Innocence, Consciousness and Conscience

I think it’s so interesting that with each age we view the previous time period as being more innocent. We surround that time with the golden hue of nostalgia, thinking about simpler times and days gone by. Innocence lost. That is the ‘Western’ culture’s story, we see it again and again and never seem to tire of it. If you’re looking for an example of this simple narrative it’s right at the start of our foundational text the Old Testament, right after Genesis in The Fall. I think part of our need for repeating this dark tale comes from not really drawing the marrow from the story. So, we keep coming back to the same old bones. I speak about the story of the fall a good amount in relation to agriculture, but in this article I’d like to chew on these bones to help us a reflect on our own consciousness.

The story of the fall and the assumptions that roll with it are played out on every level of our culture and personhood. We all start innocent, which is understood as pure. Then, over time as we age we ‘lose’ that innocence and become conscious and exposed to what’s going on, in a more detached way. And this we understand as a corrupted state, after the forbidden fruit has been consumed and we have ‘fallen from grace’, from a holy (whole) state, from ‘of being with at one with God’. So it seems in our cultural narrative, consciousness and the loss of innocence and wholeness form a linear equation of sorts.

Our definition of consciousness is based on the idea of knowledge and knowing. This idea of ‘knowing’ came from Ancient Greece. This is where the origins of our ideas about science and knowledge started. Coming part and parcel with science and knowledge was also the concept of Conscience. Which literally means con (with) and science. The root of the word science has to do with dividing. And it was understood that knowledge came from this process of taking things apart. So, knowledge is gained through breaking up the whole. Innocence literally means to have no knowledge of what we are doing, (in-) means not or no, (-nocence or nescience) means knowing. Our modern understanding of the word innocence has an ethical and legal overlay. Innocence doesn’t mean ‘not guilty’, but rather is referring to a state of being. So these words all have consistency and are telling us a story about how we see life. About a hierarchy of consciousness that we deeply believe in, that’s founded in our oldest stories and language. We need to question if this narrative is the whole truth or if  there other forms of consciousness and other stories or parts missing to our story.

Whenever someone says anything to me about being ‘conscience’ I cringe a little. In part, because forty years ago when I was starting to wake up to a bigger picture I used the same term. But this categorization of our knowledge is tricky business, because with this idea that you have a higher or special consciousness we ‘other’ everyone else and the rest of the animate world. As I’ve grown older I’ve come to new levels of consciousness so many times I’ve realized these are not levels of consciousness but rather layers of consciousness. We are just like trees with each ring being a layer of consciousness and time.

These layers come from our experience with the natural world. We imagine our consciousness is human and as such special but this has not been my experience. On the earth there are thousands of forms of consciousness all of whom hold a particular niche in this reality. This reality was made for them, for us. And at the same time it is also true that through our lives we sing that reality into being. Our perception feeds the pro-generative template of our reality.

Old cultures that are what we would call animist, such as First Nations people, have a clear understanding of this cosmology. Their ceremonies didn’t just celebrate these realities, they fed those gods to help create the channels for the fecundity and generosity of the Earth. When we see the world as animist we are very aware there are many different kinds of consciousness just like there are many biological forms (plants and animals) on the Earth. And we are made up of these diverse consciousnesses. There is a water consciousness in us, and a stone consciousness. There’s animal consciousness and fish and birds and reptile and plant consciousness. Once I had a dream and in it I was a mountain, so I know there is mountain consciousness too.

In this time of disintegration and division we need to think about which consciousness will serve us. Imagine a river valley and great plain between two mountains. And on each mountain a different people that holds a different consciousness and view of reality. And that these two group are at war, which threatens the very wealth and fecundity of the land. This is where the world is at now. In such a time it does not serve us to be adhering to one people or the other, one mountain of facts or the other. And we seem to have polluted the river or water consciousness that flows between the two mountains. So at this time the consciousness that serves us best is that of the Eagle. The Eagle flies the highest over the land and sees everything equally at a distance. They are not attached to either side of mountain, there is mouse consciousness everywhere. Even if we set fire to the whole valley and create great harm between the two groups of people they will just fly above it all untouched and move on to the next valley.

Interestingly in the west, in our earliest philosophy and science we too valued the Eagle’s consciousness. We valued the insights and knowledge that came from ‘logos’. These insights of the muse were truly ‘objective’ because they were genuinely from outside ourselves. It was also well understood well into the Christian Era that birds held this prophetic knowledge, which they would pass on to initiates on behalf of the dead, or those on the other side. As this knowledge came from someplace far outside ourselves and our dualistic reality, it was often given in the form of a riddle of dreamlike vision. Much of the understanding and the value of ‘objectiveness’ was lost with Platonic philosophy that swapped logic for logos. Saying that we could use reason to find and express objectivity. This fatal shift meant we would draw our guiding knowledge only from one aspect of our self, our reason. From that point on western culture has been trapped in a world of our own making. This shift also extinguished the possibility of true objectivity or self-awareness.

Other cultures, thankfully, have other narratives that can act like trellises for our life’s journey to coil around. An old Buddhist story and understanding of our life’s journey entails three acts not just two. At the start, just like in our biblical story there is innocence and a tree. In this story we look up and we see a tree. In the beginning for us the tree is a ‘tree’, it is whole and one with everything; with us, with the sky and the earth. In the second act of the story one begins to see parts of the tree and the tree becomes more and more broken up. In our attempt to know more about the tree we lose the experience of ‘tree’. We begin to shift our focus and with it we shift what we value about the tree. Maybe we do this for survival, for us to use or sell parts of the tree. And as we narrow our focus the tree becomes less and less whole and connected to everything, and more of an object or commodity. And in a sense we’ve once again found ourselves out of the garden.

This would be the end of the story if it was another version of The Fall. But this story has a third and final act in which we have spend our ambition and become old and wise. At this point in the story we’ve used all the parts of the tree to sustain our life, and we live in a state of gratitude and thankfulness for the tree. We have made houses, boats, furniture and utensils with it, it has kept ourselves and family warm. We have cooked our food with it and told stories by the light it gives as fire. We have used its leaves and twigs, roots, bark and buds for food and medicine. And with all those connections stretching out like the trees limbs to everything, and by feeding our deep gratitude to the tree, it becomes whole and holy once again. In the end of the story we are content simply resting in the tree’s shade. And we too have, through our work and gratitude, become whole again and one with the tree and all things.

But let’s be clear in this third act our innocence is not regained, we don’t go back. We don’t forget all the tree’s parts and biological systems. But rather this knowledge is diminished and no longer separates us from the tree. It’s diminished by the magnitude of the Earth’s generosity, and our experience of being on the receiving end of the tree’s beauty and all her gifts. Because of our relationship our feeling towards the tree is deeply felt and acted upon. And this feeling of value surpasses and dominates our knowledge of the tree’s parts and their worth.

This story highlights the difference between consciousness and conscience. In the biblical tale and in our scientific narrative of reality these two have been separate for at least a couple of thousand years. Consciousness is a mental state of knowing. Conscience is feeling that knowledge. The two are always meant to accompany one another because the knowledge is so dangerous if it’s not grounded in the feeling of wholeness and oneness. The feeling part which is so painfully missing these days is like an invisible tendon, connecting us to the whole body of reality. This connection is essential so we remember our wellbeing is inseparable from that of everything else’s well-being. Like the tendon in our arm, our knowledge and conscience guides its actions in an obligatory way to benefit the rest of the body and not just itself. Part of that obligation as a human is to act for change when there is imbalance. You need not look far and it need not be complicated. Usually the changes we need to make are right there in front of us. Generally our obligation in this life is to bring peace, joy and love with you wherever you go and to diminish the unnecessary suffering in the world. And just to be clear this isn’t likely going to happen online while you’re drinking a coffee, that’s too easy. These changes which are held in place by the bonds of our illusion are only corrected with great effort. With ‘right thought and right action’ as the Buddhists would say.

So we don’t need more consciousness, the bricks of facts and knowing are only building ourselves a tower of isolation. we need more conscience, a knowing that’s felt and connected to everything else. And here’s how that might look. When we actually feel the knowledge and all the implications and injustices it reveals, and then act on what we know it begins to change the world immediately. This is very unlike gaining more and more knowledge which essentially acts like books on the shelf or a computer file, doing nothing in reality.

We don’t need to arm ourselves, make war or start a coup d’état, we just need to not support them and the whole thing will collapse in on itself like a house of cards. Here’s what you might think about when looking for changes and right action. First, stop looking for a cause and a villain outside yourself. Second, focus instead on the thousand decisions we make everyday that support the industrial corporate monstrosities that are ruling us and destroying the Earth. The only way to do this is to stop buying their shit. For many of us this means going back to the land and living a simple life. Grow your food, make your own house and al the things you need including medicine the traditional way by hand. For folks who are living with no access to land, they can still exercise the power of conscience through choice and make what they need by hand. Act by supporting what you believe in. As they used to say, “put your money where your mouth is”, which meant whatever you say or think you believe doesn’t mean shit until you cross the line and invest something in it.

But I grant you it’s tricky now because as soon as a grassroots or non-industrial alternative food choices or medicine arises the corporate world is onto it and buys the company out or makes a cheaper version. And both the quality and the karma of the object suffer. Whatever foodie trend or alternative diet you’re on there is an easily accessible cheap industrial option just a click away. So, we need the foresight to see past that easy choice and the discipline to make an effort towards a better choice. Which means your days are filled with researching, driving around and paying more for everything. And, nobody is going to give you props for being a conscious consumer. More likely, if you talk about it, folks will just think you’re a pretentious yuppie.

So that’s it?
Yep that’s it. If you actually act on what you know the world will change. And this is the time.

When we live a handmade life what we find valuable the industrial world can very seldom offer. I don’t want plastic crap, I want good hand made things that don’t cost the Earth so much and that will last my lifetime. I don’t want food that’s GMO or produced with chemicals, I want heritage fruit and veg grown in a wholesome way. I don’t want to live in heartless home that’s buzzing with EMF’s and that’s full of stuff that’s off-gassing. I want to live with a hearth and fire, surrounded by my Gods of Wood and Stone. I want to breathe good air and have my feet connected with the Earth’s resonance. And I want to use the herbs that grow around my house to heal and keep me in good health.

If these are our choices, it’s time to make them a priority.