Living in the mountains gives me ample opportunity for viewing breath-taking overlooks, stunning summits and panoramic mountain balds. Of course, it usually takes a bit of climbing to reach there. Sometimes the journey takes us up and up until gradually we begin to see above the trees tops. Other times we are meandering for hours through the forest when suddenly we come upon an immaculate view. Whatever the pathway followed, we will experience a sudden shift in awareness as we take in an expansive vision of our surroundings.
I often like to compare this shift from the trees to the forest, and from the forest to the peak, to the awakening of our inner consciousness. We think we are somewhere but after gaining a larger perspective, we have a realization (gradual or sudden) that gives us a deeper insight and understanding of where we actually are. However, due to our ingrained patterns of behavior and thinking, these types of experiences may be few and far between. We often get stuck in mental routines, resulting in repetitive responses to situations in our lives. And sometimes, even after experiencing an expansion of mind, we can lose the vision and fall back into past patterns.
So how do we reach the proverbial mountaintop, where our minds open and perspectives deepen? Consciousness does not awaken easily. We are attached to our “normal” lives, our usual pains and pleasures, and take comfort there. But through the struggles of life and the obstacles we must overcome, we are sometimes shaken out of our habituated perceptions and a light is turned on. We see, as if for the first time, and it changes our whole game plan.
Consciousness operates at different levels in our lives and at each level, we can experience an awakening. For example, we may be stuck in bad eating habits which are making our bodies sicker and sicker every day. Perhaps we had heard and read a lot about healthy diets and what we should eat but we don’t seem to have the energy to make the change. Then something happens…an illness, a death of a loved one, a change that someone else made…and we burst out of the woods into a clearing, a clarity of mind, a determination of will. Sometimes we find a guide, a teacher, who shares her/his wisdom in a way we can internalize and apply to our own lives. We define a healthy diet and exercise regime for ourselves, surround ourselves with people and readings that give us support, and don’t look back.
The awakening of consciousness is a precious experience that expands our minds and enriches our lives. As these realizations are rare and unpredictable, people have, since time immemorial, tried to develop more systematic ways to achieve them. One of the practices for opening us up to consciousness is meditation. There are (at least) three ways that meditation can assist with this effort. First, regular meditation practice can actually change our neural circuitry and thinking patterns in order to achieve new perceptions and behavior. Second, concentrated meditation can help us explore deeper levels of our mind where we can access states of consciousness that lift us outside of our normal patterns of existence. Finally, meditation on universal or spiritual consciousness keeps our lives focused on that mountain peak itself. This practice keeps us on the pathway to higher levels of realization which are transformative and transcendental.
Meditation is an invaluable aid on our journey from the trees to the forest to the mountaintop. Like a walking stick, it keeps us balanced and sure-footed as we make our way through the ups and downs of life. As a powerful light, it illuminates the dark places and opens our vision to become more conscious beings. And like a trail map, it keeps us on track so we can arrive at our final destination.
“The awakening of consciousness is the next evolutionary step for humankind.”
— Eckhart Tolle
Howard has been practicing yoga and meditation for over 45 years. After receiving extensive training in the US and India, he has been sharing his knowledge and experiences of the science of yoga throughout the US and abroad. In 2006, he was a co-founder of the Prama Institute and has been one of the main faculty since then. His workshops and retreats focus on personal growth, lifestyle change, holistic health, the practice of silence, meditation, community building, and social transformation.