The Transformative Experience
practical improvements in consciousness through everyday life experiences
How do we deepen our awareness or consciousness?
Most of us are understandably too busy or too committed to our responsibilities to find the time to travel to spiritual retreats or to participate in deeper consciousness research and studies.
Alterations to our personal consciousness, if and when they occur, might be limited to a thought-provoking movie or maybe by micro-dosing, or perhaps being able to set aside a few minutes for meditation. Religious participation, if we are so inclined, may cause us to pause and consider but it rarely, at least in my experience, significantly transforms our consciousness.
We are living in an atmosphere of climate-denial, of divisiveness and hate. Working men and women are subjected to an unrelenting pressure — to produce more for less. In such an environment, how is it realistic to consider that we have a chance to robustly improve consciousness?
Survival, these days, is an exhausting task
Some of us have to work two or three jobs, and even then we can be still struggling to scrape by. Some of us have sick or disabled people we attend to, or maybe we are sick or disabled ourselves. Some of us are constantly behind on our bills or we’re looking over our shoulders fearful of when the next catastrophic life-event will strike.
Concerns about simply ‘surviving’ everyday life crosses social boundaries. Some of us worry about the safety of our kids or needles on the sidewalk. We try not to think about the possibility of a health crisis or an ER visit not covered by insurance.
Over on the other side of town, some of us are living the frenzied life of the so-called American dream. We scramble to make large mortgages, refinance for a new kitchen, compete for a promotion, forestall a divorce, schedule a vacation to Europe, stress out over college debt, rush over to yoga classes, and make sure the kids are being given maximum growth and development opportunities by participating in ballet, soccer, horseback riding and a rock-solid prep school.
Principles and consciousness
Very early in my martial arts training, my instructor quickly emphasized that we should not practice our Jiu Jitsu techniques off the mat. His concern was that we’d develop idiosyncrasies off the mat that he’d have to ‘undo’ once we showed up for the next class. But…
He taught something other than the techniques themselves. I recall once counting up how many techniques you have to learn on your way to black belt. There were hundreds, which then had to be replicated on the other side of the body. Most techniques are taught right-handed, but you also have to learn to perform the move left-handed. And you have to do each side, both in the role of the attacker and as the defender. It can get a bit overwhelming at times.
The point here is that he was teaching something in addition to the techniques. Something that was fundamental in the sense that the techniques themselves were built on a foundation similar to the way a house or building is built upon a foundation.
These bedrock elements are called Universal Principles.
Universal Principles are strong like foundations, designed to both bear weight and to provide a platform upon which to build a structure.
Principles are what make things work. To cite an example, Cosmological Principles hint at the scale at which Universal Principles operate.
The cosmological principle is usually stated formally as ‘Viewed on a sufficiently large scale, the properties of the universe are the same for all observers.’ This amounts to the strongly philosophical statement that the part of the universe which we can see is a fair sample, and that the same physical laws apply throughout. In essence, this in a sense says that the universe is knowable and is playing fair with scientists. — Wikipedia
Examples of Universal Principles include the principle of Balance. Who can’t benefit from better balance in their life, whether it is physical, emotional, mental, financial, or in relationships?
Similarly, what infrastructure system can’t benefit from better balance? Better scheduling of trains, smoother flow of water through the treatment plant, more timely delivery of farm goods to the grocery store, and more efficient use of sustainable power sources — each of these are examples of improved balance.
In Jiu Jitsu class, if a specific technique was not working well for me my teacher would have me slow down. By slowing down I’d inevitably find spots within the performance of the Jiu Jitsu technique where I was at least somewhat out of balance. I learned that it was one thing to understand the mechanics of a technique, but another thing altogether to approach techniques from the perspective of principles.
While we were strongly discouraged from practicing our techniques off the mat, we were strongly encouraged to practice our principles off the mat.
I could practice my martial art off the mat by finding ways to apply the principles I was learning to a wide variety of everyday life applications. This ended up having a very strong effect on my life, an approach to living that I continue to embrace to this day.
Looking through the lens of everyday survival
I discovered that the best way to improve my awareness and consciousness circled back to what my teacher said: Do your practice by applying these principles in your everyday life circumstances. The more you practice your principles off the mat, the better your Jiu Jitsu will be on the mat.
Little by little, as I found more and more ways to practice principles, I experienced an effect very similar to the concept of ‘water wearing down the stone.’ Something in me was smoothing out, becoming a little less ragged over time.
Obviously, I had far more hours a week spent off the mat than in class. So my main practices had plenty of legroom to stretch. It might be a meeting or a stressful project or a challenging conversation. But over time my modest practice sessions yielded tangible, and often unanticipated, results.
Part of what martial arts should be teaching can be described as an Essential Attribute. Basically, I was “learning to stay calm in the face of adversity.”
I eventually realized that even though my practices seemed small and incremental, and even though they were non-exotic and far from notable, over time I was learning how to remain calm in a really wide variety of situations. That new-found calmness was giving me a chance to collect myself, or to diagnose where I might fine-tune my ‘technique’.
Along the way, I began to realize that I was not only learning to stay calm, but that the calmness itself was coming from a spot within myself. As time passed, and my experience widened, I began to wonder whether that pool of calmness had its own attributes. I also started wondering whether this calmness was somehow related to the “still, small voice” within… a reference I’d first came upon in my youth.
And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake: and after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice. — 1 Kings 19:11–12
My point here is that we can practice a substantial deepening of our awareness along with an expanding of our consciousness even in the midst of the stresses of daily life. In fact, practicing in such circumstances can yield the most positive of results because our practices are occurring in things that matter the most to us. We begin to see and make a difference. And if we persist, our practices and repetitions inevitably lead us in the direction of calmness and yes, that “still, small voice.”
The everyday mystic
I think that’s a really good point. That 1) finding ways to remain calm (which is in itself an alteration of consciousness), 2) in a wide variety of circumstances, and 3) in things that really matter to us — well, this is clearly something that has practical benefits. I really like the idea of tethering a deepening of consciousness with applications that are both practical and readily achievable.
It’s not just benefits reserved solely for the gurus and mystics, anymore. We’ve grown past that stage in human development.
We’ve come to a point, immersed as we are in our many problems, where the ability to improve consciousness is now individually accessible to any of us. The availability for us to learn about such things is no longer restricted to long, isolated ordeals in caves and monasteries. We now have a myriad of things we can practice on — which include our own life challenges and values.
It’s benefits for the rest of us: Mystics in Everyday Life.