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The Stewardship of Consciousness

by Tom Burns, Ph.D.
Scientific Symposium I    1988

Since this talk concerns the science of psychology, perhaps we could spend just a minute talking about what that is, because many people do not know what it really means. Many believe that psychologists just spend time talking to people with problems, and that that's about all there is to it. There is, in fact, much more.

Psychology is the science of behavior. Now I am not going to spend much time talking about science, since a previous speaker has done such a good job with that. The fact that psychology is a field of study which has adopted the scientific method is important in distinguishing it from other fields which are more treatment-oriented, such as psychiatry. Psychiatry is a specialty practice of medicine, whereas psychology is a field which studies behavior, and, as such, uses the scientific method.

This first illustration is a highly schematic representation of the empirical method. What psychology, like any science, attempts to do is to move from theory to some sort of testable hypothesis. This hypothesis is then taken into a laboratory situation where it is empirically tested. The resulting data, which rarely come out like one thinks that they should, are interpreted, often resulting in the formation of new theories. So while the figure depicts a circle, we might more accurately think of it as a spiral in which knowledge, both in the form of data as well as more precise questions, is increased every time we take a turn around the cycle.

Psychology adopted the scientific method in about the late 1800's, thereby becoming psychology, and has proceeded in that fashion ever since. Obviously, science produces information which tends to be useful. There is, however, a vigorous discussion between basic and applied scientists concerning the appropriateness of practicality as a motivation for scientific endeavors.

Clinical psychology is an applied area in which an effort is made to use what comes out of the empirical psychological laboratories for the benefit of those encountering various life problems. The present talk will be more from the applied point of view than from the more theoretical aspect of the cycle in the illustration. I have been a practitioner for about fifteen years now, and I figure that I have logged about 15,000 hours in intense dialogue with other human beings, so I am going to be speaking from the viewpoint of a scientist, but as one who has been observing the practical application of that science for a while. Of course, I will also be talking as a URANTIA Book reader.

The title of this talk is "The Stewardship of Consciousness and The New Science of Mind." The word "stewardship" is interesting. It is mentioned often in the Bible, and much thought has evolved among theologians around the concept of stewardship. In The URANTIA Book, Jesus gives at least four parables on stewardship (*1853, 1763, 1876, 1893) and one discourse. (*1822) The use of stewards and stewardship is an image or a metaphor for man's role on this planet.

In one of the most interesting parables, the one I call the "use-it-or-lose-it parable" (*1875), several stewards were given a sum of money by their master. One steward wanted to take very good care of his master's money, so he tied it up in a napkin and kept it. When the master came back for an accounting of the money he had given out, he learned that one steward had invested it such that it earned interest and another had similarly gained a return on his money. The steward who had kept his money had actually saved it. Nothing had happened to the money; it was still there and he gave it back to his master. This steward had not stolen the money or done anything dishonest with it. However, in the parable he is treated very harshly. Not only was this steward chastised, but he lost the money entrusted to him. The idea is that what you are entrusted with needs to be somehow not only preserved, but also used. What a good and proper steward does is use the resource entrusted to him, take that resource on behalf of the master, and use it for gain.

I mentioned the Bible. That is a sacred book of writing, for those of you who come to us from the New Age. Certainly not a perfect work, but in Genesis, around the first book, 26th chapter, man was told to have dominion over fish, birds, cattle, and every creeping thing that crawls over the earth, with obvious reference to men.

But the implication there is interesting. We do not think about having dominion over man too much when we consider stewardship. We think about conquest over man--there has certainly been a lot of that in our history. One group conquers another group. An authoritarian approach is used in conquest, both with animals, with the land, and with each other. But I do not know if anybody has ever thought about the fact that our brain is part of that admonition for stewardship--that we must have some sort of control over this nature organ, which is really, from a body sense, not much different from a bladder. It is something we have to learn to have control over, or it will do to us psychologically what our bladders will do to us physically if we do not learn control. And I think most of us have had the experience of our brains doing that.

The next figure is one depicting that we have a brain that will just run roughshod over us if allowed to do what it does naturally. It comes with some sort of biological programming for which we should all be very grateful, because it got us this far. Part of that programming is to be very afraid. It is to kill anybody who makes us angry; it is to take whatever we want, no matter to whom it belongs. It is to have sex with any attractive creature.

All of that is wired in at some level in our brains, and that is all going on in your brain. I hate to be the one to tell you that. It is happening deep in the brain in structures called, collectively, the lymbic system. You have some stuff going on there that you would not want to talk about. Unfortunately, a lot of that material does find its way into our behavior, because when we are not doing anything and nothing much is going on, our brain--not having an off switch--will just decide that it will just scare the pants off its owner. And your brain will do that. Every time you start worrying or ruminating over some past problem or some future thing that is facing you; every time you start manufacturing things to be scared of, remember that guy in Figure 2. That is your brain running you.

Not too many people realize it, but you really do not have to take everything your brain hands you. A lot of it is garbage. It is either nonsensical or it is frightening or it is sad or it is just meaningless. I was counting the rails in the fence on the way over here, and I started thinking, "Why am I doing that? I don't think I'm ever going to need to know that."

Now sometimes our brains control us in what society might call "proper ways." Figure 3 on the following page depicts willpower as an answer. That is when we successfully, but usually for short periods of time only, take control of our brain with mere efforts of will. That is us with the swastika on our arms and our poor little brains being subjugated. That is the scaffolding on which most of society has been constructed. That is how we manage ourselves: we talk to ourselves, we fuss at ourselves, and we call ourselves bad names. If we do too good a job at "willpowering" ourselves into submission over too long a period of time, we get this next situation, depicted in Figure 4. This is the classic Type A Behavior which occurs after 10 or 15 years of managing our brains with willpower. We get stuck on the treadmill.

Consciousness is a real resource. Who would like to perform a miracle right now? If you would like to perform a miracle, think about yourself thinking. This is a bit like Descartes' dreams, I know, but think about yourself thinking. Think about yourself being here. Look at or examine or listen to the content of your own thought.

As I talk to you, you have a narration going. You might be saying to yourself, "What is he talking about?" or "When is he going to be through?" or "This is really great stuff." You have some kind of narration of your experience, some kind of internal match, some sort of internal response to what is going on all around you. Have you ever thought about your own thinking? You should not be able to do that, like the legendary impossibility of bumblebee flight.

It is very difficult from an information-science point of view to understand how it might be possible that we can step outside of the very system that is doing the thinking and think about that system--even watch that system work. Where do we stand when we do that, to look back at it? It is more than just an interesting game. The ability to think about our thinking may relate to third-circle attainment. I am very hesitant to guess about that, but there does seem to be a new array of possibilities made available when you can stand outside of your own experience, when you can be aware of your awareness. Because then you can begin to monitor it. And then you can begin to make changes in it that do not need the continual energy expense of willpower.

You can begin to realize, for example, that you are thinking about all those things you did not do before you left to come here. You can realize that your mind is running over and over again, "Did I really shut the gas stove off?" or "Did I really lock the front door?" Anybody doing that? That is our brain, just kind of running on idle, so to speak, just kind of doing what it does.

You can, then, produce fears. As a matter of fact, the brain has probably evolved to do that. Remember, a million years ago, it would be very useful if you assumed there was a tiger behind every tree. Every now and then there would be a tiger behind a tree, and if you assumed there was a tiger behind every tree, you would guess right occasionally, and that would help you live to procreate. Kids who assumed no tigers behind trees probably did not live long enough for their serene genes to survive.

In short, it is very useful to have a brain that scans for danger, that assumes the worst, as in Figure 3. Our ancestors were probably not very happy, and I think The URANTIA Book indicates that life was a little tough back then. We inherit from them a nervous nervous system. This system, if left to itself, will scan for danger and will constantly be on the lookout for it.

Now, let us leave this point for just a moment and talk about why stewardship of consciousness is important. First, it is a resource, and we are asked to have stewardship over resources. It is a marvelous resource--the ultimate resource! It is the resource by which we may become co-creators, taking part in the psychological aspect of our own evolution. (Recent developments in recombinant DNA research may make it possible for us to participate in our biological evolution also.)

The reason it is particularly important now, at this point, to become aware of our consciousness and its proper stewardship is because we all are painfully aware that our technology on this planet has finally reached the point where it can be lethal--to virtually the entire planet--either through disastrous ecological disruption or through warfare.

Another reason is that the planet is becoming crowded, and it is likely that we are already pressing the margins of our resources for sustenance. We received some interesting information last night in which the number of people on the earth during the Neanderthal era was computed against the square footage necessary to feed people. Our food production technology is pretty good now, but then we have a lot of folks on the planet, too. The only way we are going to apportion resources adequately is through intelligent use of our consciousness.

However, I think we are reaching the limits of our ability to manage ourselves simply by willpower. If you have ever noticed--I do not know if anybody here has been on a diet or has tried to stop smoking--but most of us have found that willpower is marginally useful. Willpower has probably put more pounds on people than Ben & Jerry. Willpower simply does not work very well. It is pretty good if you have to stay up all night to finish a set of drawings when you would rather go to bed, or for other temporary short-term approaches. But if willpower is taken on as an idol, as a way of running your life, then that is when you become the subject of Figure 4.

As a matter of fact, culturally, willpower seems to be falling apart. It may be a foot race as to whether the spiritualization of men is going to be sufficiently in place to carry civilization when the scaffolding of willpower collapses. It was not for Rome, Greece, and other high civilizations which have fallen. Let us hope and pray, all of us, that as willpower falls apart this time, we will have something to take its place. As a matter of fact, it is intriguing to contemplate that the early liberties Lucifer preached might have been a premature abdication of willpower. What we may have now is a sufficient amount of accumulated, generational-wisdom civilizations behind us so that we can contemplate turning loose of the rules. WHAT? Turning loose of the rules? Did that strike fear in anybody's heart? It did when Jesus talked about it, too. His death was hastened by his getting rid of all the "thou shalt nots" and replacing them with two "thou shalts" which were fairly open-ended and did not give the people a clear set of things that they were supposed to go out and do.

What we are now encountering is the birth of the self, and this may be a Western cultural phenomenon, as well as a personal one. Individually, the time in our lives when we begin to understand that there is more to us than just following the rules has been given the name "mid-life crisis" for men, and "getting liberated" for women. But it is basically the same process of deciding there is a ME in here, and that maybe it's okay to go about being me, even though realizing that I do not have any apparent, external rules for doing this.

Nobody has ever been a perfect "me" before and then come back to write a book about how to do it. Nobody has drawn a map or produced a chart showing what you are supposed to do next in order to be a perfect you. It is something that you will always explore at the cutting edge. You will always be moving yourself and being moved into uncharted waters.

As you evolve, and are a participant in your own evolution, you are aware that you do not know what the heck you are doing. You are confused, and you are not supposed to be confused--we are supposed to know, to be cool. But in fact, when you are really out there being you, you never really know. You just find out. It is very difficult to learn to ride a bicycle by sitting in an armchair from studying drawings of bicycles. Eventually, you will have to get up on the bicycle and take the risk of finding out how to ride, if you are ever to learn. In life, eventually, you will have to go out there and find out what it is all about, if you are truly to live it as the creature God meant you to be.

Our cultural awareness might be reaching that point at which we are daring to give up the prosthesis of this set of rule structures, of this set of willpower-derived, formula approaches toward how to live our lives--what I would call reactive living. Reactive living is safe living, and the reactions that we learn are culturally shared. We know what we are supposed to do as long as it is a response, a reaction. And we are constantly moving ourselves into reactive situations, because it is a lot better than having to be proactive, which is, in essence, painting your own painting, singing your own song. When you are singing your own song, people can criticize something which is at the very core of you. And that can really hurt. Because if it really is your song, then it is intimately, totally personal.

If you are only reacting, then you are only doing what the situation requires. The whole idea of proactive living--the whole idea of authoring yourself--can be very scary, and most folks will do just about anything to keep from moving into that anxietyunless life decides it is just going to catapult them right into it with certain crises or events. That is probably what various sorts of addictions are all about--not just substance addictions, but addictions like workaholism, addictions to children, addictions to problems, addictions to physical ailments, or to relationships. All of these might be flights into problems, while we tell ourselves that we will get to the rest of our lives as soon as we get our current problem (funny how there always seems to be one) figured out.

In fact, facing the anxiety of breaking through and living our own lives is what the process of psychotherapy is all about. It is bolstering that decision for proactive living and getting rid of those illusory fears that stand between us and being what God made us to be.

Let's talk about some of the ways that we have come up with for managing this consciousness. Perhaps a little demonstration of consciousness is in order. Look at the next figure. Just look at that for a minute. Soon something will happen. See, it changes. What do you suppose is happening there? What did it feel like when it changed? Can you learn to make it happen? This is a little stewardship of consciousness in action. If you can learn to give yourself the experience of shifting your perception of this Necker Cube, you can transfer that skill to shifting your perception of life's problems.

Have you ever had a communication perception transform on you when, say, somebody explained what they really meant? All of a sudden you realize, "Oh, yeah. Gee, I got angry for no reason." That shift in perception was reduced to the very simplest pattern here, but, in fact, it is a pattern of the metanoia of Christian theologians--the core meaning of repentance. Repentance really means a kind of change in how you see life--a fundamental change. Anyone who has done some things wrong, and then realized that these were not good and that they hurt people in unseen ways, is going through an experience very much like the "flip" of the cube. The hopeful thing is that it is something you can learn to do--something at which you can become more skilled.

Now, I do not think anybody can make this happen each and every time they want to-- immediately, instantly. You have to kind of sit there and do a few things and then it happens, so there are perhaps two phases to the process. But you can learn to have some management over it, and you do not have to use a whip, and you do not have to tell yourself to do it. Nobody switched this cube by telling themselves to do it. Try telling yourself to make it switch. It will not work. Telling yourself is a very poor way of controlling your behavior. Telling yourself to do better is about as good as trying. There is a reason we have one word for "trying" and another for "doing." If they meant the same thing, we would have just one word, right?

Now just as a demonstration of that, can you put your finger behind your thumb? Now try to push your finger past your thumb. Harder. Okay, now just do it. I never told you to oppose with your thumb, did I? I said TRY to push your finger past your thumb. The opposition by the thumb is all contained in the word "try." So whenever you tell yourself "Well, I want to try to lose weight," "I want to try to stop smoking," "I am going to try to get up early and read The URANTIA Book," forget it, because you are going to be opposing yourself. If you say "I am going to do it, you may or may not be able to, but you are going to be more likely to do it when you are not opposing yourself. The other way, you are going to be doing something different from doing--you are going to be "trying." It is a different act altogether. I have had people say, "You know, I try not to think about that." I would like for anybody to try not to think about the number 3.

My father once told me that if I could boil a rock in vinegar for half an hour and not think about a hippopotamus, it would turn to gold. I still think he was right.

Now we need to talk about some interesting findings from a small group of investigators who have looked at a group of individuals who happen to be excellent communicators. They used methods derived from stochastic modeling and linguistic analysis to extract the essential features of what these expert communicators were doing in order to communicate so effectively. In other words, they extracted fundamental, underlying patterns that were the backbone of powerful communication stratagies. It is a little bit like having concentrated, distilled communication.

They looked at successful attorneys, they looked at effective sales people, they may even have found a few psychologists to look at to see what they were doing that made their particular communication more effective than those around them. In essence, they extracted their patterns or, one might say, stole their strategies.

They finally found a psychiatrist named Milton Erickson out in Phoenix, Arizona, who was doing most of the things they found to be particularly effective, so they just studied him, modeling his communication patterns. The findings of these investigations give us an interesting picture of the consciousness, which is emerging as one which is congruent with information presented in The URANTIA Book.

The authors of the book talk about different parts of our consciousness. They describe it as divided into a group of registers operating at different levels of awareness. Another way of describing this is to say that you have different "parts." There is a part of you, for example, that wants to be here; there is a part of you that wants to be out in the sun; there is a part that wants to be back seeing to business; there is a part of you that wants to be doing other things. We have sayings in our language, such as "I'm of two minds about this," or "I'm really divided about this." What we usually do if we are divided is to get out our whip of authoritarianism and literally subjugate the other parts to do our bidding. One part wins out, the other parts lose, and we go that way as long as we can, until the other parts band together--mutiny--and then we do something else.

What the modelers have found is that we exist in parts, and, if we direct a more enlightened management toward those different parts, we will be able to manage our consciousness much better. If we work in harmony with ourselves, our energy is better spent. The way to bring that about is to have a little committee meeting with the different parts of you. This is a personal application of a more enlightened small group management approach, which was first offered by an industrial psychologist named McGregor. He observed that when workers in a factory are given a greater say in the decisions within their production facility--given that these workers have achieved a certain level of maturity--production will increase and errors will decrease.

We can do that with ourselves. We can check out the different parts; we can honor and respect the different parts of our own consciousness and give them a say. We can literally have a dialogue inside. I don't recommend you do this in public, but you can literally negotiate and converse with those different parts. If you can find that you are divided, if you can find that you have feelings of being pulled in different directions, then you can simply honor those different parts of you by listening to them. You can allow those different parts to have their say, and then you can decide on the final behavior.

Note that this does not mean that you just do what every part says. That would be anarchy. If you have ever been a member of a committee which rejected or ignored your input, you know how alienated from that committee you felt. On the other hand, if your input was respected, even though it might not have been adopted, you felt a lot better about going along with the final consensus of the group than if you were the invisible person. Have you ever been the invisible member in a committee? You speak to contribute an idea, and then you get the idea that no one heard a sound. Generally, somebody who is disenfranchised like that in a committee will end up, consciously or unconsciously, sabotaging the group's work, either actively or passively.

This is why we sabotage ourselves so much--why we shoot ourselves in the foot so often--because we are disenfranchising parts of ourselves, and those parts act at the unconscious level to sabotage our progress. The idea is to become more conscious of all those different parts and then to minister to them. Greater consciousness is going to mean greater management possibilities.

The communication modelers I discussed earlier found that metaphors were a very effective means of communicating. Now, that may ring a bell, for you can register "parable" in place of "metaphor." That is why I am using these graphic illustrations rather than charts and lists, because an image of the brain saying "Boo" at you--scaring you--is much more powerful and memorable than pictures of words. Metaphors work as spoken images, and Jesus used them almost exclusively when he really wanted to communicate elevated and difficult concepts to his audience.

On page 1692 of The URANTIA Book he provides a discourse on the advantages of parables. In this, Jesus says people can connect with parables at their own level. Parables force people to search inside so they get a lot more out of the parable than the speaker ever intended. People find their own truth; they connect the parable to events in their own lives. To understand a parable, the listener must provide a response of analysis, causing him or her to become more involved in the communication. One might say that parables influence the listener to do a lot of the work.

In fact, the book itself uses some very nice communication images. I like the nautical metaphors, used on at least two occasions: "Mind is your ship, the Adjuster is your pilot, human will is captain. The master of the mortal vessel should have the wisdom to trust the divine pilot to guide the ascending soul into the morontia harbors of eternal survival." (*1217) Here they have presented an image, a mind-map, if you will, of an event whose understanding carries with it, in a few words, an extremely dense packet of information which we "decode" by running the metaphor through our own experience. This "walking through" the experience is--even though we may never have actually been on a ship--like putting water on instant coffee. It "reconstitutes" the truth of the message for the listener. We find that for most people the brain does much better with pictures than just about any other form of communication. I think that is why the video revolution has taken over. It communicates such intense amounts of information which can be used and apprehended so quickly that it is probably one of the most effective means of communication that is around. (This is not a plug for the video revolution--I greatly deplore the losses to the English language.)

Consciousness is so important for us to understand because it is the very tool that we use to understand it. It is one of those peculiar things in which we are using that which we are studying to understand what we are studying. There is the Heisenberg uncertainty here. Our consciousness is the final understander of scientific data. Science is both a product and a servant of consciousness.

Science sounds very objective but, in fact, the whole reason for the methodology of science is to permit someone else to have the same experience as the scientist who is claiming discovery. The proper scientist makes his exact steps public so that anyone can go through those same steps and have the same experience so that you can experience.

We are the final arbiters of our own reality. We somehow make the decision that something is real. Science is simply a way--a structured way--of allowing you that prerogative if you have difficulty believing my data. Science is basically a phenomenological pursuit, that is, one rooted in the experience of the individual's consciousness. But how do we understand the mind? And how do we grow in our ability to assess it? That is the challenge we are given in being proper stewards of this resource.

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The Urantia Book Fellowship