The word awake can be used in many different ways.
It can mean awake as opposed to asleep, in an everyday sense.
It can mean reality awake to itself, to it’s own nature, at least to some extent.
And it can mean awake to what’s here, again in a very ordinary sense. What’s here – the content of experience – may appear clear and expanded or dull and contracted. Content doesn’t matter. There is still awakeness to what’s here. And that’s a very real awakeness.
I know for myself it’s easy to mistake a particular content for “awake”, especially content that’s clear, expanded, and perhaps even filled with love and bliss. When this content changes, as it will, for instance into dullness and contraction, a thought may say “awakeness went away” and if it’s taken as true it may lead to turmoil and a sense of loss.
And yet, all of that is content. It’s content within awakeness.
About 30 minutes into this video, Bentinho Massaro talks about three facets of reality or what we are, and it’s quite simple and basic, and fits my experience and noticing.
There is awakeness and the field of awakeness which every experience (sight, sound, sensation, taste, smell, mental) happens within and as.
There is content of awakeness (experience) – as sights, sounds, sensations, tastes, smells and mental activities (images, thoughts).
And there is the capacity for all of this.
Using Bentinho’s analogy, there are clouds (form, content of awakeness/experience), there is the sky (awakeness which clouds happen within and as), and capacity for it all (space). Where this analogy breaks down, where it doesn’t fit, is in the word space. The appearance and experience of space (and time) happens within and as awakeness, and capacity is capacity for all of it.
There is also a difference between noticing and finding ourselves as form, awakeness, and capacity. I may generally take myself to be form, content of experience, as this human self (me), this soul (presence), or the I (doer, observer), and I may still – at times – notice awakeness and even capacity. I may find myself as awakeness, and form (experience) happening within and as me, and I may intuit or notice capacity. Where I am right now, I have noticed capacity, and perhaps to some extent found myself as it, and yet it remains mostly a noticing for now. And that’s fine.
My me – my human self and soul (subtle body, presence) – will continue to change and evolve within all of this. As long as this human self is around, it will continue to reorganize and align with what’s noticed, and what I take myself to be. Noticing awakeness invites the human self to reorganize and realign with this, and finding myself as awakeness even more so, and I assume the same is the case for noticing and (at some point?) finding myself as capacity. It’s ongoing, and I don’t assume there is any end to this as long as there is a human body around, and a more subtle body.
So there are three facets of reality – capacity, awakeness, and awakeness in its play as form and experience. There is the difference between noticing and finding myself as either of these three. And there is the continuing reorganizing, aligning and evolving or the me – my human self and soul – within all of this, guided and influenced by what’s noticed and what I find myself as.
Here is what is so obvious when it is realized, so utterly simple, and so almost completely impossible to get when it is not directly noticed:
Reality – what we are and everything is – is already awake. Inescapably. Already awake independent of whether it shows up as clarity or confusion, experiencer or experienced, awake to itself as what it really is or not. It is simply the everyday run-of-the mill awakeness we are all so intimately familiar with that we often don’t even notice it.
And when we do notice, it may appear as “other” if we are identified as something within content of this awakeness such as this human self, a doer, an observer. It may even appear to come and go if we tell ourselves stories that confusion = less awakeness (not true if we look), or that sleep/being unconscious means the awakeness goes away (not really true either).
The second form of being awake is already mentioned. Reality – what we really are – can be awake to itself as what it really is, or not.
So reality is already awake. Awake no thing appearing as something. Vast. Timeless. That which all content of experience – including extent, duration, a doer, an observer – happens within and as.
And also, it can be awake to itself as what it really is, or not. This shift is a blip and pales in comparison with the vast timelessness of the other, although it is usually experienced as quite significant, and does have a significant impact on the life of this human self. When reality is awake to itself, this human self is liberated from being identified with and is allowed to realign within this new context of reality awake to itself.
One is what is already here, inescapably. The other is noticing it, or not.
How can I notice and explore this, in a simple and practical way?
I can use headless experiments. The Big Mind process. Investigating sense fields. And many other forms of gently guided inquiry into what is already here now. Inquiries that sets aside our habitual assumptions (stories) for a while, and allows attention to go to what is already here.
These are very simple when recognized, and very difficult to talk about.
First, anything happening in experience is already awake to itself as form. Something happens, and it is awake to itself as form where it is.
(Only a trick of the mind makes it appear otherwise. There is a mental image of an observer, usually located in the head area. Another image or story that makes it appear that awareness only belongs to this image of an observer. And yet another image or story of this observer being aware of what is happening in experience.
Since the observer gestalt is identified with, it is not recognized as form, as content of experience as any other content of experience. The doer and observer gestalts become the eyeball that cannot see itself. And form is not recognized as awareness since awareness is interpreted as belonging only to the observer.)
The other meaning of awake to itself is that what we are can be awake to itself as ground. Identification is released out of the doer and observer gestalts since all is recognized as already awake to itself where it is, since doing and observing is recognized as happening on their own without any doer or observer, and the doer and observer gestalts are recognized as content of experience as any other content of experience.
When form is not recognized as already awake to itself, what we are is not awake to itself either. Awareness is interpreted to belong to the observer image, and the observer image is not recognized as simply another content of experience.
And when what we are is awake to itself, form is recognized as already awake to itself.
It is I who am the light which is above them all. It is I who am the All. From Me did the All come forth, and unto Me did the All extend. Split a piece of wood, and I am there. Lift up the stone, and you will find Me there.
– Gospel of Thomas, verse 77.
What we are and everything is, is that which all happens within and as. When I explore anything through the sense fields, I find that the way it appears in each sense field is as ephemeral and insubstantial, as no thing appearing as something, as awakeness itself. A stone = sight, sensations, an overlay of images, and each of these are no thing appearing as something, awakeness itself.
[…] After a while, and it can vary for different people, one will have gone through many cycles—with what will appear to be an underlying cycle beneath these surface cycles. When the underlying cycle comes to completion, the surface cycles and deeper cycle converge with a fruition, and there is a dramatic shift in perception where one begins to see what is meant by emptiness, now in real-time. This shift, which is the 3rd stage of enlightenment, has to do with seeing the empty, selfless nature of reality upon mere reflection. Where once emptiness was contained in the discontinuity experience at the end of an insight cycle, it now permeates all of experience. It comes obvious, for those of 3rd path, what is meant by the lines from the Heart Sutra, “form is emptiness.”
The time between 3rd path and 4th path tends to be the longest yet. Ingram breaks 3rd path into early and mature phases. In the early phase one is still looking for the cycles to bring further progress, whereas in the mature phase emptiness is so ordinary and integrated into one’s experience that the inquiry turns away from the cycles and toward the last subtle hints of duality, which remain.
Finally, there is another radical shift in perspective, in which the sense of a separate center-point, observer, or doer is completely undone. Apparently this realization can occur and then fade for some time, until finally the shift is permanent (i.e. nothing can interrupt this centerless perspective). This is the opening of the “wisdom eye”, the attainment of arhantship, and as Ingram says is the end of insight path: “For the arahat who has kept the thing open, there is nothing more to be gained on the ultimate front from insight practices, as ‘done is what is to be done’.” It’s also interesting to note that it’s difficult to predict how long it will take from 3rd to 4th path. It tends to be the longest path, though I have so little data (even anecdotal) that it’s really hard to say. […]
I keep noticing how the flavor of experience is always fresh.
It is fresh because its content is always different. (Even when a thought – comparing an image of what is here now and what was in the past – tells me the two are, for all practical purposes, the same.)
And it is fresh because it is awakeness itself.
I noticed this when I just looked through a series of photos from last winter. Many are very similar to each other, but even small changes in cropping makes a big difference in experience. I quite literally experience myself and the world differently. (Which I do whenever anything in any field changes, even slightly.) And it is also fresh since it is awareness itself.
The photo is from the woods down the street from where I grew up. I spent a lot of time there with friends, family and on my own.
I am in Antarctica with my wife and a group of other people in their twenties and thirties. We ice skate, kayak, row in inflatable boats, swim in dry suits, and overall have a great deal of fun. There is a sense of being completely at home in this clear, brilliant, stark and immensely beautiful place on earth.
We are here together for a few weeks before heading home, and I realize that I would like to stop over and experience the deserts in Australia on my way home to Norway.
I help one guy with his skates, and I notice he is buoyant somehow. It turns out that there is an anti-gravity effect around him, which helps him in his professional ice skating.
Buddhism and Christianity both use a “pointing beyond itself” analogy.
In Buddhism, it is the finger pointing to the moon. The teacher, teachings and practices point beyond themselves to what we really are, this awakeness with a content which is awakeness itself. Don’t mistake the finger for the moon.
In Christianity, it is the realization that it is all from God. Nothing happens here which is not from God.
This also shows where the traditional teachings sometimes don’t go quite as far as they can.
In Buddhism, it is not only the teacher/teachings that are the finger pointing to the moon. It is also this human self. When it points to itself as the final truth, it is deluded. When it notices that it is already and always pointing to awakeness as reality, it is awakened.
In Christianity, it is not only that I as a human being give all credit to God. It is also that God is all there is. It may appear that there is a human being here, with a separate I, but there is nothing but God. There is no separate I here, only God.
In both cases, this human self becomes a finger pointing beyond itself.
And this shift has to be thorough for it to be real. For this human self to really notice what is already and always is.
(Leonardo’s beautiful painting of St. John the Baptist shows him pointing up. He has to point somewhere, so it may as well be up. But it is really in all and no directions.)
When there is still a sense of a separate I, and the content of experience gets very quiet, for instance in sitting practice, it can seem pretty boring. Not much is happening. It feels sort of dry. It is not very juicy.
So the tendency then, coming from pure innocence, is to go to a thought for juice. If it is not there in what is happening, I can at least find it in the inside of a thought.
And the shift is to just stay with it. Allow it. Be curious about the dryness. Invite in peace with it.
After a while, we may notice that we are this awakeness that not much is happening within, and that is actually quite juicy. There is an aliveness there. Presence. It is enough in itself, without a lot of excitement happening in the content.
Our identification shifts from taking ourselves as a part of content of awareness, which can be pretty boring when the content is quiet, to that which this content happens within, to and as, and the quitet joy and bliss in just noticing what we already are.
It is not important for awakeness whether it notices itself or not. That too happens as content of awakeness, and is no other than awakeness itself.
Getting caught up in the content of awakeness, being identified with it, or noticing all of it as awakeness itself, it is all happening within, to and as awakeness.
But it is, sometimes, important for who we take ourselves to be. When there is identification with content of awakeness, it can, in some situations, seem important. There is a feeling, a thought, of wanting awakeness to notice itself, or at least a curiosity about it, and this too happens within, to and as awakeness.
It is awakeness as confusion, desire, discomfort, blind to itself, noticing itself, releasing identification out of its own content, recognizing its own content as itself. It is all awakeness, and is never anything else than awakeness.
So what is the big deal? There isn’t really.
Only the draw for awakeness to notice itself, sometimes, when it is temporarily identified with its own content.
And the compassion that naturally arises when it is noticing itself, and also sees itself suffer over there, through identification with other living beings.
When awakeness is awake to itself and functions through this human self, and sees itself over there identified with its own content, with another living being, and experiencing discomfort because of it, there is naturally compassion and actions out of kindness and whatever wisdom is available.
There is naturally actions to help alleviate the suffering, in whatever ways the other asks for and is receptive to. In conventional and temporary ways, and sometimes also in helping awakeness notice itself also over there, through the other human self.
In what ways is it true that she is me, and I am them…?
It is true at the level of our human self. Whatever I see in others is what I know from myself. Any quality, characteristic, dynamic, behavior that I see in someone else, is something I recognize from myself. And not just from the past, but right here now. It is something that is shared human. And beyond that, I wouldn’t recognize it in them if I didn’t know it from myself.
We are in the same boat.
And it is true at the level of what we are, as awakeness. When awakeness notices itself, it also recognizes everything arising as itself. Those people over there, and this human self right here, and everything else, is awakeness itself. Awakeness recognizes itself showing up as those humans and this human and whatever else is happening.
Both of these are at play simultaneously.
Whatever I see in others is something I can find, if I look, in this human self. And if I take the time to become familiar with it here, it can become a part of the active repertoire of this human self. It can live more actively from the fullness and richness of who it already is, and is becoming.
And if I find myself as awakeness, then everything arising – including those human selves over there and this one right here – is awakeness itself. Already, inherently, absent of an I with an Other.