Going from the limited mind to unlimited awareness. What are we missing?
If we look at the mind as a temporary waiting room, our relationship with it would be very different from what we currently experience. For the majority of us, the mind is where our awareness resides in the waking state. It is hard to imagine an experience of awareness that does not involve the mind. The mind and awareness are two distinct entities, but it is often freely interchanged. Awareness is space which holds the mind and thoughts. We don't ordinarily see this space as our attention is mainly in the mind. Although the mind seems very vast, it is relatively limited in comparison to pure awareness that transcends the mind.
Depending on what and whom we are waiting for, a waiting room evokes feelings of anticipation, anxiety, fear, boredom, expectation, and not wanting to be kept waiting and other such emotions. These feelings are triggered in our daily interaction with the mind, and we cannot quickly walk away from them. Over time we become habituated to these emotions, and the mind may seem like a strange place if they are absent. The mind minus these strong emotions which create mental turbulence is a surrogate for pure awareness or the space of inner silence.
Just as strangers may come together in a waiting room, engage in talk, choose to read silently or merely wait, in the conscious mind, thoughts come together in one place, and their interactions with one another vary. Every thought is a "stranger" with respect to other thoughts. Although their contents may be very different, they coexist together for a finite duration of time in our conscious perception. Sometimes their contents intermingle, and at other times they remain separate and discrete. Thoughts come to “meet” us, only when our awareness is in the mind can we have an interaction with the contents carried by thoughts. In the mind, awareness is limited and guided by what thoughts bring to us. Awareness can exist independent of the mind, and its reach is unlimited.
We are in charge of the “door” through which our awareness enters the mind and interacts with thoughts. The perception of a tangible personal experience happens when awareness interacts with thoughts. When there are no thoughts, the place where this perception happens is otherwise silent. Thoughts are essentially energies in different states of vibration. Some of them may be soothing like the delicate notes of a string instrument, or they may be rough and abrasive like a powered chainsaw. Both are ultimately forms of energy. We may like, dislike or be indifferent to them. When we shut the “door” through which awareness enters the mind to mingle with thoughts, awareness becomes purer and more concentrated.
Awareness gets purified when we enter a witnessing state wherein thoughts are perceived but there is no interaction, and hence no meaningful experiences are produced and retained. Witnessing is like looking through a glass wall and seeing activity on the other side but remaining as silent observers. Only when there is direct interactions with thoughts do we retain experiences which are then labeled according to our likes and dislikes. When we stay in a witnessing state of consciousness without the disturbance of thoughts, we allow the energy of awareness to reaccumulate in its natural bed.
Once we taste a drop of the concentrated energy of pure awareness, we begin to realize the precious treasure we have within ourselves. Deepening silence and joy is a manifestation of that treasure. Silence and joy form a protective ring all around us, and this travels with us everywhere we go. With a sustained practice of remaining in the witnessing state that ring extends further outward. Once we realize the value of silence associated deepening awareness we become highly selective in entertaining thoughts. It takes great effort, time and patience to build that inner silence. If we are not careful, thoughts may once again flood and dilute our power of awareness. Being in a witnessing state of consciousness is a constant and conscious process that requires us to be on guard at all times.
The mind continually tugs on the energy of awareness and wants to use that energy for its growth. Just as we cannot drain the oceans of its water, the mind cannot completely drain us of the power of awareness. However, the mind can destroy its purity and contaminate it’s soft, uniform and subtly elevating energy with the random, chaotic and disparate energies of various thought forms. Every thought has a different energy signature. When thought forms are witnessed without active participation or interaction, their energies cannot affect the purity of our awareness. In its purest form, such witnessing is called choiceless awareness.
In the mind, many thought forms compete for our attention. When our awareness interacts with those thought forms, their energies get amplified. Such thoughts become sticky, and when they leave our conscious awareness, their contents are shifted to memory for short and long term storage. The mind has assumed the role of a clearinghouse where thoughts gather to peddle their wares. The waiting room gets converted into a marketplace, and instead of thoughts waiting for the privilege of garnering our attention, they have unfettered access to the inner space, and they replace the silence in that space with thought vibrations.
The mind also functions an interface where we access experiences filtering in through the sense organs. These sensory experiences require vehicles to travel through the mind and for eventual transport to either the memory or the subconscious mind. Thoughts fill that transportation role. There is no natural barrier between thoughts and awareness. Fundamentally, awareness and thoughts are separate. As the faculty of thinking develops, thoughts begin to percolate into the space of awareness, so much so we don’t know what it is to be in a thoughtless state of awareness.
In thoughtlessness, there is silence. Moreover, in silence, awareness is choiceless. Choiceless awareness is the trigger for energies to unlock the door to the innermost core of our being. We have allowed thoughts to enter and contaminate the vast inner resource of awareness. Pure awareness is very soft and malleable like 24-carat gold. Awareness hardens once it is alloyed with thoughts and incorporated into permanent mental archetypes which get stored in the memory or the subconscious mind.
Fragmented awareness is limiting. There is a deep-seated desire to be free and happy. Such a desire perhaps is a reflection of the state of choiceless awareness that lurks somewhere deep within all of us. However, since the dominant portion of our awareness is entwined with thoughts, we cannot easily be in a choiceless and free state of being — the road to the unlimited travels through choiceless awareness.
When we are choiceless, awareness of being an individual with a name, form, nationality, caste, religion, gender and so on will drop off. We become universal beings with regards to awareness, although we are individual beings in the physical sense. To attain a choiceless state of awareness, witnessing is a critical step. Witnessing functions to create a virtual barrier between the mind and its role as a waiting room full of thoughts and experiences waiting for our awareness to enter and interact with them. The less we interact with the mind and the more we witness the happenings of the mind, the greater is the strength of the virtual barrier between the mind and awareness.
Witnessing thoughts without interacting with them may seem to be a daunting and challenging task at first. We are used to the perspective of the mind being a vast and infinite space. Moreover, the volume of thoughts traveling through the conscious mind may overwhelm our ability to remain in a state of witnessing consciousness. Instead of looking at the mind as a whole, if we focus on one thought at a time, it makes the process more manageable, and we will gain in strength and confidence as time goes on. When we can remain a witness to larger volumes of thoughts without them disturbing our centeredness and inner silence, it indicates that we are starting to create a separation between the mind and awareness. With time, we may begin to view the mind as an equal. As our awareness recedes from active participation with thoughts, the mind will start to appear as a smaller and more manageable entity than before. We may then perceive a space around it which is full of silence. Remaining in that silence will fuel further expansion of awareness into space which the mind has never touched.
Just as gravity on earth greatly influences objects on earth and prevents them from floating away into space, the mind has a particular “gravitational” force that binds our awareness within its sphere of influence. The earth’s gravitational force may not influence distant objects in space far away from earth. Similarly, when our awareness pulls far enough away from the mind, we become free of the mind’s influence. This does not mean that the mind will cease to exist. It will continue to function as it is designed to operate. We then have the choice of whether to use the mind as a useful tool or remain free in a choiceless state of awareness.