The big and small understanding of awakening: Upsides and downsides of each

I like using both the big and small understanding of awakening. They each have upsides and downsides, they serve as corrections for each other, and using more than one view helps me recognize them as views.

First, a brief overview of awakening and the small and big views.

WHAT IS AWAKENING?

It’s not wrong that I am this human self in the world. That’s an assumption that works relatively well.

And yet, is it what I more fundamentally am in my own first-person experience? Here, I find I more fundamentally am what this whole world of experience is happening within and as. Even more fundamentally, I find I am capacity for all of it – consciousness and what consciousness forms itself into to create experience.

I find this in immediate noticing. (In my case, it happened spontaneously, uninvited, and before there was any conscious interest in it.) It also makes logical sense in a couple of ways.

(a) Content of experience is in change, it all comes and goes. So how can I fundamentally be any of it? It makes more sense that I am the consciousness all experiences comes and goes within, that forms itself into all of these experiences.

(b) If I “have” consciousness, it means that to myself I have to BE consciousness, and it also means that the world – to me – happens within and as the consciousness I am. The consciousness I am forms itself into this whole field of experience: the wider world, this human self, any sense of me or I, and so on.

Awakening can refer to my nature noticing itself, as described above. It’s the beginning of a process of noticing this noticing (!) through more and more situations in daily life, and allowing our human self and psyche to transform within this new context.

THE APPEARANCE OF ALL AS CONSCIOUSNESS

When the consciousness we are notices itself, it notices all of its content as itself.

The consciousness we are forms itself into all experience, into the world as it appears to us.

The world appears dream-like for that reason. Just like a night dream is made of the consciousness we are, waking life and any state and experience is made of the consciousness we are.

There are some other aspects to this as well, less relevant in this context: Consciousness is one. There are no boundaries found anywhere. There is no “outside”. All we have ever known is our nature, whether it was noticed or not.

BIG AND SMALL UNDERSTANDING OF AWAKENING

Awakening can be understood in two ways.

The way I described it above is close to my experience and doesn’t make too many assumptions. This is the small – or psychological – understanding of awakening.

The big understanding of awakening is the more traditional spiritual one. Awakening is the divine waking up to itself, locally and while connected with this particular human self. All of reality is the divine, and not only that, all of reality has the same nature as me. All of existence is consciousness.

UPSIDES AND DOWNSIDES OF EACH

These two views each have upsides and downsides, and they can serve as a correction and medicine for each other.

THE UPSIDES OF EACH

The small view stays close to immediate noticing. It doesn’t make any assumptions of the nature of reality, it doesn’t assume that my nature is the same as the nature of all of existence. It can serve as a kind of lowest common denominator for talking about it across time and traditions. It fits a science orientation better and can more easily be used in an academic context. It helps us demystify awakening.

The big view is more traditional and familiar to many. It can be experienced as more inspiring. It may even be more accurate in the big picture. (It does fit some things that the small view doesn’t explain: undeniable and frequent synchronicities, precognition, sensing at a distance, healing at a distance, and so on.) There is a lot of insight and wisdom in the big view traditions, accumulated over centuries and millennia.

THE DOWNSIDES OF EACH

The small view can be experienced as uninspiring to some. It doesn’t give answers beyond immediate experience.

The big view often makes more assumptions, including about things we may not be able to check out for ourselves. It’s often tied to particular traditions. It doesn’t connect as well with people with an atheist or scientific orientation. It sometimes comes with a lot of misconceptions and baggage.

EACH AS CORRECTION AND MEDICINE TO THE OTHER

The small view serves as a correction to assuming that awakening has to be understood in a spiritual context. It helps us avoid some pitfalls of the big view and some of the misconceptions of awakening. It helps us take a more pragmatic approach. It helps us put the things we cannot (yet) check out for ourselves on the “maybe” shelf and hold it lightly. Since we know we cannot know the nature of existence itself, we have to live as if the world is as seen from a conventional view. We cannot give away responsibility for our life.

The big view opens up the perspective compared to a small view and it opens up more to explore. It helps us connect more with past generations and draw on their insights and wisdom. If someone uses the small view combined with a materialistic view, the contrast with the big view can help them recognize that those are assumptions and may not be accurate.

Together, they remind us that each one is a view. They are questions about the world. They can serve as practical temporary pointers.

FLUIDITY

I like to be fluid with these views. I use one or the other – or both – depending on what makes sense and seems useful in the situation.

If I see or hear something that comes from one view, I may look at it in my own immediate noticing and put words on it from the other view.

If I notice I am used to looking at something using one view, I may explore it using the other view and see what new perspectives and insights come in.

If I talk with someone, I may use the view most familiar to that person and sometimes bring in the other for balance.

Together, they are a reminder that each one – and all maps and understandings – are questions about the world.

It makes practical sense.

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One or many consciousnesses?

Are we one or several consciousnesses?

SEVERAL

We can say we are several consciousnesses.

Each conscious being is, by necessity, consciousness to themselves.

That also means that, to them, the world happens within and as the consciousness they are.

Every conscious being is a consciousness full of the world.

ONE NATURE

The nature of the consciousness we are seems to be the same. If we want, we can say there is one consciousness in that consciousness is consciousness whether it happens here or there.

We have the same kind of nature, just like water is always water.

That doesn’t mean that the content of consciousness is shared or the same. That’s obviously not the case. Even if we listen to the same music or eat the same food or all feel joy, the experience of it is unique and individual.

ONE TO ME

There is another oneness of consciousness, and that’s how it appears in direct perception.

When I look, I find I am consciousness, and the world to me happens within and as the consciousness I am.1

This consciousness is seamless, it’s one.

So to me, the world appears as consciousness, and it appears as one.2

It has a dreamlike nature, and it’s seamless.

It appears that way because of my own inherent oneness.

ONE CONSCIOUSNESS CALLED SPIRIT?

It’s also possible that all that is – all of existence – is consciousness. Everything, this whole universe and everything else, happens within and as that consciousness.

If so, that’s what we would call God, the divine, Spirit, Brahman, or whatever label we would like to put on it.

ALL TOGETHER

To me, there is some validity to each of these views, and likely many more.

Just one or the other is too one-sided.

Together, they can better hint at the richness of life.

A NOTE ON THE CARTOON

Although the quote may be a little simplistic, I like the cartoon.

Yes, religion can create a quite small space for us. Religions often include beliefs and shoulds which have their place and also confine us.

Spirituality is a little more open, although also often comes with shoulds, beliefs, and identification.

Consciousness is what it all happens within and as. It has no inherent boundaries, and it contains and makes itself into the boundaries of religion, spirituality, and anything else.

NOTES

(1) As mentioned above, I assume it’s like that for any “conscious being”: They are consciousness to themselves, and to them, the world happens within and as the consciousness they are.

(2) A layer of mental representations put on top of it can make it appear differently. Mental dividing lines can appear real and true and inherent in the world, which will distract attention from the inherent oneness of our experience. These mental overlays can also make the dreamlike experience appear more solid and substantial.

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The nature of different parts of reality

Whether we notice or not, we all operate on assumptions about the nature of reality.

So why not make our assumptions, often absorbed from our culture, conscious?

Why not explore what’s more true for us?

THE NATURE OF WHAT I AM

The nature of what I am to myself is the most immediate. It’s the only one I can check out for myself.

It’s not wrong that I am this human self in the world, the way many others see it and my passport tells me. It’s an assumption that works relatively well, although there is some inherent stress in it. It’s stressful to be an object in a world of objects. And it’s stressful to hold onto assumptions not aligned with reality.

When I look, I find that to myself, I am more fundamentally something else. I am what this whole field of experience happens within and as. I am what the world, to me, happens within and as.

A thought may call this consciousness, and as this consciousness, I have a lot of characteristics described and pointed to by mystics through time and across traditions.

For instance, I cannot find boundaries and that can be called oneness. When the oneness I am notices itself, the way I relate to all is a kind of love independent of feelings or states. (Which can easily be covered up by the hangups of this human self.) Waking life and night dreams both happen within and as the consciousness I am. All I have ever known is my own nature, taking different forms.

I also find that I even more fundamentally am something else. I am capacity for all of it. I am capacity for consciousness and for this consciousness forming itself into the field of experience that’s here.

See articles tagged who and what I am for more on this.

THE NATURE OF THE WORLD

So what’s the nature of the world? Of this Earthly world with people and nature and culture?

I cannot know for certain, but it makes sense to me to assume it’s more or less as it appears. This human self lives in a world full of other people and nature. (Any other assumption tends to create weirdness and unnecessary complications.)

THE NATURE OF OTHERS

What’s the nature of others?

Again, I cannot know for certain. Based on logic and reports, I assume their nature is the same as mine.

To themselves, they are likely consciousness. They are likely what their world happens within and as. They are likely capacity for all of that.

That goes for all beings that we say “have” consciousness. If they have consciousness, then to themselves, they inevitably have to BE consciousness and the world, to them, happens within and as that consciousness.

THE NATURE OF REALITY

What’s the nature of all of reality?

Here too, I cannot know for certain.

I know how it appears to me. It appears as consciousness. And I know why it appears that way. The consciousness I am notices itself, and it notices that the whole field of experience happens within and as the consciousness it is, so everything inevitably appears as consciousness. That doesn’t mean that is the nature of all of existence.

I find it useful to assume that the universe and all of existence is a seamless evolving whole. It’s a dynamic system with wholes and parts and the parts are themselves wholes. (Holarchy.)

Whatever the nature of this whole is, I call it reality and even the divine. To me, the wholeness of reality as it is – which I cannot know for certain – is God.

I am open for materialism being true. Perhaps our most fundamental nature, in a third person view is this body. Perhaps the consciousness we are to ourselves somehow comes out of this body. It’s possible.

It’s also possible that all of existence is consciousness. Some signs hint at this, for instance, distance sensing and healing, precognition, persistent series of undeniable synchronicities, and so on. (These can also be explained in other ways.)

MY EXPERIENCE WITH THIS

As I mentioned, I have done a lot of inquiry on inherited assumptions about reality.

When I was sixteen, there was a shift into oneness and perceiving everything without exception as consciousness. The consciousness I am noticed itself and that it forms itself into any and all experience.

At first, it made the world appear very unreal and it was quite disturbing to this human self. After a while, after some years and decades, it became a new normal. All appears as a dream since it’s all happening within and as the consciousness I am, and that’s fine.

I have been lucky (?) enough to just assume that the world is mostly as it appears filled with people and other beings. At a human level, I just live normally. (I know some can get into weird ideas here.)

I have taken some time to take in others as consciousness to themselves and to include all beings. This is something that needs to be absorbed and unfolds and deepens over time, and there is further to go.

When it comes to the nature of all of existence, I find it interesting that it’s not more common to differentiate between how it inevitably appears to us (all is consciousness) and reality itself. To me, it seems helpful to make that distinction. It makes me freer in how I think about things and how I can talk about it with others. Sometimes, I can take a more materialistic view. Other times, I can take the view of all as consciousness. Both have value and I enjoy being fluid with it. (See posts on the small and big interpretations of awakening.)

The essence of this is that the only thing I can explore for myself is my own nature. The rest are questions and assumptions, something to hold lightly, and it makes sense to be fluid and pragmatic about which assumptions I use.

Image by me and Midjourney

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Is Buddhism true?

Is Buddhism scientific? Is Buddhism “true?” Does Buddhist meditation reveal “the way things really are”? Is the self an illusion? 

– from a Cheeta House announcement about a reading/discussion group

What comes up for me with these questions?

Is Buddhism scientific? It depends. It depends on what aspect of Buddhism you are talking about and what you mean by science. Buddhism is diverse, and there are many valid ways of doing science. Within Buddhism, some approach it in a sincere, sober, and grounded way, which makes it more aligned with science. Some go more into beliefs, which makes it less scientific.

Is Buddhism true? Again, it obviously depends. In my experience, the essence of it has much that seems valid. The way they point to and talk about our true nature fits my experience. The essence of how they describe the dynamics of the mind often seems accurate. Other things in Buddhism are more cultural and peripheral.

Does Buddhist meditation reveal “the way things really are”? As far as I can tell, with the right guidance and sincere exploration, it can. It can reveal our nature to ourselves. We can find ourselves as that which our field of experience happens within and as. We can find ourselves as capacity for all of it. That’s what it can reveal, and it can reveal some of the dynamics of the mind that distracts attention away from this. That’s about it. It cannot reveal the nature of all of existence or anything else, really. See articles tagged small and big interpretations of awakening for more on this.

Is the self an illusion? Again, it depends. I would talk about it in two ways. (a) There is a self here in a conventional sense. This is a self with a passport, a biography, and so on. The illusion is more that this is what we fundamentally are. We are what this self and everything happens within and as. Our more fundamental nature is what it all happens within and as. Even more essentially, we are capacity for all of it. So I would say that the self is not an illusion, but that it’s our fundamental nature is an illusion. (b) The other side is that the experience of this self is created by and within consciousness. The consciousness we are forms itself into the experience of this self and anything else. More specifically, it’s created by the mind associating different stories and appearances in the sense fields. It’s a kind of virtual creation that the consciousness we are creates for itself to function in the world. It’s a useful creation in a practical sense.1 See articles tagged who and what we are for more on this.

Even what’s phrased as statements are questions. They point to something to explore here and now.

(1) The self can take many different forms, from this human self to a doer, observer, or something else. In reality, any time the mind identifies with the perspective of a story or identity, a self with an Other is created. It perceives itself to be that view and anything else becomes Other.

Image by me and Midjourney

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A secular view on awakening

Awakening has traditionally been understood in a religious or spiritual context.

All of existence is Spirit and the divine, and the awakening is Spirit becoming conscious of itself and its nature locally. It’s Spirit locally conscious of itself while operating through the vehicle of this particular human self.

These days, it makes sense to also use a more secular understanding of awakening. We live in a more secular society, so why not see it in a secular context? After all, awakening and our nature is not going away.

I have written about this several times before so I’ll make it short.

OUR MORE FUNDAMENTAL NATURE

If we “have” consciousness, then what are we to ourselves? We are not primarily anything within consciousness, we are consciousness itself. There is no way around it. It has to be that way. Whether we notice or not, and independent of whatever conscious worldview we happen to use, to ourselves, we are primarily consciousness. Since the world, to us, happens within and as consciousness, it happens within and as the consciousness we are.

To ourselves, we are primarily conciousness.1 And the world – any content of consciousness – happens within and as the consciousness we are.

THE DREAMLIKE NATURE OF THE WORLD

That means that to us, the world is not so different from a dream. A dream happens within the consciousness we are while this human self is alseep. Waking life happens within and as the consciousness we are while this human self is awake.

ONENESS

Consciousess does not have boundaries. It doesn’t begin or end anywhere. It doesn’t have inherent dividing lines. There is no outside. It’s one. What we are is one. That means that the world, to us, is one whether we notice or not.

TRAINED ITSELF TO NOT NOTICE

Most of the time, the consciousness we are doesn’t notice this. It doesn’t need to. It trains itself to not notice, in a way, since most others don’t seem to notice. It trains itself to operate based on assumptions picked up from others: I am primarily this human self. Consciousness is a kind of add-on. Others and the world are separate from me. The world is more or less as it appears to me.

This is natural and innocent, and since the perception is out of alignment with reality, it comes with some inherent friction and discomfort.

WHEN WE NOTICE OUR NATURE

Sometimes, the consciousness we are may have glimpses of what it is and how the world, to it, is. We may feel or experience a connection with all. We may go into a flow state and forget our identity as this human self and of separation. This happens to many or most in daily life, at least now and then.

Occasionally, this is even more clear.2 There may be a shift so everything is revealed as consciousness. Consciousness becomes aware of itself as everything it’s experiencing and everything it has ever experienced. It becomes aware of itself as consciousness and of its world as happening within and as itself.

A SECULAR VIEW ON AWAKENING

Nothing “spiritual” is required to understand this. We don’t need to refer to God, the divine, Spirit, Brahman, or any of that.

We can understand it in a much more simple way, and a way that fits most (nearly all) worldviews: To ourselves, we are consciousness. The world, to us, happens within and as the consciousness we are.

Sometimes, the consciousness we are doesn’t notice itself. (It’s lost in identifying primarily as this human self, as something within the content of experience).

Sometimes, it recognizes itself. When it does, we call it awakening.

It’s all a process. It’s an exploration. It’s something we can keep clarifying, deepening into, become more familiar with, and mature into and within.3

THE ESSENCE OF EACH VIEW

What’s the essence of the secular and spiritual views on awakening?

To me, it has to do with our nature and the nature of reality itself.

Both views see our fundamental nature as consciousness. That’s not in question since it makes logical sense and is something we can check out for ourselves.

The difference is that the secular view does not make assumptions about the nature of reality itself. It leaves it open. The spiritual view, on the other hand, assumes that our nature – consciousness – is also the nature of reality itself and all there is.

COMPLEMENTARY VIEWS

The spiritual and secular views on awakening are complementary. They fill in what the other is missing, and they each have upsides and drawbacks.

The secular view is compatible with just about any worldview. It’s compatible with the view of Western science. It doesn’t rely on anything mystical or magical. It doesn’t rely on belief. It’s something we can check out for ourselves. It fits with the descriptions from people (mystics) throughout history and across traditions. It helps us find the lowest common denominators of awakening. It can give us a language independent of traditions, and that can help communication across traditions. It can help us find the essence of awakening. It keeps it simple, sober and grounded. It doesn’t say anything about the nature of reality itself and leaves it open. To me, these are all upsides. The downside is that it can seem a bit uninspiring to some.4

The spiritual view has more of a tradition. It may be more familiar to many. It may be more inspiring. On the other hand, it’s often bogged down in terminology, hierarchy, and misconceptions.

Which one is more accurate? The secular view is quite accurate in terms of our own experience and what we can check out for ourselves. And I suspect the spiritual one may be more accurate in the bigger picture. Many hints suggest it.5 (Although these can also be understood in other ways.)

NOTES

(1) I left out something that we even more fundamentally are. When we find ourselves as consciousness, we may also notice something else about our nature. At some level, I am this human self in the world. That’s an assumption that works well in daily life and I have to include it to function in the world. More fundamentally, and in my own first-person experience, I am consciousness. Even more fundamentally, I find I am capacity for it all. I am capacity for any and all of the experiences that are here. I am even capacity for consciousness itself.

(2) In my case, there was a dramatic shift when I was sixteen. Everything without exception was revealed as God or the divine. This human self and anything connected with it was the temporary and local play of the divine. That language was the language this human self used to make sense of it at the time. Today, I would more likely replace “God” and “the divine” with consciousness.

(3) This process is not always easy. For instance, for most of us, our psyche is formed within separation consciousness and it has wounds that operate from separation consciousness. To align with the reality of what we are (consciousness, oneness), these have to surface and be seen, felt, loved, and recognized as consciousness. The consciousness we are has to recognize itself as it. That’s not always an easy or comfortable process. Depending on how much trauma we have, it can be overwhelming, confusing, and we may not always deal with it gracefully. (Speaking from own experience here.)

(4) What are some of these hints? Sensing and healing at a distance, relatively solid reincarnation stories, undeniable chains of extraordinary synchronicities, and so on. None of these have been examined well enough by Western science yet. Each one can also be explained in other ways. Still, together, they suggest that the spiritual view on awakening may be accurate in the bigger picture.

(5) There are definitely ways to make it inspiring while still grounding it in modern science. We can, for instance, bring in the Universe Story and the Epic of Evolution. In the words of Carl Sagan: We are the universe bringing itself into consciousness. We are the local eyes, ears, thoughts, and feelings of the universe. We can call the wholeness of all there is for God.

Image by me and Midjourney.

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Understanding awakening independent of spirituality and most worldviews

How do we understand awakening?

Do we tie it to spirituality or a particular approach to spirituality?

Do we tie it to a particular worldview that’s incompatible with other common worldviews?

Or do we find the lowest common denominator in understanding awakening? Do we choose an understanding that’s compatible with a wide range of worldviews?

Personally, I prefer an understanding that’s honest, simple, has the fewest assumptions within it, and is compatible with the widest range of worldviews. (Including those free of spirituality.)

A SIMPLE UNDERSTANDING OF AWAKENING

So what is this simple understanding of awakening?

We can approach it in two ways.

NOTICING: TO OURSELVES, WE ARE CONSCIOUSNESS

We can approach it through direct noticing.

It’s not wrong that I am this human self in the world. But when I look, I find I am more fundamentally something else.

I am what the world, to me, happens within and as. I am capacity for all of it.

We can quite easily get at least a glimpse of this through different forms of inquiry, including the Headless experiments and the Big Mind process.

LOGIC: TO OURSELVES, WE ARE CONSCIOUSNESS

We can also approach this through logic.

In our culture, people often say that we “have” consciousness. That makes it sound as if consciousness is a kind of appendix, and that we are a kind of object somehow receiving info from this consciousness. That’s one take on a third-person view, which is fine, but here I am more interested in our first-person experience.

So what’s a first-person view?

If I “have” consciousness, then to myself, I have to BE consciousness.

Said another way: Any experience has to happen within consciousness. It’s consciousness forming itself into that experience. And what’s experiencing has to similarly be consciousness. None of it would be experienced if it all didn’t happen within and as consciousness.

What’s experiencing and what’s experienced are aspects of the same. All of it is consciousness.

Here, we may also find that…

If we ARE consciousness, then to us, the world – the whole field of experience – happens within and as the consciousness we are.

Consciousness is seamless. It doesn’t have borders or divisions or even an outer boundary. To us, the world happens within and as the oneness we are. (“The world” here means any content of experience, including anything associated with this human self – sensations, emotions, thoughts, ideas of identities, ideas of being a doer, an observer, and so on.)

Understanding this logically can be interesting in itself, and it can be an invitation to explore it through direct noticing.

THE WORLD APPEARS AS CONSCIOUSNESS

If the world, to me, happens within and as the consciousness I am, then – to me – the world appears AS consciousness.

If the world appears as consciousness, then it appears alive and conscious, and it’s very easy to call that the divine, Spirit, God, Allah, Brahman, and so on.

SHARED WITH MYSTICS ACROSS TIME AND TRADITIONS

Through logic and direct noticing, we arrive at what mystics through time and across traditions have described.

The essence is: I am consciousness. The world, to me, happens within and as the consciousness I am. The world, to me, happens within and as the oneness I am. The world, to me, appears as consciousness (AKA the divine, Spirit, God, etc.) since it happens within and as the consciousness I am.

Of course, the mystics use language that reflects their tradition, culture, and time, and they often interpret their direct noticing using a certain understanding and worldview. But the essence is the same.

FREE OF SPIRITUALITY AND INDEPENDENT OF MOST WORLDVIEWS

I like this approach.

It’s logical. It’s something we can find for ourselves through direct noticing.

It’s free of spirituality and spiritual traditions.

It’s compatible with a wide range of worldviews.

It’s a kind of lowest common denominator in understanding awakening.

That means it can be used by people from a wide range of backgrounds and with a wide range of worldviews. It can be used as a simple form of communication across traditions. It can be used by academics and researchers.

We are personally free to add whatever we want to it. We can add a wide range of worldviews and traditions if we want. And it can help us hold all of that more lightly. We see that they are add-ons and essentially questions about the world.

A FEW NOTES

SMALL AND BIG UNDERSTANDINGS OF AWAKENING

When I have written about this in the past, I have often talked about a small and big understanding of awakening.

What I outlined above is the small approach. It’s simple, stays close to our experience, doesn’t philosophize too much, and is compatible with a range of worldviews. We explore our own nature, and don’t assume that’s also the nature of all of existence. The downside of this one is that it can seem a bit boring. (Although it’s anything but.) The upside is that it’s a kind of lowest common denominator. It can be used as a universal language.

The big understanding of awakening is the more traditional one. Here, we assume that our nature is the nature of all of existence. All of existence is consciousness AKA Spirit, God, Allah, Brahman, and so on. The downside here is that we may go into assumptions and fantasies beyond what we can check for ourselves. The upside is that it can be more familiar to many and it can seem more inspiring.

The small understanding is more accurate in the sense that’s it’s more sober, grounded, and honest. And I suspect the big understanding is more accurate in the big picture.

WHO IS USING THIS APPROACH?

If we mean a first-person exploration without too much philosophizing, it’s similar to the Headless Way, Zen, and Adveita.

If we mean using both a small (psychological) and big (spiritual) understanding of awakening, depending on what makes most sense in the situation, then I am not sure. I haven’t seen it myself, although I have also been out of the loop for 10-15 years due to my illness.

WHY ISN’T THIS APPROACH USED MORE COMMONLY?

As with so many things, I wonder why more people don’t use this approach. It seems simple, fits our modern views, and has many benefits.

We may be wedded to a spiritual tradition, and we may be used to a more spiritual language. We may prefer it, for whatever reason, even if it’s more exclusive and some of it goes beyond what we can check out for ourselves.

We may also want the comfort that certain ideas from spirituality give us. When I explore this, I find it doesn’t really give me comfort since I know – somewhere – what’s happening. I am indulging in a fantasy. One that’s possibly reasonably accurate, and one I cannot easily check out for myself or know for certain. Even if I have certain experiences, I know they can be interpreted and understood in many ways and they can fit into many different worldviews in different ways.

MY NATURE VS NATURE OF ALL OF EXISTENCE

Behind this approach – the small understanding of awakening – is a basic assumption: I can find and explore my own nature, and that doesn’t mean that the nature of all existence is the same as my nature. I cannot know for certain what the nature of all of existence is. I can assume it’s all the divine, Spirit, God, and so on, and there may be hints suggesting it’s like that, but I cannot know for certain. If I am honest with myself, I know I cannot know for certain.

For me, it’s more peaceful than trying to create, hold onto, and defend a certain worldview saying all of existence is a certain way.

ABOUT THE LOGIC

I wanted to add a few more words about the logical approach to understanding our first-person nature. I know that some will disagree with this logic, and I made almost no effort to make this particular presentation solid and tight. I just informally hit on some of the highlights.

I also know very well that this logic, in my case, comes from and reflects direct noticing. The noticing came first, and then the logic. It may be more difficult to go the other way, especially if we are already invested in another way of looking at it.

Also, I imagine some will say: Yes, it may be logical. To ourselves, we must be consciousness. But that’s not my experience, and I don’t think it’s possible to experience it. My brain won’t allow it.

That’s fair. And I would invite that person to check it out for themselves. The most effective way to explore it is likely to be facilitated by someone experienced in the Big Mind process. It may take just five minutes to get a real taste of it.

WHY AM I DRAWN TO THIS APPROACH?

I am not sure. Differentiating between a small and big understanding seems more honest. Using a small understanding is more inclusive. I like the fluidity in choosing a small or big interpretation depending on what makes more sense in the situation.

In general, I don’t like being wedded to just one way of looking at something since there is always validity in a range of views and they together give a slightly fuller and richer picture.

Image by me and Midjourney

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What we are never dies? Timeless is not the same as eternal

I saw an ad for a non-dual course that said: Find the part of you that never dies.

I understand it’s a hook, and I see it slightly differently.

The simple answer is: I don’t know for certain. I don’t know if what I am will never die or not.

And there is a longer answer that also points to something essential.

FINDING WHAT WE ARE

We find what we are – that which our field of experience happens within and as.

We find that time, change, and death happen within and as what we are.

We find ourselves as what a thought may call consciousness, and the world to us happens within and as the consciousness we are.

We can also imperfectly label this timeless since it’s inherently free of the passage of time. Change, time, birth and death, and so on happen within and as what I am.

This is our more fundamental nature, and it’s all we have ever known whether we notice it or not.

Our nature has all the characteristics that mystics through time and across traditions talk about.

That’s all fine. It’s something we can find for ourselves and check out for ourselves. It’s not even that difficult to have a taste of it with the right guidance. (To stabilize in it can take a little more effort and, ironically, time.)

STICKING TO WHAT I CAN SAY SOMETHING ABOUT

I like to stick to what I can say something about, which is my own nature as it appears to me.

I can say that, to me, the world happens within and as the consciousness I am. So everything inevitably appears as consciousness to me.

My nature is consciousness. And I cannot say anything about the nature of anything else. It appears as consciousness to me, but I don’t know if that’s its actual nature.

This view is grounded and honest to me. And it has the upside that it’s compatible with a range of different worldviews, including materialism, atheism, non-theism, theism, and more.

I love this approach for those reasons.

I cannot say anything for certain about what happens after the death of this human self. It’s possible that the consciousness I am goes with it. And it’s possible that the consciousness I am will continue free of this human self. Either option is compatible with my nature as I notice it.

In other words, timeless is not necessarily the same as eternal.

And as the Zen master said: I don’t know what happens after I die. I am not dead yet.

TAKING IT ONE STEP FURTHER

Some like to take this a step further.

We can assume that existence itself has the same nature as us.

To us, the world will inevitably appear as consciousness since that’s what we are. From here, we can assume that’s how the world actually is. The world and all of existence is consciousness AKA Spirit, the divine. God, Brahman, and so on.

This view fits with another assumption. And that is that what we are – the consciousness we are – will continue after the death of this human self.

There are two leaps of faith here. One is assuming that the nature of all of existence is the same as our own as we experience it. The other is assuming that it means that what we are continues after the death of this human self.

BEING HONEST ABOUT IT

Taking those leaps is fine. It may be comforting. It may fit what traditions say. It may fit some reports from some people. (Including me since I had memories of my time before incarnation as a little kid.) And it’s good to be honest about it.

It’s good to be honest about it being an assumption and not something we can easily check out for ourselves before this human self dies.

For me, it’s much more comfortable to be honest about all this.

Yes, I know my own nature to some extent. I have been swimming in that water for more than three decades now. I know what traditions say. I have my own memories of the time before this life. (Similar to what people describe from near-death experiences.) I have often checked in with people after they have died and what I sense has matched what others have sensed. (What I pick up about them is surprisingly varied, ranging from immense confusion and turmoil to peace, relief, and joy.) I know what the few studying this scientifically say.

And yet I cannot know. I cannot know for certain what will happen after this life. Anything is possible. I’ll see when that time comes.

THE UPSIDES OF A MORE GROUNDED VIEW

Taking a more honest and grounded view on this has many upsides.

I don’t need to create, uphold, and rehearse stories.

I don’t need to defend stories against anything that may seem threatening to them.

And it gives me more zest for this life. I have no idea what comes next. I have no idea how long this human self is here for. So why not make the most out of it? Why not enjoy what’s here now?

Why not even see if I can find enjoyment in it even if it’s something my personality may not like?

WHY DON’T MORE PEOPLE DIFFERENTIATE?

Why don’t more people differentiate in this way?

Why do some mystics and non-dual folks assume they know what will happen after death? Why do they assume that the nature of all of reality is the same as their own? Why do they assume that timeless means eternal?

I am not sure. Maybe they just latch onto what others have told them. Maybe they haven’t noticed the difference between finding their own nature, and assuming that’s also the nature of all of existence? Maybe they don’t notice the two leaps of faith they have to make? Maybe they find comfort in it? Maybe it’s a kind of wishful thinking? Maybe this differentiation is a more modern (?) way of looking at it, and many still stick with traditions?

SCIENCE

To me, what happens after death is a question for science.

It’s something we can, to our best ability, study. And some do.

And even then, we cannot know for certain. There is always more than one way to understand the data.

DON’T KNOW

Which brings us back to don’t know. We cannot know for certain.

I cannot know anything for certain.

And I find it most comfortable to admit that and rest in and as that. It’s closest to reality.

Image created by me and Midjourney

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Divine awareness is in all things?

Divine awareness is in all things

– NW in a Vortex Healing forum

These kinds of simple statements can be fertile ground for exploration.

MENTAL & PERCEPTION

When people say these things, it can come from two places.

It can come from a mental representation, often formed by exposure to what others say and write.

And it can come from a direct noticing.

In this case, I know the person who wrote it so I assume it comes from a combination. He directly perceives it and is also guided by what he has heard others say.

WE ARE CONSCIOUSNESS

Where does that perception come from?

Rationally, we see that we are consciousness. If we “have” consciousness, then – to ourselves – we ARE consciousness. And that also means that the world, to us, happens within and as the consciousness we are.

We can also find this in direct perception. Yes, in some ways, I am this human self in the world as others see it and my passport suggests. When I take a closer look, I find something else. I find I more fundamentally am what this whole field of experience happens within and as. I am what – to me – the world and this human self and any content of experience happens within and as. And that can be called consciousness.

When the world, to me, happens within and as what I am AKA consciousness, then the world, to me, appears to be made up of consciousness. The consciousness I am forms itself into the whole field of experience, including of the wider world. The world, to me, appears as consciousness. It appears as a night dream since both night dreams and waking life happen within and as consciousness.

And from there, it’s easy to also call it the divine or Spirit. The world, to me, inevitably appears to have the characteristics of the divine. It’s one. It’s consciousness. It’s “alive” in that sense.

SMALL AND BIG INTERPRETATIONS

So what’s really going on here?

If the world, to me, inevitably APPEARS as consciousness, does that mean the world, in itself, IS consciousness? That it is what we can call Spirit or the divine?

Most mystics will say so, and many spiritual traditions say so as well. But that’s just what someone says.

There are also many hints suggesting all is Spirit. For instance, sensing at a distance, distance healing, seeing energies, amazing synchronicities, reports of near-death experiences, memories from before this life, and so on. All of this fits into seeing all as Spirit, but it can also be understood in other ways. It’s not conclusive.

So for me, it makes sense to use two different understandings of what’s going on.

One is the small interpretation. It’s based on what’s described in the previous section: to ourselves, we inevitably are consciousness, and the world, to us, inevitably appears as consciousness. That’s all we can say for certain. Anything else is speculation and assumptions, although some views may be more compatible with the data than other views.

It’s possible that the materialistic view is correct. In an outside and third-person view, we and the rest of existence may fundamentally be matter and it just appears to us as if all things are consciousness.

It’s also possible that all is Spirit, and our nature and the nature of all things is the same. We cannot know for certain. We hold the possibilities open.

The upside of this view is that it’s honest. It allows for a range of possibilities when it comes to the nature of all things. It leaves the door open for anyone to explore their own nature independent of their existing worldview. (A Marxist or materialist can do it as well as a Christian or Hindu.) The downside is that it can seem a little dry. (Although not to me, I find it fascinating.)

The other is the big interpretation. The nature of reality itself is the same as my own nature. Not only does all things appear as consciousness, it also IS consciousness. It’s all Spirit, the divine, Brahman, Allah, and so on. The upside of this view is that it’s inspiring, and it’s familiar and fits what mystics and many spiritual traditions say. The downside is that it can put some people off, and it taken as is, it may not be entirely honest.

USING BOTH VIEWS

To me, what makes the most sense is to use both of these views. They complement each other. Each one has upsides and downsides. And it just feels more comfortable and honest.

The small view is more inviting for a wider range of people, and it also fits better in an academic context. It makes it easier to study awakening and the experience of mystics in an academic setting.

The big view is more familiar to many, fits many traditions, fits more data, and is often more inspiring.

As I see it, the small view is more honest to our own experience. And the big view may be more accurate in the bigger picture.

WHY IS THIS MORE INCLUSIVE VIEW NOT MORE COMMON?

Why don’t more people differentiate between these two views? (I actually don’t know of anyone who does, although I am sure there must be many out there. This is just something that makes sense to me.)

This view seems so obvious to me and makes so much sense, so I am honestly a little baffled why others don’t seem to talk about it.

The obvious answer is that many do, I just don’t know about it. I have been out of touch with these kinds of explorations in the wider world for several years due to my health.

Also, some may talk about it outside of the public view. They may see it as a refinement not necessary for most explorers, and something that may confuse people starting out on their own exploration. (I see it as something that could clarify and guide.)

Some may use these views for themselves without speaking about it very much. (I usually don’t mention it apart from in these writings.)

Some may find comfort in using the traditional language and ways of talking about it.

And some may not have explored this very much. They may not find it interesting or useful. (I obviously find it both useful and interesting. Also, exploring the sense fields and projections has been a central part of my path since my teens so this may come more naturally to me. I am biased in this direction.)

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Secular and spiritual understandings of awakening

I find differentiating a secular and spiritual understanding of awakening intuitive and helpful.

OUR HUMAN SELF AND WHAT WE MORE FUNDAMENTALLY ARE

First, some background.

In one sense, we are this human self in the world. That’s how (most) others see us, what our passport tells us, and what our own thoughts may tell us. It’s not wrong, and it’s an assumption that works relatively well in daily life.

Is that what we more fundamentally are? What do I find when I explore in my own first-person experience? What I find is that I am more fundamentally something else. I am capacity for any and all experience. And I am what any content of experience happens within and as. (AKA consciousness.)

WHAT IS AWAKENING?

To ourselves, we are consciousness. And to us, the world happens within and as this consciousness.

The consciousness we are may take itself to most fundamentally be this human self. It takes itself to be a particular content within itself, and mainly a set of identities created by our mental field.

This likely happens because we do as others do. Most onenesses connected to humans do this today, so that’s what we see and we do the same.

When the oneness we are recognizes itself, that’s what some call awakening. And that’s just the start of a new exploration – of keeping recognizing it, exploring how to live from and as it, and allowing our human self and psyche to transform within this new context.

A SECULAR UNDERSTANDING OF AWAKENING

We can understand it in a secular way.

To ourselves, we are consciousness, and the world to us happens within and as this consciousness.

If we “have” consciousness, then we ARE consciousness in our own experience, and the world to us happens within and as that consciousness. And the consciousness we are has the characteristics mystics of all times and traditions describe. It’s one. It’s love. (A love that comes from recognizing oneness and is independent of changing states, moods, and feelings.) There is a quiet bliss there. And so on.

This is phenomenology. It describes our experience and how it is for us. (And inevitably any consciousness connected with any type of being.)

It doesn’t say anything about the nature of existence itself. It may well be that in a third-person view, we are most fundamentally a physical human self. And yet, to ourselves, we are inevitably consciousness.

It’s an understanding that fits with a range of different worldviews, including atheism and materialism.

And we can still explore and learn a lot from the many spiritual traditions in the world and their pointers and practices. The essence of all of it is valuable.

A SPIRITUAL UNDERSTANDING OF AWAKENING

We can also understand this in a spiritual way.

To ourselves, we are consciousness. That means that the world, to us, inevitably appears as consciousness.

That’s where the secular or psychological understanding of awakening ends.

And in a spiritual understanding of awakening, we take this a step further.

Here, we assume that the nature of all of existence is the same as our nature. All of it is as it appears. All is consciousness AKA Spirit, the divine, God, Brahman, and so on.

WHAT ARE THE UPSIDES AND LIMITATIONS OF EACH?

Each of these understandings has upsides and limitations.

The secular understanding helps us find the lowest common denominator and the simple essence of what awakening is about. It can be a common language for people from different traditions. It can help people from different traditions to recognize the essence more clearly. It can make (the idea of) awakening interesting to a wider range of people, including atheists and materialists. In a sense, it’s also more honest since it keeps it simple and stays with our immediate experience.

It also strips away a lot of cultural baggage from different spiritual traditions, which is both an upside (simplifies and brings focus to what’s essential) and a limitation (may lose out on a lot with cultural and practical value). And some may find it slightly mundane and uninspiring. (Which, to me, is an upside since I prefer a sober approach.)

The spiritual understanding of awakening may be more familiar to many. It may be more inspiring. There is a lot of cultural, social, and practical value in the different existing traditions. And a spiritual understanding may, ultimately, even be more accurate. (There are hints in that direction, including synchronicities, sensing and healing at a distance, precognition, and so on, although this can also be understood in other ways.)

The downside to a spiritual understanding is that it may put some people off any interest in exploring it for themselves. The essence often gets mixed in with cultural and traditional baggage and it can be difficult to tell what’s what. And some traditions may fuel fantasies and misconceptions about awakening.

A NOTE ABOUT LANGUAGE

When I have written about this before, I have often called it “psychological” and “spiritual” understandings of awakening.

To me, “psychological” here just means that it’s within the domain of psychology. It’s phenomenology.

When I on rare occasions have mentioned “psychological understanding” to others, they have responded with: “It depends on what framework of psychology”. To me, that’s missing the point and it confuses the topic. So I may just call it “secular understanding” from now on.

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Understanding awakening in an atheist and materialistic context

No matter what worldview we prefer, it can be helpful to also understand awakening in an atheist and materialistic context.

WHAT IS AWAKENING?

I’ll give the short version I often use in these articles.

In one sense, we are a human being in the world. It’s not wrong and it’s an assumptions that helps us orient and function in the world.

And when we look a little closer in our own first-person experience, we may find something else. Especially if we are guided by effective inquiries and guides familiar with the terrain.

I find I am more fundamentally capacity for any and all of my experiences. I am capacity for the world as it appears to me. I am capacity for this human self and anything connected with it.

I am what the world, to me, happens within and as. I am the oneness the world, to me, happens within and as.

KEEPING NOTICING AND EXPLORING HOW TO LIVE FROM IT

This can be a glimpse, and this noticing can also become a habit. Throughout the day, we may notice this whenever we remember.

When it becomes more of a habit, we can explore how to live from this noticing. How is it to live from oneness? How is it to live from oneness in this situation? This is a lifelong exploration and new things will always be revealed.

And when the noticing is more of a habit, and we explore how to live from, something else tends to happen. And that’s a transformation of our human self. It’s a transformation of our perception, life in the world, and our human self and psyche. Whatever was formed within and still operates from separation consciousness (which is often a lot) comes to the surface with an invitation for it to align with oneness noticing itself.

THE LOGIC OF WHAT WE FIND

We may also discover that there is a logic to what we find.

If we “have” consciousness, then to ourselves we must BE consciousness. Consciousness is not some appendix we somehow have like we have arms, legs, and organs. It’s what we are in our own experience.

To us, the world and any experience happen within and as consciousness. The world and any experience, to us, happens within and as the consciousness we are.

Consciousness is inherently one and cannot be divided. (Although what happens within its content can obviously be divided.) And that means that the world, to us, happens within and as the oneness we are.

This also means that, to us, the world appears similar to a dream. It happens within and as consciousness, just like a dream (and any experience).

OUR NATURE VERSUS THE NATURE OF REALITY

What does this discovery allow us to say something about?

We can say something about what we are in our own immediate experience, and not so much else.

For instance, we cannot say if the nature of reality – of all of existence – is the same as our own nature.

It will inevitably appear that way since the world, to us, happens within and as the consciousness we are. It appears to us as if the world is consciousness. We may even call it Spirit or the divine or God. But we cannot know that for certain.

SMALL AND BIG INTERPRETATIONS OF AWAKENING

This leads us to the psychological (small) and spiritual (big) interpretations of awakening.

In the psychological interpretation, we talk about it as I do above. We keep it to our own experience, and we don’t generalize to the nature of existence itself.

In the spiritual interpretation, we take it one step further. We assume that our nature is the nature of all of existence. We assume all of existence is consciousness and what we can call Spirit, the divine, Brahman, God, and so on.

The spiritual interpretation is most common, perhaps because awakening has traditionally been talked about in the context of religions and spiritual traditions, and these use the spiritual or big interpretation of awakening.

THE VALUE IN THE SMALL INTERPRETATION

There is a value in the psychological or small interpretation of awakening as well.

It fits a range of different worldviews, perhaps nearly all of them. (I am sure it’s possible to come up with some that don’t fit but I cannot think of any of the common ones that don’t fit.)

It even fits an atheist and materialistic worldview. In our own experience, we are consciousness. That’s the reality in our own first-person view. And from a third-person view, it may well be that the most fundamental nature of reality is matter.

Taking this into account has value for those of us already exploring awakening. It helps us see that many worldviews may fit our experience. It helps us hold any preferred worldview a little more lightly. It gives us a common language to use when we speak with people from other backgrounds. And each worldview we explore may give us useful insights and pointers for our views and general and even how we live our life.

And it also has value in a more general sense. It makes awakening more available to more people. If it’s presented in a non-religious and non-spiritual context, then new groups of people may get curious about it. Some may even wish to explore it for themselves since they realize it may be compatible with their existing and familiar worldview. It’s more of an add-on or a nuance than a replacement.

WHICH IS MORE CORRECT?

So which one is more correct? The psychological or spiritual interpretation?

The psychological interpretation is safer. It stays with our own experience and doesn’t make assumptions beyond that. It allows us to consider different worldviews, hold them all more lightly, and find the value in each. It is, in many ways, more intellectually honest. It makes awakening available to more people. It goes to the essence of what mystics across times and cultures describe and can provide a common language for people from different traditions.

The spiritual interpretation may be more familiar to many. It may be more inspiring. And I personally suspect it may be more accurate. There are hints suggesting just that. (Sensing and healing at a distance, ESP, premonitions, synchronicities, and so on.)

On an awakening path, many of us experience things that best fit the big or spiritual interpretation of awakening.

And on a collective level, the more prudent approach is to hold that one lightly as well.

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The logic of what we are (awakening)

There is a logical inevitability to what we are.

There is a logic to what we are in our own first-person experience.

There is a logic to what we find when we are guided, and when we set aside thoughts telling us what we are.

THE CONVENTIONAL VIEW & WHAT I FIND

The conventional view is that we are this human self in the world. I am a human being in the world that has consciousness. That’s not entirely wrong. It’s an assumption that works relatively well in daily life.

But is this what I find when we take a closer look in my own immediate experience? Here, I find I more fundamentally am something else.

I find I more fundamentally am capacity for any and all experience. I find am what any experience happens within and as. And I find there is a logical inevitability to this.

THE LOGIC OF OUR WHAT WE ARE: THE SIMPLE VERSION

Why is there a logical inevitability to what we are?

The simple version is that if we “have” consciousness, then to ourselves we have to BE consciousness.

The world, as it appears to us, then has to happen within the consciousness we are.

And we and the world, as it appears to us, have to have the characteristics of consciousness.

THE LOGIC OF WHAT WE ARE IN MORE DETAIL

I’ll go into this in a little more detail.

(1) If we “have” consciousness, then to ourselves we have to BE consciousness.

Consciousness is not some appendix we happen to have. (The only way it can look that way is if we: (a) Assume we most fundamentally are an object in the world with consciousness somehow attached to it. And (b) don’t examine it very closely.)

If we “have” consciousness, it means that we perceive “through” that consciousness. It means that all our experiences happen within and as that consciousness. It means that what receives any and all experiences is that consciousness. And that means that, to ourselves, we have to BE that consciousness. There is no other option.

(2) The world, as it appears to us, then has to happen within the consciousness we are.

The world, to us, happens within and as consciousness. We are that consciousness.

That means that the world, to us, happens within and as the consciousness we are.

And by “the world” I mean any and all content of experience including the wider, this human self, thoughts, feelings, states, and so on.

Anything that appears in any sense field – sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, thought – happens within and as the consciousness we are.

(3) And we and the world, as it appears to us, have to have the characteristics of consciousness.

Here are some of these characteristics:

Oneness. The consciousness we are is one. And the world as it appears to us happens within and as the oneness we are. Our experience of anything and everything inevitably happens within the oneness we are. (If our system is invested in a perception of separation, we may not notice that oneness, but that’s another matter.)

Timeless. To ourselves, our nature is timeless. It just is. And since the world happens within and as what we are, that too is timeless to us. Time happens within and as what we are. It’s not fundamental to what we are.

Spaceless. Similarly, to ourselves, our nature is spaceless and the world appears spaceless. Any sense of space happens within and as what we are, it’s not fundamental to our nature.

Love. We can also say that our nature is love. Love is a natural expression of the oneness we are recognizing itself. It’s the love of the left hand removing a splinter from the right. It’s a love that’s not dependent on feelings or states. (It’s always here but it’s dependent on not being too obscured by our separation-consciousness hangups to be expressed.)

Not a thing. As consciousness, we are not a thing. And since the world, to us, happens within and as the consciousness we are, that too – to us – is not a thing. It’s all happening more like a dream, within and as consciousness, than anything else. (Again, being caught up in separation consciousness can make the world appear very much as a thing, and there is some truth to that too.)

Ephemeral. Any and all experience is ephemeral. It’s gone before we consciously realize we have noticed it. In this way too, everything is dreamlike. (Any sense of permanence is created by the overlay of our mental field.)

Capacity. As consciousness, our more fundamental nature is capacity. We are capacity for any and all experiences. We are what allows it all. We are what all happens within and as.

Always here. Our nature is, inevitably, always here. It may not recognize itself, but it’s here. It’s what we already are.

NO IDEOLOGY OR SPIRITUALITY REQUIRED

No ideology or spirituality is required to explore this. It’s just what we find (or not) when we look.

What we find is what mystics throughout history and from any tradition have described. And yet, it’s not dependent on any religion, spirituality, or ideology.

If anything, it reveals that any religion, spirituality, and ideology is human-created, it’s created by our mental field. At most, and in this context, it reflects a direct noticing and can offer some pointers for how to explore it for ourselves.

HOW CAN WE EXAMINE IT FOR OURSELVES?

So how can we examine it for ourselves?

I’ll mention a few approaches I have found especially helpful.

Headless experiments and the Big Mind process are two of the most simple, direct, and effective approaches I have found so far.

Basic meditation is to notice and allow what’s here and notice it’s already noticed and allowed. Over time, we realize that any and all content of experience comes and goes, including what we may take ourselves to be. So what are we more fundamentally? Are we what it all comes and goes within and as? How is it to notice that? How is it to explore living from that noticing?

And there are also many approaches that support this noticing or support living from it, including other forms of inquiry (sense field explorations, Kiloby inquiries), heart-centered practices (prayer, tonglen, ho’oponpono, metta), training more stable attention (including body-centered practices), and ethical guidelines (reduces distractions, highlights what in us operates from separation consciousness).

WHY IS IT COVERED UP?

If this is our nature, why don’t we notice? Why is it covered up?

The simple answer is that as we grow up, we do as others do. We see others operate from separation consciousness, assuming they most fundamentally are an object in the world, so we do the same. And we don’t find a good reason to question or examine it. Or we don’t have access to good tools and guidance to examine it.

HOW IS IT COVERED UP?

How is it covered up? What are some of the mechanisms?

In short, it’s covered up when our mind holds onto mental representations – mental images and words – as accurately reflecting reality.

As soon as consciousness holds a story as true, it identifies with the viewpoint of that story. It becomes an “I” with an “other”. To itself, it becomes something within the content of experience. (1)

It temporarily takes itself to be one part within itself, and everything else as “other”.

That’s how separation consciousness is created, and it can seem very real.

If we grow up with separation consciousness, as most of us do, then many parts of our psyche are formed and operate from separation consciousness. That’s how emotional issues, traumas, hangups, ideologies, and so on are created.

Even when the oneness we are recognizes itself, it can still have many parts operating from separation consciousness, and it can take time to get all of these onboard with a more conscious noticing of oneness.

WHY DON’T MORE PEOPLE TALK ABOUT THIS?

Why don’t more people talk about this?

Well, some do. Many Asian spiritual traditions talk about this. Mystics from all traditions and times talk about it. Many spiritual coaches and teachers talk about it. Some psychologists and philosophers talk about it.

And yet, most psychologists and philosophers don’t talk about it, and few in academia explore it in any serious way.

Why do they ignore it even if it has logic to it? Why do they ignore it even if this has profound practical implications? Even if it can be profoundly transforming for anyone engaging in these kinds of explorations?

I am not sure.

Perhaps some lack curiosity or interest? (Which is fine. Our fascination is our calling, and there is no lack of things to be fascinated by.) Perhaps they haven’t investigated the conventional “have consciousness as an appendix” idea? Perhaps they are concerned to get lumped in with mystics, spiritual people, and weirdos?

I assume it’s not because this is not an important topic, because it is. It’s not for lack of information or guidance, because that can be found. It’s not because they cannot explore it for themselves, because they can. And it’s not because there is no logic to it, because there is.

IS OUR NATURE THE SAME AS THE NATURE OF EXISTENCE?

Is our nature the same as the nature of all of existence?

If we find our own more fundamental nature, it’s natural to assume that the nature of existence is the same. After all, the world to us happens within and as what we are, so it will appear that way.

And yet, do we know? Not really.

I cannot know for certain. I can find what appears as my more fundamental nature, I can explore how to live from that noticing, and so on. And yet, I cannot honestly say I know for certain that’s the nature of everything.

THE SMALL AND BIG INTERPRETATIONS OF AWAKENING

This is where I differentiate between the small and big interpretations of awakening.

This article is written from the small interpretation of awakening. It doesn’t rely on spirituality or religion. It’s about what we can find for ourselves through direct noticing.

It’s about our own nature, in our own first-person experience, not the nature of reality or existence.

From here, we can go one step further and say that our nature IS the nature of existence and reality. Reality IS consciousness. It is what we traditionally think of as the divine, as Spirit, as God.

Each of these interpretations has its place and value.

The small interpretation is more accessible to more people, it points more directly to what we can find for ourselves, and it goes to the heart of what mystics from different times and traditions describe. As I see it, it’s also more intellectually honest. And it may appear a bit dry and boring.

The big interpretation fits more what the main religions and spiritual traditions describe, it can be more inspiring, and it can open us up more. In some cases, it’s also a bit intellectually dishonest (presenting fantasy or speculation as reality), fanciful, and misleading. And there are several hints that the essence of it is more accurate in the bigger picture.

LILA – THE PLAY OF REALITY

All of this can be seen as play.

We can see it as the play of consciousness, reality, or even of the divine.

In the big interpretation of awakening…

It’s the divine exploring, expressing, and experiencing itself in always new ways.

It’s the one experiencing itself as many. It’s oneness experiencing itself as separate. It’s love experiencing itself as what looks like anything but love. It’s consciousnes experiencing itself as an object in the world. And so on.

It’s the dance of reality or Spirit.

In the small interpretation of awakening…

It’s much the same. It’s the oneness we are experiencing itself as separate. It’s the love we are experiencing itself as anything but love. It’s consciousness taking itself to be an object in the world.

And here, we can see it as play or something that’s just happening.

In either case, we can see it as the dance of consciousness, reality, or the divine.

And any ideas of purpose or meaning are ideas and not inherent in reality itself.

(1) Said another way, the consciousness we are creates a lot of identities for itself and identifies with these. It takes itself as a human, a gender, an age, someone with certain characteristics, and so on. None of this is necessarily wrong, but it is limiting and it’s not accurate in a more real sense.

If we look more closely we may find another mechanism. The consciousness we are associates certain thoughts with certain sensations. The sensations lend a sense of solidity, substance, and reality to the thoughts, and the thoughts give a sense of meaning to the sensations. And the consciousness we are may create chronic tension in the physical body in order to have ready access to sensations lending substance to certain thoughts.

If we have chronic beliefs, about anything, it’s a good bet that these are connected with chronic tension somewhere in the physical body.

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What does “oneness” mean? Some examples of different forms of oneness

What comes to mind when you hear the word “oneness”? That it always refer to the same? That what it refers to is something mysterious? Something that belongs to certain religions or New Age thought? Something not grounded in reality? Something real you cannot check out for yourself?

The word oneness can refer to several different things and it’s helpful to differentiate.

THE ONENESS WE ARE TO OURSELVES

We may take ourselves to be this human being in the world, and that’s not wrong and it’s an assumption that works reasonably well. 

And yet, if we look more closely in our own first-person experience, we may find something else. We may find that we more fundamentally are capacity for the world – for any content of experience – as it appears to us. And we may find that the world, to us, happens within and as what we are. 

Said another way, we may find that we inevitably are consciousness and that the world, to us, happens within and as this consciousness. 

We can also say that we are oneness, and the world happens within and as this oneness. 

This is the oneness we are and we can explore in our own experience, especially if we are guided by a structured inquiry and someone familiar with the terrain. 

ONE IN A MORE CONVENTIONAL SENSE  

In mainstream culture, we sometimes say we are one – whether that comes from poetry, politics, science, religion, or something else.

We are one in an ethnic or political sense.

We are one in terms of our shared history, either as a group or as humanity.

We are one in terms of our evolution and shared ancestry, either as humanity or all Earth beings.

We are one in that the essence of what we want is the same and shared by all beings. We all wish for comfort and happiness and to avoid suffering.

In some cases, it can be a dangerous rhetoric if it sets “us” up against “them”. And it can be beautiful and healing to the extent it is inclusive.

ONE IN A SYSTEMS SENSE 

We can take this one step further and find oneness in a systems sense.

We are all parts of a seamless system. All of humanity, all of this living planet, all of this evolving universe, all of existence. All of existence is part of a seamless system. 

As Carl Sagan said: We are the local eyes, ears, thoughts, and feelings of the universe. We are the universe bringing itself into consciousness. 

ONE IN A SPIRITUAL SENSE 

It’s also possible that all of existence is God or the divine or Spirit. Spirit takes the form of all there is and all we know, including everything connected with this human self. 

It’s all the play of the divine. It’s the divine expressing, exploring, and experiencing itself in always new ways, as all there is. 

All of existence is divine and one. 

SEVERAL DIFFERENT ONENESSES 

We can find several different onenesses. 

To ourselves, we are the oneness the world happens within and as. 

We are one in several different social, historical, biological, and evolutionary ways. 

We are parts of a seamless system. 

And all can be seen as expressions and explorations of Spirit. 

THE VALIDITY OF EACH 

Each of these ways of talking about oneness has validity, and the validity is slightly different in each case.

I can check the first one for myself. I can find myself as that oneness.

The two next ones make sense within the realm of stories, and I include science here since science produces stories that help us function and navigate in the world.

And the last one is what mystics from all traditions describe. We can say that they found the first kind of oneness and then over-generalized and assumed that their nature is the nature of all of existence. And there are also hints beyond that suggesting that the “all as Spirit” view is valid in itself. (See articles on the small and big interpretations of awakening for more on this.) 

Image: Enso / Zen circle by Sengai

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Several onenesses and one oneness

There seem to be several onenesses and one oneness, depending on how I look at it.

SEVERAL ONENESSES

If we use the small or psychological interpretation of awakening, we focus on our first-person experience of what we more fundamentally are. We find our own nature as what we can call capacity for the world and the oneness that the world to us appears within and as. And we don’t make the leap of assuming that our nature is the nature of all of existence. (Even if it will inevitably appear that way since the world, to us, happens within and as what we are.)

This view is compatible with the essence of what mystics of all times and traditions, and outside of traditions, have described. And it’s also compatible with a range of worldviews or assumptions or guesses about what our fundamental nature is in a more outside or objective view, and what the nature of reality is.

For instance, it is compatible with a guess that we most fundamentally, in an objective sense, is this physical human self and that consciousness somehow is created by the biology. To ourselves, we will still be what a thought may label consciousness, and to us the world will still happen within and as consciousness. We will still find ourselves as capacity for the world as it appears to us, and as the oneness the world to us happens within and as.

Here, we can talk about several onenesses.

I find myself as the oneness the world, to me, appears within and as. You find yourself as the oneness the world, to you, happens within and as. And it’s fair to assume – or guess – that this is the case for all conscious beings. If they “have” consciousness, in conventional language, then to themselves they are consciousness. They are capacity for the world as it appears to them. And, to them, the world appears within and as what they are.

These onenesses may live from their nature, and the dynamics of the being they have a special connection with, without being consciously aware of it. (This may be the case for most species.) They may get caught up in a much smaller identity for a while. (Typical for humans.) Or they may notice their nature and live from this noticing. (AKA awakening.)

ONE ONENESS

At the same time, we can say there is one oneness.

Same kind of nature. Our nature – as capacity, oneness, and what we can call consciousness – seems the same for anyone who has reported about it. And, again, it’s fair to assume it’s the same for all conscious beings.

In that sense, there is oneness. There is an oneness of all beings consciousnesses since we seem to have the same kind of nature.

Oneness in perception. To us, all of existence happens within and as the oneness we are. This is another kind of oneness. A oneness in perception.

One system. At a story level, we can see all of existence as a seamless system. Everything is a seamless whole. It’s a holarchy with holons within holons.

All as Spirit. And we can also take the big or spiritual interpretation of awakening and assume – or guess – that the nature of all of existence is the same as our nature. It not only inevitably appears that way to us, it actually is that way too. There are certainly many hints suggesting this, including synchronicities, distance healing, sensing at a distance, and so on.

SEVERAL ONENESSES AND ONE ONENESS

So from a psychological interpretation of awakening, we can say there are several onenesses. Each being is a oneness whether they notice or not.

And we can say there is one oneness. All beings are one in that their nature is of the same kind. We perceive existence as one when we notice our nature. We can see existence as a whole as a seamless system. And the spiritual interpretation of awakening may be accurate, and all of existence is Spirit AKA God, Brahman, and so on.

All of it seems to have a certain validity in its own way.

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The logic of awakening & the inevitability of what we are and how it plays itself out

This is another topic I feel drawn to revisit.

What are we in our own first-person experience? What are we to ourselves? What is the world to us?

We can explore this in our own direct experience, and that can be profoundly transforming for our perception, life in the world, and our human self.

And we can also explore it logically, which can lead to and possibly support a more immediate exploration.

When I explore it logically, arriving at what we are – our nature – seems inevitable. And perhaps it looks that way since I have explored it in my immediate noticing since my teens. I shape the steps to fit what I notice in immediacy.

THE INEVITABILITY OF WHAT WE ARE

What are these logical steps apparently arriving at the inevitability of what we are?

Here is one version:

  1. There is consciousness.
    • This is indisputable, as far as I can tell.
  2. This consciousness has content.
    • We label this content this human self, others, the wider world, and so on.
    • All our experiences – of this human self, the wider world, and anything else – are content of consciousness.
  3. To ourselves, we are consciousness.
    • All the content of our experience comes and goes. Nothing stays.
    • This also applies to our human self and any ideas we have about our human self.
      • This human self is more ephemeral than we may tell ourselves. This human self comes and goes. For instance, in a dream we may be someone else or not present at all. Our experience of this human self, including our ideas about it, is always changing.
    • To ourselves, we are more fundamentally consciousness.
  4. The world, to us, happens within and as what we are.
    • To us, the world happens within and as consciousness, what we are to ourselves.
    • Our nature forms itself into the world as we experience it here and now.
  5. We are capacity.
    • One characteristic of consciousness is capacity.
    • Consciousness is capacity for any and all of the content of its experience.
    • We are capacity for the world, as it appears to us.
  6. We are oneness.
    • Any content of experience happens within and as consciousness.
    • This consciousness forms itself into any and all content of experience, including this human self, others, the world, and so on.
    • Consciousness is one, no matter what experience it forms itself into.
    • To ourselves, we are oneness.
  7. Separation consciousness
    • Consciousness can take itself to primarily be one particular part of its content.
    • Consciousness can take itself to be this human self, a doer, an observer, and any concept.
    • This is how separation consciousness is created.
  8. Awakening
    • Consciousness can notice itself as consciousness.
    • This is what some spiritual traditions call awakening.
    • It can happen through intention, practice, or without any conscious work or desire.
    • The noticing happens here and now, and learning to keep noticing, clarifying, deepening, and living from it is a process.
    • This process is ongoing and has no finishing line.
  9. Universality
    • The essence of this has been described by people across time and cultures, it seems universal.
    • Mystics from all the major spiritual traditions, and outside of any tradition, talk about finding themselves as capacity (“God-head”), oneness, and so on. And they speak in very similar ways about the process leading up to noticing, and the process of living from this noticing.
  10. A psychological understanding of awakening
    • This is a more psychological understanding of awakening.
    • It doesn’t rely on spirituality or spiritual terminology, although what it describes is the same.
    • It says something about what we are in our own first-person experience.
    • It doesn’t say anything about the nature of reality. It doesn’t rely or depend on words like Spirit, God, or Brahman.
    • That makes it more accessible to people independent on their existing worldviews.
    • And it can also provide common ground for people who are exploring and finding this, independent on whatever spiritual tradition or religion – if any – they belong to.

I realize that some may have arguments with some or all of these steps. That’s the job of the mind.

For instance, someone may agree that to ourselves, we are consciousness, oneness, etc. And yet, they may not see it as possible for consciousness to “wake up” to itself in this way because it’s outside of their current experience and the worldview they are familiar with.

I also realize that this can seem abstract and intellectual if we haven’t tasted it for ourselves, in our immediate noticing. (In my case, the noticing came before finding this apparent logic.)

And I am sure there are other ways of phrasing this that are more to the point and make more sense.

SEPARATION CONSCIOUSNESS AND AWAKENING

I thought I would say a few more words about separation consciousness and awakening since that’s of particular interest to me.

For me, the essence of how separation consciousness and awakening plays itself out also has a logic in it. Although there is a wild diversity in how each is expressed and lived out, there is also an apparent inevitability in its essence.

SEPARATION CONSCIOUSNESS

The oneness we are can take itself as fundamentally something in particular within the content of experience. Typically, this human self, a doer, an observer, and so on.

This happens, at least partially, through social learning. We are taught to take ourselves to be, most fundamentally, this human self. So we are good boys and girls and play the game so well we overlook our nature.

The specific ways separation consciousness unfolds is individual and always different.

And yet, there are some universals that inevitably come with separation consciousness.

This game of separation consciousness comes with inherent struggle and stress. Seeing ourselves as most fundamentally an object in the world, at the mercy of innumerable other objects, creates struggle and is stressful. And operating from a view out of alignment with reality does the same.

We also tend to operate from several blind projections. We see characteristics in others and the world and not in ourselves, and the other way around. This comes from and reinforces a sense of fundamentally being an I with an Other.

THE AWAKENING PROCESS

We don’t completely forget. Our nature is, inevitably, what’s most familiar to us. It’s all we ever know.

Here are some typical phases of the awakening process, and with the benefit of hindsight, the process looks relatively logical.

Initial interest

We may have a longing for finding ourselves again as oneness. At the surface, it may take the form of a longing for love, truth, reality, Spirit, or God. For me, it was a profound longing for coming home.

We may hear about awakening and it resonates with us.

We may have glimpses or shifts that drive us to explore further. (I had a profound sense of being one with the universe when I was around ten years old, sleeping under an open sky filled with stars in the Norwegian mountains.)

Practice

We may engage in spiritual practice and explore maps from others more familiar with the terrain.

In the best case, this helps reorient us so it’s easier to notice our nature and live from this noticing.

Noticing

We then notice our nature. Oneness notices itself.

If it’s without bells and whistles, it’s possible we’ll tell ourselves it’s too simple and obvious and keep looking for something else.

If it’s with bells and whistles, we may get distracted by these, assume that’s what it’s about, and try to experience those particular bells and whistles again. We may end up chasing a state that’s by nature ephemeral, and overlook the much simpler essentials of our nature.

Keep noticing

We then realize this is about keeping noticing our nature. We can learn to notice it independent of and through changing states and experiences. Oneness notices itself independent of what content of experience it changes itself into.

Living from it

Here, we explore how to live from this noticing. How do I live from a conscious noticing of oneness in this situation?

Transformation

This process involves a transformation of our fundamental identity, our perception, our life in the world, and our human self and psyche.

Many parts of our human self and psyche were formed within separation consciousness and still operate from separation consciousness. These will color our perception and life even if we consciously notice our nature.

An essential part of learning how to live from noticing our nature is to invite in healing for these parts of us.

Dark nights

Many go through one or more dark nights in this process. These are periods where we more strongly rub up against parts of the old separation consciousness so it can wear off and be seen through.

We may wonder if something has gone wrong. It will often bring us to our knees. Some dark nights may be intensely uncomfortable and overwhelming. And, in hindsight, we may see them as an essential part of the process.

Always individual

This process is always individual. Oneness winds itself up in separation consciousness in an individual way and unwinds in an individual way.

This is just an idealized and generalized outline. For instance, I have gone through or lived each of these steps or aspects, but not in the order outlined here.

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Why I am drawn to a psychological interpretation of awakening

There are benefits to both a big (spiritual) and small (psychological) interpretation of awakening.

Here, I’ll revisit some of the upsides and downsides of both, and say a few words about why I am more drawn to the small interpretation these days.

WHAT IS AWAKENING?

In a conventional sense and to others, I am this human self in the world. This is also what I may imagine myself to be if I take on what others tell me I am. This is not wrong, but it’s not what I more fundamentally am in my own first-person experience.

When I look in my own first-person experience, I may find something else. I find that my nature is capacity for the world as it appears to me. It’s what allows any and all experience. And I find I am what the world, to me, happens within and as.

Both are valid in their own way. One is who I am in the world. The other is what I am in my own first-person experience.

THE BIG AND SMALL INTERPRETATIONS OF AWAKENING

We can leave it there and that’s the small or psychological interpretation of awakening.

Logically, I find that to myself, I have to be consciousness. And the world, to me, happens within and as this consciousness. To me, the world happens within and as what I am.

And that’s also what I find when I look in my own experience. I find I am capacity for the world as it appears to me, and what the world – to me – happens within and as.

We can also take this one step further, and that’s the big or spiritual interpretation of awakening.

We can say that the nature of existence and reality is the same as my nature. All of existence is consciousness AKA Spirit, God, Brahman, and so on.

Since the world, to me happens within and as what I am, it will inevitably appear to me as if the nature of existence is the same as my nature. It will appear as if the world IS consciousness. And we can take a leap and say that this appearance is how it is: The nature of all of existence and reality is the same as my nature and what we can call Spirit or God.

A FEW UPSIDES AND DOWNSIDES TO EACH

Each of these two interpretations has upsides and downsides.

What are some of the upsides of the big or spiritual interpretation of awakening? It may be more inspiring. It’s often expressed in a more poetic way. In terms of language, it’s what we are more familiar with from the different spiritual traditions. Ultimately, it may also be closer to reality.

What are some of the downsides to the big or spiritual interpretation? Mainly, it tends to encourage misconceptions about awakening. It can make it sound special, distant, for just a few, and so on.

The small or psychological interpretation of awakening also has upsides and downsides. It generally takes a more grounded and sober approach to awakening and makes it closer and more ordinary. It may also make it sound a bit more dry and boring. (Which I, personally, see as a benefit. It counteracts some of the common misconceptions about awakening.)

WHY I PREFER THE SMALL INTERPRETATION THESE DAYS

For a few years following the initial awakening shift in my teens, I definitely used the big or spiritual interpretation of awakening.

After all, to me, all of existence clearly was consciousness and what I called Spirit and God.

And now, I am more drawn to exploring the small interpretation of awakening.

Why has this shifted for me?

It may be a natural shift from one end of this polarity to the other so I’ll get more familiar with both.

Another reason is that the big or spiritual interpretation is more mainstream. Spiritual traditions and mystics have typically used the big interpretation of awakenings, and the small one is a slightly less explored ground, both historically and for myself. And that makes it more interesting to me.

I also see many benefits to it, as I suggested above.

The big interpretation of awakening tends to come with misconceptions. We may think it’s special, distant from us, for just a few. We may assume it comes with special powers. We may assume it’s a state or that it will solve all our problems. We may get seduced and mislead by the many fanciful stories about awakening, or the wishful thinking we often see among those drawn to it. (The connection between the big interpretation and misconceptions is not inevitable.)

The small interpretation tends to be more grounded and sober. It shows us it’s about what we are which is already here and now. It shows us that it’s not about a state. It’s not about anything within content of experience. It won’t give us any special powers.

The small interpretation is more compatible with a range of worldviews. Here, awakening is about finding what we already are in our own first-person experience. It’s about finding and exploring how to live from noticing our nature. It doesn’t say anything about the nature of the rest of existence and reality.

The small interpretation makes awakening more available to more people, for some of the reasons mentioned above. It’s more logical. It doesn’t say anything about the nature of reality or existence as a whole. It’s more honest. It points to something we all can explore and find where and now, with some pointers and perhaps with the guidance of someone familiar with this terrain.

Since it talks about our own first-person experience, it can provide common ground – and a kind of smallest common denominator – for people exploring awakening from a range of different spiritual traditions and religions.

The small interpretation appears more logical. If we think about it logically, we see that to ourselves we have to be consciousness, and to us, the world has to appear within and as this consciousness. We can take this through a few steps: (1) There is conscusness here. (2) No matter who or what we are in a more objective sense, to ourselves we have to be this consciousness. (3) Any content of experience, including this human self and the wider world, has to happen within and as this consciousness. (4) To us, the world happens within and as what we are. (5) We are oneness and to us, the world happens withi and as this oneness. Again, this doesn’t say anything about the nature of the rest of existence. This is just about how it is to ourselves when we look more closely.

The small interpretation is more honest for me. It’s what I can say something about without leaps of faith. It’s more honest for me to differentiate between the small and big interpretation of awakening, and look at the upsides and limitations of both.

That said, I love that both the big and small interpretations exist and that there are variations of both. They both have their value and usefulness.

Note: Because of my health and brain fog, I have been out of the loop for more than a decade when it comes to what others say about these things. So I am not sure who else talks about this, although I assume there must be several. If you are reading this and know about others, please leave a comment 🙂

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How does God see us?

We believe that God sees us from above. But he actually sees us from the inside.

– Shams Tabrizi

If we have adopted a sky-god view of God, then we may imagine that he sees us from above.

If we have a more immanent view of God, we may say that God sees us from the inside.

GOD SEES THROUGH OUR EYES

We can say that…

God sees through our eyes. Hears through our ears. Senses through our body.

God thinks through our thoughts. Feels through our emotions.

God lives through our life.

If we say that reality or existence as a whole is God, then this is clearly true.

A MORE IMMEDIATE NOTICING

And it’s also accurate in a more immediate sense.

If I explore what I am in my own first-person experience, what do I find?

I find I am capacity for the world as it appears to me. My nature allows any and all experiences that are here.

I am what my experience of the world happens within and as. To me, the world happens within and as what I am. It happens within and as what a thought can call consciousness. To me, the world is like a dream since both happen within and as what I am, within and as consciousness.

If I use a big or spiritual interpretation of awakening, I can say that this is all Spirit or God.

And that means that God, quite literally, sees through my eyes. Hears through my ears. Lives through my life. And so on.

FINDING IT ON OUR OWN

It’s something we can explore and find on our own.

If we haven’t noticed it for ourselves yet, it may seem abstract, distant, a philosophy, a fantasy, unrelated to my life, without any practical use, and so on.

If we noticed it sometime in the past, it becomes a kind of reference. A pointer inviting us to notice it again here and now. Our nature is always here, so it’s always here to be noticed. It’s always here to notice itself as all it is in its own experience. It’s always here to find itself as what the world, to itself, happens within and as.

And we can find it on our own. We can explore what we are in our own first-person experience.

How? If we are not familiar with this terrain, we may not even know where to start.

That’s where more structured pointers come in. For instance, Headless experiments and the Big Mind process.

That’s where being guided by an experienced guide comes in. Someone we trust, to some extent, and who is familiar with this terrain and in guiding others.

And that’s where any number of supporting practices come in, for instance, basic meditation, sense field explorations, heart-centered practices, training a stable attention, body-centered practices, ethical guidelines, and so on.

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Finca Milagros - view

Awakening described in five levels of difficulty

I keep seeing YouTube videos where people explain something at different levels of complexity. 

So why not do it for awakening? 

How may it look if I describe it from the essence and then increasingly add more detail and differentiation? Here is my first go:

What is awakening? 

LEVEL 1 

At the simplest level, it’s about exploring what we really are in our own experience. 

To see what we find and see how it is to live from it. 

It’s as simple as that. 

LEVEL 2 

We can add another layer of detail. 

In one sense, we are this human self, a being in the world, and so on. That’s not wrong. 

And yet, when we look, what is it we more fundamentally are in our own first-person experience? 

This involves setting aside any ideas others tell us we are and we tell ourselves we are. Engage in a sincere and often guided exploration. See what we find in our own first-person experience. 

And then see how it is to live from that noticing and what it does with us. 

LEVEL 3 

This can be understood in a psychological or spiritual context. 

In a psychological context, awakening is just about discovering what we are in our own first-person experience. 

We have mental representations of this human self in the world, and we need those to orient and function in the world. And yet, when we look more closely, we may find we more fundamentally – to ourselves – are something else. 

Conventionally, we may say we “have” consciousness. And in our own first-person experience, we are this consciousness and all content of experience – including this human self, the wider world, and anything else – is happening within and as this consciousness. What we are forms itself into any and all our experiences. 

In that sense, all we have ever known and will ever know is what we are. All we have known and will ever know is our nature. 

In a spiritual context, we can go one step further. We can say that all of existence is the divine, and we are the divine first taking itself as a separate being and then reminding its own nature and oneness. 

The upside of the psychological interpretation is its simplicity and that it doesn’t require any particular worldview. It can help us ground our approach to awakening and living from and as oneness. 

The upside of the spiritual interpretation is that it *may* be more accurate in the bigger picture, and it can be more inspiring. 

LEVEL 4 

What may we find when we explore our more fundamental nature? 

We may find ourselves as capacity for all our experiences – of this human self, the wider world, and anything else. 

And we may find ourselves as what any and all experiences, and the world to us, happens within and as. 

Noticing this is the first step. And it doesn’t necessarily involve a long and complicated process. 

Simple guidance from someone familiar with this terrain may be enough, for instance using the Big Mind process or the Headless experiments. 

The next step is to keep noticing this in more and more situations in our daily life, and over time deepen the groove of this new noticing habit. 

And to explore living from it. How is it to live from noticing my nature? How is it to live from noticing that the world and all of existence, to me, is one? 

What does this do to me? What does the noticing do to where my “center of gravity” is in terms of what I most fundamentally take myself to be? What does it do to me to intend to live from this noticing in more situations and more areas of my life? 

The noticing itself is relatively simple. It doesn’t ask that much from us. 

And to keep noticing it and to live from it asks everything from us. 

It involves a profound transformation of our most fundamental identity, our perception, our life in the world, and our human self and psyche. 

And it requires a deep healing at our human level. It requires deep healing of all the different parts of our psyche still caught up in separation consciousness, and emotional issues, hangups, beliefs, and traumas. 

We can notice our nature and even, to some extent, live from it, while also having many parts of us still operating from separation consciousness. These parts of us will inevitably color our perception and life, and they will sometimes be more actively and obviously triggered. 

In an awakening process, they’ll come up metaphorically asking to join in with the awakening. Asking to reorient within the context of finding ourselves as oneness. And find deeper healing through that. 

LEVEL 5 

A couple of things here are relatively simple. 

It doesn’t necessarily take much for us to notice our nature, especially with skilled guidance. 

And it doesn’t take that much to understand all of this, to some extent, at a story level. 

Both of those are good starting points. And the real work is in living it. 

The real work is in keeping noticing our nature, exploring how it is to live from it, and inviting the many parts of us still operating from separation consciousness to align more closely with oneness. 

There is always further to go in the noticing, living, and realigning of the many parts of us. 

It’s an ongoing process. 

What are some of the many things we may discover or experience? 

We may go through dark nights. As I see it these days, these are phases where our system holds onto deeper assumptions and identities and life puts us in a situation where these don’t work anymore. There are many types of dark nights, including one I am familiar with where deep trauma comes up to heal and align with the awakening. 

We may engage in different forms of structured inquiry and explore certain processes more in detail. We may notice what happens when our system holds onto a specific belief, examine this belief, and find what’s more true for us and how it is to live from this. 

We may explore our sense fields. We may notice how our mental field is a kind of overlay on the rest of the content of our experience to make sense of it all. Our mental representations help us orient and navigate in the world. 

We may see how our mind associates certain mental representations (mental images and words) with certain bodily sensations. The mental representations give a sense of meaning to the sensations, and the sensations give a sense of solidity to the mental representations. This is how the mind creates beliefs and identities for itself, and also emotional issues, hangups, and traumas. 

This is also how the oneness we inherently are creates an experience for itself of I and Other. It’s how separation consciousness is created. It’s a relatively basic mechanism behind separation consciousness. 

We may find that mental representations (thoughts) are questions about the world. Their function is to help us orient and navigate in the world. They are different in kind from what they point to. They simplify. In a conventional sense, they are more or less accurate. And they cannot hold any final, full, or absolute truth. Reality is always more than and different from any thought, and also – in a sense – far more simple. 

As we explore this in more detail, we may discover more places where our systems hold onto identities and assumptions about ourselves and the world. We may find an identification as an observer, as consciousness, as oneness, as love, as capacity for the world, and so on. In each of these cases, the mind creates a mental representation for itself, associates it with certain physical sensations, and identifies with the viewpoint of that mental representation and its story. 

This is an ongoing process.

ABOUT THESE STEPS 

These steps are obviously somewhat arbitrary, and they turned out to be more about adding another layer of detail than explaining awakening in different levels of complexity. If I did it again, I may be able to follow the assignment more accurately…! 

I would likely also include more about the heart and energetic aspects and more about the dynamics of living from noticing our nature.

I am also aware of how these steps roughly mirror my own process. During the initial awakening shift in my teens, oneness woke up to itself. I wasn’t aware of the more detailed mechanisms and so on. All that came through different forms of inquiry and other practices later on. 

Note: If I wanted to point to it more directly in the first level, I could say: “It’s the one pretending to be two and then refinds itself as one and many simultaneously”. This is not wrong, but I prefer to emphasize the questions and exploration since it more clearly leaves the finding up to the person. Pointing to it more directly can give some a sense that they get it even if they only get it at a conceptual level. As mentioned above, that’s a good first step but it’s not what this is about.

Photo: A snapshot I recently took from the land that chose us in the Andes mountains.

Why don’t awakening teachers more often differentiate between small and big interpretations of awakening?

Why don’t more awakening teachers differentiate between small and big interpretations of awakening?

WHAT IS AWAKENING?

First, what is awakening?

It’s when we go from taking ourselves as most fundamentally something within the content of our experience, typically our human self, to finding ourselves as that which allows all content of experience, and that which forms itself into any and all content of experience. This is something we are already very familiar with, although we may not have noticed it’s our more fundamental nature.

Here, we find that our nature – and all of existence to us – is oneness, love, and so on. And this allows our human self and psyche to transform within this new conscious context. (Which has always been here, just not consciously noticed.)

SMALL & BIG INTERPRETATION OF AWAKENING

What are the small and big interpretations of awakening?

The small interpretation of awakening is what I used to describe awakening above. Here, we keep to what’s immediately noticed, and we avoid jumping to conclusions beyond what we can easily check for ourselves. It can also be called a psychological interpretation of awakening since it stays within the realm of psychology.

The big interpretation of awakening takes it a step further. Here, we assume that the nature of all of existence is the same as our own nature. We assume that all of existence is what a thought may label consciousness, or even the divine or God.

WHY IT’S A HELPFUL DISTINCTION

To me, this is a helpful distinction for a couple of reasons.

It’s intellectually honest. Since we experience all of existence through and as what we are, it will appear to us as if the nature of all of existence is the same as our own. And, if we are honest, we cannot know for certain.

And it’s pragmatic. A small interpretation of awakening, or being more fluid between the small and big, is more appealing to certain groups of people. The small interpretation of awakening is compatible with just about any worldview, including atheism, materialism, and so on. It doesn’t require any particular worldview or cosmology.

WHY NOT POINT IT OUT?

So why do not more awakening teachers point out this distinction?

I am not sure.

They may not see it as important, for whatever reason.

They may be familiar with one and not have much interest in the other.

They may point out the distinction in private to students who may benefit from it.

They may be unaware of the distinction.

SUMMARY

Awakening is the shift from taking ourselves most fundamentally as this human self, to finding ourselves as what all our experiences – of this human self, the wider world, and anything else, happen within and as.

We can understand or talk about this from a small view on awakening. Here, we just point out what anyone can check and find for themselves, without making assumptions about the nature of all of existence.

We can also talk about this from a big view on awakening and use terms like God, the divine, and so on.

Differentiating between the two is, to me, intellectually honest. And the small and big views appeal to different groups of people, which is why this differentiation is useful.

If awakening teachers don’t point out this differentiation, it may be for a range of reasons. They may not see it as important. They may have their target group already and have terminology that works for them. They may point it out in private. And some may even be unaware of the distinction.

Note: If I am honest, I am not aware of any awakening teacher that does differentiate between the two. I assume there must be many out there, I just haven’t found them or heard them yet.

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A response to someone baffled by a materialistic view on awakening

Someone in a Headless Way forum shared her disbelief that some who discover headlessness find it compatible with a materialistic worldview.

For me, this is about the difference between the small and big interpretation of awakening.

Here is what I wrote:

I must admit I started out with the more typical spiritual view of all as God, the divine, and consciousness. And now, after three decades, I find myself exploring more the camp you describe.

I find myself as headless, as capacity, as oneness, as love, and so on, and explore living from and as it. And, at the same time, I realize there are two possible ways to explain this.

One is the Big or Spiritual view which says all is God, the divine, and consciousness. My direct and naive experience of all of existence as consciousness – AKA God or the divine – is how existence actually is.

The other is the small or materialistic view of the brain creating consciousness. In my direct experience, all of existence appears as consciousness. But I also realize it HAS to appear that way since I am consciousness, and the world to me happens within and as this consciousness. It would be that way even if the small or materialistic view is correct.

To me, both views are perfectly compatible with what I find when I explore myself as headless. In either case, what I am to myself, in my own first-person experience, is Headlessness and what a thought may label consciousness.

And, to me, admitting this is intellectual honesty. Anything else would be pretending I know something I cannot really know. Admitting this also helps not get stuck in any particular view, and – equally important – it brings me back to direct noticing.

That said, there are some hints that the Big view is more accurate: Distance sensing and healing, research into reincarnation and near-death experiences, and so on.

The fabric of all we know

The substance of everything is the divine. This is not something you believe, it is something you realize.

– Adyashanti

We are used to thinking of the world as being made up of different things: Rocks, minerals, wood, plants, cells, molecules and atoms, and so on.

That’s not wrong. And in our first-person experience, something else may be more fundamental.

EXPLORED LOGICALLY

We can explore this logically and within the realm of stories.

Consciousness is required for any experience.

And to me, what I experience happens within and as consciousness.

It cannot be any other way. I can only experience what happens within consciousness. What happens within consciousness is consciousness taking the form of that particular experience. And to me, there is nothing else.

Even any ideas about who and what I am happen within and as consciousness. What I am to myself, and what the world is to me, is all happening within and as consciousness. It’s consciousness taking all these forms to and within itself.

The fabric of all I am and what the world is to me is consciousness.

Adya uses the big interpretation of awakening here and calls it the divine. And yet, to us, it’s simpler. It’s what we are and what everything, to us, is.

It’s what a thought can call consciousness, and that word and any associations we have about it also happen within and as what we are.

WHAT’S ALIVE HERE AND NOW

We can also explore this through what’s alive here and now, in immediate noticing.

Again, it’s not wrong that I am a human self in the world.

And in my first-person experience, I find something else is more true.

Here, I find that my experiences – of the wider world, of this human self, and anything else – all happen within my sense fields. It happens within sight, sound, taste, smell, sensations, thoughts, and so on. Any “outside” or “inside” are labels put on this sense field. In itself, it’s a seamless whole.

The sense fields happen within and as what I am.

When I look closely, I see that my experience of matter is created within these sense fields. Specifically, any sense of solidity is created by certain sensations (contractions) in my body combining with certain mental representations. The sensations lend a sense of solidity and reality to the thoughts, and the thoughts give the sensations a sense of meaning.

I find I am capacity for all of it, and what it all happens within and as.

A thought may label this awake space, consciousness, or even the divine. And those thoughts and what they point to happen within and as what I am.

The fabric of it all – of all of existence as it appears to me – is what a thought may label awake space, consciousness, or the divine.

BIG AND SMALL INTERPRETATIONS OF AWAKENING

This is where the big and small interpretations of awakening comes in.

When I explore this for myself, I find that – to me – existence has this nature. It’s inevitable since, to me, it appears within and as what I am. Acknowleding that, and that I cannot say anything for certain about all of existence, is the small interpretation of awakening.

The big interpretation of awakening takes the next step and assumes that the nature of all of existence is the same as this nature I find here. There are many hints that this is accurate.

Adya uses the big interpretation of awakening when he says the fabric of everything is the divine.

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The sobering quality of the small interpretation of awakening

What are we in our own first-person experience? Are we most fundamentally this human self? Or are we more fundamentally, in our own experience and to ourselves, something else?

What I find is that my nature is capacity for whatever is in my experience – this human self, the wider world, etc., and I am what my experiences happen within and as. My nature is capacity, oneness, and – from there – love and stillness & silence. (And using the words “I” and “my” is a convention and inherently misleading since any “I” and “me” happens within and as this.)

Since the world, to me, happens within and as what I am, it will inevitably appear as if the world is what I am…. consciousness, a seamless whole, love, and so on. Whether it actually is or not, is not something I easily can say something about.

This is independent of any worldviews or ideologies. It’s just a noticing. And it’s compatible with a range of worldviews.

This is also what I call the small or psychological interpretation of awakening. The essence of what we discover – and what we live from if we chose to – is the essence of what mystics from all the main spiritual traditions have reported, and also those outside of spiritual traditions. And we are cautious about assuming that our own nature is the nature of all of existence.

I like this way of looking at awakening since it’s intellectually honest, and it may make awakening more accessible to those who don’t have a spiritual worldview or inclination.

Already, it’s sobering. We are honest about what we find for ourselves, and hold back from drawing any big conclusions beyond what we can easily say something about.

It’s also sobering in another way.

My life is still the same. I still have a life to live, as best I can. I still have the same challenging situations in life to deal with. I still have to be a good steward for my life. I cannot so easily tell myself otherwise, based on some religious or spiritual idea about karma, fate, that all will be good after I die, that it’s all guided by the divine, and so on. I have to rely on myself and live my life the best I can.

I prefer to have some fluidity and shift between the small (psychological) and big (spiritual) views on awakening. The small keeps me more sober and grounded, and the big opens things up and can be more inspiring.

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Awakening doesn’t require any spirituality or religion, and is compatible with (philosophical) materialism

As far as I can tell, the essence of awakening is completely compatible with materialism. And that’s a very good thing. It makes it more accessible to more people.

BASIC AWAKENING

Awakening is to notice what we are in our own first-person experience.

Yes, I am this human self in the world. And more fundamentally, in my own first-person experience, I am capacity for the world as it appears to me. I am what my sense fields – which contains this human self and the wider world – happen within and as.

Here, there is oneness. My sense fields – containing this human self and the wider world – is a seamless whole. Any sense of boundaries comes from my overlay of mental representations. To myself, I am that oneness.

And from there, there is that love that’s independent of states or feelings. There is stillness & silence, all my experiences are that stillness & silence, and I find it’s what I more fundamentally am.

What I am is, if we want to label it that way, consciousness. To me, all my experiences happen within and as consciousness. So all I see and know is consciousness, taking all the different forms of this human self and the wider world.

All of this is the essence of what mystics from all the major traditions, and outside of any tradition, describe. It fits their reports.

I ONLY KNOW THE WORLD THROUGH MYSELF

I only know the world through myself. To me, the world is how it appears to me in my sense fields. To me, it happens within and as this consciousness that is my more fundamental nature. To me, the world has the same nature as myself.

Since I, most fundamentally am capacity for the world, consciousness, and one, it appears to me that the rest of existence is that way as well.

It has to be that way. And it doesn’t mean that this is how the world actually is. It doesn’t mean that the world shares the same nature as I find I have in my own experience.

AWAKENING & PHILOSOPHICAL MATERIALISM

materialism (philosophy) – the theory or belief that nothing exists except matter and its movements and modifications.

I can find my own more fundamental nature, and that doesn’t help me say what the fundamental nature of all of existence is. It may well be that the materialist view is the correct one.

To myself, I inevitably have to be consciousness, the world to me happens within and as this consciousness, and the world then appears as consciousness.

And, in reality, it may well be that the world is most fundamentally matter, and that this consciousness comes out of matter in this body and only exists locally here in this human self.

INTELLECTUAL HONESTY

If I wish to be intellectually honest, I have to admit all of this. And it’s healthy, in several ways.

Being honest about this means that people with a materialistic view may feel more comfortable in exploring awakening. It doesn’t require any spirituality or religion.

Being honest about this helps me stay close to my own experience. It helps me see what I notice for myself and can say something about, and what’s outside of what I notice and can check for myself.

And it also helps me recognize projections and when I adopt what others say as a belief.

Yes, people say that all of existence is Spirit and consciousness, and it – obviously – appears to me that way since it has to appear to me that way. And yet, I cannot easily check it for myself. For me, it remains what others say. (And it may well be that they are not honest with themselves. Perhaps they assume that their own nature is the nature of all of existence, even if that seems an obvious fallacy.)

Yes, people say we live beyond this life, and to me, it also inevitably has to appear that way if I look at it superficially. To me, time and space happen within and as what I am. My nature is not touched by any of it. And again, that’s how it has to appear to me, and it doesn’t mean that’s how it is in reality. It doesn’t mean that this consciousness will continue after the death of this body.

WHY IS THIS NOT SPOKEN ABOUT MORE?

I am sure many must talk about this and point out some of the obvious things here:

To ourselves, we are consciousness, and our nature is what mystics of all traditions and outside of traditions describe. We are capacity for our world, oneness, love, and so on.

To us, the world has to appear as we are. Since we experience existence through and as ourselves, it has to appear to be like ourselves. It has to appear to have the same nature as we do.

And we cannot really know if that’s how it actually is. We cannot know if our nature is the same as the nature of all of existence. To assume so is to make a big jump, a big leap of faith. It’s OK to do that, but we have to be honest and say that it is a leap of faith.

And if I am honest, I haven’t seen it spoken about very often. I seem to come across a lot of people – spiritual teachers and practitioners – who seem to assume that their nature is the same as the nature of all of existence.

The simple answer for why this is, is that these are spiritual people. They have adopted a spiritual worldview. These are the ones I have sought out and know.

It’s also possible that some haven’t made this differentiation for themselves.

AWAKENING FREE OF SPIRITUALITY AND RELIGION

It seems important to be able to talk about awakening, and help people find what they are to themselves, without referring to spirituality and religion.

It makes it available to more people.

It brings it down to its essence.

It highlights some of the common projections and assumptions often found in spirituality and religion.

And some do this, of course, including the Headless Way and the Big Mind process. Some would also say that Zen does this, at least in some variations of that tradition.

SMALL AND BIG INTERPRETATIONS OF AWAKENING

I like to think of this as the small or psychological interpretation of awakening. It’s where we strip down awakening to its essentials and don’t use or need any spiritual or religious language. It tends to be very honest and doesn’t require any leaps of faith.

There is also the big or spiritual interpretation of awakening, where we do assume that our nature is – more or less – the same as the nature of all of existence. We assume that existence is Spirit, the divine, God, and so on. This is, in a sense, a leap of faith. Although there are also many hints suggesting it’s accurate.

HOW DO I SEE IT?

For me, the small interpretation of awakening is important for the reasons I mentioned. It seems more honest. It doesn’t rely on spirituality or religion. It makes it more accessible to more people. And it contrasts with my own projections and assumptions, and shows me when I go beyond what I can easily check for myself.

At the same time, I love the big or spiritual interpretation of awakening. It’s inspiring. It opens things up. It helps me find more trust. And so on.

And there are many hints, from what other report and from my own experience, that suggests it’s likely more accurate.

NOTE: To clarify, what I am referring to here is the general experience reported by most mystics of all as consciousness. All of existence, to us, appears as consciousness. All is Spirit, the divine, God, and so on. I am not talking about what other beings are to themselves. It’s very likely they are to themselves as I am to myself.

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Ocean and drop analogy, and big and small interpretations of awakening

This is perhaps not so important, but I was reminded of the ocean and drop analogy.

Our sense fields are made up of our experiences of this human self and the wider world, and it’s all happening within and as what we are.

We can call this the ocean. To us, what we are contains the whole world as it appears to us. Any boundaries happen within and as what we are. Any time happens within and as what we are. We are capacity for all of it, and we are all of it as it’s here.

In a sense, this is the ocean. It’s the only ocean in our immediate experience and noticing.

This is also the psychological or small interpretation of awakening. We don’t need to refer to anything divine. We don’t need to use any special terminology. It’s not something other or apart from us. It’s right here and we can notice it here and now.

There are several pointers and approaches that can help us find this for ourselves, sometimes in a short period of time and without much if any preparation. (The two I am most familiar with are the Big Mind process and the Headless experiments.)

There is also the spiritual or big interpretation of awakening, and this is where we would talk about the divine, Spirit, God, and so on. For instance, we can assume that all of existence is like us – it’s capacity for itself and, in it’s many forms, it’s consciousness. The details here are open for discussion, for instance, we may assume the existence of divine beings and so on. There are some hints that this may be accurate, although none of this is required for talking about awakening.

If we take this larger view on awakening and make some assumptions about the nature of all of existence, we can say that we – as we experience ourselves – are a drop in this larger ocean.

To ourselves, we are the ocean. And to existence as a whole, we are a drop in the larger ocean.

Note: When we discover our nature as it appears to us – as capacity for the world, as what our sense fields happen within and as, as oneness, as consciousness, and so on, all will appear as this.

We experience all of existence through and as what we are. So it’s inevitable that all of existence will look like what we are. But we cannot really know. It’s an assumption, which may be correct or not, or may be partially correct and partially not.

That’s why I like to differentiate between a small or psychological understanding of awakening, and a big or spiritual understanding of awakening. The first is simple and down-to-earth, the second makes some assumptions beyond what we easily can check for ourselves.

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Talking about awakening: a more sober and grounded approach

These days, I find myself enjoying finding ways to talk about awakening in a way that’s as grounded and sober as possible. I have written about this in other articles and will give the essence here.

TALKING ABOUT AWAKENING

Talking about awakening is, in many ways, the least important part of it. What it’s about is exploring it for ourselves and how it is to live from it.

Still, what our heart is full of, our mouth speaks.

And it does have a function.

It may invite some to explore it for themselves.

It may serve as a pointer for how to explore it.

And it creates a kind of map which can be helpful for others exploring the actual terrain.

At the same time, it’s inherently futile. Words create imagined boundaries, and what it points to is without boundaries.

THE ESSENCE OF AWAKENING

For me, awakening means to notice what I am. To find myself as capacity for the world, and what my field of experience happens within and as.

That’s the essence of it. This can be understood in a psychological sense. No matter our general worldview, we have to admit we experience through and via consciousness. All our experiences happen within and as consciousness. To ourselves, we are consciousness. (We cannot be anything else.) We are what our experiences happen within and as.

Saying that we are this human self is not wrong. It’s how others see us and it mostly works in daily life. We may also assume that we most fundamentally are this human self. But in our own immediate experience, we are consciousness. We are what our field of experience – which includes this human self and the wider world – happens within and as.

Awakening means to notice what we already are in our own immediate experience. And this can be described and understood in a relatively simple way.

WHAT COMES WITH AWAKENING

When we find what we are to ourselves, we may also notice a few other things.

My field of experience happens within and as what I am. To me, it’s one. It’s a seamless whole. Any distinctions come from an overlay of mental representations. To me, I am oneness and all of existence is one.

This too isn’t very mysterious. It’s a function of noticing what I am and finding myself as capacity for the world as it appears to me.

Also, to me, all of existence is consciousness. To me, all my experiences happen within and as what I am. To me, they share my true nature. To me, they are consciousness.

SMALL AND BIG INTERPRETATIONS OF AWAKENING

What I have described here is the essence of awakening.

It’s also what we can call the small or psychological way of talking about awakening. It’s the most sober and grounded way of talking about it that I have found so far. (Which perhaps says something about my own limitations!) It’s the way of talking about it that requires the fewest assumptions, leaps of faith, and big words.

There is also the big or spiritual interpretation of awakening. Here, we take a few leaps although – in some instances – these leaps are also grounded in what we can notice.

When we notice what we are, we also notice that to us all of existence inevitably happens within and as consciousness. It appears as consciousness to us. To us, the true nature of all phenomena is the same as our own true nature.

So it’s natural here to take the leap and say that all of existence inherently is consciousness. And from here, we can say that all of existence is Spirit, the divine, God, Allah, Brahman, Buddha nature, and so on.

After all, that’s how it inevitably appears to us.

Whether all of existence actually is like this is another question. There are some hints suggesting that it’s the case – ESP, distance sensing, distance healing, and so on – but this is for another article.

THE UPSIDES AND LIMITATIONS OF A SOBER APPROACH

There are several upsides to a sober and grounded approach to talking about awakening.

It can be relatively simple and pragmatic.

It makes it available to more people.

It demystifies the topic.

It can make sense to people who are not into spirituality.

And there are also some limitations.

It speaks to only some people and not others. That’s the limitation inherent in any approach, and that’s why we have a wide range of flavors and approaches.

There are sides to awakening that are better pointed to in another way, for instance, a more poetic or metaphorical one.

If it’s presented in a simple and clear way, we may understand the thoughts and assume that means we get what it refers to. (Even if one is a pointer and the other is direct noticing.)

Depending on how it’s expressed, it can sound a bit boring and uninspiring. I love this aspect of it since it means that if we are still attracted to it, it comes from a deeper and more sincere place in us.

OTHER APPROACHES TO TALKING ABOUT AWAKENING

When we talk about awakening in another way, it generally comes from two places.

It can come from clarity and wisdom, and perhaps personal preference or a strategic choice.

It can come from lack of clarity, unexamined beliefs, and emotional issues.

And it can come from any combination of those two.

Here are some examples if we come from clarity and wisdom.

We may come from a tradition or culture that emphasizes another way to talk about it. For instance, one that’s more devotional, poetic, or metaphorical.

We may have a personal skill, orientation, or preference that leads us to use a more devotional, poetic, artistic, or metaphorical expression.

We may choose a more devotional, poetic, or metaphorical expression as a strategy, in order to reach certain people, speak to people at a certain phase of the process, highlight certain aspects of awakening or the divine, or evoke something in the recipient.

And here are some examples if we come more from lack of clarity.

To us, awakening may be a story. We may not have a reference for it from our own noticing or even a memory of noticing. That makes it an open field to imagine just about anything into.

We may mix up direct noticing with imaginations and fantasies, even if we notice what we are. And this can happen for a variety of reasons.

We may be caught up in what we have heard from others, whether this is our culture, spiritual tradition, spiritual teachers, or someone else. We may use this in how we talk about it, even if it doesn’t fit our direct noticing.

We may not prioritize intellectual honesty, so we mix up stories with our direct noticing.

We may be caught up in beliefs and emotional issues, and this fuels certain stories that are not supported by our direct noticing.

We may confuse the side-effects of an initial awakening with its essence.

We may take our immediate perception as reality itself. For instance, we may notice that to us the whole world appears as consciousness, and jump to the conclusion that all of existence is consciousness.

THE RICHNESS OF MULTIPLE APPROACHES

There is a richness in how we collectively perceive and express all of this, and that’s not a coincidence.

We may notice different aspects of what we are. We come from different cultural and spiritual backgrounds. We have preferences and talents in talking about it in different ways. We may choose certain ways to talk about it as a strategy, to speak to a certain audience, or to evoke something in the recipient.

We also have our own lack of clarity, blind spots, unexamined beliefs, hangups, and emotional issues that filter our perception and expression.

And all of that creates a richness we all benefit from. It creates a fuller picture.

There are valuable pointers in the expressions that come from direct noticing, no matter what form those expressions take. And all of it – the clarity and wisdom, and the confusion and hangups – is our mirror. It’s up to us to sort it out for ourselves, through our own explorations and direct noticing.

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What’s unique in these writings?

I am writing these articles mostly for myself, and I am also aware that some can be helpful to someone else.

In that context, I sometimes wonder: What’s unique here? Is there anything people can’t get somewhere else?

In its essence, nothing is unique here.

If it’s grounded in reality, direct noticing, and experience, it’s been discovered by others and likely many others through history and even today. It’s all been said, one way or another, by someone else, and sometimes in a more clear, direct, and perhaps poetic way.

At the same time, we all have a unique voice. We all have somewhat different backgrounds, insights, experiences, and ways to talk about it. And someone may resonate with just this way of expressing it.

There may also be some ways of making distinctions or some terminology that’s a little different here. For instance, I like to use the phrase who and what we are to differentiate between our human self (who) and Big Mind (what). I also like to differentiate between the small and big interpretations of awakening, or the psychological and spiritual ways of understanding and talking about awakening.

And, as everyone else, I have my own blind spots, biases, hangups, and things I haven’t discovered or consciously explored yet. Those inevitable limitations also color what I write.

A relatively simple and pragmatic view on awakening

How can we understand awakening in a simple and pragmatic way?

I keep coming back to this since it seems important for a few reasons: It helps us find the essence of awakening. It helps us view it in a way compatible with spiritual traditions as well as science. It helps us be more intellectually honest about it. And it can make it more accessible for more people.

So what’s this simple view?

To ourselves, we are consciousness. The world to us happens within and as this consciousness. And awakening is consciousness noticing itself and our “center of gravity” shifting into this.

This applies mostly independent of worldviews. It applies whether we assume a more materialistic worldview where this consciousness is the product of this body and brain. Whether we see existence as Spirit. Or if we see it as something in between.

Clarifying a few things

As usual, there is more to say about this.

We have learned to see ourselves as this human self and the rest of the world as “other”. This is not wrong, but it’s not the whole picture. It’s not what we most fundamentally are. And it’s not what we are to ourselves when we honestly look and set aside these assumptions for a while.

When I use the word “consciousness”, it’s just to make it more accessible and seem more familiar. What we are is what all experiences happen within and as, including words and labels, and including the word “consciousness” and what we associate with it. Its function is to serve as a signpost pointing to what we are.

This way of talking about it may require some concessions from us, depending on what worldview we are coming from. If we are coming from a strictly materialistic view, it may require us to be more interested in consciousness. If we are coming from a view of all as Spirit, it may require us to pull back our language a bit.

How can we explore this for ourselves?

We may get this intellectually.

There is a body here, and we may have learned to identify exclusively with and as this body. But to ourselves, we are consciousness and the world to us happens within and as this consciousness. It has to be that way.

But our experience of ourselves may still be that we are this human self.

So how can we explore this for ourselves? How can we have a more direct taste?

We can do so through some simple pointers, and being guided by someone familiar with the terrain and how to guide others to notice it for themselves. The most effective ones I have found are the Headless experiments and the Big Mind process. Living Inquiries, a modern form of traditional Buddhist inquiry, can also help us notice.

What’s the implications of finding what we are?

When we find ourselves as what the world, to us, happens within and as, it has several implications. If we take it seriously and continue to explore it and how to live from it, it can be profoundly transformative.

Exactly what we find depends on where we are in the process, and even with guidance, we are ultimately our own guide and have to explore this for ourselves.

What I can say is that when we find ourselves as capacity for the world, all content of our experience happens within and as what we are – and within and as oneness.

So how is it to live from oneness? How do we relate to the parts of us still operating from separation consciousness when these come up? How can we invite them to join in with the awakening and align with oneness?

This is an ongoing process and there is always more to discover.

Not agreeing with the basic premise

I imagine some wouldn’t agree with the basic premise.

They may say: I know I am this human self, not consciousness. I am this body, and I have consciousness.

It’s easy to understand this view. It’s what we have been told and it has over time become our experience.

But this is about what we are to ourselves.

Logically, to ourselves, we have to be consciousness. The world, to us, happens within and as consciousness. All our experiences happen within and as what we are.

And this is also what we may find if we look – with some sincerity and guided by someone skilled.

Does my timeless nature mean I won’t die?

I sometimes see people who have found themselves as timeless say that it means they won’t die. Our timeless nature means we won’t die.

When we find ourselves as capacity for the world, we find that all our experiences – including of space and time – happens within and as us. We are timeless and time happens within and as us.

From here, it’s easy to assume we won’t die. This human self comes and goes, and what we really are stays around.

It can seem convincing, but it all depends.

To myself, I am consciousness, and that’s how it would be even if the materialist view is accurate. This human self and the brain may be what supports and allows consciousness to exist, and – to myself – I would still be consciousness. I will still find myself as capacity for the world, and all my experiences will happen within and as what I am. In this case, when this human self dies, I – as consciousness – dies. What I am dies with the body. (This is the small interpretation of awakening.)

That’s why I am a bit more careful with stating that I – as what I am – will be around even after this body is gone. I don’t know. And if I am honest, I have to admit that the scenario above is possible.

There are hints of something else. We have accounts of people apparently remembering past lives, and research that seems to support it. We have stories of near-death experiences and people perceiving things they couldn’t through their physical senses. We have stories of sensing at a distance and healing at a distance. We have synchronicities. And so on. It’s possible to dismiss this, especially if we don’t know much about it. And yet, many of us have experiences of this and more which hints at something more. (I have experienced most of it myself.)

To myself, I am consciousness and the world to me happens within and as the consciousness I am. That means that, to me, the whole world appears as consciousness. It’s made up of consciousness. It has to appear that way. It’s inevitable, whatever its true nature is. And these experiences – of near-death experiences, sensing and healing at a distance, and so on – suggest that the true nature of existence may be the same as our own. (This is the big interpretation of awakening.)

So if I am honest with myself, I cannot know if “I” – as consciousness – continue after the death of this human self. And yet, it does seem possible, but not because I find myself as timeless and what time happens within and as. It’s because of these other experiences and research into these phenomena suggesting a life beyond death.

Talking about the inevitability of what we are

What are we to ourselves, in our own immediate experience?

We can approach this through logic or direct noticing. Only the latter is transforming, and in some cases, we may need a bit of logic before we even try noticing.

Logic and what we are

So how can we talk about it in a clear, simple, and logical way? Here is one attempt:

  1. We can agree that consciousness is required for any experience. Without consciousness, no experience.
  2. We cannot experience anything in itself, we can only experience how it happens within consciousness.
  3. What we experience not only happens within consciousness but as consciousness.
  4. To ourselves, we are this consciousness.

From this follows a few things:

  1. This human self happens within and as consciousness, as does the idea that we are this human self.
  2. To ourselves, we are awake no-thing full of the world as it appears to us.
  3. Since our world happens within and as what we are, it’s a seamless whole, it’s one.

And also something practical:

  1. Noticing this and allowing our human self to reorganize itself within it is transformative.
  2. All of this is an ongoing noticing and exploration.

So to ourselves, we cannot be anything else than consciousness. It’s inevitable.

We just need to notice, or think about it strictly logically.

Of course, it may be that this consciousness is dependent on this human self and that this human self in that sense is primary. But what I am talking about here is what we are to ourselves, in immediacy. (It may also be that consciousness is primary and continues before and after this human self.)

Noticing what we are

For this to be transformative, we need to notice what we are.

And as I often mention, the two easiest approaches I have found are two forms of inquiry: Headless experiments and the Big Mind process.

We can also notice it through Living Inquiries or The Work of Byron Katie, and sometimes also following long meditation or prayer practice.

Becoming like a child

For both the logic and the direct noticing, we need to become like a child.

We need to set aside, for a moment, what society has told us we are. We need to find some receptivity and curiosity. And most of all, we need to find intellectual honesty and be brutally honest with ourselves.

The true nature of what?

To ourselves, our “true nature” is this awake no-thing full of our world. It seems the most basic of what we are.

And yet, is that the true nature of all of existence?

If we are honest, we may find that we cannot really know.

To us, the world happens within and as what we are, so this inevitably seems the true nature of all of existence.

There are, at least, three possibilities:

It is possible that consciousness is dependent on this human self and that all of it goes away when this human self dies. It’s also possible that this consciousness continues before and after this human self, whether or not it’s the true nature of all of existence.

And it’s even possible that our true nature is the true nature of all of existence. That all is – to use those labels – the divine, Spirit, God, Buddha Mind, Allah, and Brahman.

Most of modern science would say the former. Mystics of most or all traditions would say the latter.

And there are some clues. Near-death experiences suggest this consciousness continues before and after this human life. Synchronicities, ESP, sensing and healing at a distance, and so on suggests that the true nature of all of existence is the same as our own true nature.

Everything has tiger

Hamaro kamungka turuwati / everything has tiger is a saying from the Arawak people in Colombia.

I don’t know what they mean by it, although this book suggests it means there is a potential threat everywhere.

That makes sense, but it got me curious about other ways to explore this saying.

What does it mean for me?

All happens within and as what I am

What the tiger is, is what all is.

To me, the tiger and everything else happens within and as what I am.

This is the small interpretation of awakening. It assumes that to me, everything inevitably happens within and as my true nature. As awake capacity for the world.

All happens within and as the divine

The divine is tiger and everything else. It’s all the divine.

This is the big interpretation of awakening and assumes my true nature is the true nature of everything.

It’s a mirror for me and colors my perception

I can find the tiger in me. What the tiger represents to me – its characteristics and dynamics – are also here in me.

And since it’s in me, it colors the whole world for me. I can find the tiger everywhere.

This is the projection side of it.

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What we are to ourselves

What are we to ourselves?

It’s a question explored by mystics and spiritual traditions around the world. It’s sometimes but not usually at the center of science.

And yet, what question can be more important?

LOGIC

We know what we appear as: a human being, a collection of cells and atoms, a holon in a larger holarchy, and so on.

And to ourselves, we are the awake nothing that our world appears within and as. It cannot be any other way.

Even if we assume we are this human being in flesh and blood, to ourselves, we have to be consciousness.

Here is the logic:

  • Consciousness is required for us – or anyone – to experience anything. Without consciousness, no experience of anything.
  • When we are conscious of something, what we are conscious of happens within consciousness. What we experience happens within and as consciousness. We cannot experience the thing in itself.
  • To ourselves, we are consciousness. This consciousness may be connected or even come out of this human body, and that doesn’t matter. To ourselves, in our own experience, we are consciousness.

As consciousness, all my experiences happen within and as consciousness. To me, the world – this human self, thoughts, feelings, others, the wider world – happens within and as consciousness.

And what we call consciousness is perhaps more accurately called awake nothing full of the world, or awake capacity for the world.

From a purely logical view, we cannot be anything other than consciousness, and the world as it appears to us happens within and as that consciousness.

NOTICING

We can also notice this directly, especially if guided by some pointers and perhaps someone who can lead us into this noticing.

It’s what mystics from all traditions have described and tried to talk about, and also mystics outside of traditions.

And it’s not inherently so mystical. It’s more immediate to us than anything. It’s right here. It’s what we already are.

LIVING FROM IT

When we notice this, and become more used to noticing it through daily life, there is another question: how do I live from it?

If my world happens within and as what I am, if it’s all One to me, how would I live my life? How would I live my life here and now?

How do I invite all the different human parts of me that operate form separation consciousness to realign within this noticing?

THE TRUE NATURE OF EVERYTHING?

Another question also comes up here.

I notice that my own true nature, what I am in a most essential sense, is this awake nothing full of the world as it appears to me.

And I also notice that, to me, all appear as awake space. It happens within and as this awake nothing or space. Since I am this, and all my perceptions happen within and as this, it cannot be any other way.

Is that the true nature of everything? Of all of existence? Is all of existence inherently this awake space?

When I hear what other humans who have explored this say, it seems that this is the true nature of all humans. They can find it for themselves.

That makes it likely that this is the case of all conscious being. To themselves, they are this awake space full of their world.

And it may also be the true nature of all of existence. Several clues point in that direction: synchronicities, the effect of distance prayer and healing, sensing at a distance, and so on.

WHY ISN’T THIS OBVIOUS ALL THE TIME AND TO EVERYONE?

Since both logic and direct noticing points to this, and it’s what we already are, why isn’t it obvious always and to everyone?

One answer is habit. We are trained by parents and culture to take ourselves as an object in the world and as this human self. We are trained to take ourselves to be what others see us as. We are rarely encouraged to set this aside for a while and explore what we are to ourselves, in our own immediacy.

Another is that this noticing hasn’t been required for our survival. Our ancestors got by without noticing their true nature. They could still farm, hunt, fish, make a fire, build a shelter, and so on.

At a more technical level, we see that identification with the viewpoint of any thought creates a sense of being an object within consciousness, and a sense of separation. When we believe a thought, we become an object to ourselves. We can also explore how our mind associates certain sensations with certain thoughts so the sensations appear to lend solidity and reality to the thoughts (appear as true) and the thoughts give a sense of meaning to the sensations.

Yet another answer is that it’s all the play of existence and the divine. It’s all the divine expressing, experiencing, and exploring itself in always new ways. Including locally and temporarily as us taking ourselves to be objects in the world without noticing its true nature.

WHAT’S THE PRACTICAL USE OF THIS?

Good question. Most of us get by without this noticing.

The question of practical use is something we have to explore for ourselves, through asking ourselves: how is it to live from this? What happens?

For me, it means it’s easier to invite in healing for parts of me, and invite them to realign within this noticing and oneness. That’s true healing. And it doesn’t mean that the process itself is easy. It can be immensely difficult, confusing, and overwhelming when these parts of us come to the surface.

It also means we can live more responsibly as a part of a larger seamless whole. If all is one, how would I live?

And for some of us, it’s a deeply fascinating process. There is always something new to discover. And few things are as essential than what we are to ourselves and how it is to live from that noticing.

IS THIS SCIENCE OR MYSTICISM?

It’s however we approach it and talk about it.

We can take a scientific approach. We can take a more devotional or traditional mystical approach. We can take a poetic approach. Or psychological. Or whatever else.

If we are sincere and honest in our approach and what we find, then all of these general approaches enrich and fill in the overall picture.

MY OWN EXPERIENCE

What I am to myself, my true nature, was revealed to me when I was sixteen. It happened out of the blue and turned my life upside down and inside out. It seemed so obvious, so clear. And yet, others around me didn’t seem to notice. I have since met others who do notice and live from this, I have found people talking about it, and I have found ways to help people notice – for instance the Big Mind process and Headless experiments.

To me, it also seemed obvious that all is God. All of existence is consciousness and love. And yet, I also know the mechanisms that make it appear that way (projections), and I know that a lot point to it being reality too. I find it helpful to differentiate my true nature and the true nature of all of existence. It’s honest, and it can give a slightly smaller step for people to get into it and explore it for themselves.

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Recognizing others as capacity for their world

Even if I notice myself as capacity for my world, do I actively recognize others as capacity for their world? And what happens when I do? What shifts do I notice?

To me, it seems that this is an important and helpful practice. It helps me shift out of my ancient habitual – and often less conscious – conditioning of taking others as exclusively local beings operating in time and space.

This practice is mostly for myself. It helps me consciously align more closely with reality. It helps shift some conditioning in me. It opens my heart a bit more to others. And it also helps me notice my old conditioning so I can relate to it more consciously.

As a side-effect, it’s also for others since it tends to shift how I relate to them. It can make me a little less annoying.


That’s the short version. There is a lot more to it.

When I look, I find I am capacity for my world. And that seems to be the same for others when they look, they find themselves as capacity for their world.

One thing is to generally know this, but how is it to actively remind myself of this in daily life? How is it if I make it into a daily life exploration?

When I remind myself of this, I notice a shift that’s small yet significant.

The main shift is that I experience others more clearly and vividly as awake capacity taking the form of that human being, just as I am that over here.

And why stop with humans? Humans are the only ones who, so far, have reported finding themselves as awake capacity for their world. But it’s more than reasonable to assume this is the case for all animals. To themselves, they are likely capacity for their world, just as I am and we are.

When I make a point out of perceiving others in this way, I relate to them differently. Over time, all of this – the noticing and the shift in how I relate to others – becomes a new habit and normal.

I can take this one step further, as another experiment. What happens if I perceive everything, including inanimate objects, as awake capacity taking a particular form over there – as a chair, a rock, the stars, this computer?

There are a few layers here.

When I find myself as capacity for my world, I also notice that this human self, others, and the wider world all happen within and as what I am. To me, it’s all happening within and as awake space. (Of course, space happens within and as this capacity, but “awake space” is as good a way of talking about it as any.) So to me, others already happen within awake space. They are awake space taking that human form over there.

There is a shift from this to reminding myself that to them, they too are capacity for their world. They too are awake space that their world happens within and as. All conscious beings are capacity for their world, just as I am.

The true nature of all conscious beings, to themselves, is this capacity. We are capacity for our own world. The content of our experiences – this self and the world as it appears to us – happens within and as the awake space we find ourselves as.

Is that also the true nature of all of existence? Is the true nature of everything capacity? Yes, that seems inevitable. Without nothing, there isn’t something. But is it awake? To me, it seems awake but that awakeness may just be the awakeness here – the one it’s happening within and as. If I am honest, I cannot know if the true nature of everything is consciousness, even if it appears that way to me, and there are several clues pointing to it.

What I can do is to experiment. How is it to remind myself that other beings are capacity for their world? That to them, their world happens within and as awake space? How is it if I extend that to everything? If I perceive everything as awake space taking that particular form over there?

My own process has gone through a few different phases with this.

During the initial awakening, in my teens, I experienced all of existence as the divine or God taking all the different forms in the world, including as human beings and temporarily and locally identifying as these human beings. At the same time, there was and is conditioning here in me that takes human beings as human beings and the divine aspect goes a bit in the background.

I have also explored differentiating between my true nature over here, the true nature of others, and the true nature of all of existence, although I know that the two first ones very likely are the same, and the third likely is too.

I see that actively reminding myself of the awake space others are to themselves is helpful to me. It helps me shift out of the old – ancient – conditioning of taking others as exclusively human beings.

Note: When I say “capacity”, that’s terminology from Douglas Harding and the Headless Way. I like it since it’s simple and to the point. “Capacity” refers to finding myself as capacity for my world – for this human self, others, the wider world, and any content of my experience. To me, all of my experiences happen within and as what I am. And we can, inevitably imperfectly, call this awake space, consciousness, or something else. It’s what we all are to ourselves, whether it’s noticed or not.

How does God speak to us through nature?

I love to think of nature as unlimited broadcasting stations, through which God speaks to us every day, every hour.

— George Washington Carver, Tuskegee University, 1930

I love this quote and it fits my experience.

Although the quote speaks for itself, we can also explore it further.

First, what do we mean by nature?

We obviously mean nature in an ordinary sense, as ecosystems, landscapes, oceans, air, water, plants, animals, and so on. And we cannot exclude ourselves from it. We, as human beings, belong to nature. And even our culture belongs to nature. It has grown out of and is part of Earth as a living and evolving system, although I doubt that was what Carver had in mind.

And what do we mean by God?

For me, God is the word for all of existence and what existence happens within and as (awake emptiness). God speaks to us through nature as nature.

So the question is, how does God speak to us through nature?

Nature, through its existence and as it is, speaks to us. There is a huge amount of information there for us, which helps us understand nature, ourselves, and how to better live our lives. Most humans through history have learned from nature in this way. Sometimes, it’s just insights we pick up from living our daily lives. Other times, it’s information systematically sought out. I imagine people through all time and in all cultures have systematically learned from nature, and we do it today as well – including through formal science.

There is another way God speaks to us through nature.

If God is all there is, then we can also find God in nature. Some do it through nature mysticism. They may sense or perceive the divine in or as nature.

There is also a simpler way to find God as nature – as all there is, and there are two ways to talk about this.

We can notice ourselves as capacity for the world as it appears to us. We can find ourselves as that which all our experiences – of ourselves and the wider world – happen within and as, and we can call that capacity, awake nothing full of everything, awakeness or consciousness, or Big Mind.

We can also call this the divine. If this awake nothing full of everything is not only our own “true nature” but the true nature of existence itself, then this is the divine, it’s Allah or Brahman or God. God speaks to us through nature AS nature.

The true nature of nature, existence, others, and ourselves is right there on display and not hidden at all. It’s just up to us to notice it.

If the true nature of everything is on display, why don’t more people notice? And how can we find it for ourselves?

Why don’t more people notice? Mainly, because we identify with and as this human being, and we are fascinated with these stories of ourselves as this human being with all sorts of identities and roles and activities in the world. There is nothing wrong with this, although it’s inherently a bit uncomfortable since it’s not completely aligned with reality.

How can we find it for ourselves? The most effective approaches I have found are the Big Mind process, Headless experiments (Douglas Harding, Richard Lang), and Living Inquiries. Through these, we can relatively easily get a taste of what it’s about, learn how to re-notice in daily life, and – if we are interested – learn how to bring this noticing more regularly into daily life and explore how to live from it.

Wait a minute… if God is all there is, what does that make us?

Yes, good question. In this context, we are the divine locally and temporarily taking itself to be something physical and separate, and then –sometimes – (re)discovering its true nature. This is the play of the divine, lila. As Alan Watts said, it’s the divine, or nature, playing hide and seek with itself.

The essence of spirituality doesn’t require anything esoteric

There are many ideas about spirituality in our culture. Some see it as a refuge or something that will save them. Some see it as escapism, fantasies, and avoidance. Some see reaching the “goals” of spirituality as only for special people. In some situations, and in some ways, there is some truth to each of these.

And yet, the core of spirituality is pragmatic and secular. We don’t need to take anyones word for it. We don’t need to assume anything about the nature of existence. We don’t need to leave it to someone else. We can try it out for ourselves.

So what is this secular and pragmatic core of spirituality?

It takes two forms. One is the many effects of spiritual practices on our human life. The other is finding what we already are.

I have written articles about both so I’ll just give a brief summary here.

Finding what we are

This isn’t dependent on any philosophy or particular worldview. It’s just dependent on noticing what we already are to ourselves.

Even logically, we see that – to ourselves – we must be consciousness.

Consciousness is what’s aware of any experience at all, so that’s what we are to ourselves. Any sense of being something happens within and as this consciousness, any experience of anything at all happens within and as this consciousness. Even the idea of consciousness, the mental images and associations we have about it, happens within and as consciousness.

And we can find this for ourselves. Consciousness can notice itself as, to itself, all there is. We can find ourselves as capacity for the world as it appears to us. We can find ourselves as what the world, as it appears to us, happens within and as.

Our habitual identification is typically with this human self which appears within and as what we are. This is a kind of “trance” as many have pointed out, and is self-perpetuating unless something comes in to help us notice what we already are, or – more accurately – help what we are notice itself.

The most effective approach to notice what we are may be inquiry (headless experiments, Big Mind process). The most effective approach to stabilize this may be a combination of inquiry and basic meditation (notice + allow). The most effective approach to live from this includes heart-centered practices (tonglen, ho’oponopno) and regular emotional healing work. And training a more stable attention helps all of this and our life in general.

Is this the awakening spiritual traditions talks about? Yes, as far as I can tell it is. It’s what we are noticing itself, and noticing itself as all its experiences. It’s oneness. It’s a waking up from the trance of being this one separate self happening within and as what we are. It’s a noticing that what we are is love. After all, oneness noticing itself is expressed as love.

Helping who we are

Traditional spiritual practices, and modern versions of these, can also help us at a human level.

Training a more stable attention supports just about any activity in our life and our general well-being.

Basic meditation – notice and allow what’s here, and notice it’s already noticed and allowed – helps us release out of struggling with what’s here, our experience as it is.

Basic inquiry – finding ourselves as capacity for the world as it appears to us – also helps release us out of struggling with what is. It brings a lighter touch. It creates a space for us to act a little more from clarity and kindness.

Heart-centered practices helps us reorient in how we relate to ourselves, others, situations, and life in general. It helps shift us out of a struggle orientation to befriending what’s here. And this, in turn, helps our well being and allows us to act more from clarity.

The essence of spirituality doesn’t require anything esoteric

To me, this is the essence of spirituality, and it doesn’t require anything esoteric. It doesn’t require us to believe anything or go outside of our own experience. On the contrary, if we want to take it as far as it goes, it requires us to be ruthlessly honest about our own experience and find what’s already here.

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Is my true nature the same as the true nature of existence?

I rarely use the term “true nature” since it suggests certain knowledge, although I also understand why they call it that in Buddhism.

My own apparent true nature

When I explore it for myself, I find I am capacity for the world as it appears to me. What I am is what my experience – of myself and the wider world – happen within and as.

One aspect of this is being capacity for the world as it appears to me. I can also say it’s no-thing full of everything. Or void allowing any experience. Or awakeness and all happening within and as awakeness. Or oneness since all is happening within and as what I am. Or love and all happening within and as love. (This is the love of the left hand removing a splinter of the right, not the type of love that is a feeling or dependent on a feeling.)

It can also be called Big Mind, Brahman, Spirit, the Divine, or any of the labels that points to roughly the same.

So I understand why they call it “true nature”. It’s difficult to imagine anything more fundamental than finding ourselves as capacity for all content of our experience, including awakeness, love, and whatever else it may be.

The true nature of existence

If my true nature is capacity, or capacity and awakeness, what about the true nature of the rest of existence?

The honest answer is that I don’t know.

Another answer is that, yes, it appears – to me – to be the true nature of all of existence. To me, the world happens within and as capacity and awakeness, so it naturally appears that way to me.

It makes logical sense that it’s the true nature of existence. After all, what’s more basic than capacity for anything and all? I am not so sure about the other qualities like awakeness. Is the universe and existence awake in itself? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Perhaps in part. I don’t know.

And yet another answer is that there are signs that suggests it’s the true nature of existence, for instance synchronicities, ESP, distance healing, and more. At the very least, this hints at the oneness of existence.

Exploring this for ourselves

As I often write about, there are ways to explore this for ourselves. Any words are pointers and questions, at most, and this only comes alive and has meaning as we discover it for ourselves.

Headless experiments is an excellent way to explore this, as is the Big Mind process and the Living Inquiries, and many other approaches out there.

Summary

I can say something about what appears to be my own true nature. I can say that existence itself appears to me to have the same true nature. It makes logical sense. There are some hints. And that’s about what I can say.

This is something we all can explore for ourselves. What do I find when I investigate for myself? Is it similar? Different? Would I talk about it differently?

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The role of intellectual honesty in spirituality

For me, intellectual honesty seems an intrinsic part of spirituality. After all, spirituality is an exploration of reality, and intellectual honesty guides and supports that process.

This is another large topic perhaps better suited for a book, but I’ll say a few words about it.

Intellectual honesty is intellectual honesty no matter what the topic is. In general, there seems to be some universals to it and some universal findings. And there may also be some universal findings when it comes to spirituality.

How does intellectual honesty look for me in general?

I don’t know anything for certain.

Thoughts are questions about reality.

Thoughts help me orient and function in the world. They can be more or less valid in a conventional sense, and it’s not their function to give any final or absolute truth.

Life is ultimately a mystery, including what we think we understand or know something about.

How does intellectual honesty look for me when applied to psychology?

The world is my mirror.

(a) My mental overlay of the world creates all the maps, separation lines, labels, interpretations and so on that I operate from as a human being in the world. Anything I can put into words or images is just that, my own words and images. It’s not inherent in the world.

(b) Also, what I see “out there” reflects dynamics and characteristics in myself. Whatever I can put into words about someone or something else also applies to me. When I look, I can find specific examples of how it applies to me.

I am my own final authority. I cannot give it away, no matter how much I try.

I operate from a wide range of underlying assumptions. It’s good to bring these to awareness, as far as I can, and question them.

How does intellectual honesty look for me when applied to spirituality?

Awakening can be understood in a small and psychological or big and spiritual way. In both cases, it’s about what we are noticing itself and then living this human life in that context. We are capacity for the world as it appears to us. Any content of experience happens within and as what we are.

In the small interpretation, we say that this is MY or perhaps OUR nature. In the big interpretation, we go one step further and say it’s the nature of EVERYTHING.

What we can say for certain is that it seems to be our nature. And although saying it’s the nature of everything is a leap, there are some hints that this may be the case. (I have written more about this in other articles.)

What are the benefits of intellectual honesty?

It helps us stay honest, on track, and grounded. And it helps us avoid detours created by wishful or fearful thinking. (Although these detours become part of our path and have their own function.) It helps us – individually and collectively – to make better decisions.

Why is intellectual honesty important in spirituality?

I have mentioned a few things about this above.

Spirituality is about reality. It’s about noticing what we already are and living from it. It’s about seeing through our assumptions about ourselves and the world. And in that process, intellectual honesty is invaluable and essential. It keeps us on track. It helps us see through what’s not aligned with reality.

Can intellectual honesty be learned or trained?

Yes, absolutely, although it does require readiness and willingness. We can learn about cognitive bias, logical fallacies, and so on, and learn to recognize them in our own thinking. There is always more work to do in these areas for all of us, and especially in recognizing it in ourselves.

Does intellectual honesty preclude trust, devotion, or poetic expression?

Not at all.

I can trust an approach or a guide, at least for a while and to some extent.

I can engage in devotion and devotional practices towards the divine.

I can enjoy poetic expressions and even engage in my own.

Are the examples above all there is to it?

No, these are just some examples that come to mind. There are a lot more out there and variations and clarifications of these. And probably a lot I am not aware of and won’t be aware of in this lifetime.

Are the examples above examples universal?

They do not represent any final or absolute truth, although it seems that many of these are relatively universal. And it’s always possible to go further with each one of these and other insights and pointers.

The examples I gave above apply to the part of the terrain of reality I am exploring. If we explore other parts of the terrain, there will be some other ones that applies specifically to that terrain. For instance, if we see ourselves as a more conventional Christian, we may chose to “believe” something while also admitting we don’t know.

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My early longing: a longing to return home to the divine

As a child, and I remember this best at elementary school age, I had a longing. I would wake up in the morning, feel this longing, and not know what it was for. I had my favorite food – cornflakes or bread with strawberry jam, I read my favorite comics (Carl Barks’ Donald Duck stories), I read my favorite books (Jules Verne, Sherlock Holmes, Hardy Boys, Famous Five), I spent time with my parents, I played with friends, and nothing did it. Nothing helped alleviate the longing.

When the awakening happened age sixteen, I finally understood what the longing was for. The longing was for coming home – to all as the divine. To recognize all, without exception, as the divine and the play and unfolding and exploration of the divine.

I imagine the longing had a more human element as well. I longed for a deeper and more real relationship with my parents. But a large part of the longing, perhaps fueled by this more human longing, was for coming home.

This longing was fulfilled, and is being fulfilled. It’s a process. Returning home is something we don’t need to since we are always here. And it’s also an ongoing unfolding process and exploration.

There are two ways to talk about this. One is that the longing is to return home to what I am – as capacity for the world as it appears to me, as what all my experiences happen within and as. The other is that this is a longing for a return to the divine, a return to recognizing all – without exceptions – as the divine and the unfolding and play of the divine. The first is what I call the small or psychological interpretation of awakening, and the second the big or spiritual interpretation of awakening. The awakening itself is the same, it’s just how we talk about it that’s different.

Is anything here original?

As usual, the answer is yes and no.

It’s original in that we all explore slightly different landscapes and have our own perceptions and flavors in how we express it. For instance, I tend to differentiate between respectively who and what we are, and small and big interpretations of awakening, and although I am not aware of others talking about it that way, I assume there must be others who make the same differentiations with same, similar, or different words.

And it’s not original. Just about everything here are things others have discovered and talked about. It’s about reality so of course many will discover similar things. (Or have the same misunderstandings!) We are all exploring and learning about the same or a very similar landscape, so it’s natural if our experience is relatively similar and if the maps we create are similar.

Oneness and individuality

From a small interpretation of awakening, it’s easy to see how oneness and individuality fit together. To us, we are consciousness and all our experiences happen within and as this consciousness. It’s all one in that sense. And the content of our experience is all individual. Everything is unique. Including this human self that others take us to be.

From a big interpretation of awakening, we can say that all of existence is consciousness – or Spirit, the Divine, God. And the divine expresses, explores, and experiences itself through and as everything in existence and all of it as unique expressions.

When what we are notices itself, this question of oneness and individuality falls away – apart from perhaps as a gentle curiosity. The answer is right here. Oneness takes all these forms and they happen within and as oneness.

How does this play out in real life? In awakening, there is an invitation for our human self to become more authentic, real, and genuine. To shed some of the pretense and trying to live up to images. And to be more as we are, naturally and without the extra effort. I say invitation since this depends, as so much, on intentionally joining in with this particular process.

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Why do spiritual teachers not acknowledge the projection aspect of awakening?

To ourselves, and independent of world views, we are consciousness and all our experience happens within and as that consciousness.

This consciousness may temporarily get fascinated by thoughts and stories, hold them as true, and take itself as a particular content of consciousness – an I, a me, an observer, doer, human being, and so on.

And it can notice itself as consciousness and all experiences as happening within and as consciousness. It can learn to notice this more steadily and through different situations. And our human self may reorganize and align within this noticing.

We can honestly say that to us, all is consciousness.

But to say that all of existence in itself is consciousness is a leap.

That’s a projection.

For me, the only thing that’s honest is to say that to me all is consciousness. My world happens within and as consciousness. And although there are signs and hints (synchronicities, ESP etc.) that all of existence is consciousness, I cannot honestly say that that’s how it actually is.

So why do many spiritual teachers and traditions say that all is consciousness? Whether directly or indirectly by calling it Spirit, the Divine, Allah, Brahma, God?

It may be just because it’s tradition and a habit?

It may be to make it simpler for most people?

It may be because they notice but don’t want to speak up because it goes against official and unofficial tradition?

It may be that they don’t have noticed?

And is it important?

Yes and no.

It’s perhaps not so important in a practical sense. But it is important in terms of noticing and honesty.

For me, it would not be intellectually honest to jump to the assumption that all of existence is consciousness – at least not without acknowledging that it’s a leap, an assumption, a projection.

A few notes:

It can take some examination to notice that we are consciousness and all our experience happens within and as this consciousness. As I often write about, there are structured forms of inquiry that can help us discover this more easily – Headless experiments, Big Mind process, Living Inquiries, and so on. And it can take continued examination to notice this through different situations. And the same for allowing our human self to reorganize within this noticing.

Also, the label “consciousness” happens within and as what we are. It’s a thought, an idea, a label. It points to it but isn’t it.

What about oneness and no-self as some talk about? When consciousness notices all its experience as happening within and as itself, it’s all one. And it also notices any ideas of an I, me, observer, doer, human self and so on as happening within and as itself, so there is no final identity in any of it.

On a personal note, I can say that this differentiation is something I noticed in the initial awakening in my – this human’s – teens. I did bring it up to some spiritual teachers but it was dismissed so I learned to not mention it very much. But I am doing it here since it seems important enough.

As mentioned above, the oneness – and recognition of all happening within and as consciousness – is the same whether we make the projection differentiation or not. It’s just a noticing, or an interpretation, or a way of talking about it. For all practical purposes, it’s the same, apart from one being a little more intellectually honest.

What are some of the hints and signs that tells us that perhaps all of existence in itself is consciousness? For me, there are a few things. Synchronicities – and especially the frequent and undeniable ones – suggests that all of existence is one and consciousness. As does ESP – sensing and picking up information at a distance or before something happens. And having prayers in different forms – including distance healing – answered in a relatively systematic way.

When the historical Buddha awoke, according to tradition he said “all of existence woke up with me”. (Paraphrased from bad memory.) That’s a projection. We can say that his world woke up to itself as consciousness, and he jumped to the conclusion that all of existence woke up. Or – equally accurate – it was a poetic expression of his direct experience there and then.

And yes, these questions are – not by accident – similar to what The Matrix is about. In the Matrix, all of people’s experiences happen within and as their own consciousness. The difference is that when they wake up from it, they awaken to a real (maybe!) physical world instead of as consciousness.

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Oneness from a psychological perspective

This is one of the recurrent themes for me, but I like revisiting it to see if I can find other aspects to it and simpler and more clear ways to talk about it.

Oneness can be understood from a relatively ordinary psychological perspective.

In our own experience, we are consciousness. We are not a human being. We are not a brain. We are not the way others see us. All of that happens within consciousness. To ourselves, we are consciousness and this human self and the world and all experiences are content of this consciousness.

Another way to say it, which is a little more accurate, is that all our experiences – of this human self and the wider world – happens within and as consciousness.

Perhaps even more accurately, all our experiences happens within and as what we are, and the mind can label this many things including consciousness, awakeness, or Big Mind.

This also means that to us, all is oneness. All is one in that it all happens within and as consciousness.

Looking a little closer, we may also notice that all happens within and as – what we can call – emptiness or void. Nothingness makes something – consciousness and all its experiences – possible. So in a more basic sense, we are this nothingness that something happens within and as.

Also, when we discover ourselves as consciousness and all – as it appears to us – as consciousness, then it makes sense that some would take a leap and assume all of existence inherently is consciousness and call it Spirit, the divine, Brahman, Allah, or God.

I find it helpful to think of what I describe here as the small or psychological interpretation of awakening. We are consciousness to ourselves and all our experiences then happens within and as consciousness. This says something about how we are, but it doesn’t assume anything about how all of existence is.

The leap of faith, assuming all of existence is consciousness and calling it Spirit or the divine, is then the big or spiritual interpretation of awakening.

From the small or psychological interpretation, the big or spiritual interpretation is understandable. It makes sense that people would interpret it that way, even if we ourselves may not go that far.

From a small interpretation, the big interpretation may be seen as a projection and a leap of faith. From a big interpretation, the small interpretation means swimming in a pond that’s a little too small.

And personally for me? I find it helpful to switch between both interpretations. The small interpretation allows our view to stay grounded and it may make a little more sense to more people. And I suspect, for a variety of reasons and personal experiences, that the spiritual interpretation is valid as well. It may say something accurate about all of existence.

The nice thing about this way of looking at it – using both a small and big interpretation – is that the essential experiences of mystics form all traditions makes sense from either one. We can understand it from a small or psychological interpretation, and we can understand it from the big or spiritual interpretation.

Oneness makes sense. The awakening process makes sense. The pitfalls and dark nights make sense. The transformation of the human self in the context of oneness recognizing itself makes sense. Early glimpses make sense. Nature spirituality makes sense. And so on. (I am very aware that I haven’t gone into these here so it’s a bit of a teaser. I have written about it elsewhere on this website, and I may explore it more in further articles.)