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The Phenomena of Grace(2)

The miracle of evolution

Our bodies may undergo the changes of the life cycle, but they do not evolve. Decline of physical competence in old age is inevitable. Within our lifetimes, however, our spirits may evolve dramatically. Our spiritual competence can (but usually does not) increase until the moment of death in advanced old age. Our lifetime offers us unlimited opportunities for spiritual growth until the end.

The process of physical evolution is similar to spiritual evolution and provides us with a model for further understanding the process of spiritual growth and the meaning of grace.

Given what we understand of the universe, evolution should not occur. One of the basic laws of nature states that energy naturally flows from a state of greater organisation to a state of lesser organisation, from a state of higher differentiation to a state of lower differentiation. In other words, the universe is in the process of winding down. Ultimately, the universe will completely wind down until it reaches its lowest state as an amorphous, totally disorganised, totally undifferentiated "blob" in which nothing happens anymore. This state is termed "entropy" and may be regarded as a force.

We can now see that the "flow" of evolution is against the force of entropy. The process of evolution has been the development of organisms from lower to higher states of complexity, differentiation and organisation.

Spiritual growth is a difficult effort because it too is conducted against natural resistance, against a natural inclination to keep things the way they were, to cling to the old maps and the old way of doing things, to take the easy path. The miracle is that this resistance is overcome. We do grow. We do become better people. Not all of us. Not easily. But in significant enough numbers to improve ourselves and our cultures. As we evolve as individuals, so do we cause our society to evolve. There is a force that pushes us to choose the more difficult path, transcending the mire into which we were born. Each of us has his or her own urge to grow and each of us must fight his or her own resistance.

The notion that the plane of our spiritual development is ascending may seen unrealistic to people disillusioned with the dream of progress. Everywhere is war, corruption and pollution. How could one reasonably suggest that the human race is progressing spiritually? But, it is our very disillusionment that arises from our increased expectations. We expect more of ourselves than did previous generations. Human behaviour that was once a matter of course is now considered repugnant and outrageous, e.g. the quality of parenting, while on average still poor, is considerably better than a few generations ago.

What is this force that pushes us, and so our whole species, to grow against the natural resistance of our own lethargy? We have already considered it. It is love. Love was defined as, "the will to extend one's self for the purpose of nurturing one's own or another's personal and spiritual growth". When we grow, it is because we are working at it, because we love ourselves. It is through love that we elevate ourselves. It is through our love for others that we help them to elevate themselves. Love, the extension of the self, is the very act of evolution in progress. It is the miraculous evolutionary force, present in all our life, that defies the natural law of entropy.

Where does love come from? Where does the whole force of evolution come from? What of grace (for love is conscious, but grace is not)? What is the origin of this powerful force, outside of human consciousness, that nurtures our spiritual growth?

The miracle of the unconscious

If we work long enough and hard enough to understand ourselves, we will come to discover a vast part of our minds - the unconscious - of which we have little awareness but which contains riches beyond imagination.

One of the ways that we know of the existence of this vast but hidden realm of the mind and the wealth it contains is through our dreams. In dreams, the unconscious can produce dramas which elucidate the causes of problems, causes of which we have previously been unaware. Sometimes, however, the significance of dreams completely eludes us and it is tempting to wish that the unconscious would speak to us in clearer language. But, on those occasions when we succeed in making the translation, the message always seems to be one designed to nurture our spiritual growth. Dreams that can be interpreted invariably provide helpful information to the dreamer. This assistance comes in a variety of forms: warnings of personal pitfalls; guides to the solutions of problems we have been unable to solve; indications that we are wrong when we think we are right, and as correct encouragement when we are probably right but think we are wrong; sources of information about ourselves; direction finders when we feel lost; pointers to the way we need to go when we are floundering.

The unconscious may communicate to us when we are awake with as much elegance and benefit as when we are asleep, although in a slightly different form. This is the form of "idle thoughts" or even fragments of thoughts. Most of the time, as with dreams, we pay these idle thoughts no attention and cast them aside as if they were without significance. However, these "idle thoughts" can provide us, not only with insights into ourselves, but with dramatic insights into others or the world outside ourselves.

A third way in which the unconscious manifests itself and speaks to us, if we care to listen, is through "slips of the tongue" and other "mistakes" in behaviour, or "Freudian slips" which Freud initially demonstrated to originate in the unconscious. When a client makes a slip in psychotherapy, the event is usually helpful to the process of therapy or healing. When the conscious mind of the client is trying to combat therapy, intent on hiding the true nature of the self from the therapist and from self-awareness, it is the unconscious that is allied to the therapist and struggling towards openness, honesty, truth and reality. Not all slips express hostility or denied "negative" feelings. They express all denied feelings, positive and negative. They express the truth, the way things really are as opposed to the way we like to think they are.

There is a seemingly alien and unwanted quality which is characteristic of material from the unconscious mind and the way it is presented in the conscious mind. It was partly because of this quality and the associated resistance of the conscious mind that Freud and his initial followers tended to perceive the unconscious as a repository of the primitive, antisocial and evil within us. It is as if they assumed that because the conscious did not want it, then the material from the unconscious must be "bad". Along the same lines, they tended to assume that mental illness somehow resided in the unconscious as a demon. To Jung fell the responsibility of initiating a correction in this view, which he did in a variety of ways, including coining the phrase: "The Wisdom of the Unconscious".

Our conscious self-concept diverges from the reality of the person we are. We are usually either less or more competent than we believe ourselves to be. The unconscious, however, knows who we really are.

An essential task in the process of our spiritual development is the continuous work of bringing our conscious self-concept into progressively greater congruence with reality. When a large part of this lifelong task is completed relatively rapidly, as it is in psychotherapy, the client will often feel "reborn", joyfully admitting that they are not the person they were but a totally new and different person. Such a person has no difficulty recognising the words of the hymn, "I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see".

If we identify our self with our self-concept or self-awareness or consciousness in general, then we must say concerning the unconscious that there is a part of us that is wiser than we are. We have referred to the "wisdom of the unconscious" primarily in terms of self-knowledge and self-revelation. However, the fact is that our unconscious is wiser than we are about everything.

Among the possible explanations for this is Jung's theory of the "Collective Unconscious", in which we inherit the wisdom of our ancestors without ourselves having the personal experience. While this kind of knowledge may seem bizarre to the scientific mind, its existence is recognised in our common everyday language. Take the word "recognise" itself. When we are reading a book and come across an idea or theory that appeals to us, that "rings a bell" with us, we "recognise" it to be true. Yet, this idea or theory may be one which we have never before consciously thought. The word "recognise" means to "re-know". We meet a concept, as if we knew it once upon a time, forgot it, but then recognised it as an old friend. It is as if all knowledge and all wisdom were contained in our minds and when we learn "something new" we are actually only discovering something that existed in our self all along.

This concept is similarly reflected in the word, "education" from the Latin meaning, "to bring out of" or "to lead forth". Therefore, when we educate ourselves, if we use the word seriously, we do not stuff something new into our minds; rather, we lead this something out, bringing it forth from the unconscious into our awareness. We were the possessors of the knowledge all along.

What is the source of this part of us that is wiser than we are? Jung's theory of the collective unconscious suggests that our wisdom is inherited. Recent scientific experiments into genetic material and memory suggest it is indeed possible to inherit knowledge, which is stored chemically in the brain, but speculation on the sophistication of the technology involved is hardly different from speculation on there being a God who orders the universe.

Spiritual growth can be equated with the development of consciousness, i.e. the development of awareness in our conscious mind of knowledge along with our unconscious mind, which already possess that knowledge. It is a process of the conscious mind coming into synchrony with the unconscious mind.

But, we still have not explained how it is that the unconscious possess all this knowledge that we have not yet consciously learned.

Exploration and Discussion

1. How, where and when have you experienced the forces of evolution and entropy in your life?

2. Consider the following activities:

  • Dreams
  • Psychic Phenomena
  • Solitude
  • Meditation
  • Free Association
  • Brain Storming
  • Keeping a Journal
  • Hypnosis
  • Prayer
  • Listening to or Making Music
  • Fantasising
  • Moments of Clarity (like first thing in the morning or before you go to sleep)
  • Reflection
  • Jogging
  • Being in touch with Nature

For those you are familiar with, say how they allow your unconscious to break through into your conscious.

3. On dreams, idle thoughts, slips of the tongue, mistakes etc. How do you usually deal with these "sources of wisdom"?

4. When have you taken one seriously and what did you learn?

5. How do you work on bringing your self-concept into progressively greater congruence with reality, or do your resist working on it?