There’s this whole other side of awakening which isn’t just waking up from form, waking up from the body, waking up from the identifications of the mind, but it’s getting that awakening down in through all of that, and that’s like a clearinghouse. That’s the difference between someone who’s had an awakening and ultimately someone who has discovered their divine individuality.– Adyashanti in The Divine Individual
I mean, what you got to lose? You know, you come from nothing.
You’re going back to nothing. What have you lost? Nothing!
Always look on the bright side of life!
Nothing will come from nothing. You know what they say?
– From Always Look on the Bright Side of Life, Life of Brian
There are two ways of looking at this…
First, within (the story of) time. There was a time when none of this was here. No me, none of the ones I know, no humans, no living planet, no solar system, no galaxy, no universe as we know it. And there will be such a time again, so nothing is gained and nothing is lost.
Then, here now. It all happens as the play of awakeness. Insubstantial. Ephemeral. No traces.
The first one happens within stories, wihtin the creations and play of the mental field. The second can be an immediate noticing and realization outside of the mental field. (Although guided by and later reflected in/expressed through the mental field.)
In both cases, it can be sad initially. There is a loss of the story of something happening.
But then it is freeing. Since all of this will be gone, why not act in ways that align with what is really important to me? Why not follow my heart? And since it is all the play of awakeness itself, why not do the same?
I mean, what you got to lose? You know, you come from nothing.
You’re going back to nothing. What have you lost? Nothing!
Always look on the bright side of life!
Nothing will come from nothing. You know what they say?
– Eric Idle’s Always Look on the Bright Side of Life from Life of Brian
A common phrase among teachers is that nothing ever happens.
It may seem like an absurd statement. Something clearly is happening. And when we are identified with mental field creations, it even seems quite substantial and real.
So where does that statement come from?
It comes from what happens when the volume of emptiness is turned up and it is more in the foreground. Here, it is obvious that nothing ever happens. It is all no-thing appearing as something, yet never becoming anything else than no-thing. It is all the play of awakeness itself. It is appearance without substance.
And any of us can explore it here now, through the sense fields. I can first look at the mental field. What is it made up of? Does it have substance? Are there any traces of what just left, apart from another story about it? Is it awakeness itself?
When I get a taste of this in the mental field, I can explore the same in the other sense fields. What is sensation made up of? Does it have substance? Are there any traces of what just left? Is it separate or different from awakeness itself?
And what do I find when I explore sound? Taste? Smell? Sight? Is each one different from the mental field in these ways? In being insubstantial? Having no trace of what left? Being awakeness itself?
(When doing this, it is best to come from a more open-ended place of receptivity, curiosity and don’t know. These statements are no more than pointers, suggestions, questions to explore in own experience. And what is found may well be different from this, even if it is just a refinement or clarification… because it can be realized and expressed more clearly and simply than this.)
At the same time, something does happen. Something does happen in all of these sense fields. There are all sorts of appearances. When the mental field overlay is identified with and taken as true, it all seems very substantial and real. And when the mental field overlay is recognized as just a mental field overlay, it is all revealed as insubstantial, ephemeral, as no thing appearing as something. As the play of awakeness itself.
As Eric Idle so elegantly pointed out, nothing will come of nothing.
A quick overview of some forms of identification and disidentification:
- A polarized identification and disidentification with the field of form. Certain areas, such as this human self, is seen as a separate I, and the rest of the world, and awareness itself, is seen as Other. Identification is firmly within form itself, within content of awareness, and there is a sense of split within this field of form. This is the identification and disidentification that creates the whole (wonderful & terrible) drama of human life, when it is all taken as a drama of I and Other. It is also a mistaken identity.
- Awakeness can awaken to itself, and to this field of awakeness and form as itself. Here, there is an identification with anything arising as awakeness itself, and a disidentification with anything arising as just temporary manifestations of awakeness itself. The center of gravity is within, and as, awakeness, and although anything arising is recognized as itself, it is also recognized as only surface ripples. If this is all, it is awake yet nonfunctional.
- Within this awakening, there can still be a conventional identification with this human self. It is recognized as a vehicle for awakeness awake to itself, so it is “identified” with for only temporary and practical purposes, to allow it to function and orient in the world. This is similar to the first form of identification, only now it is free from any sense of separate I.
- And then there is the identification and disidentification of parts of this human self. Some are actively owned and part of its daily repertoire, and some are disowned and not. And this human self can actively shift into the disowned parts, becoming more familiar with them, and bringing them into its daily repertoire, allowing for fluidity among a wider terrain of who it already is. This is the one that allows our human self to heal, mature and develop into the fuller richness of what it is and can be.
More in depth…
Life, the universe, existence, God, Spirit, Big Mind, Buddha Mind, what is, leaves nothing out, so as long as we are leaving something out through beliefs and identities, something is missing. And we know something is missing. Something feels off. It is dukkha.
What in our own experience, here and now, leaves nothing out?
This awareness leaves nothing out. Something arises in awareness, and it is simple. There may be resistance to experiencing that something, and that too arises in awareness. There is no way awareness can leave anything out, just as space cannot resist anything happening within space.
If we explore this awareness, we find that it is no thing, has no shape, no color, no beginning, no end, and it allows existence and non-existence, life and death, mind and matter, nature and culture, and whatever we may label good and bad, right and wrong, and anything else.
So already, we – as awareness – allows it all. Already, we are aligned with life, the universe, Spirit, God, Big Mind, Buddha Mind. Already, we are that. We are the Ground of it all. We are the unmanifest and manifest. Effortlessly. Unavoidably.
But as soon as we cling to a belief as an exclusive truth, and identify with any exclusive identity (which means any identity at all), we don’t notice this. We are wrapped up in identification with a particular region of the manifest, and exclude the unmanifest and whatever happens outside of this region of the manifest. We have an exclusive identity, which filters the experience of everything through itself, making it appear very real. And that is when something feels off.
It feels off, because it is off. And it is off, because attention is wrapped up in stories, not available to notice what we already are.
New York Times has an article about how it is, from a certain perspective, likely that we live in some form of Matrix-type simulation. That may well be, or not (probably not, actually), and it only matters – as a life and death type matter – if we identify with this human self, or with content of experiences in general.
If we notice ourselves as awareness, and this content of awareness (including our human self) as awareness itself, then it doesn’t matter so much. No matter “who” we are in content of awareness, whether it is this human self or something else, it is all made up of awareness. It all has the same nature of awake void and form, no matter what that form happens to be.
To follow up on the previous post…
This awakeness is inherently free from any content, so it is also inherently free from any meaning or purpose.
Life, the Universe, Existence, is inherently free from any meaning such as play, exploration, evolution, and so on. And this individual life is inherently free from any of those and other meanings as well.
It can seem depressing at first, but there is also a great beauty in it. Since awakeness is inherently free from any meaning, it allows any and all meaning. This means that we, in our own life, are free to explore any meaning that makes sense to us. And if we know that none of these is an “ultimate” meaning, we also experience this freedom to explore. (As any knowing, it happens in any and each of our three centers of head/view, heart/love, and belly/felt-sense.)
When I explore the relationship between awakeness and its content, it is really an exploration of emptiness and form.
This awareness, this awake void, is inherently free from any characteristics. It is free from color, sound, shape, form, and I also cannot find any end, beginning, birth or death. It is timeless and spaceless.
And yet, it is full of content, of every changing colors, sounds, shapes, forms, beginning and ends, birth and deaths.
As Douglas Harding said, it is no thing allowing all things.
It is inherently free from any content, so it allows any and all content.
And when I look, I cannot find where this awakeness ends and its content begins. The content of awakeness is awakeness itself. It is awareness temporarily taking a particular form, as its own content.
So this relationship between awakeness and its content is a relationship, yet is also not a relationship since it is all awakeness.
In the Star Trek TOS episode Errand of Mercy, the Organians several times says nothing has happened, in spite of a Klingon invasion and several hundreds of their own dead. And that is also what some spiritual teachers in this planet says.
In what way is that true? In what way has nothing ever happened?
When I look for myself, I find that it is true in a Big Mind sense.
There is awakeness and its content of what arises here and now, including stories about this content. It is a timeless and spaceless present, within which there are stories of space and time placed on top of what arises.
In that sense, nothing every happens. It is all the play of awakeness, which is inherently free from this play, allows this play, and forms itself into this play. Nothing every happens, in the sense that nothing really happens in a dream. It is all the play of and within the one awakeness.
And yet, something does happen, when all of this is filtered through stories. With stories, there is a whole world of form and objects, including living beings, and a lot certainly happens within this world and to all of these beings.
If those stories are taken as real, then there is an I here that something happens to, and a lot of drama. I take the play of awakeness for solid objects in a real world, playing itself out in a drama of life and death importance.
If they are directly seen as only stories, and the consequences of taking these stories for real are also directly seen, then it is all different.
Then, we can freely play along and engage with the game, but now also seeing that nothing really and ever happens. It is all the play of the awakeness.
It often sounds obscure when folks (including myself) talk about Ground awakening, or void awake to itself, or awake void and form.
It is really very simple and can also be talked about in a simpler way. One that it is also easier to relate to.
The question is: are we the content of awareness or awareness itself? And, are those really two?
When we discover that content of awareness always comes and goes, we have a chance to notice that which does not come and go, which is awareness itself.
And when we notice awareness itself, we also notice that it is inherently insubstantial, it is inherently free from any content, it is inherently empty or void. It is also inherently free from a separate self, an I with an Other.
And now when we look at content of awareness again, we see that this content too is insubstantial, empty and void. The content of awareness is nothing other than awareness itself, taking the temporary appearances of form, and in both cases insubstantial and empty.
So here it is, the awake emptiness and form. Awareness inherently free from any particular content and allowing any content, and the play of awake emptiness as temporary form.
And as awareness is inherently free from an I with an Other, this goes for form too since it is nothing other than this awareness. This human self, along with the rest of the content of awareness, lives its own life, on its own schedule. It all is just happening. There is lots of doing, but no doer.
It is nothing particularly obscure or difficult about it. It only takes some noticing and getting used to.
Our whole body-mind system organized within the context of taking oneself to be the content of awareness. Now it needs to reorganize within this new context of awake void noticing itself, inherently free from an I with an Other. And his noticing can be more or less clear and can come and go for a while.
When the Ground of emptiness awakens to itself, it can be very odd for our human self. It is used to being identified with, and no it is suddenly not identified with anymore.
It realizes that it is just happening, just as everything else is just happening.
There are still sights, sounds, smells, tastes, sensations, thoughts, choices, actions, relationships and everything else, but it is just happening on its own. It is all living its own life. There is lots of doing, but no doer anywhere. There is just a field of what is happening… this room, the sound of the dehumidifier, the cat walking up to connect, the chill on the fingers, tapping of the keys, thoughts arising reflected in words on the screen, getting up to get a glass of water… one field, with no part being more or less identified than anything else.
It can be disconcerting for the human self at first. Will it get by without being identified with? Isn’t being identified with, taken as an I, necessary for it to function in the world?
The rug is pulled out from under its feet, the bottom fell out, it is suspended in thin air…
But if it stays with this, it sees that not only can the human self function well without being identified with, it can even function better in relative terms. There is an absence of drama, so just clarity and simplicity… even the most engaged activities happens within a context of utter clarity and simplicity.
In a way, it is a matter of trust. Of the human self trusting it can function OK without being taken as a separate I. Sometimes, emptiness awakens to itself so clearly that all questions are blown away and the awakening is stable. Other times, and maybe more commonly, emptiness awakens to itself many times, each time followed by the human self not quite trusting the shift and going back into safe and familiar ground, and each time becoming a little more familiar with living without being identified with. Each time trusting a little more, until the shift happens in a more stable way.
There never was a separate self in the first place… only awakeness, emptiness and whatever is happening in form… the only difference is that now, this awake emptiness notices itself… and when it does, any exclusive identification with any part of this field goes out the window.
It is seen as simply a belief in the idea of a separate self, as placing a sense of I within a segment of this field and making the rest into Other. Emptiness awakening to itself cleans it all out.
When there is a Ground awakening, there is a complete freedom to allow what is.
Of course, Ground always allows what is. The only difference is that sometimes, it is identified with its content, and tries to resist other content, which creates a sense of struggle. When it awakens to itself, it sees that it always and already allows any and all content. It is effortless. It is what already is.
It is a no-thing allowing any thing. A void allowing any content. Space, not resisting anything happening within it.
Ultimately, it allows it all because “it all” is no other than itself. It is awake emptiness allowing content, because this content is no other than awake emptiness itself.
I am often struck by the simplicity of awakening. And if it is an awakening to what we already and always are, why shouldn’t it be simple? That doesn’t mean that it easy, though. Often, it seems impossible and confusing, until it happens and it is revealed as utterly simple. In some ways, it was the complexity we added to it that held the temporary misidentification in place.
There are many ways of talking about it, and none are really that accurate. As with anything put into words, it becomes a relative truth, limited and with all its reversals true as well.
One is to say that what is awakens to itself.
Another, as awake emptiness awakening to itself, and to form as no other than itself.
Or as awakeness awakening to itself, no longer identifying with any of its content… with sensations, thoughts, this human self, the soul level, or anything else that is content of awakeness. And then realizing that it is all one field, all awake emptiness and form inherently absent of any separate self anywhere.
Or as the void awakening to itself as void, absent of everything… of form, substance, human self, soul, luminosity, any thing-ness, any thing separate from any other thing. And then realizing that all content is no other than this void, emptiness dancing, still absent of any separate self.
Or as the Ground of awake emptiness awakening to itself. The no-thing which allows all things, already and always. The Ground which allows any and all content, utterly independent of its particulars.
And even if it remains just a map, or a memory of a glimpse, or a vague intuition, this map can be helpful. It can help us see that content is not it, no matter how amazing and beautiful it is. Whatever changes, whatever comes and goes, is not it. What remains, is. The no-thing that remains, utterly free from yet allowing any thing, any content, any experience.
I have had the pleasure of spending some time with Deep Surface lately, including at the Center for Sacred Sciences this morning, and he asked Joel a really good question.. one that I am sure comes up for most of us sooner or later, and probably over and over in slightly new ways.
(Paraphrased:) There is an apparently separate consciousness here, and there also seems to be apparently separate consciousnesses out there, in other people and animals. What is the relationship between all of these? Is it one, many? If it is one, why does it appear as many?
Joel asked us how many consciousnesses we each have direct experience with, and the answer for all of us was one. He then also helped clarify the difference between awareness itself and its content, the seeing and the seen… the content is many and always changing… different sights, sensations, thoughts, subpersonalities and so on. But the seeing is always one, always the same.
This helped clarify it for me as well, and here is one way to talk about it:
A field of awake emptiness
The Ground of all form is awake emptiness, appearing as a field of awake emptiness throughout space.
Over here, the content of this awake emptiness is from this individual. Over there, from that individual. Over there again, from another individual.
Emptiness is always the same. Simply emptiness. Yet its content is always different. It is different here, over time. And it is different at different points in space, with content arising from different individuals (including all sentient beings.)
So the awake emptiness is one, yet its content is many. And this is also why it can be awake to itself over there, in that individual, and not here, in this individual, and so on. In one individual, it takes itself to be that content, that individual. In another, it has awakened to itself as awake emptiness, recognizing the whole field as nothing other than the same awake emptiness.
One, and many (and neither)
So is it one or many? As usual for me, the answer seems to be “yes.”
It is one, in that in our own experience, there is only one. And it is one in that it is the same awake emptiness everywhere (emptiness is emptiness.)
Yet, its contents is of course many, and it appears separate until it awakens to itself as awake emptiness, recognizing the whole field as nothing other than this awake emptiness.
And also, it is such an unusual situation, at least for our minds to grasp, so we cannot really say it is one or many. It is somewhere in between, something a little different, not quite either.
This is another thing that keeps coming up for me, especially as I am exploring the soul level more actively these days…
- Ultimately, there is void. Emptiness. Nothingness. And awakeness and form all show up from, within, and as this emptiness. For a while, it sounds abstract, but then becomes a living reality (even obvious).
- Then, there is awakeness, as nothing other than emptiness itself. It is awake emptiness. In itself, this awakeness takes the form of pure seeing, pure awareness, pure witness.
- Then, the soul level, alive presence, which can be filtered in innumerable ways… as alive luminosity, alive presence in the heart area (indwelling god), fertile darkness, luminous blackness, and so on. All of these too arise as emptiness, void, as emptiness dancing. The void is right there in it, and they can exist only because of and as this void.
- Finally, the world of form as we typically think of it. All the contents of awareness, from physical objects to energies to sensations to thoughts. These come and go and live their own life, and these too are no other than emptiness. Their ground and essence is the void.
More about each
So we have the void, which is the ground of all there is. It is the one thing that does not come and go, because it is no thing. It is just pure emptiness. It is what allows anything else to be, to come and go.
Then, awakeness… timeless, spaceless. This too, a no-thing.
Then, the soul level… also timeless and spaceless… Sometimes as a field without center and any particular location, but also sometimes with a particular location, as the indwelling god. The soul level comes and goes in different ways, and especially in our awareness. We may notice it, or not. It is present, or not, to us. And it seems that it can be present or not, in different ways, beyond that as well.
Finally, the form level… obviously in time and space, and actually that which creates any experience of time and space. Very much coming and going, as a stream of form.
And all of it arises as emptiness, as insubstantial, transparent, as awake emptiness itself.
Needless to say, what we take ourselves to be within all of this hugely influences our experience.
- If my center of identification is in the world of form, I am at the mercy of the world of form.
- If my center of gravity is in the soul level, I find myself as the fullness here, deeply nurtured, guided, and at home. (Breema)
- If my center of gravity is in the awakeness, I am the witness, the seeing of it all, detached yet also (apparently) free from the comings and goings of everything else. (Sitting practice)
- If the center of gravity is in emptiness, then there is only the Ground allowing all of it to exist and come and go on its own… allowing awakeness, the infinite realms of soul, and the infinite richness of the world of form. (Headless experiments)
As form, I am at a particular location and the rest of the world is out there. As soul, I am formless, timeless, spaceless. Something, yet nothing. As awakeness, I am seeing itself, with the seen as slightly Other.
As Ground, it is all revealed as, always and already, absent of any separate self. The seeing and the seen has one ground, one nature, they are not two… only a field of seeing-seen.
I did a phone session with Karen this afternoon, and one of the things that came up for me was the fear of nothingness… and of infinity in all direction without a center…
It is one of those gateless gates that seem so real and substantial before we step through it, yet when we are on the other side and turn around, the gate is not there… it wasn’t there in the first place. It was there only in appearance, mind made, and since it was taken as real, I lived as if it was real. And still do, for that matter, to some extent.
Sometimes, we need to go through it many times, to become more familiar with the terrain, and also to really see that it isn’t there – over and over, until it sinks in more.
It is only natural to have a fear of nothingness and infinity. If we take ourselves to be something and finite, which most of us do (until we don’t, as Byron Katie says), then it is a terrible thing to be nothing and infinite. We die, or are stretched into spaghetti and die then too.
Either, I am here, something and finite. Or I am emptiness and infinity (and dead.) Not both. Or at least, so it seems.
Exploring two parts of the terrain
There are at least two areas of exploration here.
One is to become familiar with the terrain of emptiness and infinity, dipping into it, first noticing it as an Other, and then finding myself as it, tasting it.
The other is to become familiar with the fear around it, and the identities which appear mutually exclusive to emptiness and infinity, at least as long as I am identified with them…!
So we explore what we already are, directly, and we also explore the box which keeps us as a finite thing here and that as emptiness and infinity out there.
And at some point, it is all clarified enough so the boundaries are revealed as transparent, insubstantial, not very real, and then fall away altogether.
Finite and infinite, thing and no-thing
Now, there is still this human self here, as a finite thing in the world. That didn’t change. It didn’t die, or explore, or get stretched out into spaghetti.
Yet, at the same time, there is… and I am… emptiness. It is emptiness taking the temporary form of this human self and its surroundings. Emptiness dancing, as this human self and whatever else is happening.
There are lots of identities, of being human, male or female, of a particular age, liking strawberry ice cream, voting republican, and so on.
Yet, at the same time, there is no identification with these identities. They define who this human self is, in a relative sense, and that is essential for its life in the world. But they do not define what ultimately is… and what I ultimately am… emptiness.
Together, there is a far wider embrace. It is closer to what already is… an emptiness as a ground of all… an awake emptiness as the seeing… forms arising, as no other than this awake emptiness itself.
I wrote a long post on transition experiences, but decided to make it short and simple. Some details goes out, but the essence is maybe more clear.
Here are a couple of points from the longer post that may be interesting…
- What we are, is a field of awake emptiness and form, absent of a separate I. This means that what is alive in each of ours awareness here and now, is realized to be nothing other than awake emptiness itself. This room, the cat, the sound of the cars, the lamp, computer, thoughts, sensations, it is all awake emptiness. An awake void, temporarily taking these forms. And it is all without a center, without any trace of a separate self.
- When we take ourselves to be an object in the world, we filter awareness so it appears to be only here, associated with this human self, and not out there, in the wider world… with the exception of being there, in theory, in other people. We don’t notice emptiness much, everything seems quite substantial and real. And there is certainly a sense of a separate self here, in this human self.
- So in the transition between the two, what we are breaks through within the context of what we take ourselves to be. There is a growing sense of no separation, glimpses of the wider world as somehow inherently alive and awake, a diminishing sense of the solidity of the boundary between I here and the rest of the world out there, and so on.
As Ken Wilber and others have pointed out, this transition mirrors what we find in nature mysticism (nature, all objects, as alive), deity mysticism (all as God), and finally realized selflessness (one field, absent of center and separate self.)
All of these transition experiences can be experienced and interpreted in different ways. I am sure there are many more than I wrote down here, and each of them will take on different flavors for different people at different times.
One experience I have heard recently, from a friend, is an experience of walking in nature, and everything suddenly appearing aware… the trees, stones, ground, landscape. Another, is of objects smiling back at you (having awareness, being somehow alive, able to make a connection.)
Of course, these are all just experiences and states. Nothing to be too caught up in. Just carrots, and sometimes distractions (!), within our process of exploring what we really are – in our own immediate awareness.
And that is the ground of awake void, and forms as no other than this awake void, all absent of a center and separate self. It is all emptiness dancing. A depth of awake emptiness with a thin surface of form.
Identities can be seen as having three aspects:
General face to the world
First, as being our face to the world, generally defining our third person identity as a he/she/it. These identities are mostly exclusive: I am man, not woman. I am Norwegian, not Swedish. I like ice cream, I don’t dislike it.
Embracing the polarities
Then, as being one end of a polarity, where the other end also has some truth to it. As an individual, we include all qualities and characteristics. Anything we see out there in the world, we are right here. We embrace all the polarities. I am man, but I also have feminine qualities. I am Norwegian, but as a human being I am far more universal than that. I like ice cream, but if I have eaten too much of it – or I am sick – then I don’t like it.
Free from identities
Finally, all identities are only relative truths. When identification is released from these identities, and they are no longer taken as absolutes, I find myself as this awake emptiness, and form as awake emptiness. There are no identities here, nothing that can define this awake emptiness (not even that term). It is untouched by abstractions, yet allows for the play of abstractions and identities.
All three together
In an absolute sense, I am awake emptiness and form, untouched by any identity, yet allowing the fluid and dynamic play of them all.
In a relative sense, I am a human being with several generally exclusive identities. And looking at it a little more closely, all of their opposites are true as well. As this individual, I am everything I see.
The gifts of each
The first type of identity allows us to function in the world. It is our passport identities, the ones that differentiates us – as individuals – from others.
The second type of identity allows us to not be confined to exclusive identities. It allows us to see ourselves in others, and others in ourselves – bringing a deeper sense of intimacy, recognition and connection. It allows us to embrace more of all of what we are, and to bring it out in daily life.
The third type of identity allows for a freedom from any identity. It is the awake void allowing for the fluid play of any and all of them, without being caught up in or confining ourselves to any particular one. None are fixed, none are absolute. They are just the temporary and shifting surface ripples of the time/spaceless awake emptiness.
Knots are the whole complex of a belief in a story (as absolutely true), and the accompanying emotional and behavioral patterns. It brings identification into the content of awareness, and comes from and props up a sense of a separate self.
To see what is already more true for us, we can explore these knots from the emptiness side and the form side.
Exploring from the emptiness side
From the emptiness side, we find ourselves as awake emptiness, and see that all of it – the thoughts, emotions, and behaviors – are nothing other than this awake emptiness. We can explore and become more familiar with this through the headless experiments, the Big Mind process, or other forms of inquiry.
Exploring from the form side
From the form side, we can look at the effects of holding onto a particular story as absolutely true, what would happen if it was not attached to in this way, and finding the grains of truth in the reversals of the initial story. Through this, we discover that what we held as an absolute truth is really only a relative truth, which allows the grip on it to relax and identification go out of form and back into the field of awake emptiness (often just experienced as more spaciousness and a sense of peace.) The Work and different (other) forms of shadow work are good ways to explore the form side.
Differentiating the relative and the absolute
Another way to put it is that knots come from taking the relative (stories) as absolute (absolutely true), and the resolution is to differentiate the relative and absolute, seeing the stories as only relative truths, and finding ourselves as the absolute – as awake emptiness, and form as no other than awake emptiness itself.
The experience of the absolute changing over time
In real life, it doesn’t always look exactly like this of course. The exploration of the form side of the knots may not change so much over time, although it may become more clear and differentiated over time. But the experience of ourselves as the awake emptiness and form may change over time. Initially, just as a sense of release, spaciousness, ease and peace. As we go along, more as a clear noticing of the awake void that all forms dances within, to and as – a field inherently absent of any separate self anywhere.
I have written several posts on this topic, as with so many other recurrent topics, but it still comes up for me…
Awake emptiness when identified with content: in the background
When I identify with the content of awareness, this sense of a separate self is usually placed on this human individual, and its thoughts, sensations, views of itself, tastes, and behaviors.
The ground of awake emptiness typically goes far in the background, if it is noticed at all. And its two aspects of awakeness and emptiness seems to be filtered in two different ways.
Awakeness, in its direct experience of it, is filtered to only belong to this individual. But even here, it is partly within and outside of the regions of the separate self, coming and going on its own. (I am this individual, this human being, and awareness comes and goes, sometimes stronger and sometimes less strong, sometimes here – when I am awake, and sometimes not – when I am asleep.)
And the emptiness aspect is usually not noticed at all. It is at most intuited, and then often associated with fear and discomfort. (If I am an object in the world, then emptiness – nonexistence – is not something I want to be connected with.)
Awake emptiness when absence of identification with content: in foreground
When the identification goes out of the content of awareness, and back into the ground of awake emptiness, the content of awareness – including this individual – arises as the awake emptiness itself.
The awake emptiness goes into the foreground, and form arises as nothing other than the awake emptiness itself. There is a field of awake emptiness arising as form, as this individual and the wider world, and there is no center and no separate self inherent anywhere.
The awakeness is no more or less associated with this individual than with the wider world. It belongs to the field of awake emptiness that everything – the thin surface of form – arises within, to and as.
And the emptiness is the void all forms arises from, as, and goes back into. Within the timeless present, all forms arises as the void. Within time, all forms comes out of and goes back into the void. It is a continuous stream of form emerging from and going into void, a stream with a hidden source and destination.
A lot of work
A lot of work goes into filtering all this through a sense of a separate self. The emptiness has to be ignored. The awakeness has to be placed on this individual human being. The world of form has to be split into I here and Other there, and from this split comes a great deal of struggle and friction (which is essential for exploring the world of form, but also takes a lot of work.)
No wonder it is experienced as such a relief when identification goes out of the content of awareness, and there is just the resting as the ground of awake emptiness – within, to and as all content and form arises. It is much easier.
It is what already and always is, even if it sometimes filters itself through a sense of a separate self and appears – to itself – differently.
When we are identified with the content of awareness, there is also inevitably a sense of a doer. And when the identification goes of of the content (and back into the ground of awake void) there is still doing, but any sense of a doer goes out along with it.
A region of content filtered as a separate self, and appearing as a doer
When there is identification with content of awareness, I take myself to be a region of the content of awareness, and other regions as other. I am these thoughts, sensations, sights of this body, sounds of this voice, and an idea of a separate self placed on all of these. I think. I feel. I choose. I decide. I act. I do.
There is not only the doing, but also a doer.
Not filtered through a sense of a separate self, so no doer
When identification goes out of the content of awareness, and back into the awake void (and all content arising as the awake void itself), the sense of a separate self goes out as well. And when a sense of a separate self goes out, any sense of a doer goes out with it.
There is just the doing, with no doer. It is all just happening. A dance of form on the surface of awake emptiness. A mystery, happening within, to and as the awake void.
Cause and effect
Filtered slightly through thoughts, we see that any change in the world of form has infinite causes and infinite effects.
When there is a sense of a separate self, and an identification with a region of the content of awareness, there tends to be an identification with the very local causes and effects, those happening within this individual, the region of content taken as I. I think, choose, react, and then I do.
When identification goes out of content, and the sense of a separate self goes out with it, it is easier to see how any change, including any of the local ones, have infinite causes and infinite effects. Any shifts within this individual have infinite causes and effects, they are the local expressions of the movements of the whole of the world of form. There is thinking, choosing, reacting, and doing, and even causalities within this, but no doer, no separate self doing any of it.
When I explore this sense of a separate I, I notice that I tend to do it in three general ways.
The main one is to be with the experience of a separate I, to fully allow it – including any resistance to this sense of a separate I, any hopes for it to change, any struggles around it. Fully be with it, allow it, embrace it, as it is. To see it and feel it as it is, here and now (which allows loving it, as it is, to come in as well.)
The second one is to amplify the experience of a separate self. How can I make the sense of a separate self stronger? I find that I do it by tensing up muscles, by strengthening an image of a split between me here and the rest of the world out there, and also by emotions such as anger, fear, desire, and so on. This helps me see how the sense of a separate self is created, and how I do it in my daily life.
The third is to inquire into what is already more true in immediate experience, such as exploring if I am content of awareness, if I am awareness itself, and if the content is anything else than awareness. (Am I any of this content? These sounds? Sights? Sensations? Thoughts? They all come and go, but something does not come and go. What is it that does not come and go? It is awareness itself. Am I this awareness? If I find myself as awareness, I notice that its content arises as a seamless field. What appeared as inside and outside, when I took myself to be a part of the content, is now all a seamless field of no real inside or outside. Where is the boundary between awareness and its content? Does the content appear as anything else than this awareness? The content of this awake emptiness arises as nothing other than awake emptiness itself.)
Together, there is the full allowing of a sense of a separate self, including any associated resistance. There is an active exploration of how the sense of a separate I is created. And there is an exploration of what is already more true in immediate awareness.
It seems that whatever I take myself to be, is how I experience Existence as a whole as well.
If I take myself as a thing, everything else also appears as things. Specifically, if I take myself as this solid object called my human self, then all other form also appears as solid, real, substantial.
Similarly, if I find myself as awake void full of the world, then this world appears as nothing other than this awake void. Forms appear as less solid, less substantial, as emptiness itself, or maybe even (for me now) as a thin insubstantial surface of form on the vast awake emptiness.
One of the things I appreciate, usually in hindsight, about off-days is how they help me notice things about myself I usually don’t notice, or don’t want to notice, or at least don’t want to explore in much detail.
These off-days are like the ghosts of Christmas showing Scrooge his life, and especially those parts he didn’t want to see. The parts he needed someone else to show him. It may not be comfortable to go through, but it can also lead to a shift, if we allow it to.
For me, seeing what I don’t want to see about myself especially happens when something is off physically. There is less energy to maintain a desired persona, and maybe even less energy to try to change it, mask it or disengage from it by using a technique or practice.
Yesterday, I certainly noticed some of these (often well hidden) patterns such as going into a state where everything feels utterly wrong (my life, my day, etc.), and some family patterns around a martyr role: the noble quiet suffering, silently blaming the world for my misery.
I guess that is very Norwegian…! The quiet noble suffering, bearing it without complaining too much, and then often not even consciously blaming the world for it being that way. Just bearing it… until it – and my life – is over(!). No wonder that is kept safely in my shadow.
Three effects of physical problems
I also see how physical problems usually have one of three effects for me…
With pain, or apparently heat exhaustion, I tend to find myself as awakeness, as crystal clear awareness. Not by trying, it just happens on its own. I guess the misery is too intense and sharp, so there is a shift out of (exclusive) identification with it and into awakeness, the crystal clear witness of whatever is happening.
Physical reactions to certain foods (food intolerance) or exertion brings out the shadow, in the ways described above. They tend to lead to contractions and reinforce a separate-self sense.
And sometimes, when I am in a phase where headlessness or Big Mind is more strongly in the foreground, then whatever happens to this body-mind just happens, as Big Mind.
A spectrum of what we can find ourselves as
Writing it up this way, I see how these three reflect the span of what or who we can find ourselves as.
At one end of the scale is pure awareness, awake emptiness, crystal clear awake space. The crystal clear awake space is in the foreground, and when form arises (as it often does), it arises within and as this awake space, but as distant, just a small speck within the vastness of awake space.
Then, we can find ourselves as Big Mind, as awake emptiness and form, the awake emptiness arising as form. Here, awake emptiness and form are equally pronounced. Form is emptiness, emptiness is form.
And at the other end of the spectrum, form is in the foreground, and the awake emptiness is in the background, sometimes so far distant that it is not even noticed. There is usually an exclusive identification with our human self here, a forgetting of everything else that we also are. It can be great – fun, ecstatic, an adventure, but it is also where we can feel trapped, confined, helpless, without control, in misery. We are at the mercy of an exclusively finite existence.
Cycling through, inviting greater familiarity
And for me, at least now, there is a cycling through of each of these. One after another, presenting themselves, inviting me to find myself as each of them, to become more familiar with each, more intimate, to know each of their landscapes in more detail.
A friend of mine wrote me an email of a shift into all as alive awareness…
There was just this strong sense of awakeness, without any apparent location or identifiable characteristics. At the same time, there was a sense of this same awakeness being the forest and landscape I was walking through, being my body and its sensations, being […] with his thoughts, energies, and feelings, all the contents of experiencing.
And it reminded me of how we gather awareness into a bunch sometimes.
We are this awakeness, everywhere, in and as everything. Yet, when we believe that we are a separate I, and place it on this human self, then we have to work very hard to not notice that we already are this awareness, which is formless, timeless, spaceless, and also arises as form, time and space. We have to, figuratively speaking, pick up any trace of awake emptiness “out there”, in the wider world, and place it “in here” on our human self. We have to diligently gather it up, and pile it all up here in this poor self. It is hard work to filter existence in this way, to make it appear so different to ourselves than what it already and always is.
Which is why there is often such a sense of release, joy and even bliss, when this awakeness awakens to itself. When the filter of I and Other is released, and the awakeness again and consciously notices itself as selfless, formless, timeless and spaceless, and also as all the selves, all the forms, and time and space.
Some forms of emptiness…
The emptiness from impermanence. The world of form is flux, always dying as what it is and reborn as something else. As soon as it is reflected in ideas, images and thoughts, it has moved on to something else. There is nothing fixed here. All forms are empty of anything that is fixed, permanent, anything that can be labeled and stay true to the label (not that it could even if it was fixed).
The emptiness from interconnectedness. Existence is a fluid seamless whole, with no inherent boundaries anywhere. Anything we differentiate out is inherently absent of separate existence. It is just a temporary local manifestation of the whole.
The emptiness from absence of I. There is no separate I inherent anywhere, no I and Other. There is only the appearance of it, coming from a belief in the idea of a separate I, placed on a segment of the world of form. For us, this sense of I is typically placed on this human self. Since this field of seeing and seen, of awake emptiness and form, is functionally connected with this human self, and this human self is a perceptual center for this field, it becomes the most natural candidate for being an anchor for this sense of a separate I.
The emptiness of awakeness. Awareness is empty, and the content of awareness is no other than awareness itself. So awake emptiness and form is inherently empty.
Before this is an alive experience, it cannot so easily be conveyed. But when this awake emptiness notices, and awakens to, itself, it is obvious.
Awareness has no form, is not finite in space and time, is timeless and spaceless, is that which all forms arises within, to and as, is not touched by the always changing forms, is no different from its own content.
It is empty of substance, empty of change, yet is also any substance arising and any flow of change. It is similar to a hologram in that there is form, but these forms are empty of substance. There is just crystal clarity there, empty awake crystal clarity temporarily arising as always changing form.
It is its own subject and object, it is the seeing and the seen, the field of awake emptiness and form.
And just about impossible to talk about in any way that makes sense if this is not already alive in awareness, if awareness has not awakened to itself as awareness, empty awakeness and form.
There are also the existential forms of emptiness, those arising from and within a context of a sense of I. These are the emptiness of longing, of a sense of something missing, of lack. And this emptiness is no other than a reflection of the emptiness of Existence, the emptiness of awakeness.
The existential emptiness can only be resolved, completely, when the emptiness of awakeness awakens to itself, becomes familiar with itself, allowing any sense of a separate I to dissolve, and seeing that it is also the fullness of all form.
By finding ourselves as nothing other than awake emptiness, any sense of I and Other falls away, we are filled up by the world of form, and find ourselves as nothing other than the fullness of the world of form. The world of form is no other than awake emptiness, inherently absent of any I and Other, and that is what we already and always are.
Even as we misidentify with a segment of Existence, there is also the (subconscious) knowing that we are awake emptiness and form, inherently absent of I and Other. And this discrepancy is what gives rise to the longing, the feeling of lack, of something missing. Something is missing, and that is to wake up to ourselves as always and already this field of awake emptiness and form, where there is no I and Other anywhere.
This field that is temporarily and functionally connected with this individual human self and soul, which has this human self as a vehicle in the world of form, as a perceptual center, and this too inherently absent of an I. It is just the local manifestation of the field as a whole.
I realize that when I am with whatever comes up, in a simple, quiet way, there is more going on than what initially came to mind.
There is the awake emptiness aspect, allowing whatever comes up to unfold within and as awake emptiness, revealing themselves as nothing other than awake emptiness.
And then there is the form aspect, the dynamic unfolding within form, which in itself has several dimensions.
Being with experiences in itself tends to allow knots to unravel, and this is the simplest one.
Then, there are the insights into the dynamics of form, or more accurately the mind, similar to what happens in insight meditation.
And then there are several variations of following the process unfolding, from traditional Process Work and active imagination, to following the dynamics of the essence, of the soul, of the subtle energies.
Allowing each other
And one allows the other.
Seeing form as nothing other than awake emptiness takes the charge out of it, allowing for a deeper exploration of the form aspect itself.
And gaining insight into the processes of the mind also takes some of the charge and drama out of it, allowing for an easier recognition of whatever arises as nothing other than awake emptiness.
Writing the previous post, I was reminded of the two aspects of being with whatever unfolds.
Whatever arises as awake emptiness
There is the emptiness aspect of being with it, of allowing it all to be as it is, including any resistance and stories about it, allowing it to arise and unfold within and as awake emptiness, revealing themselves as nothing other than awake emptiness.
Insight into the dynamics within form
And then there is the form aspect of the process, the content itself, morphing, unfolding, revealing connections, allowing for insights into the dynamics within the form. This can be similar to insight meditation, allowing for insights into the dynamics of the mind, seeing how identities are used to guide resistance, how resistance splits the field in its own experience of itself, and so on. And it can also be similar to Process Work, or active imagination, allowing sequences unfold as a story, allowing insights into more specific dynamics, such as seeing how a sense of separation in childhood brought about the impulse to develop specific identities, and how they were used to give a sense of limited safety. Or it can be more like a dream, unfolding through symbolic images. Or it can function on a subtle energy level, following the same or similar processes unfold there.
Both there at the same time
And both can be there at the same time. They are two aspects of the same process, seeing whatever arises as nothing other than awake emptiness, and also allow the processes unfold allowing for insights into the dynamics within the world of form, maybe specifically the mind.
Sometimes, awake emptiness may be more in the foreground. Other times, the insights into the dynamics of form can be more in the foreground. But they are both there, as two faces of the same coin.
There is also a nice mutuality between the two.
Seeing whatever arises as awake emptiness takes some of the sting out of it, making it easier to simply be with it and also explore its dynamics within form. And exploring the dynamics within form allows knots to untie, which take some of the drama and charge out of it that way, making it easier to also recognize it as awake emptiness.
Both seem necessary, inform each other, invite each other, and allow for a continued deepening into the other.
A quest for what we already are
In alchemy, the quest for immortality has to do with finding ourselves as (a) awake emptiness, timeless, that which time and space unfolds within, and (b) as Spirit, awake emptiness and form, absent of I anywhere, beyond and including all polarities.
This is what we already are, this field of awake emptiness and form, so even if there is an attachment to an idea of “I” as a segment of this field, there will be an intuition about already being timeless. Timelessness is here, but since the “I” is placed on form, and on just the small part of form that makes up this human self, timelessness takes the appearance of “Other”.
The field of awake emptiness and form experiences itself through the filter of I and Other, making this human self into I and awake emptiness, or timelessness, into Other.
And this is where the quest for immortality begins. It is a quest for what we already are, in our awake emptiness aspect.
An escape from what we take ourselves to be
The other side of this is that the quest for immortality is an escape from what we take ourselves to be. This side of the coin is more closely aligned with conventional views.
We take ourselves to be a human being, exclusively, find ourselves as finite in time and space, vulnerable to the wider world and the passage of time, so naturally want to escape this – and one way to escape it is immortality.
In theistic (Christian, Jewish, Islamic) cultures, immortality comes in the form of a soul. Our human shell falls away, yet our soul continues on. It is immortal. And the transition is still in the future, so the quest for immortality sometimes becomes a quest to be worthy enough for this immortal life, some time in the future.
In our more recent materialistic culture, the soul is a more questionable idea, so a quest for immortality then takes the form of medical advances, cryogenics and so on.
Right here now
In either case, whether we seek what we already are, or an escape from what we take ourselves to be, or both, we can find immortality right here now, closer than our own breath.
It is this awake emptiness within, to and as all this arises – the words, sensations, thoughts, sounds. This timeless, spaceless emptiness, allowing time and space to unfold within, to and as itself.