Sooner or later each of us faces the universal problem of finding our way through significant hardship.
Despite efforts to the contrary, life circumstances are often beyond our control, leaving us no alternative but to soldier on.
How do we find sunshine amidst such storms?
“The Anatomy of Peace” presents a retrospective understanding of the role awareness plays in finding joy during difficult times. The introduction, Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 of the series can be found here: https://tim-coats.com/the-anatomy-of-peace/
A brief summary of those posts appears below to introduce this final installment.
After many years of searching, I’ve found that Joy ensues in direct proportion to our capacity to witness life, moment by moment. Rather than thinking differently or believing differently, it arises from within, from “Being” differently.
That’s easier said than done.
My objective in this series was to present a retrospective understanding of that journey.
In Part 1: Mindfulness, The Doorway To Presence, I covered the role mindfulness plays in introducing us to the present moment, which philosopher Ken Wilber calls “The Simple Feeling of Being.”
As adults, we mostly “live in our heads,” consumed by thought. When present, we eliminate the filter of thought from consciousness and simply witness life.
Presence has two functions. First, it helps us escape troubling thoughts by getting us out of our heads and into the moment. Second, it relieves us from the burden of “Self.”
Part 2: Presence, The Doorway To Awareness, is a deeper dive into the role “Presence” plays in our lives.
In Part 3: Energy, Connection, and Being, I delve into life-energies that exist within us and between us. Balancing those energies plays an important role in relieving emotional stress and uncovering joy.
In the Conclusion, “New Relationships, New Life,” I introduce a model for the evolution of awareness.
Conclusion: New Relationships, New Life
The philosopher Martin Buber was best known for his proposition that we experience life in two ways: The first is with a dispassionate attitude of “I” towards a separate “It.” The I-It relationship objectifies life, viewing relationships solely from the perspective of their utility to us. An “it” has no intimacy, it’s simply an object, like a shovel.
The second way we may experience life is with the attitude of “I” and “Thou.” Buber uses the word Thou to signify “We,” a relationship bound with intimacy and energy.
Buber’s seminal work, “I and Thou,” published in 1923 and first translated to English in 1937, is one of the most profound books I’ve ever read.
The contemporary American philosopher Ken Wilber refers to the “I-Thou” relationship as “the miracle of we.” Love is the penultimate we!
Our presence to this miracle is determined by the nature of our awareness.
We spend our entire lives developing knowledge. Awareness, on the other hand, is usually taken for granted. Awareness is innate but need not be static. It can be developed throughout our entire lives.
In this conclusion to the “Anatomy of Peace,” I define four stages of awareness; Experience, Knowledge, Wisdom, and Love. In each stage, awareness comes to us in a different context, enabling us to experience life through a different lens.
“A Life Well-Lived” is a progression of deepening awareness through these stages.
A brief description follows:
Stage 1 Awareness: Experience
This is the most basic level of awareness. Experience is conveyed through sensory connections (sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell). Very early in life, awareness is entirely experiential. It is direct, in the moment, and undisturbed by thought.
Stage 2 Awareness: Knowledge
As we mature, we begin to differentiate one experience from another and file them in memory. At this stage, awareness begins to transcend sensory experience and move into thought, drawing upon these memories. Thought fuels knowledge, enabling us to stand back from experience reflectively and conceptually. Knowledge relies on representative symbols (language, words, and numbers) rather than direct experience to convey meaning. As learning advances, we increase our proficiency in manipulating abstract symbols progressing from Dick and Jane readers to Tolstoy and from simple arithmetic to calculus.
As adults, we “live in our heads.” Thinking trumps experience. In a very real sense, we become our thoughts. Thought is where awareness resides for most of us, but deeper levels are possible.
Stage 3 Awareness: Wisdom
“Self” is our point of reference when awareness centers on Experience and or Knowledge. Wisdom, which is found in “Presence,” returns our focus to the moment, shifting our attention from “Self” to relationships.
Relationships are the essence of life, physically, socially, and emotionally. When awareness is centered on thought, we are relationship-blind. We don’t “see” relationships because our mind is focused inwardly. When we let go of thought, we awaken to relationships. Everything in the universe is connected. When “Present,” these connections become visible. This (and it must be experienced to be understood) is the font of wisdom.
Mindfulness cultivates Wisdom Awareness, teaching us to let go of thought and enter the present moment, where we awaken to the grand-ecology of existence.
Wisdom reveals that life is not about us; instead, we are about life.
Stage 4 Awareness: Love
When awareness continues to progress, we experience the utterly transcendent Stage of Love. I am not referencing (nor excluding) romantic love. Instead, I am highlighting a direct experience of union. Fr. Richard Rohr refers to this as “Oneing.” For centuries, mystics across diverse cultures and religions have claimed that the separate “Self” is an illusion. They speak of enlightenment as directly experiencing the world in its undivided wholeness. Most of us experience only brief glimpses of this advanced stage. That’s not to suggest it is unattainable.
The four stages of awareness come to us through different perspectives. In Stage 1, that perspective is physical sensations. In Stage 2, it is thought. In Stage 3, it is relationships, and in Stage 4, it is the experience of union. In essence, the journey is from “I,” to “We,” to “One.” It is important to emphasize that these aren’t simply different attitudes, but fundamentally different ways of experiencing life.
To be human is to be aware that we are aware. Awareness is fundamanetal to our experience of life. Stages 3 & 4 offer a more expansive view of life. This is the secret to the experience of joy. When disturbed, self-centered thought commands our attention. As awareness expands, attention shifts from self to relationships where joy ensues.
The four stages of awareness are diagramed below. An explanation for this diagram follows:
Each stage of awareness (centerline with arrows) is characterized by a different perspective (Horizontal axis), expressed by a different action (Vertical Axis). For example, Experience is sensing expressed by connecting, and Knowledge is thinking expressed by labeling (assigning words and/or numbers).
As we move from connecting to labeling to relating and finally to “oneing,” our life experience progresses from sensing to thinking to witnessing and eventually becoming. Love is becoming one. Wisdom is witnessing and relating. Knowledge is labeling and thinking, while Experience is connecting and sensing. Notice that as awareness progresses, our “field of vision” broadens, and our center of attention moves away from “Self.”
A fair question to ask at this point would be how advancing awareness beyond Experience and Knowledge brings peace?
The answer is revealed in “Presence.”
As young children, we were not burdened by the past nor fearful of the future. However, once knowledge was acquired, there was no going back. As adults, past events and future worries weigh on our minds. Thoughts disturb our peace. It doesn’t do any good to try and stop thinking. We don’t know how!
As we learn to let go of thought, two things happen. First, we come back to the moment, unburdening ourselves from past and future concerns. Secondly, we unburden ourselves from “Self” as a primary reference point. If this sounds strange, it’s because it is foreign to our usual way of experiencing the world.
Letting go of thoughts isn’t easy. We don’t run a marathon by simply deciding that we will do it one day. It takes training. The same thing applies to awareness. We don’t move into Stages 3 or 4 all at once. As we grow accustomed to letting go of thought through regular practice, higher states of awareness ensue.
Practice is a life-long process. Its reward is a peace that transcends personal difficulties.
In closing, a systematic understanding of the anatomy of peace only became clear to me in retrospect through many years of practicing presence. My attempt to explain it here is inherently deficient. Advanced stages of awareness are not revealed by study. They must be experienced to be understood.
We’re not used to letting go of thought. For me, it seemed impossible at first. However, the mystery of “Presence” became increasingly familiar with practice, and joy came with it. (The following link takes you to a series detailing the practice I use, which I call “Silent Fitness” https://tim-coats.com/silent-fitness-2/)
Throughout millennia, human awareness progressed from pure sensory experience to deepening levels of thought. This is where awareness remains firmly rooted today. An amazing future awaits if our collective awareness continues to evolve towards Wisdom and Love.
Whether or not that happens depends on each of us.
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Previous posts in the Anatomy of Peace series can br found here: https://tim-coats.com/the-anatomy-of-peace/
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