Many thanks to Sifu David Shaver and the Peaceful Wolf gang in Connecticut for a wonderful seminar last weekend, “Brain Coherence in the Internal Arts.” The venue shifted from David’s studio in East Haddam to the beautiful lake-front Senior Recreational Center in Old Lyme, CT. A good time was had by all.
This seminar was my most comprehensive attempt to date at explaining, demonstrating, and sharing my current ideas about Superconsciousness and Whole-Brain Coherence, and how to easily access them, through the internal arts and beyond. I will be giving a talk June 1 at the Society for Consciousness Studies at the Yale Divinity School and knew that this would be the perfect group to explore a concise, coherent practice for developing and enhancing the body-mind-spirit integration that is the backbone of Superconsciousness/Whole-brain Coherence.
There are physical and neurological correlates to expanded states of awareness. Pioneers like Joe Dispenza and Dawson Church and the folks at HeartMath are conducting advanced research to measure brain activity in expanded states. Brain mapping using various tools is helping to flesh out a picture of what happens to the nervous system when we experience subjective states of peace, bliss, compassion, etc. Research is still in the Late Bronze Age in terms of the tools used and the inferences we can make, but research shows that something IS going on, even if we don’t quite know WHAT yet.
I have long told my taijiquan students that gongfu rewires the nervous system. Gongfu is diligent practice over a long time, and is the tried and true way of inculcating the remarkable abilities of the internal arts at a deep, physical level. Doing so demands an upgrade on your wiring, including awakening parts of your brain that may be latent or dormant. That shift may require coming to grips with your current limitations.
One important thing I clarified in this seminar was to establish that expanded awareness, a state that is not limited by the narrow bandwidth of the conscious mind (more on that in a minute), can go in at least two directions, probably more.
TRANSCENDENCE commonly means “existence or experience beyond the normal or physical level.” In religion, Wikipedia defines it as “the aspect of a god’s nature and power which is wholly independent of the material universe, beyond all physical laws.” Many meditation and spiritual practices seek to find more refined spiritual states by transcending the physical and the material to identify more fully with the insubstantiality of pure awareness. Transcendence is sometimes accompanied by bliss and absence of personal identity.
Superconsciousness is a fuzzy term and has been used variously. As I use it, superconsciousness is not transcendence of the physical and material. It is the INTEGRATION of body-mind-spirit, embracing the body as an intrinsic part of my identity NOW, whether or not there is an identity that survives the death of the body. (My personal mythology says there is, but that whatever I become after the transition can only be enhanced by doing the best job I can with what I am now.)
I also believe that there is at least one more expanded state of awareness, RELATIONAL awareness. This is the state that accompanies fully Meeting another with your whole being, I to YOU, as described by Martin Buber in his seminal book, I and Thou. I consider that book to be the most important book of the 20th century, and it was the inspiration for my second book, Finding You in a World of It.
It is my current personal belief that Relational awareness is the pinnacle of human ability and is fed by Superconsciousness, which enables you to easily access a state of subjective Wholeness.
Transcendent and Relational Awarenesses are subjects for another day. Back to Superconsciousness and Whole-brain Coherence.
Awareness at its most fundamental can be thought of as “responsiveness to one’s environment.” Consciousness is “awareness of awareness,” or “knowing that you are aware.” Consciousness is a very limited, but necessary, function of the human mind. It is perhaps the most human of qualities to be able to think and represent those thoughts in language. In each moment we are aware of vastly more than we are conscious of. That is the beauty as well as the limitation of the conscious mind.
For example, you can look at a page in a dictionary and be visually aware of hundreds of words on the page. But to pick out one word and fully understand a definition of “inchoate” you have to shift from broad visual awareness to conscious thinking. In doing so, you must also filter out most of the other information on the page, to be able to concentrate on this one thing. Not only that, but when fully absorbed in that one thing you are probably not thinking about the music playing in the background, other people in the library, how fast your heart is beating, and a myriad of other things that you are aware of but not necessarily consciously.
This is part of the fun of being human, shifting from broad awareness to consciousness, and back again. The awareness doesn’t go away, necessarily, but it will be affected by how much attention you are directing to the task at hand.
PREconsciousness is awareness that you are not yet aware of, like the hum of voices in a busy restaurant, elevator music, subconscious habits, the beat of your heart, the hairs on your head…MOST of what is going on in any moment. Some people are aware of more than others, but everyone is aware of more than they are conscious of. That’s how we’re wired.
Something happens when we intentionally make the pre-conscious conscious, however. We shift into an integrated state that accesses parts of the nervous system that are latent or dormant. We awaken to sights, sounds, feelings, and understandings that were not available to the thinking mind.
That is because we have moved into the PRESENT. Anytime we are using the conscious mind to “think,” we are in the past. That is because it takes time to consciously process any information, usually about a half-second or more. When we are “in our heads,” the mind is looking at the world as it WAS, a half-second ago.
Since most of the people you encounter are doing the same, you may never notice the tape-delay of your mind, but sometimes you do when called upon to respond instantly.
Sports and martial arts are great trainers for getting out of our heads. We encounter minor “emergencies” each time we have to deal with a fast-ball or a punch. But when in “Flow” or “the Zone” we seem to know exactly what to do without much thinking at all. Some of us can easily access the lessons learned in the hothouse of athletics or during the piano recital that went so well, but most of us not so much.
But when we bring preconscious functions to consciousness, something marvelous happens. We awaken to a more coherent brain state, and that leads to superconsciousness. We “KNOW without thinking.” We still CAN think whenever we like, but are not stuck in the thought loops and perseverations that occupy so much of our brain activity. We can easily move to the “space between thoughts,” a mental state that is the goal of so many forms of meditation. It is then that we can “Be Here Now,” as Ram Dass famously exhorted so long ago.
But what is it about the internal arts that makes superconsciousness so easily accessible?
Not “feelings,” as in emotional responses. Feeling, as in tactile sensations. Most sensory information is drowned out in the conscious mind. It remains pre-conscious. Something awakens when you reverse that.
Each of the five senses is capable of immersing you fully in an experience so that the thinking mind shuts up for a moment. You can be swept away by stirring music, an exquisite panorama, a sumptuous meal, the smell of lilacs. But each of these senses is largely local: see through your eyes, hear through your ears, smell through your nose, taste through your mouth.
But information from the sense of touch comes from all over the body, largely preconscious. Many people forget they have feet until they hurt. But what happens when you intentionally feel THROUGH your feet, as though they were antennae? A part of your nervous system awakens and connects to the brain functions that produce conscious awareness. Your focus shifts, for the moment, from plans for lunch or that song fragment buzzing around like a bluebottle fly to…NOW. The Present. Your mind clears. A sense of peace starts to form.
You are entering a superconscious state. And heightened whole-brain coherence.
You are awakening the other half of your brain. Your potential is far greater than you realize. And plugging into the other half is not just additive. That is, 1 + 1 does NOT equal 2; 1 + 1 equals ∞. Just like when you listen to one channel of a stereo music broadcast through one earbud, it gives you a distant, one-dimensional sound. When you add the other channel, the music is not just louder. It takes on an additional dimension. You are now IN the music. Similarly, when you access the dormant parts of your brain, your awareness becomes multi-dimensional. You are no longer limited by the narrow focus of the It-mind.
Whole-brain coherence is like getting a new quantum supercomputer. It’s a swell piece of hardware, but you still have to learn to use it. If all you do is play solitaire, you are not really getting the biggest bang for your buck.
And the internal arts offer some of the best training you can get for the upgrade. We covered some of those methods at the seminar, but I’ll save that for another time.
Please let me know your thoughts and questions by posting a comment or sending me an email. This formulation is a work-in-progress and I appreciate your thoughts.