Tuesday, March 27, 2018

From Double Consciousness to Pure Consciousness

Back in 1903, in his book "The Souls of Black Folk", W.E.B. Du Bois expressed an observation that has become a standard paradigm for looking at race in America for the past 90 or so years.

"[T]he Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world,—a world which yields him no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one's self through the eyes of others, of measuring one's soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness,-an American, a Negro, two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder. 
The history of the American Negro is the history of this strife-this longing to attain self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self. In this merging he wishes neither of the older selves to be lost. He does not wish to Africanize America, for America has too much to teach the world and Africa. He wouldn't bleach his Negro blood in a flood of white Americanism, for he knows that the Negro blood has a message for the world. He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without having the doors of opportunity closed roughly in his face."

As mentioned above, these paragraphs have had a lasting effect on the way many Black people see their experience in America. According to one article, the double consciousness concept, describes the quintessential Black experience in America.

["The Veil and Double Consciousness", http://xroads.virginia.edu/~ug03/souls/defpg.html]

 I wanted, however, to look at this notion from a different perspective. I wanted to see how, one hundred years later, we can actually attain what Dubois sought, which is to realize not a double consciousness but one, true consciousness. 
The conventional approach has viewed double consciousness as a problem of American racism and prejudice, implying that if the white world would only change its racial attitudes, Black America will finally be able to thrive, and black men and women would become whole. 

Struggling to abolish or reduce racism in other people is definitely a worthy approach. No one wants to let those who practice prejudice or racism off the hook. There are some who assert that racism will never go away because it is part of the very foundation upon which American society is built. Some say that waiting for these whites to change their attitudes is a sure way to give away our power, because our own development is put on the back burner while we focus on gaining acceptance into institutions already developed for the majority, leaving our acceptance or exclusion entirely up to the whim of people who have historically been abusive and manipulative towards us. And finally even if racism were to disappear, that doesn't mean there would not still remain massive amounts of work to be done in terms of healing ourselves, rebuilding our family structures, acquiring land, building up business and manufacturing facilities, reconnecting culturally and mentally with our African past, shifting our attitudes toward learning, cleaning up the devastation left in our communities after decades of drug, crack and alcohol abuse and strengthening our relationships with each other.

These are valid points and the weight they should be given is debatable. But one thing is certain, trying to abolish racism shouldn't be the only, or primary strategy we use to advance and progress and ultimately it is not the most significant factor causing this problem of double consciousness. It turns out that the crucial factor in maintaining a more true, conscious self, is our own outlook, or ultimately our own self-concept.

If we look more closely at the dilemma DuBois describes, it appears he's actually describing self consciousness or public self consciousness. Someone who is self-conscious is easily embarrassed and nervous because they feel that everyone is looking at them and judging them. Public self-consciousness is an uncomfortable awareness of the self as it is viewed by others. It's being acutely attached to what others think of you. This kind of self-consciousness can result in self-monitoring and social anxiety. Low self-esteem can cause unhealthy self-conscious emotions. 
[Tangney, J. P., &; Tracey, J. L. (2012). Self-conscious emotions. Handbook of self and identity, 446-478. New York, NY: Guilford Press.]

As a minority population in America in the 20th century just out of a brutal, abusive slavery, with trace amounts of education, self knowledge, and high levels of dependency on the white world for so many basic needs, it is no surprise that an uneasy self consciousness would arise among the black population. Over the decades this white world has appeared to become more powerful, pervasive and unwilling or unable to change and our dependence on this white world for jobs, food, clothing and shelter has increased. Racial prejudice, racism and discrimination still remains a  problem.  It's been 105 years since DuBois wrote about double consciousness and we're still having to proclaim 'Black Lives Matter.' If this racism and discrimination is tied to our fractured consciousness, what can we do different to begin to heal ourselves and become our whole, truer selves? 

The answer lies with understanding how low self esteem relates to double consciousness. 
All of our observations and perceptions depend on our own sense organs. 
Everything that happens, takes place in our experience, or- in our consciousness. What appears to us as the 'outside' world is interpreted and filtered by our own beliefs - to create what we experience.

“Two people may share the same environment but not the same experience. The experience is what you make of the environment. “You can shape all this by how you frame things. You can shape both your environment and yourself by how you act. It’s really an opportunity.”

"Our lives are most affected by the way we think things are, not the way they are. The way we think things are affects us most." ~ Jim Rohn.

“Your experiences today will influence the molecular composition of your body for the next two to three months or, perhaps, for the rest of your life. Plan your day accordingly.”
~ Steve Cole is a Professor of Medicine and Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences in the UCLA School of Medicine.

So, we don't internalize the environment, we  actually internalize our perception of the environment.
And this is the importance of self esteem. When we look out into the environment what we are seeing is ourselves.
"As a man is, so he sees." ~ William Blake

 The lower one's self esteem the more one believes in standards set by others and the more important they become. And if the person feels his success is based on the approval and acceptance of others, it makes others appear far more important than he or she is. The higher our self esteem, the more independent we become, the clarity with which we see reality increases, and we become more capable of realizing true success.

“Because one believes in oneself, one doesn't try to convince others. Because one is content with oneself, one doesn't need others' approval. Because one accepts oneself, the whole world accepts him or her.”

~ Lao Tzu

So we may not be able to directly change the 'white world', but we can change our view of it- and our view of ourselves, thereby changing the nature of our relationship with it, to our benefit.

The health of our very being must become our highest value and our most central focus.

The interactions between black people and white society over the past 379 years have all the hallmarks of an abusive relationship. It has been a history of insults, put downs, physical assaults, psychological manipulation, control, denial, bribery, paternalism, and patronizing concern. And the best way to heal from this is not to seek acceptance and better treatment from the same ones inflicting the harm, it is to rebuild one's sense of self. Living in such an environment, demands strong character with a clear sense of identity, purpose, competence and worth.

To thrive within such an atmosphere we really have to know who we are and trust ourselves. To try and deal with this society with low self esteem is to be at a serious disadvantage and will ultimately affect our ability to survive. 
High or low self esteem is not something one has or doesn't have. (It also may be true that we have high self esteem in one area of life and low self esteem in others.)  Choices do exist, yesterdays patterns do not have to become tomorrow's.  The belief that we are powerless, in all this, becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. Self esteem can be developed. It is action based. There's a lot more we can do and build in America, if we are willing to take responsibility for our own lives. 

High self esteem turns out to be the key element needed to move us toward greater growth and development. It can boost our creativity, independence and clarity of judgment. It can turn us from simply functioning as consumers into being producers.

By self esteem, I don't mean the oversimplified, trivialized, feel good notion where people are praised for just about everything they do, dismissing the importance of objective accomplishments. That is the pop version of self esteem that is divorced from both behavior and character. 
What follows below is an explanation of what true self esteem is. It is based on six principles and I will include a seventh at the end. The original presentation was addressed to individuals, which is the necessary foundation, but think of the material below in terms of the greater black community, and and how it can apply to us as a people as well. Put into practice, this may be the missing ingredient, the next movement, and the next call to action in the march forward- for black people in America.

This approach doesn't require separating from America, attacking America nor embracing any and everything America promotes. It simply requires embracing a process meant to enrich our inner experience and then manifesting it through action - for as long as we live here on American soil.  It is a way to navigate in America towards the type of success that has been illusive to us for the past 150 + years.

What is Self Esteem?
Self-esteem is made of two components: (1) trust in our mind, in our ability to think, to respond effectively to challenges; and (2) confidence that success, achievement, friendship love, respect, fulfillment – in sum, happiness – are appropriate to us. ["The Six Pillars of Self Esteem," Nathaniel Brandon, Bantam 1995]

Self esteem is a way of operating day by day in issues big and small. Self esteem is a way of behaving; a way of being. Self esteem (high or low) is an aspect of human nature. It is the reputation we acquire with ourselves consciously or subconsciously over time, through our actions. 

The principles of self esteem below are in essence 'practices' because they entail consistency and discipline. They are not things we do only when we feel like it. They represent an orientation to life that has the quality of an ethical code.
Self esteem expresses itself in an attitude of openness to and curiosity about new ideas, new experiences and new possibilities of life. It expresses itself in one's flexibility in responding to situations and challenges, since one trusts one's mind and doesn't see life as doom or defeat.

1.  Living consciously - The foundation of the practice of living consciously is respect for the facts of reality, respect for truth – recognition that that which is, is. It means recognizing that wishes, fears or denials do not alter facts. Living consciously means not confusing the subjective with the objective. 
It means not imagining that our feelings are an infallible guide to truth. We can learn from our feelings and they may even point us in the direction of some important facts but this will entail the participation of reason.
"The most effective means of liberation comes by raising the level of consciousness we bring to our own experience. The more we turn up the volume of our inner signals the more external signals tend to recede into proper balance."
 This means learning to listen to the body, learning to listen to emotions and/or the heart and learning to think for ourselves. It means developing our own standards and practices. These internal processes are crucial because action in the world is a reflection of actions within the mind. 

2.  Self acceptance means to be for ourselves; to be on our own side. It means holding the conviction that I am enough. This doesn’t mean we can’t grow from there. This doesn’t even mean liking our current condition, it is respect for reality. This doesn't mean harshly judging ourselves and engaging in self-criticism. We start by honestly accepting where we are.  And then from whatever point we may be starting, we can build our strength from there.

3. Self -Responsibility - To feel competent to live and be worthy of happiness, we need to experience a sense of control over our existence. This means we need to take responsibility for our actions and attainment of our goals.
When we realize no one is coming to save us, to make life right for us, to solve our problems, change will begin. What's also important is understanding the power we have at the present. Knowing what is in our power to change and what is not. We can't be responsible for what we have no power over but we always have power over our ability to choose our responses, and decide how to live.

 4. Self assertiveness - means honoring our wants, needs and values and seeking their appropriate expression in reality. It’s opposite is to avoid confrontation with someone who’s values are different than ours. Or to to please or placate others simply to belong. It's not aggressive, belligerence, and it's not being blind or indifferent to other’s feelings and interests. It means 'to stand up with myself, to be who I am openly in all human encounters.' To practice self assertiveness means to live authentically. 

Self assertiveness is asking questions and to question 'authority'. To think for oneself is at the root of self assertion. Self assertiveness should not be confused with mindless rebelliousness. Sometimes when people are dependent and fearful they choose a form of assertiveness that is self destructive. 
Their only form of self assertiveness is protest whether it makes sense or not. This is the immature, adolescent form of self assertiveness.  Self assertiveness is ultimately tested not by what we are against but what we are for.  Self assertiveness asks that we not only oppose or what we deplore but that we live and express our values.

To practice self assertiveness is to be committed to our right to exist.  This proceeds from the knowledge that our lives do not belong to others and that we are not here on earth to live up so someone else's expectations. It means we are responsible for our own existence and our own sense of security.  We have to believe we are important and that no other people are more important than we are. 

5. Living purposefully – – to live without purpose is to live at the mercy of chance, because we have no standard by which to judge what is or what is not worth doing. Outside forces bounce us along like a cork floating on water, with no initiative on our own to set a specific course. Our orientation to life is reactive rather than proactive. To live purposefully is to use our powers for the attainment of goals we have selected. To defer immediate gratification in the service of a remote goal. It is the ability to think and plan, and live long range. 

6. Personal integrity -Integrity is the integration or harmony of ideals, convictions, standards, beliefs – and behavior. When our behavior is congruent with our professed values, when ideals and practice match, we have integrity. In the practice of self esteem, integrity isn't being concerned with simply  external appearances. For example, one of the great self-deceptions is to tell oneself, “Only I will know”. Only I will know I am a liar; only I will know I deal unethically with people who trust me; only I will know I have no intention of honoring my promise.
The implication is that my judgment is unimportant and only the judgment of others counts. But when it comes to matters of self esteem my judgment is the only one that counts. I am the only judge from which I can't escape. I can avoid people who know me, but I cannot avoid myself.

If we have low self esteem it doesn't mean we will be incapable or won't be able to achieve success in the world. One can still have the talent and ability to accomplish much; but if it's done to prove one's worth for example to a father who predicted he would always be a
loser, nothing that person does will ever be enough. If our aim is to prove we are enough, the project goes on to infinity because the battle was lost on the day we conceded the issue was debatable. So it's always another car, another house another piece of jewelry, another sexual conquest. Yet the void remains unfulfilled. Without self esteem, anything we do will be less effective, less creative and crippled by our inability to find joy in our achievements.

In America black people have been told we aren't good enough to be equal to whites. And historically black people have accepted their criteria of what it means to be equal and successful. Many in the integration movement believed that if they met the criteria set out by the white world whether it be standards of education, housing, economic income, or political position, they shouldn't be treated with contempt or disrespect. This is the pain that DuBois expressed. This is the heart of double consciousness. It's saying "I've done everything, I'm supposed to do. I have proven I am just as good as you are...and it is hurtful and the height of injustice to treat me as less, or other." 

But true happiness and satisfaction will ever remain elusive regardless of how we are treated, if we begin by accepting another people's criteria as the standard to be equal to. Self esteem requires us to seek and develop our own values, standards and ideals and that our happiness comes from meeting them, whatever they may be. These values must be appropriate to our circumstances, our heritage, our hearts and our highest understanding of who we are. And if we maintain these principles as a way of life, true accomplishment and success is bound to follow for generations to come. 
W.E.B. Dubois mentioned merging our two selves together to become one better truer self. But as we look more deeply inward, we see that at the core of our being we are already one indivisible, true, self. The more we honor our real selves, this other false 'self' born of prejudice, contempt and pity will begin to melt and fall away. This is not to say the 'external environment' does not impact us, but as we begin make our priority our whole, healthy selves, we will naturally grow more committed to creating an environment geared toward building and sustaining self esteem for ourselves and our children. This is the foundation of true civilization.

Matthew 6:33 ~ "But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you...

"Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you."
~Luke 17:21

Pure Consciousness

Let's dig a little further into the nature of our consciousness. It begins with one question, "am I aware?" The answer to that comes from awareness itself. It is an awareness that is not attached to anything. We are aware of the trees, the wall, the sky our hands etc., and we know this by directing our attention towards them, but we know we are aware without directing our attention toward anything but awareness itself. That is the essence of our true being. 
At the core, we are not our thoughts, our feelings or our bodies. We are awareness, or the very reality of consciousness itself.

"Whosoever knows himself knows his Lord" 
~Sufi Saying

If we explore our experience, we find that thoughts, feelings, and sensations can come and go but the one ever present reality is our awareness of them. It is this unblemished, limitless, ever present awareness that is the essence of who we truly are. In fact, it is this awareness that is aware of the concept of double consciousness. It stands indivisible and unaffected by it. It is like the movie screen that is unaffected by the activities of the characters and images projected on to it, or like the space in which phenomena arise, that remains unstained after all else disappears; pure, infinite, clarity and peace. 
When one who sees is divested of all the limitations that thoughts and feelings superimpose on it, it stands revealed as the true and only eyes of ever-present unlimited consciousness. 

“What is this 'I'? If you analyze it closely you will, I think, find that it is just a little bit more than a collection of single data (experiences and memories), namely the canvas upon which they are collected. And you will, on close introspection, find that what you really mean by 'I' is that ground-stuff  upon which they are collected." ~ Erwin Schrödinger

(Erwin Schrödinger was a Nobel Prize-winning Austrian physicist whose groundbreaking wave equation changed the face of quantum theory.)

Not long after W.E.B. Dubois wrote the Souls of Black Folk in 1903, scientists began to discover that the material world they had long imagined didn't really exist. As they explored the atom, they realized that it was 99.9999999999996% empty space and scientists today still don't know what the sub-particles are made of. The leading scientists in quantum physics began to realize the 'universe' was a unified field of pure existence or consciousness, infinitely teeming with un-manifest energy. The universe is fundamentally unified, and only superficially diversified.

“I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness.” ~ Max Planck

(Max Planck, German physicist; discoverer of quantum physics. He is regarded as the founder of quantum theory, for which he received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1918.)

So we have to remember going into the 21st Century that we have no double consciousness; at our essence we are identical to the whole of the Universe itself. This is our true nature, and it cannot be divided or fractured by any society, anything or anyone.

"Your remedy is within you, but you do not sense it. Your sickness is from you, but you do not perceive it. You presume you're a small entity, but within you is enfolded the entire universe. You are indeed the evident book, by whose alphabet the hidden becomes manifest. Therefore, you have no need to look beyond yourself. What you seek is within you, if only you reflect."   ~ Imam Ali (d. 661 A.D.)