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Philosophical Foundations

Part III

Wholly Spirit

This section represents my personal philosophy and is the foundation for much of what has preceded this section. This especially true for Part II.

There are two dichotomous views on the ultimate nature of reality. One can be called the Primacy of Matter (a.k.a. materialism) and the other the Primacy of Consciousness (a.k.a. idealism). Classical physics and everyday experience support the former, and the interpretations of some quantum physicists and the experience of various mystics support the latter. The two views have significantly different implications. For example, materialists explain consciousness as an epiphenomenon (see Definitions) of matter while idealists explain matter as an epiphenomenon of Consciousness. Thus, there is considerable contention around which view is correct on this point as well as others. The likelihood is that neither conception will ever be conclusively demonstrated to the satisfaction of most people.

Both views are faced with essentially the same conundrum, that is, initial origination. If you are of the Primacy of Matter persuasion, you must ask how did matter come about and from what? One hypothesis is the so-called "big bang" event or the near instantaneous expansion of an extremely dense concentration of energy/matter (a.k.a. the primordial atom). Even assuming it is correct, there still remains the question of where did this "primordial atom" come from? Stephen Hawking, for example, suggests spontaneous creation or the creation of something from nothing. If you are of the Primacy of Consciousness persuasion, you must ask where did the universal field of Consciousness (hereafter Source Consciousness or just Consciousness) come from? I know of no hypothesis about the origin of the Source Consciousness. Some Primacy of Matter advocates might argue that matter has always existed and the material universe has cycled through endless regeneration. Likewise, some Primacy of Consciousness advocates might argue that Source Consciousness has always existed and always will exist. In the end, both camps reach a point where they really have no choice but to say that either matter just is or that Consciousness just is. Regardless of which hypothesis you find the most plausible, you are ultimately faced with a leap of faith.

Panentheism is a philosophy that was first articulated in 1828 by the German philosopher Karl Krause. Panentheism in brief means: The whole is in God or, if you prefer, the universe is in Consciousness. This means that the universe and God are not ontologically (see Definitions) equivalent. Panentheism views God (a.k.a. Source Consciousness) as the eternal animating force behind the universe, while the universe is nothing more than a manifest part of God. The universe exists within God, who in turn "pervades" or is omnipresent in the cosmos (here taken to subsume the universe). Unlike pantheism, that asserts God and the universe are coextensive, panentheism asserts that God is greater than the universe and that the universe is contained within God.

More recently, this position has been reflected in the works of writers such as Franklin Merrell-Wolff (Philosophy of Consciousness-without-an Object), Lynne McTaggart (The Field), Amit Goswami (The Self-Aware Universe), Robert Lanza (Biocentrism) and Menas Kafatos and Robert Nadeau (The Conscious Universe), among others.

The following analogy illustrates Primacy of Consciousness within a panentheistic conception, which subsumes materialism as a secondary perspective. Think of a vast sea with an infinite amount of water. Suspended within this sea there is small ball that is hollow but not empty. The surface of the ball defines a boundary that partitions it off from the rest of the sea. Within the ball there is a self-evolving virtual reality program running. If you're not familiar with the idea of virtual reality, think about a large complex "play" in which the characters have some freedom to ad lib. The virtual reality program (or play) has to follow certain rules, which impose limits on what can happen but still allow a number of degrees of freedom for its operation. From the sheltered perspective of the virtual reality program running inside the ball, the reality created by the program is all there is, and the vast sea in which it is suspended goes largely undetected. Think of the vast sea as Source Consciousness. The curved surface of the ball represents space/time. The self-evolving virtual reality program represents the materialist model of macro reality, which offers a few hints that there may be more going on behind the scenes. Finally, the rules that appear to govern the operation of the program, especially at the everyday level of reality, can be thought of as classical physics.

Everything outside the ball can be thought of as an infinite field of possibility, creativity and intelligence, i.e., Source Consciousness, All That Is, Spirit or, if you prefer, God. Everything inside the ball is a projected aspect of the Consciousness or God. Human consciousness is the only aspect of Consciousness within the ball capable of recognizing and directly experiencing its true nature, though few achieve this possibility. Thus, with this conception, one has something of a unification of both the materialist and idealist constructs, where materialism is subordinate to idealism. Material reality at the macro level, within the ball, still functions pretty much as classical physics, and common sense tells us it works. However, all of material reality is a product of Consciousness and is manifest as a special subset of Source Consciousness. Thus, there is an aspect to life and phenomena that is not bound to material reality.

For the most part we, as physical beings, are not directly aware of this aspect of our existence. However, there have been in our midst at various times alleged mystics who claimed direct experience with transcendent reality, e.g., Gautama and Jesus, among others. From these descriptions of transcendent reality have evolved philosophies and religions that largely agree that man is a manifestation in matter of something eternal, that is, Consciousness, Spirit, Soul or God. The apparent duality of the two conceptions, material reality and transcendent reality, is overcome in the panentheistic model because everything material is a manifestation of Consciousness, Spirit or God. Thus, in the final analysis there is total unification or all is Wholly Spirit.

One still can't answer the question of initial origination, which may be an artifact of the human mind, but the contention between the two conceptions of reality is resolved. The resolution of the conflict between the two views is one of the advantages of leaping toward the Consciousness explanation in the panentheistic form. Why choose between the two when you can have both? The origination question may never be answered for either conception. It is likely that the human mind is not capable of understanding ultimate origination even if it occurred.

Primacy of Consciousness seems to be the better choice, because it subsumes the materialism of the Primacy of Matter conception, and therefore one can employ either view as appropriate. Materialism leaves one with a much more limited set of conceptual options. Furthermore, the materialist view deprives life of any meaning outside of living for the sake of living. Under that conception, life arose by happenstance. There was no reason for its emergence and it has no purpose. The meaning of life is relative, without substance and temporal.

Under materialism, meaning may be tied to one's circumstances and possessions. It may depend upon the body, emotions, intellect, skills, talents or some combination thereof. It may be rooted in social institutions such as churches, political parties, scientific bodies or the military. Meaning in any of these contexts is individually pursued, individually acquired and lost with the decline and death of the body. Pursuit of relative meaning is often self-centered, selfish and occasionally brutal. Regardless of how one lives, what one does or doesn't do in the long run makes no difference. Human life is doomed to end the same way it emerged -- at the whim of random events or happenstance. Panentheism opens up the potential for understanding life from a spiritual perspective, which suggests that life did not emerge by happenstance, which doesn't rule out a role for random events in processes such as evolution. Life from the panentheistic perspective is purposeful and inherently meaningful. This should become clearer in what follows.

Source Consciousness then is the ground-of-all-being, and matter exists only as a possibility within consciousness. Thus, there is nothing but Consciousness or, as some might say, God is All That Is or everything is Wholly Spirit. You and I are material manifestations of the Consciousness, as are plants, bacteria, insects, fish, animals, chairs, shirts, houses shovels, pistols, water, earth, planets and stars, ad infinitum. Thus, all things are potentially interconnected and always have in common their origins in the unified field of consciousness.

Creation

Accepting that Consciousness just is, the issue of origination can be set aside. Let's explore a hypothetical description of creation, which is not to be taken literally but suggests how the material world might have come to be from a panentheistic view. In this discussion, Source Consciousness and God will be used interchangeably. In the beginning there was God. God was, is and always will be a self-conscious, infinite and eternal field of creative and intelligent energy.

Let's suppose God chose to engage in self-expression and exercised the creativity inherent in Consciousness. First, Consciousness searched through the infinite possibilities extant within itself. One might think of these possibilities as "thoughts" within the "mind" of God. By way of an analogy, think of a novelist searching through his imagination for a story line. Once a story line suitable to the novelist emerged, the writer began creating his novel. Similarly, when a possibility that could lead to manifestation of a material universe in which the potential for the evolution of life was inherent, that possibility became a focus of Consciousness and began unfolding. The unfolding began with the concentrated focus on one possibility within a field of possibilities and resulted in that possibility becoming particularized. Thus, the material universe suddenly became manifest -- perhaps cosmology's "big bang." Once set into motion, Consciousness did not need to directly engage the emerging physical universe in order for the intentions within it to unfold. Since God as a self-conscious field of creative energy subsuming space/time but not a product of space/time would not experience time, the evolution of the universe, we might say, was a happening. A happening from our perspective that has taken unfathomable amounts of time, which is meaningless to God.

Souls

Since all matter is a manifestation of Consciousness and life is inherent within this possibility, the universe evolved the conditions that would lead to the organization of living matter. Living matter evolved into more and more complex forms as it adapted to the material conditions giving rise to it. As living matter became increasingly complex, the aggregate consciousness present within it reached a tipping point and became conscious entities. Once conscious entities evolved, they began laying down a collective trace or memory of their experiences within Source Consciousness. We might call this field memory as distinct from neurological memory. Entities that achieved consciousness ultimately evolved into self-conscious entities and began laying down individuated memory traces within the collective field for the species (a.k.a. Akashic Record). These individuated memory traces are like unique threads within the fabric of Consciousness. An embodied consciousness that evolves to the point of creating individuated memory traces in field memory is similar to what is commonly called a soul.

One might think of such embodied souls as having "structured memories" reflected in the fabric of Consciousness. These structured memories or souls have essentially the same properties as Source Consciousness. Souls can be said to have been created in God's image, because they are really nothing more or less than immature or undeveloped aspects of God (eternal field of creative and intelligent energy or Consciousness). As the complexity of these structured memories in Consciousness developed, they came to be called over-souls. A reciprocal relationship developed between each over-soul and its associated embodied soul or human consciousness. In this relationship an embodied soul draws on aspects of the accumulated memory of its associated over-soul. An embodied consciousness is not usually aware of its connection to an over-soul. The experiences of each embodied consciousness in turn contribute to its over-soul through new field memory traces.

The recent evolution of the human form has been influenced by and accelerated by the needs of the evolving over-souls or transcendent consciousnesses. Non-human animal forms have a collective or species "memory" field within Source Consciousness but have not individuated sufficiently to have developed over-souls and therefore do not have a reciprocal relationship with an over-soul.

Each soul has what might be thought of as a symbiotic relationship with an over-soul,and each over-soul is capable of more than one such relationship at a time. Embodied consciousnesses are connected to an over-souls by what some refer to as subtle energy, where matter is comprised of dense energy. Once entangled in matter, subtle energy is masked by the dense energy of matter and conscious recognition of the connection to the over-soul, and thereby to Consciousness, is lost. The entangled soul 's feelings, thoughts and actions are articulated by the nature of the form occupied, that is, the primate that came to be called human. The continuing evolution of this form to make it more suitable for the evolution of consciousness was and continues to be collectively influenced by the over-souls. Embodied consciousness expressed through the physical form of the human species provides an opportunity for evolving consciousnesses or souls to explore their potential and learn to appropriately employ and develop their inherent creative energies in a limited environment. Think of the the material and social environment in which humans operate as a school with self-directed learning.

Dualism

The belief that the mind is distinct from the brain or that spirit is distinct from matter or that man is distinct from God is all a dualistic illusion. Thus, the traditional view of the soul is a dualistic conception that has each and every soul standing alone and separate from God and from the material world. The panentheistic view of the soul is one in which each soul is merely an aspect of God, as is the material world. In the panentheistic view the soul's separateness or independence from God is merely an illusion. From the panentheistic perspective there is only Source Consciousness. Everything is a manifestation of Consciousness that permeates and fills our being. Our brain then is a conduit for the infinite possibilities arising from Consciousness. When the mind focuses upon a possibility existing within Consciousness, that possibility is selected and made manifest in the mind as an insight, idea or thought. Once one is aware of a possibility, it can be engaged in an effort to make the possibility manifest in external reality.

The apparent split responsible for dualism is the product of the dependent co-arising of the subject that chooses and the objects of awareness. Objects of awareness are anything that is perceived as “not me,” and can include thoughts as well as material objects. The consciousness from which both the subject and the object arise identifies with the subject pole of the dyad. This gives rise to the mistaken perception that there is a subject independent of objects. This mistake or illusion is necessary in order for experience, as we know it, to occur. The basis for this mistaken perception or illusion is the phenomenon of self-reference, which is not unlike the circular meaning in the statement “I am a liar.”

In such a sentence the predicate defines the subject and the subject redefines the predicate, the predicate then redefines the subject, setting up an endless oscillation or a tangled hierarchy. The meaning in a statement like "I am a liar" seemingly forever eludes us, as does the recognition that I (ego/self) and it (object) are part of a tangled hierarchy within a single source.

If we don’t identify with the subject in the subject-object dyad, we can escape the illusion. This state of consciousness is what the American mystic Franklin Merrell-Wolff called introception, which denotes consciousness without an object (and thus also without a subject). To experience a state of Source Consciousness is to achieve enlightenment or an intuitive understanding of unity with Consciousness and escape from the tangled hierarchy.

The dualistic illusion is necessary for experience. One effect of having a dualistic perception is an egocentric conception of the world. This egocentric conception is at the center of the cognitive simulation of the world that we construct for ourselves and that guides our interactions with the external world. A cognitive simulation or one's internal reality can be mismatched to varying degrees with external reality. This leads to a state of high contrast between external reality and the diverse forms taken on by internal realities operating in human consciousnesses. High contrast results in a plethora of possibilities. Possibilities require choices. Choices produce experience. Experience is the effect of choices that create our personal reality. Our personal reality can be thought of as the product of feedback from our choices. This feedback leads to growth in understanding, albeit often by a highly circuitous route.

In addition to our personal reality, there are group realities and consensus reality. Group realities manifest in small to large groups. A group reality may be manifest within a small group of friends or in a platoon of soldiers. Political parties, scientific societies, religions and nations are examples of larger group realities. Group realities often evolve out of an individual's personal reality or a small group of individuals with similar aspects to their personal realities. Group realities can expand through emotional contagion, persuasion and coercion. Group realities based on emotional contagion are often short-lived (e.g., a mob). Group realities formed by coercion tend to be unstable and not very durable (e.g., dictatorships). Group realities formed through persuasion tend to be the most resilient and the most persistent. Group realities often compete with one another and competition can present as anything from a friendly rivalry to total war.
 
Consensus reality as commonly perceived is created through what might be thought of as a consensus of consciousness about the properties of the world. Finally, there is Absolute reality, which is what this manuscript is about. We have the freedom to make choices that affect our personal reality and can influence group realities, especially if they are not too large. We can’t personally change consensus reality. However, we can collectively, by the aggregate of our personal choices, affect consensus reality. Refined experience and understanding within the context of our realities ultimately contribute to the evolution and refinement of Consciousness or Absolute reality itself.

The self

The illusion of self develops as choices are made, neurological memories are formed and habitual responses are elicited or established and reinforced. We begin as young children with very few if any conditioned responses. Over time and through experience, conditioning shapes our response repertoire into a limited set of probable responses. As this conditioning process progresses, the probability of unconditioned responses declines. Thus, consciousness repeatedly acts on conditioned outcomes from among the possibilities actually available. At any given time, we are free to make any of the choices available among the possibilities in the flow of consciousness. However, conditioning makes habitual choices the most likely.

Personal identity or what we call ego is created through a conditioned pattern of perception and response or an automatic program (AP). Habitually responding from automatic programs is what is often referred to as following the path of least resistance. It is following the path of least resistance or making habitual responses that leaves one with the impression that simple determinism governs our behavior. However, we have free will, where that vernacular term is defined as complex determinism. Complex determinism posits that more than one possibility exists in almost all situations and that human beings are capable of self-agency,which means that one can be a casual factor in one's own life history.

When a stimulus is presented that is associated with a habitual response, it is processed by an automatic program that is outside of conscious awareness. The AP will predispose one to the most probable response. Between the response bias generated by the AP and the implementation of this response, there is a brief delay. It is this delay that opens the door to choice or self-agency. Through this brief window there is an opportunity to choose not to respond or to make an alternative response from the possibilities that exist. This is accomplished through the exercise of intention and willfulness to manifest a possibility other than the most probable or habitual choice. Of course, one might choose a worse or equally bad response, but one can also choose a better response. Better in the sense that it weakens rather than reinforces a problematic, habitual pattern.

Thus, automatic programs operate outside of conscious awareness, and what we often call character in a person is related to the patterns that have come to dominate his or her thinking, feelings and actions. Such general patterns are impressed upon Source Consciousness through field memory. These habitual patterns or automatic programs contribute heavily to the development of what can be called the self, ego or fictive-self. The fictive-self evolves as a personal narrative that is employed to explain to ourselves and others why we act the way we do. Implicit within this narrative is our view of the world, a world in which we place ourselves at the center. We usually become fully identified with our narrative and the body with which it is associated. Much of the cognitive dialog that dominates our thoughts is related to editing, elaborating or reinforcing our personal narrative. We live in a personal, mental simulation of the world that we fervently believe is the "real" world. The freedom to make creative choices is obscured by our fictive-self but is always present, even if seldom exercised. Understanding that we have this freedom and the exercise of it allows us to step beyond ignorance and discover our true nature.

Ignorance

The material universe is an artifact of Consciousness that has rendered a portion of itself ignorant of the rest so that dualistic representations of itself can interact. One might think of the material universe as a canvas created by an artist for the development of his or her creative talents. In short, the dynamic interactions that we think of as life are permutations of subject/object relations grounded in Consciousness. Ultimately speaking, subject and object are ONE and the material universe is an illusion.

Human beings represent an important component of the material world simply because their potential greatly expands the range of possible experience. The key component governing most subject/object interactions involving human beings is ego. Ego is the identity cloaking that obscures the connection between embodied consciousness and Source Consciousness. The development of ego draws a veil obscuring the link between consciousness and Consciousness, thereby creating the dualistic illusion of me and not me. Everything animate and non-animate beyond one's self-awareness is not me.

Good and evil represent a dualistic pair of categories expressing a range of potential that can be applied to intentional actions by ego in the material world. From the perspective of panentheism, this dichotomy too is ultimately an illusion because Consciousness is beyond good and evil, since it is a spiritual singularity. However, it is a very "real" dichotomy for individuals living in the material world, especially those lacking direct experience of Consciousness and awareness of the illusion. If Source Consciousness created the material universe in order to impose a counterpoint to itself for the purpose of gaining experience, then the "struggle" between good and evil would appear to be an important and necessary dimension of experience.

In other terms, good and evil can be thought of as the difference between enlightened actions and actions grounded in ignorance. When construed this way, actions grounded in ignorance blind one to one's true nature, that is, as an aspect of Source Consciousness or God. Thus, evil arises out of spiritual ignorance that leads one to invest one's sense of being in ego. Life ultimately consists of each individual's struggle to overcome ignorance and thereby achieve enlightenment. This dichotomy between enlightenment and ignorance might be thought of as a bipolar construct, where one end is anchored by selflessness and the other end is anchored by selfishness or, conversely, love versus egotism. The further one's identity falls toward the selfishness or egotism end of the scale, the greater one's ignorance and the potential for "evil" actions.

An interviewer at the Nuremberg trials for Nazi war criminals was asked if he had learned anything from his interviews. He replied that what he had learned was that evil was the total absence of empathy. Empathy can be construed as the ability to expand one's sense of "me" to include others. Carried to its logical conclusion, this inclusive expansion submerges ego and becomes selflessness, which is the antithesis of "me" or ego. True selflessness requires the evolution of consciousness, which requires the expansion of empathy that leads to a life grounded in compassion and love.

Evil then in this scheme of reasoning arises from attempts to gratify ego desires. Desire is what one wants as distinct from what one needs. One needs shelter but wants a penthouse apartment on Affluence Avenue. Desires are rooted in status seeking, righteousness, jealousy, lust, pride, power, honor, envy, fame and fortune, along with many other similar obstacles to the expansion of empathy, spiritual development and enlightenment. When objects are perceived by ego as merely means to satisfy desire, they have no inherent value independent of one's use of them. People, animals, plants, physical elements are all treated as objects for satisfying one's desires. The desires of ego are an expression of ignorance and the source of evil in the world. Satan, in Christian theology, might be thought of as the personification of ego desire. Thus, to be consumed by the fires of ego desire is, metaphorically speaking, to be in Hell.

Reincarnation

An over-soul (a.k.a. transcendent Consciousness) exists outside of space/time and thus represents all realized and unrealized possibilities in what we would call the past, present and future. Possibilities within an over-soul are affected by what we would call previous entanglements and experiences in the material world inside space/time. In all cases, an over-soul represents far more aspects than could be manifest in a single physical form.

A given unfolding of a strand of consciousness from an over-soul elaborates and articulates an embodied consciousness generated by the aggregate of consciousness arising in a developing human form. The transcendent Consciousness of an over-soul influences the development of a physical form in a context that has a strong correlation with karmic patterns comprising a thread of karmic needs in an over-soul. In other words, an over-soul focuses on a developing physical form that has the biological foundations (for example, gender and temperament) and the situational circumstances (for example, ethnicity and nationality) to support, in whole or large part, karmic needs. The Consciousness of the over-soul then joins into a reciprocal relationship with the developing physical form and its embodied consciousness. As an articulation of an embodied consciousness takes place, it unfolds in graduated stages.

One elaboration that unfolds is a subtle energy body called the vital body. This subtle (non-material) body or energy field contains patterns that contribute to the development of the physical body. Another elaboration that unfolds is the mental body. The mental body contributes a complex of patterns of meaning acquired through experience and encoded in the over-soul that articulate complex thoughts and feelings. Some influences associated with the vital body can begin quite early. However, there can be no mapping of the mental body, which in traditional religious terms is most closely associated with the idea of a soul, until a sufficient level of neural development has taken place. Thus, the mental body probably begins mapping onto the nervous system after about six months of development.

The third subtle body is the theme body. The themes represented in this field are similar to what Jung called archetypes, which may have both universal and individual components. The individual components of the theme body are what might be call karmic patterns. Thus, the structure of the physical body is influenced by the "blueprints" in the vital body being mapped onto the physical body. The mental body "writes" or maps its program onto the nervous system, contributing to the meaningful processing of experience. The theme body provides broad parameters within which experiences are understood and related. The theme body, however, is not mapped onto the physical form but is always accessible through a supra-conscious connection. While the theme body exerts broad influences, it is most often expressed as general tendencies or karmic patterns. In addition to karmic patterns, the theme body may exert influence through synchronicity, dreams, intuition and insights. An articulation of an embodied consciousness by an over-soul provides a pathway for the embodied consciousness through the theme body to the over-soul and thereby to Source Consciousness.

Karma

Specific field memories important to the self in past incarnations, such as recalling how to tie a shoe or speak French, are potentially accessible. Access to specific field memories from previous incarnations is possible because the over-soul component of Consciousness is outside of space/time. In a sense, all incarnations are simultaneous and the field memories for one is as accessible as another. However, such access to specific field memories from previous incarnations is relatively rare. Usually, the operative memories will be field memories of general patterns such as character traits like generosity or jealousy, of talents such as music or mathematics or of behavioral tendencies such as risk-taking or phobias. It is from these generalized field memories that the over-soul selects what is manifested through a new incarnation. The generalized memory patterns held in field memory are what is known as karma.

Karmic patterns, in other words, generalized field memory patterns, influence current incarnations by biasing the probability that certain choices will be made within a given context. In short, the conditioned response biases acquired in one incarnation can be carried across into a new incarnation. For example, one may have developed a pattern of responses we would call jealousy in a previous incarnation. The extended consciousness of the over-soul may choose to manifest that pattern in the next incarnation. Thus, an individual with a karmic bias toward jealousy will in suitable contexts be predisposed to making habitual responses associated with jealousy. The purpose is to provide the individual with opportunities to rise above this obstacle to Self-realization.

The converse would be true for a more positive pattern such as a musical talent. Having such a talent manifest within an incarnation will increase the probability that one will make choices that create appropriate contexts for further developing the talent. The purpose is to exercise the ability and make positive use of the creative energies available. Each incarnation brings with it a collection of patterns or karma accumulated during prior incarnations. In other words, there is an opportunity for each of us to overcome negative patterns and to creatively enhance positive patterns.

Karmic patterns do not impose outcomes. They set the conditions that are likely to lead to certain types of learning opportunities. Habitual response patterns predispose one to respond in a certain way to those situations. Because of self-agency, there is always the possibility that one will choose a less probable or creative response that is more positive than the response offered up by an AP. A more negative response is also possible when choosing an untried alternative response. Making a more positive response entails being creative in the face of a challenge rather than being habitual or reactive. Repeated success in exercising self-agency to make better choices will result in a change in the conditioned pattern and thus in one's karma. The single biggest obstacle to our spiritual evolution is the belief that we are our fictive-self or personal narrative. Learning to step out from behind this mask and see the world and our choices with "fresh eyes" is to be "reborn" or "awakened" and is an essential step in overcoming ignorance and changing our character.

Birth and death are complimentary aspects of the karmic cycle. Death is the end of one turn of the cycle and usually the antecedent for the next turn in the cycle. Death is simply withdrawal of consciousness from a degraded physical form, a form that has served its purpose as a temporary vehicle for gaining experience in the material world. Death is a phenomenon of the material world and therefore an illusion. Source Consciousness and the over-souls within it are immortal and eternal.

Death is also an exceptional window of opportunity. A conscious death is a process that can lead to liberation. As consciousness withdraws from the physical body, it is possible to become fully aware of all of one's past incarnations and the obstacles that need to be overcome. Genuine regret for and understanding of past errors arising out of ignorance can result in their resolution through Grace. There are, however, some karmic issues that can only be resolved by working through them in a physical incarnation. Grace leads to a moment of total clarity, spiritual joy and enlightenment. Conscious dying requires preparation and intent for which a prior spiritual practice is important.

Spiritual Practice

Given the discussion above, it seems clear that if one accepts that one has a spiritual nature that is a manifestation within Consciousness or Spirit, then one should take an active interest in the evolution of that nature and its contribution to the whole. What follows will draw upon material offered to us by spirit entities communicating through individuals incarnate in the material world. If one believes in the immortality of the soul, then one must believe in spirit entities, for what else would a dis-incarnate soul be? If one believes that there are spirit entities, then what is so unbelievable about the possibility of some type of communication? Bear in mind that there can be a lot of diversity in channeled messages. Simply dying doesn't necessarily make you more astute. Leaving all that aside, if one has doubts about these sources then just disregard the source and simply read and be open to the message. If it resonates with you and you learn something from it, then great. If not, then dismiss it and go on your way.

It almost goes without saying that the goal of developing one's consciousness will be for most people a task requiring some organized effort, which is generally thought of as a spiritual practice. Edgar Cayce (a.k.a. the Sleeping Prophet) frequently addressed the core and most important step in developing a spiritual practice. That step was setting a personal ideal with the intent that it be used to guide one in interactions with others. Cayce recommended that such an ideal should encompass such qualities as love, service, compassion and understanding. He further suggested that as an aid to focus, a historical or fictional exemplar of one's personal ideal, e.g., Yogananda, Gandhi, Gautama or Jesus, might be useful.

Simply setting an ideal is not enough, because to be useful it must be put into practice. An ideal is applied by using it as a standard to self-evaluate one's thoughts and actions on a daily basis. Cayce counseled that the evolution of your consciousness is not determined by spiritual knowledge but how well you apply that knowledge in your actions. Cayce emphasized both thought and behavior. Thought because of his repeated admonition that "mind is the builder." What he meant here is that consciousness is primary. Who and what you are ultimately derives from your thoughts, and it is these thoughts that motivate behavior, including behaviors that conform to one's personal ideal. Behavior then must be motivated by positive intent if it is to contribute to one's spiritual evolution. "Good" behavior motivated by ego, imposed by religion, coerced by social opinion or enforced by law is done for the wrong reason and contributes nothing to spiritual evolution.Setting and following a personal ideal then is spiritual practice in it most basic sense.

The Seth entity that channeled through the writer Jane Roberts also spoke of the importance of ideals and supported Cayce's view that the primary way in which ideals need to be expressed is through interaction with others within the context of daily life. Seth cautions that we often set very broad and general ideals as a way of avoiding having to act upon them. Such ideals seem beyond the ability of a mere individual to significantly impact, so we fail to act or expect institutions to act on our behalf. Seth also warns that people "...often believe that any means is justified in the pursuit of the ideal...Each act that is not in keeping with the ideal begins to unravel that ideal at its very core." Seth, like Cayce, suggests that "...in your job and in your associations, are the places where you intersect with the world." It is in these very personal and daily relationships where you have the most power to affect the world. Personal ideals can only be realized through acting on them. Seth argues that it is the cumulative effect of this type of action that changes the world. Changing the world is a bottom-up process that begins with oneself.

The Aaron entity that channels through Vipassana teacher Barbara Brodsky takes a somewhat different but compatible focus. Aaron would not disagree with Cayce or Seth about doing (acting in the world) but suggests that another important component in a spiritual practice is being (seeking the Self), for which meditation and Self-inquiry are appropriate methods.

One effect of a meditation practice is that it diminishes the temporal discontinuity obscuring one's automatic programs (APs) from conscious awareness. This makes it easier to become aware of APs and to exercise self-agency to deal with problematic APs. The other effect is that sitting quietly and allowing thoughts and feelings to arise into awareness and pass through provides practice in not being reactive to such thoughts and feelings. In meditation, one attempts to develop skill at not following or exploring the thoughts and feelings that arise into consciousness, which gradually exposes the true nature of the fictive-self and how it turns us, in a manner of speaking, into zombies. Thus, systematic application of meditation to develop embodied consciousness helps us see through the fictive-self and gives us the tools needed to explore our APs and to be more deliberate or mindful about our choices.

Aaron focuses on meditation as part of a spiritual practice that helps one reconnect with the inner core of love that is the essence of Source Consciousness or God. In Aaron's view there is only one emotion and that is love. The most basic corruption of that emotion is fear. Fear arises along with the development of ego or self that engenders a dualistic view of the world, a world that we essentially see as separate from us and full of potential threat to the self and its interests. He also states that fear lies at the heart of many manifestations of negativity by whatever name we might call them, e.g., hate, greed, envy and even feelings that we don't usually associate with negativity, such as pride and righteousness. For Aaron, meditation is a method for helping us learn to neutralize fear and embrace our inner core of unconditional love, which is reflected in our behavior through what he calls loving-kindness.

Awakening then is achieved by first coming to understand on an experiential (as distinct from intellectual) level the true nature of the fictive-self or ego and how it blocks us from connection with the true, spiritual Self. This is aided by quietly observing in meditation the operation of the self and coming to understand it. Learning the true nature of the fictive-self and learning to stand aside from it allows us to recover our natural mind. Once one is no longer ruled by the fictive-self, it can be skillfully employed as a useful tool for existing in the material world. This opens up the possibility of moving through the barrier posed by the fictive-self to reconnect with that inner spiritual Self and the love reflected by it. The practice of Self-inquiry can be useful for facilitating that reconnection. Recovering the natural mind may or may not immediately lead to enlightenment or a direct experience of the unconditional, universal love of Consciousness or God. However, this connection must be nurtured to be maintained. This requires that it become the centered space from which one interacts with the world. It is the ultimate spiritual practice. There is an eclectic program of meditation and self-inquiry in Appendix Eight.
 

Realization of the true Self (enlightenment) can be a dramatic personal experience as reported by many who have had such an experience. It can also be a gradual, evolving experience that slowly colonizes the self. In neither case does it transform one into a miracle worker or saint. Many people may not even observe any outward change in someone who has become a Self-realized being. To the truly observant, however, one's way of being in the world will be apparent even if in many cases only subtly different.

Conclusion

Some might ask, is the account provided above true? If by true one means true in the public and factual sense, then it isn't and it probably will never be possible to say. It may be true in a private and phenomenological sense. Only you can make that determination based on your own experience. Don't simply believe in this or any other hypothesis about the nature of reality. I end with the following quote from the psychoanalyst and Sufi mystic, John C. Lilly:

Whatever one believes to be true either is true or becomes true in one's own mind, within limits to be determined experientially. These limits themselves are, in turn, beliefs to be transcended. The limits of one's beliefs set the boundaries for possible experience. So every time you reach a limiting belief it must be examined and gone beyond...If you can examine old beliefs and realize they are limits to be overcome and can also realize you don't have to have a belief about something you don't yet know anything about, you are free.