If we want to consciously shift into a new paradigm there are two human capacities we need to pay particular attention to. The first is awareness. The second is our capacity to identify.
Awareness is one of the most fundamental aspects of our experience. We are aware. We perceive things. We don’t just live life. We experience it. The fact that we are aware – that we experience – is what allows us to respond to the world. It is what allows the world to affect us.
It was common in the West until only a few hundred years ago to assume that only human beings were truly aware. Even what we now consider to be the most intelligent animals were assumed to be merely automated, mechanistic, instinctual beings without any real inner capacity to know or feel.
At the same time there have always been those who believed that everything is aware. In the Western philosophical canon individuals like Spinoza and Alfred North Whitehead are two examples of individuals who saw the universe as alive and infused throughout with intelligence and feeling. This view is known as Panpsychism and it is one we need to consider deeply.
The paradigm we have been trained in sees the universe as essentially inanimate empty space populated by things a few of which are alive and intelligent beings. The new paradigm will recognize that the universe we live in is awake.
We are not an intelligent thing living in a dead universe. We are part of the universe and our intelligence is an extension of the intelligence of the universe itself. We are an organ of perception of a living universe.
Right now my fingers are gliding across this keypad tapping each next key in order to type words that match what I am thinking. We don’t think of our fingers as intelligent, we realize that the intelligence they seem to be expressing in knowing what keys to hit is an extension of our intelligence. We are an intelligent being and the different parts of us express our intelligence. In the same way the intelligence we express as human beings is not ours. It is the intelligence of the universe expressing itself through us.
In a living universe matter is infused with awareness. The character of awareness changes depending on the form of material it emanates from. Every piece of matter is aware but not all awareness is the same. A rock has awareness, but it doesn’t have the same awareness that human beings have.
We live in a universe of overlapping awareness. Awareness is emanating out of everything and every system of things. I am writing now in an airplane as I fly to lead a retreat. The chair I am sitting on is aware, and the plastic it is made from is aware, the wing is aware, the ground below is aware, every blade of grass down there is aware. Awareness is emanating out of everything and every system of things.
The awareness that emerges through something as complex as a human being has a wide range of perceptual possibility and some extraordinary capacities. One of these capacities is the ability to identify things.
We not only experience things, we identify them. We create concepts that amalgamate a set of experiences into one experience. There is a man sitting next to me. I see the shape of his body and know he is a man. I don’t see his whole body of course. I can only see part of him, but through the power of conceptualization I add all this up, fill in any gaps, and identify him as a man.
My experience of any identified thing is not an experience of the thing itself. It is an amalgamation of numerous experiences that I recognize (ie: re-cognize, or cognize again) as whatever it is, a man, a tree, a baseball field. As I see it, all of the conceptual things that we identify are real things with their own awareness.
One of the things that we identify is ourselves. I can identify myself, Jeff, in the same way that I identify the man next to me. There are a certain set of experiences that I have of myself that I amalgamate into my identity. This identity is what we call my self, or my ego.
The journey of illumination in many mystical schools is a journey from the identity level of self, or ego, to the source of self or Universal Awareness. Enlightenment experiences bring us into contact with the original source of awareness prior to the shaping influence of any container.
I spent many years pursuing this kind of release into Universal Awareness and have been blessed with many dramatic experiences of universal consciousness. These experiences are the source of my conviction that the universe is a living conscious being, but these experiences are not what fuels my work most today.
Certainly I will always be fascinated by the experience of universal consciousness. I continue to engage in spiritual practices that give me moments of universal awakening. And these sublime bursts of brilliance do inspire me profoundly. That being said, what I feel most urgent about is not releasing into universal consciousness, but releasing our current sense of self into a new one.
Our current way of identifying ourselves as human defines a range of perceptual possibility. We can only be aware of so much in our current form. Our inability to deal effectively with many of the global challenges we face is telling us that our current range of perceptual possibility is not vast enough. We simply do not have the imagination to envision the solutions we are looking for.
Along with my experiences of Universal Awareness I have also had experiences of Collective Awakening. In collective or inter-subjective spiritual work it is possible to come together with others to invoke a collective shift in identity. In this shift the individuals involved let go of their attachment to being themselves and engage in dialog practices.
In these gatherings something miraculous begins to happen. You start to feel that the words that are coming out of your mouth are not coming from the individual you. They are coming from something beyond you. They are coming from a larger self that includes everyone present. The words coming out of each seemingly separate mouth are coming from the same collective being. You no longer feel like you are having a conversation with other individuals, you feel like you are part of the thinking process of some larger being.
If you keep going something even more miraculous can happen. You stop feeling like an individual who is playing a part in a larger thought process and start feeling like the larger being thinking. Your identity has shifted from an individual who is part of a process, to the entity that is the process.
This is not the same as awakening to universal consciousness. This is a two stage process of awakening a new collective being, or what I have called elsewhere a meta–being. First there is the awakening to the existence of the meta–being and our part in it. Then there is the awakening of the meta–being itself.
Some form of meta–being is the next form of self that our planet is calling for. It will open up a whole new range of perceptual possibility that we cannot hope to imagine in our current form.
To play a part in the awakening of meta–being there is one essential skill that we must develop. That skill is the ability to be flexible with our identity. When we feel, when we think, when we take action, we are not just doing those things, we are doing them as someone. Our feeling, thinking and acting don’t emerge out of thin air. They emerge out of our identity – out of our sense of self.
Notice right now as you read these words that you are not just reading them, you are reading them as someone. If you feel into your experience you will see that you are experiencing everything as someone. The awareness that is reading these words is passing through a sense of self, like water passing through a straw. If you let go of identity you will fall back into the ocean from which the water in the straw is being drawn. You will see that you are that ocean and always have been.
In our deep spiritual experiences we realize that we are not limited to the person we have always thought ourselves to be. We can move into Universal Awareness by untethering from our sense of identity. And we can also let go of your current identity and allow the energy of awareness flowing through us to be absorbed into the awareness of meta–being.
The universe is alive and aware and currently on this planet one of the forms it is emerging through is the human form. In that form it has access to the amazing capacity for self-awareness. At the same time the current human self is profoundly isolated and alone. We are not able to directly perceive the unity that underlies all of reality. We are lost in a paradigm that sees separation and division.
In our deep awakening moments we see for a few minutes, hours or days that all is One, but those visions don’t generally become permanent because they are eventually usurped by the dominant paradigm of separation. We are left with memories of Unity and knowledge of Oneness, but the direct experience of it eludes us.
Our current human form is not big enough to hold the unitive realization. We need to expand into a form of meta–being big enough to hold the awareness that can see the underlying unity.
The Universe we live in is not dead, it is alive, and we are it. Everything in the universe is infused with awareness because awareness is part of the fabric of reality. Awareness opens into different perceptual possibilities depending on what it emerges through. The awareness that is reading this page is not originating inside you. It is inherent in reality and gains access to the ability to read as it passes through you.
New perceptual possibilities need to be explored. Like a child reaching adulthood, the current human self has reached the end of its capacity to cope effectively. We cannot construct a new self, we have to grow into it by detaching our awareness from our current sense of self and allowing our awareness to become available for meta–being.
In this new form the awareness of the universe will see things that we cannot see, know things that we cannot know, and do things that we will never do. This is the adventure of conscious evolution.