The obstacle of awareness

Suppose we’re trying to see; trying to realise truth. We’ve spent time looking and we feel like we have a handle, at least intellectually, on there being no real ‘self’. It’s an idea we’re getting our heads round but there are still a few obstacles to overcome. One of these obstacles can be thinking about awareness. In fact this can create several obstacles, so here are some pointers that might support further looking:

1. The barrier of language – we come across this in many forms. Even if we’ve gotten over the idea that someone who says there’s no self, keeps using personal and possessive pronouns, different authors or speakers don’t always use language in the same way. So ‘awareness’ can sometimes be ‘knowing presence’ or just ‘presence’ or even occasionally ‘consciousness’. The trick is to not get too hung up on the words and to look and see how it is in experience right here, right now. Language and labels will always be incomplete and attaching to terms and phrases needs to be set aside in favour of direct experience – whether we can ever describe it or not. In fact the vast majority of what is seen, we can’t – it’s just too far beyond the borders of the ‘map of language’.

2. A question arises such as: ‘If awareness is all one and has no boundaries or edges, why can’t I feel you and you feel me?’ This is really a very good example of asking the wrong question. Here’s why: suppose we look at a river and I ask you, ‘Does this join the sea?’ You respond it does.

‘Can you point to the exact spot the river ends and the sea begins?’ You respond you can’t.

I note, ‘So the waters are not separated, they are in fact really one?’ You concede this is in one way true.

I further note on the far side of the sea there are many other rivers flowing into it. You agree.

‘So,’ I ask, ‘can this river flow across the sea and up another river? Are they joined in this way?’

You concede this is not really how it is.

‘River’ is a label, ‘sea’ is a label. Both are in fact one water, co-mingled, never separate. But as long as there is an identification with the label ‘river’ and the distinctions and distinctiveness this represents, the true oneness of all waters is not really seen.

In the vastness of the sea the river loses all identity. This river stops being ‘river’ and is simply sea. It cannot therefore flow into another distant river for in its merging with the sea, any meaning, any identity of the idea of ‘river’ is lost. The question really has no meaning and arises from the misunderstanding that the identification of, in this case, river or in the original case ‘self’ constitutes an actual thing, rather than simply being a frame of reference for an apparent set of characteristics, that whilst observable, were never actually separate or discreet.

There is no ‘self’ to feel another ‘self’. In simple, empty awareness any identification with the idea or notion of ‘self’ is meaningless. All is one. And so this apparent ‘self’ can never feel another ‘self’ for in seeing, in simply being awareness, the original identification of ‘self’ is lost like a river in the sea.

3. The final obstacle to note here again relates to language, within which the word awareness occupies the form of being a noun. This creates the impression in thought that awareness is a thing. If it’s a thing then in some way it may constitute a ‘self’, and even if this thought is not fully expressed it can still lurk in the background waiting to trip us up or hold us back in seeing how it is.

In fact this knowing presence or awareness cannot be captured in thought. To wax poetical, it casts no refection in the pool of thought, but is by its very nature self-aware. So thoughts about awareness, what it is, what it’s like, how it works, produce no useful results that we can rely on as true.

Rather than go further with this then, we can let it rest with the experiential knowledge that there is this knowing presence of awareness, without attributes or qualities of its own. That it simply and self-verifiably is. And that we might further add that it is not void, not empty. There is that which arises and changes within awareness and which we label and reduce through thought, as awareness arises in thought and sees all that thought reflects and creates.

And that again takes us near to the edge of our map of language at which point we must discard the tools of words and thoughts and rest in simply seeing that which is, directly, making nothing from it, knowing nothing of it; just pure experience.


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