The Survival Guide To Staying Conscious

The Survival Guide To Staying Conscious

sgtsc-cover-jacketThis challenging and inspiring work looks into the heart of the predicament we face as humans seeking to safeguard the integrity of our consciousness and ultimately our humanity in a rapidly changing technological era.

With profound clarity and vision the book takes the reader on an uncompromised journey into the very nature of what it is to be a human, exploring our shared responsibility as guardians of our planet.

Burgs urges us to pursue practical and realistic avenues for real change, encouraging us to take care of our minds and honour our lives as sacred.

The book asks what might have been the real cost of the convenience we are now taking for granted, and whether we might be in danger of sacrificing some of the essence of what it really is to be human.


Survival Guide Table of Contents

Part One: More To Life Than Meets The Eye

1. Life’s Deep Mystery
2. The Momentum For Positive Change
3. Reconnecting To What Really Matters
4. Does Flourishing Mean We Always Need More?
5. Are We As Conscious As We Think We Are?
6. Reclaiming The Heart

Part Two: A Deeper Look Within

7. Life Is Consciousness, Consciousness Is Life
8. The Age Of Individuality: When Consciousness Turns In On Itself
9. The Cost Of Convenience
10. The Long Out Breath
11. Taking A Long Out Breath
12. Meditation: Is There More To It Than We Might Imagine?
13. This Life Is So Precious
14. Our Responsibility As Guardians Of The Planet
15. The Never Ending Cycle
16. There’s Only Love And Not Knowing It

Chapter 1: Life's Deep Mystery

I think there’s a little part of everybody that has an inkling, a hunch, a sense that there’s a mystery in the background behind this life that we haven’t quite clocked and we’d love to know what’s going on.

In the deepest part of us there is clearly a sense that there’s more to life than meets the eye. No matter how hard we’ve tried to break life down into the nuts and bolts and say, ‘Well, this is what it is’, honestly, we have to admit that life is an extraordinary mystery. And anyone trying to rob it of that mystery and insisting on understanding what’s going on, I think, is probably missing the juiciest part of it, the part that makes it feel that life is really something worth getting stuck into.

There’s an awful lot of drudgery in life, there’s a lot of things we have to do that are inconvenient, there’s a lot of hardship. Life isn’t easy. And yet the desire for life, the ‘longing’ for it, remains so strong. Even in the face of extraordinary adversity the longing for life is still there.

If we look out into nature, everywhere we look – apart from where we have put something – there’s life just pouring forth, and it has this extraordinary, inexorable, unstoppable-ness about it. This boundless power of life is working through us too, we are a part of that, we’re an expression of it, we are that. That mysterious power that is driving all life is there within us, twenty-four hours of every day, and although we distract ourselves so desperately and spend most of our time really distracted from what’s actually going on, somewhere inside of us there’s a knowing or a hunch that there’s clearly more to this than we might have thought.

And yet with this astonishingly beautiful display of life going on around us endlessly, it seems more and more of us, if we are truly honest with ourselves, feel deep down that something is not quite right about the way we relate to life itself.

In this book I hope to take you on a journey deep into the very heart of the mystery that is life. By looking a little more deeply at what is actually going on in the background, as a society and as humans on this planet, we might re-establish a healthier and more enriching relationship to the life that each of us is a part.

I would like to encourage you to look at life with an open and honest mind, and a courageous heart so that we might reach a place of deep reverence and respect for it and not fall into the tendency of taking it for granted or assuming it will always be there. It is rare indeed and most precious. I believe that only once we have rediscovered the sense of awe and wonder at life, will we develop a more healthy attitude towards it. This attitude will form the backbone and bedrock of not just our own welfare, but that of the generations to come.

Life Is Too Precious To Not Pay Attention

If we can learn to really pay attention to what is going on within us and around us, life itself becomes our perfect teacher. If we are willing to recognise it, life is showing us what it is we need to do all the time. There is an innate intelligence at work behind our lives which is reflected in all times in everything that we experience. It is my hope that this book will help you to come to a deeper understanding of that intelligence and ultimately point to a way in which we can start to live more in alignment with it. Maybe it’s been going on beyond our perception and conscious understanding, but still, deep down, some part of us knows.

My simple aspiration for this book is to offer hope and a signpost to a wholly positive approach to the predicament that we face as human beings, alive at this very extraordinary time. I wish to propose a solution, which is for all of us to collectively become part of what I call the Give Back Generation, a generation who seek to contribute to the world more than we take from it. In fifty years from now, history will testify to how we chose to meet our challenges. Those who will follow in our wake will live through the outcome of the choices we have made.

During his life twenty-five centuries ago the Buddha often spoke of an age of degeneration when beings lose their moral compass and become obsessed solely with selfish pursuits at great detriment to themselves, others and the world in which they live. Although I do not propose to look at life from a fixed Buddhist perspective in this book, as human beings alive today, we still face the same propensity to create suffering in our lives and so his teachings remain as relevant today as they did back then.

Below is a list of the five signs of degeneration of consciousness that the Buddha identified. At this point all I wish to do is to simply flag these points up and just encourage you to see if you have noticed some of these things yourself in the world around you. They are listed here so that you can use them as a guide and or a point of reference to the suggestions made in the book that follows, nothing more. It is not my intention at this stage to seek to support or negate these claims, but merely to frame our own investi-gation of human consciousness and inform how we can best take care of it.

The Degeneration of Time; the quality of things deteriorates, food becomes less nutritious, grain tastes less good and does not ripen, the environment becomes degraded, famine and wars proliferate, and new diseases arise.

The Degeneration of Disturbing Emotions; the decline in the virtue of householders, negative emotions proliferate, self-obsession proliferates to the point where pride, competitiveness and greed become so embedded that beings find it almost impossible to surmount them.

The Degeneration of Views; wrong views proliferate; beings cannot see what is happening to them and reject the truth when it is spoken, they tend to believe in wrong philosophies and find it hard to believe in right view. They reject the law of cause and effect believing the idea of Karma to be mere superstition as they assume themselves not to be accountable for their actions. This becomes the cause for a gradual degeneration of behaviour and moral integrity and people become more and more driven by desire with no ethical restraint upon that desire. Assuming that it is OK to do whatever they want regardless of consequences people develop attitudes that are morally degenerate, and become intolerant to the point of hatred.

The Degeneration of Physical Form; degeneration of appearance, obesity proliferates, intellect degenerates, good health degenerates, beings become harder to help and harder to subdue.

The Degeneration of the Life Span; afflictive conditions proliferate and gradually the life span shortens.

At times such as these the choices that beings make will determine their welfare or suffering.

So having read the above, each and every one of you can make your own reflections as to whether or not you see in the world around you now, emotions, views, physical forms and life spans degenerating or regenerating. There will be pockets where this is happening at different rates.

Yet at the macro level, there is no doubt in my mind which way we are heading. Barring the fact we are all living longer lives due to huge advances in health care, I see all the other signs of degeneration proliferating, often at alarming rates. It is up to you to decide on your own position, but please be honest with yourselves, don’t sell yourself short. Because our aspiration is hopefully not to alarm ourselves but to stand tall in the search for solutions.

I cannot put it any more eloquently or succinctly than Charles Eisenstein in his book The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible:

“Who would have foreseen, two generations ago when the story of progress was strong, that the twenty-first century would be the time of school massacres, of rampant obesity, of growing indebtedness, of pervasive insecurity, of intensifying concentration of wealth, of unabated world hunger, and of environmental degradation that threatens civilization? The world was supposed to be getting better. We were supposed to be becoming wealthier, more enlightened. Society was supposed to be advancing…

Why do the visions of a more beautiful world that seemed so close in the middle twentieth century now seem so unreachable that all we can hope for is to survive in an ever more competitive, ever more degraded world? Truly, our stories have failed us. Is it too much to ask, to live in a world where our human gifts go toward the benefit of all? Where our daily activities contribute to the healing of the biosphere and the well-being of other people?”

The paradox to this is that if we were able to truly see what is happening to us and fully understand the way of things, there is no way that we would be living life the way we are. Perhaps the problem has been that we somehow have managed to convince ourselves that these signs of degeneration are happening out there in the world beyond us, but not been willing to look at what is actually happening to us. Well, sadly, what we see going on in the world around us, is a reflection of what is going on within us.

So what would happen to us if we did fully understand what we were doing and the implications of it? Of these five signs which the Buddha described that mark the coming of an age of degeneration, one of them is that beings reject the truth even when it is put in front of them. The truth in the end is right in front of us every day if we were only willing to see it. The question is – are we willing to pay attention?

Not enough people in positions of responsibility and power are telling us we have to consume less, give more to others and share what we have. It is almost as if no one dares to deliver the inconvenient truth that would give us the wake up call we need to become galvanized. “Don’t worry, technology will provide a solution”, is the most common response I hear from people these days when discussing the apparent and potential problems that are staring us in the face.

This unwillingness to address the challenges we face in many ways is understandable. I am sure it is not just indolence, although that no doubt plays a part. Fear will also be prompting us to pretend that these things just aren’t happening, or the hope that somehow they will all just go away on their own. But we all know that closing our eyes and pretending that the burglar isn’t there doesn’t stop him making off with all our possessions.

But I feel there is another equally important reason for us not addressing the issues we face. And that is that somehow we have lost sight, or lost touch with how truly precious and sacred life actually is. We consider our survival as humans, at whatever cost, to be more important than the sanctity and integrity of the life we sustain. For one reason or another, we have gradually removed the sense of sacred from almost everything in our lives these days. Life itself is no longer seen as something sacred. It has become commodified. For decades now the assumption has been that life is a material and mechanical process within which consciousness is a bi-product. But have we stopped to ask whether it might be the case that the alarming increase in depression and hopelessness that so many otherwise fortunate human beings are experiencing these days, might actually be, because they lack that very spiritual context to their lives that makes it feel truly special? Or that we have stopped seeing life itself as sacred?

While we may initially think what we need our tools by which to cope better with life as it is, the fact that we aren’t coping so well with the lives we are living is a sign that we may be off track. Learning to cope with being unwell is in no way as satisfactory or complete a resolution as recovering from our affliction. At a deeper level many of us are longing to find a higher sense of meaning while questioning the actual direction we are heading in. Real change is what so many of us today are actually looking for, while what we are being offered are tools by which we can cope well enough to stay on the trajectory we are on. In truth we do not need help staying on course, what we needs is encouragement to embrace a sea change.

I have little doubt that there are countless people out there just waiting for permission to embrace a quantum change of direction. Experience suggests that deep and profound change tends only to happen when it is thrust upon us. The problem with this is that forced change inevitably brings with it far more suffering and hardship than when we make choices for ourselves consciously.

A slap in the face with a wet fish, though unpleasant, is not nearly as difficult to live with as being knocked off your feet with the ground giving way beneath you. Indeed, if it serves to wake us up before we fall asleep at the wheel, it has served an important purpose. So I am sure we are all better served by honestly looking into the predicament we are in and digging deep in search of solutions, rather than just trying to convince ourselves that everything is going to be alright.

The Future Is In Our Hands

The further out of alignment with the truth behind our lives we become, the more inconvenient that truth feels. If we resent the suggestion that we need to change, it is usually not just because it is inconvenient, but because it interferes with our personal aspirations and the pursuit of our goals and desires.

When I left my last teacher in India, at the end of years of intensive training in meditation and yoga, his final request to me was to return home and to continue to meditate for the benefit of others. Over the years many people have come on retreat to learn meditation, and almost all of them come hoping that meditation will in some way enrich their lives. At the end of every retreat, I explain two basic principles that our welfare and progress in the future stands upon.

The first principle is that if you are going to continue to centre your life around the pursuit of your desires, you will need to be totally unwilling to harm others or yourself in the pursuit of those desires if you are to safeguard your well-being in the long term.

The second principle is that if we expect to be able to take out more than we put in, it is a certainty that over time the quality of life will degenerate, because however abundant our planet is, it is not infinite in its capacity to provide.

It may take more than a brief glance at these statements to grasp what they are truly saying. They are, in effect, nothing more than expressions of a living intelligence that is behind life itself. By adopting these principles we can align ourself with this intelligence and start to bring about the change that many feel is so badly needed.

The planet that we have lived upon has managed itself for billions of years, maintaining a balance whereby the life that it sustained did not draw out more than it put in. Life has been perfectly recycled at every level without any accumulation of toxic waste or any diminishing of the natural resources that support it. The oceans and rivers remained pure and teemed with life, the oxygen cycle and the nitrogen cycle were kept perfectly in balance, and nothing that died failed to decay without leaving any toxic residue from its presence here. And all of this without anyone managing it or interfering with it in any way.

As humanity we have, over the last few hundred years, continuously taken out more than we put in to the pool of resource that we rely upon. We have accumulated, as a result, vast quantities of toxic waste that will take thousands of years to degrade. In doing so, we have broken the balance and cycles of life that we actually depend upon. Our soils, oceans, forests and rivers have been depleted more in the past ten years than in the twenty before that, more in the last thirty than the hundred before that, more in the last hundred years, than in the whole of the history of our planet before that point.

The question is, can we reverse the trend? Rather than assume we can continue to take out whatever we want regardless of cost, can we start to explore how we might give something back so the planet has the space to breathe out once again? At an individual level, can we change our consumption patterns so that we are taking out only our fair share of what the planet can replenish? It’s a tough and inconvenient question to be asking. The answer right now is probably no. But this book is not an environmental and ecological call to action. I am simply asking these questions as a basis from which to start our investigation. Our investigation into how life reached this point and what would be the grounds for deep change to come about joyfully, rather than reluctantly within each of us individually.

We have gradually lost sight of that first basic principle of life; that if we expect or even hope to flourish in the future we should not expect to take out more than we put in. In our shift towards an ever more materialist view of life, we have come to value life in terms of the things we are able to acquire, rather than the quality of the experience we are having. As a result, we have experienced the suffering that is caused by failing to live in accordance with the intelligence behind our lives.

In the early morning I meditate. Early, when the world is still sleeping and at rest. And in the stillness, I tune in to the energy of everything that is going on around us endlessly. And there are two things that I feel remain when my mind has stopped. The first is the sublimely peaceful, harmonious, even blissful rhythm of life as an expression of the natural order. Life! Coming into being, growing and passing away as it has done for billions of years. There is the subtlest rhythm to it, and not the slightest feeling of tension or friction. Always and everywhere it rests effortlessly within itself. There is such a profound feeling of love behind it all, in-spite of the hardships and struggles that are sometimes involved in coming to life and passing away.

And then I feel the energy of man. The energy of the will of man and the mass of humanity upon this earth. And I feel the unbearable tension that humanity is living in, in its effort to hold sway over its domain and bend it to its will. I feel the impact of this upon the natural order and the creaking and straining that it produces.

As I sit with these two inexorable energies, I tune into the stillness from which all of it is arising and I know that there is never a hair out of place. The world and the universe always and everywhere expresses itself the only way it ever could. For billions of years this planet expressed itself perfectly. It was just a shame that no one was here to witness its extraordinarily beautiful display.

Well now we are here, and we can witness it. It is easy to come to the end of a life having toiled to uphold our personal world. Bemoaning the loss of it as it is stripped from us with our final breath, it would be easy to have been here without ever stopping to take stock of what we have been a part of. That would be the greatest tragedy imaginable.

There is little doubt that if we all departed in a puff of smoke right now, the planet would breathe a huge sigh of relief and within a hundred years or so it would be the majestic, sublimely imaginative and creative display that is always has been. It would be such a shame if once again no one was here to witness it in the way we as humans have a capacity to do. So the question really is not whether we survive, but the quality of life we are going to create in our efforts to survive. The purpose of this book is to investigate this question as honestly and realistically as we can, and in doing so, to seek solutions that will point a way to a wholly positive and life enriching future not just for us as humans, but for all beings who are sharing in the extraordinary experience of being alive.