Knowing Awareness Itself

Awareness of thought, not trapped by thought.
Awareness of the physical, but not bound by the physical.
Awareness of emotions, and prior to emotions.
Awareness of silence, but not attached to silence.
Awareness of clear open space, but not identified with clear open space.
Awareness of Awareness itself?

Through the process of non-identification we learn what we are not. This is, in my opinion, the path to enlightenment. The process of non-identification is the practice of repeatedly becoming aware of experiences/activities, realizing that they are impermanent, that they are not you, and then ending your identification with them. During this process the question naturally arises, ‘At some point, can awareness become directly aware of itself?’ This is a very interesting question. I feel, as usual, the answer must be both yes and no. It all depends on your point of view.  My first inclination is to say no. This business of Awareness becoming aware of itself directly, independently of the objects of awareness, is a messy idea. It implies two things, the objects of awareness (e.g., thoughts, emotions, etc.) and Awareness itself. It is a dualistic concept. Besides that, what exactly do we mean by Awareness? What is it? Seems like an awkward use of the word. Can one know Awareness itself? The clear open space/silence in which the objects of consciousness arise – is that what some people are calling Awareness? If that is the case then, in my opinion, this is actually but a subtle object of awareness; it’s an experience, and when elevated to the status of a 'non-experience'   well, it’s bound to get in the way. No, awareness cannot become aware of itself; at least not independently of the objects of awareness.  My second inclination is to say yes – of course awareness can become aware of itself. What? Sure it can, but never as something separate from the objects of awareness. It all depends on your definition of awareness. Ultimately, and subjectively speaking, we could say that awareness is whatever is being experienced. Whatever is arising in this moment is awareness. However, as long as one perceives a dualistic world, composed of self and other, then you (awareness itself) will continue to search for yourself as that which is other than yourself (awareness itself). Or put in a somewhat less convoluted way, when the process of non-identification works itself to completion, the subtle experiences that were masquerading as this thing called Awareness (or what some people call Self) collapse into and as the objects of awareness leaving only this.

Or put even simpler, one might say: There is awareness of this and that is all.


Listen to this!

Listening to people, being fully present and open – it really is an art.  For me the challenge is usually finding a balance between emotional and intellectual understanding; a balance between caring about the person and caring about what the person is saying.  For example, yesterday I was listening to someone complain and complain, I mean she was really going on about anything and everything – from the lack of good quality ice cream available in stores these days to how long her kitchen renovation was taking. She appeared to me to be a deeply unhappy person. I could feel her pain, it was palpable, but the source of her pain was very unlikely a lack of good quality ice cream. So what is one to do? Was giving this individual my undivided attention helpful? (I know it was helping me – a good exercise in listening patience and body presence never hurt anyone, but was it helping her?) In response I found myself saying things like, ‘oh yes, oh I know – it’s terrible, although I suppose it could be worse.”

I could empathize with her emotional pain, which was very real, but found myself disregarding most of her words as unimportant ramblings. Was it beneficial to listen to her go on or was I simply reinforcing her habitual complaining tendencies? We do have a choice – to listen or not? Perhaps my attempt to formulate a general principle here is the real source of my dilemma. Real life is moment by moment, listen if you will, be honest, be sincerely engaged, pretend, lie, walk away – it’s up to you, decide and act! Listening to people – I suppose it will always be a work of art in progress. Anyway, thanks for listening to me go on about this . . .


Sticky Thought Webs

Do any of our words, written words, spoken words, do they ever get past the mind's defenses? Is it futile, attempting to use words to help free yourself from a prison constructed out of words? Flinging more words at a sticky word entity – what could happen but the creation of a higher, thicker, stronger web of words. Sticky, malleable web-like thought structures. Thoughts stuck to thoughts, creating you, a sticky thought entity. Hmmm ... are you caught in the mind's sticky thought web?  Or are you the sticky thought web itself?


An Open Question

Sometimes I wonder if people who lived long ago had naturally quieter minds. I remember a line from the Bhagavad Gita about how noisy the mind is – and that was written about 2000 years ago. Perhaps people's minds were just as busy thousands of years ago as they are today. You’d think they were a little less busy though. Here’s that Gita quote, "Krishna, the mind is restless, turbulent, powerful, violent; trying to control it is like trying to tame the wind.” Krishna responds that it is difficult to silence the mind, but not impossible.

But is it necessary (for enlightenment)? The short answer, at least my answer is – I don’t know. Well that wasn’t very helpful was it?

Okay here’s a longer answer (not a really long answer, don’t worry). I suspect it works like this: Non-identification with thought (which is necessary for enlightenment) is a result of becoming aware of thought through meditation. And silence of the mind tends to be a result of this process of non-identification.  And although silence of the mind seems to be a natural and perhaps unavoidable (positive?) consequence of non-identification, it is not directly a necessary condition for awakening to occur. Or is it? I still don’t know. This is an open question. Perhaps I’ll write more on this in a future post.


A Sticky Ball of Goo

Who is this ‘you’ that wants to be enlightened? Can ‘you’ as the thinking mind free yourself from yourself? This is a variation of the famous bootstraps paradox. You can’t lift yourself up from your own bootstraps; it’s impossible. Likewise, the thinking mind can’t untangle itself from itself, it’s equally impossible. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to. Freedom isn’t found as a result of the thinking mind thinking its way out of itself. Freedom comes by letting awareness of thought slowly dissolve thought. (Freeing the brain from attachment to thought, allowing it to function naturally and effortlessly.)

So who is this ‘you’ that wants to be enlightened? Why it’s a sticky ball of goo, clinging to itself as not to come unglued. This is true, the thoughts that are masquerading as ‘you’ are just sort of clumped together forming a sticky ball of goo. Drop that sticky ball of ‘you’ into a warm bath of light and insight – feel it dissolve into bliss . . . and then into ‘this.’


Does Every Day Mindfulness lead to Awakening?

Does being more mindful of what you are doing, feeling, and thinking in each moment lead to awakening? Knowing that I am being somewhat provocative I am going to say no, although day to day mindfulness certainly does hold an important place in my practice. I think that many people have their cause and effect reversed here. General mindfulness has many great benefits (integration of various levels of experience, momentarily dropping out of the thinking mind, ‘being in the moment,’ helping to be conscious of addictions, to become aware of unconscious and negative patterns of behaviour, etc.) but I do not believe it leads to awakening - rather it is meditation (jhana) and awakening itself that bring about everyday mindfulness. 

I find that mindfulness in the day naturally flows out of my meditation practice in the morning. What is your experience? In my experience, before one is deeply grounded in jhana (meditation), efforts to be mindful throughout the day tend to be pretty shallow and dualistic (thinking - ‘this is me trying to be mindful’). However, when thinking drops in satori (a result of jhana), mindfulness becomes naturally effortless and non-dualistically – ‘just this.’

I think of it this way: Everyday mindfulness may be compared to looking for water over a great area in the desert by digging dozens of shallow holes every day. A thousand days may come and go - you will never find water with this approach. A better approach is to dig very deeply in but one well-chosen location. Then that solitary well can be the source of water for a great area. Likewise, awakening does not come about by being mindful of dozens of moments each and every day. Awakening, instead, comes about by looking deeply into the nature of a single moment, by entering into its profound stillness and then beyond. In Buddhism entering into this profound stillness is called  jhana. This is the heart of Buddhism – and in my experience it is the path to enlightenment.   


Paper Bag Enlightenment

Our community has banned plastic yard bags in favour of thick, multi-layered paper ones. The paper yard bags are very strong when dry, but they don’t hold up so well when wet.  After a week of absorbing the moisture from various organic materials, and the odd rain fall they begin to disintegrate. It’s usually the bottom that goes first, and usually while I’m lifting the offending bag to the curb. That’s just the nature of paper - enough moisture will eventually cause the bottom to fall out of even the thickest, strongest paper bag.

This is a parable of sorts I suppose. Awareness is the water. Meditation is the sitting bag, the act of letting your watery awareness gradually sink into the deepest and most subtle layers of yourself. Meditation is the practice of becoming so completely open and vulnerable to your own awareness that even the most well hidden and previously protected layers of your papery self structure begin to disintegrate - until one day the bottom falls out. Enlightenment! 


Defining Enlightenment

Here, somewhat randomly, are 7 important and distinct kinds of awakenings that I have noticed as topics of conversation on Twitter and in Blog Posts.                                                                                                        
1. The realization that you are one with all phenomena - separation is an illusion.

2. The gradual quieting of the thinking mind.

3. The awakening of the heart (and other) chakra centres. In the heart's case, a new found compassion and love for all forms of life.

4. The collapse of the ego - the end of identification with thought as self. (Often a sudden, dramatic, ego devastating event.)

5. The gradual process of un-grasping from and dis-identifying with all manifest phenomena.

6. The realization that you are both one with, yet free from all manifest phenomena.

7. The slow and gradual process of (re)-integrating all that was formerly dis-identified with, into a free flowing expression of Self.

And no doubt there are many more ways of understanding and interpreting awakening. I think we tend to forget this when speaking about awakening - we forget that we may in fact be speaking of rather different things. Just something to keep in mind when discussing the topic of enlightenment in our ongoing attempt to share, understand and effectively communicate with each other.