In general, the term consciousness refers to the quality and nature of our awareness and attention. Consciousness has a variety of applications, which explains why it is used in so many different contexts. There are 4 main types of consciousness.

1. Mental States

Our mental states include sleeping, waking, dreaming, meditating and intoxication. For example, ‘She was unconscious during the operation under a general anaesthetic,’ or ‘I was semi-conscious in my drowsy state,’ or ‘He was hallucinating in an altered state of consciousness after ingesting an ecstasy pill,’ or ‘He dreamt vividly that he could fly,’ or ‘My meditation was so intense that I felt as though I was looking down on my body.’

2. Perceptual Awareness

Consciousness also refers to perceptual awareness, which is our capacity to perceive and process stimuli. We may process sensory information consciously, subliminally, or not at all.

3. Subjective Experience: Responsive Attention & Awareness

Consciousness can also refer to the way that our attention and awareness shift in response to our environment. From this perspective, our consciousness is dominated by our moment-to-moment thoughts, perceptions, feelings and sensations. Some examples of responsive awareness include, ‘She felt the weather change and decided to turn around and go home instead of continuing on her walk,’ or ‘I am conscious of the time- we are going to be late,’ or ‘He was conscious of her growing irritation,’ or ‘Her headache became worse with every minute,’ or ‘She was struck by the colour of the sunset,’ or ‘He became conscious of the need to diffuse the tension in the room.’

4. Free Will

The final type of consciousness is our free will. This is our capacity to choose our thoughts and actions. For example, ‘Though he sensed the tension in the room, he decided to turn the music on and start dancing,’ or ‘Instead of browsing through social media, she chose to meditate for half an hour,’ or ‘Her family had always followed the path of law but she became an artist.’ This function of consciousness allows us to expand and change. It is linked to neuroplasticity, as our brains change in response to what our minds do.