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Center for Action and Contemplation

Consciousness and Contemplation

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Action and Contemplation: Week 2

Consciousness and Contemplation
Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Today’s meditation is longer than usual, but I want you to have all of this together in one place. Many people think of their consciousness as the same as their brain. It’s really not. Scientists still struggle to define consciousness and where it arises. The early Alexandrian and Desert mothers and fathers of the church knew consciousness was not the same as the thinking mind. They used the Greek word nous to describe consciousness as what we would see as a combination of Spirit, God, and mind all at once. Consciousness is something shared/participated in and not a secretion of your private brain. American philosopher Emerson called this awareness the “Over-Soul.” Thomas Aquinas called it connatural intelligence. It is true to my nature, but true to a larger nature at the same time. Duns Scotus called it intuitive cognition, which he distinguished from rational cognition.

The English word “consciousness” comes from the Latin root conscire: to be aware with. Through contemplation we plug into a consciousness that is larger than the brain. It comes through a wholehearted surrender to what is, a surrender that encompasses all and eliminates none of the present moment. Only then will we know that we’re seeing reality through eyes larger than our own, which is why it is always a very humble and receptive knowing.

The level of knowing that we experience from connection with consciousness or nous is entirely different than the argumentative, dualistic world that we live in. It’s a kind of quiet, compassionate, non-opinionated certitude, unlike the arrogant certitude our culture celebrates. Even though we may not be able to verbalize it, we know things calmly and deeply, as truth. We don’t know what it is we know, but what we do know is that we are somehow okay; in fact, it is all okay in its foundations and direction. God is the great I AM in which everything—including me—has its being. My I am is a sharing in the one great I AM. To sin is simply to live out of any I am not.

At times in contemplative prayer, we connect with consciousness. We think that we grow little by little in consciousness. And in some ways this is true. We grow in our ability to tap into consciousness. But this consciousness is freely available, even and especially to children. It requires no training or special talent. We can be conscious right now, even though it takes practice to remain inside this knowing.

Deep consciousness knows the true value of a thing, it knows intuitively what is real and what’s unreal, what is eternal and what is passing, what matters and what doesn’t matter at all. This kind of consciousness allows us to see the archetypal truth within the particular, for example the pattern of Christ’s death and resurrection within each death and birth. At a loved one’s deathbed we can be present to their dying, our dying, all dying—and to the reality of life changing forms in each death. If we can stay within this kind of consciousness, I can promise we’ll receive compassion and empathy for the world.

In the big consciousness, we know things by participation with them, which is love. As I’ve said before, we cannot know God in a cerebral way, but only by loving God through a different kind of knowing. Mature spirituality teaches us how to enter into the reality of that which we are encountering. And it gets even better than that. Eventually you get the courage to say, I am a little part of that which I am seeking. In this moment, the idea of God as transcendent shifts to the realization that God is immanent. That’s why the mystics can shout with total conviction and excitement: My deepest me is God! God is no longer just out there, but equally in here. Until that transference takes place and you know that it is God in me loving God—God in me worshiping God, resting in God, enjoying God—the whole point of the incarnation has not been achieved, and we remain in religion instead of actual faith experience or faith encounter.

Gateway to Silence:

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Transforming the World through Contemplative Prayer (CAC: 2013), disc 3 (CD, MP3 download); and

Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 1999), 90, 91.

Image Credit: Soup Kitchen (detail) photograph by GeoffS.
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