This is part two of a two-part post. Monday’s article explained that you are not your mind or your body, but the aware space in which your mind and your body (and everything else) exist. You’ll have to read the first part to understand the context of this post.
So if you are in fact the space in which all things happen, how come you don’t always notice this space? Why does it often seem like it’s just the things that exist? If the space is you, wouldn’t it always be apparent?
Not necessarily. Think about it: you are that space, so when you are not aware of that space, it only means the space is not aware of itself. But it can still be aware of the things happening in that space, without seeing what it is that is aware. It’s a major oversight, but it is also the normal state of human existence — complete identification with form, with things.
We usually don’t recognize the space in which the tangibles of our lives happen, so we figure we must be one of those tangible, perishable things, or some combination of them. The thing, or collection of things, that we normally think we are is called the ego.
When you lose sight of the space that contains all things (including your ego) you are lost in things. You have lost sight of yourself, and the play of things seems to be all there is. Things become supremely important, because they’re all you have.
That’s a shame, because all of those things are doomed by their very nature. They’re nice when they’re around, but they are fleeting and perishable. So it’s no wonder that when we become identified with things we feel a persistent uneasiness. They are all fleeting — very certainly, inarguably, on their way out, and some part of us knows that. When life is only a race to manipulate material things into the most preferable arrangement possible before you die, it feels like a losing battle. It is.
This is how most of us live, utterly identified with our thoughts, under the impression that life is nothing but things, and that we are nothing but one of those things.
Any time you are aware of the ego, you are disidentified with it. When you don’t recognize the ego as the ego, you have mistaken it for yourself and you are again unaware of who you really are.
What is really happening is that you experience thoughts that say they are you, that say you are only a creature, and so you remain unaware of the space in which they (and all other thoughts and forms) happen. So you take at face value whatever those thoughts say, because they appear to be you. This is a major sticking point for many people: they cannot accept that they are not their thoughts. They cannot imagine that the voice in their head isn’t them, and that it isn’t necessarily trustworthy.
It actually is the voice of the ego, a self-perpetuating, free-associating collection of thoughts that tries to define you with concepts — I am 29 years old, I am a mid-level office worker, I’m not as good as Jim, I am better than Al, I have big plans but I fear I won’t realize them, I embarrassed myself at work today, I never get a break, I am really good at driving in reverse in my car, I am awkward with people I don’t know, I am a terrible dancer, I eat healthy, I don’t have enough money, I do have enough money but I spend it poorly, my kids are well-behaved, I look good in these jeans and I look frumpy in those ones…
It’s nothing but thoughts of I, Me, and Mine all day long. It changes throughout your life as you continue to think, and becomes hideously complex over time. Managing it is a nightmare. Impossible really, but we are doomed to spend our lives trying if we cannot become aware of the ego as it is: a transient collection of thoughts. When you become aware of it as such, you are regarding it from a distance, and you can’t remain identified with it.
Meditative adepts and people in the habit of self-examination learn sooner or later that the mental chatter in their minds is not who they are. When you observe it for a while, you quickly realize it is an uncontrolled, impulsive source of opinions that never shuts up and cannot be depended on to give you an honest appraisal of your situation. Many call it the “Monkey Mind.” It doesn’t take too many meditation sessions to see that it is something you can observe just like you can listen to sounds or watch your own breath. It is something “out there” in your field of awareness which can be watched like any other form, and thus cannot be you.
This is not about changing beliefs
People have known this for a few thousand years. Those best able to teach it to others have become some of the most well-known people in history.
Here’s Eckhart Tolle, talking about one of those people:
What you see, hear, feel, touch or think about is only one half or reality, so to speak. It is form. In the teaching of Jesus it is simply called “the world,” and the other dimension is “the kingdom of heaven.”
As far as I’m concerned Tolle has compiled the clearest, least cryptic description of the teachings dealing with form, space and the human condition caused by our evolving consciousness. If this post holds any interest for you at all, read his books if you haven’t yet.
There is a lot we could learn in this vein from religion, if only we could avoid becoming lost in its forms — its stories, dogmas and symbols. Religion has become so mired in form it is difficult to find this teaching in it. But it’s there.
Don’t worry about convincing yourself that space is who you are. It’s quite contrary to the conventional explanations of who we are and not everyone is going to find it immediately meaningful. That will happen automatically when you are aware of it. There is no convincing that needs to happen. It’s not a matter of changing your beliefs. It’s only a matter of becoming aware more often. Most people will flip back and forth between awareness and identification with form, with the periods of awareness gradually lengthening and becoming more frequent.
When you are paying attention to space, rather than becoming preoccupied with the objects in that space, everything suddenly appears to be in its right place. The whole arrangement of things takes on a faultless beauty. When you are lost in things, you can’t help but see them in terms of what they mean to the interests of your most treasured thing — your ego.
In the article Die on Purpose, I hinted at what happens when you look at the moment as if you aren’t there. You become able to see the moment just as it is without evaluating it in terms of what’s in it for you or not in it for you. This is egoless awareness, and a moment of egoless awareness is always a moment with which you can find nothing wrong, because there’s no “you” to suffer from any unpreferable circumstances. This is the intrinsic beauty and perfection of the universe talked about by mystics and seers, which sounds like mumbo jumbo to anybody who’s never experienced it.
This is not a metaphor
In the last post I likened the space between the stars in the sky to the aware space that is your true identity. The space out there between the stars sounds like the perfect analogy for the aware space we are. But it is not an analogy! It’s no metaphor at all, it’s the same thing. It must be. There are no qualities in which it differs, because it has no details in which it can differ. It is empty, it can contain all manner of forms, it remains unchanged and undamaged by the forms that come and go within it. It is eternal and timeless.
And, evidently, it has the capacity to be aware. Not just aware of the things in it, but eventually, of itself.
This sounds a bit far-fetched. We tend to think of space as dead, inert, lifeless. How can space be aware of itself?
Space gave rise to form. The current scientific theory for how this happened is called the Big Bang, but we don’t know for sure. It’s taken billions of years, but here on earth, form has given rise to consciousness. One of those forms is what you see when you look in the mirror. Human beings are conscious forms, and humans have the capacity to be aware of space itself.
Using form as its tool, space is becoming aware of itself. And that brings us to today.
Almost all of us are unaware of space — our true nature — most of the time. We are at the stage in our evolution where individuals are beginning to become aware of space in bits and pieces, here and there. Some people have been able to completely disidentify with form and we describe them as enlightened or liberated. I would guess some of these people were: Jesus, Lao Tsu, and the Buddha, to name a few, but many other regular people become aware in smaller intervals, even if they don’t know what is actually happening.
“The religions of the world are the ejaculations of a few imaginative men.”
~Ralph Waldo Emerson
Religion is the (often misleading) collection of forms that have come to surround this teaching: stories, institutions, rules, mythologies, conventions, political ideas, idols and symbols.
The world’s religions have a poor track record of bringing people to awareness of who they really are, even though I honestly believe that was their shared original purpose. Because of our very strong tendency to identify with form (and overlook the emptiness in which form happens), the major religions have become preoccupied with beliefs, moral codes, political allegiances and other thought-forms, and the message has been all but lost.
As the teachings spread, institutions developed. Like all institutions, they became heavily focused on form, as evidenced by the elaborate ornamentation found on cathedrals, the immense wealth accumulated by medieval churches, the completely unenlightened focus on punishment and threat, the characterization of God as some kind of supernatural dictator, the demonization of questioning one’s beliefs, and the willful antagonism of scientific progress.
Churches have become a fantastic model for accumulating material, worldly power. More than anything, they have encouraged people to identify with their beliefs and their thoughts, making it much more difficult for them to become aware of anything but the world of form.
You are the Subject, not an object
The arising of space consciousness is the next step in the evolution of humanity. Space consciousness means that in addition to being conscious of things — which always comes down to sense perceptions, thoughts, and emotions — there is an undercurrent of awareness. Awareness implies that you are not only conscious of things (objects), but you are also conscious of being conscious.
Douglas Harding’s method is a simple way to become aware of the Subject, rather than only objects, as we normally are. The face in the mirror is that of your ego, an object. The clear, aware space that you are looking out of is the Subject. It is who you really are.
Unconscious behavior is what happens when we are unaware of space, and become identified with things, with form. When a person is only aware of things, and not the aware space in which things happen, their life becomes a hopeless attempt to manipulate the play of form, of concepts and material things. Money, power, status, gratification and other forms become the only recognizable reasons to live. But they are only part of the picture.
We’re lost in thought, lost in form. Without awareness of that vital dimension of space, we have no perspective. That lack of perspective is responsible for all of humanity’s problems. What else would cause people to invest so much energy finding more efficient ways to kill each other and decimate the planet’s ability to support us?
Evil? Some mysterious quality of “badness” that infects (mostly other) people? The concept of evil is a weak, baseless explanation for why humankind causes itself horrendous problems as efficiently as it does.
Our lack of perspective is the human condition, and we are very gradually getting past it.
I realize this is another long, heavy, mind-bending post, and it if you find any meaning in it, it may take a while to internalize. I have received an overwhelming response to this series in comments and emails from people who want me to keep writing about this topic. I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, so from here on in I’ll approach it in smaller pieces, and space it out.
You may also notice I didn’t describe any techniques for actually cultivating awareness in this post. That’s a huge topic and I’ll talk about it in the future, but I do encourage people to investigate it on their own. Nobody who is only interested enough to read a few blog posts about this is really going to benefit much, but I hope I have piqued some interest in a few people.
Eckhart Tolle’s books are brilliant, plain-language treatments of this teaching, and are a good place to start. Email me for any other suggestions, or ask questions in the comments.
One more thing. Reader Tom K linked a brilliant lecture in one of his comments that explains this far better than I have (though he goes much much further with it.) It blew my mind and I’m sure it will do the same for some of you. It’s in six MP3s:
Thank you for following along in this series, I hope you’ve gotten something out of it. As of Monday, I’ll give the heavy, cosmic-scale topics a rest for a while. Have a good weekend.
Photo by japokskee