What is Unconsciousness?


What is Unconsciousness

20 years of tai chi, workshops, and meditation, and it dawned on me that I have never asked this question: What is Unconsciousness?

Oh sure, I have tried to work out what consciousness is. Looking at my bookshelf or digging through old journals, it is obvious that I have been asking questions about consciousness, awareness, waking up, or being present for a very long time.

But what is actually going on when that oh-so-great feeling isn’t with us?

  • What is being asleep?
  • What is happening when our emotions take over us?
  • Why do we lose awareness?

causes of unconsciousness

Secondly, and more important before diving in, why should we care?

This essay requires no political stance or specific belief system. You can be as stoic as a Minnesotan or as new-agey as a Woodstock attendee. Unconsciousness is your life speeding by, probably not in the direction that you want it to. Unconsciousness is battling against the people, events, or circumstances in your life. Unconsciousness can also be resignation and dreaming of a past when “things were going well.”

Here’s the good news: by understanding what is going on when we are not feeling the best mentally-physically-emotionally we can bring those cycles to an end more quickly. And, while tai chi is not necessary to improve your life, it can be used as a tool to bring about immediate and continual change.

What is Unconsciousness?

In Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself, Joe Dispenza defines unconsciousness as being taken over by:

  1. Environment
  2. Time
  3. Body

I really like this theory for a number of reasons. For one, it gives us signposts to look for to stop us from drifting back to old patterns or generally re-becoming someone we were not happy with. Secondly, this theory holds true when we flip the argument back again and inquire about its opposite: What is consciousness? A.k.a. What is flow? What is peace? What is contentment?

By studying environment, time, and the body we get clues as to how to experience more of the good times and creative space.

Being Take Over by Environment

Environment is the easiest to understand because it is so in-your-face and obvious. You are in a great mood and someone cuts you off while driving. Work is fun and then someone undermines you in front of your boss – again. The tire goes flat, the appliance breaks, the dog pees where he shouldn’t have, and you lose it. What is it? Presence, consciousness, your non attachment to what is going on around you.

Being Taken Over by Time

It’s late, you’re late. It’s taking too long, you don’t have enough time. You found out at the last minute, she didn’t give you a head’s up that it was due yesterday! You don’t want to do this for one second let alone all day, and time drags on. What are you doing during every excruciating minute? Of course, blaspheming whoever is making you do it.

Rarely are we surprised by time in a good way. Flights do get in early occasionally and our commute takes less time some days. Do we celebrate the extra time and use it for adding extra goodness to our lives? “Wow! I got to work 20 minutes early today! Let me take a walk around the block before heading in the door!” Not typically.

Being Taken Over by Body

It hurts. I’m tired. Man, my thinking is fuzzy. Let me get something to fix this body-thing – coffee, aspirin, food. There is usually complete disconnection until it’s fixed.

I’m not young enough, good-looking enough, the right weight – to be here. My self-consciousness will be my compete fixation until I am able to leave this beach-party-coffee shop-office. Let alone, probably the reason I feel bad across the next two days until I stop thinking about it.

Our self-perceptions aren’t limited to what’s on the surface. It is also incredibly difficult to stay connected when we do not feel up to the task, are worried about how you will be perceived, have self-doubt, or feel that you are simply not good enough.


Overall, by examining the environment, time, and body we get a pretty thorough explanation of why and when we “disconnect.” This is step one: waking up to the fact that there are specific, predictable patterns that send us off course. Step two: What are yours?

Identifying Unconscious Patterns

All of us have our own unique buttons to be pushed, triggers, or reasons we lose “it” from time to time. We all have situations or people that exhaust us mentally and rage on in our minds for hours or days well after the upsetting incident happened. So, what are yours?

Take a minute to identify at least one person or situation that causes you to be taken over emotionally or act in a way that might feel justified right now but regrettable in the future.

Back to Joe Dispenza and Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself. He presents a process for thoroughly describing the place, time, events, emotions, and reactions that occur. Then, identify the triggers, environment, time of day, people present that set them in motion.

After that you work towards:

  • Staying present the next time it happens
  • Imagining the event but changing the outcome to one you want
  • Identifying what triggers set it in motion so that you can be aware the next time before it happens

I am not doing the full process justice here and the book is definitely worth the read, but there is a specific way that Tai Chi enables me to navigate the suggestions and truly set things down and move forward rather than repeat old patterns.

Tai Chi as a Tool for Improved Consciousness

Tai Chi has everything I believe to be true about Joe Dispenza’s thoughts built right into the form. By doing the tai chi form, we become hyper aware of our environment and body, and move slowly to illuminate a reliance on time. In essence, we are actively engaging the environment, body, and time. By bringing awareness to all three as we move through the form, we create contentment and health rather than being taken over by them subconsciously.

Here’s where things start to get interesting though. Sometimes when I was following Dispenza’s advice, I still got taken over by the event or emotion. For example, I was really upset about something that happened at work. When I actively thought about it to try to correct it, I got lost in the emotions and anger for a half hour or so as I relived the conversations in my head.

Juxtapose that against when I thought about the same negative event after doing the form. By doing tai chi I put myself in a really good place so that the emotionally-charged work event I was thinking about was completely foreign to me. I saw and felt myself as separate from the event and was able to get past it.

Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself does accomplish the same thing through thorough instructions on how to meditate yourself into a great state of being before working through the challenging thoughts. Again, really worth the read. However, as tai chi practitioners we already have a system for immediate mental and emotional improvement at our disposal. Dispenza’s work dovetails nicely onto the tai chi form and is another great way to use tai chi to make improvements to our life outside of the classroom.

Scott Prath

Scott has been practicing and teaching tai chi and qigong since 2000. He is a lead instructor for the Austin Chen Tai Chi Association. His interest in the internal martial arts began after traveling in India and Nepal, and he has since traveled to China to train. Scott has published over 100 articles on tai chi with a focus on research showing the benefits of practicing.

2 thoughts on “What is Unconsciousness?

  1. Thanks for the Dispenza recommendation and highlights. BIG thanks for revealing how our taichi form can enhance that in a big way.

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