I notice that I keep returning to this topic, as it is an important distinction and also illuminates many aspects of an integral practice.
When awareness is identified exclusively with the small self, it has not choice but to “try” – to use various forms of force, intention, willpower etc. It functions in a dualistic way, and sees separations and not the larger whole. Everything becomes a battle in various forms. It seek what it desires, push away what it does not desire, and hold onto what it has that it desires. The world is fragmented.
When awareness awakens to its own nature of spaciousness and clarity, it perceives itself as distinct from the small self. From exclusively identifying with the relative (all phenomena), it is now identifying with the absolute (the formless ground). When awareness is identified with the absolute, it functions in a nondual way. There is nothing to seek, as it is beyond all dualities of self-other, here-there, deluded-enlightened.
And from here, awareness can move into the Big Mind view which includes the relative and absolute.
What small self is really seeking, behind all the confusion, is Big Mind. Specifically, what it is typically seeking through any form of “spiritual” path or experience, is the qualities and characteristics that are there, naturally and effortlessly, in the Big Mind view. These include compassion, wisdom, bliss, happiness, equanimity etc. Of course, these tend to look a little distorted through the small self lens, but close enough to be recognized as reflections of the inherent qualities of Big Mind.
There are several ways the transition from a small self to a Big Mind view can occur.
A typical characteristic is that there is a lot of trying involved. In the small self view, the only option is trying. Trying to experience the nature of mind, trying to be “good”, to have compassion, to experience equanimity. But this always has limited success. Even if the experience is there to a degree, it soon disappears. Awareness is identified with the always changing movements of the relative world, and in particular with the sensations, emotions and thoughts, and this soon brings it into a different state.
A more skillful approach is to allow the shift to happen. This is most commonly done through various practices that creates the conditions for the shift to occur. Practices that allows the shift to occur more easily, that makes it slightly more likely to occur.
These practices typically include some form of meditation (awareness resting in and becoming aware of its own nature), some form of body-oriented practice (yoga, tai chi, Breema), and following some guidelines (precepts) which align the personality more with how it would naturally operate from a Big Mind view.
Trying vs. Shift
When we try, we operate from a small self view and also reinforce this view. There are situations where this is entirely appropriate, although it may not in itself allow a shift to happen.
When we create the conditions for allowing a shift to happen, the trying is still there in a subtle form, although more in the background. It quiets down, which also lessens the grip on an exclusive small mind view. This, combined with skillful and appropriate techniques, can indeed allow the shift to happen.
And the more it happens, the more awareness becomes familiar with the nondual and then Big Mind view. It deepens and clarifies, and allows the small self to reorganize and reorient to become a more fine tuned vessel for living from this view.
Some of the techniques I have found that allows such a shift to happen include…
- Big Mind
Shifting into the voice of Big Mind/Heart and the other transpersonal voices.
- Pointing out instructions
Allowing awareness to directly experience its own nature here/now.
- The Work
Byron Katie’s inquiry process, which allows us to drop beliefs and experiencing the nature of mind. Beliefs are dropped by seeing through them, and this allows the nature of mind to surface to awareness.
Non/transdual meditation in movement.
The common characteristic of all these techniques is that no (or minimal) effort is involved. All we need to do is make ourselves available to the technique. From there, the shift in view happens.