The idea of "understanding consciousness" is to make it easier to practicing being more conscious. To do that it helps to create a model of what consciousness is.
With a model of consciousness that is simple to understand, simple to use, and that makes it easier to practice being more conscious, you can get on being conscious and enjoying the experience of your life. (Or enjoying the experience of your yoga pose if that's what you are doing at the time.)
The idea in creating such a model is to make it easy to use in any situation imaginable. It's to make it easier to be more conscious.
Advantages of being more conscious can include:
Why be more conscious?
One of the states of being that we can enter into as a result of being more conscious could be referred to as a state of flow.
It's like riding waves along a river, but rather than being tossed around in a river, this is a state where we choose the waves that carry us, and use them to carry us to where we want to go.
And we can enjoy the process of getting there.
Another symptom of greater consciousness is sudden inspirations or satori. Instead of force thinking solutions to problems they simply become apparent.
This too can be thought of as flow, however, instead of us flowing within a river, or being carried by a wave, this is the flow of information into ourselves. And like googling a search term, this flow can result in instantaneous answers.
So what is consciousness?
We could think of consciousness as that "thing" that observes or is able to notice what we are thinking. It's also able to notice when we arent' thinking, or notice afterwards that we weren't thinking for a moment in time.
It's like a dot of awareness that can radiate outwards to sense our body and via our body what's in the environment around us.
And it's an awareness that can radiate inwards into imaginary space.
Perhaps one of the most important aspects of understanding consciousness is that it can flip between two modes, imaginary mode and real mode or, if you like, thinking mode and doing.
These two modes are important because they give us a way to improve the quality both of our ability to think clear and our ability to do with complete awareness.
They also give us a way of noticing what the state our "mind" is in and whether it matches what we are trying to do.
The general tendency in yoga philosophy circles is to label thinking as bad, or negative, something that feeds the ego or is a result of the ego.
I'll suggest here instead that thinking is actually quite useful because in combination with "doing" mode it gives us a different point of view.
It allows us to look back on acts we've done and look forward to acts we'd like to do.
It gives us a different perspective and that perspective enables us to better understand.
Having a consciousness that can flip between thinking and doing is like an artist who paints, and then stands back from their work to observe what they've done. (Leonardo Davincie recommends looking at your work via a mirror to get a really different perspective.)
That's what being able to pull inwards allows us to do, it gives us perspective.
And it helps us to consider whether what we've done matches what we wanted to do.
Of course, then it helps if we know what it is that we are trying to do in the first place.
Part of understanding consciousness is understanding that our consciousness is limited.
The more of our consciousness we spend on thinking, the less we have to focus on flowing and vice versa.
The way to augment this limitation is to learn.
Learning means to take ideas from outside of ourselves and recreate a version of that idea inside of ourselves.
These "ideas" or patterns then become "self smart" entities within ourselves.
By self smart I mean that they think for themselves. It's like learning to touch type. Instead of thinking about which keys to press, the patterns of typing are embedded within your consciousness. You can focus instead on what it is that you are trying to write.
If you learn how to use the controls of a car you don't have to think about how to slow down or speed up, you can focus on where you want to go and let the self smart patterns of braking and accelerating take care of those acts for you.
Soldiers learn skills like how to aim and fire their weapon, and also how to work together as a unit so that they can do these things without thinking, and focus instead on dispatching their enemy.
Athletes, whether on teams or playing individual sports, can learn skills necessary to their sport to the point those skills become self smart. They can then focus on the big picture.
Learning effectively requires to basic pieces of understanding. I've already talked about the idea that consciousness is limited. Another important idea is the limitations of short term memory. It generally holds a maximus of five discrete units of clearly defined meaning. Now why is this important?
Because if you work within the confines of your short term memory while learning, you can flow at the same time. This in turn makes it easier to upload the things you are practicing from your short term memory.
As an example, learning a kung fu form, my teacher taught me five moves at a time. I could remember five moves relatively easily which meant that I could focus on actually doing them.
Then I'd rest or review everything learned so far, and then she'd teach me the next five moves.
I learned so much faster this way than with another teacher who taught me eight moves or more at a time.
By repeating a few simple moves over and over, I could do them without effort and move the understanding of those moves from short term memory into long term memory.
An important aspect of learning is resting. In this case it might be helpful to think of or understand consciousness as having a process like that Google uses when it indexes the web.
Google spiders the web taking in new pages. Then in ranks those pages so that they are then easy to find in searches.
Resting allows our consciousness (or our brain) to do the same thing with anything new that is learned. It categorizes new knowledge, or indexes it an stores it in such a way that it is easy to access when required.
These ideas or patterns, when called up, become self conscious entities within ourselves.
We don't have to think in order to use these patterns. Instead they do themselves.
My own experience of learning is that if we learn to understand well enough we can come up to solutions with problems without effort. One clue to being able to do this is to learn a thing from multiple points of view. As an example, when I was working with computer systems, I learned the components of the system and I also learned the signal paths through the system. These two views helped me to build a complete model of the system within myself.
If customers called with problems, I could access this model to help them solve their problems, all without requiring a manual.
The manual was within me.
In his book Blink, Malcolm Gladwell calls this and related ideas "thin slicing."
By understanding consciousness and how it works, you can make it easier to thin slice.
Understanding consciousness is limited has implications in decision making.
Referring yet again to Gladwell's book Blink , he talks about an exeriment where customers where given a choice of six jams to choose from or more than six. (This was in a supermarket.) The supermarket made a lot more sales when choices where limited to six or less as opposed to when there where more choices.
Helping a girlfriend choose from among 12 different vases while we were in France, I divided the vases into smaller groups so that she could choose the one she liked from each small group. We eventually arrived at an easy choice by creating smaller groups to choose from.
Limiting options (as opposed to expanding them) can make it easier to make decisions. And in critical situations, making a decision is perhaps more important than having a wealth of options to choose from.
Understanding conscousness is limited and because of that can only hold a process a limited number of new patterns at a time, we can take this into account when we have to make decisions, particularly critical ones.
Understanding consciousness actually means understanding what understanding is.
And understanding is taking the knowledge of something that is outside of ourselves inside of ourselves. We build a model of what we are learning inside of ourselves.
It's what happens when we learn.
It's what google does every time it spiders the web. It makes a version of the web and embeds it in "the cloud."
It preorganizes the web inside of itself. But part of how it does that is divide each page into clearly defined units of meaning. It divides a page according it's content assigning a search term to each definable pattern that is on that page. And that then is how it provides "meaningful" results when someone enters a search term.
Not only that, as a result of this "understanding" google can provide search results in a fraction of a section.
And that's what can happen with ourselves, the more we learn, the more we understand, the better the model we have inside of ourselves. This model is what provides our understanding, and its what enables us to have sudden acts of inspiration. These self smart models can help us understand problems in a flash or understand what we need to do in a flash.
But to get to that level of understanding, we can use thought mode to define or dissect the things that we are trying to learn.
The important thing is that the smaller ideas are all easy to describe or define. Then we can focus on learning them (five or less ideas or patterns at a time.)
However, once we've learned, we no longer need the divisions or categories.
Just reading a search results page doesn't give us the information we need. We actually have to go to the page and read it to take in the information we need.
Suppose you design a motorbike. So that the motorbike can be build you draw plans of every component with multiple views of each of those components. Manufacturers can then build and assemble these components using the plans.
However, once the bike has been built you don't need the plans. You can get on with riding the bike.
But, when something goes wrong, then it's helpful to have the plans so that you can figure out what is going wrong and so that you can fix it.
But if the bike is working fine, you can get on with riding it and enjoying life.
So what do you do when riding? You focus on feelng your body and controlling it. You focus on the road and what is on it. Smaller sub patterns that you've already learned take care of balance, direction and speed control for the most part. You just make fine tuning adjustments. But most of all you feel what you are doing, you respond to conditions as they are now, and you enjoy the act of what you are doing.
The interesting thing is that learning to ride can become a similiar experience if you focus on learning small bits at a time. Because if you learn small easy to remember patterns, you can then also focus on feeling and responding and enjoying what you are doing.
Ultimately, the goal of understanding consciousness is so that you can unlimit it. One way to do that is to focus completely on what you are doing. That means immersing yourself in sensory data relevant to what you are doing. But rather than thinking about this data, you absorb it and act on it.
Or, simply enjoy it.
The point of doing so is that the more you focus "limited consciousness" on sensing and responding, the less consciousness you have to spend on thinking.
This is when you enter the flow. Instead of being separate from the flow of energy that is happening now, you become one with it.
Rather than limited, you become unlimited.
Another word for unlimited is infinite, without bounds.
Understanding consciousness is just one way of getting there.
This whole article is essentially a distilled version of my book Know to flow. For a deeper understanding of consciousness by looking at it from a slightly different point of view check out Know to flow. It's an ebook and for one price you get it in PDF, epub and mobi formats.