This is an answer to a question I was asked about consciousness as it relates to evolution:
It is my understanding that the mind (particularly the ego aspect of the mind) can sometimes impede the evolutionary process or it can be used as a tool to speed up the process. I think this is why humans are considered more evolved than plants or animals. We have (as you mentioned) the choice to “walk, run or dive forward”. Animals are mostly under the control of their base instincts – which mostly has to do with survival – so their ability to choose is limited. Even though we as humans have a greater capacity for higher consciousness we need several lifetimes as humans to grow into it. As we can observe, some humans are still operating from survival instincts, whereas others seem more conscious in their choices “old souls.
With greater choice comes greater responsibility. As humans, we are responsible for more than just survival. As our consciousness develops we begin to understand this more and more. In the beginning, we use that power of choice for very selfish reasons and sometimes not even being aware (or taking responsibility) of the choices we are making – both consciously or unconsciously. Our desires lead to actions and those actions have consequences which are basically the law of Karma. As we become more conscious we make better choices. That starts to speed up our evolutionary process and burn up the karmic actions which are obstacles to our growth while inspiring us to perform more conscious actions which create more positive karma (results).
Pure consciousness is that which is beyond the mind. The mind gets bogged down by thoughts, desires, duality, and identification with the objects of the world. Pure consciousness is our true nature, whereas an undisciplined mind is mostly at the mercy of the ego and the physical senses – which is not our true nature. Consciousness in its true form has no outward identifications. It identifies with itself. It is not dependent on the external world. It is self-evident whereas things in the world are only known in relation or comparison to another external object.
All spiritual practices are essentially a means to put us in touch with pure consciousness. In order for it to be fully be known, we have to experience it. Intellectual knowledge is not sufficient without actual experience. The more one practices, the more one becomes aware of pure consciousness. This awareness greatly speeds up spiritual and human evolution. Of all of the means or spiritual practices prescribed, meditation, contemplation, and prayer are considered the most efficient.