What do the following have in common? – The state of the union address, the Arizona tragedy, evolution, Achilles tendinitis, Abraham Maslow, 2001: A Space Odyssey and spirituality… Maybe more than you might think!
I was rocking along this week feeling very productive, checking off things on my to do list, planning what I was going to do this weekend – you know, living life and getting things done. Then, a couple of days ago, all of those plans got thrown out the window when a sharp pain appeared in my left heel. I hobbled to the doctor who labeled it “Achilles tendinitis”. I never really thought about this diagnosis before – but I’ve since been reading about it on Wikipedia and now know more than I ever cared to about the topic. Here’s the bottom line – it hurts to walk and I have to stay off my feet a few days.
Life can sure be strange! You’re moving through all of your high-minded plans one moment and then you are struggling to get off the couch the next moment. I was supposed to assist in the program last night of a good friend’s ordination as a minister. I wanted to be there to honor her on her spiritual path, and my comments were already prepared! Alas, I had to bow out and sit home with ice on my leg and popping anti-inflammatory pain pills. One minute I’m focused on spirituality – the next on personal safety and security.
Abraham Maslow sure had it right with his famous and elegant theory of our hierarchy of needs – he pointed out that it was only in meeting lower level needs such as physiological, safety and security, love and belongingness and self-esteem would we be free to focus on higher needs such as self-actualization and self transcendence. It’s hard to focus on communing with God when your stomach is focused on communing with food. If at any time your basic needs are unmet, then in a New York minute your intentions quickly slide down to fill them.
Of course, this all makes great sense from an evolutionary viewpoint. If we don’t take care of our lower-level physical needs – air, water, food, shelter, health, and procreation – then we don’t continue living and don’t propagate the species. It is only in meeting our base animal needs that allows us to focus on our higher spiritual needs.
Human beings seem to walk simultaneously in two worlds – on the one hand, we are physical, material animals who are controlled to a degree by our animalistic nature – and on the other hand, something within our conscious awareness walks a higher path, calling us to become all that we can be, to seek connection with others, to live by the Golden rule, and to understand the meaning of life. Wayne Dyer likes to focus our attention on the higher path when he says “you are a spiritual being having a human experience”. Sometimes in our humanness, we are focused on survival. Other times in our divineness, we are focused on spirituality. We straddle a strange fence.
This really is part of our evolutionary path. In the distant past, life evolved in physical form on planet Earth – from single cell organisms to multi-celled organisms to plants to animals – and at some point, the animal that became us crossed a threshold – it moved from being an animal to being what we call a “human being”. What was this threshold? It was a shift in our consciousness. Lower life had consciousness but not self-awareness. Humans had consciousness as well as an awareness of that consciousness. We began to straddle the fence between our animal nature and something higher.
I believe that our crossing this threshold in our consciousness is what was represented by the monolith in the movie “2001: A Space Odyssey”. It wasn’t so much about the big black object shown in the film or where it came from, but more of what it stood for – that magical moment when our consciousness shifted. The animal became the human, we became aware of something within us that was already there – consciousness.
The forces of physical evolution are still embedded within us. We must still meet our basic animal needs. But the self-awareness of our consciousness has also allowed new evolutionary forces to emerge and call us to action. Something within us calls us higher, bringing the desires for love and companionship, knowledge and understanding, compassion, and a sense to connect with something beyond our human physical form. It is this desire for self transcendence – call it connecting with God, spirit or sensing oneness – which motivates us to a higher realm. In a sense, we’re being called to leave behind the straddling of the fence where one foot is planted in our animal nature and the other in our spiritual one. It’s my belief that this next threshold of moving from human to divine is what was represented by the second monolith at the conclusion of 2001. Our consciousness shifts from self-awareness to divine awareness.
As we straddle this fence between our animal nature and our divine nature, we shift back and forth between our desire for survival and our desire to live in spiritual oneness. Evolution rewarded those animals whose adaptations allowed them to quickly perceive quick changes and movements in our environment. Those who could quickly detect a changing condition were rewarded by either catching their prey or not being caught and eaten. We have hardwired within our DNA an evolutionary security system which is set off whenever there is a sharp change in the environment. Slight gradient differences are less important than big changes when our safety is at stake. That’s why you can supposedly drop a frog in boiling water and it will hop out but it will allow itself to boil to death if you slowly turn up the heat. Survival benefits from seeing conditions as one way or the other.
As we answer our spiritual calling, one of the realizations we obtain is that everything is connected. The black and white we only saw before now becomes various shades of gray. The desire to categorize everything into two categories starts to dissipate as what were previous distinctions now blur into flowing patterns of interconnectedness. Either-or thinking gives way to seeing everything as “and”.
As we slide between our animal nature and our divine nature, we shift between how we perceive things. Life becomes a battle between right and wrong, good and bad, life and death when we are in survival mode. Life becomes a dance of alternate ways of being, variety in our personal expressions, sensing life and more life when we are in our spiritual mode.
Our foot planted in our material physical world tells us that the survival of the fittest needs to quickly distinguish between what will save us versus what will kill us. Our base fears are called into play when our lives feel challenged. The 21st century world is moving fast. It can be a scary place out there. Terrorism and the recession threaten our way of life. In fear we call upon our evolutionary past and divide the world up – things that will save us versus things that will harm us. Something within our animal nature calls us to act fast – it’s fight or flight time.
This animal fear feeds our politics and our media when they can only see two alternate viewpoints – one right, one wrong. It stokes the flames of violence where we feel we must own guns, use violent metaphors in our language and when taken to extreme – actual violence as we witnessed in Arizona recently. Yes, the young man who did the shootings had mental issues. But our system of animal-based fear is what keeps us from placing any limits on emotionally disturbed individuals from purchasing automatic weapons designed purely to kill other humans. This fear says “no gun control is better than any gun control”. There is no chance for other options when fear kicks in.
If we could shift more to our foot planted in the spiritual world, then we could see how all of life is part of a grand oneness – interconnected – a beautiful web of life where the barriers we see were all erected by our humanness out of the need for physical survival. By allowing these barriers to fall away, we remove such distinctions as left versus right, Republican versus Democrat, science versus religion, one country versus another, and so on. Instead of barriers, we see gradients and differentiations of the oneness – an infinite variety within the one.
It’s not easy being human – we are still linked to our animal past becoming locked and addicted to physical needs and mired in fear of threats real and perceived – while something within us draws us to the angels of our better nature, seeking a world that works for everyone, where love and peace are the norm, where we taste the divine within our consciousness.
Every chance to melt the barriers moves us to our higher calling. This past week during President Obama’s State of the Union address, Republicans and Democrats sat together in a spirit of cooperation. Our cynical fearful side says that such a gesture is purely showmanship and not real. Our higher loving side hopes that it’s the first step in a movement in seeing our unity as Americans and humans first and foremost over our political differences.
I’m a realist in that I know we will continue to slide back and forth between our divisiveness and our sense of affiliation; a movement between survival and spirituality. But I’m also an optimist – I know that in each one of us we are shifting a little bit more towards our spiritual nature. Each day we move closer to that higher threshold and towards the day when we no longer straddle the fence, standing firmly with both feet in our spiritual consciousness.
Check out all of Mark Gilbert’s books—available at Amazon. Click here to visit his Author Page. This includes his recent one Our Spiritual Rights and Responsibilities. In this book, he offers what he suggests are the 5 basic rights we all possess by virtue of our being these spiritual beings on planet Earth — and our 2 responsibilities we all hold in relation to one another! Check it out!