Look After Your Mind – Nov 22
I’m wide awake!
I well remember the ITV series ‘Wide Awake Club’ that was broadcast on children’s Saturday TV between 1984 and 1989. (I was grown up by then but still indulged myself by watching the occasional episode). You can find the cheery opening titles on YouTube.
But what does it mean to be ‘wide awake’, or more formally to be in a state of what’s called ‘normal waking consciousness’? It might seem obvious, that because I’m not asleep, I’m awake. However, as you read this sentence think of an enjoyable holiday you took once… you have in a split second changed your state of consciousness. Your attention is divided between this article in the here-and-now and your memory of the holiday. It’s even more subtle and complex than that. The author and journalist Arthur Koestler spoke of what he called the state of ‘reverie’. This is a mental state that we experience when we become completely absorbed in our own daydreams, or in a riveting book or movie. Our surroundings fade away and we cease to be aware of them while we are totally focussed on the object of attention.
Other thinkers and philosophical and spiritual traditions open the question up even further. We recognise the distinction between deep sleep and dreaming sleep (so-called rapid-eye-movement or REM sleep). Then there are those states as we drift off to sleep and come awake again. Where we can often remember the imagery of our dreams.
Psychology equates wide-awake consciousness as the mental state where we can sense, perceive and choose. But there is also the preconscious state, where we can access memories and become aware of them. The subconscious realm of the mind is where memories are kept but cannot be accessed at will. They can often be accessed by using techniques such as hypnosis. The psychologist Abraham Maslow further identified and investigated what he called the ‘peak experience’. This is a state of consciousness characterised by intense euphoria and a sense that ‘all is right with the world’. A kind of building wave of joy that soon, usually, crashes back to what we have called normal waking consciousness.
Sense of wonder
Although peak experiences are usually rare, they are more often enjoyed by people who accept themselves and others as they are. This is what Maslow called self-actualising individuals. Indeed, when such people talk about such experiences, they are able to bring them on more often and at will. This can also happen when you see or discover something for the first time with a sense of joy or astonishment. Some commentators suggest that doing extreme sports has the same effect (though I’ll pass on that one!).
Linked to all of this is the idea that the mind is in a constant state of flow, moving between different mental states not just moment by moment but also according to rhythms governed by our biological clocks. All of this reinforces for me the wonderful nature of the human mind, while in turn that sense of wonder leads to a deep sense of appreciation and joy.