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  • Becoming More Conscious

    One of my primary interests is in becoming more conscious and in helping others to do the same.

    Part of "being conscious" is sensing changes that are happening now and responding to those changes.

    Control Systems (and Consciousness)

    I had the chance to work as a systems engineer after I graduated. I learned about sensors and actuators and the control system that took data from the former and gave commands to the latter.

    The more money a company spent on sensors the better they could sense how much stuff was flowing. And the more money they spent on actuators, the better they could control what was flowing. With a limited amount of money a company had to decide where to best invest their money.

    And this is like consciousness, we only have so much to spend.

    Instead of spending money on sensors or actuators we direct awareness within our body (and outside of it) to sense what is happening and to respond to what is happening.

    Being More Conscious

    So what is it to be conscious (or "More conscious")?

    One aspect of it is learning to better feel and control our body in real time. This isn't some abstract quality that we can only make theories about and rely on our subconscious to take care of.

    Another aspect is being aware of the mind while thinking. This is the opposite state to doing. In the doing state we tend to be perfectly present becuase we are focused on what is happening now. Instead of thinking about how to respond we are responding to what we sense as we sense it so that there is no lag time between sensing what is happening and responding to what is happening.

    Making Learning an Enjoyable Experience

    Thinking slows us down. It's the mode in which we are processing and analying data so that we can learn from it or enjoy it in retrospect. Part of being conscious is recognizing (or choosing) when we are in thinking mode and when we are doing doing mode. In the thinking mode we can be aware of what we are thinking about.

    Both modes are important because they give us two ways of viewing our experiences. One is while we are actually doing something, while we are in the flow so to speak. The other is after we have done it. With these two views we can experiment and learn. And understanding these two views we can actually make learning a more enjoyable (or at the very least, a more effective) experience because it gives us a way of experiencing the flow regularly while learning.

    Learning Rhythms

    One aspect of making learning enjoyable is the use of repetition and rhythm. I find that practicing simple and easy to remember movements with rhythmic repetition not only feels good, it makes it easier to learn the movement. That movement can then be added to other movements each building on the next, but never at any point being so much that you have to think about what you have to do.

    Instead all there is is rhythm and a taste of what it is like to flow.

    Math And Calligraphy (And Flow)

    I actually first got a taste of this practicing math problems in my pre-university math course. The key in this case was that I'd learned a technique so well that I could just apply the steps one by one without having to think.

    Part of what enables me to create practice sets with a small enough set of instructions that I don't have to think about those instructions in order to do them is isolation.

    This is something that I first began to use when learning Chinese characters. Chinese characters are made up of brush strokes and the usual learning method is to repeat a character until it has been learned. My own method was to practice a few brush strokes at a time and then expand outwards from there, each time practicing only what I easily do without having to think.

    It was because of this method that I was not just able to learn characters, I was able to paint them well enough that my calligraphy teacher could find no fault.

    Small Instruction Sets

    And so when I teach people exercises for learning to feel and control their body I use small instruction sets that allow them to repeat movements slowly and smoothly (and rhythmically) while also focusing on particular parts of their body.

    Isolating a body part or part of a yoga pose or part of an action is almost second nature to me now and it's derived from my study of tai ji and calligraphy among other things.

    However I never thought to apply these things to understanding the body until I met Andrey Lappa.

    Prior to meeting him I was studying and teaching Ashtanga yoga. While I liked the practice I was after information on how to create my own "balanced" practices.

    Andrey stepped in to provide the answer and he did that by showing me and all the rest of his students how to break the body down into elements. In turn he showed us how to break yoga poses down into basic elements that could then be recombined to make new elements. And he showed us how to use this information to create balanced yoga practices.

    Once he showed me I realized it was so simple and asked myself why I hadn't thought to do the same. Eventually I did do the same thing in my own study and analyses of another practice that he taught me, "Dance of Shiva."

    The Dance of Shiva

    In Indian folk lore Shiva is the embodiment of consciousness. He dances across the universe stamping our ignorance. He removes the veil between points of understanding or otherwise creates "connection" between points of information. Shiva is consciousness or form and the dance is energy, that which animates form. Another view of shiva is as a lingam, again representing form. And shakti is the yoga which animates and fills that form with life. Without shiva energy is unbound and shapeless and directionless, without energy form is lifeless.

    And so since shiva is form and constraint and definition it is this aspect that labels form and energy.

    Dance of shiva as a practice started of as spiral arm movements. Horizontal movements could be done with candles balanced on the palms. Vertical movements might be done while holding swords. Andrey took this practice and define positions for each set of movements, four horizontal and four vertical. Using both arms together this amounted to 64 positions and the goal of this modified dance of shiva was to learn all the movements that would allow a practitioner to join a position to any of the other positions.

    With only two basic movements there were only four basic possible combined movements. By redefining the movements with positions Andrey created new possibilities and that is part of what consciousness is for, to create new possibilities so that those possibilities can be explored.

    And that gives a reason for having two basic modes of consciousness.

    • One is the thinking mode. This is the mode that we can use, to say, create an artificial set of limits so that we can play within them.
    • The doing mode is where we use sensitivity and control to play within these limits and master them.

    Consciousness Can be a Limited Resource

    The trouble with thinking is that it can get in the way of doing and vice versa. And this is important because consciousness is limited. We only have so much in the bank and so we have to choose how we spend it.

    So how do we spend it? And how can this too be used to make the things in life easier and more efficient?

    Even before I began delving into basic principles and consciousness I have been into learning. While I was in the army I learned to fix guns. I learned how each type of weapon that I was working on worked and I was trained how to fault find and then fix problems. Later on I build a motorcycle with my dad and uncle from a mix of new and second hand parts. Later I worked with computers both during my time in university and after. In each case I learned how what I was working on worked so that it was easier to figure out the problem when things went wrong.

    Models of Consciousness

    My "model" for the process of learning was that I took apart what I was learning and reassembled it again and again and in the process I built an imaginary model of that gun, motorbike or computer system within my consciousness. That model allowed me to come up with instantaneous solutions to problems, sometimes even to problems I'd never encountered. This model, I believe, becomes a sub unit of consciousness within our consciousness that can "think" and figure out problems with respect to itself.

    Initially I learned models for guns, motorbikes, and i also built models for math techniques within myself. Then later, after meeting Andrey lappa I built a representation of the human body as well as various yoga poses. Prior to that I build a model of the ashtanga yoga sequence within myself. These models allowed me to free up my consciousness because they did a lot of things so that my main consciousness doesn't have to.

    As an example of this I built a model of how to type inside of myself so that I don't have to think, or look, for where a key corresponding to a particular letter is, my fingers, driven by the conscious model within myself, already know and go there as soon as they get the signal.

    In a similar way I learned how to use the brakes while in driving school and now there is a model within myself that causes my foot to move to the brake pedal whenever I feel the need to slow down.

    Some people call this muscle memory and their maybe other terms for it. But one thing that my own experience tells me is that even though we train these models to act for us subconsciously, we can consciously monitor them and modulate them as required.

    So why learn them?

    Because they make it easier to get into the state called flow.

    Limitless Flow

    In general it's hard to be just focused on doing or just on thinking. We tend to do a little bit of both most of the time. However when we focus, flow is the state that occurs when we are totally focused on doing.

    How does these models that we build inside of ourselves help us to flow? For myself when I've learned tai ji well enough these models allow me to move fluidly and seamlessly without having to think about what is next or how to do it. Instead I can enjoy the experience of being in my body. Likewise painting a poem that I've memorized. And likewise doing a pose or action with my body. The better I've trained the "models" inside of me, the better they operate so that I don't have to think the easier for me to flow. And while their may be decisions to be made, I don't have to think I can just respond.

    The nice thing about flow is that we can also get there when learning, if we learn to break what we are learning down into small enough chunks that we don't have to think about the in order to do them. Instead the rhythm that we do them with carries them from our short term memory gradually into long term memory so that then we can add smaller chunks of what we've learned to form bigger chunks.

    So what is it that we learn when we learn to feel the body? And what is it we are doing when we improve our ability to control the body? Stay tuned. (Either like the facebook page or subscribe to this page's rss feed or do both. Or just check back regularly.)

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