rainbow of consciousness

Consciousness is Like a Rainbow — Defining Awareness

“Attempting to define the landscape of consciousness is like separating the colors of a rainbow.  There are a multitude of shades.” ― Guru Tua

Consciousness Is Like a Rainbow

Defining these terms is a good first step.  However, this is more difficult than you would think.   That’s because like a rainbow, consciousness is a kaleidoscope of colors. The colors of our perception overlap and sometimes run together. However, most people live their entire lives in just three of the primary colors we call waking, sleeping, and dreaming.  So, they miss a huge range of other possibilities.

The goal of this is to help you better understand the different possibilities of this rainbow of consciousness.  We hope it stimulates your curiosity to find out more about the other colors.

Ordinary and Non-Ordinary Reality

First, we have two big buckets of perception, ordinary and non-ordinary reality. There are many philosophies and ways to define and describe these two concepts. We’ll try to simplify the definitions.

  • Ordinary reality is the things appear to exist in the corporeal body, where time and space “appear” to exist.
  • Non-ordinary reality is what we experience outside of the corporeal.   This includes our thoughts, day-dreaming, and dreams while you sleep. All of this takes place outside of the realm of normal time and space. Think about it.  For now, we won’t open the Pandora’s Box of concerning whether time and space are “real” or an illusion of the mind.

Three Basic Partitions of Consciousness

Next, we have three basic partitions of consciousness, waking dreaming and sleeping states. The normal waking state of consciousness is the primary platform of perception.  The default setting is ‘ordinary reality’.

Then we have sleeping and dreaming states. Although the dreaming state is common to our general experience, it gives us glimpses into other possibilities of non-ordinary reality. When we sleep and dream, we are generally not aware of time or space.  So, dreaming is a landscape of non-ordinary reality.   So, even without the use of extraordinary processes or drugs to induce altered states we experience non-ordinary reality.  Next, let’s look at each of these three and build upon the possibilities.

The normal waking state is the like RAM memory setting of a computer. It is the platform for human experience. In the normal waking state, the brain frequency operates in the beta range of 13 to 20 Hz. The normal range when we are asleep is in the delta range of around 1 to 3 cycles per second. The lines of demarcation between these basic states are often imperceptible.  In other words, we rarely have an awareness of the shift from one state to the next. This is an important point that we will come back to later. Let’s talk about sleeping and dreaming for a moment.

The Analogy of Someone Who Has Never Slept

Let’s imagine you met someone who has never fallen asleep. They have never had a dream. How could we explain to them how to “fall” asleep, and the benefits of doing so? If they asked you, “how do you know you are asleep?”

You’d have to tell them you don’t know you are asleep.  That’s because when you are asleep, you are unaware of time. In fact, several hours pass and you have no experience of time passing.

You simply wake up refreshed and rested. The only thing that could happen while you are asleep is that you might have dreams.  Okay, now you have to explain what dreams are.  This leads to more trouble because some dreams can be unpleasant and/or intense hallucinations known as nightmares.  Yes, the most frightening things you could imagine.  And, they seem real.

At this point in your discussion on sleeping and dreaming, the other person is becoming more than just hesitant.  They don’t want to attempt sleeping.  Not only is a waste of time, but they “lose” awareness of their body.  Add to this the possibility of having some frightening realistic experience and the answer is “no.”

Note these are the same boundaries (or excuses) keeping people from exploring altering, expanding, or seeking higher states of consciousness.  They don’t have any other similar experience to compare.  So, it is scary.

Altering, Expanding and Reaching Higher States

Before we delve into the details of each, here are the short answers:

  • Altering consciousness involves manipulating the waking state of perception.  For example,  the anesthesiologist will administer drug compounds to alter your consciousness, thus cutting off your ability to feel physical pain.
  • Expanding awareness involves a “eureka” experience of additional perception.  An example is the dream state.  Most people don’t remember their dreams.  So, if we use techniques to remember our dreams we expand our awareness of perception.
  • Reaching higher states of consciousness involves the transition of perception sometimes accompanied by physiological characteristics different from waking, sleeping and dreaming states.

Altering Consciousness

Generally, when people talk about an altered state of consciousness they are referring to a distorted perception of the waking state. The distortion is typically a response to the introduction of some stimuli – such as ingesting psychoactive drugs or plants.  Because the altered state is caused by the external element, the altered state is typically limited in duration by the effect of the stimuli.

Many indigenous cultures use repetitive percussive or tonal sounds to produce an altered state of consciousness. The use of a combination of sound, pharmacology, and ritual to produce altered states is also found in many ancient traditions. All of these practices have their roots in the shamanic traditions of the past.  Meditation, chanting and the spiritual journey associated with Shamanism also create altered states of consciousness. And, these spiritual technologies may also provide gateways into higher states of consciousness.

Unfortunately, some people experience altered states because of a traumatic event or a medical condition like epilepsy. Near-Death experiences can be grouped here, but could also be an awareness expanding experience.  It depends on several factors. Depriving the body of water, oxygen, sleep or may cause an altered hallucinogenic state. Some effects of the altered state can be predicted. The effects of ingesting alcohol produce affect altering perception, and other major bodily functions. Interestingly sound can also produce altered states.

Expanding Awareness

As was mentioned earlier expanding awareness normally involves a personal “eureka” experience.   Remembering more of our dreams is the easiest way of expanding your awareness.

Another example is using the analytical mind to grasp how our mind works.  The best tool we’ve found for this the Enneagram of Personality. This is a test which outlines the nine basic components of your personality.  Everyone is a little different but we all have a default setting.  Yet another example is the perspective you obtain by studying the correct use of basic logic.  The analytical powers of the mind are a powerful tool in spiritual exploration if we train it to use deductive and inductive logic processes.  Being able to see the facts from the fiction will save you a lot of time and effort.  Here again, we find many ancient cultures that used this approach to spiritual exploration.

Reaching Higher States of Consciousness

Higher states of consciousness are sometimes more difficult.   They often deal with perceptual elements well outside the range of normal reality.  In this case, it’s the differences in the worldview of an insect and man.  Both occupy the same world but with vastly different perceptions of reality.  There are two higher states that we can talk about in the next section on the Non-Ordinary States of Consciousness.

The Non-Ordinary Rainbow of Consciousness

Now, we add two additional states to our basic three ordinary states of consciousness (waking, sleeping, and dreaming). These two new are non-ordinary states of consciousness. They are Transcendental Consciousness also called (Pure) or Bliss state of consciousness, and the Shamanic State of Consciousness.

Consciousness is Like a Rainbow

Transcendental Consciousness

Transcendental Consciousness is known by several names including the 4th state, pure or bliss state of consciousness.  This is a partition of consciousness with specific metabolic characteristics including increased coherence of brainwave pattern and brain frequency operation in the theta-wave area around 4 to 7 Hz.

More importantly, this state is most notable for its profound state of rest while the mind remains alert but without thought. The experience of those who reach this state is one that scholars and teachers from Joseph Campbell to Maharishi Mahesh Yogi describe as a state of bliss consciousness because the individual is self-aware without having the normal inner dialogue. In this state, the practitioner’s awareness expands. The spiritual technique used to attain this bliss state of consciousness is sometimes referred to as Japa Meditation or a more commercial version of the branded version known as Transcendental Meditation.

You might remember early in our discussion we talked about how we don’t normally perceive the shift from waking to sleeping, or from sleeping to dreaming.  Some people do have this ability.  And, you can too if you practice the methods of meditation noted above.  This will demonstrate how consciousness is like a rainbow.  If you practice meditation for a while, you will perceive the shifting from one state of awareness to another. And, most interestingly, you’ll discover that this state of pure consciousness supports the other default states.  This is another way of expanding your awareness.

Shamanic State of Consciousness

The fifth state of non-ordinary consciousness is referred to as the Shamanic State of Consciousness (SSC) (by Michael Harner noted anthropologist, writer, and Shaman). In this state, the brainwaves are also in the theta-wave area. In addition to being self-aware, you project yourself into a “visionary state” of consciousness. You are both the director and participant within a landscape of non-ordinary reality.

This state is probably the most ancient form of spiritual practice known commonly as the Shamanic Journey. This spiritual technology has similarities across many cultures around the globe and also more than likely the source of modern religion. Additionally, we see modern versions re-branding this experience, such as is found in “creative visualization” methods. The Shamanic State of Consciousness is significant for several characteristics. The person in SSC controls when, where, and how long they travel. By setting the goal of their journey, they provide a level of freedom and control.

Combining the States of Consciousness

So, now we have what you could call our five primary states of consciousness. These include the three basic states of waking, sleeping, and dreaming.  To these, we’ve added two other higher states, transcendental consciousness and the Shamanic State of Consciousness. However, these five primary states of consciousness are like colors in a rainbow that fade from one color to another or overlap one another. Altering the ordinary states of consciousness or overlapping non-ordinary states with ordinary states of consciousness is not only possible, but it is also one of the eventual goals of spiritual exploration.

The Sixth State of Consciousness

To show another example of how consciousness is like a rainbow of different shades, let’s add a sixth state of consciousness. When we combine the waking state with the transcendent state, and we have “cosmic consciousness.” This is the first combination of states of awareness from both ordinary and non-ordinary reality.  In the sixth state, the non-ordinary state of bliss consciousness is carried into the waking state of ordinary reality.

One achieves this state through regular Japa or TM meditation. The mind is naturally drawn to the state of bliss. So, it is a natural progression to bring this quality into the waking state of ordinary reality. The resulting experience is what is often referred to as “witnessing.” In this state of consciousness, there is an expansion of the mind’s ability to perceive two realities simultaneously. There is a conscious awareness separate from the corporeal body while at the same time being fully “present” in mind and body. (Sorry, but it’s a bit like explaining to someone that has never slept what it is like to dream.)

This state of consciousness provides experiential proof that what we perceive as ordinary reality is more aptly a collective holographic construct. There is also the experiential realization that “we” are eternal and one with this reality as Observer or participant. These realizations are often the goals of some religious constructs and to that end, some religions have preserved spiritual technologies to attain and cultivate the transcendent state.

Lucid Dreaming the Seventh State?

Some believe that lucid dreaming should be the seventh state.  This is because it combines or overlaps two or possibly three states of consciousness. In lucid dreaming one is present, they “know” they are dreaming.  This is the same as the waking state.  And, at the same time, they are in the REM partition of the dreaming state, but also actively directing their reality as the Shamanic State.  What do you think?

In Conclusion

There you have the basic landscape of the states of consciousness.  Now hopefully you can grasp how consciousness is like a rainbow.  And, we haven’t even talked about the non-linear nature of time.  We hope this helps you understand the shapes and colors of the rainbow of perception.

Our mission is to spread the processes for expanding awareness and opening the doors to higher states of consciousness.  We call these ancient techniques “spiritual technologies.”  To do this, we use a blended learning process that allows for the teaching of multiple techniques in a short period.  We don’t change the technique or traditional framework.  Teaching several techniques together is a very synergistic learning process that produces consistent learning outcomes.  This process mirrors what Joseph Campbell termed “The Hero’s Journey.”

Spiritual Technologies

Spiritual technologies are tools for exploring consciousness.  They result from generations of research by cultures around the world. These processes stand up to the test of science. They are repeatable and measurable. They do not require belief in religious doctrine.  So, everyone who can follow a process can use them. We call the practice of these processes Spiritual Exploration.

You can list these tools in several ways. Some fall into more than one group.   We like this simple method.

Are you are ready to take the next steps in your spiritual journey?  We can help. We deliver the above spiritual technologies using a blended learning process.

Final Thoughts

If this article resonates, there are more on our blog. To find out more about our organization, see our page FAQ.

Interested in spiritual exploration?  Check out the blended learning process at the core of our teaching process. It reflects what Joseph Campbell called the Hero’s Journey.  Our learning options include both face-to-face and virtual learning sessions.  Please consider donating and supporting our mission. This helps others learn the knowledge for developing their own path.


Joseph Campbell & Joseph Campbell’s Book The Hero’s Journey, Wikipedia
Michael Harner, Wikipedia

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