The Basics of Consciousness and Awareness
When I was the President of the Psychic Society of Alberta I taught meditation and awareness development or perhaps it is better stated as I assisted or guided people in exploring both of these areas. I had students of varying conscious capabilities and goals. I am sure you can understand variances in capabilities though you might think that those that would attend such classes would have the same goal of developing the abilities I referred to.
While many wanted to develop their awareness what I found was that people had very different notions of what awareness and consciousness are to begin with. They were not even sure what it was they wanted or needed to learn. Further, their very notions about such things were often vague and conflicting. As a result, on some nights I spent as much time exploring the concepts with them as in actually meditation or energy work (which is one way to develop awareness). The challenge was always in helping them to get to know more about the nature of awareness so that they could get past barriers we build around our basic consciousness and awareness.
I will digress for a moment to clarify what I mean by awareness and consciousness because it helps to understand what we are referring to. If you look up awareness there are a various definitions that refer to it as subjective awareness, the ability to experience feelings, wakefullness, or having a sense of selfhood. Max Velmans and Susan Schneider wrote in The Blackwell Companion to Consciousness:
"Anything that we are aware of at a given moment forms part of our consciousness, making conscious experience at once the most familiar and most mysterious aspect of our lives"
It can get even more complicated as it has of late with psychologists and neuroscientists entering a discussion that was in the past predominantly occupied by philosophers and theologians. The focus of most research is on understanding what it means biologically and psychologically for information to be present in consciousness—that is, on determining the neural and psychological correlates of consciousness. What does this mean? Hm, it all sounds so complicated, but it need not be.
The basis of consciousness is awareness and awareness is but reaction to stimulus. Consciousness is a built up set of reactions to various stimuli. So, consciousness can be defined as reaction plus memory. It is not complex or earth shattering, it is not beyond the capabilities of anyone to understand, it just is rarely explained or when it is the definition is insufficient or too complicated to be of any practical value. We over complicate it because our rational mind, our thinking mind has to define, categorize, relate and correlate everything to the nth degree. We want to understand it in the hope that by getting a firm handle on its definition we can then explore it and learn more about it. The problem with this approach is that, quite simply, the mind gets in the way.
Consciousness and awareness are not based on thoughts as we know them, though they are related. We can consider our consciousness as having two aspects. These are our Individuality, which is commonly known as our Higher Self and can be viewed as a set of stereotyped reaction-capabilities. The other is our Personality, that is you and I, as a reaction-capabilities which the addition of a new factor in evolution has made possible. Individuality and personality represent stages such that "that which is Personality today will be part of Individuality tomorrow".
In the Cosmic Doctrine by Dion Fortune (1) there is a an excellent presentation of the evolution of what we call the Cosmos. I will borrow a bit from it and since I wlll not be restating the entire section I will include a little explanation so you understand the context of the initial sentences below:
"You will perceive that we are still speaking in terms of dynamics. It is not until a high degree of evolution has been achieved that we can speak in terms of psychology"
This is to say, in its simplest form, energy interacts and this interaction creates a new movement (tangential to the two interacting movements) which is though independent of the components contains their basic "motions". This is a reaction and as mentioned above this is awareness. The high degree of evolution is referring to the idea that it takes a great number of actions and reactions to create the degree of complexity that is required for what we call thinking with all its various components. Here is the remainder of the paragraph, including the second sentence from above:
"It is not until a high degree of evolution has been achieved that we can speak in terms of psychology, there is an unbroken line of development from movement to thought. Tangential movement is a simple form of reaction. Thought is an infinitely complex form of reaction. It is a question of difference of degree, not difference of kind. Fundamentally there is no difference of kind in anything, because all can be reduced to the prime central stillness..."
Hence our consciousness and our awareness, while seemingly very complicated, are really not but action, reaction and memory. So how does this relate to meditation and developing our conscious awareness? It is relevant because we need to grasp the idea that when we let our minds get in the way, we are allowing the new factor in evolution, which is simply results in further complexity, to blind us to the root simplicity of our core nature - that being those stereotyped reaction-capabilities.
Our bodies give us the ability to interact physically, this new factor brings with it all the capabilities of thoughts and emotions. We get caught up in the complexity of it and thoughts builds on thoughts and continue to do so until the root of "them" is obscured by countless layers of thoughts. This is the illusion that we seek to awaken from. What we want to do is see beyond this complexity to simply being aware of an action-reaction capability.
Now, returning to the idea we started with, that of learning to meditate and developing our awareness, we can see that when we meditate we are reducing the thoughts we have about what we experience and of course our thoughts about those thoughts and so on. Through meditation we quiet our thoughts and in a manner of speaking focus our attention on a single thought to eventually, if you are diligent and practice regularly, having no thoughts at all.
This is crucial in terms of developing our awareness, something most surrender or give up when they are young. We start life very aware but lack in thoughts. From the essay The Nature of Thoughts Part II (2):
"...a child perceives all the energy levels, it is just not consciously aware of them. That is to say, that early on we do not have integrated thoughts about what we perceive. We are not aware that we are developing the interface between our soul per say and the manifest universe. We are simply exploring the vibrant world around us based on our nature. To learn to walk and talk, to recognize objects, smells, tastes and so on takes a considerable amount of repetition. Creation of the thought forms required comes first, followed by its strengthening through repetition."
As we move from being a child to being an adult a transformation takes place (from Limiting Aspects of the Rational Mind) (3):
"Ask a child a question and they will tell you their most honest answer, unless they have already learned to be afraid of their honesty or to gain advantage through deceit. This is the how and why of our loss of natural honesty over time. We fear hurting someone’s feelings even when there was no such intent, we learn to be afraid of angering people, or negative consequences when we are honest about what we perceive. Part of the reason we lose our honesty is it does not take long to forget about a lie, or our reasons and feelings around it and then the next sequence of events in life are upon us. We are not even aware of what we programmed into our minds, a new block or filter, and simply carry on our activities without knowing why.
While degrees of awareness vary, all children come in seeing what adults no longer see as they have built up blocks to them. Parents, trying to help their children survive and prosper, teach them to “use their heads”, to “get real”, even to quit making things up such as supposedly imaginary friends (though some really are only in a child’s imagination). Parents mean well; however, most are unaware of the consequences of their efforts."
To develop our awareness we must listen to that which have not listened to, to feel that which we have not consciously felt, and to experience using our new "ears" and "senses". Next time you meditate do not just try to quiet your thoughts, also allow yourself let go of what your physical self and feel what you perceive rather than think about what you perceive. Avoid labelling, contemplating, considering, exploring what you perceive, simply allow the perception to be there. You will not miss it, or fail to grasp it, in fact you will not be able to if you do not let go. It is not something most people are used to doing, which is why they miss many an intuitive or telepathic thought or even the subtle interplay of energies in and around them.
We do not have to think about everything we experience, that is something we have come to do over time. We want to relate everything to something else, to its place in the world around us and from it our own. But this is the personality working through all the new reaction capabilities it's experiences have given it. This will happen regardless of whether we focus our attention there or not. So, why not just let it go? Just allow yourself to feel and be in the moment. When the urge strikes you to do something don't hesitate, don't worry that someone might find it silly or odd, or out of place. When those whispers come from within go with them....
All of what I have just said came through in the below poem, which I have shared before. When you read it, read is slowly, one line at a time and allow for a slight pause between each line.
Whisper to Me
Whisper to me
As you have for so long
Whisper to me
More than a glimmer
Less than a glimpse
Whisper to me
And I shall try to listen
Though my ears be dull
Not wholly within
Would run away with me
Still I shall turn them
Turn them away
But not without
And small success
Surely following close
Will be quick
To sense opportunity
Whisper to me
© 1990 and 2011 Allan Beveridge
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