Since earliest history, man has known that that there are things in this world that aren’t immediately apparent to most people, but that one can become aware of. You can take a walk with your dog… and he stops. Puts his nose into the air… is he hearing something? Is he aware of something… that perhaps you would like to know? Poets and prophets through the ages have spoken of receiving their words from god. Sometimes we can entertain the possibility of modesty… but at other times… it does seem as if they are able to key into a source that is not readily available to all.
On the other end of the spectrum, we are aware of the alienation of urban life. People living in crowded cities, bombarded constantly by advertisements, background music, noise, distractions… and having to really concentrate on getting home by way of subways, busses, walking along the pavement, driving in their cars… some of them with mp3 players piped directly into their ears… seem less aware of what is going on around them. They are in their own worlds. Even in the classroom, some students have trouble concentrating on their lessons. Their problem has already been labeled as ADHD, and some fine pharmacists have found the wonder drug with which to treat them.
Many years ago, our generation was interested in expanding consciousness… in searching for a greater awareness… especially, the artists, the philosophers and the thinkers. In his classic book on his experiences while taking mescaline, Aldous Huxley borrowed a phrase from William Blake's poem, “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”, naming his book, ‘The Doors of Perception’. I was very impressed by his recollections, and by the experimentations of others along the same line… experimentation that was popular among the poets and the sages of the Beat Generation in San Francisco, at that time… and a few years later, I personally tried that drug and others that I found, that enabled visions of a seemingly unseen world that existed in some sort of synchronization with our own banal reality.
Having had the advantage of a religious education, I was aware that that there were levels of awareness and consciousness that could be tapped without the use of drugs. The drugs, I discovered, were a shortcut, and a valuable asset to those who had not discovered the methods of more traditional schools of thought. And in my studies, I learned of a number of theories having to do with the repression of thoughts and feelings in the subconscious. Thanks to Freud, and those who followed after him, it became clear that there is a consciousness which is often directed to a back room, or a hard to get at drawer in our minds. Relevant to this, was the discovery, in my study of photography, that there are certain physical phenomena that we don’t see ‘as is’. In fact, our mind corrects the picture for us, so that we will see normally, even when the picture before us is abnormal. The more obvious of such examples are known as ‘optical illusions’. The more I worked with this subject, the clearer it became to me, that there is a mechanism, in our mind, that directs information that we receive through our senses according to its importance, as the mind perceives it.
If we were too sensitive, we would get so much information from our environment, that we would find it difficult to function. On the other hand, we do have the capacity to be aware on a lot of levels. Sometimes, our sensitivity is the key to our survival. We have all heard or read stories of what people are able to do, in an emergency situation, stimulated to unusual capacities by a burst of adrenalin.
But such unusual capacities are not limited to the circumstances of emergency. Take, for instance, the case of a young mother of a baby. She is sleeping in one room, and the baby is in its crib in another room of the house. They live on a main street in the big city. Cars and trucks go down the street as she and her husband sleep. They make a good deal of noise, but they don’t wake her up. She has had a hard day, and she is sound asleep. Her husband awakes. Perhaps because of the sound of a truck that went by. He turns on the lamp on the table next to the bed. He is reminded of a burning issue at work; picks up the phone, and dials his partner. He talks in a soft voice on the phone. Fortunately, he hasn’t woken his wife. She sleeps deeply. He finishes his conversation, and turns off the lamp, going back to sleep. And then, the baby voices a little peep in the next room. The mother wakes up instantly and gets out of the bed to go to her child. Such things happen all the time.
I understand that there are filters in the mind, that allow ‘important’ information to get through to our conscious mind, but block other information that might overload the system, or might be so painful, emotionally, that we would be unable to function. However, there are methods, recorded in religious literature, and in certain mystical traditions, that allow a person to reach out, so to speak, and pull a veil aside. This is the path of expanded consciousness. But it is not so simple. There is still the problem of overload. Sometimes it is necessary to replace one veil with another. There is a limit to how much awareness we can deal with. But there is the possibility of directing our ability to focus on certain things and not others. And this ability can give us great power and provide us with riches in our lives.
Technology has afforded us the ability to turn night into day; to move from one place in this world to another at almost the speed of sound. We are able to enjoy artificial materials, and a great variety of food. Some of these advantages improve our lives, and allow us to live longer, and healthier. But remember the story of the sorcerer’s apprentice, who learned how to bring the water to wash the floor, but didn’t learn how to stop the process? In our enjoyment of technology, we have to be careful not to get out of touch with nature… or even worse, to get out of touch with ourselves.