Welcome to the third of this particular series of blogs on Awareness and Consciousness.
But first, a riddle (I’m an Eriksonian hypnotherapist after all):
Is a flowing stream of water the water, the flow, or the stream?
Let’s continue our exploration. Last time we posed some basic questions
to help us understand applying an expanded awareness to real life. We started to play with different aspects of consciousness though exercises such as the Game of Two Rings
(by the way, a guided audio recording version is coming soon).
Today, let me ask you this, the first of the 6 questions: what is the difference between Awareness, Perception and Consciousness?
Or, in another riddle: What is conscious without being aware, aware without being conscious, and perceives through neither and both?
Here’s a caveat or three: You know how words can have different meanings to different people?
I’m going to throw in some terms and words below that have different connotations and are used in many different ways by experts and others alike. Let’s not get hung up on the exact words, but focus on the meaning behind them. Be ready to adapt the specific words when talking or thinking about concepts with others or yourself.
Also, these things are not cast in stone, opinions differ and even to the best minds they tend to be moving and mystical targets.
Lastly, we could get very technical here. But we won’t. My approach here is in the context of making these concepts usable, a utility approach that comes from my tradition of transpersonal coaching. This is not purely an academic exercise, after all.
Why bother with this discussion at all?
Well, to be the best person you can be, to be a being that has meaning, to matter to others and to life itself, don’t you think that we owe it to ourselves to be as Present as possible?
And Presence, we shall see, has lots to do with how Perceptive and Conscious we are.
Here we go, let’s start with definitions, descriptions , followed closely by a picture and then a “so what” .
But first, here’s another game.
Look at this sketch. Ask yourself three questions.
What, if anything, does this picture mean to you and what should you
do with or about it?
Before you answered that question, what did you know what the
shape is or what you call it (this may have been unconscious , now
becoming conscious). And now, possibly the most difficult question, before the thing got labels or words or descriptions in your mind, how did you experience it in raw form?
Awareness is the ability or trait or faculty to notice. It’s hardwired into us, through our brains, sense organs and our neurology. Awareness doesn’t think or organize, it just does what it does the whole time by being what it is, like a program running continuously in the background without needing control or input but producing outputs the whole time.
It can’t be controlled or modified because it is built in. There is no “I” in Awareness.
This basic level of awareness comes from our senses, like hearing, seeing, tasting, smell, touch, and proprioception (there is some debate about whether there are other types of more metaphysical senses, but more of that some other time).
The outputs from awareness form the content of Consciousness after undergoing processing through Perception.
Perception, or rather Perceptual Awareness, is the step during which our minds process or modulate the content coming from Awareness. This process is mostly non-conscious, or autonomous, but is open to modification, meaning the way it functions can be influenced by Consciousness. The processing by perception entails the mind making connections, comparing it to previous or other experiences in memory, placing the information from the senses into a context, and a whole host of other processing. Clever stuff!
The NLP communication model has a handy depiction of how this happens (with thanks to Jevon Dangeli).
There is no “I” in perceptual awareness, it goes along its way quietly in the background.
Consciousness likes to organize, classify, examine and create. It’s the “higher brain” part of us that thinks, labels, and analyzes. For maximum efficiency, it seeks to summarize, stereotype and group things together as much as possible. It conceptualizes, creates and invents.
In a way, it’s “downstream” from perceptual awareness, as perpetual awareness is downstream from awareness.
Consciousness has an executive function too, initiating our behaviours and what we say. By differentiating, it creates a distinction between objects, breaking things up conceptually into “this” separate from “that”. In doing so it creates an “I”. This process is sometimes known as duality.
Of course, these three (Awareness, Perpetual Awareness and Consciousness) are seamless and not as separate as the above implies (which makes sense because my conscious mind wrote it).
Here it is in a picture.
Notice the arrows and what that means. There’s up and down influence here (neuroscientists might call it top and down regulation). This is important.
Awareness is not influenced by anything else, it just does what it does. It feeds content into perceptual awareness. Perpetual awareness determines through its processing what goes “up” into consciousness. Consciousness can only work with what comes through from perpetual awareness. Consciousness takes that and works it into something very different, like an indirect model.
But here’s the trick.
Consciousness is the executive director, remember, and so it can in turn, influence Perceptual Awareness. Strangely, Consciousness takes what it gets from Perceptual Awareness, but then in turn also controls how Perceptual Awareness sends that along.
Well, think about it. If we (or rather our Consciousness) can learn to partner with Perceptual Awareness more effectively, it makes the content that it has to work with more resourceful and more holistic.
By changing, or more correctly expanding, what and how we perceive of our awareness, we change our whole consciousness, and thereby our core way of being, thinking, making decisions, and acting.
And this is exactly what Open Awareness is all about.
So here’s my suggestion to you.
Secondly, perhaps directly after that, while all your senses are primed and open, do this:
For each of your senses (sight, hearing and touch are probably the easiest to work with but any will do) find the actual raw sense before it has a name or label. The sensation in its most basic form. Yes, you can.
And then, notice what label your mind gives it e.g. song of a bird, blue colour, soft.
Lastly, reflect on what this object means for you, what memory or thinking or association comes up for you.
You’ve just experienced all 3 levels of your awareness, perceptual awareness, and consciousness.
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