The Threshold of Meaning.

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Let’s imagine we are walking down a city street. Looking down at the sidewalk we see a tiny flower growing out of the cracks in the concrete. The most inhospitable place is producing life and beauty.

Is this flower meaningful?

Some of us will say that it certainly defies the odds, but there is no significance beyond random, natural events. Others interpret the flower as a message from God or from the Universe.

What enables one person to see beyond or through the flower into a more poetic or spiritual experience?

Is it a left-brained/right-brained thing? Is it an art/science thing? Is it a faith or God thing? Chance or fate? Certainly there are larger world views behind this but let’s go deeper. At what point will we ascribe meaning to life events?

  • A motorist who narrowly escapes death in an accident.
  • The terminal disease has an unexpected cure.
  • The barren womb brings forth life.
  • A newborn grasping our pinky.

As I contemplated this I was not able to find a meaningless scenario. At some point we value a friendship, we mourn our losses, we want or long for something. And at those times we ascribe meaning, even if it is to preserve our own life.

So the discussion is NOT who ascribes meaning because we all do. The issue is our threshold required to ascribe meaning to something. The threshold is the level at which we determine the cause. The threshold is inversely proportional to our spiritual sensitivity. 

High Threshold=Low sensitivity,  Low threshold= High sensitivity

I think the main reason some have a high threshold (low spiritual sensitivity) for meaning is due to human suffering. If we accept that there is meaning in the flower, there must be meaning in the cigarette butt in the next crack. If God delivers in one accident then he destroys in another one. If the universe is opening a womb then it is tormenting another by closing it, and that just seems wrong.

Most people see suffering as meaningless. It’s easier to accept that Shit Happens than to accept that there is a purpose to all our pain. This happens when our ego lacks the categories to appreciate the downward path of suffering. Suffering looks like a detour to life when it is actually the path to it.

Meaning in the midst of suffering is precisely what spirituality reveals. The difference between us is our threshold for meaning. Low threshold people see the cancer diagnosis as the impetus to live deeply, high threshold people see it as a death sentence.

We all access bits of this truth in different ways. We all see the pattern of the universe is dying-death-renewal of life. The circle of life. Our delusion assumes we can have one without the other. Christian theology calls this the Christoform pattern. Dancing and mourning go together (Ecclesiastes 3).

This kind of analogy is precisely the snag that trips some of us up.

The ego says: “If God is love and all powerful, how can suffering exist? Since suffering exists, God is either not love or not powerful or not real, or God is an asshole.” The Christ story says that suffering is the centerpiece of true life.  It teaches us that the very best comes by way of the very worst. Human suffering (man on a cross) is pointing to a God who designs and requires pain and loss if we are to awaken to our very life.

If that is true then suffering makes it impossible to go through life and miss God. Suffering also makes childish concepts of God impossible. Old frameworks have to go.

Suffering is how we discover a new framework for God, because God requires it of His only son. Thus meaning is in suffering, and meaning is in everything. That’s a bit of a pill for high threshold people. For some the flower in the crack is a bit easier to take in. Enlightenment (salvation) is our waking up to the story behind the flower and the cigarette butt. It is the definition of sober minded. True suffering then is the skimming over or sleeping through the meaning found in every crack of our lives. 

May we all wake up to the depth that is our precious, suffering life.

“It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the way of all mankind and the living will lay it to heart.” Ecclesiastes 7:2

Third Tier Consciousness

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For six weeks we’ve been exploring the stages of consciousness. Our examination showed how we progress from the first tier consciousness to the second tier and now we ask ourselves, “What is next?”

Numerous minds have written about the progression of human consciousness from many different disciplines such as: sociology, psychology, theology, biology and education. It’s undeniable that we pass through very distinct mindsets as we mature. At lower levels we are not conscious of our consciousness. At higher levels we recognize the power of our consciousness to bring about concrete reality. Once again, the non-physical creates the physical. “Ex-nehilo!” Ideas become things. Word becomes flesh (John 1:14).

Please don’t skim over this vital truth. Consciousness is not merely neurotransmitters although brain chemicals contribute to consciousness. Consciousness is the non-physical aspect of our unique human experience which is also physical. Our consciousness is our essence, not just our DNA. In spiritual terms it’s called the soul, in psychological terms it’s called the true self. Thus our soul influences and is influenced by the material world. This is another way of saying all people are both spiritual and physical. One side does not prosper or decline apart from the other.

In our diverse, post-modern world, we interact with every stratum of human awareness. We tend to like people in our stage and we tend to dislike those at different levels. The biggest transformation to higher consciousness is the movement toward unity and inclusion of all others. Religion has historically been the go-to system for human transformation. As religion became institutionalized, people have opted to grow their soul via other means. As the collective consciousness has risen, institutionalized religion has not kept up, and as a result, less people see the value of regressive systems. Repotted plants can’t go back into formative containers.

Third tier consciousness is highly integral. This second key point means that it is an integration of all of the most mature aspects of each stage. Think of it like mathematics. The most challenging mathematical equations, still utilize first grade math skills. Low math skills are not a bad thing, they are a limiting thing. Low consciousness is not a bad thing, it is a limiting thing. A tribal person will choose war because they lack the ability to grasp options beyond war.

Third tier consciousness is not based on IQ. It’s not about WHAT a person knows but HOW they know it.  For example, the commandment “Love your neighbor”(Mark 12:31) can be understood at all levels. What is literal at the lower levels is more nuanced at higher levels.  The what is not altered by higher consciousness because it is based in knowledge. The how is altered because it is based in wisdom, or the “skill” to use the knowledge one possesses.

The third key point is this:  we are all in flux. Consciousness, the soul, or the self is dynamism. We are not stagnant. We all move in and out of higher and lower stages and states while we mature.  Third tier people briefly disintegrate into first tier. Second tier briefly integrates to third tier.  Thus it’s best not to label ourselves within a particular stage. We are what we are, for now.

Since consciousness is dynamic, it means that we can rise to a higher level at any moment that we become conscious of our consciousness. I call this PROXIMITY. Some experience this in worship, meditation, yoga, or physical activity. For example, if we give up revenge, then so long as we are conscious of forgiveness, we conform to the higher ideal and move toward unity. We can all do this. It does take practice to wake ourselves up and enter proximity.

Waking up begins our true spiritual journey and this is where we can learn from religion. All religion has processes for helping us overcome the single biggest hurdle in our journey to transformation; our ego. Pride is the one battle we all must face if we are to grow in unity. Our dualistic comparisons, competitions, grand standing, self-promotion, and self-protection is ground zero for transforming a human soul. If humility is not found, there is no progression. When the ego can be seen and diminished, the true soul can find life. It’s like being born anew.

This is why scripture says that God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble (1 Peter 5:5). The trajectory of third tier consciousness or a mature soul has no room for ego and all the games it plays. As John Calvin said, this makes the spiritual work of knowing oneself the same work as knowing God. And now that we have categories to know ourselves, we have the building blocks for the world to know God–Hopefully a better picture than the one given to us by tribal religion.

A unified, integrated world is on the other side of our pride, and it will take a higher  consciousness to get us there.


The Ruin of Postmodernism

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What difference does it make if we have a category for our stages of consciousness? Aren’t people just going to do whatever they want anyway? What matters is how we live our lives, right? Questions like these are not really seeking an answer. Behind them is a mindset and life experience that is by many measures very progressive.

Postmoderns are inclusive and tolerant and forward thinking because they are the benefactors of previous generations who operated with self-discipline, structure, and orderly process. This stage of consciousness is comfortable with ambiguity but not specificity and thus has a short attention span. It doesn’t place a high value on the past and views authority as a captor rather than a mentor. It tends to reduce everything to its best part (like eating only the center of a cinnamon roll), then discards the rest.

We all recognize the stage of postmodernism, and Millennials unfairly wear this label as if it consciousness is exclusively generational. One reason so many in our culture have a postmodern consciousness is because they have outgrown the tribal, warrior, traditional, and scientific frameworks. These possess the valuable contribution of each stage and understands their deficiencies. For these people, their open minded acceptance of diversity and plurality comes from suffering under closed minds, or from struggling against institutional forces that seemed insurmountable. Their reductionism has taught them to separate the wheat from the chaff, the container from the contents. These are high level post moderns.

The other reason postmodernism is so prevalent is due to the generational juxtaposition of millennials. Many of our younger minds were given postmodernism by parents, teachers and institutions. Unlike their parents who have a traditional context and anchor points for their postmodern consciousness, many younger postmoderns have a “free floating” or situational compass that views true North as relative. This is why education has had to adapt and why mainline denominations are in decline. A relativist will always be suspect of rules, traditions, or practices that do not seem relevant to their immediate life.

Often the most transformative thing in the life of a postmodern is when they learn structure and disciplined practice. Frameworks are never successful when forced upon others, but a postmodern with a solid framework can be an unstoppable force. Remove true North and they are an uncontrollable force. The immature will not play by the rules and will only deconstruct them. The mature will use the greater rule of Love to determine if rules have benefitted humanity, and then reconstruct them for better outcomes. Because they are tolerant of anything but intolerance,  the immature postmodern creates rules to organize people that are usually more severe than the strictest in the traditional stage.

Since postmodern consciousness is an integrated collective, it can be a challenge to pin it down. In fact, most people move in and out of this level of conscious awareness, proving that many are bouncing back and forth between lower and higher states of various stages.

For example, prior to the election, postmoderns assumed that the traditional stage and exclusive mindset of the traditional, conservative party was outdated and outgunned. This mindset also devalues traditional civic duties like voting and as a result only a fraction turned out to vote compared to previous elections. After losing the election they have doubled down their rigor on civic participation because now it is seen as vital, whereas in November it wasn’t.

Many of our worlds problems stem from the partial amalgamation of a postmodern consciousness.  We’re watching the traditional or scientific stages push back against postmodernism by trying to assert a regressive path back to heavy handed, top down, unarguable compliance to the rules as the only cure. Ironically, those who have their feet firmly planted in a structure (law), are the ones who are able to transcend postmodernism. In this sense, the ruin of postmodernism will be a postmodern who gains structure or a traditionalist who gains an open mind. Both are also equally capable of regressing into chaos if they suppress the truth of their opposition.

The problems in our world then are the perfect opponent that we require if we are to rise up and grow into our potential. These problems are not despite our consciousness, but because of it and without the suffering they produce we would remain small and stuck.  As we mature, we begin to see more clearly how love is the only thing possible of raising us up. Once again, Scripture points the way:

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not        insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”

Ask yourself if your team or tribe sounds anything like the above description.

Of course in order to live like this, something extraordinary must happen. We will visit this next week as we examine the highest (presently known) stage of consciousness.

The Ruin of Science

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The adolescence of our binary consciousness is on full display right now. Many who have otherwise progressed beyond the tribal stage of consciousness are now regressing back into an “us-vs-them” state on par with the Bloods and the Crips. The scientific or modern stage of consciousness is when the facts replace judgement and assumption. Most Americans would describe themselves at this level, but in reality, if the facts do not promote empathy for those who differ, then we are suppressing the truth. True science doesn’t get to pick its favorite side of truth.

The scientific worldview has transcended while including all previous stages. The heart of this level is entrusting ourselves to the (scientific) process which is bigger than any individuals opinion. Science transcends tribal and warrior group-think because the objective takes over the subjective. Such value is placed upon empirical, measurable, and repeatable data, that gradually those who obtain this level often begin to diminish the subjective as though it were untrue. Dr. Spock’s framework of facts over emotion typifies this.

By sticking to the facts, we can set aside our differences for the sake of a common goal. This modern consciousness has proven how we can rise up collectively to overcome numerous challenges. The advancements in medicine, engineering, technology, and infrastructure have enabled vastly diverse people to come together and bring the world out of poverty and into the modern era. All higher stages of consciousness have the power to bring unity out of diversity and science has certainly done that.

Reality often differs from ideals. The scientific mindset is adulterated once we seek to use it to serve the needs of the few. If the results of a scientific study are skewed, then it is no longer science, but low level manipulation masking as science. Inserting a bias into the process is the abandonment of science. We are now in a world that thinks it is scientific, but in fact has regressed into tribalism.  Industry now uses science to promote their products rather than the truth, be it tobacco, pharmaceuticals, GMO’s, sugar, or agriculture.

For many in the scientific/modern mind, truth is limited to empirical reality. Only that which is measured, tested and objective is seen as true or real. As the scientific understanding of the cosmos disproved literal interpretations of sacred texts, religion was put on the ropes as fiction and its adherents were viewed as intellectually deficient. We see this today when asking people of faith if they believe in evolution. Of course those whose religious faith is stuck in the tribal, warrior, or traditional stage simply dig in their heels and resist the claims of science. To be fair, not all the claims are actually scientific, but even here, the bloods and the crips emerge again as we regress.

We are now at a time where the discoveries of quantum science and the trajectory of theology are actually converging into the same space. Science is abandoning the notion that all that can be true is empirically measurable. Science is dependent upon mathematics, logic, and truth and yet none of these things can be measured nor empirically observed. Consciousness is clearly something other than our brains in action. Thus the ruin of science is its inclusion into a stage that embraces not only scientific truth but truth that is not measured solely by those means.

For example, fictional stories contain truth. We don’t need to prove the existence of the Grinch, or go on a journey to find Mount Krumpet. Such details do not need to be historically true in order for the story of the Grinch to be true on an entirely other level. The changing of a heart is truth that is accessed on a different plane. This gives us a lens to revisit scripture and its contribution to humanity.

As theology and science continue their search for truth and ultimate meaning, we have discovered that the closer each comes to Truth, the closer each comes together. Any authentic pursuit of truth will bring people together, and will raise the collective consciousness. So whether a person places their faith in truth via science or via theology, they are both on the same quest of faith in the truth for the sake of all others. A raising consciousness means that what we believe is totally true today will only be partially true tomorrow.

Now that existential reality can be grasped as reality, those in this framework grow up in a very different world, what most refer to as post-modernism.

To truly hold a higher stage of consciousness, we must integrate previous stages into our framework. If we jettison any of them completely, we have not matured. Millennials are getting a lot of criticism these days, much like generation X and the boomers did before them. Next week we will examine how the post modern consciousness begins to unravel when its wide inclusion of the truth is held without the contributions of the previous stages.