Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice


Inner Work

For the week of January 7, 2013

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Being Conscious

(Learning to Be: Part 8)

The shortest route toward learning to be conscious is to acquire the taste of it through silent meditation. That is not to say that we will recognize it at first. The main problems are that we do not recognize consciousness for what it is and we believe that we are already conscious. We grow up with that illusion because it is close to being true and even is true, albeit intermittently and briefly. Ordinarily we live on the surface of our senses, including the cognitive sense of our thoughts. Something happens and we react. This is our life on the automatic energy. A step up into the sensitive energy allows us actual contact with our senses, so that we really take in what our sensory perceptions offer in a given moment. That is what we normally call being conscious. But in our terminology, this is being sensitive.

The conscious energy is another step up and a different matter entirely. It gives depth of inner space, perspective, and a sense of our self as the actor in our life. It reveals timelessness to us.

Our situation is like watching a movie at a theater. If the movie is good and engrossing, as our life always is, we lose ourselves in it. There is just the movie: the action, the color, and the sounds. We cease to exist. Our senses, emotions, and thoughts are played by the movie, become a function of the movie. This is how our life is on automatic.

If we become aware of the movie as a movie, of its qualities, we are no longer just being played by the movie. Rather we are in sensitive contact with it.

If we become aware of the whole theater, with its seats and people and large space and images on the screen and sound from the speakers and ourselves sitting in the midst of it all, then this is like being conscious. We come into the contextual depth of experience, of our awareness. We have a sense of wholeness and of ourselves within that wholeness, not separate from it or from anything within awareness. We can even become the actor in our life, rather than a spectator dimly aware of the half-cognized, mental and emotional reactions driving our automatic actions.

In meditation, as our thoughts settle down, gaps open up between them, gaps which are empty of thoughts, zones of no thought. As we look into this, we gradually see that these gaps are more than a mere absence of thoughts. It is like having to wait for our eyes to adjust when going from light into darkness. If we stay with those gaps, stay with active attention in that silence, it reveals a substantive, cognizant stillness that surrounds our thoughts, that fills our mind and more. This is consciousness. It is not just emptiness; it is the cognizant substance of pure awareness, the backdrop of all perceptions.

Consciousness is all-pervasive: here in us all the time. This fools us into believing we are conscious all the time, because if we are asked “are you conscious?” or “are you aware of yourself?” we can respond “Yes” and it’s true. For that moment, we are aware of ourselves. Then we quickly sink back to automatic living, staying on the surface, giving no attention to the depth, to the context of awareness: we lose touch with consciousness. We live without contact with consciousness.

But through our inner work and the growth of being that it promotes, we can learn first to recognize consciousness in meditation, then to recognize it in our daily activities, and then to live in it. To live in consciousness is to live in depth, a wholesome and holistic depth that does not obscure the surface. Rather we live on both levels at once; our deep consciousness embraces the whole, both inner and outer. We live in the depth of our being and on the sensory surface of life, enriching both. As we go about our day, thoughts fill our mind. But behind and around those thoughts is the cognizant stillness that is consciousness. We learn to live in that. Our being is quiet and at peace, even when our mind is filled with thoughts, emotions, and perceptions. We learn to be, to be in that depth of awareness, in that peace of stillness. And from that place we can and do act effectively and creatively.

For this week, practice looking into the stillness between and around your thoughts. Open to that stillness. Be in that.


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