Ancient traditions teach that there are seven states of consciousness that we may more deeply explore as we begin to meditate. Some of these occurrences have already been a part of our life, though perhaps we have not had a name for them. Others we may experience for the first time as we begin a regular meditation practice. The unfolding of higher states is a natural outcome of meditation, no matter the reason we decide to meditate.

Higher states of consciousness do not occur in a particular order, but as we evolve through them, our knowledge, our physical biology, and our reality begin to change. Meditation develops emotional resilience and creates structural changes in the neurons and neural pathways in the prefrontal cortex. By making meditation a regular practice, we begin to experience these states automatically, including the physical, emotional, and spiritual healing that accompanies them.

Reality is different in various states of consciousness. Our reality is determined by our sensory perceptions as well as our thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Over time as we meditate, we shift our internal reference from the ego to the spirit, resulting in more inner peace as opposed to emotional turbulence. For example, in Cosmic Consciousness when we begin to witness the activity of the mind, the roles we play and the body’s reactions, we become capable of more conscious choice-making. We become aware that we have choices, and we are able to shift from where we are to where we would like to be. We begin to create our own reality which is much healthier than the reactive state of making unconscious choices.

So, you’re probably wondering what are these seven states of consciousness are?

Deep Sleep, the Dream State, and the Waking State

The first three states are familiar to all of us. In the first state of Deep Sleep, we have few experiences and minimal awareness. Yet there is enough awareness to be affected if, for instance, you are a mother and your baby needs you at night.

During the second state of consciousness, the Dream State, there we are more aware than during Deep Sleep. You know that you are the subject of the dream and all other people, animals, situations, settings are the objects in the dream. All that occurs in the Dream State seems to be real until you wake up in the third state, or The Waking State.

During the Waking State, life is perceived and experienced through our five senses and is the most vivid and “real” state for most people. All the problems, choices, worries, and challenges of daily life feel very real.

In the Waking State, there is a sense of time, space, and causality. For example, you are reading this article at a particular time in a particular location (space), probably because (causality), you are interested in meditation. We cannot be convinced that this state is not the “real” state.

Glimpsing the Soul

However, when we experience the fourth state of consciousness, Transcendental Consciousness, often called Glimpsing the Soul, things get a little more interesting! We go beyond the world of which we are most familiar. We transcend space, time, and causality. This occurs during meditation and is often called “slipping into the Gap.” In this state everything is interconnected; quantum leaps of creativity can occur, and we are able to co-create with an infinite source. The catch here is we don’t know we are in this state until we come out of it.

When we come out of the Gap, we may experience a deep sense of peace and calm along with increased intuition. We bring these qualities back into our Waking State. Synchronicities (meaningful coincidences) begin to occur as a part of life, our choices become more conscious, our dreams seem to have meaning, and we sense there is more to life than meets the eye. We get a little peek behind the curtain. According to Deepak Chopra, “What we experience as everyday reality [the Waking State] is merely a shadow play. Behind the curtain, there is a soul, living and dynamic and immortal, beyond the reach of space and time … the world of the soul.”

Cosmic Consciousness

Cosmic Consciousness is the fifth state. It is during this state that we may have the experience that we are not in our body but observing, or witnessing, our body from the outside. Cosmic Consciousness is about the simultaneous experience of acting in the waking state while watching ourselves as we perform actions. We become the silent witness of the roles, events, relationships, and situations in our life.

We discover that the roles we are playing are constantly changing. As a result, we are no longer so deeply attached to the good and bad scenes of our life. What roles have you played throughout your life? I have played the roles of daughter, teenager, mother, teacher, writer, cyclist, yogi, and many more. Just like an actor, as the observer, we know that when one role ends there will be another.

Dr. Sheila Patel explains how witnessing our world can help us become more emotionally resilient and more conscious of our actions: “We more easily observe the emotions arising within us. We become aware of the difference between observations and our interpretations of them. Awareness becomes centered on conscious observation and authentic expression.”

Consequently, we become less reactive and can make conscious choices as to what we want to keep in our lives and what is no longer serving us; we understand that we can rewrite our story.

Divine Consciousness

Once we become less identified with our ego, we gradually expand our vision and become aware that the witness in us is the same witness that is in everything around us – the flowers, the sky, a chair, the cashier at the store, etc. A deep sense of connectedness to everyone and everything begins to evolve. The qualities of empathy and compassion deepen within us, and we begin to accept that everyone is doing the best they can from their level of awareness. This state captures the essence of “Namaste,” the light inside of me honors the light inside of you.

Unified Consciousness

Finally, we awaken to our true self as infinite and unbounded consciousness. We know that we are deeply connected to all that is – and the source of all creation. We have the experience of being one with everything.

It is not obligatory to analyze what state of consciousness we are in. When we practice meditation regularly these higher states unfold naturally and spontaneously, and we begin to heal ourselves from the inside out. Unhealthy dietary habits, stress, jobs, thoughts, and relationships just seem to fall away. We begin to meet circumstances that arise in life without all of the drama and stress. We develop a trust in a bigger picture as our intuition and creativity expand. Perhaps most importantly, our overall sense of happiness and well-being increases.

Dian Shirley

Dian Shirley is a Vedic Educator certified by The Chopra Center for Wellbeing to teach Primordial Sound Meditation, Ayurveda, and Yoga. She is a Yoga Therapist, C-IAYT. Dian is also a contributor at BookMeditationRetreats.com and an author of the children's book 'Every Reindeer’s Dream'