Small Self & Big Mind
Initially, awareness is exclusively identified with the small self. “I” am this body, this personality, and these experiences.
As awareness awakens to its own nature, empty of any characteristics (the formless unborn, the void, deep silence, etc), it finds a “ground” outside of the small self. “I” am this formless unborn awareness, this spacious awareness empty of characteristics.
From here, it sees the small self as a fluid seamless whole (body/energies/emotions/thoughts) and all phenomena as a fluid seamless whole (small self and the rest of the universe). The small self does no longer have any fixed or independent existence, but is recognized as a temporary pattern of matter and energy within the world of phenomena.
And as awareness awakens to Big Mind – to that which embraces the absolute (the “ground”) and the relative (the phenomena) – the small self is recognized as a temporary vehicle for Big Mind. It becomes an empty reed through which God blows. A vortex in the stream enlivened by awareness.
All the memories, experiences, information, skills etc. of the small self is there, but there is no longer any exclusive or blind identification with any of these.
And if there is, there is a contraction which is a reminder to allow it to unfold within awareness and release. There is a built-in mechanism of suffering whenever there is a blind identification with any aspect of the small self, which is a reminder to allow it to unfold within awareness and release.
Awareness exclusively identified with the small self has no choice but to create separations. It separates itself from experiences (fuel them or push them away), and from the wider world (through dualistic views, identification with abstractions and thoughts, wrapped up in blind attractions and aversions, in fear and hesitation).
When awarenss awakens to its own nature – and eventuall to Big Mind – it can more fully experience the small self and the processes of the small self. It can more fully engage in the small self as there is no longer any need to blindly fuel or push away any experiences. And it can more fully engage in the wider world, as its self-identity is fluid and there is no blind hesitation or fear.
Again, this is an idealized version of it. Our experiences with it will always be more messy, less linear, and more individual. There is a good deal of unhealhtiness that can come in at any phase. And especially after awakening to Big Mind when there are still blind (unaknowledged) identifications with aspects of the small self, when awareness is still caught up in old patterns learned when it was exclusively identified with the small self.
Fortunately, there is an inbuilt self-correcting process here, which is in the form of suffering. When there is a blind identification with an aspect of the small self, external situations will trigger contractions, which leads to a sense of separation and suffering. And in the long run, we tire of this suffering and we find a willingness to bring it into awareness and allow the identification to let go.