Twenty years ago, I was living in a 70-year-old small, dingy apartment in the above-ground basement of a mansion in Germany. It was originally a maid’s quarters. And it was depressing as all get-up.
After a couple of years there, I got permission from my landlord to spruce the place up a little. He allowed me to paint the outside-facing wall of the living room, and do some other decorative things. I painted it Sunshine Yellow, since the lone southward-facing window didn’t allow much of the real stuff in, and it really did brighten the place up. I then bought a small plant—an English ivy in a four-inch pot—and placed it on the windowsill. (I had painted the frame Spring Green.) I was happy.
The plant thrived. Within a year or so, it had run tendrils for fifteen feet along the base of the wall, threading their way behind furniture and turning the corner at the adjoining wall. It never sent out anything into the center of the room, though, where it would have been in danger of being trampled. (I wonder how it knew that?)
Eventually I moved out of there and into a huge, brand-new apartment with ten-foot-high full-wall-width windows in the living room, several skylights, and space enough that I never did get the whole place filled up. It had just been built a few blocks down the street. Because I was using my Ford Escort ZX-2 as a truck, I carted boxes of my stuff to the new place over the space of a couple days. I decided to move the ivy last, and by itself, so it would have enough space in the small vehicle. I didn’t want to risk damaging it. After everything else was out, I went to bed, preparing to leave for good the next morning.
But when I got up, the ivy was dead. Completely. Overnight. All of its leaves were either brown or had fallen off. It was a heartbreaking sight; I loved that plant. At the time, and to this day, I felt that, not wanting to be evicted from its home, it had committed suicide.
Much before that episode, when I was a Southern California college student in the 1970s, a classmate invited me to visit his church, a Pentecostal-style assembly several cities away. (I never did learn exactly what denomination it was; they didn’t really have a designation for it, as was common amongst many groups arising from the Counterculture/Jesus Movement of the time.) I was a bit dubious, but out of politeness I accepted.
It was everything you might imagine. Hundreds of people stood, swaying and singing and prophesying and speaking in tongues. I found it all a bit overwhelming, but was actually a little disappointed that I was unable to join in. No matter how much I focused or let myself go, I just couldn’t do the Holy Ghost thing. It simply wouldn’t come.
The last part of the service was a faith healing. People volunteered eagerly to climb up on the stage and have the pastor lay his hands on them. Here I became even more reticent. But my host, eager to let me get a full taste of everything, caught the pastor’s attention and prodded me to get up. With the entire group now watching me expectantly, I had little choice. Before I could think about it too much, I found myself on the stage.
The pastor had me turn to face the congregation, then stepped in front of me and turned his back to them. He placed his right hand on my forehead, moving it in small increments, as if zeroing in on something. Then he tapped a place above my right eye, and, in a hushed tone that only I could hear, accurately described symptoms of a health issue I had there. I had never told anyone about this condition. How did he know about it?
In my opinion, there’s something more to consciousness than what we normally think of it. Of course, for the most part, we don’t think about consciousness; it’s merely a given, background, lived in but basically ignored. When we do happen to search for it (as in meditation, for example) we never manage to find it. How does one search consciousness in order to find consciousness? This was the issue that plagued Jean-Paul Sartre in his opus Being and Nothingness.
Personally, I’m coming to think (not “believe;” that word has too much force behind it) that the entire universe is conscious. This would explain some scientific anomalies—like entanglement—and is actually a consideration among the quantum physicists of the Copenhagen School.
Or perhaps, the universe is consciousness. This was the teaching of several ancient religions, notably Hinduism. In that latter case, the cosmos is the illusion representing the Dream of Brahman, making it—in James Jean’s words—“a great thought.”
Hard to say. But fun to speculate upon.