Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice

 

Inner Work


For the week of March 11, 2013

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Am I Consciousness?

(Who Am I?: Part 4)

Consciousness, rightly understood and directly perceived, is one of the major hidden wonders of life. This is not about consciousness of something, but rather consciousness itself. Underneath all our ordinary perceptions, underneath our senses, thoughts and emotions, is a cognizant stillness, pure cognition prior to any specific content. To get a taste of this, sit with your eyes closed in a quiet place. Relax and do nothing except watch. Just maintain a relaxed awareness. No need to try to control or stop your thoughts. No need to try not to hear the sounds that come to you. No need to try not to be aware of your body. Just let your experience be as it is, while you watch the whole show. After a time, your thoughts may slow down of their own accord. Gaps may open between thoughts. Gaps made of silence, of stillness. Settle into that stillness. In there you can taste consciousness. Rest in that.

The more familiar you become with consciousness, the more you acquire that taste, the more you are able to enter the cognitive stillness, the realm behind your thoughts, even during your ordinary activities. Like isolated clouds passing through a blue sky, thoughts and other perceptions do not obscure or hide consciousness from you. You live in it. Into consciousness you can drop the burdens of maintaining and defending you self-centered ego. In consciousness you can just be, you can just be as you truly are, without any pretense, without any mask, without any image to present. And that brings you peace and equanimity, presence and awareness, openness and freedom. What a relief!

Yet even here, the question remains: is this who I am? Am I this consciousness? The answer appears to be yes. What more could there be? This consciousness seems to be, and indeed is, infinite. It has no boundaries. Whenever we come to it, it is always the same, unchanging. It is timeless, with no beginning and no end. That sounds like God. So consciousness seems to possess the right qualities to be the ultimate. And many spiritual teachers tell us exactly that. It is utterly convincing.

Yet… the question remains. And the answer that says that consciousness, this vast cognizant stillness, is the ultimate, is too easy an answer. A formless intuition tells us that there must be more to the spirit than this, something deeper still.

One hint lies in the changeless nature itself of consciousness. Another comes in the fact that once we acquire its taste, we can be aware of consciousness, a self-reflexive awareness. And that leads us to recognize that consciousness is a what, not a who. If I am anything, I am not a what, I am a who. I am the decider, the actor, the perceiver, the agent. Consciousness is in some sense static, while the Ultimate, the Creator must be dynamic. Clearly, I am not static, I am dynamic.

If I can be aware of consciousness, this is not just consciousness being aware of itself. Consciousness is like the movie screen, or the TV, on which all the perceptions of our life appear. It is the screen of our mind. But here I am sitting in the audience, watching those images. I am not the images. I am not the screen. I am the one who is watching that screen. I am the one who is aware. I am not the awareness.

This may sound subtle and abstract, but it turns out to be both crucial and tangible: crucial for our understanding of ourselves and of life, tangible in the reality of our real I. But to come to this distinction, we need first acquire the taste of consciousness and to live in it. We can find ourselves there, and find that we are not our consciousness.

For this week, enter the silence within you. Bask in your consciousness. And ask if you are that.


     

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