Working the Paradox, Consciousness and I
I am, or, am I? This question poses a dialectic dilemma. While individuals will ultimately answer this question personally, the journey that underlies the meaning behind this juxtaposition shows that numerous paths are available for consciousness to transcend its paradoxical nature.
The verb to be connotes that an entity owns some aspect of itself. Freud (1917/1966) called the entity that perceives its own existence the ego. The ego manifests within the cultural (interior collective) and social (exterior collective) quadrants of Wilber’s (1997) system of integral dynamics.
Collective forces help the ego establish a social identity within a cultural context that governs the value systems that will keep the ego’s narcissistic tendencies in check. By existing, we are assured to take part in interior and exterior processes that help shape our emergent personalities in a manner that allows us to realize that which we were meant to become.
Species specific traits, social identity, cultural identity, morals, values, and spiritual entities not governed by corporeal existence are but a few examples of holonic (Koestler, 1967) substructures that build upon themselves in a manner that exerts interior and exterior influence over the natural progression of life. When a person states I am, their ego aligns with the physiological need to survive. While the need for survival is imperative to pursue higher states of consciousness, it nevertheless is only one state that consciousness can attain.
The ego is a survival mechanism that allows a person to assign inert values to tangible and intangible objects, which ultimately includes one’s own life and the life of others. However, as everyone who has ever become conscious knows, the I associated to physiological life is finite; it, along with its ability to consciously perceive ceases the moment that physiological death occurs. Am I, although a juxtaposition of I am, connotes a position of inquiry open to and accepting of the multiple paths available to a person who engages Self-emergence. I am is de-finite, where Am I honors the transitional nature of energy, the building block from which all life emerges.
Further difference between these terms exists in the position of time each statement holds in relation to the emergence of integral consciousness. The statement I am is present tense; I in this statement holds onto subjective experience, as it exists in the moment. However, the I of the present moment ceases when viewed in relation to the position consciousness assumes. In daydreams and personal reveries about past or future aspirations, consciousness projects its essence into the perspective of what one was or wishes to one day become. The ability to dream allows one to transcend the limits of time and space that govern our physiological existence. The ability to transcend time and space underlies integral states of consciousness, which is a cornerstone of integral forms of consciousness; in specific instances, the experiences associated with integrated consciousness allow the individual a knowledge base that transcends the ego and places personal consciousness in tandem with cosmic consciousness.
Am I connotes such a dreamlike state; this level of consciousness is inquisitive by nature and open to an array of future possibilities. This state of awareness does not deny the past; instead, it honors that which came before as a natural progression of what leads towards higher states of self-awareness. The idea of a state of awareness that exists separate from the personal confines of one’s conscious awareness yet remains part of the perceiving human agent forms the idea that underlies the notion of spirit within tenets of Catholicism of the Catholic Church.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that:
The profession of faith of the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) affirms that God “from the beginning of time made at once (simul) out of nothing both orders of creatures, the spiritual and the corporeal, that is, the angelic and the earthly, and then the human creature, who as it were shares in both orders, being composed of spirit and body.”The Catechism of the Catholic Church, 327
Humanity is created from spiritual and corporeal matter, which allows our species access to physical and transcendent levels of consciousness. The Holy Trinity is a symbol that represents the ability corporeal matter has to transcend its nature into the spiritual realm. From a philosophical standpoint, the holy trinity can be viewed as a holonic substructure from which the parts of the whole are capable of their own creative energies while the whole within itself represents the creative force underlying the relationship humanity holds as a creation from the omnipotent presence of God. The idea of the creative aspect of God forms the foundation from which the spirit crosses the presence of father and son, or that of the corporeal matter of humanity itself.
In the beginning was the Word. . . and the Word was God. . . all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. The New Testament reveals that God created everything by the eternal Word, his beloved Son. In him ‘all things were created, in heaven and on earth… all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.’ The Church’s faith likewise confesses the creative action of the Holy Spirit, the ‘giver of life’, ‘the Creator Spirit’ (Veni, Creator Spiritus), the ‘source of every good.’ The Old Testament suggests and the New Covenant reveals the creative action of the Son and the Spirit, inseparably one with that of the Father. This creative co-operation is clearly affirmed in the Church’s rule of faith: ‘There exists but one God. . . he is the Father, God, the Creator, the author, the giver of order. He made all things by himself, that is, by his Word and by his Wisdom’, ‘by the Son and the Spirit’ who, so to speak, are ‘his hands’.133 Creation is the common work of the Holy Trinity.The Catechism of the Catholic Church (291-292)
God, as The Holy Trinity is creation. Being created in God’s image, we take part in creating others to honor the divine plan of creation. Creation allows “the creative action of the son and Spirit” which is “inseparably one with that of the Father” a place within the corporeal being that takes part in the act of creation.
While the ego promotes consciousness of material existence, it also knows of its finality. As with any paradox, a life that exits is also a life that must cease to exist. Because the ego fears its finality, it re-affirms its immortality by assuming a position that life may continue past the death process. From this perspective, the corporeal and spiritual components of humanity meet at the beginning of the life sequence.
The matter of difference between the juxtaposition I am and am I utilized in this introduction to the paradoxical nature of consciousness is best illustrated through a simple heuristic analysis each position holds in relationship to integral consciousness as it emerges. Because a person educates themselves in philosophy or the sciences, they can justifiably call themselves a philosopher or a scientist within certain companies that share like-minded orientations to reality. Furthermore, because a person finds comfort from faith in an entity that transcends an empirical knowledge base, that individual can technically be called spiritual. However, no individual can represent the entirety of an idea, whether it is science or philosophy. The essence of the philosopher or scientist represents a profession, not the eternal essence of one’s soul. In the second example, people should not confuse themselves with being God, even though they may find comfort in knowing that humanity is created in God’s image. To inflate the ego to that level of grandiosity would simply cause psychological stagnation from which further integral growth would cease under the pressure of living up to the idea of perfection that is associated to God.
When a person states I am, they bind creativity and energy to a set identity or a number of identities clustered around a core belief system. While identity creation is a natural process of human development, completely identifying with the ego prescribes disastrous effects for the maturation of consciousness towards an integral state. Consciousness seeks to transcend its nature, and transcendent consciousness occurs when the ego is open to a level of inquiry that honors personal ontology. While assuming a position of inquiry open to new possibilities may go against the ego’s unwavering need to assure its dominance, by ridding itself of the energy needed to assure a set identity it allows the individual to attain greater understanding of who they are becoming within the moment.
The acquisition of consciousness is intimately tied to evolutionary history. One need only turn to ancient Greek philosophers to understand that they asked many of the same questions we ponder today. History is cyclical, and people often revisit the same questions they pondered at earlier developmental stages as an exercise to help them make sense of life. People also seek meaning from higher sources, and often place faith into a higher power that transcends oneself.
The capability consciousness has to transcend its nature forms the foundation of many religious beliefs. In the next article, I will explore the history of consciousness from the Christian story that tells of the origins of creation. By conducting an analysis of how consciousness arises from the story of its origins, it will be shown that life unfolds in a manner that allows one to become closer with the creative source. The relationship that exists between the creator and the created, in turn allows each individual to grow into that which they will ultimately one day become. One only need an open the heart and a quiet mind to explore the depths of growth available when one assumes an inquisitive position rather than a position of authority over one’s personal destiny.
Freud, S. (1917/1966). Introductory lectures on psycho-analysis: The standard edition with a biographical introduction by Peter Gay. New York, New York: W.W. Norton & Company.
Koestler, A. (1967). The ghost in the machine. New York, New York, USA: Macmillan.
Wilber, K. (1997). An integral theory of consciousness. Journal of Consciousness Studies , 4 (1), 71-92.