“We are afraid to approach the fathomless and bottomless groundlessness of everything. ‘There’s nothing to be afraid of’. The ultimate reassurance, and the ultimate terror.” – R.D. Laing, The Politics of Experience
Absolute Subjectivity, Pure Awareness, Suchness, No-mind, Oneness, Non-duality Consciousness, Brahman, Original Mind, Luminous Emptiness, God. These are some of the words used to name the unspeakable at the heart of life. It’s impossible to make any positive statements concerning the nature of non-dual Awareness. It is variously described as Undifferentiated, Unborn, Unchanging, Unknowable or Unknown, Limitless, and Eternal. It is Universal, Collective, Transpersonal or Impersonal, Empty, Void, Non-being, and No-thingness.
The existence of non-dual Awareness can’t be proved because there’s nothing outside of it. You can’t get beyond Awareness to verify or measure it. The only way to know it is to be it. And you are it, always.
The Goal-less Goal of Evolution
We’ve finally arrived at our goal, only to discover we’ve been here all along!
This is the cosmic joke hidden inside the quest at the heart of the evolution of consciousness. The two worlds of being and non-being, subject and object, inner and outer, seer and seen, come together and are seen as One. They’re not two worlds, but one. They were never actually separate, you just thought they were.
Non-dual Awareness is pure subjectivity. For example, see if you can observe yourself reading this. A space opens up around the contents of your consciousness, a breathing space around the screen and words. There’s no ‘you’ reading words represented in pixels. There are words on a screen in a kind of spaciousness. ‘You’ and what you’re reading are one.
The seer is the seen.
The split we believe exists between subject and object is created by our interpretation of what we perceive as reality. We think the world is made up of separate objects because that’s how it looks. We can perceive all these different objects and manipulate them; we also perceive ourselves. So because we’re self-aware we turn ourselves into another object in consciousness. The self we believe ourselves to be becomes another separate object created by the mind. But when we look into this self, try to pin it down and interrogate it – it disappears. It morphs into the background, opens into nothingness.
Awareness is the background, the Source or Ground of all life. It contains everything and is nothing. You are Awareness, which means you’re one with all of life, the whole universe.
I am every worm, every tree, every mountain, every cloud. I am every man, woman and child.
I am you.
I am everything that has ever been and ever will be. I am my lover, my sister, my mother, my children, my friends and foes.
Before you think I’ve gone mad, I don’t mean this literally. Obviously I’m not all these people or things in the normal way. They all have different characteristics and functions.
If you looked at me you would see me as a human woman, on the short side with a crazy gleam in her eyes. You wouldn’t look at me and think I was a dung beetle, except perhaps figuratively, if I had upset you earlier 😉 .
On the level of pure Awareness, however, all is one. This doesn’t mean what you think it means. It doesn’t mean that everything literally is one, that it’s all somehow joined together in a big amorphous gloop, a random chaos of stuff that our brain conveniently sorts out into manageable, separate objects. What it means is there is no inherent identity. There’s no self in me or in anything else.
It’s not me looking at life, but Life looking at itself.
There’s only one Mind, which is Non-dual Awareness, operating through 7 billion different perspectives. Imagine looking through 7 billion pairs of eyes simultaneously. What would you see?
“This state cannot be seen because it is everything seen, and so remains Unshown. It cannot be heard, because it is everything heard, and so remains Unspeakable. It cannot be known, because it is everything known, and so remains Great Mystery.” – Ken Wilber, The Atman Project
The true nature of reality isn’t that everything is an illusion and empty and doesn’t really exist, and it’s not that everything exists the way we normally think it does. Words like emptiness, void, and nothingness are used to give an impression of something indescribable. They point towards a reality that can only be known directly, not through the mind. These words indicate this absence of self.
The Buddha said, “The eye is empty of the eye.” This doesn’t mean the eye does not exist. It means the eye is not the word, or concept, ‘eye’. Nothingness means no-thing-ness. There is no ‘thing’ that is separate from other ‘things’. The true nature of reality is beyond all concepts, beyond existence and non-existence. The problem is we tend to identify with, or become attached to a particular viewpoint so we don’t see reality for what it is. We only see what we project onto it, the ideas we have about it.
The Storytelling Ape
We become who we think we are, but that’s not who we are.
We are the impersonal process of life working itself out. The archetypes or patterns of existence unfold themselves through unique forms – everything from a worm to a human being. It’s only us humans who are capable of self-reflection and can watch life unfold itself and participate in an act of conscious co-creation. All the drives, hopes and dreams that we take to be so personal are actually collective. We make them personal when we take them into ourselves, and transform the events of life into the personal experiences we call ‘my life’.
You take the events of your life into yourself through your imagination. As you tell your story you create yourself. Fact and fiction entwined, entangled into a life, a person. The impersonal made personal. The Absolute lived and embodied through the Relative. The Unchanging and Unknown becomes known and changeable, then moves back again in death.
Death isn’t a one off event at the end of a life. It is continuous. Every moment dies and is reborn. In every moment you give birth to yourself through your imagination. You create your reality. You create yourself. Except that it’s the universe creating itself. Life gives birth to itself.
There is no you, just life. ‘You’ only exist in imagination, in your story.
“First I thought I was a figment of someone else’s imagination. Then I believed I was a figment of my own imagination. Now I know I’m a figment of Life’s imagination.”
Remember, you don’t lose access to the ego when it’s transcended. That way of thinking will continue, the story will keep going. What changes is that you no longer call it yours.
You are what the universe looks like from this particular point in space and time, and from this perspective.
As long as ‘you’ are in a body, as long as the unmanifest manifests itself through individual forms, there will be personal stuff to be dealt with. In dealing with what life throws your way, you can chose different perspectives or interpretations. You can continue to get caught up in it all, and believe that this life is ‘my life’. This is my problem, my happiness, my success, my failure.
All the same stuff happens, the success, failure, happiness, sadness, but you don’t get caught by it. You recognise that your life is not your life. It’s just life. Life is using you, your unique brain and body, to explore itself.
Life tells stories through us so that it can know itself. There’s an African myth that says God created man because He likes hearing stories! 😉
It is not your story, or your ego, that’s the problem. It’s the fact that you believe the story to be true. Your problem is not your thinning hair, your anger issues, bad skin, eating disorder, insomnia, drink problem, self-indulgence, exhibitionism, shoe fetish… The problem is that you believe these things define you, and tell you who you are.
Your story is just what life is exploring through you at the moment.
The Dance of Life
Life creates all these cool little beings that can walk around and do things, learn, grow, and evolve. Some of these little beings are self-aware. They know that they know. They know they’re alive and they will die.
This makes it more interesting for Life, because being conscious gives us more choices and speeds up the process of evolution. Our consciousness creates a powerful feedback loop. We can make decisions and change how we live based on experience and learning. We don’t have to rely on instinct so we’re not at the mercy of circumstances. This makes us humans more flexible in terms of evolution, which is why we’re such a successful species (and a dangerous one).
The downside to all this self-awareness is that we get confused, and forget that the universe doesn’t revolve around our massive egos. As Ram Dass says:
“We do what we do, all the time recognising that it’s just the wheel of karma, the dance of God’s play, the laws lawfully unfolding through us. We see that it was only our incredible egocentricity that made us think we were doing it!”
In other words, the universe, or Life, or God, or whatever you want to call it, acts through you. It uses your personality, your ego, in order to express itself. You are one tiny strand of divine thought spinning stories about yourself as you try to find your way home, back to where you already are.
It all comes down to this combination of the ego and the Self, the animal and the Divine, Being and Non-being. Somehow, when these two worlds meet they create a human being, and the whole mystery of life is bound up with this question of what it means to be human.
In other words, who am I?
We finish this series with a look at how consciousness evolves through the higher levels of mind and some of the pitfalls and dangers along the way, in: The Growing Edge