Exploring Consciousness with David Hawkins – Interview by Pamela Becker

Since the publication of his book Power vs. Force: The Hidden Determinants of Human Behavior (over 200,000 copies sold in 17 languages), David Hawkins, MD, PhD, has become a popular and at times controversial figure in the world of consciousness studies. In attempting to chart levels of spiritual maturity and the veracity of any claim or statement by using a technique called behavioral kinesiology, he has attracted a vast audience of both readers and therapists intrigued by his work and has sparked debate among scientists and others who challenge both the technique and his application of it.

Hawkins and his wife, Susan (his exclusive kinesiology partner and coresearcher), have used simple muscle-testing to “ calibrate” belief systems, historical events, and the levels of consciousness of various human beings, from the beginning of history up to the present time. While acknowledging the high resonance of saints and inspirational leaders (such as Gandhi), certain documents (such as the Bible and the U.S. Constitution), and emotional states (bliss and joy, for example), he also claims that global warming is caused not by humans but by magnetic activity on the surface of the sun and that most of humanity calibrates at a level of less than 200, which he describes as “nonintegrous”—that is, showing a generalized weakness in spirit. In Hawkins’s schema, 200 represents the demarcation point between truth and falsity. His Map of Consciousness charts a wide range of mind-states on a scale from 1 (lowest) to 1,000 (highest). David Hawkins is not your typical spiritual pedagogue.

In 1973, he coauthored with Nobel laureate Linus Pauling the seminal book Orthomolecular Psychiatry. Hawkins is a distinguished fellow of the American Psychiatric Association, was nominated for the Templeton Prize, and claims to have had a number of profound spiritual experiences since the age of three. In this excerpted interview, artist-writer Pamela Becker
talks with Hawkins about his work and his beliefs on the evolution of consciousness.

Pamela Becker: Let me ask you about the nature of your teachings, which you refer to as “Devotional Nonduality.” From my understanding, nondual means neither subject nor object. How does one surrender to something neither here nor there?

David Hawkins: In religious and spiritual literature nonduality is a very specific area. Classically, the closest thing is Advaita Vedanta in Hindu philosophy. The research technique we use differentiates between the domains of the linear—including perception, definition, logic, and reason—and the nonlinear, which is context. Out of context arises significance and meaning. All of the great teachers throughout time say, “Let go of your attachment to the linear,” to the definition of things, and as you do that, you begin to experience the nonlinear aspects. [They then] become the greater reality, and your own consciousness advances as a consequence. The linear is limited to this world; if you are nothing but linear, that would make you think that there’s nothing once the physical collapses.

PB: Which is how most people view things. What would be the best way to let go of the linear? Is acceptance the same as surrender?

DH: They are similar. Attachment occurs when the ego seems to see some gain in it. Perception is really a projection of the ego. Descartes’ famous statement, Cogito, ergo sum (I think, therefore I am), differentiates res interna (how a thing looks) from res externa (how things actually are). To differentiate perception from essence is what spiritual work is all about. Our research is very specifically focused on differentiating essence from appearance. When we calibrate the consciousness level or energy of something, we are looking for the essence and not the perception. We are looking at what is inside. The world looks at the sheep’s clothing, but we see the wolf inside—or vice versa.

PB: The ego has a hard time accepting things it doesn’t like.

DH: There are certain rules and disciplines that apply to almost any spiritual pathway—for example, letting go of aversions and attachments, accepting everything as it is, and focusing on the perfection of all things. Once you let go of your judgments, they are recontextualized. When they are recontextualized, you can see that something is just whatever it is—neither good nor bad.

PB: So the only way to do that quickly would be in the moment when it is arising in you?

DH: [With] mindfulness, you are aware of what is arising within you, and you can choose to let it go. You feel the energy of being irritated arising, and you don’t wait until you’re in a full temper tantrum. You let go of it. With more advanced spiritual awareness, you are constantly aware of the leading edge of what is arising within your consciousness, and you are constantly surrendering that to God as it arises. You stop trying to control it or resist it. It is like riding the crest of the wave. You are not clinging to the past and you are not anticipating the future, because the future has no reality until it gets here. A good example comes from Alcoholics Anonymous and its 12-step program:

A guy goes to an AA meeting looking bedraggled and unhappy.
Someone asks him, “What’s the matter with you?” He says, “My wife was killed, my house burned
down, I lost my job, and now I’m bankrupt.” So the other guy says, “Yeah, but that was yesterday.”

[Laughs] That’s a basic in the 12-step program: Be in the present and live one day at a time, because if you don’t keep letting things go, they accumulate, and you’ll end up the prisoner of them, with so many resentments and griefs that you become immobilized.

PB: You have acquired quite a following in recent years. Any concern that your teachings are becoming distorted or misinterpreted due to the sheer volume of interest?

DH: Even in the New Testament, which calibrates in the 800s, you suddenly have the Book of Revelations, which calibrates at 70; in every religion, that which is negative or evil has managed to sneak in the door and contaminate it. I have bulwarked everything I have said. Experientially, I have been the witness, testified to [the authenticity of my teachings], and calibrated them. I have cited the references in history that confirm them and have tried to show students how to confirm a statement. All of my books are extensively referenced. So I feel that my work is more safeguarded than any teaching I know of in history.

PB: I have found people referencing your Map of Consciousness with their own calibrations and have to question their legitimacy. Do you?

DH: These are people who don’t understand the work and are seeking to profit. They will tell you they can raise your consciousness 100 points, and it will only cost $350. For $5,000, one guy calibrates you every hour and claims you will become enlightened in two weeks. I tell people to go back to what I’ve written and listen to my lectures before trying to use or manipulate the technique. People are always trying to put me in a position of trying to convince others [of the validity of my work]. I am not interested in persuading people; I just give them the evidence. If they are truly interested in the truth, they will be drawn to it, and if they are not, they will find some way to negate it.

PB: According to your calculations, the overall level of consciousness of the world recently dropped a few points. If this is true, might it affect the ability of an individual to rise?

DH: I haven’t researched whether the capacity to advance individually is independent of the overall level.

[Hawkins tests the statement on his partner’s, Susan’s, arm. It stays strong, thus confirming that one’s capacities are independent.]
It’s an individual matter. You are not controlled by the prevailing consciousness level of the world. We are at the effect of our own experience of the world.

PB: It is hard for people to find the voice of guidance within, and even if they do, such as through the use of kinesiology, following through is difficult. Do you have any advice for people trying to find or listen to this voice?

DH: It is not so much a voice as an inclination to expand the depth of the field. We follow that inclination when we begin to practice spiritual concepts and feel an immediate result. You are very angry, for example, and suddenly you remember to see things differently: You remember the intrinsic innocence of people, that they don’t know any better, or that they couldn’t have done it any differently or they would have. Negative feelings become less and less tolerable, which increases your desire to see things differently in the future.

PB: You had a spiritual breakthrough in 1965, and I’m curious about fluctuations in consciousness and choice. Was your own path a roller coaster? Did you feel like you were moving two steps forward, one step back, or was it a smooth transition?

DH: No, it moves in phases. You could say, in general, [that] you transcend the various levels. Each one is preparatory and opens the way to the next level. I remember going through the stages. You go through a state of universal lovingness, in which you break into tears all the time. You go into a state of joy and ecstasy, and in those states you can’t function.

PB: What levels are those states at?

DH: Sainthood and joyfulness are at 570, and then comes ecstasy at about 590—it is exquisite beyond all description, described by the great saints. Once the ecstasy subsides, the divinity of the presence of infinite timeless peace—satchidananda—shines forth at the level of 600. In that state, you need nothing from the world, nor does life need to go—it makes no difference. But then comes love, and love says, “Yes, but you would be short-circuiting the purpose of being here.” So love returns and continues the conversation.

PB: So would that itself be a fluctuation and choice?

DH: No, it is always there. You see, your consciousness is like a full pipe organ. When you stop playing this note, it doesn’t go away; it remains this entire panorama. At a high level of consciousness, you can be at whatever level you want. So for purposes of functioning, you go into what I call “the persona that interacts with the world,” as I am doing now, because you have to converse and talk and gesticulate and so on. It is just one thing on the organ, because the organ is also in a state of bliss and absolute silence and ecstasy.

Our conversation, our being here, the whole phenomenon as it unfolds is all happening autonomously. There is no personal “I” doing or initiating or deciding it—that’s an illusion. You are an impersonal agent of creation, functioning and fulfilling your potential. The butterfly flies because that is what a butterfly does, but it doesn’t sing a song. Conversation is our being what we are: talkingness. The questions you are asking are already happening on their own, and you become aware of “Oh, I just asked that” 1/10,000 of a second after the phenomenon. With full enlightenment, that 1/10,000 of a second disappears, and suddenly you are transformed into a different dimension of existence. The delay between a that and a me disappears, and that which you are is all there is.

PB: I have heard you say that no one calibratable level is better than another, just different. But wouldn’t you have to agree that some levels are preferable to others?

DH: Well, we are talking about judgmentalism. Is it better to be a chameleon or a crane, a heron or a hippo? You can’t really say that one is better than another because you are projecting preference. Being a hippo is a hippo, and being a crane is something else. It isn’t a matter of better than: It’s that it is what it is. Identity and meaning are identical. If you live in the world of essence, then you see and experience the world differently. You see that everything is just being that which it is in that point of evolution, and eventually the perfection of all things dawns on you—even toward an adolescent who has been brainwashed into thinking that violence is holiness. That is all he or she can believe at that point in this lifetime. This world isn’t celestial, nor is it hell. To my view, it is purgatorial. You have a choice between heaven and hell right here, right now.

PB: You spend a lot of quiet time in contemplation and meditation with nature. Then you are out in the world as a therapist, doctor, and spiritual teacher. How does one navigate these seeming polarities and stay in integrity?

DH: They are not polarities; they are all potentialities. Like a pipe organ, on this one I play the bass notes, and on this one I play the high notes. So the overall orientation is to be of service to the world in whatever way you can be. When your own needs are met, you try to fulfill the needs of the world, to complete the fulfillment of your own potentiality. Each person has a gift.

PB: Your writings and lectures emphasize that peace begins within an individual. The world is in such a state of distress these days. Could you speak briefly about how individuals might “integrously” be involved in the peace movement today?

DH: Peace as a movement . . . is very provocative, and it provokes its opposite. Why? Because it has become politicized, and when politicized, it wants to control. From the viewpoint of yin-yang, it gives you something to oppose. The way to have peace is to be peaceful. If you have it, why would you be protesting about it? Peace is an inner state.

PB: Then would you say the peace movement is a waste of time?

DH: I’d say it is very provocative of its opposite.

PB: How would one access choosing peace?

DH: Peace is an inner decision, you see. How do you bring about peace? Through the collective. Each person, by choosing peace within themselves, raises the overall level of consciousness. As each person chooses truth rather than falsehood and with integrity moves forward in consciousness, that person lifts the collective consciousness of humankind. This collective consciousness is like the level of the sea; as the level goes up, it raises all the ships on the sea. When society reaches a certain level of collective awareness, peace becomes an automatic consequence of that reality. What the peace movement tries to do is pick which ships they are going to lift above the level of the water.

PB: Have you heard of the Law of Attraction and the DVD The Secret?

DH: As if they just discovered it. It has been around forever.

PB: Then it’s not so secret?

DH: What you hold in your mind tends to materialize. That’s an old saw, isn’t it?

PB: Is there any correlation between the Law of Attraction and your model for attractor fields?

DH: No. “Attractor field,” as I use it, is a term from nonlinear dynamics. It is an energy field. You are attracted to your own energy field, that which you resonate with, that which you have become. The Law of Attraction is not a law; it is just an observation. What you hold in your mind tends to materialize [a certain thing] in your life because you are holding the pattern of it and naturally identifying with that pattern.

There are a lot of people holding in mind Cadillacs and mansions, so wouldn’t the source of your motivation affect what you get?

DH: Wanting it tends to keep it away. You don’t picture wanting a Cadillac; you picture yourself having a Cadillac and being in a Cadillac and being joyful in it and appreciating it.

PB: What is it that a teacher gives to a student?

The teacher brings knowingness and the energy field of that knowingness, without which a student would not be able to reach it on their own. It’s really an energy transmission, classically called silent transmission, which is a high-energy vibration and aura. So although we are paying attention to what is being said, what’s really happening is that the energy field has become yours and is accessible to you by your agreement. Nobody forces it.

PB: As if I can tune in to your channel because my lightning rod is nearby, and I am able to receive information.

DH: Yes, so each knowingness with your assent would then become “Aha!” What the teacher gives you is the absolute certainty of that knowingness. Others can give you the information, but they cannot give you the power of certainty that makes it work for you.

So it’s like planting seeds: I throw them down, but if I haven’t watered or cared for them, they won’t become anything.

DH: The energy field has to be of absolute certainty; it can’t be just something nice you read out of a book. AA is a very good example. AA deals with the impossible. Alcoholism was a hopeless condition; nobody survived it until Bill Wilson’s enlightenment. He reached a consciousness level of 575. The light in the room lit up, and suddenly he was in the Presence. Bill got sober, and then he gave it to another. So it was transmitted from one to another. All these people knew that giving up drinking would save their life, but nobody did it. It took the power of his knowingness. And so to this day, every person in AA has a sponsor. A sponsor is somebody who has taken the bit in his teeth and survived it.

PB: So you can’t be a good teacher until you have really experienced and moved through the higher states.

DH: Yes, because you have to experience the reality of it. How could you teach what you don’t actually know?

Hawkins’s newest book, Reality, Spirituality, and Modern Man, was published in October 2008. For more information on his work, go to http://www.veritaspub.com. Parts of this interview were originally published in Four Corners magazine in its August–September 2007 issue.

Pamela Becker is an art director of Four Corners magazine, a professional illustrator, a fine artist, and a writer whose work and life are inspired by her exploration of human consciousness.

Al Jazeera’s Riz Khan interviews biologist Richard Dawkins

Meet the evolutionary biologist, best-selling author and staunch athiest.

Riz Khan, the host of One on One on Al Jazeera English, interviewed world-renowned biologist Richard Dawkins about his life and his work for his programme on 9 January 2010. The video of this programme can now be seen on YouTube.

When Richard Dawkins appears in the media, it is usually to talk about science, religion or his books on these subjects. This is a different interview as Riz Khan asks more questions about Richard Dawkins, his life and his experiences, than about science and religion per se, and as such, it is quite refreshing, because it shows a side of him which we don’t often get to see. A few highlights:

Riz Khan asks Richard Dawkins what he is trying to achieve when he is speaking out so publicly about the subject of atheism. Says Dawkins:

Truth, really, I feel passionately about what’s true, partly because it is so exciting. […] The truth of existence, of what the world is like, of what the universe is like, what life is like, how life comes into being, all that is so utterly intriguing that I really want to infect other people with my own enthusiasm for it.

They then go on about how Richard Dawkins sometimes describes himself as a cultural Christian and taking village cricket matches and pubs as an example, he says that he is fond of the sort of mild Church-of-England Christianity where nobody really believes it or takes it very seriously, a bit like many of his Jewish friends who call themselves cultural Jews but who are actually atheists.

When Riz Khan asks him if people with strong religious views bother him, Dawkins replies that they frustrate him when they interfere with scientific truth, when they try to miseducate people and try to persuade children that the world is less than ten thousand years old.

To the question if he is worried about offending people, Richard Dawkins replies that he doesn’t want to offend people but that he also thinks that people don’t have a right to be immune to being offended, just because they are religious.

Dawkins also talks about what he learned from Nikolaas Tinbergen, the Nobel prize winning biologist with whom he worked for a number of years. He quotes the phrase “machinery for survival,” a phrase which illustrates how Tinbergen thought of animals as machines, machines of which he wanted to know how they worked. The second thing he names is that Tinbergen understood that certain behavioural patterns can be selected by Darwinian selection in very much the same way that organs such as bones can be selected.

Richard Dawkins says that he is disturbed about the fact that children are sometimes prevented from learning about evolution, and he insists that he doesn’t want to indoctrinate them, but rather that he wants to encourage them to think for themselves, to look at the evidence and to evaluate it critically.
The conversation between Riz Khan and Richard Dawkins also touches subjects such as his childhood, his daughter Juliet, the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, the website richarddawkins.net and more.

Evolving Consciousness ~ by Kaisa Puhakka

In recent decades, two trends in collective consciousness have emerged in the United States and elsewhere, leading toward different and opposing positions. One position urgently calls us back to faith and tradition, to reaffirm the authority—religious or otherwise—that clearly tells us right from wrong and true from false, with no confusing grey area in between.
The other position questions or even discards faith in unambiguous truths said to be objective when handed down by authority or tradition. It instead acknowledges multiple perspectives on values and truth and welcomes diversity in cultural, religious, and political beliefs.

The evolutionary potential of human consciousness, however, lies in its capacity to shift beyond all positions and beliefs. We usually think of evolution as a linear process that moves in a particular direction through stages—sometimes complex stages with spirals and recursive loops but still moving toward higher or more advanced stages. In contrast to such a view, I consider evolution to be an altogether creative and spontaneous movement—so creative that it does not even have a predetermined shape or direction, at least not from the limited vantage points from which we humans view it.

Settling into positions and shifting out of them are both intrinsic to our consciousness. When the need to understand is satisfied by an authority we can believe in or by evidence or argument, the mind settles into a position. But our positions can unravel, either suddenly in a spontaneous aha! moment or gradually by painstaking, honest inquiry. Settling and shifting represent opposing tendencies, one inclining toward stasis while the other frees us up for movement. Neither is “good” or “bad”; they each have their value in sustaining human life as we know it. Settling into positions provides anchors for comfort and security.

Without such settling, the structures of civilization and culture wouldn’t exist. At the same time, settling freezes positions and makes the capacity to shift more difficult— especially problematic when a certain kind of shift may be needed. Spontaneous evolutionary movement loosens these frozen positions and allows for shifting to take place. With the enormous challenges facing our planet today, it seems imperative that we align ourselves with such an evolutionary force. That means less settling. Detachment isn’t the answer, though. It’s easy to get lost in a proliferation of alternative positions on just about any issue and react by wanting to detach from them all. But this too is a kind of settling—in this case, into a position of “no position.” Is it possible to simply be present with and open to what is there without the protective shield that positions create?

I believe that such presence is possible and may well be what the movement of evolution calls for at this time in our history. But what would entice us to shed our positions and the security they promise? Being truly present is like being naked, and positions are like clothing that provides comfort, security, and, most of all, a sense of identity. If we could see this clothing as unraveling and ephemeral, though, we might not take it so seriously.

Nagarjuna’s Dialectic Nagarjuna, a second-century Buddhist sage, demonstrated through a dialectical analysis how any and all positions are unstable and internally contradictory, and spontaneously unravel. His approach is much like that of postmodern deconstructionists, with one crucial difference. Deconstructionists show how every belief or position can be deconstructed into its linguistic and cultural presuppositions, which in turn can be deconstructed into further linguistic and cultural presuppositions, and so on endlessly. From this, they conclude that we are forever caught up in a network of mutually dependent presuppositions or perspectives and that freedom from beliefs and positions is therefore impossible. By contrast, Nagarjuna’s aim is liberation from beliefs and positions and the suffering that comes from one’s attachment to them. His approach points a way out of the postmodern predicament by showing that all beliefs and perspectives are empty— devoid of essential meaning. In so doing, he demonstrates how all positions, when inquired into deeply enough, imply their opposites and thus are ultimately self-contradictory.

For example, theism and atheism involve opposing beliefs that are mutually dependent. The claim that God does not exist implicitly affirms the possibility that the opposite is true—God exists. (Without such a possibility, there is no point in making the claim.) But, of course, affirming the belief that God exists implicitly affirms the possibility of its opposite, atheism. In
a similar way, all beliefs and positions, when affirmed as absolute truths, imply the presence of their own contradictions and thus leave one without a reliable means to coherently affirm anything! Liberation from the clutches of positions, therefore, should be guaranteed and speedy.

Alas, logic is not enough for liberation to occur. Awareness is needed to bring light to the shadows in our minds where the opposites of what we affirm lurk—threatening to cast doubts on our certainties. The challenge for awareness is that the modern psyche is complex and multilayered. The play of unconscious and conscious keeps the layers and compartments separate and makes it possible to hold contradictory positions unperturbed. Whenever we affirm a belief, for example, we tend to negate its contrary by banishing it from awareness. The force of the banishment can vary from drastic repression, where the rejected position becomes absolutely inconceivable, to momentary suppression, where the rejected position is set aside but still available for reconsideration and a possible return to awareness.

Three Modes of Consciousness

The power and relevance of Nagarjuna’s teaching comes to life for our time when it is expanded to include this complex psychological dimension. And the focus is not on beliefs or positions but on how we relate to them, which involves modes of consciousness. At any given time, we embody one of three such modes of consciousness. In the first mode, awareness is captured by whatever belief is held in the moment; there is no awareness of other perspectives. Thinking is dominated by either/or logic, and beliefs and positions are held as absolutely true or absolutely false. This mode is evident in the first of the two major trends at play in our collective consciousness—toward rigidity and stasis.

Let’s refer to this mode as absolute belief. In recent decades, there has been a shift to a wider and more inclusive mode of consciousness, evident in the other major trend in our contemporary collective consciousness—toward both/and thinking, which says that truths are relative to one’s perspective and recognizes that multiple perspectives exist. In this mode, awareness is not wholly captured by any one belief but is distracted by the diversity of possibilities and remains mostly absorbed in reflection and imagination. Let’s call this mode relative knowing.

A third mode is presented in the movement of Nagarjuna’s dialectic, though no popular trend is associated with it. It doesn’t identify with any perspective and neither affirms nor denies beliefs. Rather, it speaks to those moments when awareness is neither divided into subject and object nor attached to anything but instead embraces and pervades everything, seeing not just things but also our views and perspectives of those things. In this mode, perspectives (including one’s own) become transparent to awareness: How they shape beliefs
is seen in the moment they arise. While the mode of relative knowing accepts beliefs and positions as possessing limited truth, this third mode sees them as illusions altogether, creations of the mind that are neither true nor false by any standard other than their own. We might call this clear awareness. Its freedom and spaciousness are unobstructed by acceptance or rejection, as the following quote from Long-Chen Pa, a famous Tibetan sage, conveys:

Since everything is but an apparition
Perfect in being what it is, Having nothing to do with good or bad,
Acceptance or rejection, One may well burst out into laughter.

Clear awareness beyond the limitation of perspectives is possible for all of us. Some have tasted it, yet to many it feels unfamiliar and hence suspect. Modern-day constructivism
and deconstructive analysis have trained our minds to be skeptical of the notion that one can function or know anything at all without a perspective. This conditioning tends to solidify the mode of relative knowing into a position known as relativism.
Samsara: The Endless Cycling

Relativism affirms the inevitability of multiple perspectives or positions as an absolute truth. The paradox of such an affirmation notwithstanding, relativism is widely embraced by academic and other educated folks today. But like all positions, it is unstable because of its internal contradictions and will give way to its opposite in the ongoing cycling of beliefs and positions.

We can see this happening in the many facets of contemporary life where relativism is prominent. It is evident, for example, in the widely repeated mantra in academia, politics, and the media that “every issue has two sides.” The implication is that, somehow, both sides are true, or at least deserve equal consideration. For example, in the mainstream media, the going formula not only for debating issues but also for reporting factual information is to have two talking heads present opposite views. Never mind if the weight of scientific evidence or logical analysis favors one view; the formula dictates that both views be presented as equivalent. And who decides what counts as evidence or logical analysis? It is all a matter of perspective!

Such positional conflicts occur in our individual lives as well. We hold on to beliefs and insights about ourselves and others just as absolutely and rigidly and reject the opposite just as vehemently as a fundamentalist defends his faith or her ideology. Let’s say you are caught in a conflict between an ideal you strive for (for example, “I should be more generous and loving toward my husband/wife”) and how you take yourself to actually be (“I am petty, jealous, insecure, selfish”). The tension and confusion, both internal and external, are hard to bear and will likely give way to a quick affirmation of one side or the other or some synthesized version of both. But sooner or later, this too succumbs to its opposite, generating an endless cycle of self-rumination or doubt. The belief not chosen, whether buried in the unconscious or uncomfortably hovering just below your awareness, ultimately acts out and affects your relationship or intrudes into your awareness and torments you there.

With relativism, postmodern neutrality has replaced presumed objectivity, and that neutrality has come to mean that it’s up to you. But the criteria by which you
choose your truths are also ultimately up to you—if you believe in free will. From here, it’s a short step to realizing that whatever you decide has no meaning or significance
beyond the fact that you so decide. We can thus see how relativism, when taken far enough, deprives all perspectives of significance and can deteriorate into a nihilistic anything-goes-and-nothing-matters attitude. And then the despair and cynicism of nihilism can give way to absolutism, which eventually gives way to . . . And this is how the wheel of samsara spins round. Nagarjuna’s dialectic exposes the dynamic that keeps the wheel turning.

Shifting Out of Positions
In the big picture, our positions and beliefs are but creative expressions of the ongoing evolution of consciousness. Seeing them as such can be like awakening from a
spell; there is no longer a need to affirm or negate a belief as if it were absolutely true or false. Such awakenings can shift us out of the need to take a position right in the midst of everyday life.

Consider again the above example of tension and confusion when faced with conflicting beliefs about yourself. If you can recall such a moment in your own life, you will appreciate how unsettling it was—and how desperately you wanted out of it. What happens if instead of running from the confusion, you stay with it without the pressure to choose? You then embrace both sides of the conflict and the emotions attached to each without favoring either or contorting yourself into a position that affirms both as “somehow” true. Now the light of awareness shines upon both sides of the conflict without affirming or rejecting either. You might stop in your tracks with a smile on your face, followed by a spontaneous aha!

I am describing a moment of insight, which gives us a glimpse of clear awareness. Insights typically follow an impasse of some sort. When we muster the courage or stamina or whatever it takes to remain present in the face of a conflict or impasse, we are embodying the mode of relative knowing. And when we embody this mode fully, it naturally and spontaneously opens up to clear awareness. Most important is the moment when the insight happens—not what we might say about it afterward. For that person in that moment, there is literally “nothing there”—no perspectives and nothing that can be identified or described through a perspective. But out of that “nothing,” something emerges that is absolutely fresh and creative.

A psychotherapy client recently told me that her marriage of six years was in a downward spiral. Her husband was complaining that she is supercritical and only sees faults in him. Although she rationalized that her husband was provoking her, she also admitted that more and more often, “something takes over me” in the dynamic between them. Some time later while we explored her relationship with her mother, she stopped in her tracks, stared vacantly for a second or two, and then whispered in shock, “Wow! For all these years, I’ve been my mother and didn’t know it! I’ve been acting toward my husband just like she acted toward my dad.” We held the moment a bit longer, as a new way of being arose from the spacious openness that lingered. Moments of insight, when we see something in a way we have never seen it before, are familiar to most of us. They can come in all sorts of situations—when washing dishes, for example, or walking in the park. Alas, they usually don’t last. Soon enough a new position congeals in an effort to capture or integrate the meaning of that insight, and one settles back into an updated identity or way of being. But no matter how long or short their duration, these moments of openness testify to the vibrancy and power of the evolutionary movement within our consciousness.

From Positions to Wisdom and Love

Is it really possible to operate with such openness in the world? Is it possible, contrary to the popular postmodern dictum, to be without perspective? Instances of insight tell
us that it is. But can those openings stretch longer than a passing moment? Can the transformative power of such openness deepen? And most importantly, can such openness
be there at the level of shared discourse and action?

It seems that in our time, consciousness pivots on a fulcrum. On one side is relativism and the endless juggling of diverse perspectives that can paralyze action. On the other side is the possibility of action that springs directly from seeing what is there in the moment and what is needed. But a spacious awareness is required for this to occur, and that is like a free fall. Who would choose to have the ground under their positions pulled away? Understandably, the fear of such free fall has us clinging to positions or surrendering to relativism or drifting toward nihilism and from there to absolutism—around and around the wheel we go.

The teachings of various traditions tell us that it takes a great deal of wisdom and love to make the shift to clear awareness. Love and wisdom work synergistically and are ultimately not separate. The word love conjures up emotions of warmth and caring, perhaps also desire. Yet in certain dire circumstances, people sometimes set aside their fears and extend themselves, perhaps at great risk, to save a stranger’s life. At such times, we are moved by what feels like a larger dimension of love made manifest, with a courage that embraces and transcends selfconcerns. Such courage is necessary for being fully present to our inner conflicts as well. Indeed, what inspires or helps us to be present to what we most fear or loathe if not a courageous love? Being present in this way allows one to see clearly what is there. Such clear seeing is wisdom. The more clearly and deeply we see what is there, the more present we are to it. In this way, love and wisdom work together. Wisdom tells you what you need to do; love impels you to action.

Where do we get this kind of love and wisdom? They are not the sorts of things one can “get,” much less manufacture through regimes of spiritual self-improvement— which is not to say that spiritual practice, especially when engaged in a way that discourages preoccupation with the self, cannot facilitate attunement to love and wisdom. The good news is that we don’t need to try to capture or produce them. Love and wisdom are right here, all around us, in abundant supply, inherent in the evolutionary process of which we—including our perspectives and positions—are a part.

Remember a time when you saw something familiar, perhaps a flower or a bird or a dented Coke can, as if for the very first time, and you got absorbed in that magic and totally forgot yourself? Any genuine inquiry involves giving oneself completely to the object of inquiry, which means forgetting oneself. Forgetting oneself and fully embracing what is there is love. Discerning with clarity and precision what is there is wisdom. Both are present when attention is complete and undivided. The best of scientific inquiry involves such attention, and we are all capable of it. Right action spontaneously arises from undivided attention, as our most creative scientists and artists can testify.

A Collective Shift
There will always be perspectives. They are needed for building systems of accumulated knowledge and their applications. But when there is wisdom and love, we can do more than build systems and choose or synthesize among perspectives; we can move through them to creative action that responds appropriately to whatever circumstances the world presents.

Apropos of the shifting consciousness of our time, the recent U.S. presidential election is seen by many as historic not only because an African American was elected to be the president of this country but also because of the widespread feeling that he may help usher in something new and desperately needed in our collective consciousness.

On the campaign trail, Obama frustrated many pundits and politicos by refusing to articulate his campaign promise of hope in terms of “positions.” Yet people responded, not to programs and platforms but to the anticipation of action appropriate to the challenges before us. Of course, this hope may be fueled by projection and wishful thinking, and in the end it may also be overwhelmed by the size of those very same challenges. Ephemeral, tainted, and transient as it may be, however, this massive mobilization hints at a shifting in our
collective consciousness that is a matter not of settling into another position or ideology but of opening up to life and its unfolding challenges and opportunities.

KAISA PUHAKKA, PhD, teaches psychotherapy and its integration with Buddhist practice as a core faculty member at California Institute of Integral Studies.
She also works with clients and supervises students and interns in private practice. Her ongoing personal inquiry draws from Dzogchen texts, Krishnamurti, and vipassana and Zen practices, among others.

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