We, of course, are not the first society to struggle with threats to our personal and collective health, safety, and sanity. Over the course of human existence, consciousness has been achieved even in the darkest days, such as the terrors of World War II that ravaged all nations and witnessed the death of 70-85 million people, including 6 million European Jews in the Holocaust.
How do we cope with such savage unconsciousness and evil? Asking that question, I went back in time, perhaps as many as 6,000 years ago, and consulted the I Ching which may be the world's oldest book. Drawing upon the ancient wisdom of the Chinese culture, the I Ching presents what we may refer to as the archetypal dynamics of change in individuals and societies. Consulting the I Ching is comparable to sitting before a centuries-old sage who unfurls the experiences of life from the vantage point of a deep wisdom. But instead of spoken words, the I Ching speaks in the recorded wisdom of hexagrams. When I posed the question of consciousness in turbulent times such as ours, the I Ching's response was "Inner Truth!"
What is this "inner truth" that may yield insight as to what makes possible a conscious mind? The I Ching speaks symbolically: "It furthers one to cross the great waters," and the text offers an image of wind as it blows over the water and stirs the surface. Within this natural and mythic imagery comes an impression of the "invisible" making itself manifest, just as the unconscious becomes conscious when the waters of our unconsciousness are stirred by events acting within and/or upon us.
For example, consider a passage of scripture in Luke 6:4 as it is recorded in Codex Bezae, one of the older manuscripts that contains Luke's gospel. In that reading, the story is told of Jesus observing a man working on the Sabbath, which would have been considered a sin. Jesus says to the man, "... if indeed thou knowest what thou dost, blessed art thou, but if thou knowest not, thou art cursed and a transgressor of the law."
In other words, how conscious is the man? Perhaps he was starving. This would reflect the consciousness of Jesus that appears in his statement elsewhere (Matthew 12:68; Mark 2:27-28) that the Sabbath is made for humanity and not humanity for the Sabbath. This principle appears in the writings where the disciples of Jesus are criticized for picking corn on the Sabbath, and Jesus defends them because they were hungry.
Consciousness may prevail when necessity confronts the law. If our child is deathly sick and we break the speed limit rushing to the hospital, we know we are breaking the law, but if we do not, the child may die before we get to the emergency room.
Breaking the law in this case is a clear choice. Why? Because we value the child's life over the law. Yes, we have broken the law, but a higher consciousness impels us to do so. Our conscience has become conscious, and this is what I mean when I refer to "the conscious mind."
The definition of conscience is "an inner feeling or voice viewed as acting a a guide to the rightness or wrongness of one's behavior." (New Oxford American Dictionary) And it should be no surprise that conscience and conscious derive from the same Latin roots (con-and scire-) that have to do with "becoming aware." To become conscious, then, is to listen to the inner voice of conscience.
But conscience is not only a private experience. It is also a collective, social, public experience. We affirm our social conscience each time we say our "Pledge of Allegiance." Consider the words of the Pledge:
I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United Sates of America, and to the
republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with
liberty and justice for all.
The Pledge of Allegiance was written in 1892 by a socialist minister, Francis Bellamy (1855-1931). Changed several times over the decades, the Pledge was amended last in 1954, when the words, "under God" were added—against the objections of Bellamy's daughter.
Obviously, the Pledge is a dynamic evolving document, revised over the course of time, but reflecting the public conscience of our nation, just as it also reflects our consciousness. This is the point of my writing. The conscious mind arises from the very lofty ideals of humanity to pledge "liberty and justice for all," a commitment which, if realized, would bring healing to our conflicted time. However, our conscious mind is shaped also from the more foreboding impulses of our unconscious, forces that make our future uncertain. Will we realize the counsel of the I Ching: "It furthers one to cross the great waters."
When Carl Jung looked ahead to the promise and perils of our civilization in the closing pages of his autobiography, he said this:
Our age has shifted all emphasis to the here and now, and thus brought
about a demonization of man and his world. The phenomenon of dictators
and all the misery they have wrought springs from the fact that man has
been robbed of transcendence by the shortsightedness of the super-
intellectuals. Like them, he has fallen a victim to unconsciousness. But
man's task is the exact opposite: to become conscious of the contents
that press upward from the unconscious. Neither should he persist in his
unconsciousness, nor remain identical with the unconscious elements of his
being, thus evading his destiny, which is to create more and more conscious-
ness. As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to
kindle a light in the darkness of mere being.
(Memories, Dreams, Reflections, p. 326)