Understanding Consciousness

Over the past year, many of the posts I’ve made on this blog have been about topics which for me represent the past — ideas and challenges I worked through years ago, such as productivity and getting organized. But for at least the rest of this month, I’m going to fast-forward to the present to write about the front edge of what I’ve been experiencing and thinking about.

The main topic I’ll be exploring with you is the subject of consciousness itself, which is obviously a fundamental component of our human existence. This topic spills over into many different areas, including understanding the nature of reality, beliefs, spirituality, purpose, and achieving lasting happiness.

What does this have to do with personal development? Everything. Whenever you experience a major growth experience, you experience a shift in your consciousness. You shed old ways of thinking and embrace new ones. You learn to use your consciousness in new ways. But instead of working with you on bottom-up techniques like getting yourself organized in order to create changes in your consciousness, now we’re going to do some top-down work.

There’s no way to entirely compartmentalize your life and work only on one or more of the components without paying attention to the big picture. Your consciousness is the glue that binds everything together. It’s the only place where you have power to create change. And no matter how much time you invest working on the low-level elements, it won’t create nearly as much long-term growth as working on your consciousness directly.

This will be almost entirely an intellectual process, whereby the goal is to help you reach a higher level of consciousness.

Consider the task of organizing your office. You sort through the clutter, discard the trash, figure out where each piece needs to go, and put everything away. We’re going to do the same thing with your consciousness, except we’ll be working with your thoughts and beliefs instead of physical objects.

However, just like any organizing project, you usually have to make things messier before you can make them neater. If you follow along through this process with me, you may experience shifts in your awareness that make you feel a bit ungrounded. That’s certainly been my experience. I’d best describe it as a feeling of being in a funk, where nothing seems quite real or solid anymore. Usually it lasts a few days to a few weeks. But eventually your thoughts reorganize at a new level and you have a new grasp on reality.

Think of how you use your consciousness today vs. how you used it when you were 15 years old. Is there any difference? Of course (unless you happen to be 15 or younger that is, in which case you can use 5 for this example). Now imagine experiencing that same growth in consciousness from that age to your current age over a period of weeks instead of however long it really took. It would be an unsettling experience to say the least. Instead of a gradual shift or a series of small jumps, you’d undergo a major quantum leap in your awareness.

There are several ways to raise your consciousness. I’m going to pursue an intellectual approach with you, meaning that we’ll attempt to use our minds and knowledge and logic to better understand consciousness itself. I think this fits with the theme of “Personal Development for Smart People.” We’ll explore the why and not merely the what and the how.

Why should you want to expand your consciousness? That should be easy enough to answer. Would you prefer to live at the same level of consciousness you experienced at age 15 (or 5) for the rest of your life? Now maybe some of you are thinking “yes” if you’re in a certain state of pain right now, and those earlier ages may actually have been better for you. It’s entirely possible you’ve lowered your consciousness since then — like the neatness level of an office, you can devolve just as easily as you evolve. And in that case, our goal is to at least get you back to a more positive state of consciousness.

There are many reasons to undertake the task of raising your level of consciousness. I’ll address those reasons in detail in future posts, but I’ll share with you one of the simplest ones right now. And that is that higher consciousness gives you the power to create greater happiness. True happiness is a result of how you use your consciousness. When you learn to use your consciousness a certain way, happiness is the natural consequence. You don’t have to use your consciousness to create happiness, but once you learn how to do so, you’ll probably be inclined to leave it switched on all the time.

I don’t claim to have all the answers when it comes to consciousness — I have more questions than answers. I have figured out a number of important things though, and I think I can show you a path to achieve these results for yourself if you wish. One of them is happiness. For a long time I considered myself an overall happy person. However, a few months ago, I went through a shift in my awareness that left me with this non-stop pervasive feeling of happiness. Perhaps a better word for it would be bliss. If you’ve done a lot of meditation, you’ve probably experienced this feeling of total oneness at some point. This intense feeling is now with me all day, every day. Sometimes it is so strong I have to stop and take some deep breaths for a bit in order to be able to function instead of just melting into the feeling. I can still be knocked into negative emotional states, but even when that happens, I can simply focus my attention on this background feeling of bliss (which is always present) and just allow the negative emotion to dissolve into it. If you’ve read The Power of Now, I think Eckhart Tolle describes this state as a feeling of being totally in the present moment. I didn’t fully understand that state when I first read the book. Now I do.

This level of happiness is unconditional, not rooted in circumstances, so even if my life circumstances were to radically shift one way or another, I can’t imagine this feeling would be affected at all. I can still see it persisting even in the most dire circumstances. I also know how I reached this state and locked into it, and because I did it consciously instead of accidentally, I think I can explain to you how to get there too if you so choose. It has to do with the way in which you use your consciousness, and more specifically, the way in which you view reality. When you adopt a certain view of reality and learn to use your consciousness a certain way, a pervasive feeling of bliss is the natural consequence. This frees you from the thinking that you must achieve anything in order to be happy. So you’ll gain the ability to always act from a state of happiness instead of for it. You’ll be freed from the tyranny of needing to take action in order to feel a certain way.

It was this path of thinking about consciousness and reality and trying to understand them intellectually that lead me to see that the way in which most people view reality simply doesn’t make sense. When I eventually figured out a view of reality that did make sense to me from an intellectual standpoint, it was that new level of thinking that naturally turned on the feeling of bliss. And there were many other positive consequences as well, which I’ll be happy to share with you in future posts.

Moreover, I think it’s fascinating that this state can be reached through the intellect itself without having to take leaps of blind faith. If you’re like me, you’re probably distrustful of that which conflicts with your own logic and thinking. I put more trust in my mind than I do in blind faith. The idea that faith is the antithesis of logic or a substitute for logic never sat well with me. I don’t think the mind is incapable of comprehending things like consciousness or even God as many people claim. I think the real problem is that most people simply haven’t developed the intellectual toolkit to make a thorough study of consciousness. Early mathematicians couldn’t solve certain math problems due to a lack of mathematical tools, but that doesn’t mean the problems were unsolvable — it just meant they had to develop the proper tools first, such as geometry and calculus. And just like these mathematicians trying to solve the problems of mathematics, we need to establish and develop our tools for exploring, understanding, and using consciousness effectively. For example, one tool is the ability to install a new belief or to remove an existing belief. If you lack such a tool, you are greatly limited in your ability to harness the power of your own consciousness. And this ultimately means that in your human life, there are problems you’ll find difficult or impossible to solve. However, to someone with the proper tool of consciousness and a degree of competence in their use, some tenacious problems become trivially easy, such as the achievement of lifelong happiness.

I think this will be an exciting journey for all of us who choose to share it.