Does consciousness choose?

Q. Is it accurate to say that consciousness chooses? I can find reference to consciousness doing other things like engaging, responding, distorting, and inducing, but not choosing. I suppose one could deduce from all those verbs that it does choose.

A. The word “consciousness” in the Course is usually used to denote the conscious level of the mind, as distinct from the unconscious. Here are two key passages from Helen’s original handwritten dictation (which it looks like you have consulted, too):

Consciousness is the level which engages in the world, and is capable of responding both to external and internal impulses. Having no impulses from itself and being primarily a mechanism for inducing response, it can be very wrong.

Revelation unites Souls directly with God. The miracle unites Souls directly with each other. Neither emanates from consciousness, but both are experienced there. This is essential, because consciousness is the state which produces action, though it does not inspire it.

These passages do imply, as you suggest, that consciousness chooses, by talking about it “responding” and saying it “produces action.” However, I think it’s slightly more accurate to say that we are choosing and that those choices take place within our conscious minds. But either way, it’s basically the same thing.

The big picture is something like this: The conscious level of the mind is where experience takes place and where choice takes place. On the conscious level, we experience a constant and varied stream of impulses flowing into our minds, impulses to act, to express, to go in one direction or another. And we then have to choose which of these impulses we actually go with.

The impulses themselves, however, come from outside the conscious mind. The impulse for sexual gratification comes from the ego-based level of the unconscious, which the Course describes as just beneath the conscious level. The impulse to give a miracle to another comes from the Holy Spirit-based level of the unconscious, which the Course describes as being even deeper. The impulse to join with God comes from the superconscious, which lies above the conscious mind.

On the conscious level, then, we do not produce these impulses. On that level, all we do is choose what to do with them. We can say yes and let them through. We can say no and refuse to act on them. Or we can reinterpret them—we can call on Jesus, for instance, to help us convert a sexual impulse back into the miracle impulse it was a distortion of. That choice of what to do is pivotal, for the unconscious does not initiate novel action. It is merely the repository of past choices. It is programmed by the conscious mind, by what the conscious mind elects to do.

From my perspective, then, the punch line is this: Don’t feel bad about the impulses that come into your mind; they are just the pre-programmed result of all your past choices. But do concern yourself with the choices you make in regard to those impulses. What you do with them—whether it’s saying yes, saying no, or reinterpreting them—is the source of your future.

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