Symbolic consciousness has seized control of the evolutionary dynamics of life on Earth and deeply impoverished the planetary ecology. – Peter Reason
Imagine a world without language, images or the written word. Imagine an organism with awareness of self, a sense of community and yet no way to share their world with another. An intense inner world fueled by instinct and survival and yet a consciousness that understands our connection. It was out of this that the world as we know it evolved today.
We have always been connected. The same ingredients that gave birth to the cosmos are the same things that we are made of; we are of the stars. If we were to look at the history of the universe in an hour time frame, humans have only existed in the last minute on earth. Yet we have changed the earth in amazing ways. Recently, I watched an eye-opening documentary that helped me to understand how our earth evolved into this increasingly complex world that we now live in. In Journey of the Universe, they answer the question, how did this happen? What was the catalyst that propelled civilization into exponential growth and where do we go from here?
Evolution of the Cosmos
Fourteen billion years ago the universe exploded with life in what some scientists call “Goldilocks Conditions”, any hotter or cooler and the expansion would have quickly imploded or collapsed back into nothing. In these perfect conditions, a universe was born. Around 4 and half billion years ago the earth and our sun were formed. Again, our planet seemingly divinely guided in its creation, as the perfect conditions conspired that resulted in our creation. The earth at this point was governed by what Dr. Frank Heile would describe as a primary consciousness. This is the consciousness that permeates the natural world. If we think of it like a computer, it would be a parallel processor giving rise to the self-organizing dynamic that scientist now believe is the natural order of things. This primary consciousness has a present moment awareness, that created patterns and intelligence that coded all of life. Yet, it wasn’t until the time of man that things began to grow in ever more complex ways as we burst beyond this primary consciousness into symbolic consciousness. While there is much debate about what triggered this, there is one very interesting theory posited by Brian Thomas Swimme in Journey of the Universe
The Birth of the Inner Child
Something happened within the mammals, the divine feminine energies arose and mammals began to nurture and nourish their young. We gave rise to the inner child. As humans, we let our children be creative and playful for many years beyond all other creatures. Some believe that this prolongation of childhood is what led to our exponential complexity. Maybe it was the nurturing of our ‘right brains’ that brought our species to new heights and eventually led to the development of what neuroscientists call our intuitive/abstract brain. But there is more to this story. While the prolongation of childhood may have allowed for increased complexity, it was also our development of language and writing that changed the game for our species and what we were able to accomplish.
The Rise of Symbolic Consciousness
Symbolic consciousness is a world created from symbols that evolved to language and writing that allowed humans to express their inner world with the outer world. Just as today, all words are symbols for something much deeper. Our self-awareness allowed us to create a symbolic world in order to pass on information, ideas and mythology. As we began to create the world around us to symbolize what has existed within, we began our journey of symbolic consciousness.
For billions of years, the earth was guided by the principals of self-organization or this primary consciousness. Now instead of just passing along our genetic coding and patterns to subsequent generations, we were now able to pass along our experience. Allowing us to teach each other complex instructions on how to make things by stringing together long chain symbols. As Dr. Frank Heile and some explained, we created a hierarchal structure and/or chains of these symbols, which allowed us to live and thrive in groups. Giving us the opportunity to make tools and pass on information about hunting and the world we lived in without that information being lost from one generation to the next. We began creating energetic exchanges as we moved more and more of our experience in the external world. We identified with ourselves as “I” and “Me”, and in order to understand ourselves we became something relative to something else. Creating an identity that was a measure of another’s perception, again a reflection of the outer world and less of an understanding of our essence.
Symbolic Consciousness in the Modern Age
In addition to increasing complexity in ideas and thought, this created a positive feedback loop or an amplifying loop. We would see something, identify and integrate it into our culture and then create more of it. With this, our minds focused on rehashing the past and the inventing of the future. And so began our love affair with linear and logical thinking, building one idea on the foundation of the last. As Brian Thomas Swimme would explain it, our collective consciousness was giving birth to more symbols and those would, in turn, magnify our collective consciousness.
How this developed over time is we began to value the external, ‘objective reality’ over our inner knowing. Science then began to dictate our truth; everything we could quantify, and rationalize became our dogma. The qualities of the divine feminine and inner child were diminished. Marketing and commercialization preyed on this externalized reality, creating attachments and suffering. It also created another glaring problem; we used these measures to dominate nature instead of move with it. No longer were we part of the natural world, our aim was to control it for our own benefit.
Coming Full Circle
Since we understand now how symbolic consciousness has propelled us forward exponentially in every way, what is it going to take to come full circle? If symbolic consciousness is the amplification of the external world, it is time to bring it back to our center. What is going on within each one of us when we cultivate an inner awareness? There are so many things that take us out of this space, especially the technology of our smartphones and advent of social media; we need to make a concerted effort to move back within. Dr. Jeffery Martin would call this non-symbolic consciousness. It is a non-dual awareness, where one consciously embraces solitude, stillness, and quiet contemplation. It is a state that is ripe for mystical experiences birthed from the cultivation of mindfulness.
We have been living life looking through a keyhole, piecing the puzzle together, asking the how questions. It is now time to embrace the why? It is time to rise to a new level of self-awareness. One that can expand large enough to see where we have been, what we have created and reflect on our need to control and dominate. As Brian Thomas Swimme expressed about the self-organizing nature of the universe. “Life learns”. It is time for us to live again in harmony with our world, as sustainability is harmony in action.
5 Suggestions to Cultivate Non-Symbolic Consciousness
- Set boundaries around your use of technology
- Ecstatic Dance
- Be in nature
- Spend part of your day in silence
(c) Can Stock Photo