Aging Awake

Within the dream of life, all people are growing into old age. As we become 70, 80, and 90 years old, we are not able to remember things as well as we use to, we lose our ability to perform complex problem solving, and we lose our physical abilities. Within this commonly accepted view of our lives, it is just accepted that this gradual loss of these important personal characteristics are inevitable and to be accepted. What does that “acceptance” actually look like in practice? Younger people try not to think about getting old because, well, it really is pretty bleak and they don’t have to deal with it yet. And older people try to deal with it the best they can because they face it every day, but it’s generally difficult and discouraging most of the time. It’s enough to make you just want to skip the whole thing all together!

But here is the real problem with this common view that says mental and physical abilities are what is most important about who we are.   It is not the inevitable decline of these functions, but rather that this view gives the highest meaning and importance to what are actually fairly superficial characteristics. Because if you look at it, what we all truly value the most in ourselves and others is being present, grounded, and giving/receiving love and attention.  Hold all these options up and compare them for your self.   Which do you think are most important?

Now, what if we were to change our focus to emphasize the sense of presence/awareness in ourselves and others rather than our mental and physical abilities?   Then the important things about us, what gives value and meaning, is how aware, awake and engaged in the present experience we are.   Not only would this make for a richer and more fulfilling experience of ourselves and others, but it would also radically change the whole issue around aging. Because the wonderful thing about awareness or awake-ness is this: It doesn’t seem to change as we age! The awareness that saw things when you were 6 years old is the same awareness that sees things now, and will be the same awareness that sees things when you’re 90! Just take a look.  Has the “seeing” faculty changed as your body and mind have changed over the years?

You see, all bodies and minds are constantly aging. So the time to consider this alternate view of who you are and what is important and worth focusing on is right now, no matter how old you are. Shifting focus, seeing this living awareness (with all of it’s content) as it is, is of the greatest significance. But if it is to make a difference in “your life”, it needs to be practiced and explored until it becomes a “habit”, a natural resting in what is most real and essential in life. Then, what difference does it make how the body and mind change or decline? Because what you really are, and what is most important, is always available.  And it never changes.

The False Cannot Exist In Light Of Truth

Find out for yourself (pun intended). Look and see, with the best of information, which is your direct experience, if there is a separate “you”. Are you there as a personal “me”? If you are thinking about this, you’ve gone too far. Just look and rely on what is directly evident. Not the idea of a you, which certainly can exist as a thought, but an actual, separate, you. You cannot, nor has anyone ever, found this “self”.

And now, having a clear sense of there being “no self”, what happens to any personal problems? Pick any problem you seem to have and, keeping in mind the truth that there is no separate you, what happens to the problem? Poof! Immediately dissolved. The false cannot tolerate the light of the truth.

Now, if you are a bold soul, you may want to go on and test out your whole story.

Existence is, consciousness is, you are not. There is no you, only This that is.

Understanding the Nature of Being

In spiritual circles, thinking typically get’s a bad rap as being a lower form of function, something to be controlled, reduced or suppressed. But it actually seems more that the intellect and selfless awareness are intimately related, and that the intellect is a critical aspect of the dance of awakening. This article is aimed at exploring that connection.

It’s possible to see the truth of your being in a moment, without preparation. This is really not that surprising a claim because the truth of being is there as you, now and always. On the other hand, “understanding” the nature of being, of what you truly and actually are, comes from a change in thinking about yourself. A change in assumptions and beliefs. While some sources suggest this can happen instantly and permanently, I don’t see how ingrained beliefs about yourself as an objective being can be transformed in a moment. Continuous seeing seems to take time for a shifting in the focus of attention to occur: A shift of attention from thought and imagination of one’s self, to what is aware of these mental constructs. This is the process of “waking up”.

I would like to describe this process of waking up from the perspective of stages of change in the beliefs, along side increasing recognition of the foundation of experience: awareness. (There aren’t any actual discrete stages, more like fuzzy overlapping phases, but it’s a fairly easy model to wrap your brain around.) So in any case, what I propose is that as beliefs change to a more accurate representation of reality, they free attention for more continuous contact with your true being.  (I might add that I don’t see identification with being a separate person as a problem.   It is as natural a manifestation in existence as any other.  How could it be wrong?).

1. Simple Intellectual Understanding

For some mysterious reason there can arise in someone a desire to question who you are. Why this happens out of all the other things that can occupy your attention is truly mysterious. (At least from the illusional belief that you control your thoughts and experience).

In any case, this intellectual questioning can lead to a gradual realization that you are not what you think you are. At this early stage of exploration there is a simple intellectual understanding, and a skepticism about the assumption that our skin or personality make up our personal boundaries. You most likely do not have a sense yet about what you actually are, have not noticed anything else you could be, but you are suspicious that the conventional view of being a personality in a body (body/mind) is not accurate. You may have begun to compare what you “know”, ideas collected over time, with what you experience directly: your present evidence of what you are. And you might be finding that the latter is a more accurate source of information.

This level of intellectual investigation may continue on for many years, or it may only last a few weeks, before there are glimpses of an empty, aware center at the core of your sense of personal existence. Sometimes these recognitions come as a thrilling, amazing revelation. Self structure can seem to collapse on it’s self, or disappear. The strength of conventional beliefs is still very strong at this stage, and so attention is easily distracted by thought and away from this “pre awareness recognition”. But the periodic glimpses of being without body/mind structures begins to deeply inform one’s intellect and old beliefs change as new beliefs begin to form. This can eventually lead to deeper intellectual understanding.

2. Deep Intellectual Understanding

In time the intellectual understanding, core beliefs, can begin to break down around the conventional view of self as a body/mind. And with glimpses of the awake, aware center of your being, new beliefs form. Attention still moves heavily among and around thought and beliefs. But periods of awareness of awareness at the center of your self experience begin to “inform” thought and in turn, understanding. You come to know that the conventional view of being a personality in a body (body/mind) is not accurate. And if at any time you find your self in conversation about it, there is a confidence in the understanding that you are not a person in a body, or even a fuzzy combination of body-mind elements, or a psychological self image. There may not yet be perfect clarity as to what you actually are, and the courage to state in confidently, but there is an increasing recognition of what you are not.

You can still get confused, feel like you see clearly and then lose it, or have a sense that you were free and boundary-less, and then “become a person again”. (At the next stage you will laugh at how impossible this is).

3. Final Intellectual Understanding

As attention repeatedly contacts the impersonal structures of the sense of separate self, and contacts existence as Living Awareness,  there comes a turning point in our understanding. Beliefs about being a separate person fade in the light of what is known directly:  that there is no separate self, and that what you are is Awareness.  Unlike the analysis that occurs at early stages of self investigation, direct contact with what is true resolves identity confusion.

You come to have a clear view of what you are at any time. Like a wrist watch on your wrist, even though you may not know the time at the moment, you know the time is represented there and you can see it any time you like. So you are always “in touch with the time”. At this stage of self understanding, intellect is always in touch with awareness.

Additionally, you may also find your attention drawn more and more to awareness, and less and less to conventional life situations, relationships, or even “spiritual matters”. Wordly life begins to have a transparency to it as it’s substantiality and importance fades.    Living, thought-free awareness is what you love to gaze upon. It may seem meaningless or pointless to think about before you arrive here, but nothing seems more important than seeing continuously or repeatedly your being as awareness. It is this wonderful, continually amazing gift, and you just can’t help but be grateful and appreciative of it.

Transformation

In spite of what many spiritual books suggest, when you know your true identity, the intellect does not go away, thoughts and feelings do not cease to occur. Spiritual teachers like Ramana Maharshi or Nisargatta Maharaj, considered by many to be the most advanced, were observed to read the news paper, participate in mundane conversation, get angry, or go to work every day. What does seem to occur is, there is less and less attention focused on thinking, projected boundaries, imagined structures or personal pathways. And so from a direct perspective, there comes less thought occurring over time. There also comes a change in the content of that thought as it reflects the reality of life beyond concepts, (Which is surprisingly much more than life ‘within” concepts). But from an external sensory perspective, life appears to go on and the body and mind look pretty much as they usually do.

Further Stages?

There may be more stages beyond those mentioned here. Of the accounts and teachings I’ve read there are described other, more “pure” stages or levels. The truth is that most of these accounts are either suspect, sounding like idealistic imaginings of perfected states, or so woven into unfamiliar languages or cultures that it’s difficult to grasp or integrate into my recognition of life as it is now. But frankly, I’m not particularly concerned with these accounts, it’s more enjoyable exploring the nature of being as it appears.

Deep Self Investigation

What is the purpose of deep self investigation? Why would you want to see that you do not exist as you think you do? What value could it have?

The conventional view of life goes something like this: I am an individual moving about among other individuals, things, places, etc. I seem to be separate from the rest of life. I am involved with the world, but am a separate someone. You could say this is the way we’ve been taught that the world is, and specifically what the nature of your relationship is to it. It can seem obvious. You seem to be here, at the center of things, and the rest of life seems to be out there. But it’s worth considering that maybe this is not at all what you are or the way life actually is. Particularly if, as I now propose, this belief in being a separate self experiencing the world is the reason why there is so much suffering in life. Not just personal suffering, but global suffering as well.  Everything from wars between nations to personality issues like depression, excessive fear, paranoia and anxiety disorders seem linked to a sense of “separation”.    And it’s arguable that conflicts between groups: religious, political, ethnic, national, is simply an outgrowth of “psychological issues” which have their birth in this belief in a separate “me”.

But what if there is no separation, no independent “you”?     What if that is the actuality of our experience?    When I say that you are not separate from the world, this is not a statement reflecting “New Age” sentiment like, “we are all connected“, or a “world family”, or even that we are all similar human being, evolved from the same gene pool. I’m also not referring to what is propose by modern physics about observers effecting the observed, or the lack of actual object boundaries on the atomic and sub atomic levels (although this may begin to approach what I’m getting at).

What is being pointed to here is that there is no “you” in the way there seems to be. Deeply investigating the assumptions about what you are (with perhaps a bit of help by way of pointers) reveals this to be so. In other words, it is possible to find this out directly, in this present experience and based on the evidence at hand.

What you find at the end of this investigation is that it’s never been a matter of being separate and then reconnecting to the world. What you are has never been separate because there is no “YOU” here at all, only “All that is”, only what exists, singular and complete from the start, and nothing else.

All Beliefs Are Just Thoughts

I can say to you , the reader, that there is no “you” there, but you most likely will not completely agree with me.  You do not yet believe this is true.    What we learn in developing discrimination between what we think and what is in direct experience, is that thoughts always represent reality, but what they present never is reality.  Just like the obvious fact that in everyday life, what a movie presents is never reality.

But in the pre-discrimination stages of experience, thought representations, “imagination”, can be easily confused with what’s real.  This, in a sense, is where most people live their lives: an unrecognized mix of fantasy and reality.

This confusion is maintained by certain thoughts habitually occupying most of the available attention.  Because of this, they appear to be more real compared to ordinary thoughts.   They become beliefs.  So you might say, “I think that may be true, but I believe that this IS true. Attention, focused awareness, is a power source of existence, an “enhancer”, and also an illuminator.   And the more attention is focused on something, the more real that thing can seem to be.   Like the belief in a sense of “you” as a separate person.

What can happen with persistent questioning and inspection into the sense of being a separate self is that the core beliefs about being a “you” change.   It’s as though attention moves out of habitual focus on particular thought/belief, and takes in the surrounding area.  Like noticing the theater you’re sitting in while experiencing a movie gives you perspective, and the ability to recognize the movie is not real but actually just a represention of reality.

Investigating the belief in “you” leads to a change in perspective.  It illuminates the beliefs in a self as simply thoughts within the back-drop of “what is”: direct experience, bare perception.   In that “light”, thoughts about a “self” are never convincing, only part of a flow of imagination.   Even thoughts about being a person, a separate self are simply this.

Life Is Just So …… Strange

I just don’t know what to make of it. Life is just, well, strange! The view from here presents a world that, on the surface, seems like it always was. And yet it is strangely empty, like store and saloon fronts seen side-on in a western movie set. I look directly at them and their appearance is impressive, detailed, real looking. Move a bit to the right and forward and there is nothing behind the front. And that goes for this body and mind as well, just more “frontage”. Let me see if I can explain this further.

I seem to have discovered or developed some kind of more focused “lense”. Or maybe it was always there and just needed cleaning. With this lense, you just look a bit more closely and the superficiality of things is revealed. This alternate view is really quite available and easily seen. And in actuality, it takes a real balancing act with awareness focused at the the right point in relation to the objective world and thought processes to keep the whole movie-front seeming real and interactive. It’s probably just the habit, (what ever that actually is), of this activity over so many years that keeps it going: attention focused just so, interpreting thought narrating the scene, lending meaning and importance, or no importance, to various people and things. And knowing all the while this whole process is a sham.   This shift in focus is a little like discovering you’ve been balancing on a fence your whole life, and you’re good at it, but now you’re wondering what the point is, and when you’ll just jump down and do something else.

All this is not really the strangest part of life now. Most of what I’m describing is still fairly familiar. What seems most strange is the growing sense of massive, benign forces and energies in motion “behind” everything. Not literally behind, but more like another adjoining dimension, or perhaps occupying the same space. These forces are a mystery, and I can only distantly and vaguely intuit what they might be, or their function…..

Life is Complete

Consider looking at the simplicity of what is going on in your present experience. Not what you think about it, but what your perceptions tell you is happening; what you see, hear, etc. Just this “now experience”. You might recognize that this actual experience is always complete as it is. This is not a lofty mystical vision, it’s self evident, right before you now. And in this recognition, it is seen that thought is only a secondary “color commentary” about what is. Seen clearly, we can be left with the simplicity and completeness of what life IS, just this experience. Perfect balance, requiring nothing, all at peace.