When I was in college, I saw the movie “A Thousand Clowns.” In fact, I saw it about 6 times since it spoke to my inner rebellion and exploration at the time. At one point the hero says to a friend: “You’re like the tiny car at the circus that parks and suddenly a thousand clowns come bursting out of it.” He was advising her that there were many, many dimensions to her one self.
When I heard Yogananda’s interpretation of the Bhagavad Gita, I discovered the same message: Our mind is really a citizenry, a mixture of personalities, some leading us toward our highest potential, others keeping us immersed in negativity and desires. The message of the Gita and the teachings of Yoga are about strengthening the forces of goodness and weakening the hold of materialism and negativity.
When I later learned about the three levels of consciousness within us, I realized that they also have a recognizable personalities, duties, strengths, and in some cases weaknesses. I found the personalities within me now narrowed down from a thousand clowns, from hundreds of characters in the Gita, to three levels of consciousness: subconsciousness, consciousness, and superconsciousness. And I have tried to work with them appropriately for many years.
Let me share a little about them through a personal story. Perhaps you can relate to at least parts of it.
A couple of years ago I had a disagreement with a friend. It didn’t seem like a big deal to me, but then my friend ended it in frustration with the words, “You are so ________.” The blank was what I consider to be a negative spiritual quality (please don’t try to guess what you think it might be!).
My reaction was a good introduction to the levels of consciousness. As I quietly withdrew from the encounter, my first thought was, “Wow, they really don’t like me.” Close on the heels of that thought was the voice of the subconscious, “And suddenly, I don’t like them very much either. In fact, I will never again think of them as my friend.”
The purview of the subconscious is everything related to the past: memories and emotions, talents, good and bad habits, and dreams. The subconscious resists change of any kind. So, when threatened, it tries to protect the status quo of its little world by foisting the problem to another: “I’m not the one with the problem, HE is!” “I don’t need to change; I’ll just nurse my grudge.”
And so, for some brief moments I nursed my hurt feelings coming up with self-justifying thoughts and blaming the other person’s rudeness.
But, for someone who has meditated for decades, this type of mood is not satisfying. Now my conscious mind jumped into the arena. The conscious mind is our link to the outer world. It is more organized, less personal, more rational and energetic than the subconscious mind. The conscious mind said, “Oh come on! You can do better than that. You don’t want to be a sulking baby, do you?”
In the West we worship the conscious mind, putting the greatest store in intelligence, logic, and efficiency—all good qualities of the conscious mind.
Yet the conscious mind, as valuable as it is, is not strong enough to overcome the emotions of the subconscious. Yogananda used to say, “Reason follows feeling.” When we have a strong emotion, our thinking is influenced by it. Notice how once a person has “fallen in love,” all their reasons justify why their beloved is totally right for them (even if their friends see only impending disaster in the match).
So, in this situation, though I was conscious enough to know that I didn’t want to nurse a grudge, my conscious mind was not strong enough to overcome my hurt feelings. But my conscious mind knew where to turn.
I thought, “I need to lift my mind to the superconscious to free myself from this emotion and get clarity.”
The superconscious mind is the seat of our highest nature. It transcends thinking, emotions, personality, and ego. It is our soul nature. Not only do we perceive life clearly when we touch the superconscious, but we also discover solutions to our difficulties. One of the tantalizing qualities of the superconscious is that we have to invite it. We can’t be certain that we can touch it. And we cannot imagine logically what it will offer us.
Experiencing superconsciousness is like opening an inner door of wisdom. What comes from it may be surprising, and it will certainly be freeing and uplifting.
I determined at that point to put all of the energy stirred up from my encounter into devoted practice of Kriya Yoga meditation. I practiced with focus and relaxed intensity, knowing that an answer awaited me.
Suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, the thought came to me: “My friend is right! I do have that quality!” What was especially fascinating about this insight was that two things happened along with it. First, suddenly I felt not one shred of anger toward my friend. Secondly, I felt energized by the discovery of an inner obstacle that I could work on. I immediately began to offer that negative quality up to God at the point between the eyebrows. I also began to try to attune to the opposite good quality, which also exists within me.
The superconscious had given me a number of gifts through one short meditation: 1) I was totally freed from anger toward my friend and later apologized; 2) I was directed in a way that made me feel deeply uplifted, energized, and inspired; 3) I have tried to develop some of the needed spiritual quality in myself.
Theoretically, all of these benefits could have happened the moment my friend hurled this quality at me, but because I was in a subconscious mode, I completely rejected the wisdom of it. Now, thanks to the superconscious, an inner doorway toward greater freedom, joy, and self-expansion had opened.
The superconscious is always there, within each one of us. Meditating regularly, lifting the mind to the spiritual eye, calling on that positive power within us—these can open us to a joyful connection with our own highest self.