Friday, April 8, 2011

The Crisis of a Divided Consciousness

"Humanity faces the crisis of a divided consciousness," writes Dr. Robert Atkinson, Professor of Human Development and Religious Studies at the University of Southern Maine.

"A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways."
-- James 1:8 --
While this is not new, in and of itself - after all the problems of 'duality' and the seeming 'individuality' of the human ego have been addressed in virtually every one of the world's great wisdom or religious traditions - the problems that a "divided consciousness" presents in the age of instantaneous information and reaction are immense; and, it seems we are not facing these collective challenges, as yet. Rather, the reverse seems more likely to be true.

On the whole, it seems we tend to avoid life's basic existential questions, chief amongst them the "double nature" of man's consciousness, relegating such 'problems' to the backwaters of religious and metaphysical traditions that seem less and less relevant to the challenges we face on a daily basis.

"Our collective story is lagging behind, resisting the flow of evolutionary change," Atkinson observes. "The pre-twentieth-century story we have carried with us into the twenty-first century – built on the assumptions of duality, separation, and boundaries – has lost much of its meaning, power, and, most alarmingly, hope for the future. It faces crisis after crisis without offering any lasting resolution (and, the) once well-understood principle of continual progress toward a collectively desired and beneficial goal is missing."

"As we struggle through a time that begs for a momentous breakthrough," Atkinson asks, "will we let this crisis get the best of us, or will we midwife our current transformation-in-progress toward collective harmony and planetary sustainability?"

Atkinson identifies the following seven 'principles' which are universal, cross-cultural and found to varying degrees in all of the world's great religions and wisdom traditions:
1. Consciousness is a potentiality set in motion by a dynamic process. We are born with an inherent urge to understand reality, unfolding through our desire to make sense of life’s mysteries. Our fullest potential for consciousness is realized as we independently investigate the twin knowledge systems of science and religion while integrating our own life’s lessons.

2. Change is inevitable and necessary for evolution. On both the micro and macro levels, from algae to weather systems, the nature of everything is constant change. There can be no evolution without change. To navigate this time of unusually rapid change, of universal reformation, we need a transformation of consciousness, which will become the change agent for the evolution of civilization.

3. Growth by degrees is inherent to life. The pace of growth enables all life forms to evolve toward their potential. Historians, mystics, and developmental theorists understand that growth on the individual and collective levels is regulated by a creative, dynamic, universal force and designed to occur in a gradual and ordered progression.

4. Transformation occurs through the conscious confrontation of opposing forces. Individually and collectively, we participate in the inherent dialectic of life not only by being tested to our limits but also by being pushed beyond them to confront unknown realms. Just as change is necessary for evolution, so is transformation. The trials and tribulations of life have purpose; they are the cause of great advancement. Opposition is a catalyst for transformation and is essential for maintaining the law of balance in the universe.

5. Consciousness expands along an eternal continuum. Consciousness pervades all of creation; it’s at the heart of an interconnectedness that links all beings. Our consciousness of ourselves, each other, and the universe – our spiritual development – has been ever-evolving and increasing in complexity over time. Evidence for this includes an increasing capacity among many to think globally and identify themselves as world citizens.

6. Consciousness progresses toward unity. As we journey through our lives, we discover many viewpoints, experience many identities, and confront endless pairs of opposites. At some point we may even glimpse an inherent unity to it all, a hidden wholeness. This is not a fluke. Evolution has been leading us toward a more complex understanding of this mystery and toward a greater appreciation of our essential oneness.

7. Reality is a unified whole, and revelation is continuous. On the horizon of eternity, out from behind the illusion of the many, all veils pass away, and all that remains is the One. Only through the eyes of unity does reality appear as changeless yet evolving. Unseen but ever-present spiritual forces, revealed progressively and cyclically, have always been and still are being released, pushing evolution to higher levels of convergence, signaling humanity’s coming of age.

Atkinson's "principles," so reminiscent of Aldous Huxley's "Perennial Philosophy," holds out great hope for an evolutionary leap in both individual and collective consciousness, although they do not minimize the challenges we will face in getting there.

As Atkinson notes, "(t)he motifs and archetypes for a story of renewal and regeneration are embedded in these seven principles," which "operate on an evolutionary basis, both linearly and cyclically as well as individually and collectively."

"Do not be conformed to the world: rather
be transformed by the renewal of your mind."
-- Romans 12:2 --
"We meet each challenge along the continuum (of consciousness), he notes, "as we live within the world of opposites and take on a divided consciousness. Yet, in the end, he observes, "the final step brings us back to a consciousness of oneness when we recognize that reality is a unified whole."

"As more and more individuals come to understand the essential unity of humankind and begin to live accordingly," he concludes "our collective cultural and spiritual development will move ahead toward its next stage of maturity."

Yet, he notes, "(t)he awakening of a global consciousness, along with the acceptance of a global ethic, can only succeed when it is simultaneously linked to and understood as interdependent with the core principle of our time – the oneness of humanity."

If this principle is "affirmed as a common understanding," he observes "all will be in place for the practical organization of humanity into working relationships of oneness, harmony, and unity, which are the building blocks of world peace and prosperity."

And, he might add, only when such a common understanding of fundamental unity is affirmed, and such harmonious relationships have been forged, will we have fulfilled this next stage in our evolutionary potential.

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