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Alternative Culture Articles

March, 2006

Expanding Consciousness
By Royce Carlson

Humans have a hard-wired proclivity for division and organization that is essential to survival but, in my opinion, is a potential obstacle to enlightenment. In our minds we sort billions of sensory inputs and divide them into categories based on the world views we hold. The dividing of experience is unavoidable. We canít help it. Neither can we stop ourselves from organizing our experiences to create a conceptual structure I call the world view. We use these world views as a filter for the cataloging of future experiences.

Are there three personality types? Are there twelve personality types? Are we divided into mind, body, and spirit or is it really a division into physical, etheric, astral, mental, and spiritual components of our being?  It seems that most of the spiritual and psychological teachings divide and organize experience, too. Like I said, we canít help it.

It can be claimed that this division and organization is necessary to communicate concepts to others and there is definitely some validity to that. The various divisions and ways of organizing things can be helpful to understanding as long as we understand that these divisions are constructs to help explain reality. They are not reality itself, just as the word ďappleĒ is not an apple.

Our senses take in a tremendous amount of data. Most of it we toss out as irrelevant. Whether a particular chunk of sensory input registers upon our consciousness depends on the world view. Therefore our world views serve as a filter for experience. If the experience triggers something that corresponds to our world view, it shows up in consciousness. If the experience has no relation to the world view then it is likely to be ignored. Our world views cause us to attribute importance to certain experiences and less importance to others.

Our world views consist of more than psychological, philosophical and spiritual beliefs. They include our determination of what is valuable, what is good, what is bad, what we want, and what we donít want. They include our habitual strategies and habits. They include the language we use to talk to ourselves in our heads. These are all conceptual structures through which we process our experiences. Much of the time these structures operate below the level of consciousness.

For example, if we are on a road trip and get hungry, a desire for food triggers a conceptual structure that may cause us to look for a restaurant. ďFood is in restaurantsĒ is the structure at work here. Our attention, then, will be focused on sensory input that corresponds to what we understand a restaurant to look like, etc. What we may not see at all are the orange trees along the side of the road, ripe with fruit, or the wild spinach growing in the ditch next to the highway. This is food, too - possibly better food than we could get in a restaurant. But unless that portion of our world view is expanded to include stuff growing alongside the road, we will likely miss it.

The same thing happens with philosophical and spiritual beliefs. Particular beliefs tell us what is real, what is important, and what is bad or good. If we hold them dear, experiences that do not fit the belief can be missed entirely. People have experiences all the time that fall outside their world view. Either the experience doesnít register at all or, if it does register, a person is more likely to doubt the reality of the experience or doubt their own sanity rather than change his or her world view.

Given the limitations of perspective, our senses, the language we think in, the beliefs we are taught, and the beliefs we decide on, itís a wonder that we perceive even a tiny fraction of reality. Yet this is the condition we find ourselves.

If we accept the premise that the expansion of consciousness is a worthy goal to pursue, and that our world views are filters that can exclude direct awareness of reality, then we should consider consciously engaging our minds in creating world views that allow the greatest expansion of awareness. Whatever world views we create we should hold lightly. If conscious expansion is the goal, our world views should be very flexible so as to include the possibility of experiences that fall outside of their scope.

There are things that can be done to transcend the limitations of our particular world views. Anything that takes us out of our habitual modes of being can teach us about ways our current world views are limiting us. Suspend habits. Spend time in other cultures. Talk with people you ordinarily disagree with. Learn a new language. Study different religions and philosophies. Exercise different parts of your brain by creating art, poetry, music and dance. Learn from your body by trying new physical experiences. Experiment with different modes of consciousness via meditation, ritual, and/or psycho-active substances. Consciously try out different world views with an eye toward maximizing the inclusion of experience.

 The world is so much more than we think it is. Even though we may understand very little of the total of reality, we should try to embrace the experiences we can during our short time in this life. Letís explore, as openly as we can, the vast and marvelous mystery of existence!

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Royce Carlson