The awareness in this training is like the palm of your hand being turned over. It's that simple. And yet--because one has to catch on to it clearly, by deliberate training of some kind, and then care about it enough to practice it daily in a disciplined way to be able to remember it--this is a genuinely esoteric experience that is scarcely known in most human beings' lives.
And yet, awareness is easy to learn. The only difficulty comes with remembering what you have learned midst the ongoing confusing impact of ordinary daily events. So this training also provides you with a game that is interesting and fun to play that you can practice every day, at any time. This will keep awareness vivid in your life once you have learned it. And at the same time, it will enable you to work on any difficulties that come up in your life by becoming skillful in the nine moves of the awareness game. The term "awareness," as it is used here, has a very specific meaning. It is not merely symbolic, or rhetorical, or a mysterious philosophical belief of some kind. It refers to a very tangible mode of natural conciousness that is innate and capable of being brought out and developed in any of us. And this innate awareness can be accessed in a completely natural way.
In this training, the ordinary state of human consciousness will often be referred to as "sleep." As defined in the playing of this game, sleep is a state of being distracted by the stirred-up interior processes that all humans have (emotional feelings, conceptual thinking, habitual desires, and typical forms of behavior).
These vigorous internal processes arise in automatic reaction to our distracting impressions of the ordinary events of everyday life, which have impact on us. And they can "knock us out." Their impact knocks us out of being awake and into the sleep of ordinary consciousness.
The state of awareness is calm, and concentrated in focus. "Sleep" is when the mind is at least slightly disturbed and dispersed. Awareness is waking up in calm concentration, and waking up the world in objective clarity and insight.
Being in awareness is about experiencing, not thinking about it. It is about being thoroughly present and in touch with the direct experience of the moment, and then the next moment, and the next. Awareness is knowing life directly in the pure experience of it. This doesn't take any words or explanations. No descriptions, concepts, beliefs, or figuring it out. All it takes is just being here, in focus, and just experiencing directly with any of the five senses--catching on to knowing in this way.
When you are familiar with this awakened state, you will see that it can also be compared to what we commonly call "presence of mind"--as when you "wake up" out of your preoccupations and suddenly remember something that is very appropriate or important that you were forgetting, such as something that is in a closet that you need to bring with you on the trip. "Aha!" There is an enlivening moment as you are stopped in your tracks and go get it. It is very appropriate. You recognize your good fortune in remembering. But this experience of having the presence of mind to remember is usually quickly forgotten. In this game, it is a matter of remembering in just that very same way, having the presence of mind to wake up to the fact that you are present, remembering that you can come out of your "sleep" and into an awakened state and stay with awareness. When you have learned to play this game, you will see how appropriate this is.
The ordinary state of human consciousness is a much "looser" state of consciousness--far less alert, more unfocused, without the focused direct experiencing going on. Dwelling in this relative "absence" of consciousness is apparently the "Fate" of the human race. Although you may not be able to understand or recognize it now, this less fully conscious state of ordinary humanness is the most salient and (once it is recognized in awareness) most obvious characteristic of the ordinary human condition.
This is why the mystics and spiritual teachers have tried to tell us for centuries that, as we are, we are "asleep;" we are "blind;" we live in "samsara;" we dwell in "ignorance," or "avidya;" we live in a "realm of illusion," or "maya."
The ordinary state of human consciousness is an unfocused state that becomes attached to whatever our mind is attracted to. Whatever our mind is attracted to in any given moment "captures" us, so to speak, preoccupies our mind, and draws us into the normal state of consciousness, or "sleep."
A blatant example of this is when you see someone, eyes glazed over, locked into the screen of a television set across the room. If you look at them closely, you can see that there's "nobody home in there." All of ordinary human life is a little like that. And we do not ordinarily realize how this could be so.
When the awakened state has been learned, we can have the freedom to extricate our minds from this "zombie-like" attachment. We can become able to direct our attention and focus by choice. But otherwise, dwelling in ordinary consciousness as we all do, our minds go on and on becoming attached to whatever they are attracted to, one thing after another. And our freedom--which is the birthright of the human race--is all gone by default (leaving everyday human affairs in the state in which we find them).
When we are not awarely present, when we are not here and awake, we cannot experience this attachment of the mind that is going on. We are caught up in it, instead. We do not have the will to direct our attention and focus freely here and there as we choose, for the purpose of deliberately (or, intentionally) seeking understanding. Instead, we are trapped in preoccupation with some small part of it all that our mind is attracted to. And we are stuck with a pre-emptive "meaning" of the situation that may be far from truth.
Yet, awakened in the way that is described here, we can look around and study this living human process with calmness and concentration. We can learn to see exactly what is going on with our self, in focus, one step at a time. And what is more, when we learn how, we can take a hand in this ordinary human process that is going on within, and make certain changes if we wish. We can grow in this way. We can change, and be adaptible.
We can learn to master the process of living, itself. However, please remember this caveat: the mastery of living does not mean being in control of life. It means learning how to see what is actually going on, and how to flow effectively, or "masterfully," and in harmony with life the way life is really being. This is done by becoming able to step aside from certain conditioned behavior, which is really the creator of our disharmony with the natural flow of life. And this we can only do by learning how to wake up and be awake, so we can see.
If one wishes to learn to be awake much of the time during the passing hours of the days, one is well served learning how to reduce, or "neutralize" these vigorous internal factors that arise in reaction to the impacts of life. That is what this game is about: playing these distracting reactions to the impacts of life "out of the field." The more one is able to divest oneself of these automatic internal reactions, the more one is able to progress in being awake. Work on one's internal self in this way and clearing out these negative blockages actually makes room for more and more being awake.
In contrast with awareness, sleep is our usual everyday state of mind--being dimmed down, numbed out, "turned off" (and yet, frequently stirred up), and being distracted by our natural internal reactions to the painful impact of all the things, great and small, that happen around us in the world.
"Stuff" happens and has impact--annoyances, disappointments, bad news, things break, or go wrong, mistakes are made, things wear out, there are delays, surprises, misunderstandings, disagreements, personal attacks--catastrophes and minor upsets. Stuff keeps coming up all around us, and corresponding reactions occur within. The self arises within. We have to "make something out of it." We have to do something about it. We have to be treated in a certain way. It matters! We resist. Or we grasp. Aggravation occurs. Suffering happens. Knee-jerk reactions go off, one after another.
Sleep is an easy way out, like a mild "opiated" state, or "drunkenness," as some Eastern teachers like to call it. It is a way of not engaging directly with life, not bothering to experience the impact of the sharpness and heaviness of it, or undertake the work of dealing with it as it really is in order to reduce the after-effects and psychological burdens of those daily impacts of ordinary events. Sleep makes life so abstract, ambiguous and vague that it is really impossible to engage with it directly--although we do not ordinarily realize this.
In sleep, we are all taking a daily beating without really knowing how this happens, and either keeping the affect of it all inside, or acting it out on others with innocent abandon.
Awareness is easily recognized when it is present, as easily recognized as when a light comes on. It is like "coming to."1 One can legitimately say, "I am here now," and one can actually feel their presence being here. And in this posture of "aware presence," a person can focus their five senses very keenly, and be a "seer," as the old traditions say.
Awareness is also a tool for becoming free of conditioning. That is a goal of many masters, gurus, saints, yogis, lopons, sufis, primitive priests, shamans, kahunas, and in our times, psychotherapists, counselors, and personal growth trainers of all kinds, as well. In addition to being a vivid and enjoyable experience in its own right, awareness is a tool that facilitates growth that transcends conditioning. It does this by bringing a clear, calm, objective light on the everyday functioning of our normal internal human processes by which we evaluate the world around us. These internal processes--such as emotions and intellect--can form a kind of "automatic self" that acts out conditioned behavior automatically. And with awareness, this can be seen, and "worked on."
Awareness cannot really be understood by reading about it and thinking deeply about it. It can be described, but it cannot be known through intellectual concepts. That is because awareness is an experience. Experience can never be adequately explained in words and concepts alone. Whatever words we would use to describe the song of a bird, they will not be the same as the hearing of it.
And so I will not spend a lot more time talking about awareness in words and concepts here--until we can get to the experiential exercises that follow, and you can see what you see. The only way to really know an experience is to experience it. In order to know awareness, you have to do it, and see.
However, looking in Roget's Thesaurus,2 I had the serendipity of finding an intact collection of synonyms and antonyms that do a nice job explaining awareness and sleep in words that go a long way towards a general understanding of awareness by the intellect alone.
Later, when you have completed the training, I'll remind you to come back to this list, so you can look at these pairings from the experiential point of view.
With congratulations to the philologists who compiled them (adding only a few additions of my own), I report these to you as valid intellectual concepts about the awakened state as compared to the ordinary state of human consciousness:
Awareness is: attention: alertness, observance, observation, heedfulness, notice, study.
Awareness is: minuteness: watch, observe, look, see, hear, feel, notice.
Awareness is: to pay attention to: contemplate, recognize, note, examine, meet with attention, direct attention to.
Awareness is: to be mindful, alive-to, awake-to, alert, watchful, open-eyed, PRESENT.
We are spring-loaded to live in sleep, to be absent from the full rich experiences of life. We are like radio receivers with toggle switches that have been left, unbeknownst to us, on "off." The "cosmic music" is always playing. We do not know that we are the ones that are turned off. And all we have to do in this game is remember this, and keep turning awareness on.
If we can learn to become aware of the vivid suchness of the physical world within us and around us by practicing this awakened state of consciousness, then we can learn to apply this same focused awareness to the vivid suchness of obvious human behavior that can be seen at any time. Much of observeable life is going on invisibly around you and within you. It is not that it is actually beyond your perceptions. It is that, in the ordinary state of consciousness, we do not see. The purpose and the function of the awakened state is the direct experiencing of life as it merely is at the moments of experiencing.
Although we live in sleep by default, we are not prevented entirely from waking up. Learning by experiential exercises to recognize and dwell in awareness is a practical possibility for anyone. If you wish to see this for yourself, please read on.
But you will not find awareness down here in the printed words on these pages. Where you will find awareness is over there where you are now, within--in there behind those eyes, in there within that membrane of skin around your body--inside in there where you can actually feel the slight, subtle stirring sensations of living actually going on.
1. A well-known pupil of G. I. Gurdjieff, P.D. Ouspensky told of his experiences in learning "self-remembering"--his teacher's term for "mindfulness," or "aware presence"--in In Search of the Miraculous (Harcourt, Brace & World: New York) 1949. He described (page 120) walking through the streets of St. Petersburg, determinedly keeping a thread of being awake in self-remembering going, until he arrived at a certain tobacco shop and forgot the awareness practice he was attending to. "Two hours later," he wrote, "I woke up in the Tavrichskaya, that is, far away. . . . The sensation of awakening was extraordinarily vivid. I can almost say that I came to." He noted: " . . . while immersed in this sleep, I had continued to perform consistent and expedient actions."
2. Roget's Pocket Thesaurus (Pocket Books, Simon & Shuster, Inc.: New York) 1946, Edited by C. O. Sylvester Mawson, Assisted by Katharine Aldrich Whiting.