The different layers of the mind can be complex territory filled with emotional and intellectual mines. On a day-to-day basis we are mostly present in the superficial layer of the mind; the conscience. Conscience and consciousness is not the same thing. Consciousness refers to the whole, to the overall being, to the overall awareness; it is a state of being. The conscience is the first layer of the mind, of the consciousness, of the awareness, the first layer of your being. In formal psychological terms, the primary ways of describing the mind are the conscience, subconscious/preconscious, and the unconscious. Depending on which field of psychology you are in, these levels of the mind are described differently. In spiritual terms, your consciousness is who you are. Your consciousness is your essence, it is you.
In the middle of the darkness of the universe, there you were created, somewhere, and the moment you were you, you awoke, you became aware, you came into consciousness. Think of a closed flower suddenly blooming. Think of an ember suddenly catching fire. That is you. You are not the flower blooming, but the bloom. You are not the ember, but the fire. This is you in the absolute. The absolute is the place where you were created. The absolute is not heaven, nor is it contained in the body. The absolute is the universal womb.
From the mysterious vastness of our origins, we come into our bodies and our consciousness gets seated, crammed into our brains, forming the mind. This unfettered flame is suddenly put into a jar. In the process of containing our consciousness into physical form, the consciousness becomes compartmentalized. This is because if it were not, our bodies would not be able to contain and sustain it. The expansiveness of our being would destroy our bodies. There are three stages of separation after the point of creation, the forming of the mind is the third and final stage of separation.
In the unconscious, the deepest level of your being, are the memories of your soul. These memories go back to your creation and track through all of your lives. This deep level of awareness also has the universal knowledge you have gained through time. Think of the consciousness not as exact compartments but more as a gradient from black to grey, to white. There are no actual boundaries between the different levels of your mind, nothing to stop you from reaching the information held there, but it is not easy.
The subconscious mind is also called the preconscious mind. (The terms subconscious/preconscious, unconscious, conscious are all according to the famous psychologist Sigmund Freud. But we are not discussing psychology and I am not trying to combine the science of psychology with spirituality. The psychological terms are well known and are therefore easy to understand, and truthfully, they are not wrong. The mysteries of the mind have been studied for ages, long before Freud or Jung, and it has always been described in terms of different levels of awareness. Again, the mind is fluid and we are capable of digging deep to retrieve whatever information we wish.) In the space of the subconscious mind are the memories of the present life all the way to your birth. When people go back through their mind using regression therapy, or hypnotic age regression, and they remember their time in their mother’s womb they have gone further than the subconscious mind and reached the beginning edges of the unconscious. The subconscious also holds all the cultural and societal rules, the norms that we abide by without being aware of doing so. Depending on your education, your personal experiences, your awareness of these rules and social laws, this information can either move up to your conscious or go deeper/lower in your subconscious. For example, a person who is not aware of his homophobia because it is so deeply ingrained that he is just not aware of it. He is just primarily aware of a sense of discomfort and fear around gay people, and at worst hatred for the LGBT community. Or, a person who does not realize he or she is being racist by saying Mexicans are rapists. It is amazing just how unaware or aware a person can be.
The subconscious is also the place of dreams. In the subconscious is where most of the mental processes are, where we internalize, learn, and understand the world. And it is through dreams that we are given a chance to gain insight to our minds. Dreams of the subconscious can provided a bridge between the unconscious and conscious minds.
The conscious mind. The conscious mind is where we are the most present yet where the least of our awareness sits, and where our awareness is the most limited. Our awareness in the conscious mind extends only as far as the physical world around us; the five senses define what we know. The conscious mind holds the thoughts running through your mind. These are the thoughts that you are aware of, not the undercurrent that drives those thoughts or the deeper thoughts that exist in the subconscious. Even then, even being aware of having thoughts, it does not mean that you have control over your thoughts and it does not mean that you actually are aware of what you are thinking.
Consciousness is what you are. I think therefore I am.
Boundless. “A History of Theories of Consciousness.” Boundless Psychology. Boundless, 26 Sep. 2016. Retrieved 12 Oct. 2016 from https://www.boundless.com/psychology/textbooks/boundless-psychology-textbook/states-of-consciousness-6/introduction-to-consciousness-41/a-history-of-theories-of-consciousness-177-12712/
"Subconscious vs Unconscious mind." Diffen.com. Diffen LLC, n.d. Web. 12 Oct 2016.< http://www.diffen.com/difference/Subconscious_vs_Unconscious_mind >
I used these articles to clarify the psychological terms used. These are interesting reads on psychology and the mind.