I assume you know what it’s like to be conscious. If not, you can find out by following the suggestions in my article How to Stop Thoughts.
The next step is to remain in that state as intensely as possible, as frequently as possible, and as long as possible.
Most people find this hard to do, so here’s a tip. Consciousness is like a state. It’s like the lights being on.
Concentrate on keeping the lights on.
Don’t pay attention to anything else. Don’t pay attention to things that become visible in the light.
Just keep the lights on.
I crammed the main idea of this article into a few paragraphs and put them at the start because people don’t always read all the way to the end. Now let me really explain what I mean.
You’ve discovered what it’s like to be conscious. The next step is to make it your permanent state. You can think of this as abiding in consciousness. Living in consciousness. Soaking in consciousness as if it’s an ocean. Dissolving in that ocean as if you’re a salt doll. (That’s an old metaphor which was invented, I think, by Sri Ramakrishna.)
Or even better you can realize that consciousness is yourself. You are consciousness. The thing that’s soaking is your mind; it’s soaking in you.
Or best of all, don’t think about it. Just do it.
Most people find it hard to remain conscious for more than a few seconds. One reason why they have difficulty is because they are holding onto an object rather than consciousness.
If you pay attention to an object — to something of which you are aware — you will probably pull yourself into the lost-in-thoughts state. In order to stay out of the lost-in-thoughts state, you have to keep your attention on consciousness, not on objects.
Consciousness is not an object. At this stage, it seems like a state. It is the state in which you are aware. The state in which you aren’t lost in thought. The state in which it feels like the lights are on.
One way you can keep your attention on consciousness is by focusing on the task of staying in that state. To me it feels like the lights are on. If it feels some other way to you, focus on how it feels to you. However it feels, keep that feeling going. In my case, I keep the lights on.
Light is a metaphor, of course, but it’s a remarkably good metaphor. That’s why it has been used by so many authors for thousands of years. For example, Annamalai Swami said:
You stumble around in the darkness of your mind, not knowing that you have a flashlight in your hand. That light is the light of the Self. Switch it on and leave it on and you will never stumble again.
There used to be a TV commercial for potato chips when I was a kid that said, “Betcha can’t eat just one.” Well, I can’t print just one quotation from Annamalai Swami’s book. Here’s another:
Constant meditation is the only way. If you bring the light into your room, the darkness immediately goes away. You have to see that the light is not put out. It has to be continuously burning so that there is no darkness.
And one more:
Mind is just a Self-inflicted area of darkness in which the light of the Self has been deliberately shut out.
I’m relying heavily on the metaphor of light in this article to convey my meaning. It’s a good metaphor but like all metaphors it has limitations. Let me explain a few things to prevent a possible misunderstanding. Consciousness isn’t something we see. This metaphor doesn’t mean that consciousness is visual. Nor does consciousness need to light anything up in order to be apparent. Consciousness is apparent even when it’s not lighting anything up. Things that get lit up are objects and right now, for our purposes, objects don’t matter. When physical lights go on, assuming we’re not blind, we have a feeling: “Ignorance just got dispelled. I know where I am now.” We have a feeling of knowing. When we are conscious, we also have a sense of knowing. It is this feeling that is similar. It is a knowing that we know. A consciousness that we are conscious.
As I said earlier, if you focus on an object — on something of which you are aware — you will probably pull yourself into the lost-in-thoughts state. It’s easy for that to happen because even when you’re conscious there are lots of objects floating around the mental space: thoughts, smells, sounds, memories, energy, and so forth. Some of these phenomena are so subtle or so different from the kinds of experience that we talk about that we have no names for them. You have to refuse to be distracted by them. You have to refuse to place your attention on them. You have to keep your attention on consciousness instead.
One of the reasons why objects distract us so easily is that we have a habit of using them to take our bearings. We make a continuous subliminal effort to control the realm of mental phenomena, or to seek certain things in it, because it provides an orientation or foundation for us. This is part of the machinery that creates and sustains the ego. We have to let the mental phenomena go free to do whatever they will do. We must let go of them and hold onto consciousness instead.
When we start to do this, consciousness doesn’t feel like a secure handhold because it’s infinite. When we let go of objects in this way we may feel a sort of vertigo or even fear, like a fear of falling. But in reality we can’t fall because we are not objects inside a space where falling is possible. We are the infinite realm in which falling takes place. We cannot fall. We are infinitely stable. There is nowhere we can fall. We have to let go to discover this.
Last but not least
It’s difficult in the beginning to ignore objects and focus instead on consciousness, but I think you can do it because the human mind has a tremendous built-in power to concentrate on one thing and ignore others. Here’s a video of an experiment to prove it. If you’ve already heard of this famous experiment and think you know what will happen, watch it anyway. You may be surprised by this version.
Photo by Sven Začek.
Quotations from Annamalai Swami: Final Talks edited by David Godman.