with contributions from Stephen Altair
In the last two years, I learned to meditate in a quest to finally calm my perpetually busy and intellectual Western mind. And, because I tend to go “all in” on virtually everything I do, I dedicated about 2000 hours to practicing, or about 3 hours per day. It inexplicably and profoundly changed my life.
Along the way though, I discovered something of a miracle. There is an ancient direct path to access a peaceful and happy mind. You actually don’t need to meditate for 1500 hours. This miracle is a kind of waking up into your own awareness and who you truly are.
The process of accessing awareness and living from there is not complicated, but it requires shifting out of an ordinary thought-based and conceptual way of knowing the world. Perhaps you’ve never understood this before, but you don’t need to think to know the world. Since this is profound and may be a new idea to you, I’m going to repeat it. You don’t need to think to know the world.
In fact, thinking gets in the way of our most intelligent and sophisticated knowing. Extraordinary things happen when we switch from ordinary, conceptual thought-based mind to knowing awareness.
Living from our knowing awareness (or simply ‘awareness’) is also more heart and body centered and a much more direct and intelligent way of knowing that bypasses all the hesitation, worry, fear, and doubt of our typical brain-based thinking processes. Accessing awareness is our internal wifi system to directly communicate with our soul-centered or true Self.
How do we turn on and access this extraordinary system?
The first step is to locate awareness.
Awareness can most easily be felt as a knowing, witnessing presence aware of phenomena through our senses, including thoughts and emotions. Awareness is also a felt sense of an unchanging presence that has been with you your entire life, from your earliest memories to now.
Awareness is the stable ground of your being. It is the only thing in your experience which remains while everything else comes and goes from the drama playing out on the screen of your life. Nothing can be taken away from it, nor added to it. Nor can awareness be harmed. In order to find the happiness and peace amidst the chaos of our mental chatter, we simply need to turn towards the awareness that lies at the heart of our own being.
Love, peace and happiness are inherent in the knowing of our own being. In fact, they are the knowing of being. They are simply other names for our self. ― Rupert Spira, Presence: The Intimacy of All Experience
Awareness cannot be taken away and is the foundation of the “via negativa” or Hindu neti, neti (“not this, not this”) paths because when all else disappears, awareness or true Self remains. It is the “I am” presence talked about in spiritual traditions.
The next critical step is to understand the relationship between attention and awareness.
Attention is the movement or stretching of awareness away from itself towards an object. When you “attend” to objects — whether physical objects or intangible objects like thoughts about what you ate for breakfast — you shift attention from awareness (the subject) to the objects of your attention. The movement outwards to the objects of attention creates the perception of separation between the subject (“I”) and the object “thing being perceived.”
You spend your life creating and “attending” to the collection of ideas, personality, beliefs and memories that you build into an illusory, identified self. Solidifying this identity hides the fundamental indivisible, whole and complete awareness that you are. Identity also keeps you seeking outwards for answers, looking away from awareness to find yourself.
Ultimately, when you experience your true Self as awareness, you see that identity is an illusion and fundamentally a set of self-created objects of attention.
Seeing Through the Illusory Self
To live as an object is ignorance. To live as the subject is freedom and natural joy — Mooji
The critical shift in perspective is to “attend” to awareness — to shift from perceiving the object to perceiving the subject of your attention — not the mind-created subject, but the actual subject of all existence, subtle pure awareness of the inner “I”. In this way, you are living as awareness aware of itself.
To feel it, all you need to do is turn your attention inward. It feels like a you-turn or shift of attention from an outward focus to the knowing presence within (the subject). The shift is similar to watching a movie and being so engrossed and lost in the story that you forget you are in a movie theatre. Suddenly, a scary part occurs and you shift attention from the screen back to your awareness to recognize that you are safe in the theatre.
When you are lost in identity, problems take on a solidity that tends to grab our attention. The key is to allow attention to relax or surrender and sink backwards into it’s source (awareness). When you penetrate the illusion of identity, you discover the inherently calm, loving and pure awareness shining through all experience.
Living As Awareness
When you transform your mind, everything you experience is transformed.” — Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche
In the direct path, life IS the meditation. So, you don’t need to sit down on a cushion and meditate hours a day, but you do need to practice shifting to subject. The more the better. I never stop practicing.
With continued practice of turning the mind back on itself (on awareness), you cease focusing on objects and don’t get involved with the contents of your mind. Without your attentive energy, thoughts begin to lose their power to grab and carry “you” along in the mind-created story.
When you turn attention away from identity and back on the ‘subject’ of awareness, life flows with a kind of grace and acceptance of what is. Freed from incessant inner commentary, struggles dissolve. A tranquil inner clarity and confidence in the flow of life arises naturally in its place.
The great sage Krishnamurti knew this. When asked on his deathbed what was one last piece of advice he had, he said “I don’t mind what happens.” This is the power of turning inwards. You simply relax into awareness and find that events and circumstances of the outside world no longer have the same grab or hold. Just don’t leave awareness. That’s it.
When you finally stop living from the limited thinking mind, life unfolds in flow with clarity, ease and grace and offers unlimited potential. From here, peace and happiness is realized as the fundamental and unshakable ground of your being — you awaken to the joy and boundless freedom that is your birthright.