Photograph by Samuel Austin, unsplash.com
Awakened awareness practices focus on dis-identifying with the conceptual mind, specifically the false self or ego that we imagine ourselves to be. To call the ego a “false self” is not to disparage it or even judge it. It is to name it as what it is: a psychological process with which we have become overly accustomed to identifying. The false self has no enduring quality—it is neither thing, noun, nor person. It is a process that we mistake for who we are.
I often call this false self the thought-created self or the psychological self. The false self grows and thrives in unconscious being. When we are asleep to Being, our attention becomes entranced by mind—the vast array of ideas, images, beliefs, habits, opinions, and judgments that we have been conditioned to identify as self. However, these are not self; they are conditioned psychological processes masquerading as who you are. Remember, you existed long before you had any thoughts and ideas to identify with. You did not suddenly pop into existence when you acquired an ego. At best, the ego is a functional tool to help you navigate through the world for a while, and at worst it is a nightmare appearing to be all too real. Either way the ego becomes a false self the moment we take it to be who and what we are. The great news is that we can, quite literally, wake up from the illusion of the false self and reclaim our essential identity.
We begin by acknowledging the always and already present presence of awareness. This is the awareness that is cognizant of reading these words and wondering what they mean. That awareness, as ordinary and common as it may seem, is the doorway to awakening to your true nature of Being. It is the very awareness that is so easy to dismiss, because it is always present and more essentially you than you could ever conceive or imagine. Take one simple inward step away from your thoughts and recognize what you are prior to the whole array of mental activity and self-image making. It’s as easy as an exhale, as simple as a willingness to be amazed by your intangible presence.
Awakening to this aspect of Being happens when awareness spontaneously dis-identifies from the content within awareness and becomes conscious of itself as your self-nature. In other words, awareness is not something that you do, it is that which you essentially are. You can experience this for yourself if you begin by recognizing that everything you think and imagine you are is essentially mental content appearing to and within the intangible field of awareness. The content within awareness—including all the ideas, judgments, and images that make up the false self—comes and goes. Although much of this content persistently reoccurs, none of it is enduring, and none of it is who you are. The point is not to believe this, but to experience it as a living reality and the inherent freedom of the aware aspect of your essential Being.
Let’s put this into practice.
Begin by resting in whatever experience you are having right now. Don’t try to change or figure out why you are having the experience you are having. Leave both your current experience as well as all your thoughts about it alone.
Relax into awareness with the same feeling through which you relax your body into bed at night.
Notice your thoughts as simply thoughts, your feelings as feelings, the sounds you hear as sounds, and the sights you see (if your eyes are open) as sights.
Relax your awareness from focusing on the content of experience and ease into the open and silent space of awareness itself. Let’s call this the conscious context.
Notice that awareness is witnessing your thoughts and feelings and sights and sounds. Don’t try to understand awareness; notice that your perceptions and experiences are already being witnessed by awareness, not by your idea of being someone who possesses awareness or who is trying to be the witness, but by awareness itself. You don’t need to try to be aware because awareness is always and already present as the conscious context within which all experience happens.
Notice that awareness is not something you can see, touch, or taste. Awareness sees but cannot be seen. Awareness hears but cannot be heard. Awareness observes all the mind’s thoughts and images, but it is not a thought or image.
Notice that all your thoughts, ideas, judgments, and images about yourself are arising within and being witnessed by the conscious context called awareness.
This practice helps us to realize that there is something (awareness) that is more fundamental about who and what you are than all your ideas about yourself. Your thoughts about yourself, experiences, and perceptions continually arise and change, come and go, but awareness remains. Don’t try to grasp or understand awareness; notice that it is fundamental to you. Awareness is the conscious context within which the content of experience arises, changes, and passes away. You can never see awareness, but you are always looking from and as awareness. The key to awakening as the formless being of awareness is to let go of grasping at it with your mind and relax into the simple, quiet, and open intuitive sense of awareness itself. ◆
Excerpted from The Direct Way: Thirty Practices to Evoke Awakening by Adyashanti. Copyright © 2021 Adyashanti Gray. To be published by Sounds True in April 2021. Syndicated from Parabola, a not-for-profit organization. Four times a year for over thirty-five years, it has gathered the wisdom of the world’s spiritual traditions to illuminate the central questions of life.