staggering nature of it from this perspective.)
Fortunately, we reduce the sum total of our impressions to a more manageable set of experiences; yet it is still a vast array of information. Awareness is designed to sort through all of this and craft what we call the experience of Being. Yet Being has a number of different levels or depths. The superficial level is always lived according to the gross implications of impressions and their relationship to food, sex, and survival. It’s safe to say that life begins there, and need go no further if one isn’t interested. Yet impressions, clearly, have the capacity to evolve in much more sophisticated, nuanced, and interesting ways; they can go beyond the instincts of the animal and into the engendering of the soul, a subject have covered many times in my books about religious iconography of the Middle Ages. It is this movement within that goes past the animal and into be human we are interested, because all of that depends on the way in which Being is engendered (inseminated and born) by our impressions and the way they form relationships within us. Gurdjieff was profoundly interested in this question; yet very little time is spent, comparatively, discussing this specific aspect of his teaching.
My impressions form a complex network within me; and yet they can’t “speak” to me unless they are connected to one another by association. These associations can be crude, in which each one of them derives its force from the primal instincts (food, sex, survival) or they can form a set of associations of greater refinement that relate to spiritual instincts. In order to understand the relationship between these two sets of associative fibers, we need to understand the primal instincts in the following manner:
Food = materiality (physical properties)
Sex = desire (emotional properties)
Survival = power (intellectual properties)
This is where we generally find ourselves in terms of both the impressions we receive from moment to moment in daily life, and in terms of the way we draw our associations together in a web that grows over the course of our life.
The spiritual instincts are quite different, and function as follows:
Community = Being (higher physical properties)
Justice = Purification (higher emotional properties)
Mercy = Wisdom (higher intellectual properties)
In this context, the word “higher” means, higher rate of vibration. So if impressions acquire a deeper network of inward relationship, they vibrate with more intensity — that is, they are able to exchange information more quickly and in more complex ways. This is pretty straightforward — I doubt anyone would argue that such a thing isn’t possible. External human behaviors alone, let alone intellectual achievements, demonstrate that faster information exchange can result in improved performance of many kinds. The difference here is that we are not looking at “improved performance” as a goal for material gain, as it is usually viewed in the outer world, but as a state of existence within consciousness — that is, a heightened awareness. And that awareness itself is quite different than rote consciousness alone, which of itself is a property assignable to almost everything that has an action in the created universe.
Our soul, our awareness, exists within the realm of this residence of consciousness; and it is a fragment of God’s own awareness. Much of what Christ said in the brief passage quoted from John is related to the growth of this seed of God’s own awareness within us; and this is where we find ourselves if we operate according to our spiritual, rather than our primal, instincts.
Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.