Awakening as a safety valve

Why did the awakening shift happen when I was sixteen?

I am not sure. I hadn’t done any of the things that often go before such a shift. I had no interest in spirituality. I had done no spiritual practice.

What was happening was an unusual amount of teenage angst. It may have been strong enough so my system needed another way to deal with it, and that was where my system went most easily.

At my human level, and in my psyche, it got to be too much. So my system shifted from being identified with all of that to releasing identification with it and found itself as its more fundamental nature. As consciousness. As the consciousness all our experiences happen within and as. As the oneness all of it and the world to us happens within and as.

In that particular case, that was the safety value. And the stress and overwhelm at the human level were strong enough to propel my system into the awakening shift in a relatively strong and lasting way.

That’s the simple story, and it’s not quite as simple as that.

One year earlier, there had been another shift. A shift from the usual separation consciousness to a simple observer and observed duality. On January 1st, I experienced a fog coming in, as if I had cotton in my head. It was as if the world, including my human self and anything to do with my human self, was far away. Very far away. And “I” was the one observing it all. I went to my doctor and many specialists, and nobody could find anything wrong. It was quite distressing, and it really did feel as if something had gone very wrong.

And after almost exactly one year, between Christmas and New Year, there was another shift. This time into oneness. Into finding myself and any and all experiences as consciousness. Or, as I thought of it at the time, of God revealed as all without exceptions. God was this human self as it was everything. God was even the impulse to temporarily take itself as this human self, and then suddenly and out of the blue remember itself as all.

It’s not a glorious story. It’s messy and human. There is absolutely nothing there my human self can take credit for. And it seems to be one way our nature notices itself, or the divine remembers itself as all.

Two of us – perceiving ourselves as observer and observed

You can talk about ‘myself’ as if there’s two of you: one that is doing or has done something, and the other one who’s watched it and is talking about it. Strange, isn’t it?

– Adyashanti, Silent Retreat Vol. 80, Q&A Sessions, Day 4

In daily life, we tend to take this for granted. We talk about ourselves as something we observe. And we talk about ourselves as someone who observes. And we may not give it a second thought.

It seems a given, and most of us may not even point this out or question it. And if we do, it may just seem like an interesting curiosity.


When we take a closer look, we may find something else.

And it helps to do this exploration with guidance from more structured inquiry, for instance, sense field explorations (traditional Buddist inquiry, Living Inquiries), the Big Mind process, and even The Work of Byron Katie. We can explore it through the Headless experiments. We can explore it through basic meditation, through noticing and allowing any content of experience, and noticing it’s already noticed and allowed before the mind comes in and does something about it. And many other approaches.

Each of these gives us a slightly different view of what’s happening.

What do we find through these forms of explorations?

We may find that any sense of observer and observed happens within the content of our experience. They come and go. Our nature is capacity for both. And they happen within and as what we are.

And when we take another look, we may find that both are mental representations. We have an image of ourselves as observed, as an object in the world. And we have an image of ourselves as observer, as an I. The mind associates each one with a lot of other mental representations, and it also tends to associate each one with certain sensations in the body. These sensations lend a sense of solidity and reality to the mental representations, and the mental representations lend a sense of meaning to the sensations. And it’s all happening within and as what we are, which a thought may (unsuccessfully) label consciousness.


This shows the creativity of the mind.

To ourselves, we are capacity for all our experiences. And we are oneness. We are the oneness our experiences of anything – this human self, the wider world, anything else – happen within and as.

And that goes for any sense of observer and observed as well.

Our nature temporarily forms itself into a sense of observer and observed.


Why does Adya point our this apparent oddity?

Because it shows that we often take something for granted – in this case perceiving ourselves as both observer and observed – and on investigation, it may reveal itself as something we didn’t expect.

If we look more closely, we may discover something about our nature. We may discover what we are, in our own first-person experience.


We can read about this and understand it, to some extent, within the realm of stories. That may be a good initial step, but it doesn’t lead to any real transformation.

The real transformation comes when we engage in an exploration of our own immediate experience and see what we find for ourselves, and when we keep noticing and exploring this.

Image: John William Waterhouse’s Echo and Narcissus 1903

Read More

From observer to oneness

When I was in my mid-teens there were a couple of shifts.

First, I was identified as this human self.

Then, there was a shift in the “center of gravity” of what I experienced myself as. I found myself observing while what was observed seemed very distant. This human self with all its experiences and the wider world seemed far away. My experience was that something was seriously wrong, and several specialists could find no explanation.

After almost exactly a year, there was another shift, this time into oneness. All was revealed as God. This universe and this human being with all its experiences is the divine taking this form and the experiences and experiencing it all. Any sense of being a separate self is the divine having that experience for itself, locally and temporarily, and there is no ultimate reality to it.

As a human being, I did nothing for this to happen, it came out of the blue.

And in hindsight, the shift into observing and then oneness makes sense.

First, there is the usual separation consciousness. Then, an intermediate shift where “I” was the one observing and experiences all the experiences. As Adya says, it’s a simple and clean duality of observer and observed. And then, a shift into oneness. In hindsight, the observer-observed shift seems like a stepping stone, a way into oneness.

Since then, it’s been a journey of clarification, deepening, rediscovering, and learning to live from it. And the process has sometimes been far more messy than that sentence makes it sound like!

Why did these shifts happen? I don’t really know. Some would say it has to do with spiritual practices in past lives. I would also guess it happened partly because of the teenage angst I experienced at the time. It was difficult to be this human self, so something in me shifted into what I am. Something in me knew how to shift.

Exploring the observer

When do inquiry as a client (self-inquiry or facilitated), I sometimes have images and sensations of me as an observer come up. So I look at those too.

I see an image of me (my face) looking at at image or word. Is that image X? (X = whatever I am looking for in that inquiry.) Is the sensation associated with it X? And so on.

Sometimes, it can also be interesting to explore me the observer more fully.

Look at the image of you looking at another image. Is that you the observer? (Q1) Yes, it feels like it. Sensations in the face.

Feel those sensations. Notice the space they are happening within. Do you see an image? Yes, I see an image of my face with eyes closed, relaxed.

Look at that image. Is that you the observer? (Q1) No. 

Where do you find you the observer? Can you find him in images, words, sensations? Yes, sensations in roof of the mouth, slight contraction in upper throat, sensations in the lower back of the head.

Feel those sensations. I see an image of my head.

Look at that image. Notice the space around it. The space between you and the image. Q1? No.

Rest. Rest with what’s here.

Feel the sensations in the mouth, throat, lower back of head. Q1? No.

Look at the images of your face. Q1? No.

Where do you find the observer? Picture of my body sitting here.

Look at that picture. Q1?  No.

Where do you find the observer? Sensations in throat.

Feel those sensations. Q1? No.

And so on, continuing to explore whatever initially appears as the observer. This allows me to see how my mind creates the appearance of an observer, and the charge in it may soften or fall away.

Read More

Free will

I came across a new blog called Freedom or Necessity, which is an exploration into the question of free will.

It is an eternal question for us humans, and interesting to explore in our own lives.

The first thing that comes up for me is a set of additional questions: what does free will mean? For whom may there be free will? Who or what is choosing, if there is free will? Is there an entity choosing? Someone or something somehow set apart from everything else? Is that possible? On what basis are these choices made? What are the influences on these choices? What are the restrictions on these choices? If there are influences and restrictions, to what extent is it free?

My take on it is very simple-minded, and not so different from what I have explored earlier in this journal.

Read More

Imagining sight

I am still exploring what happens when there is identification with the image(s) of a doer and/or observer.

There is obviously identification with a story, in this case the doer/observer images.

It is localized in space, in my case in and around the head area. The sensations here serve as “anchors” in space for the doer/observer images.

Read More

All awake to itself

I am attending an intensive for the type of bodywork I am doing. The bodywork itself is a laboratory for practice and exploration, for self-inquiry, and it is a wonderful practice in many ways. Deep, nourishing and soulful. 

But one thing is left out, and it is a crucial step – and also quite obvious when we see it. 

With its emphasis on mindfulness of the “me” only (the human self and its identities and dynamics), an identification as first the doer (shifting into observing) and then the observer may easily become “invisible”. If it is habitually there anyway, it may not be strengthened, but there is also not a direct invitation to bring it to attention and notice it. The sense of “I” may continue to lurk outside of attention. 

Read More

Exploring the doer and observer

A few things I notice in exploring the doer and observer….

The doer and observer are both made up of sensations (in the throat/head area) and images of a doer and observer. 

They function as “middle-men”, or as they say in Zen, a head above the head. 

Something happens and the doer gestalt is taken as the doer of it, through an image of doing. 

Something happens and the observer gestalt is taken as the observer of it, through an overlay of an image of observing. 

What is overlooked is that whatever happens happens on its own (no doer needed), and whatever happens is also awakeness itself (no additional observer needed). 

There is an image of something happening, an image of a doer and observer, and an image of doing and observing connecting the two, all happening within my own world of images. 

Read More


…. this is the principle: To deem oneself exalted is to claim copartnership with God. As long as you have not died and become living through Him, you are a rebel seeking a realm for your copartnership. 
– Rumi, Mathnawi IV 2763-67. [In Chittick’s The Sufi Path of Love, p. 183] 

This pointer is the homework for our CSS group this week, and also the section of the reading that most speaks to what is going on for me these days. 

I recognize this here and now. “All” is recognized as God, awakeness, form with no substance. And yet, there is also a sense of a separate I here as a doer and observer. Sometimes, it is taken as more real and substantial. And when attention is brought to it, it is recognized as the same as everything else: Content of awareness. Awakeness itself. Form with no substance. 

Taking this separate I gestalt as real is to set it up as a copartner with God, and when it is taken as real it is identified with and taken as what I am, so “I” then appear as a copartner with God. Since it is a lie, it is a precarious situation, and it generates friction which invites attention and questions, which in turn may allow this to be recognized as it happens. (Friction between “my will” – stories of shoulds, and “God’s will” – stories of what is.) 

When there is this copartnership, there may be a sense of being one with God, a separate I (as doer and/or observer) one with God. And when the separate I gestalts are recognized as they happen, there may be a shift into oneness, God as all including any gestalts temporarily appearing. 

Read More

Shifting refuge

A shifting refuge….

First, we take ourselves to be a me. This human self and its body, identities and roles in the world. There is an inside and outside, and it all seems real and substantial.

Then, we may notice that the me is content of experience, it comes and goes as any other content of experience, and it is not what I am. There is a softening or release of identification with the me. This process can appear as a dark night of the senses, called so since there is a release of identification with the senses. The temporary outcome is an absence of a sense of inside and outside, a recognition of all as awakeness itself or God, and possibly insights, clarity, bliss, a clear inner direction and so on.

The remaining refuge here is the separate I and the spiritual joys mentioned above.

Finally, we may notice that the separate I is content of experience as well. The doer, thinker, chooser, owner, observer – all of those – are content of experience just as anything else. That too comes and goes. That too is not what I really am. As I keep noticing this, maybe first in formal practice and then in daily life, there is the possibility of a softening and release of identification out of these. This process is called the dark night of the soul, experienced as a death of the core of what we take ourselves to be.

When identification is released out of the separate I, what is left is doing without doer, thinking without thinker, observing without observer and so on. Everything is as before, although now all content of experience – including the doer and observer – is recognized as living its own life. The center falls out, and the bottom or ground falls out.

Read More

Tail of the ox

An ox passes through a window. Its head, horns, and four legs all pass through. Why can’t it’s tail pass through?

This is a koan that has come up for me now since it reflects immediate experience.

The ox passes through the window. The world and this human self is recognized, in immediacy, as awakeness itself. As no thing appearing as something.

Yet the tail does not pass through. There is still identification with the doer and observer. Even as the doer and observer is recognized as awakeness itself, even as it is recognized as a gestalt made up of sensations and images, there is still some remaining identification there.

Read More

Boundary between I and other

Sometimes, it is said that awakening means the boundary between I and Other is recognized as imagined

That is true and a helpful pointer. It helps us see that boundaries are created in the mind. They are, quite literally, imagined. This is a good starting point. 

And it is just that, a starting point, because it leaves something out. It can be taken as saying that the boundary may be imagined, but the I and other is real. There is an I here and a wider world, but it is part of the same seamless whole. 

The truth is more radical than that. So the next pointer is to say – as many do – that there is no separate I, no other, no world, no boundaries. All of those are imagined. All of those happen within our own world of images. 

This is an invitation to notice not only boundaries as imagined, but any object is as well. They all happen as a mental field overlay on the sense field. They all happen within our own world of images. And this includes the wider world as well as any sense of doer and observer. They all happen as content of awareness. They all come and go, on their own schedule. They are all gestalts, made up of mental field overlays on each of the sense fields. 

Read More

Mindfulness, including of doer and observer

Something simple about mindfulness….

In mindfulness practice, I can notice what is happening in the different sense fields. Sensations. Sights. Sounds. Smell. Taste. Mental field activity. 

And included here is noticing the doer and observer. What is it that appears to be doing this practice? What is it that appears to be observing? For me, I find a set of sensations in the head area, and a set of images in the mental field. The doer and observer too is content of awareness, just as any other content of awareness. 

In this way, mindfulness practice shifts into and includes atma vichara, self-inquiry, and becomes even more inclusive and helpful. 

If the doer and observer is left out, mindfulness practice may only reinforce an unconcious (pre-conscious) identification with the doer/observer gestalts. When the doer and observer is included in what is noticed, they may be found to be content of awareness just as anything else, and identification may release out of them. 

Read More