A: We can characterize seven major levels of work on the personality, together with the methods that are used to access each layer. These are briefly described below.
Your actual experience – this is your moment-to-moment experience in the present time—what we call the zone of the Conscious mind. Mindfulness, being present and observing your mental activity objectively, taps this level. The deeper form of mindfulness, Vipassana, in which you actively process and release the material arising in the present time, also operates at this level.
Your story about your experience – this is your ego’s attempt to show itself to others in a favorable and positive light. At this level, you seek to appear logical, right, and acceptable in the eyes of others; you may present yourself to them as successful, competent, and expert, even though you are not. This is the layer in which you encounter your defense mechanisms. Psychodynamic therapies interface with your ego at this level, accessing both your owned personal narrative and your disowned “shadow.”
Your emotional reactions – This includes your emotional “conclusions” about what your experience means. This influences your self-image. This layer is the emotional truth that you feel beneath the false impressions you convey to the world through shaping your appearance, what you disclose to others, and what you tell others about yourself. Humanistic therapies tap this level.
The network of beliefs associated with your emotions – This makes up your essential “programming” that colors your mindset. This is the perceptual set through which you view the world and what seems possible to you. You can change this programming through autohypnosis and affirmation. Cognitive behavioral therapy works with the limiting, self-sabotaging, and misery-creating beliefs you harbor at this level, and attempts to reconstruct them. As you uproot this conditioning that separates you from your Soul, you can begin to align your personality with your authentic Self and connect with your Soul’s creative expression and purpose.
Changing selected beliefs to conform to a doctrine or philosophy – Cults and mind-control groups use this method to control your personality and to make it obey a set of moral or ideological principles. This might take the form of living up to ideal behavioral standards, obeying the commands of the group leader, or conforming every aspect of your life to a prescribed lifestyle. You may be indoctrinated to hold beliefs acceptable to the doctrine of the group. You may be “brainwashed” to re-identify with a new sense of personal identity. You may be manipulated to give up your personal life entirely and live only to carry out the leader’s agenda and the group’s mission.
Spiritual detachment – At this level, you enter an altered state of consciousness in which you re-identify with a spiritual essence—nucleus of identity, spirit, or ensouling entity—and regard your personality as unreal or dream-like. Here, you detach from your life entirely and pursue spiritual development. In some groups, receiving a new spiritual name, taking monastic vows, or abandoning personal ambitions and dedicating your life to spiritual practice accompany this new state of identification.
Dissolution of your personality – In some spiritual traditions, you may be trained in practices that actually turn off the personality and interfere with its ability to function. The aim of these practices is to dissolve the ego and personality so that you ultimately realize your Oneness with the Divine.
Cults co-opt many of the methods used at layers one through four—such as focusing on issues, hypnosis, affirmation, and shaping beliefs—to establish you in a new state of identity. They indoctrinate you in their belief systems and philosophy with an aim to control you. They may have you remain in a trance-like altered state of consciousness to have you separate and disidentify with your personality.
In Mudrashram®, we teach methods in our intermediate meditation courses to allow you to interface with levels one, two, and four. We show you these methods to enable you to connect with your authentic Self and your Soul, to express and actualize your unique gifts.
Once you adopt modalities that move you into zones five through seven, you enter the territory where you begin artificially controlling the personality to follow another’s agenda. This occurs in cults and spiritual groups where you learn your personality is flawed, evil, or an illusion; you are urged to conform to an ideal lifestyle or live in an altered state of consciousness.
If you steer clear of shaping your personality according to religious doctrines and other people’s values, you will avoid going off the deep end into cultism and fanaticism. Honor what is actually within you and work with this. If you complete this inner process, your personality will become an instrument of your own Soul—not a slave to someone else who controls you.
If you are exiting a cultic group and you are trying to make sense of what happened to you—and you want a structured way to approach this—you may wish to consider signing up for our Cult Recovery Program.
Q: When your attention moves along the thread of consciousness in meditation into an altered state of awareness, is there a concurrent shift in mental functioning? For example, if I move my attention into the field of the senses, will my perception of the world change from the waking state of awareness?
A: There are three major ways that you can travel within along the thread of consciousness.
You feel your awareness deepening, but you have no clear vision of the content at each level of the mind. In this state, you move into greater depths of feeling and energy, but you can’t recognize any landmarks of any vehicle of consciousness through which you are traveling. Your body is immobile and you are in a trance-like, passive state.
You feel your awareness deepening, and you note distinct markers at each level. You can differentiate the content of each focal point. You become aware of the content arising at each level of the mind in the present time. You are inwardly alert and mindful, and can witness and label the content that is arising. For example, you might unite your attention with the focal point of the feeling center and you become aware of a succession of feelings that arise and pass away. Your body is immobile, but inwardly, you are fully conscious.
You feel your awareness deepening, and you intensify and become completely absorbed in a succession of states of mental functioning. This shift of functional set can occur while you are walking around or engaged in other activities. You are aware that you have shifted into a new perceptional and operational mindset in which the content becomes richly alive and vibrant—you may receive insights and revelations as you are in this state.
The beginning meditator often experiences the trance-like movement of attention without clear awareness and differentiation of content. This type of meditation experience commonly culminates in falling asleep.
With greater facility with meditation, the meditator is able to achieve mindful, inner alertness, and is able to witness mental content and differentiate the content of one level of the mind from another. This type of meditation results in you becoming fully aware of your mental contents at each focal point upon which your attention rests.
The most profound state of meditation is when you are able to shift your functional set during your daily activities. On Buddhist Vipassana retreats, for example, they introduce students to this lyrical state of mind through walking meditation. Meditators are initially fully aware of the experience of walking, but as this state deepens, they enter into clear states of intense insight and revelation.
This deepest state of meditation has been referred to as Samadhi, Satori, or a peak experience. This mental shift of perception and functioning appears to pass through 12 discrete states of absorption.
The ground state of awareness – Here you are aware of your attention witnessing the activities of your daily life, and you operate on objects in the environment. You might, for example, be cleaning your house, but the experience of each piece of furniture and environmental surface is intensely vibrant, and every movement seems meaningful and purposive. Your tasks take on a sacred quality.
Movement flow state – When this mental set dawns, you are completely absorbed in your movement. Time seems to slow down and there is an unbroken link between your intention and what your body does. You are capable of peak performance during this state. You feel one with your body and your movement feels effortless.
Heightened sensory state – In this state, the objects in your environment appear to glow with light—you may become aware of energy fields or auras around each object. Colors are rich and luminous. The world around you seems magical and animated. If you are a painter, you may feel compelled to capture this magical experience.
Body absorption – When you shift into this mental set, you become aware of your body in a heightened way. You become aware of each muscle moving, each tendon stretching, the operation of your organs and physiological rhythms. You become aware of your heart beating, the movement of peristalsis, the blood coursing in your veins, and the whole process of breathing. It is almost like you are looking into your body with x-ray vision. Your vision penetrates into each organ, each cell, and each sub-cellular structure—even down to the molecular and atomic level.
Emotional and relational synchrony – Shifting into this mental set, you gain powerful insights into how emotions are linked to thoughts, memories, and attachments to other people. You gain intensified empathy for others’ experience. When you listen to others, you completely connect with them and become one with their experience—they feel completely validated and known. This state inspires great trust and safety in others: they feel profoundly loved—you sense great love and compassion for others while you are in this state. Those therapists and coaches who tap into this state experience their deepest work and most profound therapy or coaching sessions—it is almost like some deep and wise being came through you and moved your interaction with your client to a whole new level.
Logical fascination – When this mental set dawns upon you, you become aware of the computer-like operation of your rational mind. You become aware of the mental commands that govern each movement, the calculations the mind makes to orient your body with the environment, and the chain of causation for each action and event. Your logic operates in a heightened way—your analogical, inferential, and deductive reasoning powers become penetrating and precise. You become capable of connecting sensory details with behavior, and inferring motivation. Like Sherlock Holmes, the fictional detective, your ability to investigate and solve crimes is heightened, as your powers of observation and logical deduction are amplified. If you are someone who enjoys solving puzzles or playing games of skill, you may find that you come across the solutions readily. If you are a student, entering this state moves your study to a whole new plateau, and you discover that you are able to do very well on difficult tests.
Egoic union – When you enter this functional state, you become aware of the layers of activity of the ego. You become aware of the egoic octave of will that governs individual units of behavior, and you are acutely aware of your ability to control each vehicle of consciousness within your survey. You become aware of the identify states and the roles you play. You become aware of your story and life narrative. You gain penetrating insight into the layers of psychological defenses and your core life issues. You tap into the joyful, inner child that transcends the stress and suffering of your life. You may feel connected with a great Life within you that is your true essence.
Stream of consciousness – When you enter this state of absorption, you are able to clearly access the rich reservoir of your memories of the past. In this reverie, it feels like you are re-living each moment of your life and you re-view your significant relationships, your greatest lessons, the most important events, and the meanings you have derived from living. You touch a deep wellspring of peace, wisdom, and joy—you sense that behind your life is your ancient, eternal Soul.
Chakra insight – When you shift into this functional mindset, you become aware of the chakras of your Subconscious mind with penetrating clarity. Each petal opens and reveals its creative intelligence and intuitive wisdom. In this state of absorption, you may feel the chakras that operate in yet higher vehicles of consciousness similarly begin to reveal their knowledge and abilities. You gain the highest discernment of each level of your mind. You may experience a full awakening of the energy of awareness, the Kundalini Shakti, rising up into the Soul, and revealing every vehicle of consciousness within you.
Existential illumination – When you become completely absorbed in this state of awareness, you become aware of the Self at the core of your personality, and the state of being that is behind it. You gain the greatest insight into each vehicle of consciousness of the Conscious, Subconscious, and Metaconscious mind, and you become acutely aware of the power of your will to alter your destiny and change your life. In this state, you can make radical life changes, transform your habits, alter your life direction, recommit to new objectives, and create new congruent and authentic goals that capture your passion and powerful desire to achieve them. When you spend time in the transformational state, you can reinvent yourself and transform the way you function in the world.
Atma Samadhi – When your attention is lifted into this ecstatic state, you realize the true nature of the Soul, discover the atom of Divinity within, and experience Gnosis. Knowledge pours through you, revealing each aspect of your nature, each vehicle of consciousness, and each layer of the mind. Your illumined mind (Buddhi) ignites and you are able to discern the nature of the Soul and its reflections on each Plane of Light, and to penetrate and bring forward the knowledge that is contained in each nodal point upon the Soul’s transformational journey of spiritual evolution. When this state becomes actively established in you, you gain the capacity to function as a guide and teacher for others.
Higher Octave Samadhi – Those that work on spiritual Paths outside the cutting edge of spirituality may experience Samadhis with higher aspects of their nature—a nucleus of identity, ensouling entity, or spirit. This transcendent state shares similar features with Atma Samadhi, but revelation and intuitive downpour enlighten another spiritual essence. At the summit of these higher octave Samadhis is union with Satchitananda, the highest state of consciousness—Divine Knowledge or Brahma Vidya—that extends this penetrating insight to every level of consciousness.
Bringing out this deepest level of experience and illumination does not come readily.
Some people may touch this state only once or twice in their lifetime. It dawns upon them and then withdraws, and they cannot go back to that state.
Those who practice a skill for long periods of time and develop it may have more episodes. For example:
The artist may experience stage three.
The physician and healer may drop into stage four.
The psychotherapist and coach may cross the threshold into stage five.
The detective and scientist may go into stage six.
The psychoanalyst may penetrate stage seven.
The fiction writer and poet may encounter stage eight.
The hatha yogi and psychic voyager, who meditate on their chakras, may kindle stage nine.
The existential and humanistic therapists, counselors, and coaches, who work to get their clients in touch with the Self, may trigger existential illumination in themselves.
The meditator who removes the veil over the Soul through patient and methodical inner work uncover the ecstatic state of Atma Samadhi. Those who meditate on higher octaves of being likewise bring about Samadhi for these other essences of consciousness.
Those who meditate can ignite these states after long practice, and sustain them as they train their attention to focus intensely and continuously on different focal points within. We encourage those who meditate to recognize that these Samadhi states exist. We urge them to continue the practice of meditation until they can awaken these most profound states of mind.