We never see the world as it is, rather we see the world as we are. Discovering what that means is the starting point of a life well-lived.
Nothing is more natural than the intuitive feeling of “me” inside, experiencing an “outside” world. This is awareness passed through the filter of “Self”, (to which Jack Nicholson might respond, “Is there any other kind?”). Well, the answer is yes. In fact, you might be surprised to learn you were once an expert at awareness absent of “Self”!
At birth, we were like a blank memory card in a computer connected to environmental sensors. At this stage we had not yet developed a context for sensory experience. Think about that for a moment. Imagine seeing something or hearing something and having absolutely no idea what it is, what it means, whether it is good or bad, or whether we like or dislike it. Instead, it’s just an experience. This is awareness prior to “Self”, it is how we initially met the world. Now, contrast a newborn child’s experiential awareness with adult awareness filtered through “self”, which has opinions about everything and is usually preoccupied by thought. That’s a very big difference.
As newborns we used awareness to make distinctions, enabling us to separate opportunities from threats and likes from dislikes. Ultimately we built preferences for everything in life; food, drink, weather, location, culture, entertainment, relationships, everything! This knowledge base became the “Self” experienced as me!
But then along comes circumstance. Circumstance doesn’t care about dreams. Circumstances doesn’t care about happiness. Stuff simply happens. When life events are unpleasant, we suffer. We don’t want to suffer, so we work diligently to control our life to avoid unpleasantness. But bad things happen anyway. It would appear that unhappiness is inevitable!
Not necessarily! Deep inside, under all the built-up layers of “Self”, one’s capability for newborn awareness exists, like buried treasure. What if in the midst of dis-ease we could uncover this treasure and for a few moments experience life absent of thought, judgement and stress? The good news is that with practice, it is possible. The practice is called mindfulness and it’s not new. Letting go of “Self” is ancient wisdom. The world exists as an integral harmonious whole, until we come along and break it up into little pieces, assign names and make judgements. Pure awareness isn’t concerned with all that.
Just think, if an undisturbed world finds equilibrium and harmony, why wouldn’t an undisturbed awareness be capable of joining in? Zen practitioners call this “Beginner’s Mind”. With practice, it is possible to rediscover this simple feeling of being and ease the stress of modern-day life. Studies by major medical institutions verify the therapeutic value of mindfulness practices. I will be writing more about this as well as sharing some basic practices I have found to be helpful!
Key Principle: Discovering the role awareness plays in life
Key Question: What are you aware of at this very moment?