For the human individual, consciousness is usually associated with the mental awareness. This, however, is not the entire realm of consciousness. Western psychology has recognized that there is a “subconscious” level as well as what C.G. Jung called the “collective unconscious”. Consciousness is not a purely mental phenomenon; rather, it permeates all existence, taking on different forms or modes depending on specific manifestation. Consciousness is a continuum, since it is inherent in the ultimate divine Reality, and thus, is always present, although frequently in ways that the human intellect will not necessarily appreciate.
We can consider the levels of consciousness in a similar way to the color spectrum or the electro-magnetic spectrum. There is a “band” of color that the human eye can see, based on a specific range of energy vibrations; yet there are colors and vibratory resonance both below and above the human level of perception. Similarly, consciousness exists in all of creation, while the human being only experiences a narrow range.
Sri Aurobindo explains: “Chit, the divine Consciousness, is not our mental self-awareness; that we shall find to be only a form, a lower and limited mode or movement. As we progress and awaken to the soul in us and things, we shall realise that there is a consciousness also in the plant, in the metal, in the atom, in electricity, in everything that belongs to physical nature; we shall find even that it is not really in all respects a lower or more limited mode than the mental, on the contrary it is in many “inanimate” forms more intense, rapid, poignant, though less evolved towards the surface. But this also, this consciousness of vital and physical Nature is, compared with Chit, a lower and therefore a limited form, mode and movement. These lower modes of consciousness are the conscious-stuff of inferior planes in one indivisible existence.”
What occurs in the universal manifestation also takes place within the psychological makeup of the human individual. While we are focused on the thinking portion of the awareness, other forms and levels of consciousness are operative within us. “Still we know well enough that there is an animal in us as well as that which is characteristically human,–something which is a creature of conscious instinct and impulse, not reflective or rational, as well as that which turns back in thought and will on its experience, meets it from above with the light and force of a higher plane and to some degree controls, uses and modifies it. But the animal in man is only the head of our subliminal being; below it there is much that is also sub-animal and merely vital, much that acts by an instinct and impulse of which the constituting consciousness is withdrawn behind the surface.”
There are yet further levels below this sub-animal level as well. And there are a number of levels above those within which we dwell in our mental conscious awareness. “When we advance in that ultra-normal self-knowledge and experience which Yoga brings with it, we become aware that the body too has a consciousness of its own; it has habits, impulses, instincts, an inert yet effective will which differs from that of the rest of our being and can resist it and condition its effectiveness. Much of the struggle in our being is due to this composite existence and the interaction of these varied and heterogeneous planes on each other. For man here is the result of an evolution and contains in himself the whole of that evolution up from the merely physical and subvital conscious being to the mental creature which at the top he is.”
Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 12, The Realisation of Sachchidananda, pp. 371-372