Recently I heard an eminent astronomer proclaim: “The universe doesn’t care if we exist, and it won’t care if we go away.” If you’ve spent any time alone in the wilderness, you know that’s true physically. But is the cosmos, which may itself be conscious, really indifferent to the evolution of brains such as ours, with the capacity for consciousness beyond thought, science and technology?
Being a philosopher of no faith, in the sense of a belief system, and of little faith, in the sense of trust without evidence in people and a higher intelligence, I have a perennial question about whether there are ultimately three or just two movements in human consciousness.
On the one hand I’ve had too much experience with what I’m loath to call dark forces to deny their existence. On the other hand I have too little experience with a movement of intelligence in human consciousness to feel that there is anything beyond the possibility of negating darkness within the individual, beginning and ending with oneself.
My spiritual practice reflects the imperative of negation and stillness. Taking a daily period of passive observation is a matter of internal hygiene to my mind, an action of simple inward cleansing. The transcendent states that ensue with complete negation of useless or harmful emotional and cognitive accumulation are an unsought benefit, not the reason one washes off the dirt through negation in meditation.
Water, as an actuality and symbol, is of the essence, both in terms of life itself, and in terms of religious practice. Many astrobiologists now believe that
wherever there is liquid water in the universe, there we will probably find life. That hypothesis has yet to be tested on Europa, one of the moons of Jupiter, or Enceladus, one of the moons of Saturn, where liquid water lies below a thick crusts of ice. But if Earth is any indication, liquid water and life are nearly synonymous.
Water is the central symbol of many religions. Hindus ritually cleanse their bodies and souls in the sacred waters of the Ganges. Catholics baptize their babies and Protestants their born again believers in water, sometimes with full immersion. Therefore beyond the physical necessity of water as the most important element of life, there is the oft-neglected necessity of keeping oneself inwardly clean. Few people do that, or know how to perhaps, but to a person who does, it’s more important than physical cleanliness.
It’s unnecessary and unhelpful to think in terms of sin. Rather, it is in the nature of human consciousness to accumulate memories, hurts, hatreds, sorrows and suffering. They pile up in the mind and heart, eventually encrusting one’s perception and feeling, destroying sensitivity and innocence.
One can see how stultifying this material in consciousness has become, since sensitivity and innocence is being systematically, and systemically, destroyed in younger and younger children. They lose their innocence not only through physical and sexual abuse, but also through continuous exposure to the rampant and rancid consumeristic garbage of the globalizing, capitalistic, American-style economy.
A daily period of passive, intense observation cleans off the caked material that builds up on the windowpanes of the mind and heart. One thereby restores unobstructed perception to the mind and heart. Given what the world has become, there is no more important action that an adult can learn, and teach their children.
But even though I’m certain of the efficacy of effortless, undivided attention (call it meditation, mindfulness, contemplation or whatever), that still leaves the question of whether there is only crud, and individual cleaning, where consciousness is concerned.
Since one regularly contacts a completely impersonal sacredness, to my mind there is, beyond reasonable doubt, an immanent intelligence permeating nature and the cosmos. Whether God in this sense, like nature itself, is utterly indifferent to humans, or in some impersonal sense cares about humanity, is the question.
If there are only two movements in consciousness–the accumulation of darkness, and its possible, indeed essential negation in the individual–then authentic religious experience is just for the very few. That makes no sense to me. Besides, it would mean that humanity doesn’t stand a chance in the long, and perhaps the short run.
Sometimes I feel that there is a third movement besides darkness and negation. I just don’t feel it very often, especially lately. And if a so-called mystic who regularly experiences transcendence doesn’t, then no wonder so many people have given up on humanity, taking the view that there’s only cosmic randomness, unmitigated materialism, and intractable self-centeredness.
That still leaves cosmic intelligence AWOL in the present age. Can that intelligence only operate through us? Is this the darkest hour before the dawn, or a darkening hour before many more hours in this dark night of the human soul?