Being Consciously Conscious

man thinking over the beach

by Gregory Toole

The name of this article comes from a talk I gave nearly 20 years ago in the formative stages of my spiritual teaching practice. The same theme was coming up for me this week as I observed myself and others around me.

There are many definitions for the word conscious. At the most base level it refers to just being physically awake, rather than asleep, such as when there has been a car accident and the emergency responders ask if the patient is conscious. Then there is the spiritual definition of conscious, which involves awareness on more levels. A spiritually conscious person is conscious that they are conscious, or aware that they are aware. That person is both the actor and the observer of his or her experience.

Why does this matter? Without being the observer we are left with just being the actor, and usually that means the unconscious actor, simply responding from past conditioning, rather than consciously choosing our experience in this moment. We are really not at choice when we act based on past conditioning, nor are we in our power. Rather we are on a kind of auto-pilot, and we are tossed about by the experiences of life, on an emotional rollercoaster of sorts.

What is the alternative? It is to be fully present in this moment, consciously conscious, aware that we have choice in each moment, that there are no hardwired responses to the events of life. When something occurs in our lives, we experience it, we feel what we are feeling, we observe both what we are feeling and the conditioned response that wells up, but there is enough spaciousness in that moment, wherein we have choice. Is the conditioned response how I choose to respond, or is there some higher way in which I decide to respond?

This is true freedom. We are at choice.

How does one gain such choice and freedom? Spaciousness is the key. Without spaciousness, some short gap between what happens and our response, there can be no real choice. We arrive at spaciousness primarily through the practice of meditation. Meditation expands our awareness to the place where we become the observer, in addition to being the actor. Meditation calms the mind just enough to have that space. We may still feel anger, rage, fear or a host of other emotions, but now we are at choice as to how we respond. With this kind of spaciousness, we feel the emotions, but we are not the emotions. We are not identified with them as much. They are just an experience we are having.

Even when we create spaciousness, there may still be times when we go unconscious and an automatic response is triggered because a situation brings up some unhealed part of ourselves where there is a deep wound. Even then, as the observer of our experience, we can watch ourselves get triggered, see ourselves respond automatically from a place of hurt, and then come back into our sense of wholeness with greater clarity of what is ours to consciously heal. In other words, we don’t have to stew in it for weeks, months, or years.

A world where people are consciously conscious looks very different from the world we largely live in today. And it is the world that is emerging right now, the world that we are creating, and that is evolving as us. Such great possibility there is for peace and fulfillment in a world where people are thoughtfully responding with heart and conscious awareness. Let’s do our part to hasten the dawn of this new world!

Enjoy the journey.

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