For the vast majority of us, here we are in our unquestioned experience of ourselves, operating from ‘I-the body’ with the idea that consciousness resides in the body as a function of the brain. We believe that consciousness is the product of various electro-chemical stimuli and that subjective experience is the result. This proposition, from a rational scientific perspective, has no basis in fact though – and is often referred to as ‘the hard problem of consciousness’ by neuroscientists, researchers, and others.
When we begin to question these assumptions – and start paying very very close attention to our own subjective experience, a new insight may emerge. If you look – if you really really look at your own subjective experience, is it true to say that consciousness or awareness is ‘in’ the body? If you look closely, if you really really look, would it not be more accurate to say that there is this awareness – and that the body is appearing in this awareness? Look – really really look…
When something happens, aren’t you aware of it? Aren’t you aware of the body and its sensations? And what about the mind, or the patterns of thought that appear? Aren’t you aware of these thoughts? What about experiences? Aren’t all of these experiences happening in awareness? If we look, if we really really look, can we see that everything that comes and everything that goes is coming and going within this awareness? Take a look… test this for yourself.
If you look, if you really really look, you are likely to see that awareness is primary. Awareness is prior to any of these appearances. Without awareness, these appearances would be impossible. So awareness is primary – and comes before all thoughts, feelings, emotions, sensations, and experiences. Just orienting ourselves in this direction is a profound shift in perception that reveals tremendous space within – space enough to be present with whatever is happening in our awareness without necessarily reacting to life in habitually unskilled and unloving ways.
Is this the end of the road though? No, not at all. If we keep looking from this awareness – if we keep looking at what’s appearing within this awareness, we are likely to see that there are all of these thoughts coming and going. Of course, if we haven’t looked – if we haven’t questioned, then we are likely to have a pretty tight relationship with these thoughts. We may be taking them quite seriously, identifying with them, and assuming ourselves to be them. This is perfectly normal, but the fact that it is normal doesn’t necessarily mean that it is accurate.
Where do thoughts come from? Take for instance a very simple statement “that dog is brown”. Notice how this thought appears in the form of words, in language. This thought is being spoken in the mind, but it is indeed being spoken. The words that you are reading right now are being spoken in your mind are they not? It may happen so quickly that you don’t even notice it, but if you are looking closely, you might just see that this is true. So here we are thinking to ourselves “that dog is brown”. But is that dog really brown? Is it even a dog? When a thought arises, it is usually arising in reference or relation to something that is happening within us, or in the world outside of us. In the world of objects.
Let’s take a moment here to point out that this use of language is learned. At some point in our early childhood we were taught what a dog is and we were taught what the color brown is. As this occurred the information was filed away as an object reference that is recalled every time we see ‘dog’ or ‘brown’. We could say that we were conditioned to see the object ‘dog’ and understand what a ‘dog’ is. We were conditioned to see the color ‘brown’ and understand what the color ‘brown’ means. There’s nothing wrong with this – it makes interaction possible. But let’s keep looking.
Before we were introduced to ‘dog’ and ‘brown’, what was there before it? Can you remember back to a time before you were taught the basics of language and meaning? A time when you didn’t ‘know’ what anything was? Think of a baby or a small child. Think of how sweet and innocent a baby or small child is. They are, of course, still interacting with the world. They just don’t have words for anything. Their experience is a direct, immediate, intimate, unfiltered experience of what’s right here, right now. There is a natural honoring of life without the need for a mental model.
But then someone taught us that this apparent shape, with these apparent qualities, should be referred to as ‘dog’. That it is a ‘dog’. We were also taught what a dog is, how a dog behaves, what a dog does, and what a dog is for. Suddenly, the infinite potentiality of life become bound up in the word ‘dog’ and the meaning of ‘dog’. The infinite potentiality of life was mentally reduced to dogness. The same is true of the color brown. At some point someone pointed at something and said ‘brown’. Now the infinite potentiality had colors and one of those colors was ‘brown’.
And so here we are, talking about brown dogs. It may sound like a silly conversation to be having, but this point – about brown dogs – has the potential to help us understand what a true, authentic, and mature spiritual awakening really is. It carries within it the potential for us to arrive at that which the word ‘enlightenment’ is really pointing toward. Because there are no brown dogs – do you see? There is only the label, the concept, and the meaning that has been handed to us as a way of relating to the apparent world of phenomena. It is how the mind sees – but this is not Reality!
Keep looking. Look closely. The words come and go as thoughts, do they not? The thoughts come and go in awareness, do they not? Objects come and go as experience, do they not? The experiences come and go in awareness, do they not? So again we are arriving at this awareness – this awareness that is primary. This awareness that is present prior to anything that may be appearing within it, including the words, thoughts, objects, and experiences that are coming and going within the empty spacious presence of awareness. And remember, everything here is predicated upon the foundation of language.
Now we arrive at the beginning edges of paradox, ambiguity, and contradiction – like approaching the horizon of a black hole where the laws of physics begin to breakdown. We have to look closely, really really closely, at our own direct experience. And we have to ask ourselves who is doing the looking? Pay close attention to what happens when you move toward this question with sincerity. Do not be afraid. Love is here, ready to catch you on the other side. Can you actually find anyone there? If you say yes, aren’t you just using the language of conditioning to turn the answer into an object?
It’s okay, it’s perfectly okay. This continued mental translation of Life into objects isn’t even really the issue. It’s a habitual pattern that may need some attention for a while, but there’s something even more subtle that we can work with – we can cease believing in our thoughts. Remember, your thoughts say absolutely nothing about the nature of Reality as it *IS*. Your mind doesn’t actually know anything. All it knows are its concepts. The mind does not even realize that it too is just a concept. Look closely, examine your assumptions, and see for yourself what’s really True.
Again, let us return to the awareness that is aware of these words. Then let us notice the noticing. THIS. Right Here. THIS is all there is – to notice the noticing – that’s as far as this goes my friends! There are no answers to be found, no explanations, no mystical states of being, no ideas, no beliefs, nothing – there is not one single ‘thing’ here! Only awareness, only noticing. Yet this void in space isn’t where we ultimately end up. This isn’t the end either my friends. If we remain here, at the top of the mountain, we’re likely to remain dry and disconnected. This may be our natural state, but here we must shift again.
With no center – and yet still completely here, where can you go? Now we begin to drop down into the Heart of our Being. Not the physical heart of course, and not an object. No. What we are coming into contact with is the very Presence of our Being; the felt sense of Presence that is an immediate and intimate Reality beyond words. We drop down into the heart, breathe deeply into it, and we rest here, in the silence, stillness, and quiet of Being. The mind goes on, life goes on, everything is exactly as before, but now the mind is transparent and radiant, and you have come to rest in the fullness of your Heart!
When this realization or revelation begins to take root, we find that our Hearts are infinite and have the power to anchor us in this aware Presence. The two are really inseparable for they are not really two ‘things’. Who and what we are is this Presence. So we are open, spacious, empty and aware, with a mind that has become transparent and radiant, and a heart that has become open and clear. We are firmly rooted in our *SEEING* as the Absolute view, while also encountering the relative reality of the mind, body, and phenomenal world; doing so with great love, wisdom, patience, and understanding.
—Bradley Bemis is an Orlando-based spiritual teacher of non-duality and Self-realization, an inner presence coach and guide, and is currently working toward his Master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. He offers a combination of public discourses and private sessions for those who are interested in exploring the enlightened insights of nondual wisdom. Learn more at awakeningintolife.com.
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