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The River Delta and Universal Awareness

By Brian Tom O'Connor.

It’s often confusing how awareness can be universal, but we only know the content of our individual minds, not the content of other minds. How can both be true? Maybe this analogy will be helpful. Here goes…

At the mouth of a river where the fresh river water empties into the salty ocean water, there is often a large area—a delta or an estuary where the river water meets the sea water. Imagine this is a large area with multiple streams and rivers from various sources all flowing into the ocean. In our analogy, the delta is our individual mind and the ocean is the background of pure awareness. The delta only receives water from the rivers as they deposit sediment brought from upstream. It’s one-way traffic. The water is flowing from upriver, through the delta, and out into the ocean. The delta doesn’t receive water from the ocean flowing upstream.

The delta is like our individual mind. The content flowing from the outside world via our sense perceptions only flows one way – from the world, through our minds, and out into the ocean of awareness, leaving sediment in the form of memories. Our minds are only aware of the one-way traffic of perceptions and sensations, and of the memories they deposit. But our thoughts and memories are witnessed by awareness itself, apart from our finite minds. This is the ocean of awareness that we all share.

Sometimes, as in an estuary, there is brackish water, a mixture of river water and sea water. So there’s a taste of the sea present in the river mouth. A waft of sea breeze in the air. We can get that taste, that breeze of the ocean of awareness, when we take our focus off the one-way flow of our thoughts and drop back into the pure awareness that receives it all. That’s why meditative practices of quiet and stillness can invoke a sense of oneness. We’re calming down the powerful rushing flow of sediment and letting some of the sea breeze waft in. And it feels absolutely lovely.

What does this have to do with Awareness? Well, you can make a game or a meditation out of it for yourself. You can imagine your mind as a river delta. You can imagine the input from the world – the sights, sounds, sensations, smells, and tastes—as a one-way flow through your mind and into the background awareness in which all thoughts, sensations, and perceptions appear. As you imagine that flowing stream, see if you can imagine it calming down, and feel yourself gently, quietly floating down into the ocean of awareness that receives it all—the awareness that you are. And then imagine that ocean of awareness, like the oceans of our earth, connected to all the oceans. The one interconnected world ocean. It’s an ocean of love because it knows it’s all one ocean.

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