Becoming More Conscious
To become More Conscious it helps to understand what consciousness is. Failing that, it can help to understand some of the qualities of consciousness.
So what does it mean, to be conscious (or to be "More conscious")?
One aspect of it is learning to notice what is happening now and to respond without thinking.
In terms of using the body, say in yoga or any other physical activating, that can mean learning to better feel our body and control it, without having to think, in real time.
That idea of doing without thinking is an important one. And it's why we have the ability to create habits. For more on this read self smart. The idea here is that habits are like little units of consciousness within ourselves that can take care of the details of various tasks so that we don't have to.
In a workshop that I attended, Richard Freeman talked about the 10000 snake heads of patanjali and how each of them might only have an IQ of 1, but summed together, that was a lot of intelligence.
Another aspect is being aware of what is going on in our mind, particularly while thinking. In this case, being conscious means noticing what we are thinking and choosing what we are thinking about.
And so being more conscious isn't just feeling and controlling our body. It's also about sensing and directing our thoughts.
For more on this (directing thoughts, and changing ourself) you can read the article self mastery (and the splits).
For a look at a possible goal of being more conscious check out conscious liberation.
An important distinction between sensing what is going on in the mind and sensing what is going on around ourselves or within ourselves is that one happens in imaginary space, across the flow of time while the other happens in real space, in the present, within the flow of time.
Thinking tends to happen in imaginary space, doing is what happens in the real.
And so one way of being more conscious is to make choices. (And another way is to create choices or even sense them).
Thinking slows us down. It's the mode in which we are processing and analyzing data so that we can learn from it or enjoy it in retrospect. Part of being conscious is recognizing (or choosing) when we are in thinking mode and when we are doing doing mode.
Thinking mode is also the mode where our ego exists. And so one way of getting rid of the ego (albeit, temporarily) is by not thinking.
In the thinking mode we can be aware of what we are thinking about.
Both modes are important because they give us two ways of viewing our experiences. One is while we are actually doing something, while we are in the flow so to speak. The other is after we have done it.
With these two views we can experiment and learn. And understanding these two views we can actually make learning a more enjoyable (or at the very least, a more effective) experience because it gives us a way of experiencing the flow regularly while learning.
For more on this you can read the article yoga pose "brush strokes".
One aspect of making learning enjoyable is the use of repetition and rhythm. I find that practicing simple and easy to remember movements with rhythmic repetition not only feels good, it makes it easier to learn the movement. That movement can then be added to other movements each building on the next, but never at any point being so much that you have to think about what you have to do.
Instead all there is is rhythm and a taste of what it is like to flow.
I actually first got a taste of this practicing math problems in my pre-university math course. The key in this case was that I'd learned a technique so well that I could just apply the steps one by one without having to think.
Part of what enables me to create practice sets with a small enough set of instructions that I don't have to think about those instructions in order to do them is isolation.
This is something that I first began to use when learning Chinese characters. Chinese characters are made up of brush strokes and the usual learning method is to repeat a character until it has been learned. My own method was to practice a few brush strokes at a time and then expand outwards from there, each time practicing only what I easily do without having to think.
It was because of this method that I was not just able to learn characters, I was able to paint them well enough that my calligraphy teacher could find no fault.
And so when I teach people exercises for learning to feel and control their body I use small instruction sets that allow them to repeat movements slowly and smoothly (and rhythmically) while also focusing on particular parts of their body. (Another term for "feeling" or sensing the body is proprioception.)
Isolating a body part or part of a yoga pose or part of an action is almost second nature to me now and it's derived from my study of tai ji and calligraphy among other things.
However I never thought to apply these things to understanding the body until I met Andrey Lappa.
Prior to meeting him I was studying and teaching Ashtanga Yoga. While I liked the practice I was after information on how to create my own "balanced" practices.
Andrey stepped in to provide the answer and he did that by showing me and all the rest of his students how to break the body down into elements. In turn he showed us how to break yoga poses down into basic elements that could then be recombined to make new elements. And he showed us how to use this information to create balanced yoga practices.
Once he showed me I realized it was so simple and asked myself why I hadn't thought to do the same. Eventually I did do the same thing in my own study and analyses of another practice that he taught me, the Dance of Shiva
In Indian folk lore Shiva is the embodiment of consciousness. He dances across the universe stamping our ignorance. He removes the veil between points of understanding or otherwise creates "connection" between points of information. Shiva is consciousness or form and the dance is energy, that which animates form. Another view of shiva is as a lingam, again representing form. And shakti is the yoga which animates and fills that form with life. Without shiva energy is unbound and shapeless and directionless, without energy form is lifeless.
And so since shiva is form and constraint and definition it is this aspect that labels form and energy.
Dance of shiva as a practice started of as spiral arm movements. Horizontal movements could be done with candles balanced on the palms. Vertical movements might be done while holding swords. Andrey took this practice and define positions for each set of movements, four horizontal and four vertical. Using both arms together this amounted to 64 positions and the goal of this modified dance of shiva was to learn all the movements that would allow a practitioner to join a position to any of the other positions.
With only two basic movements there were only four basic possible combined movements. By redefining the movements with positions Andrey created new possibilities, exhibiting one of the fundamental traits of being more conscious, creating possibility.
And one of the reasons for having the thinking mode of consciousness is that it can be used to cut things up, to create clearly defined parts which in turn offer the possibility of different choices.
The doing mode is a way of exploring a choice, of experiencing it in real time.
Since consciousness is limited, a question can be, how then do we choose to spend its' currency, it's resources? Another question could be, how do we expand consciousness?
So now we can talk about learning.
Even before I began delving into basic principles and consciousness I have been into learning.
While I was in the army I learned to fix guns. I was taught how each type of weapon that I was working on worked and I was trained how to fault find and then fix problems.
Later on I build a motorcycle with my dad and uncle from a mix of new and second hand parts.
Later I worked with computers both during my time in university and after.
In each case I learned how what I was working on worked so that it was easier to figure out the problem when things went wrong.
While learning how guns worked we took them apart and put them together again repeatedly, learning the parts and how they fitted together. We also studied what went on inside the weapon during it's various modes of operation. During this process of constant study, an imaginary model of that gun, motorbike or computer system was constructed within my consciousness. That model allowed me to come up with instantaneous solutions to problems, sometimes even to problems I'd never encountered. This model, I believe, becomes a sub unit of consciousness within our consciousness that can "think" and figure out problems with respect to itself.
Initially I learned models for guns, motorbikes, and i also built models for math techniques within myself. Then later, after meeting Andrey lappa I built a representation of the human body as well as various yoga poses. Prior to that I build a model of the ashtanga yoga sequence within myself. These models allowed me to free up my consciousness because they did a lot of things so that my main consciousness doesn't have to.
As an example of this I built a model of how to type inside of myself so that I don't have to think, or look, for where a key corresponding to a particular letter is, my fingers, driven by the conscious model within myself, already know and go there as soon as they get the signal.
In a similar way I learned how to use the brakes while in driving school and now there is a model within myself that causes my foot to move to the brake pedal whenever I feel the need to slow down.
Some people call this muscle memory and there maybe other terms for it. But one thing that my own experience tells me is that even though we train these models to act for us subconsciously, we can consciously monitor them and modulate them as required.
So why learn them?
Because they make it easier to get into the state called flow.
In general it's hard to be just focused on doing or just on thinking. We tend to do a little bit of both most of the time. However when we focus, flow is the state that occurs when we are totally focused on doing.
How does these models that we build inside of ourselves help us to flow? For myself when I've learned tai ji well enough these models allow me to move fluidly and seamlessly without having to think about what is next or how to do it. Instead I can enjoy the experience of being in my body. Likewise painting a poem that I've memorized. And likewise doing a pose or action with my body. The better I've trained the "models" inside of me, the better they operate so that I don't have to think the easier for me to flow. And while their may be decisions to be made, I don't have to think I can just respond.
The nice thing about flow is that we can also get there when learning, if we learn to break what we are learning down into small enough chunks that we don't have to think about the in order to do them. Instead the rhythm that we do them with carries them from our short term memory gradually into long term memory so that then we can add smaller chunks of what we've learned to form bigger chunks.