Growing our consciousness is the most direct path out of suffering and self-defeat. Yet a lot of people believe that human nature, like the Ten Commandments, is set in stone. They say one’s human nature is a granite-like formation that resists appeals to virtue and reason, thereby preventing us from evolving beyond our often self-centered, ignorant, or foolish ways.
Our level of consciousness is likely to remain stationary only when we fail to explore our deeper dimensions. When we understand our psychological self, we become wiser, smarter, and happier. Without this self-knowledge, we fall under the influence of inner dynamics that produce suffering and self-defeat.
We’re smart, yet we’re not necessarily sufficiently conscious. We’re able to build complex technological systems—yet the toxic byproducts might be ruining our planet. Our advanced weaponry can also destroy life on earth if our primitive emotions and aggressive instincts prevail. Our consciousness is not keeping up with our cleverness. So what does it mean to be more evolved?
A higher consciousness is ultimately associated with the quality of our self-knowledge. We learn what is precise and true about our unconscious mind, even though we might initially be appalled at what we’re discovering.
This is the conundrum: To become more conscious, we have to learn what we don’t want to know, and we have to recognize what we don’t want to see. In essence, we expose from the depths of our psyche our compulsive participation in suffering and self-defeat.
What does this mean? Let’s look at examples from everyday life. For instance, how many jealous people know (or want to know) that they’re strongly tempted to indulge in the unresolved negative emotions of rejection and betrayal? How many compulsive gamblers know that they’re unconsciously addicted to the feeling of losing? How many envious people are aware that they’re emotionally attached to the feeling of being deprived? How many greedy people know their greed covers up their entanglement in feelings of having little intrinsic value? How many angry people are conscious of the fact that they use their anger to cover up their emotional indulgence in some sense of being victimized, oppressed, or insulted? How many fearful people know that their fear is usually not based on reality factors in their environment, but instead is based on their lingering emotional memories of childhood helplessness and powerlessness? How many addictive personalities can see that their emotional attachment to unresolved inner passivity is stonewalling self-regulation? This list could go on and on.
People tend not to be conscious of their inner conflicts and how these conflicts produce suffering and self-sabotage. The jealous person wants love but expects betrayal—sure enough, she provokes her partner into betraying her. A compulsive gambler wants to win but expects to lose—soon he’s mortgaging his house to pay his gambling debts. The envious person wants to get some cherished object, yet inwardly circulates the pain of not having it—and often she chooses an object that’s beyond reach. A greedy person wants riches in order to feel more important, substantial, and valuable—yet the riches produce a deeper emptiness. An angry person demands justice, not knowing that her anger is a defense covering up her willingness to suffer with a sense of injustice. A fearful person buys a gun for personal protection—and now his inner fear just shifts on to other targets such as the prospects of economic collapse, terrorist attacks, or Armageddon.
Without sufficient consciousness, we’re tricked by our illusions. Such illusions are often produced by our psychological defenses. For instance, someone might believe that his donations to charity are based on his goodness and compassion when, in this case, the charitable gestures arise from his unconscious mind, based on his desire (as a defense) to look good to himself and others in order to maintain his idealized self-image. Underneath this self-image lurks someone who doubts his intrinsic value. His denial and ignorance of this state of affairs deprive him of wisdom and true compassion.
The public’s comprehension of how inner defenses shape our life is quite abysmal. Our species is stumbling down a blind alley, and more of us are needed to penetrate the barriers of self-deception. This article at PsychCentral.com, “15 Common Defense Mechanisms,” reveals the many ways that we produce illusions of reality. A person whose consciousness is evolving can identify which of these defenses he or she has been employing in everyday life. The resulting insight produces a growing intelligence that aids us in navigating and regulating our complex world.
This improved intelligence enables us to focus on what’s truly important and real, and to avoid faulty conclusions. Evolved consciousness dissolves the numbness, illusions, and inner conflict that impede our humanity, freeing us to become the creators of our destiny. It gives us wisdom, compassion, and direction. We’re no longer so fearful of change or of death. We’re more appreciative of our life and all life, including the life of our descendents. (A search of the internet reveals how little thought and affection are given to still-to-be-conceived humanity).
With higher consciousness, we see our vital contribution to the state of the world. We take personal responsibility for what’s not working. The feeling might be, for instance, “I have to become wiser and stronger in myself in order to do something about the corruption that’s undermining my country’s institutions.” More evolved, we’re no longer so protective of personal advantages and egotism because our new consciousness informs us that our wellbeing is intimately connected to the wellbeing of all. We connect with the will and the power to do our best. At this point, what philosophers call “determinism” in human affairs becomes the more evolved power of free will, our capacity to rendez-vous with destiny.
This concept of inner progress isn’t naïve idealism. We very likely have to grow our consciousness to save ourselves from irreparable destruction. Right now, we’re not able to unite with clear resolve because our lack of evolvement makes us too fearful, hostile, and self-centered. Opponents of the idea of evolved consciousness have followed the path of least resistance regarding their self-development. Their shallow consciousness makes them too fearful to give up outdated concepts and orientations, and it prevents them from connecting emotionally with the awesome value of future generations.
Evolved consciousness unequivocally informs us that we profit emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually when our life and work are aligned with the common good. Albert Einstein a century ago ushered in a new consciousness of physical space. Now we need to acquire a new consciousness of inner space to help us journey onward successfully.