“Anything we are aware of at a given moment forms part of our consciousness, making conscious experience at once the most familiar and most mysterious aspect of our lives.”
Max Velmans & Susan Schneider (The Blackwell Companion to Consciousness)
Thoreau, when he went to the woods of Walden Pond, was conscious of the wildlife around him and wrote in his journal, “Why should just these sights and sounds accompany our life? Why should I hear the chattering of blackbirds—why smell the skunk each year?” It was the beginning of his discovery that the year is a predictable circle. Seasons come and go, and signs are all around us to signal the passage from one to another. Often, pairs of birds return to the same tree to nest year after year. We see the same species in our area; not parrots or condors in Alabama, but wrens and cardinals and mockingbirds. Thoreau's revelation went like this: “For the First time I perceive this spring that the year is a circle—I see distinctly the spring arc thus far. It is drawn with a firm line.” (The Writings of Henry David Thoreau: Journal) This awareness came about in the middle of the 19th century; it was certainly not that spring had never come before, only that Thoreau was now conscious of it.
You may be surprised that Thoreau's awareness of nature's cycles came as late as it did. Human consciousness is spotty, with some people waking, and others, not. There has been a relatively recent explosion of knowledge, especially scientific knowledge, leading to such complex discoveries as the structure of DNA and the importance of brain chemistry. But, knowledge and consciousness are not the same thing, and the evolution of both has been uneven across the human spectrum. Consciousness has not kept pace with the information avalanche of the 20th and 21st century.
Consciousness ranges from sound asleep (unconscious), to dream sleep (consciousness shifts when we wake); to being self-aware by way of the five senses (I-me-mine); to being aware that within us, there is both an identified “me,” and a presence or intelligence that observes; to being aware that the individual “me” is part of an interconnected whole; to being one with that whole, or part of a universal consciousness with no degree of separation. Some of us experience that oneness sporadically, but not consistently. I like to think we're making progress, but judging from my own struggling consciousness, it may not be fast enough.
Increasing consciousness is the responsibility of each and every human being. Getting beyond our self-identification and personal interests is essential to the survival of our species on planet Earth. We have access at all times from birth to death to that presence within, the soul/spirit, the watcher, that is able and willing to lead us to consciousness if we will allow it. All we have to do is wake up, and ask for guidance.
In the Spirit,