Imagine being in a house that has no lights or windows and that you are exploring it with a small flashlight. You would only be conscious of the part of the house that came within the beam of your light.
Our consciousness is like that beam. Most people are conscious of only a very small part of their total being. They are like people living in a mansion, but thinking that the house only consists of a small apartment below ground level. They might not like the apartment much. It is dark, and damp, and full of spiders, roaches, and other little beasts. They attempt to clean up the apartment, but no improvement seems to last very long. The spiders and roaches keep coming back no matter how many they kill. They end up living, as Thoreau said, “lives of quiet desperation.”
The attempts to remodel the apartment have very limited results and the deepest problems are beyond any attempts to solve them. In spiritual growth we get to look at the quality of this basement apartment, and observe it for what it is. This involves telling us the truth about the kind of thoughts and feelings that occupy much of our conscious life. If that little apartment was the only place we had to deal with this could be extremely depressing.
Spiritual growth begins by discovering that we have higher levels in ourselves. Our mansion includes much more than this dank little room. When we learn how to access higher levels of the mansion, we find that they are of a very different quality. They are light, and cheerful. They have windows so you can see out, and enjoy the beautiful world outside. These higher levels are free of all those little beasts that make such a noise and smell in the basement.
For the most part, negative emotions, such as fear, jealousy, self-pity, and shame are in the lowest levels of the house. When one of these emotions is active, it is as if the person’s whole life is in the basement. The reality is that the higher levels of the mind are calm and peaceful.
How do we access the higher levels of the house? We cannot raise ourselves by our own bootstraps. The basement cannot rise and become the first or second floor. Instead we use techniques to shift our sense of who we are to a different level of our life. Take, for example, a person in the grip of fear.
When a person is overwhelmed by fear, his or her life seems to be nothing but fear. At other moments, the fear is gone and we can hardly remember it. We normally think that we are one-person having certain qualities and characteristics. A person might say: “Well, I am a worrier–my mother was a worrier–it is in the family, and I guess I will always be a worrier. I can’t do much about it.”
The error is in thinking that we are just one-person with certain distinct qualities when in fact we are many different people with many different qualities. One of our personalities is lazy and uncaring. Another is committed and deeply interested in other people. One part of us is quietly reflective, and yet another is active and boisterous. Parts of us are mean, deceitful and self-serving. Other parts are generous, truthful and interested in being of use to others. Rather than reject ourselves for being mean, we can simply observe that nasty part, and simultaneously get in touch with the parts that are more giving.
The house consists of many levels. The basement level is full of “beasts” meaning our negative emotions. The stairs show that we can access higher levels, though we do not so much ascend the stairs as we shift our sense of who we are from the basement to some other level. When my children were young, they were fond of telling me about traffic lights, that the red light does not turn green, it goes off, and the green light goes on. This is true of spiritual work. We don’t exactly get out of the basement, it is more that the light in the basement, or our sense that we are the basement goes off, and our attention shifts to the light in the higher stories.
You will notice also that you cannot look out the basement windows, which suggests that while people identify with their lower self, they cannot really see other people. They are too wrapped up in themselves.
The diagram shows a heart in the attic, to represent that at the highest level of our being we are perfect vessels of the pure love of God.
That is where the divine life flows into us most directly, and is received in the best way. We use a meditation that says: “I know that I am a spiritual being, created in the image and likeness of God. On the deepest level, I am at peace and in harmony with the universe . . . I am a beloved child of God, a vessel. The Lord works through me as His instrument. I find my greatest fulfillment when His love passes through me to others who are also His children, who are also created in His image and likeness.”
You are the only one that can access your own higher levels. You alone live in your inner world. This is why we ask you to test everything in this book against your experience. In the end you do not learn from the book but from your own life experience. Some people like to record their spiritual experiences in a journal. It seems to help them be aware of exactly when they do a spiritual task, and what happens as a result. Keeping a spiritual journal is another way of staying awake. It can help you to be more conscious of your spiritual life.
The mind is the inner world of thoughts and feelings, imagination, desire, reason, intuition, and so on. These include a vast range from the sublime to the ridiculous. We call some feelings negative, emotions such as self-pity, contempt, smugness, impatience, fear, anger and many others. Other emotions are more positive such as compassion, joy, happiness, tenderness, and fun. There are some emotions that run so deep as to lie almost beyond consciousness, feelings of deep inner peace, contentment, trust and bliss.
This suggests that there are different levels of emotions and thoughts. Some are very crude and negative. These emotions live in the damp and dingy basement of the mansion that we call the human mind. People even talk of themselves as “down in the dumps” when they are in certain moods. At other times, they are “on cloud nine” or “on a spiritual high”.
To make this journey, a person needs to be conscious that there is a need for growth. It also helps to have an idea of what their present life is like plus an idea of how to move to a better life.