Why Consciousness?

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A colleague asked me a couple of days ago, “Why ‘Consciousness’?” She wanted to know why I am interested in this field of study, what initially captured my interest, why I’m now working with a team to develop multiple related programs. In my response to her I referenced my graduate studies in Transpersonal Psychology — a field related to states of consciousness, Jungian theory, spirituality, paranormal phenomena, and metaphysics — plus, a healthy dose of synchronicity.

But there’s more. For twenty-six years, I’ve had a profound interest, first personal and then academic and professional as well, in the indigenous “magico-religious” tradition commonly (if erroneously) known as “shamanism” — the animistic form of not only religion but also healing, psychology, and mythology that emerged out of Eastern Siberia and took new form in nearly all parts of the world. Universal features of this tradition include the ecstatic state experienced by the shaman, the cycling among varied states of consciousness when in ritual, communication with the spirit world, and the reportedly paranormal events that occur within this context. This interest has led me to live in Korea for several years, and has taken me to Mongolia, Siberia, Iceland, Mexico, Costa Rica, France, Ireland, Turkey, Switzerland, Morocco, India, China, Japan, and to indigenous tribes in southwestern USA…thus far.

For the same period of time, since the age of 20, I have maintained a practice of meditation, trance, and ritual for the purpose of exploring my own consciousness and of connecting, in a transpersonal sense, to the universal consciousness — a transcendent experience of my consciousness extending beyond its seeming physical boundaries. This practice of direct experience has enhanced and been integrated into my theoretical study of and field work in this area.

And there’s more. My clinical work, since 1989, has included somatic and energetic therapies, traditional Chinese medicine, and counseling. Numerous times, I have witnessed shifts in consciousness as a result of this work, whether by acupuncture, hypnotic trance, massage, or even in a counseling session. I have also worked with dissociative patients who cycle rapidly and uncontrollably through states of consciousness, schizophrenic patients whose experience of reality is far different from that of the majority, and people struggling with addictions and the alterations in consciousness that these substances can bring. The integrative nature of my work has both stemmed from and enhanced my knowledge and experience of what is commonly called, “the mind-body connection”–and relates most directly to the field of consciousness.

And still, there’s more. I’ve a longstanding interest in and personal exploration of the arts — visual, literary, performance — and the phenomenon of creativity. The state of ‘flow’ experienced by one who is in the midst of the creative act, referred to as the Muse by the Greeks, is one of transcendence and represents a decided shift in consciousness. Composers, painters, sculptors speak of art flowing through them, using them as the conduit. Writers, actors, dancers know well what it means to “step aside” and let the art itself take over their bodies. The sacred quality of creativity, that of communicating with the spirit world — or having it communicate through you — is well-known, though little understood.

And, even more: At the tender age of 16, I became a nurse’s aide for elders, and for more than 3 years I cared for the dying and saw many through their last breaths and beyond. The concept of existence, and the question of what enervates the human body and whether any of this substance exists beyond the physical death, has always fascinated me. Having been reared as a minister’s daughter, I initially placed this in a religious context; now, I refer to it as the work of a psychopomp, one who guides the dying to the otherworld. In Jungian terms, the psychopomp is one who assists others in moving between the conscious and unconscious — very like the shaman, who is the intermediary between physical and spiritual world. Whether literal or metaphorical, it is intricately related to the concept of consciousness.

For much of my life, beginning at the age of 12, I have studied languages to one degree or another — eight, so far. I have taught language to others, and developed entire schools devoted to this premise. What interests me above all is not the mechanics of language learning, but how it relates to consciousness: how the study and use of another language seems to alter one’s sense of self, and one’s perception, awareness, and interpretation of the world. How often someone has said to me, “When I speak [ — ], it’s as if I’m someone else, and I see life differently” — a repeated personal experience as well. How language relates to culture, and how even our native language assists us in our subjective experience of reality — in other words, consciousness — remains a source of fascination for me.

As a child I was fortunate to have much direct experience with nature and, as is true for all children, during the initial development of my consciousness, the boundaries of it were less distinctly felt. My profound sense of connectedness with the natural world has never dissipated.

Why ‘Consciousness’? The question never fails to bemuse me … as there was never a time when I wasn’t interested. Indeed, it has been the primary focus of my life.

Filed under: Mindfulness, Shamanism, Transpersonal

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