"Consciousness" is a term that is often thrown around in discussion. Yet there are dozens of definitions of what that word means. The most useful one for neuroscience researchers is this: our awareness of our inner experiences.
This definition includes a method of self-transformation. If we tune into our inner experiences, we build our awareness. Building our awareness increases our consciousness.
To prime us for this method, we can first note qualities of our inner experiences.
Here are the 5 most common features of our inner experiences:
- Inner speech (the chatter that always goes on in your frontal lobes)
- Inner seeing (visualizing objects – frontal and visual cortex)
- Feelings and emotions (midbrain areas)
- Sensory awareness (body sensations, breathing, sounds, smells, etc.)
- Awareness of consciousness itself (unsymbolized thinking, a function that appears to be rather global!)
The 3 most common inner experiences when in a relaxed resting state:
- Visualization (inner seeing)
- Inner speech
- Sensory awareness (to a lesser extent)
We can deepen our awareness by recognizing and working with these inner experiences.
Different people can be more oriented toward one form of inner experience over another. Have trouble visualizing? Try listening to your inner voices and dialogues (inner speech), or just become more aware of your body’s sensations (sensory awareness). This approach to mindful self-awareness is one of the few proven ways that you can gain better control over your cognitive and emotional states.
You also develop a more accurate perception of your inner state of being. The social awareness centers of the brain (insula and anterior cingulate) get stimulated by any form of contemplative meditation.
The result: greater empathy, compassion, and inner peacefulness.