A unity, a pattern, an all-embracing meaning—if it exists—could only be discerned or experienced by a different kind of mind, in a different state of consciousness. It would only be realizable by a mind which had itself become unified. —Rodney Collin, Theory of Celestial Influence
Esteemed Reader of Our Magazine:
This morning I was on the phone doing business and happened to look out the window at a field. All at once, the details came into focus. I could see the sunlight on each blade of green grass. I could see them waving, each in its own way, in the gentle wind. I saw the field and the grass together, and it was as though time stopped.
"Hello? Are you there?" asked my colleague on the other end of the line.
"Yes," I replied as my attention came back to the work at hand. "I am here." And I meant it.
The experience gave me a clue to the physics of presence. It has to do with the relationship of the parts and the whole. By some capacity of adaptive engineering we perceive one or the other, rarely both, and rarer still do we experience a third thing—ourselves—in the picture. When attention is allowed to expand to perceive both the parts and the whole, the particular and the general, or, as the maxim expresses, the trees and the forest, a synergy of attention opens a door on a larger bandwidth of consciousness. It is in these moments that one can truly say "I am here."
The first astronauts had experiences illustrating this point. Viewing the Earth as a singular world and perceiving its smallness and fragility in space aroused radical new sensibilities. Astronaut Edgar Mitchell described it as a "spontaneous epiphany experience" and Earth as the "blue jewel-like home planet suspended in the velvety blackness from which we had come. What I saw out the window was all I had ever known, all I have ever loved and hated, longed for, all that I once thought had ever been and ever would be. From that moment on, my life was irrevocably altered."
The experience of cognizing the whole of something, when one is accustomed to perceiving only the parts, seems to open the spigot for meaning and meaningfulness to flow in. There is not only an intellectual but also an emotional cognition. We feel the significance at the same time as we know it. These two together may comprise an authentic definition of conscience.
Significant life events can sometimes trigger this larger view even in people that aren't seeking it. Why do we cry at births, weddings, funerals, graduations? At some level, we see the point in time relative to all that came before and will come after. In this sense, we experience the part and whole not just in space but also in time. We taste the delicate intersection between the temporal and eternal, giving rise to an expanded present moment and the simultaneity of particular moments in time.
The perception of a longer view of time can enable us to discern and respond to the difference between the apparently urgent and the truly important. In a word, it arouses real conscience. A global example is the effect of human greed on the life of the biosphere and planet. If we could really feel what we know to be the effects of humanity's unbridled consumption, and our pathological impulse to convert the actual life and materials of the natural world into an unreal and abstract currency, we would stop. We would just stop.
Further, if we could both see and feel that we are, individually, part of the larger body of nature, we would behave differently. Absent this perception, we are enabled to persist in the morbid delusion that we are separate from one another, and separate from the larger body of Great Nature. To cognize that we and all living beings are precious parts of a greater whole would arouse genuine conscience and allow us to leave behind primitive and barbaric demarcations of difference like nationalism, racism, sexism, classism, and money.
When we emerge from this dark age of individualist hallucination the world will turn right side up. People in contact with genuine conscience will be powerful, and sick sociopaths will be cared for with compassion. What has real value will be cherished, and the counterfeit will be set aside.