There are deeper, more profound states of consciousness beyond the default states of waking, dreaming, and sleeping. One of these is the state of awareness known as witnessing or the 6th state of consciousness. Learn about expanding your awareness and reaching higher states of consciousness.
So, what is expanded awareness, and what exactly is this 6th state? Answering these questions is the subject of this article. We’ll explain what it means to expand awareness and take you on a journey through the first six states of consciousness.
Theory of Expanding Consciousness
Awareness is about the bandwidth of perception, to how conscious we are of both the internal and external worlds. The greater the bandwidth of awareness, the greater our ability to perceive and reason. There are some practical steps that you can take if you want to attain a greater bandwidth of awareness.
A state of consciousness is a partition of experience with specific parameters of perception. Dreaming is an example of a state of consciousness that produces specific physiological and experiential characteristics. We have three default states consciousness, waking, sleeping, and dreaming. Interestingly, most people don’t notice the shift between these states. But you can learn to experience this shift if you expand your awareness.
What is Expanded Awareness?
When we expand our awareness, we increase the bandwidth of perception. Awareness can be expanded to include more than one state of consciousness simultaneously. One of the most powerful and transformative states of awareness is what is commonly known as the 6th state of consciousness, or the state of witnessing.
The theory of expanding consciousness helps to understand the relationship between consciousness, awareness, and perception. Awareness is the range of our ability to perceive, and perception has to do with the picture of reality we create in the mind. The five senses provide input into the process, but “the act” of perception occurs in the mind. Consciousness is the bandwidth that enables awareness and perception to occur.
Reaching Higher States of Consciousness
What is expanded awareness in modern psychology? It is the mind being opened to new or large-scale perceptions associated with mystical experiences or hallucinogens. It is possible to extend consciousness beyond the normal spatial location of normal experience. This is also defined as an altered state of consciousness, a state of psychological functioning significantly different from that experienced in ordinary states of consciousness.
Reports of the experience of altered states are highly subjective. Still, the phenomenon is measurable to some degree of empirical study when tracking subjects who engage in certain types of mediation over extended periods.
There are some common elements in the reports of those with this experience. They describe similar changes in perception, which involve an expansion of spatial orientation to time and place, wakefulness, and responsiveness to external stimuli. It is associated with a sense of ecstasy, boundlessness, or unity with the universe. It’s important to note their reports correspond with the state of awareness known as witnessing, which we will discuss in more detail shortly.
Psychologists and scientists believe these experiences may result from changes in neurobiological functioning due to oxygen depletion or psychoactive drug use. Some studies show similar effects from hypnosis, meditation, and sensory deprivation. Classical psychoanalysis tends to regard these experiences as symptoms of some organic or psychological imbalance. Whereas Jungian, humanistic, and transpersonal psychology regard them as evidence of spiritual evolution. In other words, reaching higher states of consciousness is a natural part of human growth as we expand awareness.
What is expanded awareness in the field of sociology? For the sociologist, this expansion involves moving beyond the barriers of bias and prejudice. It is the ability to respect and accept the social and physical differences between people, such as different lifestyles and sexual preferences. This state of social awareness is seen as a demonstration of reaching higher states of consciousness.
The theory of expanding awareness explains the growth of social awareness as a positive step in our evolution. This is someone who rejects sectarian and extremist ideologies which separate and discriminate. They are often called freethinkers and activists.
When you ask the question, “What is expanded awareness?” in spirituality, we see where there is an overlap between psychology, sociology, and spirituality. Both fields recognize that higher states of consciousness exist.
What is significant is how these levels of consciousness are ignored by Western organized religion. All of their works lack discussion about higher states or tools for exploring and developing consciousness. So, either the main proponents of Western theology, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, don’t understand this major area of the human experience, or they know about it but choose not to use them because they know it would end their domination of the cultural narrative.
To better understand this partition of consciousness, we will take you through the progression up to and including the 6th state of consciousness called witnessing.
Three Default States Waking, Sleeping, and Dreaming
Another aspect of the theory of expanding consciousness deals with the default partitions of consciousness: waking, dreaming, and sleeping. Of these three, the waking state of consciousness takes priority in our modern culture.
The waking state’s experience is what most people perceive as “normal reality.” Consciousness is like a rainbow with many different colors that fade and overlap. Of course, there are also non-ordinary states of consciousness. Dreaming is proof of non-ordinary reality. We all have access to these partitions of awareness, which can be expanded as we learn and grow intellectually and spiritually.
Let’s look more closely at these three default partitions of consciousness. The waking state is like the RAM setting of a computer. When we are in this default partition of awareness, our brain operates in the beta frequency range from 13 to 20 Hz.
The normal range is in the delta range when we sleep, around 1 to 3 cycles per second. The lines of demarcation between these primary states are often indistinguishable. Most people are unaware of the shift from one partition of consciousness to another.
When we dream, the eyes will often move back and forth under the eyelids during this state. So, it is known as the REM state, “rapid eye movement.” REM sleep has some exciting properties with frequencies in the theta (4–8 Hz), beta (16–32 Hz), and gamma (>32 Hz) ranges (1). It is a shared experience, and most people ignore its significance. It gives us a glimpse into other possibilities of non-ordinary reality. When we sleep and dream, we are generally unaware of time or space, that is, unless we train our minds through lucid dreaming techniques.
When we dream, the landscape is one of non-ordinary reality. So, even without using extraordinary processes or drugs to induce altered states, we regularly experience non-ordinary reality. Again, this is a vital point to keep in mind. The door is always there, always open. We need to learn how to use it.
The 4th State Transcendental Consciousness
Reaching higher states of consciousness starts with transcendental consciousness. We know this partition of awareness by several names, including the 4th state, the transcendent, pure, or bliss state of consciousness. This state has specific metabolic characteristics, including increased coherence of brainwave pattern and brain frequency operation in the theta-wave area around 4 to 7 Hz.
The fourth state is exemplified by the contrast of being fully alert yet experiencing profound silence and internal chatter. It is most notable for its profound state of rest while the mind remains alert. Several scholars, from Joseph Campbell (2) to Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (3), describe it as “bliss consciousness.” When you are in this state, you are self-aware. However, the typical inner dialogue is silent. You have awareness without the interruption of the ego. Now, that is bliss.
Early in our discussion, you might remember that most people don’t usually perceive the shift from waking to sleeping or sleeping to dreaming. Well, once you begin the expansion of awareness, you will be able to notice these shifts. All it takes is to practice the methods of meditation noted above. If you practice the right edition where you reach the state of pure consciousness, you will soon be able to perceive the shifting of these states and discover that this gap is the 4th state of pure consciousness. This 4th state undergirds the other default states and is a critical element in the shift to the higher state of awareness known as witnessing.
Here is where we get another answer to the question, what is expanded awareness? The 4th partition of awareness shows us that we have other levels of perception available which do not depend upon the five external senses. The theory of expanding consciousness proposes the idea that this expansion has no limits. The states of awareness we describe in this article are only the beginning.
Shamanic journey the 5th state
Reaching higher states of consciousness is a goal at the heart of many ancient cultures. The first spiritual process is the journey into consciousness, called the Shamanic Journey. It produces a unique state using rhythmic sound and imagination. Michael Harner (4), a noted anthropologist, writer, and Shaman, calls this the Shamanic State of Consciousness (SSC). It is the fifth primary partition of consciousness. The brainwaves are in the theta-wave bandwidth while in this partition.
We find this awareness-altering process in many cultures around the world. It’s another portal to non-ordinary reality. The shamanic state of consciousness is evidence of humanity’s interest in exploring consciousness.
This process has a common theme across many indigenous cultures. While in this state, you use creative visualization techniques to project your awareness in an imaginary landscape. You are both the director and participant within a non-ordinary reality landscape, which parallels lucid dreaming.
The Aboriginal tribes of Australia have a peculiar variation of the Shamanic journey they call Dreamtime. This technique allows them to observe events in other places and times. In essence, they found the secret to time travel.
The 6th State of Consciousness
This partition of consciousness is significant for several reasons. First, it combines two partitions of consciousness, the 4th state with the waking state, to create a new partition of consciousness. Second, it proves we can expand awareness to view reality from two different viewpoints. So, we learn our consciousness unbound. It can move beyond the confines of our bodies. It is another stepping stone to other higher perception levels.
It expands awareness to perceive reality from two different vantage points simultaneously. There is a conscious awareness different from the human body while at the same time being fully “present” in mind and body.
One achieves this 6th state of consciousness called witnessing through regular Japa or TM meditation. This process draws the mind naturally to the state of bliss consciousness. So, it is natural to bring this quality into the waking state of ordinary reality.
The 6th state is where we observe our experiences from a unique vantage point without getting attached to them. At this level of awareness, we can observe external experiences, thoughts, and emotions without identifying with them. Instead, we become “an impartial witness” to our experience. When we enter this state, we detach from the limiting beliefs and biases that usually hold us back.
The Higher State of Awareness Known as Witnessing
Those who reach this partition describe it as a state of witnessing. One can perceive reality from two vantage points at the same time. Some describe seeing themselves from above, others from behind or alongside. They also perceive reality with their body but are witnessing themselves simultaneously from another point.
Some refer to this experience as astral projection. This partition 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 an Observer.
“In the morning stillness, when the world is just waking up, and your conscious mind hasn’t fully taken over, you may feel a connection or passageway to another world and a feeling that something is about to happen in yours. It’s like a quiet storm is coming. You can feel the distant rumble of thunder on the horizon, yet you have no idea of the deluge your life is about to experience.” ― Padma Lakshmi
The State of Awareness Called Witnessing Links us to the Observer
The real you isn’t your ego and the elements of personality and instinct but the Observer of your experience—this is the real you.
“Now, when you meditate, try to meditate in a sustained way; first of all, sustain it. Then you find that you are getting into the state of Samadhi, means at a state where you start feeling the joy and the bliss of God’s blessings, and…
Once you have reached that state, then you have to realize, “Who am I.” Who are you? What are you? You are the Spirit. After establishing your sustained attention on the Spirit you’ll develop a state where you’ll be in a complete state of witnessing with joy.” — Nirmala Srivastava
Enlightenment and The State of Consciousness Called Witnessing
This sixth partition of consciousness is a major step in the evolutionary progression toward what we call enlightenment.
“Meditation is a deliberate attempt to pierce into the higher states of consciousness and finally go beyond it. The art of meditation is the art of shifting the focus of attention to ever subtler levels without losing one’s grip on the levels left behind. (…) Save all your energies and time for breaking the wall your mind had built around you. Believe me, you will not regret it.” — Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj
It is possible to get glimpses of the 6th state of consciousness, the state of awareness called witnessing when you awaken from a deep sleep. In those precious moments of stillness between sleeping and waking states, it is possible to become aware that you are sleeping. Then you can observe yourself waking up.
When the mind is silent, the transcendental state of pure consciousness can reach the surface of everyday awareness. If you try to hold on to this experience, it is gone, and you are just awake. The best way to cultivate this awareness is to meditate regularly, using a process that puts you in touch with the 4th state of pure awareness.
Spiritual exploration is about reaching higher states of consciousness, and the theory of expanding consciousness shows us how we can develop beyond the default states of waking, dreaming, and sleeping.
The first tool in our development is the 4th state of the transcendent. We can also use our imagination to create the inner landscape of the Shamanic journey. When we use these tools, we learn, grow and expand awareness.
The 6th state of awareness, known as witnessing, is another step in the evolution of awareness, consciousness, and perception. What is expanded awareness? It is everything beyond the default. Are you ready for the next steps in your evolution?
(1) Inner Experience – Direct Access to Reality: A Complementarist Ontology and Dual Aspect Monism Support a Broader Epistemology
(2) Joseph Campbell’s book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces.
(3) Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Wikipedia
(4) Michael Harner, Wikipedia