Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice


Conscious Energy

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Though the reality they point to is fundamental to our possibilities, we use the terms “conscious” and “consciousness” rather loosely. Usually we mean them to indicate a simple sensory awareness. So when we say “I am conscious,” or “I am conscious of” something, we actually refer to the working of the sensitive energy, the substance of our awareness of our bodies, thoughts, emotions, and sensory perceptions. Here we adopt a quite different meaning for the term consciousness: the spacious, empty, infinite, cognitive field that forms the ever-present background of all awareness. In this sense, the full experience of consciousness is rare and fleeting in our lives. But to taste true consciousness, you need only place your attention through the gap between thoughts, into the cognizant space surrounding your thoughts.

Reworking an analogy due to J. G. Bennett (Energies 1964, p. 90), if we compare the sensitive energy to the images on a movie screen, the conscious energy forms the screen itself. Consciousness enables us to be aware of our sensitive awareness. The still pool of consciousness underlies, permeates, and surrounds our ordinary awareness, in the relationship of context to content. This cognizant stillness of pure consciousness corresponds to sitting in the darkened movie theater with no images on the screen, nor sounds from the audio system. Like the screen during the movie, the subtle blank slate of consciousness remains profoundly difficult to recognize, because of its inherent emptiness. Chronically immersed in and concealed by our sensitive energy, consciousness usually remains indistinct and lost to us. The sensitive energy movie so captivates us that we lose ourselves. Transported by the images, we forget the theater, the screen, and even our own existence.

Whereas the experience of the sensitive energy, especially as body sensation, can be granular and particulate, as if it were made of millions of tiny, vibrating particles, the experience of the conscious energy is of a smooth, continuous, malleable, cognizant field. We need both. In fact, these two energies blended together can form the basis of our inner body, our soul body.

Sensitivity affords awareness of particulars, the content of life: an arm, a leg, a thought, a sound, the person in front of us. Consciousness affords contextual awareness. We recognize thoughts as just thoughts. With the automatic energy, thoughts run on their own by association, bouncing off each other and off sensory impressions. With the sensitive energy we are in contact with the meaning of our thoughts, we can engage them, intentionally direct them, and think sequentially on a subject or problem. We can think logically: if A then B, if B then C, and so on. With consciousness, we move to a higher perspective to see thoughts as thoughts. At that that level, thoughts come into consciousness as concepts and meanings, largely purified of their verbal shells, deemphasizing the words that symbolize the concepts. In conscious thinking, we can focus on a topic, allow our thoughts to gather around it, and see what combinations offer new insight. We can think holistically, seeing and considering all aspects at once.

Automatic emotions react on their own to thoughts, to other emotions, and to external events, thereby driving our feelings haphazardly and with no oversight. The sensitive energy puts us in contact with what we are feeling. We can feel our emotions. But we can also feel consciously. The conscious energy enables us to see our emotions as emotions, to let them come and let them go, to not be under the spell of identification that we are what we feel. In the same way that we are not the objects we see, we are also not our thoughts or feelings. The paradigm of conscious emotion is equanimity, a pervasive tenor of peace and calm. But any emotion can be conscious. Conscious anger, for example, is an awakened personís response to evil deeds. Conscious emotions do not come from egoism and we are not identified with being the feeling. We allow the emotion appropriate to the situation and, while we feel it fully and deeply, we are never overwhelmed or controlled by the emotion. There are also higher emotions that come from beyond consciousness, such as love and compassion for all, and longing for the Divine.

Consciousness brings awareness of ourselves and our surroundings as a whole. Lacking boundaries, more than personal, consciousness permeates everything. We cannot have it, but we may participate in it. Yet consciousness also provides a distinctive sense of being ourselves.

Attention is a form of will and acts through the conscious energy. Since attention can direct our senses and our sensitive energies, it must use a higher energy, in this case consciousness. The conscious energy responds directly to will, to attention, and mediates the action of our will in the sensitive and lower energies.

The pivotal importance of the conscious energy in our spiritual work cannot be overstated. Consciousness both connects us with will and forms the frontier of the truly spiritual realms. Spiritual practices, such as presence, work to raise consciousness out of sensitivity and give us access to it. Awareness of bodily sensations organizes the sensitivity into a less chaotic and more stable vehicle in which consciousness may assume its rightful place.

The conscious energy resides in an eternal, timeless dimension, deathless and unchanging, not subject to the conditions of space and time. Coming into the vast stillness of consciousness is like entering a large cathedral, temple, or mosque. The expansive ceiling and cavernous space open to a new kind of freedom and a substantive peace. That great hall of peace is always here, just beneath our ordinary perceptions, where consciousness invites our participation in the world beyond me and mine. Though our contact with consciousness certainly varies, it constitutes the all-pervasive bedrock of our inner world, the continuum of cognizance, the plenum of peace.

At the same time, many of today’s major writers and commentators on spiritual subjects overrate consciousness, confusing the ultimate expansion of consciousness with God. Consciousness is indeed unbounded and infinite. The alternative names applied to experiences of the true nature of consciousness include presence, non-dual awareness, and in its more expansive form, cosmic consciousness. Spiritual seekers can mistake the boundlessness and peace of consciousness for nirvana or for the ultimate nature of God. While God may manifest at the level of the conscious energy, God also resides beyond this and all other forms of consciousness. Indeed, consciousness is merely the ground on which God walks. We may more aptly consider God to be associated with Will, with the action of Love and the Divine Purpose than with any of the energies such as consciousness.

Who uses the energies? At the level of our limited world of sensitivity and below, we do. At the level of the universe, God does. The Divine is no more identical with consciousness than we are with the electricity we use to power our gadgets. Nevertheless, we must work to understand and to live in consciousness because of its critical role in forming our being and because it brings us closer to will, to “I am.”

The world of the conscious energy corresponds to the worlds known as Yetzirah (Formation) in Kabbalah and Arvah (Spirits) in the Sufi cosmology.

See also:


World of Consciousness


Directed, Conscious Will

For an introduction to energies see Inner Energies.



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