Chapter 4—Perspective

Michael McAlister Blog, Book: Awake in This Life Leave a Comment

There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so: to me it is a prison.

—William Shakespeare

So the world, grounded in a timeless movement by the Soul which suffuses it with intelligence, becomes a living and blessed being.

—Plotinus

Key among our efforts to climb beyond both personal and collective suffering is our ability to allow for a conscious opening to the Awareness that is beyond time and mind. To uncover this perspective, it is helpful to imagine that the stillness underneath all that moves is the source of everything that we can conceive in our minds or sense in our bodies. In other words, all things that move are born from and then die into stillness. At the top of the Mountain of Spirit we Know this stillness as the primordial Awareness; the source of everything, including our thoughts and feelings. As the source of everything, it must also be the endpoint of everything, since whatever arises out of it must fall back into it. Whatever is born, in short, must also die. Since this primordial Awareness is the origin of all birth and the destination for all things at death, every single circumstance in the Universe exists as the contents between these two points.

And yet, unlike all the objects, concepts, and feelings that are filtered through the mind and have a beginning and an end, Awareness itself is beyond all of this. As the opening to all beginnings and all ends, it is not bound by anything that can either be born or can die. As the source of all that moves, Awareness can never be anything other than stillness. This silent, infinitely still Awareness has no graspable qualities since it is what is aware of all graspable qualities. It is, as we say in Zen, none other than Emptiness and so offers the creation of all form. It is the stillness that supports the creative generation of all that ever moves, especially our sense of self. This Emptiness is Spirit.

What gets in the way of this realization is the relationship that the ego has with its experience. This is because, like a shark, the ego cannot survive if its not moving. In the face of stillness, the ego is impotent and obsolete. Therefore, in the face of stillness, the ego is only concerned with finding ways to move either toward safety or away from danger. Even the slightest exposure to stillness threatens the ego like nothing else because this experience forces it to recognize its own origin and endpoint. As a stillness practice forces this issue, the ego’s personal reality starts to yield to a vast impersonal connection to all things, where an impersonal connection to all things is seen as something that can never be “mine” or “yours.” Just as stillness can’t be possessed, neither can Awareness. Awareness is totally communal since it can never be owned or possessed. It is always and forever the simple sense of being, which is nothing other than the deeply shared felt sense of awareness at every moment, equally available to all beings, all of the time.

Since Awareness is both present in and the source of all things, it can never separate from anything. It suffuses everything in its loving expanse. As a result of this deep and singular inclusiveness, Awareness has the opportunity to become “aware” of itself through each of our experiences. This awareness of Awareness is something that we might usually refer to as “consciousness.” Once we see that our own personal consciousness is merely our awareness of Awareness, we can also recognize that we have a direct and open connection with the Infinite. Put another way, the higher we climb up the Mountain of Spirit, the more we recognize that the summit is built into each and every circumstance.

We can see that essentially we are always on the summit when we become conscious of certain things. First, we need to see how time, like all other things, is insignificant in relation to Awareness. Time may support all of our egoic, or small self circumstances, but since time moves there is no way for it to exist in the stillness of Awareness. Just like the Big Self, Awareness isn’t ever born, nor does it ever die. On the other hand, personal experiences are always temporary events, bound by time. Since Awareness is always totally still, and stillness is what gives birth to the entire movement of time, it is at once and in all ways free of time.

This concept is more than a little confusing for the small self, but once we stop grasping at the concept things can become quite clear. For instance, consider how each of us can be aware of a desire for, say, a chocolate chip cookie. If we can be aware of our desire for the cookie, then the desire is an object of our minds. If this desire is an object of which we can be aware, then that which is aware of the desire must be beyond it. So the impersonal Awareness of our desire for a chocolate cookie, through our personal sense of consciousness, automatically goes beyond any desire we might have for the cookie. In the same way, that which is aware of our happiness must be beyond our happiness. That which is aware of our negativity must be beyond our negativity. This realization of our always present, deep, abiding Awareness never can or will be bound by anything—not even our sense of past personal stories or future wants. This is exactly what makes Awareness profoundly and eternally free. No birth, no death—just freedom showing up as Awareness.

While this may sound very much like a sterile mathematical proof, there is a richness in this articulation if what these words point to can be felt rather than merely understood. When we simply practice having a felt sense of where these words point our attention and then we relax in the process, we begin to witness how our thoughts, feelings, and emotions also have no bearing on the nature of Spirit. Each of these things are, like our desire for a chocolate chip cookie, simply objects that arise in Awareness.

As another example, rather than only experiencing the small self perspective of “being angry,” we can experience the Big Self perspective of an “Awareness of the sensation of anger.” Asking ourselves in any situation, “What is arising in Awareness now?” offers the realization of Big Self since we can only answer the question from the perspective of Awareness. If, on the other hand, we were to ask ourselves, “What am I thinking right now?” there is no potential for Awakening since the small self is given a spotlight on center stage and asked to deliver a monologue about what it believes to be true.

This perspective of Big Self Awareness can be practiced the next time you get into a disagreement with someone you care about deeply. Instead of succumbing to the monologues delivered by the egoic mind, uncover what is arising in your experience with a dispassionate presence. Don’t judge, don’t fight, don’t do anything to whatever is arising; just practice witnessing your experience. You will notice that the witnessing presence is not caught by whatever emotion might be arising. In fact, you may even be able to see that the witnessing Awareness is totally at peace even though the emotions might be extreme. This allows for deeper and deeper truth to be revealed in any exchange we might have. Responding to our loved ones from this place of openness allows for all of our interactions to shift in an instant from contest to peace.

Living the Awareness that is both beyond time and mind and yet paradoxically their source might sound odd, if not impossible, to the small self. But it is our natural state of being and it is available now, in this life. It is the state of being that exists prior to anything extra that the ego might want to add to our experience in order to make it better or worse. It is the state of being that is simply Aware of what is really happening at any given point in time. This new, infinitely expansive perspective starts to grow past our old psychological and spiritual skin and then begins to inhabit a spacious stillness so vast that it can neither be directly conceived nor articulated. Yet the mystic within each of us can intuit, or Know, that stillness is the source of everything that is true inside and outside of this physical experience that we share with all beings. Consciously meeting this still core of the Infinite is nothing less than resting on the summit of the Mountain of Spirit. Here we are offered an opening to an everyday holiness as we begin to Know beyond the thoughts of our minds and the senses of our bodies that our Path to the Big Self, to the mind of God, is nothing other than this moment, experienced fully.

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