In an Op-ed piece in today's NY Times, called "Clueless in America," Bob Herbert decries the falling levels of knowledge about the basic facts of history in our school-age children, and the rising levels of high school drop-outs, especially in poor or rural areas. (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/22/opinion/22herbert.html?ref=opinion)
Mr. Herbert writes:
"Ignorance in the United States is not just bliss, it’s widespread. A recent survey of teenagers by the education advocacy group Common Core found that a quarter could not identify Adolf Hitler, a third did not know that the Bill of Rights guaranteed freedom of speech and religion, and fewer than half knew that the Civil War took place between 1850 and 1900. An American kid drops out of high school every 26 seconds. That’s more than a million every year."
This is certainly a troubling statistic, and does represent an unnecessary condition of ignorance educationally. But there is yet a deeper level of ignorance afflicting the United States. This is from an AP-Yahoo poll conducted between April 2 and April 12:
“About 8 percent of whites would be uncomfortable voting for a black for president (and it is believed that the actual number is higher) and incredibly, a full 15 percent of voters think Obama is a Muslim. He is, in fact, a Christian.
Can there actually be a level of ignorance that is even lower than that, lower than blind bigotry? Well, this is perhaps too downward-looking a perspective for this blog. Let's remove the perjorative tone from the discussion and examine things instead in the reverse order, in terms of evolving "levels of consciousness," rather than devolving levels of ignorance.
In a class I taught on this subject, I described five levels of consciousness: reflex - awareness - understanding - knowing - being.
Reflex is the level of consciousness attained by most animals, and all human beings. It is akin to instinct, though in human beings operating at this level it can be distorted by a primitive ego with its irrational fears and stock-piles of rage. We all know individuals who are easily proned to explosive outbursts or who become paralysed with fear in the blink of an eye.
They are reacting reflexively to imagined threats usually (like bigots and perpetrators of most violent crimes), and this tends to become a chronic state for such people, unlike animals in the wild who react to actual threats in the immediate present, then return to a relaxed state when the danger is passed.
Awareness and understanding are the next two higher levels of consciousness. They are arrived at by freeing up the mind. This is accomplished first by clearly seeing what is going on in one's inner and outer life (awareness), and then making the cause and effect connections about the events (understanding).
Awareness can begin increasing right right from the get-go in a self-work process. Often, even in a first session, a patient may say in response to a therapist's observations about something, “Oh! I never realized that before.” His awareness has been activated and increased.
Understanding comes somewhat afterwards as connections are made mentally and repetitive patterns that were previously thought of as mysterious or cruelly random are seen in their predictable light. Hidden agendas, intentions and beliefs are accepted as personal realities.
Knowing comes with freeing up the emotions in the body. It is only from our gut, from within our bodies, that we can ever say “I know” something with certainty. That is why we say, “I just feel it”, when we are definite about something. The person who truly feels, knows their own truth confidently. Getting to a place of knowing takes hard work and determined effort. In addition to developing awareness and understanding, one must now undertake the “breaking” of the body's defenses and armoring, and really feel, especially, at first, the difficult feelings of sorrow, rage and fear. This is the “point of no return.” If a person breaks through here - and it could take several years - they will never go back to their previous levels of functioning. They are on their way to being.
Being is simply living, spontaneously and naturally, and comes from letting go. Of everything! It is living without attachment. Although awareness, understanding and knowing are part of being, they are incorporated now without effort, without thinking in the usual sense. Basic trust has been firmly re-established, but now combined with the knowledge, courage and wisdom of an adult.
The re-establishment of basic trust leads to the rediscovery that at its root, life “works”, and that at our own cores, we are loving, creative, compassionate beings. At this phase of development, a person knows that he or she creates their own reality and accepts responsibility for one's creations without judgement or blame. This person lives without attachment to outcomes, without regrets about past events, without worry about future happenings. Dualistic thinking falls by the wayside, and there is a true sense of oneness felt in connection with all others and with life. Body, mind and spirit are felt to be one. The person here doesn't think of themselves as “sick” when having a symptom, but rather experiences pain as information and guidance. There is no irrational fear of death…or life. Perfection is not demanded from oneself or others. Life is lived spontaneously.