Accessing higher states of consciousness is often mistakenly believed to be something only mystics, sages, monks, gurus and shaman are capable of, but the truth is, we all are capable of accessing higher states of consciousness. All of us have had some experience with higher states at some point in our lives. Metaphorically speaking, we are all bouncing along like a wave in an ocean of consciousness, constantly in motion between various states, some higher, some lower than the previous ones, and sometimes just shifting sideways on even ground. Depression is a very low state of consciousness compared to joy. Gratitude is a much higher state than envy. Deep concentration, intense learning, or problem solving are much higher states of consciousness than wallowing in self pity, self doubt, or being lost in fantastical thinking and daydreaming. Some states are driven by emotions and others by mental or thought activity. Since thoughts and emotions react and interact with each other, both have easy influence over the lower states. The higher states tend to be more immune from internal or external influences than lower states. Higher states are governed by attention and concentration. The lower states are prone to distraction and wandering minds. They are frequently immersed in self destructive or self impeding behaviours, operating from outside of conscious awareness, by the sub-consciously driven Ego.
The states of consciousness that the mystics, sages, monks, gurus and shaman refer to are at the upper end of our consciousness spectrum. They are highly stable, free of non-essential thought and mental activity, abiding in pure, calm, sublime, tranquillity and equanimity. When the mind is no longer wandering off reliving past events or imaging future ones, it becomes fully immersed in the present moment, regardless of the pleasantness or unpleasantness that exists in that moment. This mind is free from the habit of passing judgements on everything, instead, simply observing from a place of detachment. These states are completely free from Ego, because Ego itself is nothing more than a collection of thoughts that a person has about their self, so if the words and pictures in the mind fall silent, so does the Ego.
As elusive as these higher states may sound, they are not as rare and difficult to access as they may seem, and odds are that you have already experienced glimpses of them before. If you have ever had a moment that 'took your breath away', such as seeing a falling star, or seeing some magnificent wonder of nature, you have experienced a state of higher consciousness. At that moment, you were not thinking about your grocery list, or the local gossip, or worrying about tomorrow, or feeling fear or anxiety, or any other lower state of being. You were fully engaged in the present moment, and at peace with that moment.
Artist, musicians, and athletes access some of these higher states routinely. Artists can become deeply absorbed, almost entranced in their work. Intense focus on detail and perfection causes them to become so deeply connected with their artwork that nothing else exists at that moment.
Creativity is a higher state of consciousness, and creativity is a manifestation of inspiration. Merriam Webster defines inspiration as: "a divine influence or action on a person believed to qualify him or her to receive and communicate sacred revelation; the action or power of moving the intellect or emotions". The origin of the word inspiration is 'in spirit' from the Latin word inspīrāre, which in turn is from spīrāre which means "to breathe". It's not hard to see the connection between spirituality, breath meditation, and higher states of consciousness.
Musicians not only rely on creativity but must also have strong intense focus and concentration while engaged in their craft. If they allow their mind to wander off into a daydream, they can quickly lose concentration and drop their rhythm, or miss a note, and their music will be negatively impacted.
Athletes, who are always looking for a competitive edge, have come to recognise a phenomenon they call 'Being in the Zone'. Wordnik.com defines 'In the Zone' as "a mental state of focused concentration on the performance of an activity, in which one dissociates oneself from distracting or irrelevant aspects of one's environment." What this translates to is, being fully immersed in the present moment without the distractions of a wandering mind. Meditation and Mindfulness have become routine practice for many athletes who want to learn to stay 'in the zone'.
Common to all of these higher states, the creativity of the artist, the intense concentration of the musician, the athlete's 'zone', and the states the mystics speak of, is that they are all rooted in the present moment, and operate outside of conventional or fantastical thought. The higher the state of consciousness, the more rooted in the present moment, the less influenced by the Ego, and the quieter and more peaceful the mind becomes.
All of the lower states of consciousness share some common traits as well. They are Ego driven, disconnected from reality in varying degrees, and the mind is almost continually being engaged in endless loops of mental chatter and monkey mind theatrics. The lower the state, the greater the disconnect from reality, and the bigger the Ego. An example of this can be seen in thought disorders such as psychopathic or narcissistic behaviours, both of which are associated with 'big egos’ and a disconnect from reality, and both are clearly very low states of existence. The implications of learning how to gain control over our own minds and states of consciousness are quite profound. If a person could learn to manage their own thoughts and mental states, they could regain control over their own thought disorders and drastically improve the quality of their life.
Among the lowest of states that we can can encounter are those that hijack our consciousness and completely disconnect us from reality. Daydreams and fantasies are the playground of the Ego and can cause us to indulge in unrealistic expectations of life, setting us up for even lower states of suffering when reality does not live up to our expectations. When mystics speak of quieting the mind, it is daydreams and fantastical thinking they are referring to, not skillful uses of thought. For many people, a wandering mind has become the default state that consciousness falls into when the mind is not engaged in intentional purposeful activity. Putting the brakes on fantastical thinking leads to an end to our self created mental suffering and allows the mind to migrate toward resting silently whenever it is not being intentionally put to skillful use.
Bridging between higher and lower realms of consciousness are states that still involve using imagination and conventional thought, (words and pictures in the mind) but are rooted in the present moment, and used for skillful purposes such as problem solving, learning, concentration, deep listening, and includes any states that are free from Ego.
What mystics teach are various methods of focusing our concentration and attention inward with the intention of understanding our own mind for the purpose of mental self healing. From this simple activity we can learn to recognise and consciously shift away from self harming, self defeating, and self limiting states, and gravitate toward higher ones. They teach methods of honing concentration and awareness through practices like Samadhi meditation, training the mind to stabilise and not constantly wander off aimlessly. Concentration and attention put the mind into learning mode. Every student has heard a teacher exclaim "Pay attention or you will never learn anything!"
Practices like Vipassana meditation consciously engage the mind in the activity of simply paying attention to itself. This is done for the purpose of learning more about ourselves, and uncovering the real causes of our lower states of consciousness and self created suffering, and then developing mental skills that allow us to consciously choose to let go of and disengage from any mental activity that is not serving in the best interests of our selves or of others.
Through simple non-judgemental observation of our mental activity we start to notice how thoughts and emotions influence each other, and ultimately influence our actions, reactions and interactions with the world around us. We are literally seeing our own Kharma. When we objectively observe the mind without judgement from a higher state of consciousness like learning, our mind starts to connect the dots, and we start to recognise harmful thought patterns, and we learn to take responsibility for harmful thoughts by not indulging in them. By letting go of them we are not giving them any of our energy. When we indulge in thought patterns, we are feeding them with our energy, and they will keep coming back for more in repetitive loops that can quickly spiral out of control. When we stop feeding them, they wither and die off. We are signalling the mind that these thoughts are not important enough to waste energy on, which starts to break down the feedback loops and the lower states of the repetitive monkey mind. As these repetitive patterns of Egoic thought start to break down, quiet space in the mind starts to open up, and the mind shifts naturally into higher states.
Advancements in the fields of psychology and neuroplasticity continue to validate the millenniums old teachings that the mind is not fixed and rigid, but rather, that it can be moulded and reshaped. It can be re-trained to avoid harmful states of consciousness, states that many people seem to almost wallow in, states that are really nothing more than mental bad habits that have become addictive. Like any bad habit, breaking it starts with bringing awareness to the problem, recognising when it is occurring, and letting go, re-directing consciousness to some other activity that is rooted in presence, such as mindfulness or watching the breath. Repetition, vigilance and diligence are key to breaking the bad habits of the mind. Developing introspective self awareness carries the power to bring about the type of profound inner changes that lead to true trans-formative enlightenment and an end to our self harming and self created suffering.
|Michael L. Fournier|