What is Higher Consciousness? A Deeper Look at an Elusive Concept


June 16, 2022
Filipe Bastos

Consciousness is a term that’s thrown around a lot. It’s common in the fields of psychology and philosophy, although it can also be used in medical contexts, or in more spiritual discussions, too. Essentially, we use it to describe different states of physical and mental awareness. But what is higher consciousness?

If you’ve heard of “Higher Consciousness” before but aren’t quite sure what it means, you’re not alone. Higher consciousness is a concept that has been around for centuries, but it can be difficult to pin down its true meaning.

Generally speaking, it refers to a heightened state of awareness and understanding. It’s often associated with spiritual growth and enlightenment, but it can also simply refer to a more expanded, open way of thinking and being.

In this article, we’ll explain the different states of consciousness humans can occupy, and explore the benefits of reaching higher consciousness. We’ll finish off by suggesting some tips and techniques you can use to help you reach a higher level of mental activity. Let’s get started.

What are the Different States of Consciousness?

Not all forms of awareness are the same; in some moments we may experience open attention (in which our attention spans multiple points of focus at once), while at other times, like if we’re completing a practical task, it would be a more fitting response to practise a narrow form of awareness.

Various different factors can have an effort on how we attend, and it’s important to remember that this is a highly subjective experience.

A higher-order theory of consciousness is a way of explaining the difference between different states of awareness. Different kinds of consciousness are defined by different higher-order theories (you can find out more about higher-order awareness here).

The most challenging states to explain tend to relate to “phenomenal consciousness”, a term used to describe a subjective experience in which a person ‘feels’ something. To help us understand different conscious perceptions, we can turn to “The Six Levels of Consciousness”.

What are the 6 levels of consciousness?

Certain thinkers break down our experiences of conscious content into six key levels of consciousness. These are:

1. Life happens to you – you react to the experiences and things you encounter, defending yourself, avoiding things, and rarely living in the present moment.

2. Life happens by you – your dissatisfaction with this sense of powerlessness drives you to feel as though you can and should control life. This can bring great personal power, but it can also lead to a misguided effort to control everything in your life, which can cause stress, anxiety, and dissatisfaction.

3. Life happens in you – here, you see that all your reacting and controlling hasn’t brought you the happiness and peace you’d hoped it would. You begin to realise that life is experienced through your thoughts, meaning that your suffering and hardship is not caused by what happens to you, but by the stories your mind creates about those experiences. This is a U-turn towards higher consciousness.

4. Life happens for you – as your curiosity about your experiences and observations grows, you start to accept the natural flow of life, thinking of it less as something to mold and shape, and more as something to openly experience without judgement. Experiencing conscious awareness of the present moment throughout your day (as encouraged by mindfulness meditation) is a great example of this.

5. Life happens through you – in this state of consciousness, you understand that there are no ordinary moments in life. Every single moment is an opportunity for a positive experience, and this all happens through you, your body, and your mind.

6. Life is you – the final level of human consciousness develops after a gradual evolution, as you continually cultivate a more accepting, non-judgemental approach to life, viewing yourself as intrinsically connected to everything around you.

Noting the distinctions between each theory of consciousness can be useful. Let’s explore the idea of “lower consciousness” in some more detail.

What is Lower Consciousness?

As human beings, we spend most of our time operating in “lower consciousness”, or “normal consciousness”, as some people may call it. Lower consciousness often refers to states in which we feel drowsy or sleepy, not fully engaged with what’s happening around us but capable of processing brain signals and performing instinctive actions.

However, this term also refers to the more reactive and unhelpful behaviours we engage in when we’re not practising mindfulness or experiencing the benefits of a higher state of consciousness.

For example, when occupying a lower level of consciousness, we take a pretty narrow view of things and are primarily concerned with ourselves, our survival, and our successes.

We feed unhelpful cycles, striking back when we’re questioned or criticised, blaming others for mistakes, thinking only about what’s relevant and practical, and reinforcing a flattering image of ourselves and our life direction. Lower consciousness is when we fuel our tendency for impartial judgement and biased behaviour.

This outlook is often rewarded in ordinary life, which requires plenty of practical thinking and a narrow focus on task completion.

There are, however, moments in which we can access a more profound state of being. And moving into a state of higher consciousness can significantly improve our experience of life.

What is Higher Consciousness?

Certain theories of consciousness tell us that it’s possible to operate in a higher mode than the typical selfishness, reactivity, and brittle pride that defines the first level of consciousness.

Higher consciousness is the term given to describe a state of elevated awareness and perception that allows individuals to develop a deeper understanding of the nature of reality. These states move the mind beyond self-interest and craving. We stop acting so judgementally, and we approach others with a more open mind, considering the reasons they may act the way they do.

In higher states of conscious awareness, we pay more detailed, non-judgemental awareness to present moment experiences. We consider how people may be influenced by pain or suffering, and we develop the ability to sympathise more with the contexts and motivations for others’ actions, rather than focusing on how it affects us.

So when do these states occur? According to some, we’re able to access this higher mind when there are no threats or demands upon us, perhaps late at night or early in the morning, when our bodies are at their most comfortable and relaxed.

This process involves loosening our hold on our own egos, putting aside our biases, relaxing onto a seat of imagination and open-mindedness, and cultivating a kind of universal sympathy.

Is There Any Evidence For Higher Consciousness?

There are key parallels between higher consciousness and certain types of psychedelic experience. Therefore, it’s hardly surprising that research into the impact of psychedelic drugs on brain signals provided evidence for the existence of “higher” states of consciousness.

Brain activity becomes more complex during higher states of consciousness, as electrical activity in the brain becomes more unpredictable and our perceptual experience expands.

This is not dissimilar to the impact of meditation on the brain. Check out our article on brainwaves during meditation for more information on this.

What are the Benefits of Living Life on a Higher Level?

So how can we measure the impact of accessing a higher model of consciousness?

While it’s hard to pin down due to the subjective nature of perceptual consciousness, accessing higher states often leads to increased compassion and empathy towards others. In turn, one can move away from feelings of selfishness, thoughts regarding status or power, and ties to material possessions, helping us regularly develop a more positive response to humanity.

Accessing a higher-order awareness state can alter our experience of emotions, making us better at observing and managing them rather than reacting instinctively.

Buddhist and Christian monks are among the many religions and spiritual believers who use meditative or contemplative techniques to access higher consciousness, but you don’t have to be tied to a belief system to enhance your conscious experiences. One of the benefits of higher consciousness is that it can be a totally secular experience too.

Cultivating different types of conscious level can help you understand and unlock the power of your own mind. So what exactly can we do to bring on these deeper experiences?

How Can I Experience Higher Consciousness?

There are a number of techniques and exercises you can use to help yourself achieve a state of higher consciousness.

Some of these stem from ancient spiritual roots in Asia, while others are more suited to a modern context. Below, we’ve collated a list of 5 things you can try out to encourage the appearance of deeper conscious experiences.

1. Practise Mindful Breathing

Mindful breathing can help alter subjective experience and expand our sense of consciousness in various ways. Getting in tune with the breath can reduce anxiety and reactivity, change our emotional states, and re-energise us in moments of weariness. While this doesn’t necessarily lead directly to a heightened state of phenomenal consciousness, it can be a great gateway to accessing these higher states.

2. Sink Into Deep Meditation

The term ‘deep meditation’ is complex, but most people would agree that sinking into deep meditation is the perfect example of experiencing higher consciousness. This term refers to deeply relaxing meditative experiences in which there is nowhere the subject would rather be and nothing they’d rather be doing. You can find out more about how to get into deep meditation in this article.

3. Cultivate Joy and Compassion Towards Others

This is the perfect way to move beyond the self-centred attitude that tends to dominate what we call “lower consciousness”. By practising meditation techniques like Sympathetic Joy and Loving-Kindness Meditation, we can actively cultivate feelings of joy, sympathy, and compassion towards others, which is a great way to give birth to new conscious experiences.

4. Practise Acceptance

Practising acceptance in daily life can help you achieve a heightened state of awareness in which you’re more understanding of others and more engaged with the world around you. Try to respond non-judgementally, rather than reacting emotionally. Accept both the positive and negative things that happen to you, and focus on what you can control, rather than what you can’t.

5. Try “Do Nothing” Meditation

Mindfulness meditation can be pretty difficult — how could meditation ever be effortless? “Do Nothing” meditation is a term used to describe a meditative practice that focuses on simply allowing whatever happens to happen. This can lead to some profound states of consciousness. Find out more in our article on “Do Nothing” Meditation.

Gain a Deeper Understanding of Life

In day-to-day life, our minds will often drift between different thoughts, ideas, and states of being in a highly natural, effortless way. This is why many people refer to us as having “streams of consciousness”. And that’s totally natural!

But it’s possible to maintain that natural flow of thought while also transcending the ordinary modes of living that tend to keep hold of us.

Accessing higher states of mental and visual consciousness can help us become less reactive, more open-minded, and more accepting of the people and experiences we encounter.

Try out the 5 techniques we’ve suggested above, and you should get a better idea of what we’re talking about.

If you want to find out about another transformative way of re-imagining the world, check out our article on the perfectionist trap. Here, you’ll learn how switching up your standards of perfection can lead to a healthier perspective on life.

Frequently Asked Questions:

What is the Science of Consciousness?

Learning about the science behind our conscious and unconscious brain activity can provide insight into why we behave the way we do. You can find out more about the science of consciousness in our article on self-directed neuroplasticity, a form of inquiry meditation that challenges and questions the mind.

What is Pure Consciousness?

Pure consciousness is the essence of human identity. According to advocates of pure consciousness, we each have our own essential nature, regardless of how we move between each measure of consciousness.

How is the Brain Divided?

A big factor behind our experience of different states of consciousness is the division of the brain. Our brains are split into two sides: the right hemisphere and the left hemisphere. Each hemisphere performs a different role, and they’re both absolutely vital to us. Check out our article on The Divided Brain for more detail on this subject.

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