I'll just go ahead and use it though. Hold your breath... Consciousness. There now! I said it!
As in "raising consciousness," "higher consciousness," even. Ye-e-e-e-s, it makes me sound fruity or flaky or whatever. but give me a chance here.
I think that too many people use those terms for personal profit, so they mystify them to the point of absurdity. If you understand what they mean immediately, you won't pay for their book or make a donation. You don't really need a special vocabulary to know what they're about. And it's good to know a little about them, because the vegan diet is, at least ostensibly, about higher consciousness for many of us.
I promise that this is not what I'm talking about...
I can't tell you how often I've wished I could remember the exact quote that impressed me in Nietzsche's The Gay Science. It's something about charlatans aiming to confuse and wise people aiming at simplicity. Or something along those lines.
Okay, so... do you know someone who does things that make other people uncomfortable? Being too aggressive maybe, or acting like a perpetually-lamenting Eeyore, or not knowing when to stop? Did you ever wish you could find a way to tell that person, "You'd be a lot happier if you made a few small changes?" Good! It means you care about the happiness of another person. Of course, for such people, the changes would mean losing themselves. Maybe you've heard it before. "That's just me."
People who bring a lot of extra difficulty into their lives generally blame luck or life or God or whatever, never seeing that they're causing a whole lot of trouble for themselves. Well, if someone actually did realize that there's a better way, if the sadly self-defeating friend decided to get practical about behavior and try to learn new ways, his or her consciousness has been raised.
It's all in how you think about things.
It's really simple and practical. It's not easy, but it's simple and practical. If you act in an unpleasant way, people end up resisting you. You need the help of other people in order to get by, and to thrive even. We're social animals.
Ahhh, now can you look at yourself that way? Yeah, that's a lot harder. But once you learn to do it, you can't stop. Long ago, Socrates said, "The unexamined life is not worth living." A-men! You know, you go to school to learn skills so you can do a job well, but then you're unwilling to develop some skills in your life? Nothing you can buy with that income will make you as happy as living well.
And yes, it can get abstract. What happens when you learn to stop expressing yourself however you want to and start expressing yourself in a way that others can accept and understand better? You start considering others more. And it makes you happier than selfishness did. A Hindu may start talking about transcending the subject-object relationship, and others may pull out the old Golden Rule. Y'know, do unto others, etc. You may start caring about the well-being of non-human animals and find you can't bring yourself to eat them any more. Do it in the way that makes sense to you. Just do it, for the sake of your own happiness.
No matter how you choose to understand it, it's something we all need. It's what makes life good. It's what makes life work.