How Conscious Are You?

Conscious means aware. In general, being conscious means being aware of the world around you. However there are more levels of consciousness than just the physical level. Each of these levels is different. In fact, each level of consciousness is a distinct world, complete with unique objects, experience and laws. In this article we will discover the essence of each of these levels and provide directions to help you successfully navigate to the higher levels of consciousness.

Levels of consciousness

First of all, what are these levels of consciousness?Depending on who you listen to, there are various numbers of levels of consciousness. For this article we will use Esoteric Psychologys concept of the 3 worlds of consciousness i.e. physical, emotional and mental. These levels corresponds very closely with modern psychologys model of consciousness with a few important exceptions, which we will examine below. From a Buddhist perspective, the main levels are body, mind and spirit, or gross, subtle and causal. In fact, in almost all traditions, you will find correspondences to these 3 levels. So we have a good idea that these levels actually exist. Now let's examine each level in more detail.

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Being conscious at a physical level means aware of physical objects. This is the gross realm of the Buddhists. When you are conscious on the physical level you see and interact with physical objects trees, fish, bicycles, iguanas. At this level you are also aware of your physical body. Well, maybe. Some people are aware of their body, while others are aware as their body. In developmental psychology terms, you are either aware of your body as an object or as a subject. This object/subject concept will be used throughout this article and bears explanation.

Subject/Object

When we talk about subject we are talking about the observer. So subject = the observer, the one doing the watching/interacting. What is being observed is the object. Observed = object, the thing you are conscious of. The online etymology dictionary defines object as something perceived or presented to the senses . If you are watching a movie, the subject is you, and the object you are perceiving is the movie.

But it doesn't always stay that way. Have you ever watched a movie and forgotten you we're watching a movie? The movie was so good you got pulled right into it? The movie becomes real to you. So real you lose track of the fact that you are watching a movie and you become the movie. It is as if you are living in the movie the movie is no longer something out there; it is in here as your experience of life.

When this happens, you have lost the position of as the subject or observer of the experience. The subject (You) has become the object (Movie). Since the subject is now the object, the subject can not be aware of the object as a distinct item separate from itself. In psychological terms, the subject has become identified with the object. At this point subjective awareness is lost. The subject experiences life as the object.

Emotional Consciousness

If physical consciousness is awareness of physical objects trees, fish, bicycles, iguanas it follows that emotional consciousness is awareness of emotions. Sounds obvious and easy, but in reality there are few people who are genuinely fully emotionally conscious. Experiencing an emotion does not necessarily mean you have subjective awareness of the emotion. How often do you hear I am angry/sad/happy rather than I feel angry/sad/happy? When you hear I am <emotion> rather than I feel <emotion> it is a safe bet there is a lack of emotional consciousness; that the subject is identified with the object. Emotional consciousness has been lost and become fused with the object of awareness the emotion.

This idea of emotions being objects may sound strange. Ask a man on the street if he thinks emotions are objects and you will probably be looked at as if you're crazy. Is there any logic to emotions being objects? Lets see. Remembering object is defined as something perceived or presented to the senses lets look at an accepted object, i.e. a physical object. What are the characteristics of a physical object? In other words, how do you know a rock exists? You know the rock exists because you experience it. You experience physical objects with your physical senses, and that is how you know it exists. Furthermore, a physical object exists for you only as an experience of your physical senses. If you can not experience something, it does not exist for you.

Carrying this logic over to emotions, it stands to reason that an object on the emotional plane, if such a thing exists, is something perceived or presented to the senses . In the case of emotional objects, the senses we are talking about are the emotional senses, not the physical senses. So the simple question is, can you experience emotions? Clearly yes. Then logically, emotions must be objects since you perceive them when presented to the senses.

Some might object to this semantic logic, arguing that the characteristics of emotions can't be compared to the physical universe. Thats a good point you make, as we will discover below the emotional plan is inherently different to the physical plane. However, if you don't think emotions are objects, what are they? You experience them so you know they exist. If they're not objects, what are they? If you don't believe emotions are objects, perhaps you will take this challenge.

Define an emotion. Take a moment to ponder exactly what you consider an emotion to be and define it. Be specific, not vague; and avoid the trap of using synonyms in your answer. Emotions are feelings is not a definition of emotion. Also, beware of the medical attempt to reducing emotions to chemicals in the brain. If emotions are just neuro-chemistry, how is it you experience emotions in your dreams, when you are not conscious of your body? If emotions are simply physical, you could not experience them without your body, but you do. So emotions are not purely physical, although they do seem to have physical correlates.

If you find yourself with a vague, shifting confusion of what an emotion is, don't worry. You are in good company. The question of emotions has plagued humanity as far as we can record. However, the ancient writings of sages and gurus might spread some light on the matter. Lets see if we can narrow down exactly what an emotion is.

According to Buddhism, emotions exist in a realm of their own. They call this the subtle realm, while traditions such as mysticism and the occult call the world of emotions the astral plane. To these traditions, the world of emotions is a plane of existence as real as the physical realm. Emotional energy is like physical energy except it has a different density. This makes it behave differently. Just as a solid behaves differently from a liquid, so emotions behave differently to physical objects. In fact this analogy is surprising accurate. Emotions are like very much like liquids, so much so that their symbol in many traditions, and mythology is water. Ever been drowned in emotion, had a flood of emotion, been swallowed up by emotion, overcome by emotion? Have you noticed how emotions seem to flow through you, are quicker to change than physical objects, and also quicker to be agitated? These are all characteristics of liquids.

So emotional energy exists on the astral or emotional plane. And just as we have physical bodies to receive experience from the physical plane, we each have an emotional body which allows us to experience and interact with the energy of the emotional plane. This idea of an emotional body is echoed in almost all the major traditions, and if you think about it, how could you possibly experience emotion without an emotional body?

As we discussed earlier, emotional consciousness means being aware of emotions as objects. In other words, being the subject observing the object. This is easier said than done. In fact, it is probably one of the hardest parts of consciousness development. Why? Because of the inherent nature and purpose of emotions. The purpose of emotion in the creative process is attraction. Emotions are designed to attract energy to the idea the mind is attempting to bring into manifestation. This attractive nature of emotional energy not only makes it effective at attracting the required resources, it makes it very effective at attracting consciousness too. Without constant vigilance, your consciousness as a subject can be sucked into the vortex of emotion. The subject becomes the object, we become the emotion. The driver becomes the driven. We do what our emotions dictate; logic and consequences be dammed! You only have to look in the newspaper to see tragic examples of people who have been drowned in their emotions and committed harmful acts on themselves and other people.

Are you emotionally conscious?

How do you know if you have emotional awareness? The easiest way to tell is if you can chose not to do what an emotion wants you to do; if you can chose to do or not do what you feel like doing. Another yardstick is that if you are not sure whether you have emotional awareness or not, you probably dont. This is not a reason for discouragement, or anything to feel bad about (an unnecessary emotional object!), it is simply a way of measuring where you are, and helping you decide what direction to take in order to grow.

Tools for emotional growth

The first key to emotional awareness is remaining separate from the vortex of emotion. Emotional consciousness demands remaining separate from the emotion. In practice this requires recognizing when you are experiencing an emotion and consciously holding the position of subject observing and object.

There are many exercises to help develop this ability. Probably the most effective is meditation because it develops mental awareness. Since the mental plane is above the emotional plane, mental awareness develops emotional awareness. A quick and easy technique for recovering control of rampant emotion is simply taking 3 deep breathes. This releases the emotional energy that has passed into the body and allows you to recover control more easily. It is beyond the scope of this article to go into this vast subject in any more detail. A brilliant introduction to this subject is Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman. More advanced readers might enjoy Destructive Emotions edited by the same author. For a more esoteric exposition of the emotional and other planes, Shine Forth by William Meader is an enlightened yet accessible introduction to this fascinating subject.

Mental Consciousness

So far we have risen through the physical plane to the emotional or astral plan. It is now that we reach the mental plane and mental consciousness which is, as you might have guessed, awareness of objects on the mental plane. What are the objects that exist on the mental plane? Thoughts. Or, more accurately, thought forms. Just as physical matter takes form as objects, so does mental matter take form.

Mental consciousness then is awareness as a subject of thought forms as objects on the mental plane. Just as emotions are the fluid, watery objects of the emotional plane, thought-forms and ideas are the gas-like objects of the mental realm. Emotions are like liquids, while thoughts are like gases. Thoughts come and go like wisps of wind, blown here and there by every other passing breeze. In a split second we construct a utopia in our minds only to have it displaced in the next moment by a thought of what we're going to eat for lunch.

This is life on the mental plane. Thoughts come and go in the blink of an eye. It is this ephemeral, gas-like nature of thought-forms that makes them even more difficult than emotions to get a grip on. Holding a thought still in the mind is like trying to grab the wind. As soon as you grab for it, you destroy it. Just as in the physical sciences, the treatment of gases is fundamentally different from the treatment of solids, so it takes a different approach to master the mental plan. A lighter touch is needed, as well as a different attitude.

Just as the gaseous plane of the physical plane is lighter than the liquid plane, so the mental plane consists of a lighter, subtler grade of energy than the emotional plane. And just as different instruments are used to observe and measure liquids and gases, so a different state of consciousness is needed to interact successfully with the mental plane. As you move onto the mental plane, you take a lighter, more abstract stance. This is not the plane to go bashing about, poking and squeezing, wrestling your way to your objective. On the mental plane the tool of choice is the will. By will, I mean a directed, focused stream of energy. Were not talking here about the Victorian notion of the will, where the motives and impulses are bludgeoned by sheer determination and stiffness into submission. The type of will-power required on the mental plane is a steady focus or concentration of energy, almost like a magnetic field that gently but relentlessly creates a form in it's image. So to must the aspiring mental subject maintain a constant, gentle, willful focus in order to manipulate mental matter. Again, this is an entire subject in it's own right and can't be given full treatment in this article. William Meaders book as well as The Act of Will by Roberto Assagioli are recommended for interested readers.

Identifying Mental Awareness

First let's identify what mental consciousness is not. A common and obvious example of behavior indicating mental unconsciousness is doing one thing and then another and another without finishing any of them. Blindly enacting whatever thought happens to cross the mind is mental unconsciousness. Modern western psychology, always good at labeling things, has given this all too common state of affairs a label, which I am sure you can guess. Yes, it is Attention Deficit Disorder, or ADD. When one thought is in focus, it is acted on. When the next thought comes along, the previous thought is totally forgotten and the entire scope of awareness is captured by the thought in focus. Sound familiar? I know I do it. Often. Becoming a constantly aware subject on the mental plane takes practice. Constant practice leads to gradual improvements and longer periods of awareness on the mental plane. Eventually there is constant mental awareness.

There is nothing wrong or inherently unhealthy with enacting thoughts. After all, that is how we get things done. What is not healthy is unconsciously acting on whatever thought happens to drift or be spat out from an unknown source onto the mental screen. This is the dis-ease of ADD and why it creates stress and unhappiness. There is no conscious choice of what is going to happen next. What happens next is whatever thought takes center stage. Clearly there is no subjective awareness at this stage the subject is not aware of itself, it is wholly identified with the object.

As mentioned earlier, meditation is the best known tool for developing mental consciousness. Meditation is currently the only process shown by clinical research to accelerate the development of consciousness. However, there is often resistance to mediation as a solution to ADD or other mental distress. However, by definition, meditation is concentration. Thats all meditation is. You don't have to be a monk in a monastery to meditate. You don't have to twist your legs like a pretzel, or wear a toga. In everyday life, almost everyone can pay a little more attention to their thoughts and make the effort to develop a greater awareness of their mental processes. This is a basic form of meditation, and in time it will bring the rewards of greater calm, effectiveness and equanimity. In fact, an enlightened sage once suggested to an old woman that she need not forsake her daily activities and join a monastery in order to reach enlightenment. All she need do, the enlightened one told her, is to pay full and complete attention to what she was doing at every moment of the day. In that way, she could reach enlightenment just as surely as any monk in a monastery.

The Higher Self/Soul

All this discussion of planes of consciousness begs the question, Where does the Higher Self (Western Psychology) or Soul (Esoteric Psychology) reside? To answer this question, a little more detail is needed on the nature of the planes of existence.

Solids, liquids and gases are all considered physical. Eastern esoteric traditions will tell you that these different states of matter are in fact levels of the physical plane called subplanes. In fact, the traditions state there are a total of 7 subplanes or levels to each of the major planes and that each higher subplane is less dense than the plane below it. Solid, liquid and gas are the lower 3 planes of the physical plane and it is clear that gases are less dense than liquids which are less dense than solids.

But that's only 3 subplanes, what are the 4 higher subplanes? Why haven't we been taught about them in school? The top 4 physical subplanes, called etheric, are yet to be discovered by western science. Oriental sciences have known about them for a long time and used them for centuries in traditional healing methods such as acupuncture and Qi Jong.

Just as there are 7 subplanes of the physical plane, there are 7 subplanes on the emotional and mental planes. Briefly stated, the lower subplanes of the emotional plane are the home of materialistic, physical and selfish desire, while the higher subplanes of emotion house altruistic, philanthropic and selfless aspirations.

The lower subplanes of the mental plane are the home of what is called the concrete mind. This is the daily mind, the mind that thinks about where to buy a house, how to drive the car and what color tie goes with what jacket. It is the mind that organizes, analyses and divides phenomena into neat (or not so neat) reference stacks ready for recall when we need it.

The highest subplanes of the mental plane are the home of the abstract mind. This is the realm of formless intuition. It is a difficult, if not impossible state of consciousness to describe for the simple reason that it is a higher state of consciousness than that being used to describe it. I am using language, which is a tool of the lower, concrete mind to describe the higher mind. This is a task doomed to failure, like teaching a pig to sing. It doesn't work, and it annoys the pig. The lower mind objects to being given anything it can't understand. Its ego is bruised by the implication that it is not capable of grasping a concept, of taking a whole and chopping it up into understandable, categorical components.

The higher, abstract mind can not be understood by the lower mind. The only true way to know the higher mind is to experience it. Again, meditative traditions are the best source for instruction on this task. However, a few hints may be given as to the nature of the higher mind as you have probably already experienced it in your life. Those moments of deep intuition, where you knew something absolutely, without having a concrete picture or grasp on it, was probably a formless intuition from the abstract mind. The quiet voice of conscience urging you to do something against your own immediate and material benefit ,is often from the abstract mind, separated as it is from the lower, materialistic perspective.

What does this have to do with the Soul, or Higher Self (as Western Psychology calls it)? The simple answer is that the Soul exists at the highest subplane of the mental plane. This explains why the soul is so hard to contact consciously most of us are only periodically conscious on the emotional level and even less at the lower mental level. Remember I am talking here of genuine subject awareness at these levels, not just experiencing or identifying with their artifacts.

According to Esoteric Psychology, at the level of the abstract mind, there is a form made of very subtle mental material that surrounds a unit of consciousness. This unit of consciousness we identify as our higher selves, or Soul.

While it does define the higher self as the home of altruistic, expansive growth and awareness, western psychology does not explicitly define the realm where the higher self exists, except to say is higher, more ephemeral and outside the boundary of the lower self.

A note on growth

The development of consciousness follows a sequence of physical to emotional to mental awareness. There is some overlap the levels don't all develop totally independently of each other but knowing more or less where you are allows you to focus on where you want to go.

Conclusion

We have seen there exists a mental, emotional and physical plane, each with their own characteristics, forms and subplanes. We learned that to master any level requires the ability to be conscious of the forms on that level; to remain a subject observing a object. We discussed briefly methods for developing awareness at the emotional and mental levels.

I will leave you with one suggestion. If you feel strongly drawn to developing your awareness at any of these levels, I would suggest investigating and perhaps adopting some contemplative tradition or exercises that appeal to you.

Posted in Dentistry Post Date 11/13/2018


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