I spent some time thinking about Reality today, and I toyed with the conclusion that I have probably - for most of my life - nurtured flawed notions about what the perception of Reality entails.
For most of my adult life, I have tended to view Reality as something like a vertical scale spanning the lower to the higher, with everyday, common, material reality occupying the lower levels of perception, and transcendent, metaphysical reality occupying the higher levels.
Within this framework, one's quality of perception/thinking determined what level of reality one was capable of perceiving. Consciousnesses rooted primarily in the vulgar and the material tended only to perceive or find meaning in the lower levels, while those with more refined or spiritual consciousnesses were able to glimpse or recognize higher levels of reality.
However, as I thought about this today, I began to suspect this might be a flawed and incorrect way of conceptualizing consciousness and its relation to and perception of Reality because it implies that those who perceive Reality at the purely material level still perceive some sense of Reality, but lack the "muscle" to perceive the higher levels.
Perhaps they do, but what if these perceptions are willfully ignored, unacknowledged, neglected, ignored, or misunderstood? The perception might still exist, but lacking a foundation of intuitive understanding, this perception essentially becomes meaningless, akin to hearing a language one does not speak or understand. The sound is there, but the words make no sense. After a while, a person in this position is faced with two choices: learn the foreign language, or block it out completely. This, however, presupposes that the preceptor even recognizes the heard language as language and not just noise.
Seen this way, perception takes a back seat to acknowledging, accepting, and understanding. Being aware that the noise is language is the first step, but awareness of the language does one no good if one is unwilling to comprehend it. Put another way, the 'reality' of the perceived language remains inaccessible and meaningless if the effort to understand it is not made.
My problem with this idea is the notion of effort. This directly implies consciousness must be developed and trained like a muscle for it to understand or perceive higher levels of reality, the same way the brain and the organs of speech must be trained to master a language. The implication is that without this sort of development, consciousness is incapable of tackling higher levels of reality in the same way untrained muscles are incapable of tackling certain arduous physical tasks.
But what if consciousness/reality perception was not really about the training of the consciousness in order to perceive higher levels of reality, but rather about aligning consciousness in such a way that it can perceive Reality in its totality? This perception of Reality in its totality - that the lower and higher are actually all connected and interacting - would then lead one to understanding, an understanding that would actually require very little in the way of effort.
In other words, perceiving Reality might not be so much about effort, but more about openness and acceptance.
Reality is there for all to sense and understand, all the time, but most do not accept this Reality as real. The inability to perceive Reality in its totality does not come down to not having developed the proper "consciousness muscles" or "communication skills" due to some apparent weakness in consciousness, but more of a matter of being closed to what the true nature of Reality is. Put another way, Reality exists before all consciousness, and all consciousnesses exist in Reality, but most consciousnesses do not accept Reality as Reality because they do not accept the axioms supporting Reality.
Yes, this is akin to the idea of lower/higher and the division of Reality into rising and descending levels, but the notable difference is this - the process of training consciousness to ascend to higher levels of understanding and perception is eliminated and replaced with a process closer to simply aligning the consciousness with Reality in order to not only perceive it, but intuitively understand it. In other words, it comes down to the basic matter of core assumptions. Aligning consciousness with Reality is the foundation of religious thinking, which is the only mode of thinking capable of perceiving Reality as a whole.
Approached from this angle, mystics and spiritual thinkers are not individuals with elevated levels of consciousness capable of perceiving higher levels of reality, but rather individuals with properly-aligned consciousnesses capable of identifying and perceiving Reality in its totality. Seen this way, any failure to recognize and comprehend Reality does not indicate a lack of "muscle", but a lack of imagination, intuition, and faith.