Growing Our Human Potential

Consciousness, Part 5: Consciousness vs Thought

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In my first post on the topic of Consciousness, my own attempt at describing consciousness is that “We can achieve a state of awareness, realization, or simply just a moment where we are fully aware of what we are doing or being.” Similar to this is the following from cognitive psychology:

Consciousness refers to your individual awareness of your unique thoughts, memories, feelings, sensations, and environments. Essentially, your consciousness is your awareness of yourself and the world around you. This awareness is subjective and unique to you.

When we are connected to our consciousness, we can see and experience ourselves as this larger aspect of self. These are not thoughts about self, but awareness of self. Consciousness develops with the cessation of our thoughts. Let me share a personal example. I am walking and my head is filled with negative thoughts about something I saw on the news. I become aware of this and realize that this is not productive and will only result in me feeling and being more negative myself. With this awareness I make a choice to quiet my mind. I begin by taking a few breaths. Although my mind is still circulating these thoughts and trying to take control, I ignore them by focusing on life around me. I listen to the birds or feel the warmth of the sun. The battle for control continues but I continue to pursue my breathing and focus on the now. Within a few moments (sometimes longer), I am absorbed more in the now than in my thoughts. I feel greater levels of peace.

Here is another example, related to what I would label more positive thought. We are experiencing a major problem at work. I use my thought to utilize my problem solving skills to help determine the cause. However, there is a lot of consternation with the group I am with which is escalating the levels of stress and anxiety, and now the meeting has turned unproductive. I suggest a 15 minute break and use this time to step outside and take some breaths. I affirm myself (a thought) that I am calm. I focus on a cloud or tree to bring my attention to the now. My own anxiety gives way to a calm. I stay focus on the now and resist thinking about the problem which only brings this anxiety back. After a few minutes of calm, an idea comes to me form a smaller team of 3 key people who will conduct the first round of problem solving and then report back to the larger group. I return to my thought and plan this out as I return to the meeting.

So let’s review the sequence. I am in my thought. I use my awareness in the first example to recognize the probable impact of continuing my negative thoughts. In the second example, my awareness suggests taking a time out since attempting to continue would not be beneficial to the task of problem solving. From the state of awareness, I begin the process of sidelining my thoughts. In both cases I used focused breathing to initiate this. Its an ebb and flow as my ego and brain wants the attention on my thoughts. Persistence pays off as I stick with my breathing. With a blank mind, I enjoy the peace and serenity here. And sometimes a realization pops up out of nowhere. I have come to learn that these are a result of connecting with my consciousness and the greater source providing me with some guidance and inspiration.

So what are thoughts?

Before I attempt my own definition of thought, let’s begin with a scientific view. According to Paul King, formerly with the UC Berkeley Redwood Center for Theoretical Neuroscience, he states:

From the perspective of neuroscience, a “thought” could be described as a structured representation of a point of view, belief, hypothetical possibility, or intended action. A thought is the type of thing that you could write down as a sentence, for example. Consciousness is the “theater of perceptual awareness.”

From a psychological perspective and Psychology Today:

Thoughts can be idea-like, memory-like, picture-like, or song-like. They are usually short-lived, discrete events, unlike continuous events such as the constant murmurs of air-conditioners or rain. We all experience thoughts and have no problem identifying them and speaking about them to others. As quotidian as talk about thoughts may be, what thoughts are remains mysterious from a neuroscientific point of view. They are certainly caused by brain function, but we do not yet have a solid idea regarding what it is about brain function that gives rise to them.

Okay, so here goes my own thought about thoughts.

Thoughts are from our physical being, and likely the brain as noted above. Thoughts are influenced by our life experience to-date and the filters and biases we have developed based on what we have come to believe. For example, “This is a bridge” is a thought and a result of a belief we formed based on what we were taught. “I hate him” is also a thought and a result of a judgement based on our perception that someone is doing wrong to me. “We need to focus on developing a new market to grow our business” is a result of beliefs we formed from our education and experience regarding how to run a business. “I am unworthy” is a result of an unhealthy belief we had formed and used to judge ourselves. I would contend that thoughts are largely influenced by our ego.

Thoughts and thinking can be productive, but becomes unproductive as it consumes us. For most of us, our waking lives consist of the constant flow of thoughts swirling in our heads. We are largely in our thoughts and are often tainted based on our beliefs, biases and perceptions we have formed. We do not realize this until such time we attempt to connect with our consciousness (e.g. meditation). We have become a slave to our continuous thoughts.

Developing our consciousness is a result of initially ignoring or sidelining our thoughts. We gradually learn to quiet the mind from our active thoughts, whether it is through meditation, breathing, a walk in nature, etc. Consciousness initially takes the form of our awareness of self or self-awareness. What is this awareness that is able to look at ourselves from outside of ourselves? It is our consciousness. It is a check and balance to our ego-self, a source of inspiration, a place of peace, and maybe more challenging to consider, our connection to the Universe and Source.

Let me share a personal example. I had to recently put my beloved pet to sleep realizing that it was suffering and death was inevitable. Those that are loving pet owners know the gut-wrenching feelings and sadness that comes from these times. My thoughts were consumed with the emotions of grief and loss. and the reality that I would not see him again. These thoughts kept me within a dark, sad and lonely place. I mustered up the courage to go to a local park where the sun was shining and birds were chirping. My personal pain wanted me to stay in the car and cry. Following this crying spell, I momentarily felt better. I had gotten some of my grief and sadness out. I forced myself out of the car and walked to the shore. I was still for a moment and felt some peace, but my thoughts came back and my own pain and suffering continued. I took a brief walk and then found another spot to look out over the water. Following a few attempts at this, my sadness calmed. During this calm I had a realization that my pet was no longer suffering. My thoughts began to revolve around this realization which made me feel better. Within some time, another realization surfaced which was that my pet would not want me to suffer, and instead to focus on the good memories.

By quieting my mind momentarily, a realization that my pet was no longer suffering came to me. My sad thoughts prevented me from thinking this. I would say that in that brief moment, I connected with consciousness that resulted in this realization. This pattern I noted repeated itself. At one point, I was wondering where my pet was now. I had thoughts based on my belief about afterlife, but my sadness wanted to know that he was somewhere. This catapulted in thoughts about what happens when we die. Fear was now creeping in. Another wave of emotions began. I had returned to my thoughts. Later that day, I was making dinner. This was a good distraction for me to do something. I was detached from my sad thoughts as I focused on following a recipe. Another realization came to me. Remember that show, the “Pet Psychic” and her readings to pet owners who recently lost their pets. Where the heck did this thought come from? This was over 30 years ago!

The next day I was sitting at my computer and the remembrance of this show returned. This time I was inspired to see if I could find one of her episodes. Within moments I discovered some of her videos, and one titled, “How to deal with the death of your pet”. I immediately knew, in a deeper kind of way, that I had to watch this. I recognized her as soon as she spoke in the video. I recalled how I really enjoyed her show and believed in her capabilities. She then said the following:

When they pass over, know that they are around you. They are on a higher level of consciousness. They are just a thought away. They are with us, we can’t touch or stroke them, but we can talk with them. Know that the animal has not gone anywhere, it is just that their physical body has died. There is death, there is no separation.

I replayed this several times and I noticed that I was feeling excited. Here was a video that shared words relating to everything I had come to believe about death. It even used the words “higher level of consciousness” that related to all my recent research and focus. I felt so much better as if the sadness was pushed aside. I began to visualize my pet and started talking with him. I knew, once again from a deeper place within me, that all was okay.

These were moments that related to connecting with consciousness. It is hard to describe these experiences in words. One can easily dismiss this concept if they attempt to think about this. Chances our that our ego-self and biases will twist this around to be consistent with your own beliefs. Frankly it is easy to return to our physical thoughts since we can easily get affirmation from others that this is what we should be thinking.

Fortunately, my prior work on myself relating to concepts such as consciousness, synchronicity, Source, etc. allowed me to be open to new ideas. One has to learn to trust these moments, which takes time and practice. I recall a time where my counselor would ask me to take some breaths and come up with a visualization, a picture, related to the issue I was dealing with. I thought the idea was ridiculous, but decided to give it a try. What I initially thought was a stupid image that I came up with, turned out to be incredibly meaningful to what I needed to learn. I began to trust myself and go with these moments and realizations.

Thoughts I would contend are of the physical and can easily consume our focus and energy, particularly when the thoughts are based on negativity, fear, anxiety or anger. These are all from our ego, which serves to protect our physical being. I am learning the value of detaching from my thoughts which still requires a lot of work on my part. My thoughts have indeed run so much of my life. Initially this came from the trauma I experienced in my childhood and the negative and unhealthy beliefs and perceptions I had formed. These ruled my life experience until I began to create more positive and healthy beliefs about myself and the world around me. I realized how tainted my thoughts often were, focusing on situations in a negative way, which is also how we are conditioned in society today as we are bombarded with negativity in the news and online.

I was slowly learning how to quiet my mind, mostly by a mental act of sidelining the flurry of thoughts as I put greater attention on the now or in the moment. I can more easily track my thoughts to old beliefs, experiences and ego. I am growing in my self-awareness related to my thoughts. With this I am putting into practice more often techniques to help me quiet the mind. The reward are those moments that I feel more connected to consciousness which translate to peace of mind!

So is thinking or thought a negative aspect of self?

No. It has it place and purpose in our physical life. Here is a comment from Eckhart Tolle that may help:

Thinking has its place. It is a tool. But if it takes you over and you come to identify yourself with this tool, than it comes to possess you.

We use thought to conduct our work, solve problems, converse with others, plan for dinner, etc. This is the productive use of thoughts. However, if you were to step back from self and observe your thoughts, you may likely see how consuming these thoughts actually are, and how easy it is to succumb to those thoughts that are negative and judgmental. Over time, you can connect the dots between your thoughts and your personal issues, unhealthy beliefs, biases, prejudice, etc. Do not beat yourself up for this since this is how we have been taught and conditioned. Thinking has been touted as being intellectual, which it can be. But a greater source of intelligence awaits you in the state of consciousness.

So next time you are thinking of something that results in a negative feeling and thoughts, try to develop a practice of breathing and recognition that you would like to sideline these thoughts. This is in itself a moment of consciousness where you are in effect outside of yourself from the point of consciousness. There are also a number of great apps to help you quiet your mind. It will not come easy at first and it will take a lot of diligence and practice. But if peace and feeling connected to a greater source of knowledge sounds great to you, this is the way to go. Be aware that your ego will put up a fight since it wants to be in control, even if the control is being more negative and unhappy.

Thanks for reading and I hope that this has provided you with some valued guidance and inspiration. I would love to hear from you as well. You can reach me at

About Me

Michael is an award winning author, speaker, facilitator and coach on the topics of Personal Growth, Self-Discovery and Enlightenment. Visit my website for more information (

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