Most people experience awareness through the mind. We may well think our mind’s awareness and understanding is consciousness.
Our daily experience can easily verify this impression. As the physiology cycles though the states of waking, dreaming, and sleeping, the mind is drawn along for the ride. This carries mind awareness too. Consciousness does seem to be a side-effect of brain functioning.
The brain is an interface like a radio receiver – it doesn’t produce anything we experience. Our senses gather information and the brain filters the data for relevance and passes it on to the mind. The mind builds the data into an appearance we see as the world. Most of this happens rapidly and automatically, outside our awareness. Mind awareness is much slower, noticing only the result, the appearance.
Those “states of consciousness” are actually states of the physiology that affect how we’re experiencing the content and consciousness itself. Changing states is like changing stations.
We may also notice we seem to be “in the head,” experiencing ourselves as centered there. Yet this has more to do with the senses than the mind or brain. Mind is a field that surrounds our whole body but most of the senses that feed the mind are centered in the head. Thus we experience ourselves there. More “heart-centered” people may experience themselves lower down because of where those inputs are located. Somatic people may be more oriented to bodily sensations. In any case, an orientation to the content of experience shows we’re identified there.
An identified mind or heart is often agitated. We worry or try to control. That “noise” blocks anything beyond it. We become self-absorbed and focused on the content of experiences. What I think, what I feel, what they said, what I want.
With no experience of what is beyond the content, it’s natural to assume this is reality. And yet, if we compare notes with others, we soon find their reality only partly matches. If we add a technique for transcending the mind and content, like an effortless meditation, we begin to experience awareness beyond the mind. With a clear samadhi, we experience pure consciousness and recognize mind awareness is not consciousness itself. It’s muddling things together that are distinct.
Samadhi means evenness of mind. When the mind settles, then the light of consciousness can shine through. Mind becomes like a clear lake, it’s filters muted.
As that deepens, we discover the identified mind has been claiming everything as its own. These are my thoughts, my emotions, and my actions. Mind makes stories about everything so we feel confident and in control. And yet the ego knows this isn’t true. Like a bad government, it tries to keep us in the dark so we’re “safe” and it can feel in charge. It also makes it clear we are none of these things in our experience and this approach is keeping us caught in a box of suffering.
Contraction, undesirable habits, and suffering are all resolved by getting out of the mind and its imitation of awareness.
The ego knows that if it is seen clearly, it will be seen through. It will lose control. Thus it may defend against some kinds of spiritual experiences. For example, it can turn an experience into a story it can control. There is a deep fear of being “lost” even though this is exactly how the real we is found.
Some practices like guided meditation and mindfulness are challenged by the mind’s tendencies. In the first case, we’re actually engaging in a form of hypnosis which keeps us in the mind. In mindfulness, if there isn’t sufficient presence established, it’s just mind awareness, mind noticing and reinforcing itself.
But if we can culture presence, then we become able to observe from consciousness itself. Then we are not constrained to our senses or emotions. We expand outside the box we’ve been in. How do we culture presence? Samadhi.
By repeatedly touching into source, we can reassure the mind it is safe. Deeper still and our cosmic nature wakes up to its presence, breaking our identification with the ego and other content. We are liberated, rising like a phoenix into our infinite nature.
Note: I don’t mean here that we “create our reality.” I mean we filter it and create an interpretation of our experience.