Musings on Consciousness (re-published from Heartlink several years ago)
James Nolan, Ph.D., President Southwestern College, Santa Fe
The concept of “Consciousness” has been at the center of ten times ten thousand musings since thinking beings were able to self-reflect on their own experience in the world. At Southwestern College, consciousness becomes a vibrant, immediately relevant, everyday conversation in classrooms, in coffee houses, in personal journals and writings and on vision quests. It goes without saying that there are exactly as many perspectives on, and experiences of, consciousness as there are beings, sentient and (allegedly) otherwise on the planet. For this special Heartlink, I wanted to share some notions that feel important in this evolutionary dialogue as it shows up at Southwestern College.
First, I give my respect and acknowledgment to those spirited folk in the world who devise ontological/cosmological and conceptual models, trying to get a hold on consciousness with a tour de force of intellect and science. They are keeping the fires burning from that direction. Southwestern College is grounded and relevant in its relationship to consciousness, and here is some language that comes up for me:
My perspective is that, at Southwestern College, our focus is on “Applied, Heart-Based Consciousness’” Our curriculum (and the experiences we offer) move students, and all of us, toward a more conscious way of being a Counselor, Art Therapist or, for that matter, person-in-the-world. The construct stats to unpack into phenomena like awareness in general, and awareness of one’s connection to a unified energy and spirit field in particular. Consciousness engenders “love,” a felt sense that there is, after all, no “other” and a recognition, at the most profound level, that we are each an individualized expression of Oneness, of All That Is. To paraphrase the Upanishads, “We are that.”
So, at Southwestern College, consciousness is not an intellectualized or social-scientific effort to corral the ineffable, but a way of being-in-the-world, being with each other. It leads us to sit with clients in a deeply present way and to maintain our alignment with source energy. In its fullest manifestation, there is no judgment, no blaming, just love and heart and energy – when with a client, in a pipe ceremony or while stuck in traffic. We are teaching how to apply or live consciousness at the heart level, with love, with respect, in connection.
From a lot of experience I can assure you that other graduate programs in Counseling, Psychology or Art Therapy do not speak this language, and have no intentions whatsoever related to consciousness or spirit. I believe that moving into this work from a place of heart-based consciousness leads to the creation of space in which one’s essence, which always was whole and vibrant and connected to source, can re-emerge into light and be lived with few or no reservations. Whether that is Transformation or Restoration, the words don’t really matter. The process is expanding Consciousness.
Beyond language and conceptual models, our work at Southwestern is enormously important and intimately intertwined with global-level change. When Eckhart Tolle teams with Oprah Winfrey to teach consciousness to millions; when a presidential election arouses an unprecedented level of interest and action among the most educated and among the young and heretofore disenfranchised, when the Law of Attraction becomes a best seller, when recent pop media’s “most admired person” list features Mother Teresa, the Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and when “Positive Psychology,” an evidence-based mainstreaming of perennial wisdom traditions (and Southwestern College’s long-held values) is the “bold new frontier” of the American Psychological Association– then I am reminded that Southwestern College is, and always has been, at a vortex of consciousness around which the world is dancing in a widening gyre.
Jim Nolan is the President of Southwestern College, Santa Fe