Tikkun Magazine, Winter 2011
Pure Consciousness and the Work of Tikkun
by Bruce Peterson
What lesson have I learned about how to do the work of healing and transforming the world? In a nutshell: "The success of an intervention depends on the interior condition of the intervenor." (I don't usually quote corporate CEOs, but Bill O'Brien of Hanover Insurance and his search for virtue warrant an exception.) This has been my experience. The loftiest ideals, the most far-reaching agenda, the best rhetoric -- all are for naught if pursued in a spirit of ego enhancement, judgment, and ideological zeal. Exhibit A: Communism. Exhibit B: the Catholic Church throughout its history, as well as current forms of fundamentalist Christianity and Islam. And we have all seen the best progressive plans derailed by internal conflict, endless self-gratifying argument, and jealousy.
So what is the desired interior condition and how do we attain it? The person who explains it best for me is Eckhart Tolle, who essentially puts Buddhism into modern language. Our two levels of consciousness are quite distinct and easily recognized. Our ego self, because it is inherently transitory, always seeks self-affirmation and distinctiveness. Identification with causes works great, as does negative identification -- I am not that, and I am certainly more advanced than them. Look behind almost all forms of complaint, criticism, competition, and conflict and you will find the ego seeking substance.
Behind the ego self is what Tolle calls "presence" -- awareness without thought, pure consciousness. We say, "I had a thought." Well, just who is it who had the thought? That's the true self, and the thought is not it. This consciousness is horizontal -- everyone has it, so we have a deep connection with the entire human race. It is also vertical -- it permits access to realms of wisdom and creativity beyond the mundane thoughts our conditioned minds can generate. It is right there within us, the background against which the endless din of ego-oriented thinking takes place.
In his books The Power of Now and The New Earth, Tolle offers a number of techniques for becoming more present, living less in our ego selves and more aware of our pure consciousness. What has worked best for me is meditation. There are as many varieties of meditation as there are meditators; the form doesn't matter. For me, sitting silently every night, watching my thoughts and separating myself from them, has been transformative. I could spend a lot of time talking about the ego thought patterns, the blocked energy, the old wounds, and other aspects of my own personal story that have been revealed. But over time I have noticed the development of two qualities of more general interest. First, compassion -- because underneath we are really all alike and suffer in the same way. And second, the recognition that everything is impermanent and fluid -- because the most entrenched institutions or practices are just patterns of ego-based thought forms.
Compassion and a belief in change -- not bad tools for doing the work of tikkun.
Bruce Peterson is a judge in Minneapolis, Minnesota. From 2006 to 2008 he was the presiding judge of the Hennepin County Family Court. He was the first chair of the Minnesota Chapter of the Network of Spiritual Progressives.
Source Citation: Peterson, Bruce. 2011. Pure Consciousness and the Work of Tikkun. Tikkun 26(1): online exclusive.