In truth there is no such thing as higher consciousness. There is only consciousness. But in individuals, the pure consciousness is usually blocked in varying degrees, so we speak of higher or lower states of consciousness. The sun is always the same, but when we see it through heavy clouds, we speak of weak sunshine. In the same way, pure consciousness – which is everywhere, in every sentient and insentient thing and in every inch of the sky and empty space we see – is more latent than actual in most beings. It’s obscured by what the Indian people call tamas (lethargy, ignorance in the larger sense) and by the vasanas and samskaras (habit energies and tendencies) that make us what we are and make up our karma.

When consciousness is dull and obscured, our awareness is extremely limited. As the clouds are brushed away (that is, the habit energies and other obscuring factors are weakened), awareness grows from the inside, and it always goes from the limited individual outlook to the far-reaching universal. The “choiceless awareness” that Krishnamurti speaks of is a good example of consciousness shining without obscuration, choiceless meaning the obscuring energies are not operating. Normally we operate in a pleasure-pain continuum, seeking those things that are pleasant to us and avoiding what is painful. This is the opposite of choiceless awareness and is the result of self-clinging. If we are aware only of what seems pleasant and unpleasant, this can hardly be called expanded awareness – rather, it is self-centered activity.

In India the people speak of four states of consciousness – waking, sleeping, dreaming, and the fourth, unchanging state that underlies the other three, the Turiya state. Just as the movie screen remains unchanged while we watch the rapidly moving figures that flash upon it, so the Turiya state (the Reality) is there underlying whatever condition we are in. Our limited awareness seldom makes it apparent to us, and for this reason, we perform certain disciplines so that we can become aware of it, sometimes for very short periods.

All of us have brief glimpses of the Turiya state, the Reality – perhaps just before falling asleep or when coming out of anesthesia. Sometimes, after intense periods of concentration or prayer, the mind becomes one-pointed, and we have an intuition of Reality. Those who practice* deep meditation of various kinds certainly have frequent short periods in the Turiya state, and these brief touches of Reality can be shattering. There are no words to describe them, as they are not truly experiences in the dualistic subject-object relationship. Something has happened, although nothing that can be remembered. When such experiences are strong or prolonged, these flashes can change our lives.

Heightened awareness always begins on the inside, not being merely a matter of tactile or sensory occurrence. We begin to be aware of the vast ocean of consciousness in which we swim (live and breathe and have our being). We note our breathing, the ringing in the right ear or vibration from ear to ear, even the coursing of blood through the arteries and veins. With the heightened circulation of the Chi (Vital Force or Intrinsic Energy), we begin to have disturbing physical manifestations; it seems that someone is pulling our hair or insects are crawling on the face. These are actually salutary signs that something constructive is happening; we are evolving rapidly. Heightened awareness is the result of this rapid evolving. Higher consciousness and heightened awareness are not two separate things.

One of the great drawbacks in helping ordinary, untrained people to experience an expanded awareness is their inclination toward delusion and illusion – they believe what they want to believe rather than following their own experience. Not too many years ago I asked Swami Krishnanand, one of the great saints of present-day India and almost the last of the karma Yogis, whether he had ever seen a man fly through the air. He answered no. Then I asked him if he had ever heard of one doing so, or knew anyone who had heard. Again he answered no. Yet there are books filled with such allusions, and people take it for granted that the enlightened man can perform such feats. Actually, if a sage leans too far over a balcony railing, he will fall. The body is subject to the law of gravity. Nevertheless, people are eager to believe; read books by those who have no background themselves, having probably obtained their material from other books. They accept as gospel all that is written. This is prevalent in the psychic field as well as the spiritual realm.

Recently I attended, as a guest, the opening night of a three-day retreat being given by a European psychologist. He spoke vividly of deep religious experience (which he seemed to equate with psychosis) and mystical matters in general, using Sanskrit terms incorrectly and referring to matters about which he had no knowledge at all. When I asked him whether he had experienced deep religious or mystical states, the answer was negative. He spoke of bringing the students to a higher awareness, though it was obvious that his own awareness was decidedly limited and that he had serious problems of his own. This is a case of the blind leading the blind. When an elderly woman asked him about certain states of altered consciousness that she had experienced (usually in connection with coming out of anesthesia or from a traumatic incident), he showed no understanding of her questions, which were highly valid, and was unable to answer any of them. He seemed to have no means of bringing these people to the goal he had set; rather he seemed to look for some gimmick that would pass the time. Is this a way to speed up personal evolution and make higher states possible, if only temporarily?

We know that there are radio and television waves all around us, but we do not see or feel them. Emotion, breath, ultra-violet rays, speech and other similar manifestations cannot be seen, yet they are commonplace (though we seldom think of their deeper meanings). So it should not be startling to know that there are worlds within worlds of which we usually have no inkling at all. Each grain of dust may contain universes; many conjecture that outer space holds other worlds, but these are geographical. As the awareness grows, we sometimes become distinctly aware that there are other dimensions, happening at a different rate of vibration, right here and now. When the great twentieth century sage of India, Ramana Maharshi, was asked where he would go when he died, he replied, “Where should I go? I’m here.” Such an answer is usually misunderstood, but it points to the fact that all life is here now – probably in the past and future as well as the present. Often we experience events from the past or the future, if we are the least bit advanced spiritually, but we talk ourselves out of the experience because the logical mind rejects it. It is surprising under the circumstances that we accept telegraphy, ultrasound and other non-sensory manifestations. A native of a completely isolated country might find it impossible to believe what is commonplace to us.

For one to follow the methods of this book in working toward heightened awareness – with the distinct possibility that psychic experiences will also intrude – it is necessary to empty the cup. A full cup will hold no more. Faithfully following these methods, one must suspend his likes and dislikes and be open to what occurs. Sometimes this is more difficult for the widely read intellectual than for the simpler person who has no literary background.

It should be obvious that changes do not occur in us through words. If they did, we would all come out of our Sunday visit to church as better people, having incorporated the lessons of the sermons into our lives. Lying or cheating at the office on Monday would be impossible. Is this the case? We visit analysts or therapists and pour out thousands of words of our own (we enjoy talking about ourselves and wallowing in our own miseries, and we have paid for the privilege), usually joined by admonitions of the practitioners themselves. When we feel unsatisfied, we go to someone else. Perhaps we attend numerous weekend seminars that promise enlightenment or other assurances. Do we really rise in consciousness from these encounters? Are the leaders, no matter how many degrees they hold, themselves enlightened, speaking from a state of higher consciousness? If they were, would we have to go to other consultations and seminars? Do the readings we buy at psychic fairs actually influence our future – or are they just entertainment?

Again, I must repeat, the changes do not come through words. Words are necessary in teaching us the path to follow, but we must do the work ourselves and usually in silence. If we want to play the piano, we must study hard in learning to read music and in developing finger technique. We do not just sit down at the piano and begin playing. The writer is a jazz pianist, and many people say, “Oh, I wish I could do that.” Are they willing to do the necessary preliminaries? For the jazz pianist must learn to play well and then forget everything he has learned so he can be guided inwardly as to what to play. He is not following set patterns. Most jazz pianists treat a work differently each time they play it. So the first thing necessary in aspiring to a state of heightened awareness is the willingness to work and to persevere. We are not looking for entertainment or variety; repetition is absolutely essential.

If we sincerely work toward heightened awareness, we will eventually be startled to recognize that our periods of concentration last less than a second, being constantly renewed. We had thought that these periods lasted for a considerable time and were not aware that concentration has to be constantly renewed. Similarly, a reciprocating engine (as the one in your car) hums along smoothly for hours, but the truth is that it goes through a series of explosions (spark plugs), though we are unaware of it. In the same way, in the example the Buddha gave, a man circling his arms with sticks of fire in his hands will appear to be making a complete circle of uninterrupted fire, though we know that this is not true. An illusion is created. The same thing is true of our periods of mental concentration. One solving a difficult problem may renew that concentration constantly in a seemingly uninterrupted period of deep immersion, and he may even attain a one-pointed frame of mind, much as he does in deep meditation. Nevertheless, as we attain greater awareness, we will find that this attention is being constantly renewed.

Are we aware of breathing? If we think about it, it is the one thing absolutely vital to our existence, yet we simply take it for granted. In effect, we are breathed – that is all. To one truly interested in deeper awareness, he might study the trilogy of breath, blood and spirit. In addition, the Chinese speak of Ching Chi Shen – Essence (or semen), Energy and Spirit. Eventually we may find that wisdom and energy come from the same source. We live in a vast continuum of surging vibration, encompassing both wisdom and energy. We do not have to look outside ourselves to find both. In time we may find that all life can seemingly be summarized as expansion (yang) and contraction (yin). Time, largely illusory, is the result of the juxtaposition of these two. So it is with night and day, life and death. If the winters were not so bitter, would we appreciate the beauty of the plum blossoms when they push their heads through the snow in earliest spring? asks the Japanese poet.

Being aware is sentience. Plants probably have it in a muted form; in rocks it is mostly latent. Yet the hills are vibrant with life and the trees seem to sing the glory of creation. In truth, there is nothing that is not alive, pointing to one life and one essence. Underneath the rhythmic sounds of Indian music we have the one unchanging note droning on. As we attain a heightened awareness, perhaps the music of the spheres will be heard and the earth will be felt to turn gently on its axis. The rain will bring with it hints of things to come as renewed life bursts into bloom. What a glorious outlook we may share.

*Publisher’s Notes: 1.) Justin Stone used the spelling “practise” (and variations on that spelling) in the first edition. For consistency and ease, it has been changed to “practice” throughout this edition. 2.) Justin used “vashana” in an earlier edition and this one uses “vasana.”

This article is published in Heightened Awareness.