It is imperative that we awaken from mundane awareness into full spiritual remembrance of who we are. The problem is that even when physically awake, we can still be mentally asleep, unaware of ourselves and entirely absorbed in whatever mechanical impulse or external stimuli captures our attention. This state of confluence, or mental absorption, keeps us in an unproductive dream state.
When unaware that we are dreaming at night, without question we give ourselves over to the most foolish and draining dreams. During the day this dim state of consciousness does not automatically go away and one can continue to be as much a slave to biological impulses, involuntary thoughts, and social dramas.
The first step to awakening requires breaking out of this confluence by gaining a degree of lucidity, a measure of self-awareness. At any moment you can turn your attention inward and observe yourself, placing your attention firmly in the present moment. You can notice your thoughts, analyze your feelings, pay attention to the sensations in your body, feel your breath.
In doing so, you soon become aware that all these perceptions are still originating from outside of “you” even if they are happening inside your own mind. That is because at the very core of your mind is a center of perception that defines the true you while the peripheral territory of your mind is inhabited by thoughts that may or may not be your own. This inner core is the silent observer, the consciousness watching through your eyes and thinking through your mind.
Becoming lucid depends on being cognizant of your own self-awareness. Some call this a state of self-remembering since confluence is forgetting yourself. Lucidity is as simple as turning within and remembering yourself in the moment. Remembering yourself stops confluence, and stopping confluence is the first step to truly remembering your spiritual identity. It is one thing to know that you are, but quite another to know who you are. The first leads eventually to the second.
Being consciously present in the moment is easy to implement but difficult to maintain. Books have been written on just this task alone. The problem is both physical and metaphysical. Initially, heightening one’s state of awareness requires both vital energy and an adequate supply of neurotransmitters. These deplete after a short period of exertion and one slips back into lowered consciousness. But like a muscle, mental focus grows with training because the physical and subtle bodies adapt to a greater demand for energy. Maintaining lucidity becomes easier; with practice, one gradually increases the length and depth of focus. Some forms of meditation assist the training of self-awareness. By practicing lucidity in a controlled setting, the same state of heightened awareness can more easily be reached and maintained under more natural circumstances.
One meditation involves repeating your thoughts. Close your eyes and pay attention to the chatter that goes through your mind. For each phrase that comes to mind, willingly repeat it to yourself once and let it go. You can also visualize a replay of random mental images. This is a way of asserting your volition over an otherwise involuntary process. By echoing, you regain power from the tyranny of mental chaos. After doing this for five or ten minutes, the momentum of self-observation will continue for a short while after. Try talking or walking and you will notice yourself being entirely aware of your words and movements. If you could maintain this state indefinitely, never again would you speak or act as in a dream.
Another meditation requires that you relax and then pay attention to every sensation in your body, starting with the top of your head and working your way down to your toes, then back to the top. The primary benefit of this type of meditation is that we become conscious of signals that are otherwise ignored and forgotten. Today, not only do we normally forget ourselves, but often we forget our own bodies. For instance, watching television or using the internet places our attention into virtual bodies that displace our own. This causes a schism between mind and body in addition to the already prevalent disconnection between self and mind. Dissociation of this type is antagonistic to higher awareness. Observing physical sensations mends the schism, which in turn assists conscious integration between self and mind.
Also, not only does meditating upon physical sensations break confluence with external provocations, it also assists in transmuting internal negative emotional energy. By observing negative emotions and the internal sensations they evoke, one keeps from entering into runaway feedback loops between thoughts and emotion that blow up into over-reactivity and a skewed sense of perception and judgment. If the negative emotion is triggered by some button-pushing event, self-awareness is a way of defusing the energy without suppressing it. If negativity is more a constant pressure without any specific trigger, then self-awareness helps one stand upright against the pull of this emotional gravity. Whatever the case, lucidity is the key to keeping one’s composure.
So observing yourself expands the bandwidth of your awareness and breaks negative forms of confluence. Returning to your center allows you to choose in the moment what to think, feel, or do next. Without self-awareness there is no choice, just a mechanical reaction to a given stimulus. By default we behave like machines, but at any moment we can regain lucidity and disengage the autopilot. But by itself, lucidity is merely a state of mindfulness that squelches mechanical reactivity but provides no wisdom in how to proceed. The sword is liberated from the stone but no map or compass is provided for the quest. And thus the need for a second stage in conscious development.
While the first stage aims to interrupt negative confluence, the second stage involves initiating positive confluence with the higher aspects of your being. Speaking from your heart, following your intuition, tapping into your subconscious, channeling your Higher Self—these are all examples of positive confluence. Here, you willingly seek out these higher impulses and let it flow as your self-awareness takes a back seat. Reflect upon times when words flowed from you that must have come from something higher, and while they were flowing you were unaware of yourself as though in a trance. This type of confluence is productive and happens from time to time even without being trained in self-observation. However, self-observation helps make these connections more consistent and intentional, otherwise they are randomly interleaved with periods of negative confluence.
The main function of the second stage is to strengthen your connection with the higher centers. By grooving a channel to these higher aspects, their influence becomes more permanent. This is important because at this stage, becoming lucid while being in the flow will momentarily interrupt the flow. For instance, speaking from your heart but then suddenly becoming aware of yourself temporarily breaks the connection. Lucidity hampers all types of confluence, even the positive types. That is, unless the flow is sufficiently strong that lucidity does not interrupt it.
To illustrate, consider how when we first drift off to sleep at night, if we catch ourselves falling asleep we immediately wake up again. In this case, the initial sleep state is not strong enough to withstand the conscious mind suddenly withdrawing from confluence. However, once one has entered deeper sleep and begun dreaming, it is possible to become lucid and continue dreaming. Those who are unskilled in lucid dreaming have difficulty maintaining their lucidity and often break out of sleep upon realizing they are dreaming, but with practice the state of lucid dreaming can be prolonged.
What does this say about positive confluence? It says that positive confluence ultimately serves to make the connection with one’s higher aspects sufficiently permanent so that one can gain self-awareness and not break the connection. This is the third stage, being simultaneously lucid and in the flow. Whereas the second stage amounted to dissolving the conscious mind into the subconscious, the third stage begins the process of raising the subconscious into the conscious.
There are two categories of meditation, one lowers consciousness and the other raises it. Both seek to unify the conscious mind with the subconscious and thereby achieve integration of the whole being, but while the first category is regressive, the second is progressive. Positive confluence is merely regaining the state mankind occupied prior to the Fall. With the Fall came development of the ego and the potential for self-awareness, though at the price of egotism and negative confluence.
The first category of meditation seeks to dissolve the ego into the subconscious so that one becomes an unconscious extension of a higher source. As an ends in itself, positive confluence is regressive because it does away with self-awareness and puts us back into a naive state of divine innocence as before the Fall. But as a means, positive confluence is a useful stepping stone toward emerging into divine consciousness, though this time with self-awareness intact so that rather than being an unconscious extension of a higher source, one evolves into that higher source. This is assisted by the second category of meditation, of which two methods were described above.
In the third stage, one practices self-awareness without interrupting the flow of impressions flowing from the higher centers. This amounts to a passive observation and gentle allowance of the influence your higher self exerts over your thoughts, feelings, words, and actions. Why is lucidity important again after it was set aside in the second stage? Because staying lucid while letting positive influences work from within is simply an act of supervising the process so that you can step in as necessary to correct deviations; positive confluence easily passes into negative because one is too absorbed to catch the switchover, but self-awareness solves the problem.
It is difficult enough to gain lucidity without interrupting the flow, which is why lucidity must at first be passive in the third stage, meaning “watch yourself but do not interfere with the expression of your heart.”
The fourth and final stage begins when the ability to balance self-awareness with positive flow becomes sufficiently permanent to allow the lower self to engage in active communion with the higher self instead of mere passive observation. In other words, once the lower self is free of negative confluence, and the higher self has a clear and permanent communication link, and both are present at the same time, a mutual flow of communication is possible. The lower self becomes an adept assimilating the wisdom and essence of the higher self, thereby rising to its level. In this way, the lower finally merges with the higher and achieves total integration of being.
In practice, the four stages of conscious awakening are not discretely sequential like grades in school. Rather, we occupy one of the stages as a primary center of gravity but can spontaneously spike into the higher levels or drop into the lower. The higher stages are trickier to access and maintain, but that does not mean we are bared from accessing them, just that without practice we access them less frequently. The glimpses we catch of the higher stages should motivate us to acquire them permanently as our new center of gravity. This is much like regular dreamers being motivated by spontaneous lucid dreams to practice and have them more frequently until it becomes the normal mode of dreaming. Higher awareness happens in flashes, like a fluorescent bulb flickering before fully igniting.
As for esoteric systems like Fourth Way claiming that the higher remains incomprehensible until the lower stages are mastered, remember that there is a difference between systems of conscious evolution and systems of conscious awakening. We are not here to grow our souls from scratch, as there is no time left for that, but rather to awaken ourselves into full spiritual remembrance.
Interestingly, the stages of conscious awakening reflect the macrocosmic process of conscious evolution. What follows is a diagram comparing the two:
The process can be painted via the following story. A prince leaves his father’s kingdom and suffers a loss of memory then leads the life of a peasant until he grows weary of poverty. In his yearning for a better life, he suddenly remembers he is a prince and returns to see his father. From afar he watches his father carry out the duties of a king, then when certain of his own identity the prince gathers enough courage to speak with his father. In the years following this reunion, the king teaches his son all his wisdom until one day the prince himself becomes king.
The goal is to retrieve what was locked away within us, to re-establish contact with our higher centers, and ultimately remember who we are. And it all begins with self-observation and listening to your heart.