What is Consciousness?
What comes up when you think of the word consciousness?
You might think of the difference between being physically awake with your eyes open and being asleep. Or you might think of someone who's unconscious from being knocked out like in some kind of action movie. While these definitions are definitely accurate, there is another level of consciousness to be aware of. One that I'd never heard of before starting my yoga journey.
The first concept was introduced to me by my boyfriend Nathan's dad, Paul Zimnik, D.O. and psychiatrist. He asked me to think of the brain as a muscle just like any other - like my biceps, quads, abs, etc. Those muscles were each designed to do a very specific function. When I want to raise or curl my arm, my bicep engages. When I want to extend my leg, my quad begins to turn on. This is also how my brain works. It's meant to perceive the world around me and allow me to function day-to-day.
The truth is that even though there are thoughts zooming in and out of your brain every day ("I'm tired" "I'm hungry" "I'm nervous" "I'm happy" "I'm sad" "Look at that over there" "Look at this here"), those thoughts aren't actually "you" or your "Self". The brain is just a reactionary muscle allowing you to live on this earth. The thoughts that go through your mind day to day are simply allowing you to function - that's not who "you" really are.
When you say Meredith Grubbs, I immediately think of my "self" as in my physical body here on earth or my ego. The truth is that the real "Meredith" - or "Self"/Soul/Spirit, whatever you'd like to call it - that I'm trying to access is hiding just beyond my day to day thoughts.
I'd like to point out here that the words on this page can only explain so much. The words are merely a representation of the idea of consciousness. So instead of getting hung up on specific terminology (like self vs Self), pay attention to the idea behind those words. "Self" could also be called Spirit, Soul, God (of any religion), the Divine, or Source. "self" could also be called mind, ego, brain, or your physical identity on earth. I simply choose to use "Self" and "self" here to try and signify the difference. However, try and get past the words on the page and just focus on the idea.
The real "Self" extends itself down into my physical body so that I may function and exist in this world and learn from my experiences. The "Self" is who I really am; my inner being. In reality, the brain, my "self", the thoughts going through my head every day are no more a part of my true identity than my bicep.
The problem is that as human beings we tend to go on autopilot and listen only to the brain. Many of us don't even know that this greater "Self" exists. The brain forms certain patterns and functions to protect us, but that's not actually who we are as individuals.
So how, then, do you ignore the "self" and tap into the "Self"? You do this by being conscious. Consciousness means being connected with "Self" and turning off your brain, or the day-to-day chatter.
Consciousness is the peace you feel when you watch a beautiful sunset. It's the joy down inside of you when you're with someone that you love. It's the feeling after a good yoga class. It's the wonder that captures you when you find an intriguing piece of art. It's the longing within you when you hear an emotional piece of music that brings up feelings you can't explain. It's the sense of gratitude when you're home for the holidays with your family doing nothing but sitting together in the living room. The feelings that are so very hard to put into words. "Peace" and "Love" just quite aren't able to explain it. On top of that, most people just take a picture and move on.
A word of caution again: These experiences that I just listed are still products of your brain. These are conditions that your brain has processed as a "happy event". The key is to be able to find that same connection within yourself all the time. The connection to "Self" should not be reactionary to what's going on in the present moment. Rather, no matter the circumstance, you're always trying to quiet the brain and tap into "Self".
When meditating, you are focused on turning off your brain and finding the peace that is the inner "Self". When you're in traffic or in a stressful situation, you're turning off your brain and reconnecting with the peace that is the inner "Self". If you find yourself turning to anger, instead try and detect the difference between your reactionary brain and "Self". If you're depressed, recognize that the thoughts going through your mind are not actually "you" - turn down those thoughts and focus on "Self".
Fear, depression, anxiety, etc. are all products of our brain. We don't actually need to feel these things. We don't need to suffer. Our brain just thinks we do. We move so easily from consciousness back to autopilot because it's easier to just let our brain take care of things. Instead, do the opposite. Ignore the brain and just focus on the now and "Self". Consciousness can't be found at any other time than the present. If you're thinking about the past or future - even 5 minutes ago or 30 seconds from now - you are still using your brain.
This is easier said than done, of course. Once you've realized that this "Self" within you exists, you need to practice that connection. That can be done through quiet meditation. The ultimate goal of meditation is to allow "Self" to separate from the "self", which is to focus on the now and turn off the brain. (As a side note, the book The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle is an excellent example of this whole idea and a wonderful tool for finding "Self" above the "self". I highly recommend the audio book as his voice is so peaceful and really keeps you focused in.)
The truth is that it doesn't matter to "Self" what happens in this life. We can be rich or poor. We can be perfectly healthy or have terrible medical issues. We can live to be five or ninety-five years old. We can work in an office or we can become yoga teachers. None of that changes "Self". None of that changes who we are at the deepest level. Everything else is just the ego.
We are all made up of the same matter as the stars. Accept what is.