Sometimes, what passes for normal consciousness can be something else again. When we go to the movies, if the film is any good, we find ourselves in a sort of trance where we have lost our self-awareness and the fiction we know we just paid to watch becomes real. When we step out of the theater we are reminded of our own lives and we put the movie back into its fictional context.
In our daily lives though, we may fall into a trance that doesn’t resolve so easily. We can make habits of focusing on thoughts and emotions that perpetuate particular mental and emotional states. Worry, for instance, creates the physiological responses of fear, which include a narrow but intense focus and a state of arousal that, if nothing else, reminds us that we are alive.
Some people focus on fantasy in a way that takes them out of themselves. Sometimes it is a romantic fantasy. It might be a fantasy of wealth or fame. The fantasy game may include an element of “If only such and such would happen…” that keeps it distant and unfulfilled, but still reasonable enough to justify holding major amounts of attention and emotion.
These mental/emotional habits keep us focused and largely distracted from real living. Our consciousness orbits around the fantasy, and maybe that is some of the attraction to the process—at least we know that territory. The orbit is relatively familiar and it keeps us from having to face the real uncertainties of life. But the stability of our trance-like states leads to emotional stagnation and inattention to real conditions that it would be more productive to attend to.
Practice:Pay attention to the varying emotional states and level of awareness that you experience as you go through your day.
Notice when you might be getting stuck in a particular state. Some of these might include:
AngerNotice how your behavior may contribute to the persistent emotional state. For instance, watching the news hour after hour might contribute to an angry or fearful emotional state. Isolating yourself could lead to boredom and loneliness.
Feeling blank or confused
Notice how your emotional state may contribute to self defeating behaviors. Being upset could lead to increased use of intoxicants, episodes of rage or other impulsive actions. When emotional states and behaviors reinforce each other, study your own process so you can understand how to break out and be more spontaneous.
Frequently stop yourself to check in and be more mindful. Take a few slow breaths and notice yours surroundings. Slow down your actions and pay attention to yourself moving through space and time.
© 2003 Tom Barrett