Google “expanded consciousness” and you’ll come up with almost 6 million results. An article in Psychology Today was near the top of the list. It was called Expanding Consciousness: Going Beyond What You Think You Know and it was about meditation. When I tried “shrunken consciousness,” I came up with only 180,000 results. Why did I ask about shrunken consciousness? I think too much emphasis has been put on expanded consciousness. The real problem, I think, is our shrunken consciousness.
Go back to the Biblical story of Adam and Eve and similar stories told by dozens of indigenous cultures and you’ll discover that our original state was similar to what we would call expanded consciousness. Sometime in the past, our consciousness shrank and that’s when our troubles began. Daniel Quinn, the author of Ishmael, believes it happened about 10,000 years ago, when we switched from hunter-gathering to farming. Farming led to the formations of larger villages, towns and, as the search for more arable land continued, the beginning of conquests. Our consciousness shrank from “we” centered to “me” centered in the process.
It seems obvious that our world is increasingly “me” centered and the best way to get more for one’s self is to take from others. We’ve invented better weapons and psychological techniques to manipulate the masses. You can still find traces of life before the age of conquest, though.
By “expanded consciousness,” I don’t mean “enlightenment” or any of the terms we use to describe gurus and spiritual masters. I simply mean in their natural environment, indigenous cultures and many uneducated villagers are more “we” centered than “me” centered. There are exceptions, of course, but I’ve seen remnants of this type of consciousness even here in Cambodia, a country that has gone through a lot of traumatic changes.
We live in a scientific era and it seems like we need science to help us get out of our shrunken consciousness rut. I’d rather not go that route, but our culture worships science, so I guess it’s the best way to go.
What is Consciousness?
There were something like 30 million entries for “consciousness” and Psychology Today was again near the top of the list. What is Consciousness? was pretty good because it admitted defining consciousness was a “hard” problem that had not yet been solved. Here’s a quote from the article:
In 1994 David Chalmers published a paper explaining why consciousness is such a challenging phenomenon to understand. Although he wasn’t the first to discuss these challenges, he was the first to categorize them into two types of problems: “easy” problems and the “hard” problem. Easy problems involve the explanation of how the mind integrates information, focuses attention and allows us to report on mental states. Though not a piece of cake, such problems are easy because solving them only requires that we determine the mechanisms that explain these behaviors. Easy problems are physical by nature, falling within the empirical domains of psychology, cognitive science and neuroscience.
Later in the article, the author, Kristian Marlow writes:
We simply cannot solve the hard problem because we don’t have access to the level of information necessary to piece everything together.
I think this argument fails, for proponents of this view don’t explain why we cannot come to understand such high concepts through induction. Inductive reasoning is the “bottom-up” logic we often use to construct general belief from individual examples.
Reason will never tell us what consciousness is, but since we’re all conscious, we do have the capacity to experience pure consciousness.
Shrunken Consciousness versus Expanded Consciousness
We all experience consciousness every day, but we experience it in a limited way: through our senses and our chattering brains. Our so-called “normal waking consciousness” is life seen through a filter. Abigail Brenner, the author of the article about expanded consciousness mentioned above writes:
Spirit creates a new way to see. With limitations lifted, our focus rests not just on what appears before us, but encompasses a panoramic, unified view of everything surrounding us. Spirit is everywhere. It is the invisible numinous thread which binds everything together, affirming the interconnection of all things within Creation.
This is something that only becomes apparent when the thinking mind becomes quiet. If you’ve ever had a “peak experience” when your thinking mind turned off, you’ve probably felt your consciousness expand. You may have even noticed that your heart expands, too.
Many ancient cultures believed consciousness resided in the heart. It’s a concept that’s been resurrected recently. The home page of the HeartMath Institute says:
Since 1991, the HeartMath Institute has researched and developed reliable, scientifically based tools to help people bridge the connection between their hearts and minds, and deepen their connection with the hearts of others.
What’s interesting to me is that the concept of expanding consciousness has been with us for thousands of years. It’s been done in a variety of ways. Science wasn’t needed to discover any of them. The Tao Te Ching, for instance, was written in 4000 BC. Nothing since has come close to the wisdom contained in that book. How’s this, for example:
How can one know the eternal origin?
By letting go of ideas
and allowing it to reveal itself
Arguably, our consciousness was more expanded before we started using our “thinking” minds. We used intuition in ancient times and a few tribes and uneducated villagers still use intuition. I’m fairly confident about that because I live with an uneducated Cambodian who lived alone in the jungle when she was a girl. She had nothing to guide her except intuition, but managed to survive for at least two years. Try that if you’re a 9 year old Westerner and get lost in the jungle with no food, medicine or weapons. You probably wouldn’t last a week.
Maybe “expanded consciousness” is normal consciousness, but today we use “shrunken consciousness” and it is the source of all our problems. If you’re even slightly awake, you have to notice that we’re destroying our planet and each other. It’s all due to greed and power or, to put it in a single word: ego.
The most important thing the HeartMath Institute has to say is that there is a “heart-brain” connection and that our expanded connection with others and nature is through the heart. We can find many ways to leave the prison of our thinking minds and explore expanded consciousness, which is really normal consciousness. Maybe if we realize consciousness is bigger than our tiny brains, we’ll start to realize that expanding consciousness is far easier than we believe it to be. Just stop falling for the brain chatter and we’ll discover a universe of shared joy.
An article I stumbled across titled Heart-Brain Connection by two PhDs and someone with a BA puts it in more complicated terms:
the results of these experiments have led us to infer that the nervous system acts as an “antenna,” which is tuned to and responds to the electromagnetic fields produced by the hearts of other individuals. We believe this capacity for exchange of energetic information is an innate ability that heightens awareness and mediates important aspects of true empathy and sensitivity to others. Furthermore, we have observed that this energetic communication ability can be intentionally enhanced, producing a much deeper level of nonverbal communication, understanding, and connection between people.
Note those two words, “innate ability.” It’s nothing fancy or unusual and doesn’t require a PhD. Expanded consciousness is our natural condition. What we’re experiencing now is an aberration and it’s killing us and the planet.