The Enigma of Consciousness 13 - Kierkegaard

Curriculum Focus

What is Reality
Relational Truth


Marshall, Gene, The Enigma of Consciousness, Realistic Living Press, Bonham, TX, 2012. Chapter 13.

(excerpts from Chapter 13 please read the original material for complete context)

1) Contemplative inquiry assumes the inward gaze of consciousness into consciousness itself, a focus that assumes only one time Now, and only one space Here. In our contemplative inquiry we can also notice an event quality: feelings change, thoughts change, inward experiences come into being and go out of being. We experience in our inward realm a quality of flow that we also call time. But this flow is flowing through the Now where consciousness lives. Contemplation takes place in the Now and only in the Now. The past is only a memory in the Now. The future is only an anticipation in the Now. Consciousness as consciousness knows only one time Now.

2) In order to honor the essential freedom that we experience as true, we need to give contemplative wisdom a certain priority over scientific knowledge. Giving this priority to contemplative wisdom entails giving up the hope that Reality can be completely comprehended in a rational theory. The Relation between the Temporal and the Eternal Now

3) Sren Kierkegaard in the early pages of Sickness Unto Death provides us with a way of viewing the essence of the I which he calls both self and spirit. What is the self he asks. This question implies the actuality of a true self, and Kierkegaard proceeds to spell out his view of this true self. Here is a paraphrase of his assertions:

4) The self is a relation between the temporal and the Eternal, which relation has the capacity for relationship with itself and in doing so grounds itself transparently in the power that posits it. If this relation is willing to be this temporal/Eternal relation, we experience trust, faith, salvation. But if this relation is unwilling to be this temporal/Eternal relation, we experience despair.

5) In this his most perfect book, Kierkegaard spells out how despair has many forms: it may be hidden in unconsciousness; it may be introspectively contained as a painful inward secret; it may manifest as an escape into sensuality, noble work, or suicide; or it may be defiantly enacted as a self-constructed falsification or as an open rage against our very existence. Despair is despairing because we cannot get away from being this temporal/Eternal relation that we essentially are. So our attempts to get away are experienced as a desperate hopelessness that has no hope of ever realizing the defeat of the Reality that never goes away. Yet, according to Kierkegaard, a different kind of hopefulness is near at hand, for all that is required of us is to surrender to being the temporal/Eternal relation that we profoundly and inescapably are. Kierkegaard calls this the turn to faith, the option of trusting Reality rather than despairing over it. It turns out that fully experiencing our despair opens the door to this different kind of hopefulness.

6) To those who are open to Reality, the actual future is always the surprise that happens as we are expecting something else. Only if we expect to be surprised are we open to Reality.

7) Kierkegaard defined the I Am as a relation not a substance. He clarifies that the I Am is a relation between the temporal and the Eternal. It is not the temporal, and it is not the Eternal. It is a third term. It is the relation itself, a relation that does not constitute itself but is constituted by another, by the Eternal. The Eternal posits the temporal and posits the I Am as a relation between temporal and Eternal. This relation which is the I Am also has the strange capacity to relate to itself. It can view itself, know itself, describe itself, enact itself. Unlike a normal set of eyes, the eyes of the I Am can see the I Am itself. The I Am using the mind can write books about the qualities and journeys of the I Am. Kierkegaard says that the I Am, in relating to its own I Am, grounds itself transparently in the Power that posits it.

8) This is a different way of talking about these matters than the Hindu way as developed in the Upanishads. In this antiquity of India, we see the concept of Atman which refers to a self that is deeper than the ordinary self images created by human minds. The Hindu concept of Brahman refers to the Mysterious Overallness of Reality (i.e. the Final THAT.) Atman is the realized I. With these definitions in mind, we can begin to grasp the meaning of the phrase: THAT I AM. This is not a philosophical doctrine, but a pointer to a profound experience. Here is my way of focusing on this experience: I notice that my Grand I is just as mysterious as the entire cosmos or Wholeness of Reality. Equally mysterious is the capacity of the I to notice the I and to notice the THAT. These two noticings and what they notice are parts of one REALITY. Nevertheless, I am not at ease with the implication that the I Am is simply a drop in the ocean of the Whole. I am especially uncomfortable with assuming an identity with the whole. I prefer Kierkegaards way of poeticizing this experience. I see my I Am essence as in intimate relation with the Whole rather than an absorption into the Whole or an assumption of being the Whole rather than being a manifestation of the Whole.

9) Kierkegaards view of the I Am differs from Hindu antiquity in this way: The I Am is not the Whole. Nor it is simply a part of the temporal world. It is a third term, a relation with temporality and with Eternity, a relation that is neither the temporal nor the Eternal. The I Am is simultaneously related to temporality and Eternality. And this I Am is not a synthesis of the temporal and the Eternal, but a third termcapable of being itself or not being itself. Kierkegaard sets up this profound either-or option: a choice between (1) the state of openness and trust or (2) the state of closedness and despair.

10) This third term of the I Am is posited by the Eternal not by itself, which means that the I Am is not a creation of itself but an essential structure of the cosmos posited by the Eternal. Hence our dialogue with the Eternal is inescapable, necessary, ongoing, for as long as the Eternal sustains this relation called I Am. So in the Kierkegaardian view of the I Am, we live in the Eternal Now as an unavoidable dialogue with the Eternal in that Now. The Eternal is a Direct Presence of which we can be conscious. And this All-powerful Eternal meets us through every temporal coming into being, enduring of being, and going out of being.

11) ..Our best interest is in being this I Am in this Eternal Now. Herein is our happiness, our bliss, our rest, our peace, our joy, our authentic life. The other alternative is to fight Reality, a fight that we cannot win, a hope for a life that can never happen, a hopelessness, a suffering appropriately named despair. So we have a deep interest in discovering fully and identifying fully with this enigmatic I Am. Doing so is our liberation from the suffering of despair. Doing so is finding our bliss as so many teachers advise. Doing so is being ourselves as we sometimes say we want to do.

Reflection Questions

Read one of the lines from this reading that caught your attention.

In paragraph #1, what insights are shared about the nature of contemplative inquiry

What is the hope we are asked to give up in paragraph #2 How would we have to see reality differently if we released this hope

What is faith (5) Where do you experience yourself being faithful (trusting of Reality) and where do you find yourself struggling with this posture

What is the nature of the self or I am as outlined by Soren Kierkegaard (4) (7, 8, 9) What is the difference between me as a relation or as a substance (7)

What is the meaning of despair as outlined in this section (4, 9, 11) How have you or do you experience this reality in your own life

What are my options for getting out of this inescapable dialogue with Reality (10) What is the either / or dilemma we each face in every moment (9)

Together read, one by one, the first 5 sentences of the final paragraph (11). Talk about the importance of this reading for living our lives. What is the key to authenticity What is the key to finding my bliss

What question of this material would you like to discuss with the author for further clarification or guidance .(How would anyone else address this question)

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