Thursday, January 7, 2016

Consciousness Gained: An Epiphany in Jersey City

Among types of possible revolution, the one of consciousness seems key. Most likely it will come about spontaneously as economic disparities, social disequilibrium, and climate mayhem start to increase exponentially.

The forms it might assume are unpredictable. It may start in silence, without noise or fanfare, at least in the beginning.

Consciousness has many modes, many dimensions. Most of us are tuned into a fraction of the total spectrum. So progress and experiment is possible on many fronts.

Sometimes progress can seem modest, unworthy of notice. But for the person who has the experience, a small step may open to new horizons.

Here’s an example from my days of teaching philosophy at a college in Jersey City. It was a typical Philosophy 101 class. We were talking about that old puzzler, “free will”.   Illusion or reality?

Dutifully, I recited the arguments pro and con, and the discussion went well.

At the end of the hour the students filed out except for one who approached me. She looked excited, and without ceremony blurted out, “I swear I never knew I had a free will!”

“What do you mean?” I asked, surprised by her enthusiasm.

She proceeded to explain how she lived and carried on in daily life. It never fully occurred to her that she was free to guide the ship of her own existence. She explained to me that she was a “drifter”. She drifted with the forces and personalities around her, friends and school and family.

It wasn’t that she didn’t make choices on her own. That was instinctive, but more often than not, she forgot that she could make her own choices. During her epiphany, her full power to choose suddenly dawned on her with extra-special clarity. She could shape and direct her own life.   She took possession of the concept of free will for the first time.

I asked her how it felt. To her, the heigtened awareness of her own freedom was a pointed reminder of who she was. She was an agent, not a passive object to be shuttled around by fate and chance.

As we exited the classroom into the crowded stairway, she described how her view of others seemed different. The fear of being intimidated by other people seemed to melt away.

To have a strong, vivid sense of oneself as a free agent is a big thing. For the young woman it was the key to her personal revolution.

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