In an attempt to define the word “consciousness”, famed mythologist, Joseph Campbell looked to the ceiling of this classroom at Sarah Lawrence College. There, he saw light bulbs. He went on to explain that you can look at
that light and say, “The light is on”, meaning the bulb (the vehicle) or you can say, “The light is on”, meaning the illumination, the energy itself. How do you relate to yourself? Are you the bulb, the vehicle, the body or are you the light itself, the energy, the illumination?
I believe we are each the light. I feel and know energy. Like the bars in my cell phone, I know when I have it and know when I do not. I know when I have too much and too little. I know too, how to chemically enhance it (through caffeine, for example) and know how to release it (through exercise and, for me, writing).
Each of us is consciousness. I do not believe that we are our thoughts, for thoughts can be affected and manipulated by so many different influences (how we feel, what stimulus we encounter, our educational histories, our hardwiring, etc). What is beneath the thinking is awareness or consciousness. That is what we are, truly.
Right now, we are experiencing an unprecedented mass awakening. People are coming into consciousness on a scale we have never before known or experienced as humans beings.
We the people are beginning to take note of how we, as the human race, are affecting the environment in which we live. Through movements like organic food demand, we are developing a greater awareness, or consciousness, of what we are eating, putting into our bodies and how that effects us. People are gaining greater insight into who and what they are as individuals and personalities, stemming from an ability to have insight into one’s self (or to look inside).
Our consciousness is expanding so quickly, I believe, because we are in a state of crisis. America is in an economic crisis, the world in a global climate crisis and in America, more than ever before in recorded history, our bodies are in crisis, as a result of the food we eat and how it is made. We are developing an awareness of how we are trashing the planet and our own bodies, simultaneously.
Crisis has a way of turning on the lights and waking people up. It has a way of saying, “Wake up sleepy. Imminent danger lies ahead. It’s time for action, for fight or flight”.
How can one gain a greater sense of consciousness? Be present. That is very easy to intellectually comprehend, but very difficult to develop sustainable presence. Typically, we humans are thinking about three things: 1. The Past. 2. The Future and 3. Fantasy. Each of these states of mind removes one from a conscious state, which means in the moment, the here, and the now. Meditation is a phenomenal key.
The beauty and power of being present and in the moment is that you can perceive circumstances to be what they really are, rather than spinning them with thoughts based in our personal histories, our feelings of need or desire or projection of our own feelings onto others. When you are conscious and simply perceiving, you see so much. You become an observer. In observing, you have the potential to see reality in a “cleaner fashion”. This state of consciousness can, when practiced over long periods of time, lead one to personal insight and understanding, a greater degree of personal stillness, which can lead one to a feeling of peace and relaxation and can lead to a degree of wisdom, as one is able to communicate universal truths, as they are aware enough to articulate what they themselves have experienced as a person.
My goal, as a teacher is to assist my students in gaining a greater degree of personal consciousness of their individual power. The current system of arts training in America is sadly broken. Our institutions, now more expensive than ever, are like blind shepherds guiding their student artists like a heard of sheep, onto oversaturated paths, a path which leads to unemployment or underemployment for the extreme majority. What these institutions fail to impart is that the students are not sheep, but are wolves. Why do they not share this knowledge, this personal awareness, this understanding of what power the student artists potentially possess? I believe it is because the bulk of the teachers are products of this system too. Some teachers in this traditional path understand that they too are wolves, but many, sadly, gave up the hunt long ago and have settled in to the seemingly safe confines of the pasture, where they grow fat and eat grass all day.
The mass popular system of American arts education teaches an all arts technique approach and offers little to nothing in way of real business skills. Artists can create a work of art, but typically do not know how to make a living from it, thus the cliché of the “starving artist”. This system teaches artists to get on the typical path and to compete with other artists in the market by doing exactly what everyone else is doing (the typical commercial path). Actors are taught (consciously or otherwise) to give their ability to work over to others (like directors, producers, agents, casting directors and anyone else who holds up the job carrot). What many artists fail to experience and realize is that they have the potential to lead—not just others, but themselves. When one can lead oneself, that person can maintain forward motion and momentum.
Through teaching my technique of entrepreneurial arts training, The Hart Technique, students gain a deeper insight into what makes them tick, personally. Such awareness is vital in entrepreneurial training. Our artists typically gain a greater degree of understanding of what motivates them, as individuals, and how to follow that desire. They are taught how to consistently overcome obstacles—always with an awareness and an eye on the prize (sustainable income via one’s creativity and art and a sense of independence and of autonomy). The technique I teach is about empowering them with a loaded deck of cards, which is going to increase their odds of winning their game.
Empowered artists, who know how to effectively and unconventionally compete in their respective markets, are going to, inevitably, lead. They will lead through the building of their visions. I believe there are two rolls an artist can play, each of which is enormously powerful. 1. Artists have the potential to serve as the consciousness of a people. They can “hold the mirror up” and say, “This is what I see”. They help articulate where, how and what we are, as humans, as a society and/or a community. 2. They have the potential to touch peoples lives and very souls through their art and in doing so, sew the seeds of change in others.
How awake do you believe you are?
Here is a little exercise for you to try, if interested:
–Label your thinking. As a thought occurs in your mind, whatever it is, try to stay in the moment, not letting your self retreat to past, future or fantasy and, instead, articulate what the thought is about. For example, you can say, “Thinking about…food, thinking about work, thinking about family, etc”. Whatever the thought is, label it. After you do this for a week or so, articulate what patterns you perceive. In playing this little game with yourself, you can gain a deeper awareness of what you spend your time thinking about and how often you are thinking about each category of your labeling.
Jim Hart is the founder of The Hart Technique, Austin Conservatory of Professional Arts and The International Theatre Academy Norway.