by Brian Tom O'Connor
Why awareness? Why awareness of awareness? Why is being aware of being aware so tricky for some people? Why do some people say that noticing awareness does not bring peace and joy?
These are all great questions. But they're tricky questions because awareness is tricky. We're actually not used to either noticing awareness, or abiding as awareness, or what I call simply being awareness.
The "why" of awareness is because awareness is our natural state. The substratum of all experience, and its nature is peace, happiness, and joy. It's here now. It's here always. It was always here. But it's covered up. It's covered up by our mind's desire to make something happen, or to prevent something from happening, or to change our experience in any way. And of course It's tricky because, if I said that all you need to do is drop every attempt to change anything about your experience, isn't that attempt an attempt to do something, to change our experience? It's a paradox.
That's why it's tricky. But it can be done. Maybe in just small doses. It can be done when you ask yourself, "Just for now, could I not try and change anything about my experience whatsoever? Just for a few seconds?"
It can be done when you ask yourself, "Just for now, can I notice the clear field in which all my experience appears? That pure mirror-like empty clear spacious field that notices everything? That's been here ever since I was a little kid? That's what I call 'I'? Just for a few seconds?"
And, "Just for now, can I notice that the clear spaciousness is totally okay with whatever appears in it?" Just like a mirror doesn't decide what to reflect, it simply reflects everything before it. Awareness is simply aware of whatever appears. It's totally okay with whatever appears in it. That's why it's love...because it's unconditional.
So we don't have to actively decide to be okay with our experience, all we have to do is notice what is already there and already okay with all of our experience.
And it's also tricky because it's not a thing. It has no qualities of its own. It's what all qualities appear in. So we look for a thing when we look for it, and we don't find a thing. Looking for a thing is one of the first things to let go of in awareness practices. My favorite expression is, "you can't see it, you can only be it." You can turn your attention around from the content to the context. From the foreground to the background. From the object to the subject. Be the background. Be the sky.
It's actually a double turn around. You turn your attention from what you're looking at to what's looking, and then you turn around again and look out from there, being awareness itself—that is, knowing yourself as awareness. And everything that you thought you knew as yourself—your body, your mind, your personality, your profession—are simply objects that you, as awareness, are aware of.
In other words, awareness is not in your mind, or in your body, but your mind and your body are in awareness. Awareness is prior to your mind. Awareness is prior to your body. Awareness is prior to your experience. Awareness is prior to your waking up in the morning. Awareness is prior to your learning words, language, concepts. Awareness is prior to anything that can be named, prior to anything that has a form, prior to anything that can be conceived of, because it is nameless, formless, conceptless, pure, and infinite, and it is what you are, naturally, without effort. You are always aware, and you are always awareness.
When you do the double turnaround and look out at the world from awareness, you get the sense that everything appears in awareness, but awareness itself has no limits. It has no limits because anything can appear in it, and everything does appear in it.
We think that awareness is limited to our own individual minds, because we have this idea that we can't know what's in other people's minds. But we're confusing our minds with awareness. Yes, an individual mind can't know another individual mind. At least not without being in a deep meditative psychic state.
But imagine our individual minds as individual fingers on your hand and, let's say, your thumb is touching your knee and your index finger is touching the chair, the thumb may not know what the index finger is feeling, but your hand might, or your mind might. And if you extend that metaphor all the way back—from your fingers, to your hand, to your arm, to your brain, and then back even further to the universal mind—so that we are just like individual fingers on a giant hand with billions of fingers, and a giant mind with billions of eyes—then we get an idea of the limitlessness of awareness, our true nature.
So to recap, of the main things that are tricky about awareness, the first is that it gets veiled by our desire and our strategy to change our experience. And It's tricky to stop trying to change our experience, without trying to change our experience. So you have to play around with it and almost accidentally find the sweet spot where you let go of all attempts to change anything.
The second tricky part of awareness is that we think we're looking for a thing, an object, something with qualities that we can see. But it's not a thing and it has no qualities, and it's not separate from things and qualities, because everything with qualities is made of awareness. So it's a paradox. We can't see it, we can only be it.
And the third tricky thing is that we confuse awareness with our individual limited minds. Awareness doesn't appear in our minds, our minds appear in awareness. Universal awareness, who we really are.
Photo by Sammy Williams on Unsplash