© John and Jackie Porter, 2011. All Rights Reserved.
Mission Peak Unitarian Universalist Congregation
October 2, 2011

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Sermon: Possibilities of Consciousness, by Jackie Porter

Homily: Possibilianism, by John Porter

In 2003 and 2004 astronomers used the Hubble Telescope to perform what was called the Ultra Deep Field Experiment. For this experiment the Hubble was focused on a small, black, apparently empty patch of sky near Orion. This small, black spot was about the size of the end of my little finger held at arm's length. For each of 400 orbits around the earth, the Hubble's amazing telescope gathered photons from this "empty" spot for about 20 minutes.

After compiling these data, what did the astronomers discover? They didn't find just a star or a cluster of stars. They found about 10,000 galaxies of about 2 billion stars each that existed not long after the universe was born.

The number of stars in this "empty" space is 20 trillion or so. Many of these stars, similar to our sun, have planets, and many of those probably contain some sort of biological life. I try to imagine taking that 20 trillion and adding the number that would cover many fingertips - say about the size of my hand. Or multiply it by the number of fingertips in the visible sky. I stand in awe at the size and complexity of the universe and the many mysteries it holds.

Science has produced awesome discoveries. It has cured small pox, reached the moon, discovered evolution, and developed the internet. But science has figured out only a very small part of what there is to know. Consider dark matter. Astronomical calculations show that dark matter - which neither emits nor scatters radiation and so cannot be seen or measured - makes up 83% of the universe. That's a huge fudge factor. [In Cole Hall here, that would be 3 feet of known material; everything above that is dark matter.]

Or, think about the brain. No one knows how the human brain creates the experience of being you - these moving colored images and coordinated sounds with which we are so familiar. So neuro-scientists often call consciousness an emergent property of the brain. That just means that when everything works we get these wonderful pictures and sounds, and tastes, and smells, and sensations. No one knows how that works and we may never know.

Several years ago I had an amazing revelation. After 75 years of believing in God, it came upon me that I was an atheist. I was completely shocked, so much so that it was some months before I could admit it out loud. But as I thought about this new and somewhat dismaying news, I eventually altered my opinion. While I had ceased to believe in the God with the long white beard in the clouds - probably when I was ten - and no longer felt that there was a God that cared about me personally, I simply didn't know enough to truly say that there is no God of any sort.

So what is the moral of this little tale of mine? It's this: we may know a lot of stuff about a lot of things, but our store of knowledge is vastly overshadowed by what remains unknown. That's more than a little humbling.

David Eagleman, a young neuro-scientist at Baylor University, calls himself a Possibilian based on this idea that we need to be humble in the face of the unknown. Here's a quote from his website:

"Our ignorance of the cosmos is too vast to commit to atheism, and yet we know too much to commit to a particular religion. A third position, agnosticism, is often an uninteresting stance in which a person simply questions whether his traditional religious story (say, a man with a beard on a cloud) is true or not true. But with Possibilianism I'm hoping to define a new position - one that emphasizes the exploration of new, unconsidered possibilities. Possibilianism is comfortable holding multiple ideas in mind; it is not interested in committing to any particular story."

I urge you to go online and view the 20-minute video about Possibilianism.

So I close with this; like David Eagleman and, I suspect, many of you, I am a possibilian. I believe in the possibilities of Universalism; that is, everyone is included with no one left behind. And I share the deep optimism of our Unitarian ancestors about human potential, about what people can be and what humanity can be.

So what unknowns lie in the darkness of your small "empty" spot in the sky?

Sermon: Possibilities of Consciousness, by Jackie Porter

I truly love and deeply value our community of Mission Peak. Like all of us who come through the door of Mission Peak, I came with my own story of who I am, my wounded Christian self, my love for the Divine Feminine, my interest in mindfulness, the enneagram, and my passion to explore consciousness. I have shared some of these interests with you through the years but I've always been uneasy sharing my Christian beliefs, and I have not known just how to integrate all aspects of my spirituality in this community. So I am a Unitarian Universalist, but I'm not sure what that says about what I believe.

At a recent meeting of our General Assembly this year, Rev. Kaaren Anderson said, "Unitarian Universalisism doesn't really care if you're an atheist, a theist, agnostic, Buddhist, Pagan or Barnes-and-Nobleist. Our question for you is: does your belief connect you to self, life and others."

So while it may not be important to Unitarian Universalists to know my path, if I am to answer the question of how my belief connects me, I have to know what I believe. And it's sort of complicated. I do really want to treat everyone as my brother or sister, but does that mean everyone in the world? Jesus is my teacher but I cannot attend a conventional Christian church. I use mindfulness meditation but I am not a Buddhist. Last Sunday a friend said, you must be a Gnostic. Well, I have attended the Gnostic Church in Palo Alto; I have studied Sufi stories, the I Ch'ing, and read Tarot. What would that make me? While I really like John's new name, Possibilian, I forge ahead. I realize that I have had a progression of beliefs about Christianity and myself, and this is my consciousness. Most people know I have a passion for this subject and, have done some thinking about it. I want to share some with you this morning.

Ken Wilber and his recent book on Integral Spirituality has been the biggest help to me on this subject. Wilber is a philosopher extraordinaire and has been called the Einstein of Consciousness. He explored and connected Western developmental psychology and Eastern spiritual traditions and came up with a spectrum or map of consciousness, of how we develop psychologically and spiritually from, as he says, "birth to Buddhahood," integrating more than 100 researchers who have written about human development: cognitive stages of Piaget, Kegan's order of consciousness, Kohlberg's moral development, and Spiritual stages of Sri Aurobindo, Spiral Dynamics and many more. As a whole, they suggest that all of us as individuals develop our consciousness in very specific stages, and cultures evolve thru stages as well. I want to share a tiny bit of his integral work with you: the map of these stages we progress through. There are different names for them, but Wilber uses the names originated by an earlier philosopher Jean Gebser.

Show Slide

Super Mind Over Mind
Meta Mind
Global Mind

We start at the bottom as newborns in the Archaic level. This is when we are connected with mother and live in our instinctual bodies.

Next we move into the Magical world of the child who lives in the here and now, is very concrete in understanding the world around it. "My" needs and "My" wants predominate. Joseph Chilton Pearce wrote a popular book about the Magical Child years ago. Culturally this is still evident in Tribal cultures.

The Mythic level is next when our minds begin to develop and we create stories to tell about how we understand the world. Our world view expands from "me" to "us", to my family and race, my religion, and my country. In the cultures the great myths were created and used to explain everything including how we were created, evolved, and God. This stage is very absolutist, the myths of religion being the realm of true believers. Other religions are tolerated as maybe true for others but not for me.

The fourth level is Rational. This is the mental stage when our brains develop and our consciousness is centered more in our minds, which are grounded in logic and science. We believe only in what can be proven with our senses. We develop an independent ego self which becomes self-protective and pretty much manages our life in the world, making our own judgments and decisions.

The fifth level Wilber calls Pluralistic - more than one belief! We begin to question our own rigid belief systems, and our interest expands into other realities. We can now include people of other races, religions, sexual identities, and nationalities.

At the 6th or Integral, our sense of self is shifted out of our own narrow ego as we integrate our body and mind. We own and value all levels of our earlier self. We engage in environmental and social concerns and drop competition in favor of concensus. We recognize our world as a "global village" and become more comfortable truly embracing the world's many peoples and their religions. We may experience moments of angst while transitioning among these stages. We know there is no outside god in the sky. We may begin to yearn for something greater than ourselves and turn to an Eastern religion to explore some form of training which will help us make an inner connection.

Beyond the Integral, the higher transpersonal levels begin with the serious meditator developing the inner witness and shifting the sense of self from the personal to the essence self and ultimately to the universe.

I wish these shifts in consciousness could be easy. It reminds me of a joke John told me. Have you heard the story of the Buddhist who goes to the hot dog vendor and says, "Make me one with everything?" It's not that easy but we have help. We have the enneagram, the meditative practices of the Eastern religions are available, and there are other spiritual teachers today who can help. One of these is Eckhart Tolle. Last Sunday we started our 5th class studying his book, A New Earth.

So Wilber's map of these stages is very helpful. The boundaries between them are very fluid, and sometimes we get stuck in one for a long time. We interpret our experiences and beliefs according to the stage we are in. For instance, in the Magical stage as a child I really did believe that there were, "fairies at the bottom of our garden." But by the time I was in high school, I knew that fairies and hobgoblins which used to hide under my bed were not real, but part of my imagination.

One author says: "Once you start viewing human life as an ever-unfolding developmental process, passing thru specific stages and spiraling up into greater...heights of increasing complexity and consciousness, you'll wonder how you ever conceived of life in any other way."

Like 70% of the country, I was emotionally acculturated in the myth of Christianity. I was a true believer until my consciousness was pushed open by the flower children. As I slowly evolved I have been able to see my Christian path in these stages of consciousness.

In the Magical stage, I experienced Jesus as someone who loves me personally. I sang "Jesus loves me" and it made me feel good - an egocentric view, for sure.

At the Mythic level, I was baptized believing that Jesus was the Christ, the only Son of God. This stage is absolutist in its beliefs of truth. Only believers in Jesus Christ would be saved.

In my Mental stage, Jesus became a teacher and healer who was a real human but was also divine. He said God is love but I began to question if he really lived.

During my graduate work in Transpersonal Psychology I experienced several of the world's religion and I saw that while Jesus was one of the world's great teachers he was certainly not the only one. I came to believe that the Holy Spirit speaks through many people and in many languages to bring the saving message. And that saving message is that we are not separate people hanging out in the universe by ourselves. We are connected imperceptibly and wholly with everything. We are in essence one: one with all that is.

So that's a sketch of how my beliefs evolved and a map of consciousness which has helped me. I was wondering about connecting to Mission Peak, besides really liking everybody. I know we "respect the interconnected web of existence" but I was still having a hard time putting my finger on exactly what Mission Peak believes. So I decided to read Peter Richardson' little book Exploring Unitarian Universalism Identity and I got really excited. I can see how our Unitarian Universalist religion has progressed slowly through its various stages of consciousness; leaving the mother Anglican Church, coming to North America to find freedom to believe as they wanted; clustered in New England where, almost minister by minister and congregation by congregation, they struggled to create the freedom to form their own beliefs. These early ministers were very well educated even then, reading and studying the world's great religions as well as the Christian Scriptures. They encouraged their congregations in shifting from various forms of rigid theism to become more liberal Congregationalists, being inspired by Emerson and other Transcendentalists, becoming Unitarians, embracing Humanism, eventually merging with Universalism and more currently, opening to Standing on the Side of Love and other perspectives.

Richardson believes that it is this rich history of ours - forged in the many years of dialoging with one another about these views, and experiencing these diverse interests and beliefs in real congregations - that makes us uniquely capable, perhaps more than any other religion in the world, to embrace and serve a multifaith humanity. That's the real possibility for us.

Maybe you knew all this already, I have heard Doug preach about it, but I am just now realizing how we do it. Richardson says, "We must see our diversity of interest and our ability to grow our global consciousness as a resource and opportunity to serve the world through becoming a microcosm of what we want the world to be." As Gandhi could have said, we must be the world we want.

"Ability to grow our global consciousness" - can we really do that, are we doing it? I got excited when Richardson suggested that it would help congregations evolve their global conscious by using Robert Kegan's theory of human development. Kegan writes that most of our Unitarian Universalist congregations are made up of members who are in the third, fourth and fifths orders of consciousness, so we are either in the Mythic, the Mental or the Integral realm of believing.

We Unitarian Universalist don't have one belief. No wonder I couldn't put my finger on it! We encompass a spectrum of beliefs which spans several levels of consciousness, some of us are believers in a major myth. Some are more rationally oriented, and others are expanding into their inner journey in different ways. No stage is better than another; it's perfect wherever we are. But it is helpful to know the spectrum of consciousness, possibilities of growth, and how it is that we can be uncomfortable when we are pushed to expand before we are ready.

Several years ago we had a class here at Mission Peak called "Building the World We Dream About." It was difficult and many people left the class. Some of the people who stayed the course are now involved in our Inclusive and Diversity Committee helping us to expand our consciousness.

Our Transcendentalist forefathers urged us to know our own mind - "to be original." The task for us as individuals is to know what we believe and be aware of how we can spiritually grow.

The task for us as a congregation is to share our beliefs and support one another, provide opportunities in which we can learn and grow, and encourage each one of us to live with what Richardson calls a "generosity of spirit." We must be tolerant of each other's beliefs as we challenge our growing consciousness, always working to deepen within ourselves a center of peace and love which can embrace the entire world.

I have been on a long thread answering the question from GA: "How does your belief connect you to yourself, life and others?" I hope you also can answer this question for yourselves, be aware of your beliefs, and see where you can expand and grow.

Closing Words

Continue to share your beliefs and concerns with each other as we seek to expand our consciousness into a globalness which can minister to all of humanity. It's a possibility. It's a great calling. The world needs us.

I'm a possibilian. Will you join me?

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