The human mind has been the subject of study even before the scientific method and modern technology existed. Philosophers, sages, and ascetics have all in the past tried to understand the psyche of the human animal in unique and interesting ways.
The phrase “higher consciousness” is used to express an elusive and difficult to attain mental state, distinct from the ‘lower’, more primitive mind.
Unfortunately, the way in which these spiritual people discuss their states of higher consciousness has a tendency to put a lot of secular types on edge. It can all sound maddeningly vague, wishy-washy, touchy-feely – and, for want of a better word, annoying. What on earth do these gurus really mean? – [Book of Life]
The topic of higher consciousness can be seen using a dichotomy, contrasting the lower consciousness versus the higher.
The lower consciousness is the one that we inhabit most of our lives. In this state, we only concern ourselves with ourselves and the narrow perspective of work, money, family, and simply put our own survival and success. Ordinary life is characterized by having a routine, regimen and unintrospective outlook to our existence.
Neuroscientists speak of a ‘lower’ part of the brain they term the reptilian mind and tell us that under its sway, we strike back when we’re hit, blame others, quell any stray questions that lack immediate relevance, fail to free-associate and stick closely to a flattering image of who we are and where we are heading.
At rare moments, as we have at some point in our lives definitely experienced, mostly late at night or sometimes early in the morning, when we are excused of immediate pressures of work or the demands of others to act “normal”, tucked into bed, when we are most comfortable, we experience a shift in our perspective of the world.
It is in these lone hours that we are able to afford the privilege of accessing what is known as the ‘higher consciousness’, the throne of great imagination, the bestower of empathy and of judgment.
We loosen our hold on our own egos and ascend to a less biased and more universal perspective, casting off a little of the customary anxious self-justification and brittle pride.
We achieve this state when we have temporarily satiated our more rudimentary desires: thirst, hunger, sleep, sex and the various other impulses of our minds.
We become more forgiving and understanding in the way that we think of other people, now being able to step into their shoes and attempt to analyze the motivations for their actions. Perhaps we were distraught because of a small remark they made in a conversation, or if they didn’t invite us out even if they did our core group.
In the higher consciousness, we can see their actions as being motivated by their insecurities, guilts and desires, a worldly view that we are often unable to evaluate in the lower states.
Rather than criticise and attack, we are free to imagine that their behaviour is driven by pressures derived from their own more primitive minds, which they are generally in no position to tell us about. Their temper or viciousness are, we now see, symptoms of hurt rather than of ‘evil’.
This state allows us to assess our position in the world, our victories and shortcomings, and where our deeds could have been done better. Our struggles become minuscule in the grander scheme of things, as we think about the people that once breathed and survived on this planet before us and how they carried their own desires, dreams, fears, and goals, the very same things that we fill our lives with. The fact becomes very real; our own lives begin to feel less precious, we think of how average our existence is put against the bulk of humans that ever existed.
At such moments, the world reveals itself as quite different: a place of suffering and misguided effort, full of people striving to be heard and lashing out against others, but also a place of tenderness and longing, beauty and touching vulnerability. The fitting response is universal sympathy and kindness.
From this altruistic view, materialistic sentiments don’t matter, our worries/anxieties/grievances lose their meaning and our egoistic idea of having ‘status’ in our arbitrary societies become nothing. If our friends and family were to meet us in these hours, they would surely be astonished to find how we have transformed into newfound magnanimity and compassion!
The tragic reality of higher consciousness is that it is, like everything else, short-lived. It begs the question, should we truly aim to make them permanent. While it does sound idealistic, we have to attend to more practical objectives in our daily lives such as work and sustenance, which are better dealt with by the narrower, self-centered lower consciousness. This isn’t to say that higher consciousness shouldn’t be enjoyed. When it arises, we should make the most of it.
Attaining higher consciousness
While it is true that higher consciousness graces us all under the right conditions, it is fleeting. Meditation is proclaimed to be the path to mastering the higher consciousness, but it is such an arbitrary and placebo divide that understanding it fully becomes infuriating. The problem is that we have no way to gauge the realm of our consciousness and when we have reached “the final stage”, in essence.
The other pathway is through the use of stimulants (chiefly psychedelics and psychotropics) such as LSD or Marijuana. This is oft seen as the “discount” version of reaching the higher consciousness, almost somewhat of a cheat.
The problem with the drug avenue is the motivation behind it is severely different from meditation. Most people who do psychedelics don’t usually desire deep understanding or liberation. They are just curious, wanting some fun, some new experiences to feed on and so their intent is wrong.
Indeed, substances can “take you there”, but only mastery of the mind can “keep you there”.
As I stated earlier, this notion has been scrutinized for centuries by different civilizations and at different times.
The oldest spiritual book in existence is the Rig Veda. It is dedicated to a substance called Soma which the Rig calls God in material form. The Rig describes Soma as growing from the earth so it is likely to be a plant or a mushroom. The Rig is the basis of the Eastern enlightenment tradition. – Quora
This account, from Martin Glover on Quora, suggests that even in the earliest years of human existence, substances have ailed in the achievement of higher states.
The Western enlightenment tradition has its roots in ancient Greece. Here we see people coming from all over the Mediterranean to consult the Oracles of Delphi. The temple of the oracles was located over intersecting geologic fault lines from which crack issued gasses said to put the Oracles into trance states. The immense wealth of the oracles leaves little doubt as to the power of the oracles’ illumination.
A second line of Greek mysticism was the cult of Dionysus. Here the mystical substance was an alcoholic drink. It may be that the fermented material used in these brews was infected with a psychoactive fungus. The pre-Socratic Greeks who began Western philosophy are today widely considered to have emerged from the Greek shamanic tradition. Outbreaks of mystical visions are known to have been preceded by crops infected with ergot fungus, the base material of LSD. The linking of mysticism to exposure to ergot was discovered by a study undertaken to explain the cause of the witch trials that resulted in the extermination of thousands of witches (literally the Wise) in Europe and North America.
In conclusion, the higher consciousness is a marvel of our mind in which we can go beyond our primitive states to experience a more worldly view of ourselves, others, and the world at large. We shouldn’t aim to make it permanent because our lives demand a more practical approach, better suited to the lower consciousness.