Tuesday, August 22nd 2017

A history of consciousness, and how to live in presence

Featuring Eckhart Tolle, parapsychologist Rupert Sheldrake, philosopher Teillard de Chardin and psychiatrist Margaret Mahler


BY DAVID RICKEY — If Eckhart Tolle is correct (and I believe he is) that the purpose of life is the evolution of consciousness, how does that happen in an historical and biological perspective? Leaving aside the big question of whether there is a God or something directing it from outside, how could this “purpose” in life evolve naturally?

How life began is the first mystery, and I can’t answer that here (or anywhere). But it did. Some “hot soup” of chemicals came together and figured out how to replicate, and life began. It’s conceivable to me that, through natural selection, the single-celled creatures that figured out how to live together with other single-celled creatures began to develop more complex systems that survived by working together. These more complex organisms differentiated tasks for different cell groupings, and life became even more complex.

180px-rupertsheldrake.jpg Rupert Sheldrake, a former biochemist who now studies parapsychology, suggests that life communicates by morphic resonance. This, I believe is the origin of primitive consciousness — fields of informational energy that provide a primitive “awareness” in relationship to other “transmitters” of morphic resonance. Even at very early stages of life, “paying attention” was key to survival.

To take this a step further, Teillard de Chardin developed the concept of “Noosphere,” which is like a web of consciousness that envelopes the planet. It makes sense to me that this is generated by the ever-increasing waves of morphic fields of awareness and communication that develop as life becomes more complex. It also serves, I believe, as a feed-back mechanism to add information to the “mind fields” of the creatures that are generating it through


awareness. Scientists believe that the mind doesn’t reside in the brain but in a field of informational energy around the brain, extending quite far. This could explain mental telepathy.

After millions of years of evolution, both biological and conscious, the ability of self-reflection began to develop — and with it, the “ego” — as beings started to think of themselves as separate, rather than living primarily in dependent communities.

Human beings demonstrate this process (remember the high school biology dictum, “Ontogeny recapitulates Phylogeny“?) in our own development. When we are born our awareness is primitively global. “Everything is me.” This is known in psychology as “primary narcissism”.


Then come the “terrible two’s” — or as childhood development legend Margaret Mahler called it, “The psychological birth of the human infant” — when the child begins to think of itself as separate and learns to say, “NO!”

I believe that “wisdom” — generated by the previous evolutionary developments that “understood” that life worked better (read, “survived and flourished”) when it cooperated and shared — is the fundamental source of the deepest spiritual teachings of our time.

But just like the mega-computer HAL in “2001 a Space Odyssey”, our individual brains — well the left side, anyway, which is the source of ego through linear thinking— rebels and resists this wisdom.

This is the colossal dilemma of human experience. Our evolution has brought us to enough awareness to self-reflect and imagine separateness, thus opening the Pandora’s Box of  greed, unenlightened self-interest and war. Because we imagine ourselves as separate, we fail to grasp the wisdom of cooperating. Rather than thinking of ourselves each as a part of a larger organism — imagine a symphony orchestra — we behave as if independent and of primary importance. Imagine that orchestra made up of soloists who were all prima dona’s.


At the same time, an increasing number of enlightened beings on the planet are tuned into the noosphere of wisdom, and are teaching the rest of us the techniques of listening more deeply to Wisdom.

What we have in the variety of spiritual traditions may simply be an expression of the tension between these two evolutionary energies. The movement toward individuation created the ego and the illusion of separateness, and eventually the variety of cultures on the planet. Each culture, however, has enlightened beings who intuit the deeper wisdom of cooperation and interdependence — and then express it in culturally determined images. Thus, the universal wisdom is encapsulated in culturally-determined expressions that we fight each other about.

And, as with children, it doesn’t seem to be enough to just teach “it works better this way.” So different cultures have developed “rewards” and punishments to induce “believers” to follow the teachings. Eventually, however, we need to evolve to where we “get it” without needing a reward. The purpose of religion, then is to teach us to live more consciously, no matter what happens along the way.

The truth is simply that our only reason for being here is to contribute to the evolution of life — no longer like the may-fly, purely reproducing to keep the species going, but by consciously living, moment to moment. What ever we may be doing in our own life, the deeper purpose is always to contribute to the conscious evolution so humanity begins to function cooperatively, tuning into the shared “Awareness”  that is available on the deepest level.

While this may seem dreary, I find it very liberating. It matters less what I do and what happens to me than that I experience it all as consciously as possible.

It also liberates me to be creative. Once I stop worrying about “getting it right”, I can trust the deeper wisdom of “Awareness” to move through me without knowing where it’s going to take me, because it’s not about me.

I can make mistakes as long as my intention is to stay conscious in living out the consequences. I can even just play creatively with my life, consciously.

So it doesn’t mater what you “do,” just do it consciously!

If this spoke to you, here are five similar articles.

Related Posts

11 Comments on “A history of consciousness, and how to live in presence”

  1. Hello David,

    I've read many of your articles and enjoyed them. My views on life are quite similar to yours. This is the first article you've written that I've felt the impulse to comment on.

    I'm familiar with Rupert Sheldrake and morphic resonance. For more about "mind fields" I also suggest books by Valerie Hunt, Ph.D. I wonder if what Daniel Siegel, M.D. refers to as mirror neurons are also related/connected to "mind fields."

    I believe the development of the ego is a necessary step in the evolution of consciousness. Bodynamic Analysis has a model of 4 ego aspects, the body ego, individual ego, role ego and observing ego. The body ego is the first ego aspect to be established. This is where we experience the world directly through our senses and psychomotor experiences. This is where I feel my skin boundary and feel where "I" end and "you" begin. For me, I believe it is the individual ego you are referring to in your article. It is usually associated with the "terrible twos."

    I feel there is some correlation (but can't articulate it yet) with the development of our brains from the brain stem, to the corticolimbic system, and finally the neocortex to the different aspects of ego.

    For me, as a Rolfing practitioner, I had to learn the parts of the body, the separate anatomy, before I could piece those pieces back to together as a coherent whole and feel the connection and interrelationship of everything. It seemed to be a necessary step to understanding the whole at a deeper level.

    I feel it is somehow the same with our consciousness, we have to move from wholeness, to individuation, and back to wholeness before we can comprehend wholeness at a more profound level.

    On some level, because we are animals, we will always be subject to biological drives, our physiology. With the development of the observing ego we can bring our awareness to this process and not be completely lost in it. Similar to the oneness we experience before we go through our individuation process.

    As human animals I believe we will always have two primary drives, the need for mutual connection, and the need to maintain one's dignity. Mutual connection seems to be a horizontal energy where as dignity has a more vertical flow and could be correlated with the evolution of consciousness.

    Just some thoughts on a late Friday afternoon.

  2. Thank you Carole. Your thoughts take mine a step further (at least) and give me more information to help understand the process. Thank you. I think you are probably right - I need to explore this further. It does seem that, although the ultimate goal is to transcend the limits of ego, there must be some evolutionary purpose in the developing of an ego in the first place. Your thoughts, about the four aspects (perhaps even stages) of the ego, are very thought provoking. Thank you very much for sharing.


  3. Thank you for your response, David.

    I'd like to be precise. The ego aspects are always present once they have been developed. We don't outgrow them. Imagine outgrowing your body ego. . . don't think I could do that without dying. Things can happen to us that blow our ego apart, such as trauma, or even peak experiences. (I wrote a very simple article about this on my blog.) Being able to land back in the ego after such events is essential, I believe, to have a healthy functioning psyche and soma.

    I'm delighted to share this interaction with you. :-)


  4. I agree with you about the ego. It is essential to functioning, as you point out in examples where trauma disrupts that functioning. The problem happens when we over identify with the ego as "That is who I am." and let it run the show. From what I understand from Buddhism and Christianity is that being aware of the ego and yet being able to choose and live from a deeper place of awareness is the key. Ego tends to think in "separation". I used an example today in a sermon: When you're at an airport and you find the flight's been cancelled, your first response is "How will this affect me?" Spiritual teaching seems to be to get us, through practice, to get closer to having a "first response" "How will all these people manage?" and perhaps "What can I do to help?" The ego isn't lost, it's just not in the driver's seat.

    Yes, this is good sharing, thank you.


  5. Hello David,

    I agree with you on this point. "The problem happens when we over identify with the ego as “That is who I am.”" We are indeed so much more than that.

    Languaging is difficult here because we are using the same words, but I don't think we mean the same thing in their usage. You say, "From what I understand from Buddhism and Christianity is that being aware of the ego and yet being able to choose and live from a deeper place of awareness is the key."

    For me, this sounds like the development of the observing ego, the development of a part of ourselves that can observe what we do while we are doing it. With this development I believe we grow a more mature/healthy ego. One that can make better choices because we are not so caught up with ourselves. We can stand back a little, so to speak, observe the bigger picture and not just our own personal needs.

    The observing ego has a purpose with respect to the other three ego aspects (the body ego, the individual ego and the role ego.) For me, the term ego, is an overarching collective concept that includes all 4 ego aspects.

    Thank you for reading and sharing your insights.

  6. Yes, I think "observing ego" works here, except part of the teaching I am getting from Tolle and others is that the Ego still engenders a sense of separateness: My ego. But perhaps at this stage of our evolution, that's as close as we can get. The concern I have (and the experience I see) is that under stress I revert to "My Ego" as opposed to a sense of oneness with all life. So I ask "what happens to me?" when I need to be concerned about what happens to Us? (there being no "them"). Language is also a great problem, albeit a great method of communication. Thanks for pushing the boundaries of this discussion. May it continue!

  7. Yes, David, the ego still engenders a sense of separateness. I ponder that we as humans will ever *not* have that sense of separateness as long as we are physically embodied. We can certainly have glimpses and experiences of oneness. And once tasted, it can be one of the most powerful drives in us, to be one with everything. It is indeed in the realm of the spiritual.

    Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor speaks about her experience of oneness as a result of a massive stroke. I recommend her video. http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/jill_bolte_taylor_s_powerful_stroke_of_insight.html

    There seem to be many paths.

  8. That video has been a great inspiration to me. I speak of it and recommend it often. Thank you for putting the link here for others to see. (I trust that this isn't just a private conversation between us.)


  9. I think what I am trying to get at is that, yes, experiencing ourself as separate is something we will never completely get rid of. It's part of the evolutionary process, and the individuation process. The task then is to consciously choose to think and act "connected". The garden of eden myth is about the "first attempt" at that choice and the consequences of choosing to know about "good" and "evil" rather than "life" - the other tree in the center of the garden. Spiritual teachers are showing us the way, through teaching and practice to rewire our brains to work more from the holistic side than the "ego" side. That's part of the beauty of that video.

    The survival question on this planet is can we all (or a critical mass of us) learn to live in conscious connectedness and heal all the divisiveness we have fostered in war and global degredation.


  10. What better way for consciousness to learn about itself than to be split into duality, "good" and "evil," "female" and "male," etc? From what Jill says, in that place of oneness, she couldn't take care of herself, couldn't function, was completely absorbed in the experience. It was only in those moments when her left hemisphere was functioning better that she realized she was having a stroke and needed to get help.

    I propose there is a power in one being able to hold dualities. That the interplay of opposites creates a space somewhere in the middle that is the access to a more conscious oneness. The challenge is balancing in that middle ground.

  11. [...] with David Rickey over at Soul’s Code this week. You can read our conversation about “How to Live in Conscious Awareness” here. As I was riding my bike this afternoon immersed in the beauty of the intense yellow, wild, [...]

Leave a Reply