The kid rolls by, teeth grinding and body possessed by the dubstep: “…yeah duuude, I’m all about expanding consciousness…”
I wish this idea hadn’t become such a fuzzy piece of new-age parlance. It loses power when it’s tossed around carelessly. But that’s just my own lingering beef from growing up in Asheville. I’ll get over it.
Really it’s understandable that the words have become fuzzy- cause what does it mean to “expand consciousness”? I feel it intuitively. This is my attempt at pinning it down more specifically.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin gave me a framework for thinking about consciousness expanding through evolution. Through complexity and socialization matter became this weird thing called life which then grew into forms capable of more and more thought. But these broad strokes don’t resolve the difficulty of picturing my life in terms of expanding consciousness.
Now I’m coming to realize that I made this idea more esoteric than it needs to be. If a lake expands it covers more terrain. If I expand my lungs they get larger. If I expand on an idea I get more specific.
Why should the expansion of consciousness be anything different?
I think the idea is elusive because it can move in two directions.
We can expand our consciousness horizontally through travel, conversation, reading, etc… More new experiences means more objects to hold in awareness. This expansion is horizontal because it feels like a spread or widening of consciousness.
But we all know people who have a wealth of experience yet remain superficial or more interestingly the people who have never left their mountain hollow and are deeper than we can plumb.
That’s why I think there is another direction for consciousness to expand into. Our language (“shallow”, “deep”, “lofty”) shows the intuitive feel we have for this vertical expansion.
Vertical movement still happens by awareness growing to hold more objects. But here the objects aren’t experiences, instead they are the structures we hang those experiences on: the stories we tell ourselves, our paradigms. Vertical expansion is about stepping back far enough to see the lens that colors our experience. This is exponential.
This movement is like solving a riddle: The answer never comes directly from collecting enough data; instead it comes in that moment when we see the problem differently.
It’s like seeing the schooner in the magic eye poster.
It’s like the circle becoming aware of the sphere.
Einstein said that problems can’t be solved by the level of thinking that created them.
If the problems are anxiety, guilt, anger, insecurity or depression then freedom means expanding to a level above them: stepping back far enough to see the beliefs that create these fears.
I’m addicted to this sort of expansion, those moments of epiphany when a dozen different experiences suddenly fall into place and make sense. I think that when Jesus said the truth will set you free, these are the truths he was referring to.
This begins to sound like a video game, but I believe vertical expansion happens when we reach a critical mass of horizontal experiences. For me this happens through conversations, journaling, thoughtful friends, reflection and meditation.
But the more I step back, the more I feel this process guided by a deeper part of myself. Somewhere down there seems to be a voice that knows who I could be unburdened by fear: what the world could be free of fear. This part not only knows the potential but also actively tries to guide us towards that potential.
Maybe this voice is my own unnecessary addition. Either way, the expansion of consciousness seems bigger than travel and bigger than psychedelics. The game is about bringing potential into being. I can’t think of anything more meaningful, cause as soon as I do- that’s the new potential.