What do you think: are you conscious on a cellular level?
I think you are. I also realize this assumes a certain definition of consciousness, something we’ve not yet been able to pin point collectively (i.e., there isn’t a single, universally agreed-upon definition of consciousness). In my current understanding, there’s the consciousness that imbues all things, all matter, all energy. That’s “universal consciousness” or the laws of nature within which all we can observe operates. It is not a consciousness we fully understand, so again, lots of assumptions, notions, and theories.
There’s also a more common understanding of consciousness, which you might call the operational mind of the sentient being. Someone who is knocked unconscious has their ability to take in information and process it temporarily turned off. This bigger picture consciousness is the one that let’s us be “awake” to our interactions with the world around us. It’s what most of us mean when we casually use the word “conscious”.
If that were all consciousness could be, I would struggle to follow or promote the claim of sutra 3.55:
And this most high knowing is transcendent. It embraces all things. It is in all places. It is in all ways. It is at all times. It is born from an awareness of what is really real.
Translation by Kofi Busia
When thus there is pure equilibrium which is non-division between the indwelling consciousness and all (objective) existence, between the non-moving intelligence and the ever-moving phenomena, between the unconditioned awareness and the rise and fall of “the thousand thoughts” – there is freedom and independence of the infinite.
Translation by Swami Venkatesananda
Even though I don’t have an everyday knowledge of this state of knowledge and consciousness, I do walk around with the notion that what we call laws of nature are what my teachers call “universal consciousness”, and given that information, I can imagine “non-division between the indwelling consciousness and all (objective) existence”.
This consciousness, this knowing isn’t one of processing information, this consciousness is being the information.
The laws of nature do not choose to operate, they’re the underlying fabric of our material (and non-material?) world. The laws of nature are not moral, they have no opinions, they have no oversight, no decision-making force. Universal consciousness is foundational consciousness, not higher consciousness.
Yoga is a practice of shifting our everyday consciousness to become aware of this foundation that is all around us, in everything, in us. And once in a while, we can still our minds into such utter quiet, that, just maybe, we feel that we are of this foundation, in this foundation, and can walk through life with it at the forefront of our minds, keeping us truly awake.
We become conscious of consciousness, and it changes everything.
hari om tat sat!
An earlier version of this post first appeared on the Yoga 216 blog.