Nowadays, we often hear words like “consciousness” and “awareness.” With the emergence of neuroscience research on consciousness, we can begin to understand the biological basis of conscious experiences. With new technology, we can measure our state of consciousness, using heart rate variability (HRV) monitors and biofeedback tracking devices like Muse brain-sensing headband. There is even a new open-access journal called “Neuroscience of Consciousness.” Google search on the term “consciousness” produces 114 million results, and “awareness” yields 300 million links. But do we really know what consciousness is? Do we know what affects our state of consciousness and how we can improve it?
According to the Concise Oxford English Dictionary, consciousness is “the fact of awareness by the mind of itself and the world”. Being aware, in turn, is defined as “having knowledge or perception of a situation or a fact”. Therefore, we are conscious when our mind has knowledge or perception of itself and the world. We experience different quality of conscious awareness when being awake, daydreaming, being hypnotized, meditating, being under influence of mind-altering substances, or dreaming. Understanding various expressions of consciousness has been a focus of psychology since its onset. William James, who is often referred to as the father of American psychology, defined psychology as “the description and explanation of states of consciousness” (James).
We spend our lives passing from one state of consciousness to another. We read a book, watch TV, exercise, daydream, go to bed, dream, wake up, and so on. All states of consciousness involve perception of the self and perception of the world. Each state of consciousness creates its own sense of reality, but we rarely wonder which state of consciousness reflects the true reality. We tend to label the waking state of consciousness as “real” and judge other states of consciousness as “subtle,” “distorted,” or “unreal”. This division, however, is based on our experience of being so identified with our waking consciousness that it is hard to step back and perceive it objectively. We term the familiar states of consciousness as “real” and the unfamiliar ones as “altered” or “surreal”. It is logical to assume that as we become more familiar with experiencing unconventional states of consciousness, we will start to change our idea about what state of consciousness we call normal or real.
Based on what we know today, altered states of consciousness include any mental state that is significantly different from a normal waking consciousness, characterized by beta waves. The term “altered state of consciousness” was first introduced by Arnold M. Ludwig in 1966 and further popularized by Charles Tart. Whether altered states of consciousness occur as a result of meditation, taking drugs, or a religious experience, they have been found to have common distinctive characteristics.
Abraham Maslow studied hundreds of people who had mystical experiences and coined the term “peak experiences” for them (Maslow). According to him, these states of consciousness should be considered supernormal rather than abnormal. I agree with this statement.
Based on Maslow’s research, Walter Pahnke developed a list of common characteristics of a typical peak experience (Pahnke and Richards). A peak experience, or a supernormal state of consciousness is characterized by:
In an article in Psychology Today, Edward Hoffman discusses Abraham Maslow’s views on peak experiences. As a result of his research, Maslow became convinced that ordinary people can have mystical episodes in seemingly mundane situations. These experiences are very similar to those of famous spiritual teachers. My own observations led me to believe that peak states of consciousness are available to all of us, and not as rare as we might think.
Furthermore, Maslow has discovered that with consistent meditation and spiritual practice, peak experiences become less extreme and stabilize into gentler and more consistent plateau experiences. This finding is also consistent with what I learned from my own experience with these states of flow and deep inner peace. As Maslow said long time ago, if peak experiences are not interfered with and the person is consciously and diligently working on cultivating more peace and flow in his or her life, this typically leads to better functioning in the world and to a full expression of our creative potential, a state that he famously called self-actualization.
More research on the neuroscience of consciousness will help us to understand these supernormal states of consciousness better. Although there are many records of people who have experienced supernormal states of consciousness, these experiences are still considered to be extraordinary and poorly understood. I think it is important to exchange information about what happens in these states, and learn how anyone can reach them without becoming a hermit or going to a monastery. We live in wonderful times, when we can learn to live in this world and be out of this world. It is a very good news that it’s possible to train your mind to be in the state of flow consistently. The choice is ours. Echoing Maslow’s views, Stanislaf Grof writes, “There is absolutely no reason why they (peak experience states) should have adverse consequences.” As we learn about the nature of the peak states of consciousness, we will simultaneously begin to understand other states of consciousness better and learn to access the flow states more consistently.
What I find most valuable for myself, my friends, and my clients is practical and simple information on how we can raise our consciousness level, elevate our mindset, or reach a peak experience. We are all meant to live a happy and fulfilling life, although it sometimes takes much dedication, courage and self-discipline to realize that it is possible. I want to help you make this shift happen in your life!
To begin with, just knowing that you are not alone on you path to more joy and inner peace helps a lot. It is a collective process of transformation. My friend Susan recently wrote a very inspiring and insightful blog post about her experience with tuning into a higher state of consciousness. There is a lot of information on the Web on how to raise your consciousness. For example, here is another good article that lists 100 different ways to do that. Inspired by both articles, I decided to use a journaling technique called Clustering or Mind Mapping to organize my thoughts about the important elements of this process. The mind map that I created as a result includes all the activities and conditions I could think of that help to access higher states of consciousness.
Clustering is a great brainstorming technique that allows you to generate a lot of information in a short amount of time and structure it in the form of a visual mind map. It is based on creating a map of all possible associations that come to mind when you think of a specific subject. Whenever a completely new association occurs to you, you come back to the central word and begin a new cluster. When the mind map is complete, additional helpful information can be extracted from analyzing it. I like to keep track of any recurring themes in a map, final points in a cluster, key ideas, and particularly large clusters.
My mind map on how to raise your consciousness contains 95 different elements. This shows to me that a) I thought about this topic a lot, and b) it is a complex and multi-faceted issue. After all, it is the main objective of every religious or spiritual practice. After looking carefully at this mind map, I can see that several activities, like spiritual practice, meditation, journaling, acceptance, and self-awareness, appear a few times in different parts of the map. That usually indicates that these elements are very important in more than one way.
Looking carefully at this mind map, the largest cluster starts with self-awareness. This is not surprising to me, because in order to change our current level of consciousness, we need to develop a capacity to see what is going in our lives at the present moment. Similarly, spiritual practice, personal development, and self-awareness appear to be very important as well. Of course, this is not an exhaustive list of activities and strategies that can help you to raise your consciousness. In fact, your list might look very different.
Many many elements in this mind map could be explored further and made into a topic for a separate mind map. This exercise helped me to organize my thoughts around raising my consciousness state further. I will keep sharing specific exercises that can assist you on your journey to a consistent state of flow.
I hope that this blog post inspired you to create a mind map of your own on a topic that has been on your mind these days! I promise it will shed some new light on the subject and inspire you to move forward.
Grof, Stanislav, “Healing Our Deepest Wounds: The Holotropic Paradigm Shift”, 2012.
Maslow, Abraham H., 1964. “Religions, Values, and Peak Experiences.” Cleveland Ohio: Ohio State University.
Pahnke, Walter N. and William A. Richards, 1966. “Implications of LSD and Experimental Mysticism.” Journal of Religion and Health 5, pp. 175-208.