By Peter Canova
The title of this article is a double entendre. In part, it refers to an ongoing chicken/egg debate about which came first, consciousness or matter. But it also refers to something rarely discussed in spiritual or New Thought circles, which is that varying forms of matter exist just as varying forms of consciousness exist.
By way of disclosure, I am squarely coming down on the side of matter deriving from consciousness, not the other way around. Many theories have been floated trying to demonstrate how conscious life arose from matter, all of them inconclusive. That puts them in the same category of the consciousness theories that materialist scientists criticize as unprovable, so we can acknowledge that we’re dealing with a mystery.
This means that mystical teachings are every bit as valid in explaining conscious life as scientific gropings and cracks are appearing among scientists themselves as several theories are being put forth viewing the primacy of consciousness to explain reality.
The matter vs. consciousness-first issue is actually a segue to discuss the relationship between consciousness and matter, so just a few more words on the topic of origins. It’s quite a stretch to say that inorganic matter just one day became organic on its own and then somehow gave rise to sentient life. However, if we assume consciousness is the Source of all that came into being, it eliminates all of the infinities and paradoxes in quantum physics, and physicists hate infinities. Score one for consciousness. Materialists will have much to say about this, but that’s a debate for another time.
On to the relationship between consciousness and matter, first, let’s define the nature of consciousness. Consciousness and energy are intertwined. Consciousness is an intelligent energy present in all phenomena in varying degrees. Energy is the vehicle consciousness employs to disperse itself, that is, to project its desired effect in both physical and non-physical forms.
The creation story of many mystical, spiritual, and religious traditions have a common belief about consciousness and energy. A supreme primordial Source—call it the One, God, Supreme Consciousness, or whatever you like—stirred to express Itself and know Itself. A thing can only understand itself in relation to another thing. So, this passive, static Oneness needed to cast Its consciousness into a different form of experience. It did this by limiting Its own consciousness to project other points of consciousness that felt a sense of individuality in their limited state of awareness. These Spirit Consciousnesses had a sense or an awareness of being part of the One Consciousness that generated them but also had a sense of individual self.
Perhaps the most compelling and scientific of all the creation stories comes from the Gnostics, western mystics who had a great deal to do with the earliest form of Judeo-Christian mysticism. Unfortunately, the rise of the Orthodox Church destroyed gnostic wisdom, though many corrupted elements were retained in modern Christianity. The Gnostic creation tale is so rich in meaning that it described phenomena like the Big Bang, the God Particle, and parallel universes thousands of years before quantum physics.
In the Gnostic story, an important aspect of God’s projected being was wisdom (Sophia, in Greek), who fell into a state of chaos. Chaos was a dimension of random chance potential that could be thought of as the unconscious mind of the Creator. It was not a void but contained inert seeds of potential that the Gnostics called proto-matter. As the story goes, Wisdom Sophia plunged her high spiritual energy into chaos seeking to emulate God’s creative power, but things didn’t work out as she had hoped.
Her high spiritual energy activated the proto-matter, engulfing her and causing her to take on mass. This led to the creation of a new psychic dimension characterized by matter incompatible with the spiritual dimension from which Sophia had fallen.
Herein lies our first key to the relationship between consciousness and matter.
The matter characterizing this psychic dimension is not physical matter but a finer form of subtle matter. The spirits or souls that fell into this dimension seeking to express greater degrees of individuality assumed energetic forms through this type of matter. Now, the Gnostic texts describe a number of dimensional gradations, parallel dimensions for short. Each dimension and the souls grouped therein were characterized by their vibrational level of consciousness or awareness.
A near-universal axiom of different spiritual traditions and even certain aspects of psychological theory believe that humans are composite beings existing at differing levels of consciousness with corresponding subtle bodies composed of ever finer degrees of matter. So like layers of phyllo dough in a Greek pastry, we’re walking sheaths of varying degrees of consciousness and matter.
If the idea of subtle, invisible matter seems a bit speculative or “New Agey” to you, you might want to consider a few postulates of modern science. Our universe is not only permeated by unseen energies but by unseen matter called dark matter. In fact, dark matter is six times more present in the universe than visible matter. It holds the universe together, counteracting the force known as dark energy that is causing the universe to expand.
Scientists know how to manipulate energy and understand some of its properties, but they have yet to learn what it is or where it comes from. The idea that unseen forces or matter are leaking into our universe from other dimensions is gaining ground in some scientific quarters.
Another more well-known fact gives us a further clue about the energy-matter relationship. We have Einstein’s famous equation E = mc2. This tells us that matter and energy are interchangeable. Everything we perceive as solid in this world is just a form of congealed energy. Matter originates with energy and resolves back into energy, as demonstrated by the atom-splitting process that unleashes the tremendous nuclear force.
What does all this tell us? It tells us that consciousness and matter are intimately bound together (and remember, consciousness and energy are synonymous in varying degrees). If, as Einstein showed, energy and matter are inextricably bound in the material world, we have every reason to assume that the subtle bodies the mystical traditions speak of are also forms of matter, albeit much higher, undetectable energy vibrations.
The conclusion—and here the more spiritually-minded might want to take note—is that matter may be the vehicle that spirit needs to express itself at all levels of being. Without matter, there would be no individual existence beyond the purely spiritual being of the Source. Matter often has a bad name in spiritual circles, and certainly, the grosser it gets, the messier consciousness becomes, but we are in physical form. That’s what we have to work with.
The good news is that we don’t need to be bound by random material fate. The interconnectedness of mind, energy, and matter indicates that if we learn to work with these factors, healing, dreaming, imagining, and meditating can all become real channels for personal and collective change in our lives.
Peter Canova is an international businessman who began writing on spirituality and consciousness after a series of life-changing spiritual experiences. He is the author of the 25x award-winning First Souls Trilogy and has contributed to the popular Chicken Soup for the Soul series. His latest book is Quantum Spirituality. https://petercanova.com/