Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice

 

Inner Work


For the weeks of September 25 and October 2, 2017

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Conscious Self

(The Fog of Self 7)

A fundamental characteristic of our experience of self is that we persist through time. We maintain our identity from childhood on. I am always me. My body changes over time. My knowledge, skills, interests, and moods change. But I do not change. Inside, I am who I am. I am the same person I always have been. My inner experience of myself, or rather the inner experiencer of all my experience, stays the same.

How does this timeless quality of self arise and is it real?

Looking carefully at our experience, we can distinguish levels. The basic level is sensory awareness. By this we mean not only sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste, but also our internal perceptions, of our body, our thoughts, and our emotions. All these together form our sensory experience, our sensory awareness. By its very nature, this experience is constantly changing, as each moment brings new and different sensory impressions.

Is there a level of experience behind and more fundamental than sensory awareness? Imagine that our being has a screen, like a computer monitor, TV, or phone screen. On that screen appears all the content of our experience, all our sensory impressions. In quiet meditation, in the stillness, however, we can become aware of the screen itself, prior to any images, thoughts, sounds, or other content being displayed on it. This screen, this cognitive blank slate, we call consciousness. So sensory awareness and consciousness are related, but distinct.

Imagine the screen of consciousness without the content of sensory impressions. Nothing changes. It just is. If nothing changes, then time has stopped. In this way, we see that consciousness is timeless, not subject to the usual limitations of time and space. Because consciousness is timeless, it persists through time. That is how we get the impression that we persist through time. My fundamental consciousness has not and does not change. It remains the same over the decades. And so, I seem to remain the same, to persist, to be this conscious self.

Consciousness is locus of all the various impressions of our self: our bodily self, our self-perspective, our automatic self, our narrative self, our social self, and our self-image. This conscious umbrella allows seamless transitions between and integration of all the types and experiences of self. For that reason, we are convinced that we are consciousness, that we are our conscious self, and that this self persists through time. The basic assumption is: "I am conscious, therefore I am."

But that assumption is suspect. Indeed it has its own inherent fallacy. What we really mean by it is: "I am my consciousness." And this is provably untrue. To say, "I am conscious" is like saying that "I experience through consciousness," which is true. But we take another step and, immersed in consciousness, we mistakenly erase the distinction between who we really are and our consciousness.

We are our I, our will. We are our attention, the one who uses, focuses, directs, and roams across consciousness. We are the one who receives the impressions brought to us through the medium of consciousness. We are the one who chooses what we do and who reaches through consciousness to enact our choices. In the stillness of consciousness, we can be. But the one who is being is our I. We are not our consciousness. We are the user of our consciousness. We are our I.

Nevertheless, we live in the unexamined assumption that we are our consciousness. Although to be in consciousness, to be in the cognitive stillness, the boundless, timeless, peace of consciousness, is indeed a very high state, we should not conflate the state with the experiencer of that state.

This matters because who we are matters. What if our I, our will, is actually a particle of the Divine will?

Consciousness is, always the same. It is wonderful but static, while we are dynamic. We do not just persist or exist, we act. Consciousness is the field of experience. We are the chooser, creator, and experiencer of experience. For this week, notice your immersion in consciousness. Be your attention. Be your I.


     

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