What is Consciousness?

By Terry Shea

July 8, 2016

Centre for Spiritual Living White Rock

Posted In: Spiritual Wellness, White Rock


This week we attack the big buzz word of New Thought: Consciousness. Simply put, Ernest Holmes calls it a state of mental awareness equipped with will, decision, and discrimination. The definition in the glossary is longer and much more involved but we’ll talk about that more on Sunday.
What is more central to the question is consciousness is what are we aware of. I walked into my library and found three books on awareness in seconds. Books by Neville, “The Power of Awareness”, Stephen Sims, “The River of Awareness” and my favourite “go to” called simply “Awareness”by Anthony DeMello. I can’t count the number of copies of De Mello’s book I have given away in Spiritual Direction over the years.
I came across this quote from Master Chang last night. He uses the word awakening for which I’m going to substitute awareness. We are often not awake and obviously not aware, not aware of the world we inhabit, of those who are in it with us, and most importantly, not aware of ourselves in that world and the effect we are having on those around us.
“The greater the doubt, the greater the awakening; the smaller the doubt, the smaller the awakening. No doubt, no awakening.”
It has been said that an unexamined life is a life not worth living. Well in my estimation an unexamined life is not a life at all, at least not a human life. It might be okay for grass, leaves, salmon, and our animal companions, but certainly should not be enough for me. Nothing has existence in my life save through my consciousness of it, and it only exists because of my conscious awareness of it. Therefore, it is of vital importance that I be aware of what I’m thinking and feeling on an infinite number of subjects. Doubt is one of the portals to awareness. The moment that I stop and ask myself, “Is that true?” or more importantly “Is that true for me” I open the floodgates to an entire range of new thoughts and questions out of which arises greater awareness. Life has a way of putting us up against those things that will cause us to become more aware, or at least push us in the direction of greater possibility. Because of my house reno, I have had to move to the guest room downstairs. I had always considered this a VERY adequate charming little space to offer to guests. Well now that I’m living in it instead of the 700 square feet I usually live in, my upstairs en suite, I’m seeing all of the limitations of this space.
First of all, there are books everywhere. Every wall is covered with books; the closet was converted to bookshelves. The desktop is covered in things and there is one bedside tabletop, 18 X 20 inches. Once you put a glass of water and a laptop on it, that’s it. The captains bed is built into the wall and is more like a big bunk except that it is a double and terribly awkward to make up in the morning. It’s dark and cramped and, in short, a TERRIBLE space to be confined to. Granted the rest of the main floor is available, but I’m finding all kind of things spilling out into the living space that shouldn’t be there. I never for a moment doubted that my guest room was a great place for people to spend time, and have invited guests to come and visit, many of whom have never taken me up on a second visit.
This is a mundane example of what one can be aware of, and what can easily be missed. It is, however, a good example of a process of turning away from assumptions and perceptions, the objective appearance of things, and turning to the centre of them, my consciousness. Being aware of differences, and apparent contradictions, antagonisms and contrasts of life is simply being aware of consciousness operating. Difference does not consist in a variety of people, places and things, but in a variety of arrangements in the mind of one thing, consciousness.
This is another way of saying with Religious Scientists like Ernest Holmes, Buddhist teachers like Thich Nhat Hahn, metaphysicians like Neville have been saying, that in your life, there is only one principle at work, only your consciousness operating. A rich you, a poor you, a healthy you, a loveable you, are not different “yous” but rather different arrangements of the same you, the same mind.
Thomas Aquinas the great Catholic theologian and Doctor of the Church, author the “Summa Theologica”, one of the classics of the history of philosophy and one of the most influential works of Western literature, an instructional guide for theology students since 1274, said in his own words: “The Basic nature of First Cause is Consciousness.” Therefore, the ultimate substance of all things is… you guessed it CONSCIOUSNESS!