A reflection of the Divine
When we ask ourselves, “Where Am I?” we can respond in any number of ways. Rev. Joanne poses this question and explains that we can respond from either an external perspective or an internal perspective.
Many people will respond to such a question usually from an external standpoint first, as an expression of location – I am in my house, in Cleveland, OH, USA (or wherever you are physically located), on Earth, within the Milky Way galaxy (or, if you prefer peanuts within the Snickers galaxy), or within the Universe. All of these responses are correct but make sense only in relation to some smaller or larger environment.
However, if we ask ourselves the same question from an internal perspective, responses may include – I am happy and joyful, sad and depressed, or fearful and anxious. I am single, married, or divorced. I am in a fulfilling career, unfulfilling job, or unemployed.
Unity teaches that life is consciousness, so where I am is reflected in the world I see around me. Does this mean that if I am generally unhappy and cynical that there is nothing good happening in the world? Or does it mean that if I am generally upbeat and hopeful that there is nothing bad happening? No, and no.
There is an old joke that says an optimist sees the glass as half full, a pessimist sees the glass half empty, and a chemist sees the glass as half filled with liquid and half filled with gas. There is a lot of truth is this statement. Just as our being an optimist or a pessimist does not change the amount of liquid in the glass, the reflection we see of ourselves in the world does not change the conditions around us. The world is a complex place with complex individuals in it, all of whom have an internal consciousness and agency to act upon their environment. Our Power (from Unity Twelve Powers) is not some magical ability to influence the world around us merely with our thoughts, but to influence our own patterns of thinking, and therefore change the way we interact with our environment.
The third of Unity’s Five Principles is: Thoughts have creative power to determine events and attract experiences. We must take care not to attribute to this principle the idea that the thoughts alone are all that is necessary to determine our lives. Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803 – 1882), who was a strong influence on the philosophical and spiritual life and learning of Unity co-founders Charles (1854 - 1948) and Myrtle Fillmore (1845 - 1931), said that “the ancestor to every action is a thought.” It is in that idea we are able to navigate our world and effect the changes we wish to see.
Charles Fillmore tells us in The Revealing Word1 –
Consciousness is the knowledge or realization of any idea, object, or condition. The sum total of all ideas accumulated in and affecting man's present being. The composite of ideas, thoughts, emotions, sensation, and knowledge that makes up the conscious, subconscious, and superconscious phases of mind. It includes all that man is aware of - spirit, soul, and body.
There is much to unpack in this definition, and doing so completely is beyond the scope of this brief essay. However, for me, the final sentence is key. Our consciousness encompasses all that we as sentient beings are aware of, ironically, whether or not we are aware that we are aware or not.
Another of the early formative Unity writers was Imelda Shanklin (1866 - 1953). In her book What Are You? Shanklin explains that humans have Material Consciousness and Spiritual Consciousness:
The material consciousness consists of a group of thoughts associated in a way that keeps the material aspects of life foremost in your thinking. Your material aspect of life is your total of knowledge concerning body, earth, human endeavor. If you rely on this aspect of life your consciousness is material.
The spiritual consciousness is a group of thoughts that presents the spiritual nature of life. Your spiritual aspects of life is your total of knowledge concerning God, Christ, spiritual endeavor. If you rely on this aspect of life your consciousness is spiritual.
One of these groups may engage your attention at one time; the other group may claim your consideration at another time. At the time in which the material group holds sway, you are in a material consciousness; when the spiritual group dominates, you are in a spiritual consciousness. If the total appeal of the material group exceeds the total appeal of the spiritual group, you have a material consciousness. If your spiritual thoughts are numerous enough, strong enough, and yoked snugly enough to outface your material thoughts, you have a spiritual consciousness.
It is important to note that Shanklin does not condemn, dismiss, or suggest that material consciousness is to be avoided or is inferior to spiritual consciousness, only that it is concerned with a domain of experience that is different from the spiritual. Neither does she say that spiritual consciousness alone is something to be attained as an ultimate goal. Balance is key.
There are many examples of people who are solely within one or the other consciousness to their detriment. Some who focus only on getting, doing, having, and accomplishing may sense a lack of fulfillment or purpose. And some who focus only on thinking, being, and transcendence can become so withdrawn from the whole experience that life as a human being has to offer that resentment and regret compromise the very experience their spiritual orientation was intended to create.
Rev. Joanne shares with us a personal example to illustrate how a spiritual consciousness greatly aided her in improving her family life. As a young mother, she tells us, her reactions to stress were not always as she would like them to have been. Then in her late twenties she began to discover Unity teachings about how our thoughts can create our reality. Through study, and most importantly through practice, her thoughts guided her interactions and harmony, and peace between herself and her husband and children began to improve.
She explains that the improved interactions with her family were not a result of her staying the same and everyone else changing, but by her accepting personal responsibility in her portion of the relationship, recognizing that she has the power of Power to change her thoughts and therefore her behavior, and that in doing so others will begin to respond in ways that are positive.
Just as with the question Where Am I? asked at the beginning of her talk starts from the smallest diameter circle of being at home to the largest diameter circle of the universe, so too does our ability to change our experience begin “at home” – within ourselves. We cannot expect to positively influence the world and our experience of it without first looking within, being honest with ourselves about what we need to improve and then making those improvements. Only then can we expect to successfully improve our family life; and only after improving our family life can we expect to improve our work life or local community; and only then the wider world.
Some may see this idea as pessimistic. Most people do recognize that the global community, national community, and local community all need to, and can improve. With things such as violence, environmental degradation and famine posing very real and serious challenges, those of good conscience want to jump in and help. And we can help – by first changing our thoughts, then our personal behavior that will in turn have a positive effect on our immediate circle of influence. This will in turn will have a positive effect on a wider circle, which will in turn have a positive effect on an even wider circle, and so on.
Rev. Joanne tells us that when we try to fix the world before we adjust our own consciousness, we expend a lot of energy and end up frustrated, angry and upset trying to make the world fit into the state of consciousness we want to see. But when we do inner reflection, we can discern what is our to do to bring the desirable state of consciousness about.
Because every person has their own state of consciousness, moral foundation and world view, we cannot assume that everyone agrees with what we personally believe to be “correct.” The history of humanity has shown that in many cases two people or groups of people can be equally confident that their view of how things should be are diametrically opposed. Who is right? Do we need to adjust our consciousness or do those with whom we disagree need to adjust theirs? Again, this question is beyond the scope of this essay, but suffice it so say for now, when such disagreements occur, we can only truly change our own thoughts and actions. As we continue to learn and grow, we can aspire to respond as St. Francis of Assisi (1181 – 1226) prayed:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy;
O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Seems like good advice. Now, Go and Be the Light.
For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 1 Corinthians 13:12
This week, pay attention to where your thoughts are in consciousness. When you are caught in error thinking, choose again! Return to a consciousness of God. What Divine aspect can you bring forth in this moment?
1Revealing Word, The, Fillmore, Charles, Unity Press, 1959
2What Are You?, Shanklin, Imelda, Unity Press, 1929