Turning Toward Our Essence (Part Two)
As we have seen, when we turn to investigate who is being aware we may feel confused, like a fish looking for water. There’s not something solid to find. When we look for consciousness, what we discover is nothing solid, no one who is perceiving. This is a wonderful discovery. Awareness has no shape or color. It is beyond presence or absence, coming or going. Instead there is only a clear space of knowing, of consciousness, which is empty and yet cognizant at the same time. As you read this, consciousness is reading the words and reflecting about the nature of consciousness. Turn and ask who is reading. Your first answer may be, “I can’t sense anything there, it’s just empty.” There is just a clear open space that knows what occurs, like a mirror. Stay with this knowing, this empty openness. Learn to trust it. It is consciousness without limitation, reflecting all that appears, yet untouched by it all. To know this reality is to have opened a gateway to liberation.
As you work with this inquiry regularly, you can gradually develop the capacity to distinguish between the events and experiences of life and the consciousness which is knowing. You learn to rest in the “knowing,” unperturbed, to settle back in the midst of any circumstance, even those that are difficult or confusing.
This resting, settling, is quite different from the sort of pathological detachment that I learned as a child. Out of fear, I split my experience, protecting myself through the subtle distance of my role as witness. When we truly rest in awareness, our experience is spacious and intimate, without defenses. With it arises compassion, we feel our heart’s natural connection with life. Through practice, we learn to be fully open and alert, while simultaneously resting in awareness.
One meditation practitioner, Justine, works as a nurse in the emergency room of a local hospital. She describes how she has learned to use the art of resting in awareness:
“Sometimes it’s not too busy and I can work on automatic, check on a patient or do the paperwork while my mind drifts off to think about a million other things. Then we might get a whole crowd of incoming patients, accidents, heart attacks, asthma emergencies. I do my part, but I’m also tuned into the whole of what’s going on. I’ve learned to open the awareness. It’s as if my mind gets spacious and still, present, sensitive to what is needed and yet kind of detached at the same time. I guess it’s like the flow state that athletes talk about. I’m in the middle, doing all the right things, yet some part of me is just watching it all, silent.
It happens more these days, not just at work. When I do my meditation practice it gets stronger. I had a big fight with my son and in the middle of it I could feel my body tightening, how right I thought my view was, and just feeling that I relaxed and shifted to the space of awareness and things opened up. I was saying no, but I could also feel all the love underneath and how these were just our roles and we had to play them well and behind it, it was all spacious, all o.k.”
When we learn to rest in awareness like Justine, there’s both caring and a silence. There is a listening for what’s the next thing to do and an awareness of all that’s happening, a big space and a connected feeling of love. When there is enough space, our whole being can both apprehend the situation and be at ease. We see the dance of life, we dance beautifully, yet we’re not caught in it. We can always rest in awareness wherever we are. There is always enough space. In any situation, we can open up, relax, we can return to the sky-like nature of consciousness.
This excerpt is taken from the book, “The Wise Heart”