Things I've learned
One of the most interesting things about being a human, I think, is experiencing the different layers of self-awareness that are possible. In case you don't find this interesting, or are not familiar with the layers, I've made this blog post cake-related. Which might help.
At the most obvious level is the physical layer, the body, which we are very familiar with, because we can see it. It is the most dense, solid layer, and modern science has an increasingly good understanding of how it works. But even the understanding of the physical layer is very incomplete, because there isn't yet a clear connection with the other layers and how fundamentally they affect it and interact with it.
The next layer is the level of bioenergy, which is called prana in Yoga, or chi/qi in Chinese medicine and acupuncture. This layer can be a controversial one, because modern science does not fully acknowledge it, though thankfully that's improving now too. It's controversial I think because most people can't see it, so its structure and function is difficult to define, even by alternative therapists who do work with it. But the details of this layer are outlined in yogic texts from 4000 years ago and Chinese texts from about 3000 years ago, and have been used very successfully in practical ways in many cultures since then. The layer of bioenergy is between the body and the mind, in that it’s more subtle than the body but more dense than the mind, and is possible to experience and feel directly, with a bit of disciplined and technical i.e. technique-based self-study. Just like the physical body, the bioenergy layer contains systems and processes, and it also has its own networks which transmit information around the body.
Mental & emotional
The next layer is the mental layer, the level of the mind and emotions. We can't see this layer either, and yet we don't have a problem accepting that it exists! We're aware of our thoughts, their random behaviour, and also their patterns, as they arise in the mind. And we are aware of our emotions, their various flavours and patterns in our personality, and we're usually aware to some extent of how they colour our view of ourselves and the world around us. However, modern psychology is still in its infancy and doesn't have sufficient understanding of mental health, and therefore cannot yet offer decent solutions or prevention for mental illness.
The next layer is the layer of intuition. I won't pretend to have experienced the detail of this vast layer, but I do know that it contains a more subtle type of knowledge, a knowing that is different to the type of information processed by the mind. And I also know that we have much more access to this layer when we have trained in techniques of self-awareness, and when the mind is not under stress. When the mind is in a more relaxed and natural condition, it doesn’t act as a filter or a barrier to intuition.
The next layer is the level of the spirit, or soul, or whatever you want to call it. This is the most subtle level, and I assume is the layer that religions call God. It is described in Yoga terms as the state of pure awareness, and the place where that individual awareness connects with the one universal consciousness of everyone.
Breaking down the layers individually like this, I think is a useful way to start learning about them. And it's possible to approach self-study on that basis, layer by layer, which provides a technical and systematic path to skills in self-awareness. But it's also possible to think of the qualities of each layer as being present in every part and function of the personality, a bit like the way all of the layers of a layer cake are there in every slice!
It seems a total crime that advances in modern science and medicine have not yet combined with alternative and ancient methods, to maximise the benefits for society. But this appears to be improving gradually, and I'm of the opinion these days that maybe this seemingly terrible gap has its own purpose: so that people will have to do their own investigation, into their own health, knowledge and potential.
If you'd like to start investigating your own layer cake, let me know! I'll be starting a self-study course in September.