Our Consciousness Is a Responsibility

Imagine living in a small village that has been devastated by a massive earthquake. It’s winter. Everyone is without power. Most people don’t even have a structure to take shelter in. Food is scarce. People are in pain and shock.

But you, by some great twist of fate, have a large home that survived without any damage. And you have  generators supplying you power. Your refrigerator is stocked with food.

What do you do? Do you help those who are without food and shelter? Is that your responsibility? Or do you turn on the television and watch ESPN coverage of Monday Night Football and forget about your freezing and hungry neighbors? Do you ignore their pounding on your door by turning up the sound.

The answer is easy. You help in every way you can. People are suffering and you can help.

Well guess what? People are suffering everywhere. Everyday. And you can help.

How?

With your consciousness. With your love. With your empathy. With your understanding.

A smile can turn someone’s life of despair into a life of possibilities.

Do you ever look upon your consciousness as a responsibility? Have you ever considered that your consciousness extends beyond you and your family and friends to people you don’t even know?

Perhaps you can more easily see that responsibility if you consider your level of consciousness as the amount of brightness you are able to shine onto the world. The lower levels of consciousness, people shrouded in shame and fear, live in a self-made world of darkness.

The higher levels, that of advanced mystics on the inner planes of consciousness, are characteristic of light and illumination. Famous examples of this would be St. Francis, Ramana Maharshi, Aurobindo, Thomas Merton and Mother Theresa.

The principal is that in the presence of light, darkness vanishes. Or you could say that in the presence of light, darkness has no existence. It has no substance in that it has no existence except in the absence of light.

How far is the influence of light? Very far. Just try to fathom the distance of the stars we see at night. Some are millions of light years away. Some don’t even exist anymore but their light is just now arriving. This shows that light, even from millions of years ago, is still having a subtle influence on our experience, at least our experience of the sky’s night time beauty.

But what does that have to do with consciousness, you might ask? It’s a metaphor, but it is also a description.

The Sufi saint, Inayat Khan, was said to have an aura so bright that people could read by it at night. Meher Baba’s disciple, Adi K. Irani, was known to bring people into his office and “light up.” The point is that people, who have consciousness at a higher vibration than average, are able to counteract the negative energy of those with the lower vibrational energy.

If you knew this to be a fact, and you were a being with a high level of consciousness, would you take your consciousness as a responsibility? If you were Gandhi, would you view your “soul power” as a responsibility or as your own private business?

I believe that being alive is an opportunity and a responsibility. I believe that to be as conscious as we can be not only elevates the life we live, it also enhances the lives of others.

I came across a quote from the Dalai Lama which touched upon this same theme:

Everyday, think as you wake up, “today I am fortunate to have woken up, I am alive, I have a precious human life, I am not going to waste it. I am going to use all my energies to develop myself, to expand my heart out to others, to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings, I am going to have kind thoughts towards others, I am not going to get angry or think badly about others, I am going to benefit others as much as I can.”

That sums up holistic personal development in a nutshell. I agree with all of it. For me, each day is another opportunity to love, to exercise compassion, and to remember what I am doing here in this physical form.

If as a culture, if we could put more emphasis on inner consciousness rather than on the external features of what kind of car we drive, or what kind of clothes we wear, or how many wrinkles we have, or how big our house is, we would find more peace. Heart disease would decline, violence would decline, and all the other illnesses — whether in their physical, mental, or social forms– would decline. Anyway you look at it, the light of consciosness can alleviate a lot of darkness.

So when the Dalai Lama says to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all mankind, he isn’t just being poetic, he’s being pragmatic.

What Ansel Adams Would Do

Back in 1988 I was living in Los Angeles and studying photography. I bought a camera and started taking courses at the Los Angeles Photography Center.

One of the courses I took was on the Zone System, a system of film exposure and printing developed by the legendary photographer, Ansel Adams. My teacher, whose name was David, learned this directly from Ansel Adams himself at a workshop at Yosemite National Park in the early 1980s.

When my Zone System course wrapped up I asked David if I could study printing with him privately in his studio. He said yes and we agreed upon a rate of $15 per hour. A few nights later I met him at his studio. With some assistance from David, I made a number of beautiful prints on his enlarger. It had taken about three hours. When I was done, I handed him $45.

He said “Keep it. I was working on some of my stuff too.”

I said, “Are you sure?”

He said, “Yep, that’s what Ansel would have done.” He then went on to tell me the following story: One day he was driving up the coast of California and his route took him through Carmel. He decided he wanted to see Ansel Adams so he asked around town and finally he was able to find out where Ansel lived.

He got the address and shyly knocked on Ansel’s door. Ansel answered the door. David told Ansel that he had taken a workshop with him a few years earlier at Yosemite and he just wanted to come by and say hello.

Ansel, who was in the last year of his life, was busy with his autobiography and doing a lot of archival work, but invited David in to take a look at his famous studio, and asked him to stay for lunch, giving David a great deal of his time to talk about their passion of photography.

David said he was so touched by the generosity of Ansel Adams on that one afternoon, that he decided that he would model his life on that same kind of generosity. Thus, no charge that evening for me.

So the generosity of Ansel Adams went beyond that one afternoon when it was extended to David, it was passed onto me and I’m sure countless others. And now you get to hear about it.

“It is one of the most beautiful compensations of this life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself…Serve and thou shall be served.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

It’s reminiscent of the movie, Pay it Forward, a movie that if you haven’t already seen, then put it on your list to do so. Matter of fact, go buy it. It’s a movie, not about paying someone back for a good deed they did you, but paying it forward–to other people. It illustrates how love is contagious.

Life is a state of constant flow. And giving allows us to be in harmony with that flow. When somebody gives to us, we are happy. When we give to others, though, we are joyous.

As was the case with Bill Murray in the movie, Groundhog’s Day, nothing ever really changes until we learn how give up resistance and start participating in life with love and generosity of spirit. The Bill Murray character in the movie went from being a cynical self-absorbed jerk to the most popular man in town, in the course of one day, a day that would be repeated thousands of times in a never ending vortex of time.

But after learning how to give of himself, almost a non-stop creative giving of himself, he gets liberated out of this never ending day and into a happy romance. He was lifted up to a new existence, aligned with the creative power of the universe-love.

Giving from the heart is the soul’s most fundamental need of expression. It’s also one of the fundamental laws of compensation: give and you shall receive.

I remember my first stay in Japan. After a good nights sleep, my wife Maggie and went out to lunch the next day. We ate, paid the bill, and I left a tip on the table. We walked out of the restaurant and went about a block down the street when the waitress came running after us with the money I left on the table, yelling, “No tipping in Japan! No tipping in Japan!” I’ve had a soft spot in my heart for Japan ever since.

That goes to support what a customer of mine shared with me when I worked for United Airlines. He told me that Singapore Airlines was the best airline in the world. I asked him what made them so special. His response is something I will never forget. “In the East, people know that it’s an honor to serve someone.” I hope that someday the whole world understands that.

Ansel understood that. Here are some of the final words of his autobiography, written just before he died in 1984: “I believe the ultimate objective of life lies in creative and productive work; devotion to business and money, as ends in themselves, are but phases of a developing civilization.”

Perhaps it’s time to get on with the next phase.