Consciousness - Part 1

November 25, 2017 Length: 12:54

Dr. Rossi discusses our ability to have control over our thought processes, so that we have freedom over our minds. (Part 1 of 3)





Today I would like to share with you some of my thought processes on thought processes. I’d like to talk about consciousness, also called awareness. In psychology, this podcast would be called “Mega-Consciousness,” that is, conscious about being conscious. Very, very important topic. Of course, today in contemporary culture, there’s a very fast-growing, large movement called mindfulness; it’s about awareness.

I’m going to begin with the assertion that we are much more in control, we have more control over our thought processes than we are led to believe and than we sometimes give ourselves credit for. I would say that. So this is about freedom: freedom of one’s mind, freedom over what I think. I’m going to begin with a metaphor if you don’t mind—it works for me; maybe it will for you. The difference between a canoe and a helicopter: both are ways of transportation. I choose canoe because William James, in the early 1900s, had a saying that has really caught fire, gone viral, over these many years, and his sentence was “stream of consciousness”: We need to go into our canoe and put it in the stream of our consciousness, and then float along and see what our consciousness is.

Well, I would simply say for this podcast, for me—and, I would submit, for you listeners—that can be a total disaster. I would simply say that’s not the way to go. In fact, I would say it’s not the way as taught to me and in is my readings in the Church Fathers, particularly the Desert Fathers. They talk about logismoi, thoughts, and continually talk about choosing our thoughts, and they have many metaphors about thoughts and our minds being a tree full of monkeys that are jumping all about and talk about thoughts as uncontrolled, leading us astray. If we just go into our canoe and we go into a stream and go downstream—huh!—we just might not be aware that this stream is going to take us downstream and over Niagara Falls. Fatal.

Most human thought, if unchecked, is negative, is dark. That’s the way of the world. Now, I love our culture and love our world, and I’m not unworldly except in the sense of the Gospel, that is, that darkness that is in the culture, that’s inside me and inside all of us as children of Adam and Eve, that’s the world. The world is darkness. I’ve mentioned that they did a fine psychological study where they paid people to carry a beeper, and then when they called the person on the cell phone, morning, day, and evening, the sentence was: Just tell me, please, anonymously, what you’re thinking right now. Boom. Okay, thank you. We’re not going to use your name. And they collected megadata. All kinds of people called at all kinds of times had all kinds of thoughts, real and raw. The conclusion was: Most people, most of the time, have dark thoughts, thoughts that are taking them down, mildly depressive thoughts, worry-thoughts, resentful thoughts, revenge thoughts, fearful thoughts.

Okay, okay, okay. That’s the way the human fallen mind goes if not [checked]. Of course, that’s very biblical. We’re to be praying unceasingly all the time. When we try to be aware of God’s presence—and now comes the metaphor of the helicopter—we try to rise above, fly above—not too much—brrrrbrrrbrrr—just above my normal thought processes. Then we can become aware of God’s presence, “Lord, have mercy,” knowing that in the prayer we do have mercy and God does help us with his mercy. That’s what he does.

I’m going to play a few bars of the song, beautifully sung by a parish choir, the Holy Cross Parish in Medford, New Jersey, where I gave a retreat recently, and I love their singing. It is: “The Lord is My Light and My Salvation.” That is to say, I’m playing the song to help us remember that we can use our minds to be aware that the Lord is our light.

The Lord is my light and my salvation
Whom then shall I fear?

That’s the first snippet of this song. At the end of this podcast, I will play the entire song for us.

My point is… I’ll talk out of my own experience. In a typical day and evening and night, I’m an old man. I’m 80 years old, so I experience a hole in the middle of my night, most nights, and the hole is sizable, an hour, an hour and a half. I do my best to get back to sleep and try to pray, and that’s the way it is. I get sufficient sleep; I never feel sleep-deprived. Morning, afternoon, evening, night—in my personhood, in my life, my thoughts are all over the place. Much of the time, when I’m aware of what I’m thinking—consciousness, awareness—I’m thinking worrisome thoughts. I’m thinking fearful thoughts, or thinking thoughts of just being negative, despondent and inadequate. That’s a chunk of my thinking, and the chunk is resentful: “This person did this and this and this.” Or entitlement: “At least I deserve this or this or this.” Those thoughts come to us. I’ll call those temptation.

Fr. Hopko referred to temptation as the stimulus cue, gift from God, to turn to him in prayer. It doesn’t mean we’re really led into temptation; that means we continue to turn to God in prayer to help us. We realize how lowly we really are. In my own case, I’ve told the Lord that I’d like to use code. I have so many times in the day that that happens, there isn’t time for me to say the Jesus prayer every time I have a dark thought, certainly not even enough time to say, “Lord, have mercy.” I say one word: “No.” For me, the mental word no is code for the Jesus prayer, code for, “Lord, have mercy.” So if I’m aware—“Oh, Al, you’d better start to worry about the international political scene or the national political scene or the state of the Church or the way your students are responding or…” all the things that cross my mind, when I’m over that, I say No, and then try to be more constructed, and then try to say the Jesus prayer, but first I need to say, “No.”

And I say, “No,” oh, so often during a day, because so often for me, and I don’t doubt for you, the mind is dark. It’s just dark. We admit that it’s dark and we’re in doubt. “I just don’t know what I’m going to do about how to prepare for this upcoming class, this upcoming lecture. I don’t know what the next few lines could be in this writing that I’m doing.” Okay, but I can be aware—I love the line of Fr. Hopko when he said, “Better real confusion than false clarity”—I’m aware, conscious, of my confusion. I’m just confused; I just am confused; I just don’t know—okay, much better than to get premature closure and try to close that loop, because it just doesn’t work.

So the topic of this day, this little podcast, is consciousness, a great gift that we have in front of our forehead, our frontalis, behind our forehead, our brain, frontal lobe. That’s what we treasure. Now I will play for us the full song, “The Lord is My Light.”

The Lord is my light and my salvation.
Whom then shall I fear?
The Lord is the strength of my life.
Of whom shall I then be afraid?

The Lord is my light and my salvation.
Whom then shall I fear?
To behold the beauty of the Lord and to seek his will in his holy house.

The Lord is my light and my salvation.
Whom then shall I fear?

That song, then, tells us where we would like to have our mind much of the time.