The Evolution of Consciousness
It is always heartbreaking to hear the story of individuals who begins a long and promising journey, but never arrives at their destination. We have all known of young, bright people who embark on an ambitious course of study at college, yet drop out after a year and waste the opportunity. Or of a man and a woman who marry with great happiness and expectations, only to separate in bitterness a year or two later.
Unfortunately, this also occurs in personal growth. A person hears about the marvels of meditation, learns how to do it, but then never follows through. The journey is begun, but is not completed. And so much of the anticipated rich potential is never tapped.
Meditation, like everything else, has its dropouts, but the cause of the tragedy is usually different than in broken marriages or collegiate failure. Sometimes, the tyranny of old habits is still too strong, and resistance to change is greater than the commitment to enrich life.
Soon, the person is finding elaborate excuses for not meditating regularly – for not facing the issues before them.
In other cases, meditators have been too zealously schooled in the passive approach to meditating. Instead of taking charge and putting meditation to work, they wait for the higher powers to make themselves known and take control of their life. Very quickly, the meditative experience stagnates and loses its appeal.
For some people, the problem lies in misunderstanding the nature and purpose of meditation. They think of it only as a technique for relaxing and reducing stress. As a result, they are soon bored by the “meditative” experience and abandon it.
There are also people who do use meditation actively and successfully for a while, achieving a number of important breakthroughs and improvements in their lives. Yet at a certain point, these people seem to assume that the gains they have made represent the full meditative experience. And so they stop – and the growth they have been making stops, too.
Such people are very much like the couple who decided to vacation at the seashore. And so they started driving toward the coast, and drove several hours, but then stopped at a motel. Because the motel had a pool, they decided they had reached their goal, and went no further.
Active Meditation is not a start-and-stop proposition. It is meant to be a progressive experience which brings us almost unlimited possibilities for enriching our self-expression and serving humanity as we continue to use it.
Active Meditation is designed to stimulate growth. This is not an accidental byproduct of meditating, it is the central purpose of meditation. The mere fact that people will tend to have other motives for using meditation does not alter this basic condition.
Meditation flourishes in a climate of growth. Where the willingness to grow is lacking, meditation will quickly stagnate.
The creed of Active Meditation is to live life with a maximum of wisdom, love, dignity, beauty, courage, and skill.
If we are able to keep this principle in mind, then the true purpose of meditation will always be self-evident. We will never be tempted to abandon it – or our responsibilities, relationships, and creative opportunities, for that matter. We will always be looking forward to the next improvement in consciousness and maturity.
Yet for real growth to occur, our commitment to growing must be something more than just a lovely philosophy. It must be an active feature of our self-expression, embracing all areas of consciousness.
Our sense of purpose should become more refined. Our command of spiritual will should deepen.
Our range of awareness should expand to include not only a wider domain of ideas but also a greater capacity to understand and apply them.
The maturity of our mind and its ability to regulate our behavior should increase.
Our expression of affection, devotion, compassion, goodwill, and tolerance should be enriched.
Our skills in managing the problems and challenges of life should improve.
The productivity of our physical efforts should increase.
Our capacity to make a contribution to civilization should become greater.
If this kind of change and enrichment is not being pursued, then our meditations will not be fulfilling the purpose they are designed to serve. An essential part of the life and meaning of meditation will be missing.
A Changing Equation
To appreciate the full potential of Active Meditation we must plan our use of meditative techniques in terms of the growth we can achieve.
In doing this, it is important to understand that the genuine growth of consciousness and character is not a mechanical process. It does not proceed in the same way we would assemble a machine or construct a building.
We are a living system. If we make a significant change in any aspect of our thoughts or attitudes, it will evoke a modification in many other aspects of our personality and character as well.
A richer experience of the benevolent force of the Higher Self, for instance, will eventually change our self-expression – our attitudes about ourself, our past, our work, our relationships, and the future.
This, in turn, will foster changes in our values, our self-esteem, and perhaps some of our goals.
We may even undergo a certain amount of conflict, as old bigotry is challenged by the “new wave” of benevolence. Assumptions we were perfectly comfortable with in the past now make us uneasy, unsure.
Thus, they must be examined, reevaluated, and healed.
In no way are the changes of Active Meditation overnight miracles. The potential for enrichment is vast, but the enrichment builds step by step, over a long period of time.
The new life of the Higher Self cannot be added to the personality as though it were a postage stamp to be affixed to its proper position.
Each new addition to consciousness must be blended into the basic structure of our character.
This, in turn, rearranges the structure itself, and every thought, habit, attitude, and memory must be reexamined and reevaluated. To put the proposition in mathematical terms, the whole equation is changed and must be refigured.
Once we acquire the knack of making these modifications, the process is not nearly as difficult as it may seem at first. It primarily involves being able to deal with our values, character, thoughts, habits, and feelings as a single whole.
The spiritual life is often described with platitudes about wholeness, holistic healing, oneness, synthesis, and one pointedness. This is merely a practical opportunity to translate the platitudes into an actual skill.
Nevertheless, some people will prefer to ignore this adaptive and integrative process of growth. To some extent, they will be able to get away with it for a while, but it will leave their mental household in disorder. They will soon become prey to ambivalence, doubt, and conflict, the symptoms which betray a lack of wholeness.
We can only deceive ourselves so long. Ultimately, we must come to grips with the basic reality of growth – that the conflict of opposing attitudes, habits, and psychological forces must be resolved before major degrees of new life can enter.
The failure to acknowledge inconsistencies in our character and work to resolve them is probably the greatest stumbling block to growth.
The Cycles of Growth
The dynamic changes which will occur in consciousness as we work with the techniques of Active Meditation will involve two major fields of activity:
the integration of the Higher Self with the personality,
and the integration of our present state of waking consciousness with our past states of thought, feeling, and intention.
Most people who meditate look primarily for signs they are growing in the first field of activity, the integration of the Higher Self with the personality, and naturally so. But it is important not to overlook the significance of integrating the growth we are making with our past states of thought, feeling, and intention as well.
The conscious experiences we have while meditating are not necessarily reliable indicators of genuine growth. We must never assume, for example, that fifteen minutes of bliss will immediately and completely saturate our entire subconscious storehouse of memories and associations.
In actual fact, it may not touch them at all, unless we consciously direct the bliss we are experiencing into our memory patterns.
Unfortunately, few meditators spend much time working on integrating their present state of consciousness into their memories, habits, and attitudes from the past. They apparently believe the past is past, and irrelevant. But this is not true.
Our earlier states of consciousness are the foundation on which our present state of awareness is constructed.
For genuine growth to occur, therefore, we must work to integrate the whole of our character with the Higher Self, not just the most obvious parts of it. This will involve cleansing and renewing many issues and habits from the past, including the far distant past.
We should always keep in mind that the marvelous insights, glorious feelings of compassion, and sense of oneness with God that we experience in meditation, while real, do not pervade our whole character. They may only be oases of partial enlightenment within a desert of unredeemed imperfection. They are a sign we are moving in the right direction, but never an excuse for ignoring the problems which remain.
We should also understand that growth is not a journey which always proceeds in a straight line, as though we were on a rocket traveling from Earth to Jupiter.
It is more a cycle which repeats itself over and over again. The cycle goes both forward into the future and backward into the past, thereby enabling us to achieve full integration.
There are five phases to this cycle of growth:
- The invocation of new life from the Higher Self.
- The registration and comprehension of this new life.
- The revision of self-image, attitudes, and values, incorporating this new life and our expanded comprehension.
- A consolidation of the progress we have made, leading to an awareness of the implications inherent in this facet of growth.
- A return to phase one and a repetition of the entire cycle.
To properly understand this cycle, we must realize that phase one always follows after the completion of an earlier cycle. In other words, new life from spirit does not pour into the personality just as the result of idle curiosity or a simplistic use of meditation. It enters into the life of the personality as the result of the effort to honor the impulse to grow already active within us.
If we are ready to work with genuine solutions and improvements in our daily life, not merely escape from discomfort, then there will be a genuine influx of whatever spiritual qualities we need.
The second phase of the cycle is the activity of conscious attunement to this new life.
If we do not become aware of new insights, they cannot help us.
If we do not actually feel and radiate new compassion and tolerance, we cannot heal our resentments or bitterness.
If we do not sense new courage and confidence, we cannot act with greater initiative in daily life.
This is just a matter of common sense.
Many naive people fervently believe that all we have to do is make our needs known to the benevolent omniscience of God, and then we are blessed with what we require. The spiritual adult sees through this improbable notion, and takes the responsibility to register and comprehend the meaning of this new life in the context of these needs.
There are a number of key areas to consider in this regard:
- How does this new life affect our understanding of who we are?
- How does this new life strengthen our relationship with the Higher Self? How will this stronger bond of partnership influence our meditations and self-expression from now on?
- How does this new life modify our attitudes and perspectives toward our work and responsibilities? Will this change our behavior in any way in the future?
- How does this new life enlighten our attitudes and perspectives about past conflicts and difficulties? Have areas of forgotten self-deception been uncovered? Are we able to use this new life to heal problems from the past?
- How does this new life affect our ideals? Have they been refined or strengthened? Are we more aware of their importance and relevance to our life? Can we make them more central to our waking thought and action hereafter?
- How does this new life add to our sense of purpose and motivation?
- What have we discovered about our basic temperament? Are we now more aware of our strengths and limitations? Are we better able to control our self-expression and use it with enlightenment?
- What have we discovered about the inner side of life – universal order, divine archetypes, the universal presence of goodwill, or the innate fellowship of humanity? How does this enrich our daily activities?
The third phase of the cycle takes the new insights and understanding and seeks, deliberately and consciously, to integrate them into our memories and associations – the structure of our character.
This phase of growth will not seem as exciting or glamorous as the discovery of new insights and cosmic forces, but it is essential to the evolution of consciousness, as essential as eating and breathing is to the health of the physical body.
We have not really grown much in goodwill until we are able to cultivate, focus, and use it to express tolerance and forgiveness toward our enemies from the past and situations which have threatened us.
Just feeling good about life and others is not enough.
By the same token, we have not really grown much in wisdom until we are able to review painful episodes from the past and see the lessons we have learned from them. This would include the strengths we have cultivated by enduring these situations, and the contributions these events have made to our overall destiny and duty.
The meditative skill of blessing is especially valuable in integrating the new life of the Higher Self into memories and associations from the past.
Blessings are designed to give focus to our deepest benevolent impulses about life. At one time or another, however, all seven techniques of personal growth in Active Meditation will be used in pursuing this phase.
The fourth phase of the cycle of growth consolidates the progress we have made during the earlier stages of the cycle. The work of consolidation consists partly of recognizing that certain goals of growth have largely been reached – not as a singular achievement, but as part of the larger dimensions and implications of the growth that has been occurring.
Over long periods of time, it is indeed quite possible to resolve major problems and difficulties, both from the past and the present. The more we work with effective meditative techniques and principles, the more the life of the personality becomes redeemed, purified, and aligned with the Higher Self. Thus, it is quite reasonable, at times, to look back and realize that certain problems have now been managed fully, and we can turn our attention to new issues of growth.
It may be little surprise that the new issues will be related to the problems behind issues we have just resolved. For instance, we may overcome our excessive caution in developing and maintaining friendships, but then go on to work on issues of distrust of authority and fear of criticism.
The lessons we are learning now are almost always preparation for greater lessons yet to come.
Consolidation is the mysterious stage in growth where old trends and chapters come to a close, but reappear in a new set of challenges. It is therefore an excellent time to refocus our commitment and dedication to growth, and to realize that growth occurs not only in consciousness but also in achievement.
Once the phase of consolidation is completed, the fifth phase of the cycle is activated – which takes us back to phase one and the cycle begins again.
This may seem a discouraging prospect to the beginning meditator, but it really is not. After all, it is the nature of cycles to repeat themselves, over and over again. But each new repetition of the cycle brings fresh wisdom, renewed vigor, greater compassion, and a higher level of achievement.
Actually, there is a great deal of wisdom in the cyclic nature of growth. The wisdom, love, and strength of the Higher Self are not finite quantities. They cannot come pouring into the awareness of the personality as though we were dipping a ladle into a vat of hot wax and pouring the wax into a candle mold.
They must be added gradually, layer after layer, as though the candle was being dipped first into one color of wax, then another, and then still another, until many cycles of dipping had occurred and the candle was complete.
The personality can only grow effectively if it registers and learns to express the new life it has acquired. In other words, the cycle must be completed before going on to a new cycle and the greater stimulation it will bring.
It is unfortunate that many people believe that once they have “worked through” a problem they are done with it for all time. Usually, it is only the first aspects of the problem which has ended, and it will likely reappear in a new and more challenging form in the not-too-distant future.
When it does reappear, however, they are often quite crestfallen, because the problem they thought they had solved for all time has now come back to haunt them. If these people better understood the cyclic nature of growth, however, they would better understand the dynamics of what has happened.
Progress in the evolution of consciousness paves the way to further progress. Growth is never meant to cease – not even with the death of the physical body.
The Need For Flexibility
It must be understood that these cycles of growth rarely unfold with the precision this outline of the five phases suggest. The preserving-conserving nature of the personality will tend to send false signals that everything is well and no further improvement is necessary.
The lazy elements within our character will balk at the notion of integrating new life into old memories and associations.
Blind spots will find clever ways of hiding from detection.
Rationalizations and selfishness will have an odd way of reproducing themselves.
All of these factors tend to cause the smooth development of growth to falter.
Yet if we pursue the major themes of our personal growth, we will begin to comprehend the general outlines of the lessons the Higher Self has planned for this particular incarnation. These lessons will be different for us than for our friends, but they will be based on a great deal of wisdom and careful planning – planning which the Higher Self initiated long before this incarnation began.
In this context, then, it will be easier to see the approach we should take in using the techniques of Active Meditation.
Growth in consciousness is a dynamic process, and it changes as our rapport with the Higher Self improves. Thus, we can expect our use of meditation to be a process that evolves as well.
At first, we may concentrate on enriching our emotions or improving our self-image. Once a certain amount of progress has been made in these areas, we will start to focus more on the use of the techniques for mental house-cleaning, solving problems, and contacting the wisdom of the Higher Self.
Yet a while later, we may find ourself returning to the technique for enriching the emotions and augmenting them with their mental counterparts. For instance, we might work to add trust to our faith, conviction to our desires, and commitment to our devotion.
There is no set formula for how to use the techniques of Active Meditation, and we should steadfastly resist the temptation to establish one. Each person must decide which areas of growth need the greatest support and concentrate on these. In all this work, it is important to remain flexible so that our priorities can be shifted to adapt as growth occurs and new opportunities for healing and enrichment develop.
Indeed, the techniques themselves can be adapted and modified as circumstances require, so long as they remain true to the basic principles upon which they are founded.
This need for flexibility and growth is often overlooked by systems of meditation and spiritual growth.
A technique for relaxation or stress control will be taught, for example, but once the meditator becomes proficient in it, there is little or no encouragement to go beyond it and work at higher levels of growth. By continuing to use that one technique over and over again, too much “relaxation” is achieved at emotional, mental, spiritual and physical levels. This often has the “side effect” of diminishing our capacity for initiative and endurance. Such rigidity all but defeats the spirit of growth.
Or, the meditator will be taught a concept which helps them grow beyond their limited ideas and beliefs, for example, to be a selfless devotee of an infinite God.
In time, though, the bold new concept itself becomes old and limiting by it lack of emphasis on lines of service and stewardship.
Yet the meditator can have invested so much energy and effort in working with this concept that they are unable to grow beyond it. They become stuck in the original concept for the rest of his life.
It is very easy to become a victim of the momentum of a technique or a system.
But this need not occur, if we keep in mind that meditation is not an end unto itself. It is merely a method for establishing better contact between the Higher Self and the personality.
This contact should grow and evolve into greater collaboration. We should look for this growth in our practice of meditation and welcome it, just as we look for growth in consciousness, and embrace it.