It may be that sufficient definitions of “self” and “consciousness” can be found. The mind can be so fluid in building and reshaping our sense of self and consciousness that there may be nothing lasting to hold onto.
Even so, there are elements of our minds we can notice. Many of these concepts are derived from Buddhist teachings, mainly because Buddhist approaches to mindfulness have the longest tradition of cataloging the elements of the mind.
Things to Notice
Even without a solid understanding of what consciousness is, it is still possible to recognize elements, or objects the mind can notice. It is also possible to notice differences in states of mind.
Objects of Mind
Sensations- the body, the changes in body sensation, their fading in/out of awareness
Feelings (vedana)- feelings are not the same as emotions. From the Buddhist approach of delineating the elements and activities of the mind, feelings are the degree of like-indifferent-dislike or pleasant-neutral-painful impressions that follow a thought or sensation.
Sparsa- contact or sense impression. Something is there.
Vedana- a relating to the impression. There is a pleasant-neutral-unpleasant reaction to the impression.
Saṃjñā- perception. The application of labels to the qualities of an object
Cetanā- Volition. The activity of acknowledging and/or engaging with the sensation, object, and above mental factors associated with the object
Manasikara – Attention. A fixing of the mind upon an object and associated mental factors as a point of reference.
States of Mind
The state or condition of the mind is citta, sometimes described as “mindsets.” These various mindsets may be distracted, concentrated, shrunken/rigid, or composed. The citta may also become overpowered by emotions- hate and lust are said to color the mind.
It is worth noting that the mental activity of trying to pin a label on a mental object or state is another activity itself. In the pursuit of higher levels of awareness, is swapping the activity of perceiving with the mental activity of identifying and labeling the activity a step in the right direction? It may be enough to sense the presence of these objects and states, and simply notice how they ebb, flow, and change.