My older brother was a member of a drum and bugle corps. There were many such groups back in the 50's. There may be many such groups in existence now; I'm just not aligned with that slice of life anymore. Back then, the corps would practiced faithfully until they could move as one proud unit before strutting their stuff in competitions.
It was at one such competitive event--my brother was not competing that day--that I discovered the frightening truth about the loss of self. I was sitting in the upper stands watching as group after group did their thing on the open field. As part of the ritual, the spectators would ooh and aah in all the appropriate places during each performance. As a corps finished and filed off the field, the stands would become an undulating sea of movement as everyone stood to cheer.
Every now and again, my brother felt compelled to explain the rules to me. "Watch," he said, "A good corps will never, ever, break formation. Even if someone faints the others will keep on marching."
"What if someone steps in dog doo?" I asked innocently. At the time, not stepping in dog doo was kind of a fetish of mine. Hey, I was a girl and only twelve at the time. I was ignored by my brother--written off as too foolish to understand the significance of what was happening down there on the field. I was happy to withdraw into my own thoughts.
The first few times, I stood and cheered when everyone else stood and cheered. Then I became aware that the crowd was no different than the participants on the field. They had their routines down on the field, we had ours up in the stands. No one broke formation. No one, until me, that is.
At the time, I didn't understand the phrase group consciousness, but I was acutely aware of its effects. There were invisible energies at play--first created by the crowd and then controlling the crowd--that seemed to swoop me up along with everyone else.
The connectedness of life is a given. It is bound together by Spirit, by higher consciousness, by love. Crowds, like those at spectator sports, are bound together by something altogether different: a powerful and, more than likely, mindless emotion.
I began to experiment to see how much control this group consciousness actually had over me. When the crowd stood, I remained seated. When they applauded and screamed, I remained still and silent. I had to make a very deliberate effort to make my own choices and remain true to those choices.
At first, the social pressure weighed heavily upon my small shoulders. My brother scowled at me and pushed on my shoulder. My stepfather looked at me sternly over the tip of his cigarette as he lit up. An ardent fan behind me bumped my back as I stubbornly remained in my seat during one upsurge of humanity. Daring to be different took all the strength I could muster.
Group consciousness is not evil in and of itself. It can become so if one is totally lost in it, no longer able to make one's own choices and live and move and have one's being in a state of freedom. A college football team, for example, plays as all for one and one for all and brings home the trophy. A choice is made by each member to be a part of the team.
Swept away in their moment of victory, members of that same team gang rape a co-ed. At least one young man's parents will inevitably step forward and tell the voracious media what a good boy their son is. They'll point out repeatedly that he would never have done something like this on his own. Probably not, and therein lies the problem.
When you totally align yourself with a group consciousness, you think and act as that group thinks and acts, doing things you may not have done on your own. It's not necessarily that you are so sweet and innocent. We have all accumulated the not-so-pretty within ourselves. (Just think of all the negative television programs and films you have watched and absorbed by osmosis. Do you think that stuff passes through without leaving a slimy residue? Think again.) On our own, the not-so-pretty is usually kept in check by the programmed ethics and morals that govern us. The crowd can overturn that programming and unleash our darker side.
When I finally felt I'd regained my free will on the day of the competition, I chose to stand and cheer because I was appreciative of the cadence and symmetry and uniform choice of a particular corps. I didn't choose to stand because I was forced to do so by the reigning emotions of the crowd. I was not caught in the universal phenomenon known as entrainment. (Entrainment is defined as the tendency for two oscillating bodies to lock into phase so that they vibrate in harmony.)
Does this mean that the next time your family has re-union and decides to go to a popular restaurant in the area, you should refuse for fear of being controlled by the crowd? Of course, not. Let's look at another example. At lunch, a group of your co-workers are sharing some rather vicious gossip about your boss. You have a few stories of your own to tell so you join right in and add to the group's pleasure by putting a humorous twist on things. Alone on the way back to work, you begin to feel rather badly about what you got caught up in. In truth, you actually kinda like your boss. How could you be so mean? It's not really like you.
Sadly, we live most of our lives in a sleep state, the unwilling victims of everything that goes on around us. We are under the illusion that we are awake, that we are making conscious choices. In truth, we are victims of our programming.
Are you awake? Do you want to be?
Look, if you will, at one your hands. Hold it up before your face. Does your hand know it is a hand? No, it doesn't. Your hand doesn't have self-awareness.
Does your mind know your hand is your hand? Yes, but only because that's what you've been taught. Remember the drill with your mother. Where's your nose? Where's your mouth? Where's your hand? What a smart little tyke you were! With repetition, your mind was programmed to recognize your body parts.
Are you your mind? No, not any more so than you are your hand. Although there is a strong illusion in place there that makes one think so.
If not your body or your mind, then who or what are you?
There is something, if you follow along with this exercise, that is aware of your mind being aware of your hand. That awareness IS you. It is Consciousness. From this place of wakefulness, you can make choices. You can choose to march along with the beat of the drum and bugle corps or you can choose to march to your own drumbeat.
Fall asleep and be controlled by your environment; wake up and create your environment.
It's called free will. But it's only free if you are.