Once a year in Israel, at 11:00am on holocaust memorial day, an air raid siren sounds from North to South and East to West of the country. Each individual, every community, every radio and TV channel, every school and every car on every street and highway comes to a halt and the nation stands for the duration of the siren in silence.
It is a great sonic arousal – as the pitch, beginning low and almost beyond hearing rises up with a tremendous spirit of awakening and impending danger, to an alert high-pitched crescendo and one constant, sustained note.
Standing in ceremonies in high schools and witnessing the faces of the young children standing still in formation beneath the infinite blue sky, as the sound of the siren hauntingly impacts us all, and the awareness spreads to a whole nation of individuals standing to attention, it is an experience held together on the sustained top note the siren that each year brings tears to the eyes.
The impact is not only of the “re-membering” (reuniting with the whole) of the raw and still open wound of sheer horror, pain and grief inflicted by the holocaust on the ancestors of these people.
It is in the reallowance of that horror existing as a live energy in the now – as something alive and present (albeit often in the background under swabs of repression and denial) in the collective psychology of the country. The ritual is a pure, real time, unified empowerment of the collective state of the people. Nothing is more enlivening than the shock of our own mortality.
In the ascending scream of the siren, from the basis through the whole energy system, through the emptiness, awareness and consciousness and upwards to a converging point in the sky, 6 million people come together in a place of collective consciousness – a consciousness of what was – of the horrific episode in Jewish history which forms the cultural psychology to this day. This collective identity has been created by group consciousness and is maintained by the consciousness of a nation.
This moment of shared awakening to collective consciousness is later dressed in thoughts, beliefs and stories, each sub-unit according to its own agenda. Yet this is a powerful ritual, affirming a national consciousness through a direct anchor – the remembering of an event which has played a tremendous causal role in the state of Israel today.
When a nation stands together, we see a powerful formation and reformation of group consciousness. As with nations, so it is with religions which also mark out time and create unity through sacred ritual.
We also see the formation of group consciousness within individual tribes, schools of spirituality, football fans, bridge groups and family units, to name a few. Our leaders know this and they seek out the opportunity to boost national consciousness – through the cultivation of events in time such as the Olympics or a royal wedding.
It is a beautiful movement towards togetherness, yet it excludes a deeper unity as group consciousness is most often dependent on either exclusion, recruitment or both.
The persuasive and seductive power of marketing uses the tools of group consciousness through seductive messages and the establishment of landmarks in time. The more successful the marketing, the stronger the polarizing effect: you either are “luvin’” Macdonalds or hating it. Ironically, the latest marketing campaign of Marlboro comes under the banner “Just Be.”
The messages are seductive precisely because they are intuitively highly responsive to the yearning within the human soul at that time.
Thus, we parents witness horrified as our young children suddenly become obsessed with the latest gimic – such as randomly colored, senseless little rubber trash monsters. If all the kids are with these seductive trash monsters, then your child’s ticket to group existence is found in her acquiring a whole collection in her own right. And we run for our children – to ensure they will not meet our own inner fears of rejection. If Tommy hasn’t got one – or a lot of them – he could be rejected from the group.
In fact, Tommy needs to have more trash monsters than anyone else. He knows it. We know it too. The shops are sold out of trash monsters and we go into a kind of desperation. Never mind the homework, where’s the trash monster?
The beauty and danger of collective consciousness
At its best, group consciousness is a liberated, evolving collective identity, enlivened by a contribution of individual qualities from members and held in form by structures that support a shared process of evolution.
Yet because consciousness is so closely linked to power, authority, pain-based ego structures and to the creation of reality through projection, group consciousness needs to be nurtured with great care and responsibility.
It would be good if we could strive for the degree of conscious liberation which means that although we are part of the shared consciousness of our country, culture, family or school, we are nevertheless deeply and individually responsible for its direction – even if this means leaving the field or rejecting ourselves. Competition is a healthy part of evolution, but it needs to be liberated as a developmental playground, held lovingly within the deeper unity and ethics of the human heart.
Collective consciousness is nothing more than the sum of its individual parts when they move in agreement. Its direction can be greatly determined by the loudest voice and the strongest need. As such, the direction can suddenly become destructive – motivated by a flight from suffering rather than attraction towards a shared vision of creating a better world. The more a field of collective consciousness defines itself in competition with others, the more destructive its direction is likely to become.
It is a great irony that a wonderful spiritual teacher, bringing forward a message of liberation from the suffering of identification with the thinking mind and untended emotional patterns, can suddenly find himself in a complex global web in which he is a slave to group consciousness often directed and motivated by the incentive of profit. The more effectively he teaches the liberation from ego, the more he finds himself fortressed in an egoic form of a scale beyond his worst nightmares. He loses his freedom, and risks his authenticity. His followers, once awakened, seem to collapse into disempowerment and rivalry, using and abusing the teacher’s image as the authority, moving through a mutually dependent group entanglement of wants and needs which in the collective field can become quite a trash monster.
This is one of the greater challenges faced by world teachers, the challenge to their personal human freedom to live as they need. Yet bravely, they continue. Because the will at the basis of humanity to evolve and improve our collective state is a deeper imperative overriding fear of Self, be it a small Self or a global one. Yet it is never, never who they really are, or who we really are.
It is important to remember that these same challenges face us all when we choose to expand our consciousness, it is just a question of scale.
In the choice to develop consciousness, we make a choice for greater power, an increasing ability to impact our direction, and a deeper responsibility for the experience.
We will always share our consciousness with others like an overflowing cup. We anyway live in structures of group consciousness. The stronger we are in our consciousness, the greater our responsibility, whether it is within a relationship, a family or a high-tech industry. To take responsibility means to be present as much as possible: to develop an ability to respond and to become responsive to the needs of the now. To not take responsibility can mean we leave an abyss where demons created by jealousy, fear, rage and genocide can reign.