The Guiding Board of the WCCM has selected ‘Unified Consciousness’ as our theme for 2022-2023. To make clear that this is not an abstract idea, we explain it with the phrase ‘One Mind, One heart’.
Humanity has always been in deep distress but today we face distress and recognise our mistakes on an unprecedented scale. Most dangerously, we have become disconnected from the great sources of wisdom in the contemplative traditions that have always helped us in the past. Techno-science and the shallow quest for materialistic satisfaction have prevented us from seeing life as a quest, a journey home.
The symbol of departure and return is central to all the wisdom traditions. We encounter it in many of our stories and dreams. It gives meaning to the conundrums of life. Without a sense of ultimate purpose, the sufferings and uncertainties of life become unbearable. Life is a journey and, in many ways, it can feel like a cyclical experience. We come naked into this world with nothing and this is how we leave it. Childhood and old age mirror each other. What adult child caring for a sick parent could fail to feel this? Such themes and patterns recur throughout life because of infant or even pre-natal conditions. Yet it is not only cyclical because it all happens in time and so there is cut-off point that we call death.
In the quest symbol of life we question and search for something we know but don’t know. The questing pilgrim leaves a world we know and call home but which is simply not enough. So, like Abraham, the father of three faiths, or Gilgamesh the hero of the world’s first recorded story, the knights searching for the Grail or even the Prodigal Son, discontent and division send us off on a quest for the unity that can alone complete us. We return home again finally, with a self-knowledge and perspective on life that may not answer all our questions but has brought us peace and wisdom.
Unified Consciousness is our original home, our source of being, our quest and our true home. We are ‘children of God’, because everything that exists is a self-manifesting of God: creation. We are homesick for it even while we in it. An inescapable God-longing and hunger for wholeness shows every substitute to be false. We don’t have to go anywhere but we need to take the next step and life ever provides the necessary conditions to become awake.
And so, at its critical point the quest is made in stillness and the arrival home is an embrace. Really it doesn’t matter whether we call this ‘God’ or not, because it is is the essential sense of meaning in every human journey and to be on the way is to see the limits of every concept. By any name, it calls us to conscious acceptance, necessary if we are to live well and learn both how to interpret and integrate our experience of separation and attachment, love and division. Our homesickness, which can lead us into illusion if we do not recognise it, is also our irrepressible hope.
Just as God is beyond thought and language, we cannot describe unified consciousness. But we can experience it when, for example, we are touched and changed by love, beauty or truth. Children can experience it, even for long periods, which is why Jesus points to their state of consciousness as necessary for us to enter the kingdom of God. As we grow older, these episodes may seem to diminish or disappear. In depression or under the influence of our dark side we can feel completely separated from it and deny that such a simple oneness of heart and mind consciousness exists at all. The beginning of a serious spiritual practice, like meditation, which restores lost innocence at a higher level, signals that we are not hopeless if we are willing to become ‘like a little child’ again by trusting the wisdom of a tradition or selfless teacher.
The journey of meditation is a quest for this unified consciousness, our home, our true self, our original nature. It is one with our journey into God and so it is more than an intellectual search or externalised belief system. Without the practice of silence and stillness, our intellects can become dangerous and untrustworthy guides. Look at what we did with nuclear energy and social media. With meditation, however, we see daily life itself as a quest and each episode, each encounter becomes an adventure. Suffering and joy, which seem like polar opposites, begin to be reconciled. Meditation is a way of peace that leads us to see human brokenness and division as truly capable of restoration. In fact, healing is discovered to be not just first-aid but integral to the quest. We are born in order to be healed.
In every human being, the state of unified consciousness reflects our Godlikeness and capacity to be united with God by fulfilling the prophetic prayer of Jesus at the Last Supper. He prayed that we ‘may all be one’ as he and his Father are one. Their oneness is shown to us as the Holy Spirit. There is only one Oneness and all individual glimpses of it are brief encounters with it. Of course, the three in One, the Trinity, is only a model of God but no other symbol more revealing of the union between human and divine consciousness. In dance of human existence, we can recognise ourselves in the divine dynamism of three flowing persons who are One. If we grasp this feelingly, as meditation helps us to, we appreciate all other models of reality, whether in indigenous wisdom or major religions. The Trinity seems the model for interfaith dialogue of the future – if we learn to experience it in radical simplicity.
Contemplatives – the journey of meditation turns us into contemplatives by realising uniting mind and heart – help the world through loving service performed in compassion and with practical wisdom. They can enter a divided environment – a family dispute, a work team that has become toxic, a conference on the climate that is descending into a poker game – and become part of the conversation without increasing division. When we merely take sides, we add to the polarisation. When we are on the right side we are in a unified consciousness and can reconcile and heal. This is not the achievement of contemplative individuals, however, but of undivided consciousness itself: the Spirit.
During the year, the Guiding Board and National Coordinators will suggest ways in which the online series of talks by leading contemplative thinkers can become a stimulus for meditators to meet in reflection on the meaning of meditation for our world. To deepen our personal journey in this way strengthens the unity of the whole. His Holiness the Dalai Lama launched this year’s theme on December 1st during an online meeting hosted at Bonnevaux (WACH HERE).