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What is Consciousness?

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Iceberg imageWhen I explain consciousness I am talking about my understanding of consciousness in terms of the work I do with clients. For a start consciousness is about being awake versus being asleep and as you know when you are awake you are more aware. Sure, many of us believe we are awake as we go about our days but how aware are we truly? How involved are we in living our lives?

As I write this I think of an incident of two friends who, back in our student days, fell asleep (or should I rather say ‘passed out’) in their car after a particularly big night. Fortunately they did not drive home as they did not manage to get the car out of the parking space but unfortunately when they woke up the car had been cleaned out, their personal items had been nicked and even the shoes had been taken off their feet!

So being conscious and aware obviously has the benefit of assisting us to make choices in our lives that enable us to protect ourselves, make self-caring choices and in the long-run learn and grow. Consciousness and awareness enable us to participate in our lives and to create our lives rather than to live reactively.

Unfortunately, all too often we operate on auto-pilot and simply react to life. This can be because we are so deeply sold on our unconscious belief systems about ourselves, others and the world that we don’t even question them. It can be because we are too afraid to be conscious and honest with ourselves about who we really are or what we really want so instead we just operate on the default setting.

I like to use the analogy of an ice berg. The tip of the ice berg consists of what we are conscious of about ourselves. The huge mass under the water represents all the deeper, unconscious and unquestioned aspects of ourselves that can guide how we react and feel and behave. Have you done that before when you tell yourself you will stop being jealous or stop getting angry about small things yet, suddenly, there you are in an argument with your partner about who they were talking to on the phone or ranting about the fact that the tap was left running and a small part of you is observing and thinking “Why am I doing this?”.

Being conscious is about taking responsibility in life – taking responsibility for the relationships we choose and why we choose them, the lifestyle choices we make, the person we choose to be – victim or persecutor or joyful and present…. Let’s face it – it’s often easier to not have to take responsibility and look at these things so living unconsciously can be rewarding in its own way. The payoff however, can be a repetition of destructive patterns in relationships and lifestyle choices , continued emotional disturbances and a feeling of things not being ‘right’. Some people have wonderful ‘coping mechanisms’ (aka defence mechanisms) to avoid being conscious – like plain denial or suppression of emotions and thoughts that are uncomfortable; escapism through alcohol, drugs,  internet, TV; or just keeping distracted by working really hard, focussing on others versus the self or keeping busy and not taking any time out to just be.

To the contrary, consciousness is mindfulness, being present, being aware of that niggling thought or emotion and acknowledging it, giving it some space and seeing what it is all about. Consciousness is about being honest with yourself about why you do what you do and are what you are and looking for alternative ways to be. Consciousness is about living in your body versus always intellectualising everything and trying to control it by thinking or worrying about it. Consciousness is about joy, freedom and authenticity as the masks fall away. Consciousness hurts at time. Consciousness can be very difficult at times but consciousness in yourself encourages consciousness in others….as you shift those around you are forced to shift too or fall away. That too can be scary. Consciousness is a choice for everyone to make because it is painful at time to live consciously BUT you will feel more empowered; more present, inviting and open to positive experiences, relationships and choices in general ; stronger physically and emotionally and generally a whole lot more joyful and free as you look at your life in a whole new light.

Another benefit of consciousness ….you will wake up back at home in your bed with your car parked safely, your wallet and cellphone beside you and your shoes on the floor where you stepped out of them before climbing into bed!

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