Artist, Ellen Sauer
See more of Ellen’s work at

Love and Fear

Love = Feelings of empowerment, creativity, and the willingness to risk.

Fear = I might lose whatever it is that’s important to me because I’m stepping away from what is acceptable to my family/group/culture.

Keep in mind that…

Consciousness is a cloud of potential awareness, part of the unseen world that permeates all of the space and material of existence. We grow in consciousness in response to different conditions life presents to us and must consider how we’ll respond. Will we respond from an internal position of love, or will we choose to react in fear?

If we move into this Re-individuate & Risk facet of consciousness in any area of life, it means that living by a culturally accepted rule now feels so constricting that we must stop living by it. We feel discomfort because the rule doesn’t align with our core self and because of that, feels irrelevant and possibly even obstructive to our lives. This can happen in any area of life. As I said in the last chapter, moving out of a role that is socially acceptable to align with inner truth from our core self can feel as painful as a divorce. After we’ve taken this step often enough, the fear we feel in the Comply facet of consciousness is no longer able to control us. We begin to live more areas of life in alignment with our core self.

Remember that this facet of consciousness describes all of the following:

  • It is a facet of human development that we continuously go through, in every aspect of life, throughout our lives; and because of that, it also is
  • A facet in which an aspect of ourselves can either participate or be stuck, while the dominant part of us lives from within a different facet of consciousness;
  • And can be the dominant facet of consciousness expressed by a group, while individual members may be primarily functioning from within another facet.

Think of this move into the Re-individuate & Risk facet of consciousness as an uptick in independent, critical, and creative thinking. What does it look like in life when we stop following a rule or stop trying to live a version of ourselves that no longer fits? Have you ever stood up to a friend when he or she has said something racist, and risked losing that friend? Have you stopped someone who is objectifying or catcalling a woman or girl, and risked being maligned yourself? Have you come out to your family and friends as gay, lesbian, or transgender, and risked losing them? Have you ever left a church because it no longer supported your spiritual growth, and risked losing family and friends who still belong to that church? Have you ever had to stand up to a bully at work and risked losing your job? Have you decided to eat vegetarian food even though you’re immersed in a family culture that is all about meat, and risked being ridiculed? These are all examples of personal Re-individuation & Risk. It takes courage to be true to ourselves when who we have become goes against the grain of the family/group/culture in which we are immersed.

One of the ways this shift from Comply into Re-individuate & Risk occurred in my personal life is that I’ve stopped trying to create the structure of an idealized marriage. We begin learning about it in the fairy tales of early childhood and that story had a very strong hold on me. I have been married and divorced four times. In our society, that is viewed as failure on a fairly grand scale.

I used to feel that way about myself too. I thought something was lacking in me—“if I were a better person, maybe one of those marriages would have lasted.” Now I view it both as an education and a personal journey, one that has been filled with the risk of losing family and friends with each divorce. My family of origin was Catholic, a religion in which divorce is forbidden. But even without that background, our culture views 50th wedding anniversaries as a huge cause for celebration, and more than one divorce as cause for ridicule and embarrassment.

I want to tell you about this part of my life because we can have the idea that moving from one facet of consciousness into another is clean and happens all at once. It can be that way. But most of the time, it’s messy and the process is slow and difficult.

I left the last marriage when the risk of staying became much greater than the risk of leaving, and when leaving became the only answer to the question: “What would Love do if the answer includes me?”

The fairy tale story of love was yet to be rewritten in me. During my last marriage, I painted two oil paintings of my husband and myself, setting the intention with every brushstroke that the love we shared would be large enough to sustain us. When I left him, I brought the paintings with me, along with a mixed media artwork that friends Cheryl and Ellen had created for my fourth husband and I for our wedding. When I settled into my apartment and unpacked the paintings, they simply made me feel sad.

I thought about burning them—making it a ceremony by doing it with friends. When I told my friend Ellen what I was thinking about doing, she suggested that it might be more useful to create something new with it instead of just letting the artwork go up in smoke. I cut the two portraits into strips and my friend Cheryl helped me weave one into the other.

 “Reweaving the Patriarchal Story of Love.”

30”x30” Mixed Media

Contributing Artists: Ellen Sauer, Cheryl Spieth Gardner, and Regina Leffers

I stitched the weaving together, and stitched the little portrait of Kwan Yin[2] onto the weaving. Then I appliqued pieces of Cheryl and Ellen’s mixed media artwork onto the weaving. That’s Ellen’s river and palm tree and Cheryl’s poppies and little handmade ceramic fish, shells, and stars that are sprinkled throughout. Now this piece, “Reweaving the Patriarchal Story of Love,” hangs in my living room, and when I look at it, instead of sadness, I feel joy. I actually feel joy. The fairy tale story of love has been rewoven inside of me, and I am released from its hold.

I have always felt differently at my core with my friends than I have with a partner. I didn’t always know that—it lived beneath the surface of my own consciousness. With a partner, I felt ultimately unlovable, unworthy, and unwanted. Because of that, I felt the need to continually prove to my partner that I deserved to be loved, wanted, and treated as worthy. With my friends, I have always felt the opposite. I know that I am loved and accepted exactly as I am.

My partners treated me as I treated myself within the partnership. My friends treat me as I treat myself within the friendship.

Recognizing that difference and the mirrored quality—from/in my brain, to/in my world—allowed me to get to the underlying subconscious material and unpack it.

My friend John Beams, who is also a member of this book’s Focus Group, brought the following quote from Thomas Keating to me. I love it because it does a good job of explaining why one area of life may be stuck within one facet of consciousness, while we live predominantly within another facet. Father Keating says:

“We can have a mystical experience at any stage of development. But if we have…no practice to heal our early emotional wounds, that energy is not digested. If you have high graces and mystical unions, but other lines of development are incomplete, then the shadow will appear, even as you move forward spiritually.”[3]

Translated into the language of consciousness, Keating is saying that even as we explore multiple facets of consciousness, and live predominantly within a more expanded facet, unhealed material in any area of life can keep us stuck within a less expanded facet.

When we leave a marriage or church, or do anything to align with our own truth, our own core self, but that goes against the grain of our dominant family/group/culture, we can take those actions from love or from fear. If we take the action from fear, we will likely feel victimized and find ourselves bashing the person/church/etc. If on the other hand, we take the action from love, we will find ourselves looking for lessons learned and being grateful for the experience. It is always possible to stop bashing and look for lessons learned.

Gratitude is a transformative tool.

One Action to Take Today to Explore Consciousness:

Think about what love is in Re-individuate & Risk—feelings of empowerment, creativity, and the willingness to risk. Ask yourself to feel what that love feels like in the body. Now think about what fear is in Re-individuate & Risk—I might lose whatever it is that’s important to me because I’m stepping away from what is acceptable to my family/group/culture. What does that fear feel like in the body? Notice any areas of life where these thoughts or feelings are present. Ask yourself to inhale the feeling, and exhale peace into that feeling. Repeat several times. Repeat whenever you feel fear of any kind.

[2] Kwan Yin is the Buddhist Bodhisattva of Compassion.

[3] From an interview: “A Spiritual Life Review with Father Thomas Keating.” Dr. Connie Zweig. The Reinvention of Age. March 27, 2018.

Focus Group

My Focus Group for the book, What Is Consciousness?, has been meeting weekly for half a year. Those conversations have been the most satisfying and fulfilling of my life so far, and they have also stimulated an exponential inner growth in me. The other members have assured me that the same is true for them.

We took a couple of weeks off while I did the final edits on What Is Consciousness? and then decided that we all missed those conversations enough that we wanted to continue. While I was working on the book, different chapters provided the “meat” for dialogue. This time, a different person is picking a few pages of material from a favorite book to provide the topic.

I started with a chapter from Brian Swimme’s book: The Hidden Heart of the Cosmos. I read it on a flight from Fort Wayne, Indiana to San Francisco, California twenty years ago, and loved it. The chapter I picked out for our conversation was one about Einstein—I picked that chapter specifically because as I read it, I could feel the words of the chapter in my body. If you haven’t experienced that yet, pick up a copy from the library and read it—chapter 14—to find out if it happens in you too. Everyone in the Focus Group could feel it in their body as I read it aloud to them. If you ever wondered what the word “resonance” or even, “resonate” means, this experience provides the felt-sense definition.

Distilling the chapter to a couple of sentences, an interviewer wanted to know how Einstein thought in order to arrive at his theories and equations. The interviewer was expecting one of two possible answers, because everyone else had given one or the other, but never anything else. Einstein’s answer was extraordinarily different—he said he thought with his imagination. He said he wanted to know how the Old One thinks. So he would sit in his rented chair, smoking his pipe, and imagine, for example, what it would be like to travel at the speed of light.

What I want to do here is to tell you about each Focus Group member’s “take away” from our conversation.

One person said she realized why we need Abstract art. That is, we need space with no boundaries—no definitions about how something must be done. Nothing that says there is only one (or two) right ways to do something, or to feel, or to think, and etc. She realized that the abstract bestows freedom and grants permission to create life and art from an authentic internal perspective.

Another person said that her biggest take away was to realize that there is no floor in the Universe, and because of that, there is no floor in her either.

A third person concluded from the material in the chapter and our discussion about it, that forgiveness will be much easier for him to achieve from now on.  

A fourth said her biggest take away is the sentence: “How does the Old One think?” It’s that word “how.” Einstein didn’t want to know What, he wanted to know How.

My take away comes from thinking about each one of us, living on this earth, which is part of a system that is part of a galaxy in the Milky Way. That somehow, it is Creativity Itself, that is at the center of, and is supported by the Universe, whether that Creativity is expressed in the bursting-forth birth of a new star, a new book, or a new bloom.

It would take a page for each to explain how each one of us came to a specific take away, so I won’t do that. Instead, I’ll leave it to you to imagine “no one-right-way, so permission granted,” “no floor in the Universe/in you,” “easier to achieve forgiveness,” “How instead of What,” and “you as a creative expression of the Milky Way.”



My Big News!

What Is Consciousness? Is now available on
in both paperback and kindle versions. (An audio version is coming soon.)

I am so excited to begin the conversation with all who are interested, both friends and future friends! I hope you’ll join me in thinking about this material. One way to do that, if you live in or around Fort Wayne, Indiana, is to join me for this class I’ll be facilitating beginning on September 3, 2019.

Delving into Consciousness 

Imagine consciousness as a cloud of potential awareness, part of the unseen world that permeates all of the space and material of existence. We are born as, into, and with that potentiality. In this class, we’ll explore each facet of consciousness that we grow into and through in each area of life. We’ll be using the book, What Is Consciousness?  Each class will include facilitated discussion and a guided meditation. The book comes with this course and you will receive your copy at the first class. 

Tuesdays from 6:30pm to 8:30pm, beginning September 3rd, for 10 weeks at the St. Mary Magdala Center, 2800 Rolston St, Fort Wayne, IN 46805. If you have to miss a class, makeup classes can be scheduled directly with me at

The cost is $100 (installments are possible), with all proceeds going to benefit Sophia’s Portico.

“What Is Consciousness?” Is Headed to Publication!

Ready to Publish!!

After three years of writing, and six re-writes, What Is Consciousness? is headed to publication!

I received an internal call to write this book when I was at a Chopra Retreat in March of 2016. The process of entering into relationship with this material has been educational and the most satisfying and fulfilling work in life so far. I am looking forward to rolling it out in a class this Fall at Sophia’s Portico in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Stay tuned, and thanks for joining me on this journey!


The Comply Facet of Consciousness

Learning How to Fit In…

This is chapter six in the evolving + becoming book: “What Is Consciousness?”

Love = The feeling of loyalty to the family/group/culture—we want to learn its rules, and take them on as ours, because we want to feel connected in a way that goes beyond the feeling of belonging.

Fear = If I don’t comply with the rules, I will disappoint them (my family, group, culture), won’t be accepted by them anymore and will lose my connection to the group.

Keep in mind that…

Consciousness is a cloud of potential awareness, part of the unseen world that permeates all of the space and material of existence. We grow in consciousness in response to different conditions life presents to us and must consider how we’ll respond. Will we respond from an internal position of love, or will we choose to react in fear?

This facet of consciousness describes the way in which we learn and adopt the rules of our family/group/culture and we learn the consequences we’ll suffer for breaking them. We begin to believe in a system that gives us an experience of order into which we will anchor our moral, ethical and civil behavior. The rules and consequences contain the culture’s ideas about right and wrong and we begin to strive to implement them in our lives. We very likely take on the belief that the ideas and values that our group holds are the only right ones, the ones that should be held by everyone.

As we enter into and live from this facet of consciousness in any area of life, the need for certainty and dependability, order and control is a priority. We want to know our own proper social role, caste, grade, race, class, seniority level, military rank, etc., and we want to know where everyone else fits into that schema too. During childhood we begin to take notice of how others are valued and how we are valued. Often unconsciously we begin to take on those messages about our relative worth, and then live and create our lives as if the messages are true.

Remember that this facet of consciousness describes all of the following:

  • It is a facet of human development that we continuously go through, in every aspect of life, throughout our lives; and because of that, it also is
  • A facet in which an aspect of ourselves can either participate or be stuck, while the dominant part of us lives from within a different facet of consciousness;
  • And can be the dominant facet expressed by a group while individual members may be functioning from within another facet.

It is helpful to recognize that our thinking from within this facet can be very rigid and dogmatic. We can be very judgmental, lack understanding, and be intolerant of the perspective expressed by others. We see things as being absolutely right or absolutely wrong; we find fault and we assign blame. We likely use guilt, shame and fear of punishment to control our own behavior and the behavior of others. We may even invoke the sacred name of God to punish the offenders (or think to ourselves that Karma will get them). We believe our version of truth will be shown to be the one and only Truth.

From within this facet of consciousness, Love equals the feeling of connection and belonging we gain by investing our loyalty in the culture first. We want to learn its rules, and try to make life into an acceptable version of them. Fear is in the knowledge that if we don’t comply with the cultural rules, we will no longer be accepted by the family/group/culture and lose our felt sense of connection and belonging. Our fear may be great enough that it causes us to live perfectly what we’ve been taught to feel is our proper social role.

Once we become conscious of an internal constriction/tension while trying to live a proper version of a culturally acceptable role, we are faced with a choice. This is tough because the very rules we internalize within this facet create the embedded structures that can begin to feel limiting to us. As we become conscious of an internalized structure that feels limiting and challenge its validity in our lives, we grow as conscious human beings, and become more aligned with our own core self. Often we take this risk in one area of life at a time.

Because we anchor our moral, ethical and civil behavior in the cultural rules and mores we develop within this facet, and because we feel so completely loyal to the family/group/ culture, taking a risk in any area of life can be as difficult as a divorce. But when we become aware of a rule that no longer aligns with our core self, at some point, we must find a way to move our loyalty from culture to self in that area. That inner move to break from societal rules and invest instead in our core self is a signal that we have effectively moved into a more expanded facet of consciousness in this area of life. That’s how it normally happens—with one piece of life at a time, we divorce ourselves from an idea of rightness the culture in which we are immersed holds, and move into an idea of rightness that we hold for ourselves.

We begin this process of staying true to ourselves in a thousand ways, both large and small.

Here are some lighter examples of cultural rules we learn in this facet of consciousness that stay with us and serve us well through the course of our lives.

In the United States, we take driver’s education classes to learn the rules of the road. We have to demonstrate our knowledge of those rules in both a written and a driving test before we’re allowed the privilege of a driver’s license. My dad taught me how to drive. Once I sped up to get through a yellow light before it turned red. Dad said, “Reggie, yellow lights mean slow down and prepare to stop. They don’t mean speed up and hurry to get through the intersection!” You can imagine how often I’ve wished other drivers had learned how to drive from my dad! In fact, it’s become essential to check the rear view mirror when coming up to a yellow light to make sure the person behind me isn’t stepping on the gas!

Another example is the process of learning how to cook. We are likely taught how to follow a recipe, and the importance of measuring correctly for the success of the dish. As we acquire more experience and skill in following a recipe, we might simply continue making the dish in exactly that way throughout our lives. But at some point, we might begin to feel constricted by the recipe and decide to change it up by imagining the dish with other ingredients or spices. If the dish is Mom’s traditional recipe for three-bean salad, a dish that has been made exactly the same way for every family gathering throughout history, and you decide to eliminate the sugar and add cumin, you will get some (hopefully) good-natured flack. (Trust me on that.)

The same thing can happen with living a culturally acceptable version of a  “proper” woman or man, or in the process of belonging to or leaving a church, or in the career we initially pursue, or leaving a marriage, or…(you get the idea).

We can recognize an aspect of ourselves that might be stuck in this facet of consciousness, by examining where we feel constricted in an aspect of our lives.

One Action to Take Today to Explore Consciousness:

Think about any felt sense of discomfort you experience because you are following an internalized rule that no longer suits you. Notice what that discomfort feels like in the body. What one thing could you bravely do today to live more authentically aligned with your own core self?


My son, daughter, and me, a few years ago.

Love = the feeling of freedom and independence that comes with the action of individuating from our parents/family/ group.

Fear = the feeling of being dependent on, and the inability to be independent from our parents/family/group. This fear is nearly always in the background from within this facet, and looks like bravado.

In this Individuate facet of consciousness, we are driven to separate ourselves from our parents and proclaim to ourselves and to our world that we are independent people. The ego emerges in our psyche and begins this individuation process, in small bursts at first. Think about a three-year-old child, proclaiming loudly: “I do it myself!” Even though the process of individuation occurs in every area of life throughout our lives, we often work especially hard at this when we’re teenagers.

During our teenage years, this work is fraught with potential danger because our prefrontal cortex isn’t fully developed,[1] and that means we function primarily from the feeling part of the brain until we’re about twenty-five. The process of reasoning and the understanding that we could die is a function of the prefrontal cortex. We don’t realize that our actions could have life-threatening consequences for ourselves and for others. Is it any wonder that many of us look back at ourselves as teenagers with amazement that we actually lived through those years?

We can think of this facet of consciousness as describing all of the following:

  • It is a facet of human development that we continuously go through, in every aspect of life, throughout our lives; and because of that, it is also
  • A facet in which an aspect of ourselves can either participate or be stuck, while the dominant part of us lives from within a different facet of consciousness;
  • And can be the dominant facet of consciousness expressed by a group, while individual members may be functioning from within another.

As a facet of childhood development, our thinking is egocentric. We want what we want and we want it now!  We act on impulse rather than forethought, and are unable to conjure up what the consequences of our actions may be.  Because we’re unable to imagine what might happen as a result of our actions, punishment and threats don’t work to control or teach us. Any difficulties or failures we encounter are always someone else’s fault. We don’t have feelings of guilt or remorse because we don’t accept blame or responsibility for anything that goes wrong.

Here are some great examples of the Individuate facet of consciousness.

I came home from work one day when my son was thirteen years old and found him sitting outside on the front porch swing. His boom box was blaring Heavy Metal music as loud as the setting would go. He was having his kind of fun, with no regard for anyone else at all. I’m sure the neighbors were glad when I returned home and turned the music down. I remember doing the same thing when I was that age. I just used different equipment and different music—a record player and a vinyl 45 of “The Duke of Earl” blasted to the max when I was babysitting for my nieces.

Many of us experience this facet of consciousness in more subtle ways. I remember beginning the process of individuating at school first. I rebelled against the interminable boredom of repetitive worksheets on which we were supposed to practice math concepts. I would write any number that came into my head as an answer, turn the worksheet in to the teacher in minutes, and move on to the more interesting business of doing art. I already knew how to add, subtract, multiply, and divide, and saw no reason to actually practice the skill by doing the problems. It was a small rebellious act, but it infuriated and frustrated my poor teachers. I always passed to the next grade, but no one was ever happy with the work I did. I also rebelled on the coloring worksheets. I never followed the directions; never stayed inside the lines—they were boring too. Instead, I used the brightest colors in the crayon box, and made my own design. No one was ever happy with that either.

At home, I rebelled by lying to my parents. I felt that I couldn’t tell the whole truth and be able to do what I wanted to do. Once I told Mom and Dad that a friend’s parent would bring us home from the Roller Dome at the end of the evening, when in truth, I was going by myself and no one was lined up to bring me home. I had an extra dollar, above what I needed for entrance and skate rental, so my plan was to call a taxi and have the taxi take me as close to home as a dollar would go. I planned to walk the rest of the way.

Mom dropped me off at the Roller Dome, (because lie number two was that my friend was going to meet me there). I loved to roller skate! And I loved to dance! Most of my lying rebellion was done to enable me to do one or the other. At the end of that particular lying-event-evening, I called a taxi. When I got in the cab, I told the taxi driver that I had one dollar, told him where I lived, and asked him to take me as close to the address as he could, and I would walk the rest of the way home. The Roller Dome was about four miles from my house and it was around midnight. (Can’t you hear him swearing under his breath?) I was just a skinny little eleven-year-old, who had never taken a taxi before and had no idea how it worked. He took me to within four blocks of my house, and I walked the rest of the way home. I am grateful for his generosity to this day. In case you’re wondering, I did get caught once in a while, and then would be grounded for weeks, sometimes months!  I definitely deserved it.

My daughter’s individuation process was very subtle. When she was growing up, we lived in northern Indiana, and the winters there can be very cold. When she left the house to walk to school, I would make sure that she was all bundled up. The minute after she walked out the door, she would unzip, unbutton, remove her hat and mittens and stuff them into coat pockets, and sometimes remove her coat entirely. She would claim that she was too hot, but I think there was rebellion in that gesture. It’s the only example that I could think of in which she completely rejected what I wanted her to do.

My daughter believes that her individuation process happened most profoundly when she chose to study marine biology after high school. It meant that we had to move her from the Midwest to one of the only available programs, thousands of miles away on the coast of California. Away from her parents, she created life in the way that she wanted to live it and flourished.

I’ve talked to friends about this individuation process and asked them to share their stories with me. One friend told me that when she was growing up, she never, ever rebelled against the wishes of her parents or teachers. She is the oldest child in the family and was continuously told by her parents that she must set a good example for her younger siblings. My friend said she never rebelled in school either. Her desire was to be perfect—for her parents, her teachers, and herself. The domestication process[2] was so thorough and intense for her that she remained identified with the family group, moving from her parent’s house to her husband’s house without ever having rebelled against or about anything. That didn’t happen until she was forty years old. She undomesticated herself, individuated, divorced, and began living life in the way she preferred.

The work of individuating happens throughout life, in large and small ways. It isn’t a process that is locked in to the hormone pounding teenage years.

We can recognize an aspect of ourselves that might be stuck in this facet of consciousness, by examining where we want instant gratification. The behavior might be expressed in shopping or gambling, even though the credit card balances are already high. We might buy that new diet pill that promises huge weight loss in short time periods.

Another cue we can use to recognize whether we might be stuck in Individuate is when we blame someone else for something that goes wrong. We can’t correct a problem if we don’t take responsibility for our part in having created it.

One Action to Take Today to Explore Consciousness:

Are there any times that you want instant gratification and act on that? Think about one of those times and decide to make a conscious choice to put planning into the circumstance and extend gratification to a later date. Think about any experience in which you’ve placed blame on someone else. Give power back to yourself by identifying your part in what happened. Notice what your body feels like when you blame. Notice what your body feels like when you take responsibility for your part.

[1] There is a multitude of research available in neuroscience to support this claim. If you would like to learn more about this, a cursory web search on prefrontal cortex development will give you as much information as you would like.

[2] To learn more about the “domestication process” that we all undergo in varying degrees when we’re children, read The Mastery of Love, by Don Miguel Ruiz. “Domestication” is also a concept employed by Paolo Freire in Pedagogy of the Oppressed, a term he uses to describe a systematic societal process of teaching oppressed people to internalize their inferiority in order to maintain social control in a hierarchy.


This t-shirt was designed by one of my nephews, either Dorian Bybee or Ben Leffers (I think).
This t-shirt was designed by me.

This is chapter four in the evolving book, Living Consciousness.

Love = feelings of belonging and loyalty to the group.

Fear = the possibility of being cast out or shunned by the group. Fear is present in the background of consciousness if we have either expressed disloyalty to the group, or observed another member of the group being cast out.

In this facet of consciousness, we are concerned with the well being of our family, our group, our country, our religion, because they are ours. The family/clan/gang/ club/team/political party contains the people who matter. Everyone else is an outsider, (maybe even) a non-person, and a potential threat. This inward focus of group members serves to isolate us. The deeper the entrenchment is, the larger the separation from outsiders, human beings who don’t belong to the group. This makes different points of view, new ideas, ways of thinking, and discoveries unavailable to us. Groups living in this facet of consciousness create very powerful feelings of belonging among members, and use symbols and rituals to help establish that. In this facet of consciousness, our life and loyalty belongs to the group.

Sacred words and symbols can invoke this meme in us—they give us a feeling of pride and belonging.  When we sing the national anthem in a stadium filled with the voices of people singing, feelings of belonging can be so great that tears spring to our eyes.  In church, when everyone is singing the familiar hymn, “Amazing Grace,” we might experience that deep sense of belonging. And just imagine the explosion of pride and feelings of belonging for Cub fans during the 7th inning at Wrigley Field, when fans participated in the ritual of singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” the night the Cubs won the Series in 2016.  I wasn’t there, but I know the win Cubs fans witnessed caused tears to stream down the faces of all who were present.

It helps me to think of this facet of consciousness as describing all of the following:

  • It is a stage of human development, beginning in childhood that we continuously go through, in every aspect of life, throughout our lives, and because of that, it is also
  • A stage in which an aspect of ourselves can either participate or be stuck, while the dominant part of us lives at a different stage of consciousness;
  • And can be the dominant stage of consciousness expressed by a group, while individual members may be functioning at another stage.
  • And can be used by leaders to call us to express our highest nature in committing acts of care or kindness, or be used to manipulate us into doing unthinkable harm.

Childhood feelings of belonging to my family of origin meant that we eight siblings defended each other fiercely in any situation. It didn’t matter who was right or wrong, we defended our own. When one of my little brothers had his bag of candy stolen while we were trick-or-treating on Halloween night, his older siblings ran after the thief. My older sister caught the little bugger and returned our brother’s bag of candy to him. This kind of loyalty also meant that we never disclosed to anyone the violent behavior that erupted from my dad, as he succumbed to a mental breakdown, no matter how severe his behavior was.

A good example of this kind of fierce loyalty to one’s own group/tribe/family can be seen in the individual Clans of the Scottish Highlanders. A few years ago, I attended the Highland Games in Scotland and witnessed some of this fierce loyalty.  Before the Queen arrived, the announcer requested emphatically over the loud speaker that attendees stand when the Queen entered her private viewing box, and that they sing “God Save the Queen” with robust enthusiasm. Not everyone stood when Queen Elizabeth entered, and the song was sung by most, if somewhat tepidly. I was told that it is the Queen’s favorite yearly event, so I suppose she’s used to that cool reception. The Scottish People are loyal to their own, and it looks like they still resent having an English Monarchy. After she arrived, a thousand or more Clansmen marched into the arena, all dressed and grouped in their individual Clan tartans. Most Clan members were carrying bagpipes, and playing a tune that was both mournful and voluminous—think of it–nearly a thousand bagpipes, playing the same tune! There was, however, one Clan from the Scottish Highlands, Clan MacDonald, in which individual members all carried spears that were twelve feet long and looked extraordinarily fierce as they marched past the Queen’s private viewing box!

When we are primarily expressing life from within another facet of consciousness, most of us will dip into the healthy aspects of Belong to strengthen feelings of belonging and connection with others. Using what we learned in this facet of consciousness, we create family rituals that endure. Examples from my family of origin are that we hold hands and say a prayer of thanks together before Thanksgiving dinner. We also gather together at the family cottage for the July 4th weekend to play together—that’s between 30 and 50 people, all cooking, swimming and playing games with each other. For many years, on Memorial Day weekend, we met at one of my sister’s homes in Southern Indiana for an annual family bike race that was plotted out carefully by my brother-in-law. We had t-shirts made to commemorate the race, designed by artistically inclined family members—one for each year.  I loved the tradition and still have all of my t-shirts. When I wear one of them, it evokes feelings of belonging and love for my family.

We can find tons of healthy examples of this Belong facet of consciousness being expressed by groups of people in our culture. On any given Sunday, we will find people, who very likely live from within a more expanded facet of consciousness, participating in the Sunday morning ritual at church. On Sunday afternoons, we can find huge numbers of people watching favorite teams play in stadiums or on television. We are supplicants together and we are fans together. One of my good friends has the ritual of watching the Packers games together as a family (emphasis on their being together). When one family member wasn’t going to arrive home from a trip until the game had already been played, the family recorded the game and all swore not to watch any part of it until their daughter arrived home that evening. Then they sat down together to cheer their team on and dispute the Ref’s calls!

Watching the Olympic games invokes feelings of pride and belonging. Some of us may even feel a sense of pride and belonging to humanity itself—an experience that weaves us together into one community, striving for physical and mental excellence. Some of those Olympic events create such enormous feelings of belonging that they never leave us. One such event for me was the 800-meter race at the 1972 Summer Olympics when I watched Dave Wottle, who was running in last place, overtake each competitor, one after another to win the gold medal. It was one of the most exciting events I’ve ever watched. I found it on YouTube so I could watch it again. I cried the first time I watched that race and when I saw it again, it still made me cry. 

When leaders call us to express our highest nature in committing acts of care, kindness, or service, this is one of the facets of consciousness they are invoking. On January 20, 1961, in his Inaugural Address, John F. Kennedy said, “…my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.” That is the part of his Address that I have always remembered, even though I was just a little kid at the time. It was meaningful to me and evoked feelings of pride and belonging. I didn’t remember the sentence that followed, but I think it’s worth noting here. President Kennedy also said, “My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.” On March 1, 1961, President John F. Kennedy issued an Executive Order to establish the Peace Corps as a new agency within the Department of State. Young people from all over the United States followed a call to serve their country in the Peace Corps, and young people continue to do so today.

When leaders reach into and use the unhealthy aspects of this Belong facet of consciousness in us, it can dissolve basic human decency. History provides a record of human beings who have been manipulated into committing unthinkable harm. This is the dynamic that has led to ethnic cleansing and racial violence all over the world, and it continues to do so today. It is the dynamic Hitler used when he set about creating a “pure race” of German people by killing Jewish people and others. At times in United States history, leaders have ennobled the racist KKK and White Supremacy groups. Japanese Kamikaze pilots represented this facet of consciousness during WWII, as did the terrorists who flew planes into the World Trade Center buildings on 9/11/2001.

One Action to Take Today to Explore Consciousness:

Think about your feelings of belonging and loyalty and what groups these feelings happen within. Do you alter yourself in any way to match the group’s expectations of you? Are you loyal first to yourself and is that reflected in your expression of who you are? What does it feel like in the body to belong to the group? What does it feel like in the body to belong to yourself? Notice if there is a difference.

The Survive Stage of Consciousness

“Phoenix Rising from the Heart”

Love = Feelings of security and safety. I have enough of what I need.


Fear = Feelings of insecurity and that there won’t be enough of something essential. Fear is present in the background, often experienced as an unnamed feeling in the gut.


This stage of consciousness is focused on surviving. Our priority is in satisfying the basic human needs of food, water, warmth, sex, and safety. When we’re functioning in this stage of consciousness, we cannot think about anything other than these basic needs. If we feel physically threatened by a set of existing circumstances, all that we can think about is to do whatever is necessary to preserve our own lives.


It helps me to think of this stage of consciousness as describing all of the following:


  • It is a stage of human development that we continuously go through, in every aspect of life, throughout our lives; and because of that, it is also
  • A stage in which an aspect of ourselves can either participate or be stuck, while the dominant part of us lives in a different stage of consciousness;
  • And can be the dominant stage of consciousness expressed by a group, while individual members may be living from within another stage.


In the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center buildings that occurred on September 11, 2001, many people inside the buildings were immediately thrown into survival mode. They ran down the stairs with ferocity. They ran as fast as they could, the need to survive being the only one they could act on. We also have evidence that not everyone that day went into survival mode. We’ve heard about people who felt compelled to stop and stay with folks confined to wheelchairs who were physically unable to run down the stairs.


Is one action right, another wrong? For me, the answer has to be no. If there is only one option that presents itself, one internal call to follow, then it’s neither right nor wrong. It simply is the only thing we can do.


For those who clicked into the Survive stage of consciousness, saving themselves was the only possible choice they could make. They couldn’t have done anything but fly down those stairs as fast as they could go. Other options were simply unavailable to them. Whereas, those who stayed with folks who were unable to descend the stairs had clicked in to the Care & Empathy stage of consciousness, and because of that, the only possible choice they could make was to stay, to provide friendship and comfort. For these folks, the option to save themselves was unavailable.


We currently have circumstances in this world, in which human beings have been thrown into the life problems that accompany this stage of consciousness—trying to figure out how to survive, how to get enough food, water, and shelter for themselves and their families. There are huge camps of refugees, fleeing for their lives from countries at war in various places on this planet.


In the United States of America, we have children who don’t have some of these basic needs met. They go to school hungry because there isn’t any food for them to eat at home. We also have a large population of homeless people. The causes are varied, of course, from veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome, folks who are mentally ill, some people who are addicted to alcohol or another substance, and some who’ve lost a job and lack a support system of family or friends to give them an assist.


One example from my life of how a person or family who normally lives from a different stage of consciousness, can move into life conditions that call for problem solving skills and strengths learned at this Survive stage, happened when I was just a kid.


I was in the fifth grade when my dad had his first mental breakdown. That’s what they called it at the time. When I read about post-traumatic stress syndrome, the condition many soldiers came home with from the Vietnam War, it sounded a lot like my dad. He served his country during World War II as a Marine in the South Pacific, and was the Radioman for his battalion. He told planes where to drop bombs. He witnessed men sacrifice their lives to save his. He was one of thirteen Marines left alive and physically unharmed in the battle of Sugarloaf Hill. The memory terrorized him.


To give you some idea of the horrifying conditions my dad, and other survivors, lived through, 1,656 Marines died and 7,429 were wounded during the twelve days that it took to secure Sugar Loaf Hill. World War II ended shortly after that battle, but for my dad, and others like him, the internalized war never did end. Dad died when he was only sixty-six years old. A former Marine and fellow survivor of the battle for Sugar Loaf Hill came to Dad’s funeral. He asked us why Dad’s obituary didn’t mention that he had been a member of the Sixth Marine Division. He felt that Dad should have been honored for his service. And he should have. In many ways, that experience defined his life, and had a profound effect on the way in which he lived with his wife and children.


My mom was completely deaf. Until she was in her forties, there was no hearing aid strong enough to help her hear. Because of that, Dad talked to us kids. Many nights at the dinner table, beginning when I was in second grade, my dad talked about his experience during World War II. It was obvious, even to a six year old, that my dad was tormented by his experience. He also displayed episodes of extreme violence toward Mom and to many of us kids.


After one of those extremely violent episodes, Dad was admitted to the VA Hospital for treatment. He was given a diagnosis and an antipsychotic prescription that eventually helped him to live more of a normal life.


When Dad entered the hospital, Mom went to talk to the company Dad worked for to find out how to go about getting his disability pay. There were six of us kids at home at that time, and Mom and Dad lived from paycheck to paycheck. She was told it would be two weeks before a check would be available. I remember Mom being shocked. For the first time in her life, she was faced with the task of having to put food on the table, with no money in reserve and no time to waste. She scrambled!


Mom went to get food stamps and came home furious! She hated having to ask for a handout! She also went to a food bank and got huge containers of Velveeta cheese and peanut butter. And she hated doing that too! She went to the day-old bread store and bought outdated loaves of bread for ten cents a loaf. She sold our upright piano for $50, and that helped some. After my older sister and I got home from school, she left us to babysit while she went door to door in the neighborhood selling a very good brand of clothing called Minnesota Woolens.


Mom had been raised in a blue-collar working class family. Her parents were very proud of the fact that they made it through the depression without having to ask for help. When Mom’s dad was laid off, he knocked on the doors of the largest homes in town and found work painting the exteriors of houses. Their pride at not having had to ask for a handout, and the disdain they voiced about those who did, shaped Mom’s values and made it very hard for her to ask for and accept help.


With Dad in the hospital, Mom clicked into this Survive stage of consciousness. She was determined to do whatever she had to do to keep us fed and sheltered. A new resolve was born in her too.


When Mom graduated from high school, she had been offered a full scholarship to Saint Francis College, but because of her hearing, her mom and dad had encouraged her to marry my dad instead. They wanted her to be taken care of because of her hearing impairment. During this time, when she had to scramble for food and money to take care of herself and us, her lack of education and ability to hear, meant that any job she might have been interested in doing was unavailable to her.


She became determined to get an education so that she would never be in a situation again in which she couldn’t support herself or her kids if anything happened to my dad. When Mom was 40, she applied to college at Indiana University. She earned a bachelor’s degree in history and then went on to earn a master’s degree in library science. She also got her dream job, which was to work as a librarian.


This piece of my own life story is a perfect example of someone who was living predominantly in another stage of consciousness but because of new life conditions, was thrown into Survive.


What it looks like to be artificially stuck in Survive:


Remember, this stage of consciousness has to do with finding food, water, warmth, sex, and safety. Given the rising rates of obesity and diabetes in the United States, I think it’s safe to say that many of us are artificially stuck in Survive regarding food.


There are good reasons for it, of course. All we have to do is understand that sugar is addictive, then read ingredients on everything we buy that is a manufactured food. What we’ll find is that sugar in one form or another is included in almost everything we eat. In the body, these foods break down very quickly, leaving us hungry and searching for more food. We’re constantly on the hunt for something else to eat.


A couple of years ago, I was in this quandary myself. The doctor informed me that I was pre-diabetic. I could turn it around, he said, but in order to do so, I could not eat sugar in any form. That included all of the sugars that are supposed to be good for you as well—sugars like honey, maple syrup, agave syrup, and etc. The doc also told me to stay away from all grains. All grains! Even the organic, whole grains! Unfortunately, at that time, my favorite breakfast had been toast made from a whole-grain, organic, molasses bread that I’d been buying at the local farmer’s market. Other foods I was not allowed to eat were white potatoes, pasta, or rice—neither white nor brown. I was only allowed to eat whole foods—more vegetables than anything else, and fruits that are low-glycemic, meaning they don’t break down quickly in the body.


I was cranky and crabby for about a week when I stopped eating this stuff.


The benefit of eliminating these foods is that I feel full longer and am not hunting for something to eat all the time. The artificial condition of being stuck in Survive was eliminated.



One Action to Take Today to Explore Consciousness:


Take a moment to think about whether you feel safe and secure. Do a head to toe body scan and ask yourself what safety feels like in your body? Do you fear not having enough of any basic human need—food, water, shelter, warmth, or safety? Just become aware. Now take a moment to feel thankful for basic needs that are met in this moment, and now in this moment. Repeat gratitude daily.

How Do We Develop in Consciousness?

Experience of Oneness.
Magnificent Yosemite!

This is chapter two of the evolving book, “Living Consciousness.” I invite your thoughts and comments.

Developing in consciousness is neither linear nor hierarchical. We grow in consciousness in a much more organic way, often in response to different conditions life presents to us. When that happens, we are required to consider how we’ll respond. Will we choose to respond from an internal position of love? Or will we choose to react in fear?

As we become accomplished in solving problems presented to us at any given stage of consciousness, in any area of life, we take the skills we’ve developed along with us and dip back into them whenever life presents conditions that require similar kinds of solutions.

Here is a quick overview of love and fear at each stage of consciousness. We move from least expanded, in which we include just a small part of existence in our conception of who we are, to most expanded, in which we include all of existence in our definition of who we are in every area of life.

  • In the Survive stage of consciousness, the life conditions presented require us to solve very basic problems: the need for food, shelter, clothing, safety, and security. Love is equal to the feeling of having enough of what I need. Fear is of the unknown and feelings of scarcity in any area of basic need. Once we’ve experienced not having enough of something, fear is always present in the background. It is most often experienced as an unnamed feeling in the gut.
  • The life conditions presented in the Belong stage of consciousness require us to develop feelings of belonging to a group/family/religion/culture. Love is equal to feelings of belonging and loyalty. Fear is the possibility of being cast out or shunned by the group. Fear is present in the background of consciousness if we express disloyalty to the group, or if we observe another member of the group being cast out or shunned.
  • The life conditions presented in the Individuate stage of consciousness require us to do the work of individuating, most commonly from our parents, or the people who have raised us. Love equals the feeling of freedom and independence that we achieve by doing this work. Fear equals the feeling of being dependent on and perhaps being controlled by our parents. Fear is almost always present in the background at this stage and it looks like bravado.
  • The life conditions presented in the Comply stage of consciousness require us to learn and adopt the rules of our family/culture/society/religion/the road. Morality and ethics get instilled in and adopted by us. We learn and put the Golden Rule in to practice. Love equals loyalty and adapting ourselves to fit the rules of acceptable behavior we’ve learned—we want to be good. Fear is of losing acceptance of and connection to our family/group/culture if we don’t comply with the rules.
  • The life conditions presented at the Re-individuate & Risk stage of consciousness require us to think about the rules we adopted in the Comply stage, decide which of those rules no longer align with our core selves, and let go of them. At this stage, we become more self-referential. Love equals feelings of increasing empowerment, creativity, and willingness to take risks. Fear equals the possibility that I’ll lose whatever is important to me because I’m stepping away from what is acceptable to my family/group/culture.
  • In the Care & Integrate stage of consciousness our core self expands in such a way that we come into a felt sense of relatedness to a larger community than we had previously identified as ours. We grow to care about all human beings as deeply as we care about those who belong to our family/group/etc. We grow to care about all biological creatures as deeply as we care about our own dogs or cats. And we grow to care about the living earth as deeply as we care about our own back yards. Love expands to take the form of care and empathy. Fear takes the form of feelings of being overwhelmed and inadequate.
  • In the Be Authentic stage of consciousness, we realize for the first time that each previous stage of consciousness has a valid perspective from its point of view. We also understand that each perspective offers a necessary contribution to the health of the society in which we all live. We take actions that will contribute to the health of consciousness itself, and to the healthy expression of each stage in our culture. Love equals the ability to understand with the heart and as a felt sense in the body. Mind and heart work together and we work with purpose. If fear is present, as soon as it’s recognized, it is acknowledged and transmuted.
  • At the Be Oneness stage of consciousness we understand and likely feel the connectivity of all that is. It feels like Oneness of Being, and the actions we take, the choices we make, even the thoughts we think, take this underlying connectivity of All-That-Is into consideration. Love equals the experience of Oneness of Being, including the seen and the unseen world. Fear is felt as any disruption of this experience of Oneness. As soon as it is recognized, it is transmuted.
  • At the Be Creation stage of consciousness we experience everything-that-is as ourselves. A very small example that best explains this stage comes from Calvin Sauer, a member of this book’s Focus Group. He said, “imagine pouring water into a glass—the water expands to fill the space. That’s what happens in this Creation stage—our consciousness expands to fill the space of that which exists.” There is no difference between the seen and unseen world. Love equals the experience of creation. Fear exists, but is not personal. It is simply felt as a part of creation and is not separate from love.

The Shape of Consciousness

The Shape of Consciousness

The shape of consciousness has historically been shown using designs that are both linear and hierarchical. Spirals, triangles, and squares containing other squares have all been used. Because our brain works in both a linear and hierarchical way, those designs have made sense to us. In fact, it’s difficult to talk about consciousness in any other way. But we must try, because consciousness is neither linear nor hierarchical. In my experience it is much more fluid in the way that it interacts with us and in the way that we interact with it.

Members of the Focus Group for this book came up with this design to portray an idea of how consciousness actually grows in us. Notice that every stage of consciousness is connected to every other stage in some way. Notice that the Comply stage of consciousness is surrounded by soft blue cushions of post it notes. You’ll find out why we’ve done that when you read the chapter on Comply. This image from the Focus Group evokes the actual experience of how we grow in consciousness—it happens in the middle of the messiness of life itself, sometimes in just one area of life at a time, but most often in several areas of life at once. It is not orderly. And because life itself presents the conditions that demand growth from us, we can’t control how it happens. What we can do is learn to understand the stages of consciousness so we can recognize them as they occur, and perhaps be able to support ourselves in the middle of our own growth.

We might just be able to recognize when we are about to make a choice based on fear, stop ourselves and ask the question: “What would I do if I choose from love instead?” Use the handy-dandy brief description of Love and Fear at each stage of consciousness if you’re not sure what the fear is about. A fear from one stage can often be addressed by taking an action based on love from the stage that follows it. Another way to think about it is to recognize that a choice from love will always enlarge our world. Love includes, expands, and allows. Fear excludes, shrinks, and tries to control.

Think of consciousness as being an aspect of the unseen world that is formless and fills all existent space. We are born inside of this potentiality of consciousness and our movement in it is fluid, interactive, sometimes playful, and sometimes difficult. There are no hard lines between stages of consciousness. Even as we live and develop ourselves primarily in one stage, we will likely have flashes of insight, experience of, and access to knowledge from other stages of consciousness.

An example that I think nearly everyone will relate to is the experience of Oneness-of-Being that can occur during a moment in which we are extremely present. Moments of extreme presence can happen as an internal response to being immersed in Epic Nature. Many of us are filled with this experience of wonder when we stand at the edge of an infinite view: the Falls at Yosemite, the shore of an ocean, the vista of mountains, or a grove of redwoods. But extreme presence can come to us in many ways: lovers sharing a perfect moment just before the birth of their child; feeling like the end of an event can’t come soon enough and then being absolutely engulfed in a wholehearted hug from Aunt Marge; or singing Dad’s favorite hymns to him while he makes the journey out of his body.

The experience leaves us with a feeling of having been part of something Sacred, and it stays with us. It comes back to us periodically as one of our most memorable life experiences, and might even bring tears to our eyes. I remember having had this experience for the first time when I was about 26 years old. My husband won a trip from the Chamber of Commerce for five days and four nights on Maui. It was the first vacation I’d ever been on that required a flight. The wondrous moment happened one evening as I sat on the beach watching the sun set on the horizon over the Pacific Ocean. I had never actually been internally still and watched the sun set before, and the impact was profound. I had this very sacred experience of Oneness-of-Being as I sat there. It filled me with wonder. I carry that in my heart all these years later as one of the most profound and educational experiences of my life.

This Oneness-of-Being experience is continuous for human beings who live primarily in the Be Oneness stage of consciousness.

The experience of extreme presence, noticing the sun setting on the horizon, and being perfectly, internally still in that moment, began to direct and shape my life. Within a few years, I was immersed in studying both psychology and philosophy at Purdue University, and in the study and practice of meditation with a local group led by Conrad and Ilene Satala. The combination of these three disciplines equates to the study of consciousness. I didn’t know that at the time. I just knew that I was finally engaged in studying something that was profoundly helpful to me in the living of my everyday life.

Luckily, during the course of these last forty years, I’ve encountered others who have been deeply immersed in studying consciousness as well. They have each become lifelong friends and colleagues. Some of them belong to the Focus Group for this book. Their insight and intelligence helps to form this work.

One Action to Take Today to Explore Consciousness:

Take a few minutes to remember a time when you were extremely present in a moment. Let yourself bathe in the memory, using as many of your senses as possible—especially ask to feel it in the body. If you haven’t yet experienced this kind of awe, pursue it. Take a few minutes to just stop and watch the sun go down, ask someone you love for a wholehearted hug, or take a walk and place the palm of your hand on the bark of any tree, close your eyes, and get a felt sense of the aliveness of the tree. Bring all of your senses to the moment and notice the experience as completely as possible. Repeat every day.

What Is Consciousness?

This is Chapter One in the book that I’ve been working on for a couple of years now. The book’s title is: “Living Consciousness“, and this is an experiment. I’m publishing the book weekly, one chapter at a time, here on my website and on, because the book itself feels alive to me. I’m in the middle of the fifth re-write, and the material has changed and deepened. It keeps getting closer to the truth.

If you’d like to participate in this Living Consciousness experiment with us, just read and add your thoughts, and/or examples in the comments section.

What Is Consciousness?

Imagine consciousness as a cloud of potential awareness, part of the unseen world that permeates all of the space and material of existence. We are born as, into, and with that potentiality.

When we are conscious, we are awake and aware of our surroundings. We are aware of or perceiving something, and we are aware that we are aware of both our own mind and of the world in which we are immersed. As I write this, I know that I am both thinking about the material and writing it. As you read this, you are aware that you are both thinking about the material and reading.

Every single morning, we wake up. Sometimes when we awaken, it feels like we come to the surface in stages. Other times it happens abruptly.  We were asleep; now we’re awake. Eyes open up.  We become aware of the body and how it feels.  We may have a remnant of a dream hanging out in the mind. We notice the bedroom, the feeling of the floor underfoot, the temperature of the air, the degree of lightness in the sky. We become awake and aware of our surroundings.

We can lose consciousness in more ways than by simply going to sleep. If we’re concussed in an accident, are “put under” by an anesthesiologist during an operation, or faint for some reason, we lose consciousness. We can also lose it by using a substance like drugs, alcohol, or even sugar that causes the loss. When we “come to”, that is, when we become awake and aware of ourselves and of our surroundings, it happens in much the same way as it does when we awaken from sleep. 

Our ability to be conscious, awake and aware of our surroundings can also be affected by any addictions we have, any well-worn path we’ve walked (metaphorically speaking), and any enculturated ideas that we unwittingly try to live. What this means is that we may be conscious (awake) in some parts of life and unconscious (asleep) in others.

When it comes to addiction affecting my ability to be awake and aware, I’m thinking here of Girl Scout Thin Mint cookies. I mean really! I cannot have those cookies in my house. After I ate an entire box all by myself, in one sitting, I realized I might have a problem. When I told a friend about the experience, she recommended I store the cookies in the freezer and take just a couple of cookies out at one time.  Right. Like that would stop me from inhaling a sleeve of Thin Mints! Ha! I discovered they’re even better direct from the freezer, and the entire box disappears just as fast! No! Faster! My consciousness disappears into a sugar-induced haze. The same thing happens with peanut M&M’s. I simply cannot buy them! Ever!

The metaphoric well-worn path that I’m referring to is any habitual thoughts or feelings we have. At the end of the day, life is made of the sum total of our thoughts, feelings, and the actions we’ve taken because of them. And lots of those thoughts and feelings and the resulting actions are completely unconscious, habitual choices we’re making. 

I just experienced a feeling this morning that can be used to illustrate this. As I listened to the song “Unchained Melody,” I experienced an overwhelming feeling of unrequited and lost love. This song was popular when I was a teenager, when feeling bereft and unloved was a dramatic weekly event. That feeling from long ago flooded my emotions as I listened. Luckily, I caught myself in the act. I noticed the habitual and unconscious nature of the feeling and stopped myself. My conscious self knows that I am thoroughly loved, and that there is always enough love to go around. I want my life to be built from the conscious understanding of the caveat that there is always enough love, and that if we let it, it permeates everything.

Another example of a habitual, metaphoric well-worn path from my own experience has to do with my reaction to a male friend when he insisted that he was right, and being right was the most important thing to him. I may not have even had any skin in the game, that is, I may have simply exclaimed something like: “What a gorgeous day!” And in response, he might tell me that I’m wrong about that because it’s going to rain shortly. So, while I was saying something about what the day feels like inside of me, he would take it as a literal statement about weather.

My unconscious response to his interpretation was to feel instantly angry.  It was completely unconscious.  For a time, I loaded the feeling of anger with an also unconscious story line or thought process that went something like this: “He squashes my enthusiasm every time I express it. Argh! It feels like he’s trying to control me!”

He is a literal guy and has spent an adult lifetime doing work in which his ability to be literal determined his level of success in business. I am pretty sure that I was born enthusiastic. My working edge in that scenario was to wake up to the feeling of anger when it ramped up inside of me, to stop the habitual story response before it started, and to allow the angry feeling to dissolve. I would remind myself that his literal interpretation had nothing to do with me.

A final example of this has to do with my own unconscious thoughts and feelings about my body. We are all good and tired of thinking there is something wrong with the shape of our bodies, right? If you’ve read my last book, I Am A Miracle Magnet, you know all about my own struggle with this, so I won’t repeat it here.  If you haven’t read it, just look at your own feelings about your body—you know—the ones that live in the dark corners of life experience—the ones that criticize abs, thighs, ankles, bellies, breasts or chest, or any body part at all, really. 

I am working consciously to both stop and replace negative thoughts and feelings about my body. Every morning when I meditate and every day when I walk, I set the intention for a joyful, energetic, and vital body. I am cultivating feelings of gratitude for my strength and endurance and shape. After all, we human beings come in all shapes and sizes. There is simply no one, single shape and size that is the measure of beauty. And that brings us to the next way in which we can be asleep in pieces of our consciousness: enculturated rules about right and wrong ways to behave.

Just as we’ve been taught, often subliminally, that there is only one beautiful or handsome shape for a person, other ideas and rules about culturally approved ways to be have been passed on to us as well. In his excellent book, The Code of the Extraordinary Mind, (which I highly recommend), Vishen Lakhiani coins a new word to describe the unquestioned, enculturated rules that we follow. He calls them “Brules,” which is short for bullshit rules.  Following them effectively prevents us from living our lives authentically.  

One example of an enculturated rule is about acceptable careers for women and men. When I was in grade school, I remember our eighth-grade teacher asking class members what career they wanted to pursue. Every girl responded with one of the following professions: nun, wife and mother, teacher, nurse, or the possibility, at that time brand new, for girl’s vocations, stewardess. (And we all knew, of course, that a stewardess would have to be blond, thin, and beautiful to be hired to do the work.) This was in 1962. There was no name for what I wanted to do—not inside of me, and not outside of me. I probably said “nun” at the time.

That was a long time ago, and you might be thinking that a lot has changed regarding career opportunities for women and men since I was in grade school, and I agree that possibilities have expanded for both genders. After all, there are now women who are doctors and engineers, and men who are nurses and interior designers. But doing just a thin skiff of research on current career stats for women and men will uncover cultural expectations still firmly held in place.

It took me some time to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up because of these enculturated limits. On my website, I state that I am a “midwife to the birth of the Wild Soul,” and that is a pretty good description of what I want to be in the world. The act of writing this book is an example of me doing what I enjoy doing. I love to think about the place in which Psychology and Philosophy intersect.

It has taken me a long time to learn to be what I want to be in the world, to be conscious, awake and alive, in this area of life. The process of getting here has been interesting, exciting, and oftentimes hard. I am hoping that as you read this book, you will be able to identify places in life in which you are following a grooved, enculturated, and perhaps an inauthentic road, bring it to the surface, and make conscious choices, more truly reflective of your own “wild soul,” your authentic core self.

 One Action to Take Today to Explore Consciousness:

Pick one activity you do each day that is normally automatic, like breathing, eating a meal, or working out at the gym, and consciously choose to stay aware of what you’re doing and do a body scan—make yourself conscious of how it feels in your body. When your mind wanders and you find yourself thinking about something else, bring your thoughts back to the present and simply stay aware of that.

“Do you know that you’re breathing?”

Thich Nhat Hanh