“When we change our consciousness we change the world”. This phrase is a subtle reminder that perspectives change with every situation and can turn for the better on a dime.
John the Baptist’s first word in the synoptic Gospels is “repent”. This word has a negative connotation and a condemning tone, but in Greek the word for “repent” is “metanoia”. Metanoia means to go “beyond the mind”. Henri Nouwen wrote about this in his book “Open Hands” and addresses the idea of open mindedness (metanoia) vs. closed mindedness (paranoia).
It’s a curious idea and sets the tone for the rest of the New Testament, so it is a critical point to understand. When we move beyond the mind, we are moving beyond the self-imposed limitations we set for ourselves or the limitations the world sets for us. We get caught up in negativity and fear created on a daily basis.
In the day-to-day struggles of survival, we worry about making the grade and measuring up; money, health, loved ones and their problems, making ends meet. Most people live paycheck to paycheck and project fear for the future if something happens to their jobs. Many people are wallowing in mistakes of the past and get stuck reflecting on past indiscretions that brought them to this point in their lives. Moving beyond the mind of fear is easier said than done. Paranoia is part of the human condition. How often do we live waiting for the other shoe to drop instead of living for the moment? Such living can drive us into haunting darkness and leave us grasping for answers to those never ending questions. “What will I do if”?
Our immediate concern in addressing any given problem is based on the resources accessible to us or our gifts and talents that point us in the direction of sustenance, but fear can trap us in our quandaries and leave us stagnant. Fear can limit our possibilities for hope in change. It blemishes the artfulness of our existence and may lead to an outbreak of chronic doubt.
So what’s the go to in such malaise? Maybe for some it is dabbling in a puzzle or solving a math problem… Getting the brain going. The Lively Arts? Dance? Art? Theater? Literature? Movies? Music.
Music offers more even in its sublime expression of despair. “Music soothes the cosmic muse”. How many songs have been written about the lost hopes and dreams and remind us that we are not alone? Songs cover every situation known to humanity like the loss of love and missed opportunities and dalliances with glamorous prospects and possibilities.
Sometimes it’s hard to find someone to remind us it is going to get better, too. Bob Dylan reminded us in songs like “Positively 4th Street”, there are those more than willing to bring us “into the hole” they are in. The Blues cornered the market on songs of alienation, desperation and entangled emotions with pleas to God in a seemingly useless circumstance.
A positive affirmation, a turn of phrase, a healthy look from 32,000 feet above sea level at our lives and the blessings of a treasured memory can change all that. This is metanoia.
I think of the great Woody Guthrie and the songs that inspired him to write and see the world in a new way. Guthrie writes:
“I hate a song that makes you think that you are not any good.
I hate a song that makes you think that you are just born to lose. Bound to lose. No good to nobody. No good for nothing. Because you are too old or too young or too fat or too slim too ugly or too this or too that. Songs that run you down or poke fun at you on account of your bad luck or hard traveling.
I am out to fight those songs to my very last breath of air and my last drop of blood. I am out to sing songs that will prove to you that this is your world and that if it has hit you pretty hard and knocked you for a dozen loops, no matter what color, what size you are, how you are built, I am out to sing the songs that make you take pride in yourself and in your work”.
Woody knew. The anthems of hope always bring me back. I can’t listen to Beethoven’s last movement of “Ode to Joy” and not shake my head in wonder at the awe of this gift to the world. I can’t hear a Springsteen liberating cry and unconditional “No Surrender”, a Beatle affirmation of life “yeah, yeah, yeah” or an exultant Queen chorus of Figaro and not smile — or the driving beat, thundering bass and power chords of a Who anthem and think there’s work to be done and it’s up to me to do it.
I’m not ashamed to say “Hallelujah” during Lent. I don’t think Jesus would mind me turning the phrase now and then to help me out of a difficult day by seeing God’s glory in a simple expression of grace.
I can’t set my mind to wondering about the universe and the life abounding in creative bliss and not feel a little better about something more hereafter. I can’t look at science and marvel at the quantum world and how it posits new possibility in concerted effort, concentrated focus and a healthy dose of persistence sprinkled with optimism.
I can’t see the creative expression of wonder unfold in a new way and not be grateful for new understanding.
Scripture does it, too! Jesus’, unconditional, ineffable expression of love is there for the taking. People can castigate you, revile you and drum you out of this world with brutal disregard, but if you stay true to the message of love it will serve you — even two thousand years later and a message of love will resonate as powerfully as the day it was initiated on a cross.
If you can get yourself into the practice of “metanoia” and attain methods to change your consciousness, you can change your world. If you can love yourself into a new perspective of life and accept the love of others, the paranoia slowly slips away. Seek community to sing new songs with and dance a good “jig” every now and then. “It’s all good”.
Yes, indeed, “When you change your consciousness, you change the world”.