Caveat: In order to write about this, non-dualistic language, in particular, use of the word “I” is used often. At no time am I giving credence to the existence of a character or an ego or a self. However, the mind that the “I” refers to is a tool of awareness. Thus, when I refer to “I” or “my” awareness, it isn’t really mine at all. That is because the “I” is awareness.)
Awareness has been playing a little cat and mouse game with itself. Early on during the post awakening process, when awareness found itself head deep into identification, awareness would redirect attention toward itself. This typically involves attention paying attention to attention; sometimes it involves awareness noticing the sense of being; and sometimes, it involves awareness merely resting as awareness, as itself.
This has subsequently led to a deep sense of stabilization of being nothing more than spacious open awareness itself. That is not to say that identification does not still happen over here in this unit. It does. However, it is usually quickly seen through, and awareness as awareness continues on.
Lately, and for the fun of it, awareness been trying to catch moments in which awareness is NOT present. This seems somewhat humorous. It’s like looking at your body to see if it’s not there. You know it is there, but you look anyway. And sure enough, it’s still there. It’s the same thing with awareness. No matter when awareness tries to look to see if it is not there, it is still there! Awareness cannot NOT find when awareness NOT there. Yes, there are memories of awareness not being present, such as those nightly gaps that occur during deep sleep. However, while in deep sleep, there is no possibility, or so it seems, of awareness being able to even look for itself or its “not self”, or anything, for that matter.
I’m talking about awareness being conscious of awareness.
But this has led to an interesting follow-up inquiry process. Because awareness is always there, the mind of this unit has been exploring just howit is that awareness knows itself. Awareness cannot be seen. It cannot be heard. It cannot be touched; tasted; smelled. Nor can it be felt directly. And yet, awareness ‘knows’ that it is there.
So, howdoes it know?
Awareness seems to know itself because it senses itself. But what does it sense? It seems to sense itself when looking out at or listening to or otherwise perceiving what appears to be the world. It also seems to sense itself when experiencing emotions, hearing thoughts, seeing internal images, or listening to interoceptive stimuli, such as the energy coursing through this body.
In other words, awareness seems to require that something else arises along with it. At the same time that an image or a sound or a thought or a feeling arises, so too does awareness. So, what awareness seems to sense when it senses itself is what James Swartz called reflectedawareness. But then, what is awareness reflecting off of?
This is not so simple to answer. We might say that awareness knows itself when it perceives objects. Thus, when birds chirping at the feeder are perceived, awareness has the opportunity to know itself. When the eyes see the house sparrows, awareness has the opportunity to know itself. (I use the word opportunitypurposely because for most people, although they might be aware of the objects of perception, they might not actually be aware of their own awareness.)
However, objects do not exist independent of our perception of them; and our perceptions of them do not exist independently of our awareness of them. So, it is not the objects themselves that allow for awareness to know itself.
Therefore, the conclusion that is reached is that awareness must somehow be dependent upon perceptions just as much as perceptions are dependent upon awareness. They must co-arise together.
To explore this further, I engaged in a thought experiment. I imagined what would happen to the sense of awareness when all reflections (i.e., perceptions) are eliminated. First, starting with the body, I imagined whether awareness can know itself without the body, like being in an imaginary sensory deprivation tank. One by one eliminate the senses: First the major senses. Yes, still there. But that’s because there seems to be mental activity (or the perception of mental activity). Because I cannot actually stop the mind from functioning, I imagine whether awareness would still be there if no actual thoughts arose. Yes, still there. But that is because there is still a perception of interoceptive activity (the internal energy of the body itself). And so, I imagine what would happen if the body disappeared and with it, all internal energy patterns.
The only possible conclusion is that there would be no awareness. In other words, the ‘how’ in “how does awareness know itself” necessitates that perceptions also arise. This also includes the sense of itself. Because this sense of itself, is, in a sense, a reflection of itself, it is not itself. It cannot be otherwise.
So, as long as there is some internal or external sensory information, awareness arises, and with it the opportunity for awareness to know itself. But if all possible perceptions were eliminated, such as all worldly, mental, or bodily sensations, awareness would have nothing left to be aware of, including itself. That is because awareness would have nothing to reflect off of.
Thus, awareness of awareness is not a process by which awareness becomes aware of awareness but a process by which awareness becomes aware of some reflection of awareness. Without this reflection, awareness could not possibly be aware of anything, including itself.
So, here’s the kicker: awareness cannot know itself except when there are concurrent perceptual arisings. Thus, for awareness to become aware of itself, there must be another arising: a reflection of itself that is itself an arising in itself.
And that brings up a new question: what is it that is prior to both awareness of awareness and awareness of the world?
Different traditions have used different words: emptiness, nothingness, deathless, Pure Consciousness, Self, Brahman, God.
But ultimately, these words all point to that which cannot be known, perceived, intuited, or experienced.
As I explore this cat and mouse game of inquiry further, there was the sudden realization of the complete futility of this exploration. Any attempt to look for awareness or to look for its lack of presence actually creates a sense of separation from that very awareness.
For, after all, who or what is conducting this investigation or inquiry? The mere act of investigation or inquiry only separates awareness from itself.
Now, inquiry is a useful tool to assist people in waking up to their true nature. In doing so, there is the opportunity for awareness to recognize itself. There is the opportunity to wake up.
Inquiry is also a useful tool for when there is a sense of having lost one’s awakening or of being stuck in identification. Redirecting one’s attention back on itself or towards the sense of being is an extremely useful method for realizing that we are not what we think we are: that we are this open spacious awareness.
However, having awakened to the awareness that we are and having stabilized as that awareness, the next step is to stop looking. Period. That’s because any further attempt to look for awareness only creates separation. Even looking for the sense of awareness knowing itself must be dropped.
Perhaps this is what is meant by complete surrender. There is a point at which any inquiry of any kind becomes counterproductive.
So, there is only one thing left to do. Nothing.