Over the years, my therapeutic focus has shifted increasingly toward what I would call “expansion.” I continue to see patients for issues as apparently one-dimensional as a sore knee, but what I really want for them is so much more than the disappearance of their knee soreness. My highest intention is that they will have an experience of lasting peace, happiness, and freedom. (I want this also for anyone who reads an article or book I’ve written, or takes one of my courses – and also for everyone else, too!)
The tricky part is that we tend to have these virtuous qualities wrapped up in causes. For instance, we may think, I feel peaceful because my surroundings are safe and it’s my day off. Or, I feel happy because I have good food and friends. Or, I feel free because my country has laws that protect my rights and I just dumped my boyfriend.
Yet, in order to embody these states in a deep, lasting way, they must become uncaused. That is, we find our way to them regardless of what’s happening with our body, our mind, or our life circumstances. And I believe the most likely way to discover such uncaused happiness, peace, and freedom is through an expansion of consciousness.
Limited or narrowed states of consciousness get us into trouble. When we identify with only one facet of all that we are, this sets us up for suffering.
Let’s look at some states of “contracted” consciousness. One of the most detailed frameworks for such an examination comes from the Tantrik tradition, which defines a set of layers of the Being. Although as a human you are all of these layers simultaneously, in any moment you’re likely to be identifying primarily with a single layer.
The center of the being is called cit (“chit”), which means absolute, nondual, nonlocal consciousness. It is consciousness that is completely unbound from a body, a mind, a personality, or any other labels. It is undying and eternal. You experience cit at all times, but it’s very difficult for a human to identify with it because it’s so basic, and so beyond our humanness.
The first layer outward is called sunya, which means emptiness. It is stillness, like what we experience in the deepest, dreamless sleep. It can also be experienced in meditation. Sometimes it feels so right and restful to a meditator that they believe this is what they are. While this is true, if it is worn as an identity to the exclusion of their more human layers – as in, “The human part isn’t the real me,” – then it’s still a contraction of consciousness, and brings problems – such as neglect of the body and inability to relate to others.
The next layer outward, called prana, is our vital energy, like the Chinese concept of Qi. Prana is considered to be an interface between the body and mind. And even though we have an individual experience of prana, like the two deeper layers previously mentioned, it’s a communal layer – we share it with everyone.
The next layer outward is citta (“chitta”), meaning “heart-mind” – or the layer of thoughts and feelings. In Tantra Illuminated, author Christopher Wallis explains that thoughts and feelings are considered essentially one, with the difference that thoughts are vibrations with a greater linguistic or logical component while feelings are vibrations with a stronger affective or “felt” charge. Humans tend to be more identified with this layer than any other. If our consciousness is mainly narrowed to this level, our thoughts and feelings run the show. We might say things like, “I am sad,” or “I am stupid,” as an expression of our identification with this layer. Because the mind and feelings can change so rapidly, when we live in this layer, we attempt to create stability by building repetitive patterns and forging rules for how the world should behave – and this greatly squelches our freedom.
The next layer outward is deha, the body. When we believe “I am my body,” – and especially when we simultaneously forget all the rest that we are, we base our self-worth on it and we feel vulnerable because of it. We know, of course, that it’s bound to age and decay.
Finally, there is a layer so superficial that it’s not even really part of our being. It’s called vastu – our possessions or “stuff.” Our possessions have a way of going along with us through life, they reflect our self-image, and it’s quite common to identify ourselves with them. This causes us to invest a lot of time and energy into accumulating, tending to, and protecting this stuff. We may even feel personally assaulted if our stuff gets stolen or damaged.
It’s important to note that there’s nothing bad about identifying with any of these layers, even the “stuff” layer. As you enter and embody each of these layers, there’s rich opportunity to experience, explore, and play. Again, the trap is in identifying with some small portion of all that you are – to the exclusion of the rest.
So, the simplest instruction I could give is to remember. Remember that you’re more than whatever facet of yourself you’re currently immersed in. The more you are able to expand your consciousness to include a broader, all-inclusive sense of self, the greater your potential to access peace, freedom, and happiness.
Give it a try and let me know what happens.
Dr. Peter Borten