Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A Normal State of Consciousness

Someone asked me once what I meant by "a normal state of consciousness." At first, I thought this was a simple question with an obvious answer: "the state of consciousness you walk around in every day." But then I started to look at that answer - to pick it apart. Is the state of consciousness I'm in when I wake up and realize that I'm no longer dreaming the same as the one in which I drive to work? Is the state of consciousness that arises from making breakfast the same as that when I am eating lunch? There are so many variations of consciousness - from one moment to the next. I can be driving along in my car, thinking of what I have to do before my first client shows up and then I see the traffic slowing and stopping in front of me and my state of consciousness shifts. I am no longer in my mental fantasy of the future, but immediately aware of the cars stopping front of me. 

If something that happens to bring up old unresolved feelings, I am "triggered" into yet another state of consciousness. Something else happens if I get to see my wife during the day; there is an upsurge of joy and openness which leaves me in a better mood for the next hour or so. There are so many different states of consciousness, impacted by the immediate environment, people, sensations, memory, sound, light . . . perception in all its modes. It rapidly becomes clear that there is no such thing as a normal state of consciousness that most people share for even a moment. 

Instead, what I find is that there are states that we share with others - and ones that we do not. When I am working with a client, I will generally either be mirroring their state, so as to communicate with them more effectively, or I will be modeling a different state for them, to alleviate some discomfort caused by their current state. When we enter into that same state together, I am more able to "hear" them at many levels. I feel more open and receptive to what they are expressing and I find that they are generally more responsive to what I have to offer. 

I imagine that the same phenomenon can be found in any crowd, where a single state of consciousness is picked up, shared and amplified by the many people in the same space - thus resulting in "mob mentality." But is this "normal?" Not so much. It only happens in situations where all the people are experiencing a similar enough stimulus from a similar enough perspective to spark that shared consciousness. 

Perhaps what I was trying to express by the words "normal state of consciousness" was simply a state in which the mind is alert and focused on physical sensations arising from the immediate environment - not stuck in the past or projecting into the future, but relaxing comfortably in the Now. Hmmm - that sounds a lot like what we call "mindfulness." So much for it being normal. 

From now on, I think I'll ask my clients to seek an "abnormal state of mindfulness," when returning from a trance.


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