Questions & Answers
responses to inquiries offered by Pete Sumner
Dear Dr B.,
I'm not sure that I, nor anyone else for that matter, can tell you exactly how awareness is noticed, but it is one of those wonders, or indeed, miracles, that are often taken for granted in our life-experience.
The fact that awareness can be noticed, and undoubtedly is noticed, by many today is perhaps one of the best indicators of what might be called: 'higher consciousness'.
Some writers in the field of ontology (e.g. Eckhart Tolle) would go even further and say that the ability to be aware of awareness is a sign of 'consciousness' to be compared with the 'unconsciousness' of one who is completely unaware of That which is aware (and usually indifferent too).
In introducing the term 'consciousness' here, I should stress that I'm not referring to intelligence or education. It is possible for a person of low intelligence and little education to have a high degree of consciousness, though this is not so common. It is also possible for a person of high intelligence and advanced education to have a very low level of consciousness, and, I'm afraid, this all too often so.
In most cases, however, those who now enjoy the awareness of That which is aware, I find, are particularly intelligent ... but more in an intuitive sense rather than simply in matters of logic and informational recall/analysis etc.
As I'm sure you will understand, it's the nature of the mind to fix (and one could even say, 'fixate') on 'objects' or 'phenomenon' whether in the outward world using the senses, or, inwardly, where one is conscious of thoughts, feelings and moods, etc.
The wonder, or miracle, is not so much that you see them, hear them, feel them etc. but that you KNOW that you do so.
So, ask yourself, what is it that KNOWS that you see, hear, taste, think and feel etc.?
What is that spacious field (of N0-thing) against which everything (all things, objects, phenomena etc.) is recognized?
It is like, I suggest, the space in a room that makes all furniture possible, or the silence that makes sounds possible, or, if you like, the blank screen that makes these characters and our communication possible!
So, try a small experiment. Focus your attention on an object in the room before you. Note its characteristics -- color, shape, size etc. -- the name of the object will possibly spring to mind, and possibly a 'story' about that object (it was the gift of a colleague?) may also arise in your awareness.
Now, try not to engage in those thoughts, just let them be. Notice they are there, nothing more. Allow them to drift across or through your consciousness like clouds across the sky.
Then, when you're quite relaxed but fully alert, notice what is noticing that object. Notice the thoughts (the naming etc.) that arise around the object ... and, maybe, even feelings inspired by those thoughts. Allow yourself to be the witness or observer of your inner processes.
I cannot speak for you, but when I reflect on what is noticing (the noticed), I find there is absolutely nothing there -- nothing, that is, that the thinking processes of our mind can grab onto. It SEEMS like nothing and yet it is an ALIVE emptiness -- how do I know this? Because it is aware of everything and could not be so if it were not alive or conscious.
Another strange thing about this 'emptiness' is that it is full of everything in my world (and I suspect, in yours). It is 'capacity' for whatever comes and goes in phenomenality. If I could allude to the cloud/sky metaphor again -- the clouds come and go across the sky but the sky itself remains constant, unchanging, unmovable so to speak.
You could also think of the night sky in the same way. Most people who go outside at night and look up, notice only such 'things' as the moon, stars, planets etc. -- the content of space -- but the real wonder is the empty, featureless, formless 'capacity' of space itself that enables the universe/s to be.
So, coming back to our own 'experience' of life etc. because of our conditioning and socializing influences, we grow up with the idea that we are the sum of our thoughts about ourselves, that our name and story define who we are, and that may be so in a very limited sense, but it isn't the whole truth by a long way as the latest researches in Quantum Physics etc. are indicating.
The truth is that we do not HAVE awareness, but that we ARE Awareness itself. And here, I'm not talking about a 'personal' awareness (Dr B.'s awareness) but an impersonal Awareness which you could say is Life itself. This is the same Awareness that is aware in all sentient beings ... whether they know it or not (and the vast majority unfortunately do not!)
This Awareness, it seems, playfully goes to sleep in most people and allows them to have the sense that their life is defined by and limited to their body/mind/personality/story, but then, in some people, it rouses and begins to awaken. Instead of simply being aware of 'things' and 'events' etc. through the mind/body/personality/story, It becomes aware of Itself and knows Itself for What it is -- not only in that particular form, but as it awakens, it recognizes itself in all the other forms as well!
From that point on, there is a 'shift' of consciousness. Before all was seen from one point of view or perspective; afterwards, everything is seen from a completely different, and I might say, transforming perspective.
We go from being one dimensional (noticing only the characters on the screen) to being two dimensional (noticing also, and at the same time, the spacious background that makes the characters possible).
Whereas, before, everything was seen as being bound by time and space, etc. Now, while acknowledging and respecting all forms, we see that our true nature or essence is indeed formless and not bound or limited by time and space.
While the 'shift' is usually sudden, the awakening takes time. Just as it does in physicality, it can take some time for us to become settled in holding the two dimensions in balance while going about our daily tasks and responsibilities. To be able to do so, is one of the highest attainments of humanity.
The more Awareness becomes awake in our mind/body/personality/story, the less we identify with that temporal and transitory mind/body/personality/story, and the more we identify with the infinite, eternal, unborn, undying 'Life' which is our essential beingness -- our true Self.
Ultimately, Awareness is not a 'something' (like a thought, or a tree etc.) that can be noticed. It's not really an object that can be studied as in science etc. Actually, the Awareness that we are is the absolute Subject or Source and is operating temporarily through a unique manifestation of Itself -- seeing through our eyes etc.
The sense of being a particular individual 'person' is part of the manifestation experience ... but noumenon rather than phenomenon is the real Experiencer.
So, for the time being, proceed on the basis outlined above, try the experiment and let me know how you get on.
I would encourage you to read this several times and ponder it in some quiet moments before hastening to reply etc.
The good thing, Dr. B., is that you don't have to be persuaded by the words of another in this most important matter. If what I'm pointing to here is true, then the great 'Teacher' is within you and the truth will reveal itself if you maintain your attention on what is noticing or 'awaring' : )
The very fact that you have asked this question, is a good sign that Consciousness is stirring in you and if this is indeed so, you are most fortunate.
Please forgive the clumsiness of my language here, but we are exploring a realm where words are grossly inadequate. Hopefully you will grasp something of the meaning 'between the lines' so to speak.
Your ever well-wisher,
PS. If, after having done the experiment suggested above, you would like to try another experiment to take you deeper into this fascinating inquiry, try our page on the The Zen Koan MU.
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