The words consciousness and spirit are often interchangeable, especially when we discuss the question of whether or not there is some part of us which will exist after the death of our physical being. Like many other Seekers before me, I have thought long and hard about this particular question, and although I haven’t come up with any hard-and-fast answers (the fact is that we won’t know for sure until we get there), I have come up with a way of viewing my own consciousness or spirit which satisfies both my desire to be rational and my desire to pay attention to my intuition.
Those who view man as a purely physical machine tend to think of consciousness as something that is a by-product of the physical brain. With that model, the death of the physical brain naturally means the end of consciousness, and the oft-reported ‘light show’ of the near-death experience is regarded as little more than the brain being flooded with chemicals to make the dying process less painful or frightening.
Those who view man as a spiritual being tend to think of the consciousness as a continuous stream of awareness which passes from lifetime to lifetime, with perhaps some periods of limbo in between.
My own view is a little different, but I think that it meshes well with both perspectives.
Imagine that you want to build a simple AM transistor radio. To do that, you would need to obtain various electronic components, such as transistors, capacitors, resistors, a battery and the all-important ferrite rod. Lay all of those components down on a table and you would have everything you need for a potential radio, but you wouldn’t hear a thing.
If you were to assemble those components in a certain way then you would have an actual radio which can be switched on and tuned in. The radio would now make a sound because it is capable of receiving radio signals – which are ever-present in the environment – and play the resulting broadcast for all to hear.
Having built a functional radio, you could now disassemble it, either by removing the components one by one, or by smashing it with a hammer. This would change the configuration of the components so that they could no longer operate together as a radio, and your machine would immediately cease to make any sound. The broadcast would fall silent.
Now, where is the broadcast that you listened to earlier? You can’t hear it, but it hasn’t exactly ceased to exist, because it is still being transmitted, all around you. All that has happened is that the machine which you used to receive and play the broadcast is no longer functional.
I think of consciousness as being much the same as the radio broadcast, and of the physical body as being analogous to the radio itself. Consciousness, then, is not something which arises from the physical body, but rather, it is something which is expressed through the physical body.
We tend to think of ourselves as having very different levels of consciousness or spiritual development because we all behave in very different ways, but that could simply be due to the fact that we are all unique physical machines. Listen to a particular radio broadcast on a cheap transistor radio and the quality won’t be anything like as good as it would be on an high-end system. The broadcast itself, however, would be the same.
My notion, then, is that there is just one signal being broadcast throughout the whole universe, meaning that there is just one consciousness. You are that one consciousness, which is currently being animated through your physical being. When your physical body dies, the broadcast being expressed through it will seem – to others – to fall silent, but it will continue forever, and will express itself in many other ways, through many other physical bodies.
To put all of this into a more ‘spiritual’ context, you are not really an individual spirit, but rather, you are an individual expression of the one Spirit, or what many traditions call God or Infinite Intelligence, and so is everyone else.
Look at your neighbours, your spouse, your parents, your children, you co-workers, your pets and any other living being, and you will see yourself – the one Spirit – being expressed in many different ways. This is why so many teachers have said that ‘we are all one’ and that we should love our neighbours as we love ourselves, and be careful to treat others as we would like to be treated.
Every single living thing on the planet is an expression of the one Spirit. Those individual expressions may come and go, but you – the Spirit itself – will continue for eternity.