Shades of Consciousness

YouTube: Shades of Consciousness

In our quest for an understanding of the mystical thread that I am proposing as the essence of Jesus’ teaching, I would like to turn our attention today to the role of consciousness  

What do we mean by consciousness, and why should we factor it in to our understanding of the spiritual quest? How does consciousness relate to the mystical thread? And, maybe the most important question in the context of this series is, how did Jesus handle the subject?

There are a couple of ways that we look at consciousness. First, we understand it as the state of awareness. If we’re aware of the bird flying over our head, we’re conscious of the bird. In our metaphysical studies, we also think of consciousness as the framework of beliefs that define our perception of the world. These beliefs may or may not be based on what is true, but they create a kind of lens that has a major influence on the way we see ourselves in the world.

As an example, we might say the ancient sailor had a consciousness – a framework of beliefs – built on the idea that the world was flat. We know today that our planet is round, but we can imagine the ancients went to great lengths to make sure they didn’t fall off the edge.

This shows us that it’s not the reality of a situation that poses the problem. It’s the false perception of reality. And this false perception exists only in consciousness – in the belief system of the individual, or, as in this case, a significant portion of the population.

Early metaphysicians referred to this false collective belief as race consciousness. But regardless of how many people hold a false perception, it doesn’t make it true. Every person on the planet could have believed the earth was flat, but it was never flat.

When Paul wrote of seeing through a glass darkly, he was suggesting that, concerning spiritual matters, we’re seeing through a lens of ideas that are fogged by inconsistencies concerning the true nature of God, of ourselves, of our relationship to God. In this series, I’m proposing that Jesus’ primary focus was to bring clarity to our understanding of God, as the source of our being.

It’s important to understand that when we talk about raising consciousness, we’re talking about the process of adopting ideas that align with what’s true at the deepest level. The mystic insists that these true ideas come, not from intellectual study, but as an intuitive, internal impulse. God, as a living presence, is actively expressing as the soul of every individual.

But someone will say, “If this is true, then why doesn’t every person have direct knowledge of God?” It’s because we’re raised in a culture that relies more on the senses than on intuitive perception. We’ve established standards of reality based solely on material facts. And Jesus himself cautioned us to not just by appearances. Our material-based science has produced phenomenal technology, that, frankly, encourages us to judge by appearances. It’s difficult to turn within when our eyes and ears are glued to a cell phone.

The common belief is that only a certain type of person – a saint or someone who has cast off all interest in the world – can know God. Since the early days, the church has made Jesus into a larger-than-life, iconic figure that stands apart from the rest of humankind. But careful observation, and a willingness to take a fresh look at Jesus, reveals that he understood that the composition of an individual’s consciousness is the thing that prevents him or her from knowing and experiencing God firsthand. When he spoke of the house built on sand and the house built on rock, he’s using the house as a metaphor for consciousness – the place we live, the place from which we view the world.

Then he spoke of the need to be born again, or the need to become as open-minded as a child, or to lay aside old wineskins that can’t handle the new wine of direct inspiration. He’s talking about the need to be open minded, the need to let go of preconceived ideas so a new understanding of present spiritual realities can emerge. He’s talking about changing consciousness.   

In his parable of the sower, Jesus identifies three types or conditions of consciousness that block our direct experience with God. He then names a fourth level that is spiritually productive. A little later, the disciples press him for an interpretation of the parable, which he gives.  

  • “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.” (Matthew 13:1-23)

When Jesus says, “Whoever has ears, let him hear,” he’s talking about a different kind of hearing. Everyone to whom he is speaking obviously has ears. He’s talking about intuitive listening, being impressed from within, or listening for the still small voice of God.

So, of the seed that falls along the path and gets snatched up by the birds, he says:  

  • When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path.

This is the person who doesn’t get the spiritual message at all.

He goes on to the next point:

  • The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.

This one gets it, but only at the conceptual level. It doesn’t have practical value in their life, so they don’t rely on spiritual principle to help them weather the challenges.

Of the next level he says,

  • The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful.

This one is similar to the previous instance, but he’s referring to the person who’s focused more on using spiritual principles to build up the self-image. This is the positive thinker who is trying to improve their life by holding the right attitudes, affirming wealth, health and success, but never really connecting with their own spiritual core. Their true motive is not greater spiritual understanding but the fortification of the self-image through acquisition at the material level.

And of the final condition he says this:

  • But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”

This is the person who understands themselves as a spiritual being, who truly grasps that they are clothed in a body and having this human experience. Because they understand themselves to be an expression of something much greater than their own history and personality, they tend to see the possibilities of greater good unfolding through all of life’s happenings.

The “word” is the message about the kingdom. But more precisely, it is the message from the kingdom, being impressed on our consciousness from within. Everyone feels it as the desire for greater freedom. But each person interprets this expansive desire according to the makeup of our consciousness. Some ignore it. Some acknowledge it but think it has no significance to daily life. Some interpret it as the need to amass wealth. And a few see it God expressing through them in a unique, spiritually, mentally and materially prospering way.

In an earlier lesson, I pointed out that the term, kingdom of God is a reference to a deeper reality, the creative life force that is centered within each individual. Evelyn Underhill describes it as a “… plane of perception for which human speech has few equivalents.” Paul was referring to this plane when he wrote,

  • “And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit.”

He’s making a distinction between intellectual learning and intuitive knowing.

On our spiritual quest, the most influential beliefs revolve around the image we carry of ourselves. Even the slightest bit of spiritual illumination has an impact on the makeup of our consciousness. We begin to catch glimpses of the truth that the thing we desire most is a greater infilling of the Spirit. As this happens, life begins to make more sense. The challenges we have become opportunities to open our minds and hearts to the bigger picture, to look beyond appearances and to know that some greater good is unfolding that we may not otherwise see.

When Jesus spoke to the woman at the well, he said we may drink the water the world gives, but we’ll thirst again. This water is the belief that things and accomplishments can give us the fulfillment we desire. The water the Spirit gives is truly thirst quenching. We discover that the emptiness we’ve tried to fill through external means is filled only as we open ourselves to this inner fountain of living water. This doesn’t seem possible because we’ve associated the feeling of lack with things we don’t have. We haven’t associated it with the living energy of Spirit. What we’ve lacked here is a conscious connection with this indwelling Presence.

Once we make the connection to our spiritual source, we see this energy as a great treasure that is buried in the field of our consciousness. We gradually sell everything we own – that is, we begin shifting our values from a pursuit of things to the pursuit of a deeper experience with the soul and our oneness with God. We’re willing to let go of the old wineskins.

When Jesus spoke of the house built on sand and the house built on rock, he was talking about consciousness. A consciousness built on sand is one that believes our primary quest in life is to find fulfillment through material means. The consciousness built on the rock of the indwelling Spirit is grounded on the deeper, unchanging reality – the bedrock of our being. We understand that fulfillment is found in experiencing conscious union with the source of our being.

The coming kingdom is not a thing that’ll be seen by the masses. It’s an individual experience, a quiet awakening, a gradual opening of our spiritual eyes. Only we see what is revealed to us. The book of Revelation puts it this way:

  • “To him who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone which no one knows except him who receives it.” (Rev. 2:17)

We don’t want to think of this statement in futuristic terms. The revelation of this hidden manna begins as a subjective experience, known only to us, an awareness of the inner presence as a living fountain of energy, which we know as the very source of our being. As the awareness of this presence deepens, it works through our consciousness in ways that influence our entire belief system. It’s that quarter teaspoon of yeast that doubles the size of water mixed with four cups of flour and a bit of salt. It’s that tiny seed that grows into a great shrub or tree.

But it cannot be contained in the old wineskin of a body-centered consciousness, which is the source of so much of our normal thinking. Jesus points out that we must become as a child, a fresh mind, a new wineskin that has the elasticity to expand with the living wine of Truth.

This expansion applies to consciousness. We begin to understand that we’re something more than the body-centered self-image that’s been the focus of so much of our social identity. We come to see that our true being is spiritual, unlimited, an expression of a living reality that has no beginning and no end. And yet we’ve spent much of our lives consumed with beginnings and endings – from birth to death, through youth, to middle age and on into the so-called golden years. We’ve followed the clock. We’ve run on a timeline that’s been laid out before us, each beginning and each ending carefully mapped and memorized, passed through so many generations that to even question it seems borderline heretical. The wineskins are stretched to their limit.

Let’s move a little deeper here. There’s a very influential school of thought that insists we’re the product of our thinking. It’s that third condition of consciousness that Jesus referred to in his parable of the sower, the belief that you can change your life by changing your thinking. This seems plausible only because we have come to believe that we are the self-image our thinking has created. But as Emma Curtis Hopkins, one of the most influential spiritual teachers of the 19th century, pointed out:  

  • “… it is primarily what we most see, and not what we most think, that constitutes our presence, power and history.”

The seeing she is referring to is with the eye of the imagination.

  • “This fleet, subtle sense is our incorporeal eye. It is the one faculty of our immortal soul which we continually make use of.”

She continues,

  • “The exaltation or lifting up of this sense toward that vast, vast countenance ever shining toward us as the sun in his strength, is our way of return to the Source whence we sprang forth.”

When Jesus said to “lift up your eyes,” he was speaking of this inner visional sense, turning it toward that “vast, vast countenance ever shining toward us as the sun in his strength.”

The stream of our thinking has changed many times through our life, but that Source from which we spring has never changed. Isaiah referred to this spiritual essence as the word … that goes forth from the Lord’s mouth, and he made it clear that this bedrock of our being is the real guide we will eventually acknowledge.

  • “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and return not thither but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and prosper in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:9-11) 

The “word … that goes forth from my mouth,” is the creative life force that infuses our consciousness, like rain and snow infuse the earth, not to return, but to go forth to express “… on the earth of our daily life as it is in heaven.” Here the earth symbolizes consciousness, that transitional medium between the visible and invisible realms. The rain and snow is the “word that goes forth from my mouth.” It is in our quiet moments of receptivity that we receive this living word which, as John would later acknowledge, is the starting point of our true being:

  • “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. (John 1:1-4)

The thoughts that are prompted by this spiritual infilling are higher than the thoughts that swirl through our minds. In both cases, however, thoughts are effects, not causes. We think from the ideas that dominate our consciousness. We are not the product of our thinking. Our thinking is the product of our consciousness. And our consciousness is either a house built on the ever-shifting sands of appearance, or a house built on the changeless bedrock of Spirit.

Jesus pointed to the need to lift our eyes, to take our attention off this physical garment and all of its trappings and go deeper. We’re seeking that aspect of ourselves that is born of the Spirit.

We should understand that we’re not to just suddenly withdraw our attention from the body. We practice letting go of the body and our affairs in our times of meditation. As the light of Spirit begins to dawn on us, any changes that we make are done easily and naturally. We should never try to force thinking or behavior that we presume is spiritual. To do this is to attempt to force preconceived states that will only lead to stress. We’re attempting to put new wine into old wineskins. Emilie Cady referred to people who strive for spiritual attainment as taking on a strained look. Jesus referred to it as attempting to take the kingdom by force. We free ourselves of the grasping mind and assume instead a level of receptivity that allows Spirit to reveal itself on its own terms. This revelatory process is natural and requires no more knowledge than you or I have right now.

I’ve found that a very helpful attitude is one that assumes the soul is already fully developed. The soul is a light shining in the darkness, and the darkness does not stop it. It’s not a light that you make shine. We’re not trying to achieve spiritual enlightenment. We’re seeking to simply let this light shine in its own natural way.  

The practice of meditation is the practice of developing a sensitivity to the subtle energy that powers your being. The more sensitive you become, the more pronounced this energy becomes. At first, we’re aware of it only in our quiet times. Then we become aware of it in the full activities of the day. It gently emerges as our source of guidance, an influence on our thinking, that bit of yeast that expands through our entire consciousness. This is the good soil Jesus is talking about. The crop it produces is the manifestation of this quiet influence, the new conditions that emerge based on insights that come to the spiritually sensitive. It influences our thinking, our interests, and our choices.

This is how the kingdom comes. We all experience many shades of consciousness, all of which have some influence on our experience. As we become willing to let go of the old wineskins, the  preconceived ideas concerning our spiritual development, we let the darkened glass of consciousness become a clear lens that lets the light of Truth shine into every facet of our life.

Thank you for again for your ongoing support of this ministry. It means a lot to all of us at Independent Unity. It’s exciting to see that we’re making new friends online every week, and it’s really a treat to read or hear your good words of encouragement. Once again, I want to leave you with this blessing. Be safe, be aware, and most of all, be at peace.


Author: J Douglas Bottorff

Doug is minister of Independent Unity, author of 8 books, musician and photography enthusiast. He lives with his wife and cat in western Colorado.

6 thoughts on “Shades of Consciousness”

  1. Thank you for this welcome introductory lesson on consciousness, a deep, many faceted subject to be sure. I especially want you to know how much I like and appreciate the musical numbers that are being included each week. The ‘Lay Down My Burden’ number by Paul Teerlinck and Diane West last week had such beautiful harmony and lyrics, and your song today, ‘Our Holy Heart,’ (for which you also showed the lyrics – thank you) are really a wonderful addition which I enjoy so much. Heartfelt thanks to making these videos available on YouTube. May this ‘sacred light’ continue to be strengthened in our ‘holy hearts’ through your videos/messages.

  2. I am asking what seems a natural question: Why does the farmer go out and sow seed without regard for where it falls, so that 3/4 of it falls on land that is not prepared to make use of it? As the current saying goes, “Who does that?”

    1. Good question. The answer? It’s a parable, a “what if” this happened. What point do you think Jesus was trying to make? Isn’t this the natural question? How would you answer it?

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