The Creation of Consciousness

This world in which we live is a creator of consciousness. We, humans, are evidence of that. Once matter is organised in a sophisticated structure, consciousness emerges. Mammals have an awareness, as do reptiles, insects and plants. Even the simplest bacteria may be credited with a rudimentary consciousness.

Our human consciousness holds a special place, however. We embody what may be described as self-reflective consciousness. We are aware of our awareness. While we may experience our human consciousness as commonplace, it is an incredible creation. We have been described as Homo Sapiens.  Sapient means wise.

Rather than simply existing at one with nature, human consciousness has developed to the point where we may explore our origins and question our place in the world. By contrast, nature appears to be asleep.

In the Old Testament story, Adam and Eve exist in a state of blissful ignorance until they eat from the tree of knowledge, at which point they wake up. With self-reflective consciousness comes self-consciousness. Adam and Eve realised their nakedness and were subsequently cast out of Eden. This same development may be witnessed in the maturation process of any young child.  Once they become self-reflective they also lose their innocence.

The evolution of consciousness is in no way complete. That first bite of the apple was only the beginning of a whole new stage. As we mature, our consciousness continues to develop. To ensure such development we school our children. We all pass through the process of being taught to speak, read and write. In modern society, we’ve all studied mathematics, literature, and the sciences. We’ve now reached the point where we study psychology - an exploration of our own psyche.

In this study of our psyche, we have found that there is a drive toward an ever greater state of awareness. The same evolutionary drive that resulted in human consciousness continues to push as from within.  With depth psychology and psychotherapy, we are now looking at how consciousness emerges as well as what we can do to promote and assist in this development. How do we render ourselves more aware?

The creation of consciousness has become the new challenge. It may be described as the new ethos, or new myth. In Thus Spake Zarathustra, Nietzsche introduces the concept of the overman. As Nietzsche explains, “the overman is to man, what man is to the apes”, adding that much of us is still beast and questioning what we must do to continue with our evolution.

There is no clear answer as to why we should seek our continued development other than that this is what seems to be required of us. The deeper psyche actively pushes us toward new levels of consciousness. As Jung notes, “As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being.” While personally we might have no appetite for a greater awareness, this is what nature demands of us.

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Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel painting, The Creation of Adam, depicts a dynamic god actively reaching out to Adam, while Adam reaches lazily back in return. This is how it seems to be, the gods appear to be more interested in us, than we are in them. As a result, they will do whatever is required to win our attention.

Metaphorically speaking, our human being appears to be of great interest to the gods. In early myth, the gods were the spirits of nature. They were the wind, the sea, the sun, and the animals etc. Later these gods took on a human form. In Egyptian myth, for instance, the gods are depicted as half-human and half-animal. In Greco-Roman myth most all the gods are presented anthropomorphic form, while maintaining an elemental attribute or animal mascot. Zeus had his lightning bolt and eagle for example. Athene had her owl. Poseidon ruled the seas. Pan remained half-goat and presided over the forests.

What’s interesting is that, in time, these gods developed a growing interest in we mere humans. At first, they were disinterested and remained aloof. It seemed that humans operated at too low a level to be worthy of their consideration. Later they took a much greater interest to the extent of copulating with humans, thereby creating a race of semi-divine beings who possessed god-like attributes. Here we meet the heroes of Greek myth, Jason, Hercules, Achilles as well as the beautiful Helen. Our kings and queens were thought to be descendants of such semi-divine beings.

Following on from Greco-Roman myth, newer myths spoke of fully divine beings. In the Christian faith, Jesus Christ is considered God incarnate. After Christ’s ascension to heaven, there came the Paraclete, the holy spirit descended and took its place in ordinary human beings.

With the holy spirit comes the notion that God, or at least an aspect of God, dwells within each of us. In eastern philosophy, there is an even broader concept, that of the Atman, which resides in every living being.

Just as the gods did not initially aspire to be human, we humans didn’t aspire to be gods. In ancient Greece, such an aspiration was considered hubris and was thought to be fiercely punished in the afterlife. In Greek times, when one died, one's soul passed into the underworld, to the realm of Hades. In Christianity, one may ascend to the heavens instead.

In the western tradition, it was Plato who first suggested that we should aspire toward the heavens. Given that we had a small spark of the divine mind in each of us, Plato figured that the heavens were within our reach. This was the beginning of spirituality. Despite having lived 300 years earlier than Christ, the Church father Augustine considered Plato to be the first Christian. The aspiration toward the heavens is central to the Christian myth.

Following the god’s trajectory from elemental to animalistic and then anthropomorphic, as well the progression from semi-divine to a fully divine being, the next logical step would be for the gods to seen as being embodied in an ordinary individual. This is exactly what has transpired. The gods have fallen out of the heavens and into human hearts. No longer on top of Mount Olympus, the new abode for the gods is deemed to be the collective unconscious. Redefined as the archetypes of the collective unconscious, the god of old exist within each of us.

Far from dormant and disinterested, these archetypes seek to be made conscious. It’s as if the gods want in, not only to our unconscious psyche, but also our conscious psyche. The gods seek human expression, they seek to incarnate, to be embodied.

Just as we reach for the archetypal realm, or the gods, the archetypes appear to reach toward our human consciousness. In this quest for consciousness, the archetypes will force themselves us. These are powerful drives, far more powerful than our spiritual aspirations, which tend to be somewhat lazy. Rather than knocking on their door, they knock on our door. And often knock the door down, doing whatever is required to win our attention.

More so than we reach for the gods, the gods reach out for us. This is rarely a pleasant experience. The gods do not just shine brightly. When we honour an archetype, we receive its blessing. When we ignore an archetype, however, we find ourselves cursed and tormented.

Jung’s view was that the gods have become our diseases. Without Apollo, the sun-god, onside, we lose our sense of purpose. The light in our life goes out. If we fail to honour the mother archetype, we are left feeling abandoned and unloved.  Without Mars, the god of war, we feel weak and defenceless.

The gods are always with us. With an archetypal eye, they may be seen walking the streets. Archetypal psychology allows us to recognise the gods in our fate and world events, in relationship dynamics or in our addictions and physical ailments. Instead of having the gods force themselves upon us, ideally, we would make the effort to proactively engage the archetypes. Here we may look to our dreams and creative play. By exploring our inner world, we meet the gods at a level where they are not yet problematic.

If one is going to confront an archetype, it is better to face such a battle within one’s dreams and psyche, rather than outwardly in one’s life. Curiously, as one honours the archetypes within, any issues in one’s outer life appear to resolve themselves. When we care for the psyche, the psyche cares for us.