To be ‘conscious’ is to experience life as we currently know it. When we are conscious, we possess an understanding that we are living, thinking and feeling beings and that we are a part of a greater form of existence. However, this is the most that general definitions of consciousness can agree upon. Various religious figures, scientists and philosophers all have their own unique definition of what consciousness truly means, what its relevance is and how far it can manifest in the human psyche. We humans are considered unique from the rest of the animal kingdom as we are the only living creatures known to think beyond our basic primal instincts and to conceptualize life abstractly.
Unlike other animals, humans have spent thousands of years conceptualizing life in a far more profound way. Despite this, this added connection with higher levels of consciousness has also paved the way for some uniquely ‘human’ struggles; we all find at times that we can become caught up in our heads, worrying about things that have already happened and stressing over things that cannot be changed. Although the human condition is to possess a more intricate level of consciousness, in ways, this can actually subdue us further as we become entrapped by an endless array of futile worries and problems. By gaining a better understanding of how our consciousness operates, we are able to rectify some of these mental burdens and seek closer connection with higher, more enlightened states of being.
Whether you are spiritually inclined or not, a great way to lay the groundwork is by looking at consciousness from a scientific angle. Consciousness plays a central feature in a wide variety of different medical states, from comatose, amnesia to being put under general anaesthetic. Despite the extensive medical knowledge of contemporary society, scientists are still unsure of what the human mind is actually experiencing when in a state of unconsciousness. Alongside this, and similarly to more spiritual takes, science also recognises that there are different ‘levels’ of consciousness in the human mind. Outlined below are the three main levels of consciousness recognised by medical science.
A state of being aware and receptive to one’s surroundings. A person’s thoughts are circulating both deliberately and automatically. You, reading this article right now and processing the words on your screen is an example of consciousness. This is the most basic level of consciousness in both science and spirituality.
At this level, we are looking underneath the first layer of human consciousness. Here, information exists as memories and remembrances that can be recalled automatically. For instance, if somebody asks you for your phone number, most of us are able to recite the digits from memory without effort. ‘Muscle memory’ associated with playing musical instruments is another example of the workings of our pre-consciousness.
Unconsciousness is the final level of consciousness recognised in a medical context. When we are unconscious, we are unaware of our surroundings and unresponsive to most basic stimuli. Therefore, the concept of dreaming has been questioned heavily by the scientific community, as in this state our bodies possess a state of unconsciousness, yet our minds are seemingly active in its own temporary sense of reality.
Thus, in order to delve more deeply into the different levels of consciousness and understand what these levels can mean for us in more profound ways, we must look at the seven levels of consciousness in spirituality. Alongside the three levels already outlined by science, there are additional states of consciousness accounted for. The guide below explains these different levels and explains how their manifestations ultimately lead to personal enlightenment.
Just like the medical definition, consciousness is simply a state of being aware and receptive of one’s surroundings. In terms of one’s spiritual journey, this is the point at which we are the furthest from reaching enlightenment - in this state, we are surrounded by the hustle and bustle of our hectic lives and responding to external stimuli accordingly. Our minds and bodies are closely bound together, often resulting in fatigue and weariness as the exertion of our conscious minds impacts our physical state. Therefore, we must learn to delve deeper into our subconscious to help soothe the mental exhaustion of day-to-day life.
2) Deep Sleep
In a deep and dreamless sleep, the mind has no access to memories or emotions leaving us in a technically unconscious state. Despite this, the human body is still responsive to external stimuli although only reacting in terms of primal instinct. During these hours, our mind and body rests and heals from the exertion of the day, a process necessary if we are to reach higher levels of consciousness and delve deeper into the quest for total enlightenment.
During deep sleep, almost all of us will experience dreams at some point or another. Often our dreams are manifestations of thoughts, feelings and memories that we have encountered at various periods during the day before. However, some individuals have the ability to take these dreams a step further, in the form of ‘lucid’ dreaming. For many of us, we will be familiar with the experience of being aware that we are dreaming, yet we are unable to take control and alter the dream’s happenings. However, lucid dreaming is thought to occur when a person is able to switch on certain aspects of their conscious mind, whilst still in a predominantly unconscious state. With this added level of responsiveness, a person is then able to manipulate the actions and scenarios being played out in their dream. While not necessarily that rare, the act of lucid dreaming is highly indicative of a person with tendencies towards higher planes of spiritual consciousness. These dreams and our manipulation of them are profound in revealing our deepest, darkest fears and desires. Tapping in and engaging with these in our dreams is a great way to begin the path toward enlightenment and to feel at greater peace with one’s day-to-day conscious mind.
4) Transcendental Consciousness
The first of the truly enlightened states of consciousness is transcendental consciousness. In other words, the ability to enter into a trance. A person in a state of trance has the ability to completely mute their senses whilst still remaining fully conscious. Doing so allows an individual to connect with their spirit without the external noise of one’s senses, thoughts and feelings interfering. In order to reach this level, an advanced state of meditation must occur whereby the purest form of self-awareness is achieved, in which a person exists simply in a state of being rather than perceiving or doing.
5) Cosmic Consciousness
Once a person is able to reach transcendental consciousness, the next stage is forming an awareness of what lies beyond the confines of oneself. By moving higher, we begin to understand that our fears and worries as humans are negligible when placed in the context of the cosmos. The concept of our pasts and futures suddenly become obsolete as we grow aware that the only thing that truly exists is now and the only thing of any value is the present moment. We are all familiar with the saying; ‘live in the moment,’ but this is a mantra that needs to be taken seriously in order for a person to achieve full cosmic consciousness. Once this notion is adopted and fully embraced, the entire concept of time proves worthless. Life should not be considered a single path of forwards and backwards, but rather it is a non-linear phenomenon that exists simply in the moment, without chronology or succession.
6) Out-of-body Consciousness
Once cosmic consciousness has been achieved, an individual is likely to become prone to out-of-body experiences, or ‘OBEs’ for short. OBEs can be intentional or inadvertent and typically involve the viewing of one’s self as a separate entity. By entering this state of spectator, many difficult personal questions may find the answers they so desperately need. Therefore, OBEs are hugely profound in terms of reaching enlightenment as they are a sign that one’s consciousness has pulled free from the shackles of the human body.
7) Unified consciousness
The final enlightened state of consciousness is unified consciousness. In this state, an individual becomes aware that there exists no detachment from themselves and everything around them. There only ever has been and will be one consciousness, and that is the consciousness that is currently in existence. After many repeated experiences of detached consciousness, an individual’s perceptions will slowly shift and they will start to realize that the universe operates in a nature of ‘one’. Although an incredibly abstract notion, when an individual has reached unified consciousness, the individual understands that life simply… is. There is nothing more, nothing less and nothing for us to search for. True enlightenment has been achieved once a person has fully come to terms with this rather scary and bleak concept.
With that being said, these higher levels of consciousness are fortunately not permanent states of human existence. The busyness of day-to-day living and life’s simple pleasures would be sorely impacted if we were to float through life in a state of eternal enlightenment. When these levels of consciousness make themselves apparent, however, we must take advantage of the opportunity to nurture our higher-selves and help absolve the futile fears and problems that we all have as human beings. We must embrace the peace and liberation that viewing life through a lens of enlightened consciousness has.
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