Reflections on Self Awareness

Many years ago, I would spend a lot of time reflecting on virtual reality.  The idea that you could put on a special helmet and become somebody else really intrigued me.  You could be transported into an entirely new world, in a brand new body.  You could become a secret agent, a medieval knight, an angelic being in a fantasy world, whatever you want.

But there was one thing that puzzled me.  Could you truly become the character you wished to be?  For instance, could you make yourself love things you don’t love?  Could you hate things you don’t hate?  Could you make yourself believe things you don’t believe?  Could you change your personality, thought patterns, and other fundamental aspects of who you are?

The virtual reality helmet may give you a new body and transport you into another world, but it wouldn’t replace your mind, or your thoughts, your likes, your dislikes, and other preferences.

For instance, say you wanted to experience a virtual reality novel featuring the life of a medieval nun. If you’re not spiritual or religious, it will be difficult to recreate the experience.  You may put on the helmet and watch things unfold from the nun’s eyes, see her daily life, and feel her bodily sensations, but could you experience life as she experienced it, fully, totally?  You may not believe in Jesus, but to this medieval nun, that’s all she cares about.  Her entire emotional life is tied into her religious beliefs.  Could you experience that, considering you’re not a religious person and see it all as superstitious?  Could you fear the wrath of God?  Could you feel the extreme guilt of insignificant sins?  Could you feel a longing to be with a being you don’t even believe exists?

Or what if you wanted to experience the life of a mercenary swordsman in ancient times?  Could you find joy in killing your enemies?  In pillaging villages?  Raping innocent women?  Slaughtering children?   You may be watching those events unfold from within the virtual reality helmet, but you’d likely experience disgust, or at least I would.  That’s not what the character experiences.  The character revels in all the blood, gore, and violence, and feels bliss at the idea of exerting his physical strength to dominate the world around him.  Your emotional experience wouldn’t line up with what it was really like to be that person.

So is it not possible to experience the life of another person without actually being that person?  As I got deeper and deeper into meditation, I realized that this is not how things work.  First off, there are no fundamental characteristics which describe who I am.  A desire doesn’t make me who  I am, neither does a particular way of thinking, or a preference for one thing over another.  Actions and decisions are not me either, and the same goes for emotional reactions to various events in life.  These things are not fundamental, they’re experienced within awareness just like anything else.  Secondly, there are no people.  None of us are the experience that we’re having, on any level.  For instance, this life I’m living now as “Jason” is very similar to the sort of virtual reality experience we’re describing.  He is just a character that I’m aware of.  I’m not Jason’s thoughts, what Jason likes, what he dislikes, any of his preferences toward anything, his body, his decisions, his actions, or anything else.  I am the witness which is aware of all these things.  He’s a character that’s loaded up into the VR experience currently “displaying” in consciousness.

This awareness can experience any character, any environment, in any period of time, living within any body (or no body at all), experiencing any thought, any like, any dislike, and all the rest of it.  I realized that THIS is what I am.  But what is “this” exactly?  It cannot be captured in words.  If I were to try, I’d say that “I am”.  I am conscious awareness, a sort of blank canvas that can experience anything and everything, similar to how a computer screen can display any image.  So I can experience the nun exactly as she is, just as I can experience the mercenary soldier in his totality, and  at the same time always remain who I am and have always been.

You may say, “But you’re Jason!”  I disagree.  I can meditate and directly perceive that this is not true.  To say that I’m Jason is like saying the current image on a computer screen is the computer screen.  But maybe speaking in terms of visual images is confusing you.  Imagine a screen that has thoughts “on” it, has emotions “on” it, has desires “on” it, has space and time “on” it, has bodily sensations “on” it, etc.  It “displays” the entirety of everything you’re aware of.  THAT “space” of seemingly infinite possibilities is what I am, yet I’m not any particular image on the screen.  I am the thing being display, yet not at the same time.  It doesn’t capture the entirety of what I am, what’s possible for me, or the true essence of my being.

The “real” me?  I have no story.  I was never born.  I will never die.  I have no qualities.  No properties.  No conditions.  I don’t come from anywhere.  I won’t ever go anywhere.  There’s nothing I have to do.  I don’t want anything.  I lack nothing.  I have everything.  I am everything.  To be more precise, there aren’t even separate things.  That’s all an illusory idea, something that’s false.  Things, separation, duality, space, time, those are a certain type of experience I can have.  Those are all possible “projections” onto this awareness I’ve been talking about.  A certain type of experience, that’s all.

Anything that changes is not me.  Anything that comes and goes is not me.  What I am never changes, is ever-present, and will always be present.  In fact, you can’t even talk about “me” in terms of time.  It’s not something that persists through time, it’s beyond time.  And this isn’t anything special to me.  It’s you as well.  There is no me, no you, not even an “us”.  Just “I am”.

I realized this while reflecting on a book I read which was filled with near death experience accounts.  When a fifty year old man died, his grandparents and other dead relatives came to greet him on some plane beyond this world.  Then I got to thinking, if I’m not my body, nor am I my thoughts, then these “dead” people aren’t either.  If I were to die, and say my grandmother came to me, who would I be speaking to?  She wasn’t that body, nor was she any sort of like, dislike, or thought pattern, or anything of the sort.  The real her didn’t have a story, just like I don’t have a story.  So what would I be talking to?  How is this person supposed to greet me?  In what way?  What property or characteristic uniquely identifies her, as opposed to me?  There are none.  She’s a character within awareness, just as Jason is.

The second you no longer identify with your body, your thoughts, your likes, your dislikes, your actions, etc.  you see through the entire illusion.  All of it.  Spirituality.  Religion.  Life.  Death.  You’re left in this silent peace and all is fine.

The Fundamental State

I’ve been talking a lot about Ramana Maharshi’s self-inquiry lately.   I’d like to walk you through a series of questions, trying to help direct you to the ‘I am’ state, the fundamental state, self-realization, whatever you wish to call it.  To do so, I have to ask you to leave everything for now.  This requires no tools or special techniques.  You do not have to close your eyes, or do breathing exercises, or listen to special meditative music, or anything like that.  What we will be going for is not an idea, so this is not a state of thought.  This state reveals itself when there is peace and detachment.

First, empty yourself of everything, even the concept of emptiness.  Empty yourself of every idea, every perception, every experience, every concept, every emotion, every imagination, all that you’ve ever learned or thought, and leave it all behind.  Do not come into this with any belief systems because those will only hinder you from finding this.  There’s no religion here.  No science.  No set way that things work.  Keep emptying yourself, and emptying yourself, until you finally come to something which you cannot empty yourself of.  Pure awareness.  The spaceless space.  The I am.  This is something that is immovable, ever-present, incapable of being touched.  I’m asking you to remain in this place while I ask you a series of questions about it.  Each of these questions are a form of self-inquiry, and I will answer each in turn.

Now that you’ve emptied yourself, now that you’re perceiving that which remains, is it an object?  Can it be photographed or captured in some way?  

No.  This state is aware of objects.  It is that which witnesses the objects.  It is also both the object, and not the object, at the same time.  It cannot be captured or represented by anything other than itself.  No symbols, no mathematics, no image.  It simply is, and if you self-inquire, and keep asking yourself, “Who am I?”  this state is there, and has always been there.

Was it created?

No.  It exists outside of time.  Time flows on it, like pictures change on a computer screen.  This screen, this spaceless space is unchanging.  It’s always been there and always will.

Does it belong to some people and not to others? Does it belong to anybody at all?

Every idea, concept, imagination, or perception of anything “other” can be perceived from this state.  One may have a concept of self, and relative to this self-concept ideas about “others” may be perceived.  For example, one may identify with their body, and then ideas about others and the external world arises.  But these are things perceived on the unchanging spaceless canvas of awareness.  This only happens if we self-identify with a particular experience or idea; only then others will arise relative to this.  But assuming we have such a self-concept, this state we’re discussing now belongs to all and is in all.  It’s in you and it’s also in all the others.  It’s not exclusive to anyone or anything.  Everything that does arise arises within it and on it, including others and every idea about anything other than self.  But when you’re in this spaceless state, there are no others, so this question makes no sense.

Can it become sick? Or depressed? 

No.  It is unchanging.  Certain pictures being projected onto the spaceless canvas of this awareness may be accompanied by an emotion of depression, or there may be a “movie” playing of a body experiencing sickness, but if one perceives this canvas, they can dissociate from the movie and experience inner peace.  Without any movie playing on the spaceless canvas of awareness, the background experience is unchanging and unalterable peace.  Sickness and depression are temporary illusions being played on this screen of awareness.  If this awareness realizes that thoughts and emotions are experiences which flow through its spaceless space, and one does not attach or self-identify with these experiences flowing through it, then one silences the mind and depression no longer exists, though physical pain of the body is still experienced.

Did it come from somewhere?  Can it leave?

Space, along with any concepts of “elsewhere” arise on this spaceless canvas of awareness.  It cannot go anywhere.  It is prior to space and time.  Space and time are things experienced on this unchanging screen.

Can it belong to any religion or any institution?

All religions and institutions are ideas, concepts, imaginations, and perceptions which are experienced from this state of awareness.  This is beyond religion.  Any experience or idea of God or gods happens on this screen of awareness.  This state is beyond an external God and all ideas of your-self.  This is beyond faith, or a need for faith.  This is not something that one has to believe in.  It is immediately experienced and is beyond doubt.  In that sense it’s more real than anything experienced.

Does it have any expectations?

Expectation is a belief that something in particular will happen.  All beliefs are experienced on this canvas, this spaceless space.  They float in and out of this space and one can self-identify with them, or not.  But this state is beyond any belief or belief system.

Does it judge anyone?  Does it accept or reject anything or anyone?

All value systems are objects experienced on the spaceless space of awareness.  If one self-identifies with a particular value system, then a set of accompanying ideas and other actions flow out of it.   This is the source of judgement, such as opinions, moral evaluations, ideas of who deserves what and for what reasons, and other things like this.  However, the spaceless canvas of awareness is beyond value systems, though it allows one to self-identify and experience the consequences of any particular value system.  Accepting and rejecting result from self-identifying with a value system.  Looking at it all from “above”, from the fundamental state of awareness, it is possible to accept or reject anything.  It’s your choice.  The keyword is “your”.  This “your” comes from the self-identification with the value system.  You believed and consented to the value system, and from that acceptance flowed an experience of it.  The spaceless space of awareness does not judge anyone or anything.

Can it be manipulated?

The spaceless space, the divine screen, cannot ever be manipulated.  It is unchanging.  What can be manipulated is what displays on the screen of conscious awareness.  This is done through self-identification.  Once one self-identifies with something being displayed, they enter the world of consenting, believing, and pursing certain experiences as opposed to others.  When you believe that some experience is “you”, and some other experience is “other”, you now have the task of fully fleshing out this identify.  You enter the project of adding to this false identity, or taking away from it.  You’re always dissatisfied with this limitation and the thought of, “Is this all there is?” periodically enters your mind.  That is the true Self calling you back “home” beyond limitation, beyond boundaries.  One is always everything being seen on the screen of awareness; manipulation is only of the veil of ignorance of oneself.  The true Self cannot change, which is what we all are.  What changes is the dream world we project by veiling ourselves in temporary ignorance.

How old is it?  Can it end?

It is beyond time.  Time manifests on this spaceless space of awareness.  All objects manifest within awareness, and if there is some continuity and order to what’s manifesting, you could meaningfully speak of time.  Death is an abrupt change in what’s being displayed on the spaceless screen of awareness due to a removal of a limitation or set of limitations you formerly agreed to experience, or temporarily self-identified with.  However, the screen of awareness is eternal and there is no death or end to it.  The only thing that can die are illusions.  And speaking of the illusions, they never “die” either, and are always available as eternal possibilities which you can experience at any time.

Does it know inside or outside?

If one self-identifies with a particular experience, such as “I am this body”, then ideas of inside and outside come out of that.  The experience of the body, along with any ideas of inside, outside, or anything else, happen on the spaceless canvas of awareness.   One can be aware of an inside and outside, if one wants to.  Or there can be experiences flowing on the screen where there is no self-concept at all.  This awareness can have a limited, veiled experience without any ego.  For example, one could be a bodiless, spherical viewpoint flying over a beautiful landscape, aware of the surroundings, but not thinking anything, or exclusively “being” anything that is experienced.  Sort of like enjoying a beautiful screensaver or something.  In fact, if one chooses, this human life can become this, if one no longer identifies with the body, emotions, or thoughts.  If one changes their perspective awareness, they’ll watch this life unfold on its own.  Choices will happen on their own, like everything went on auto-pilot.  All stress goes away.  Life is left to whatever forces set it all into motion.

How far away from you is it? Can you reach it?

Space arises on this canvas of awareness, but the awareness itself has no distance from you.  You are it and it is you.  How would you reach for it?  You’d have to create a body for yourself, self-identify with it, and then create another object within your awareness, self-identify with it as well, and then reach for it with this body.  For example, you could see a tunnel of light, enter it, and then experience some sort of merging, followed by a positive emotional experience and a voice saying, “Now we are one!”  That’s a nice experience, but it’s all an illusory movie happening within awareness.  You’re never apart from the spaceless space.  You don’t have to be “saved” from anything other than your-self (the amalgamation of illusions you’ve identified with).  Intense spiritual practices, prayer, and devotion may help you quell your own mind, and remove wrong self-identifications, waking you up from the dream you’ve gotten yourself into, but it doesn’t change who and what you are fundamentally.

If it has no form, if it is not an object, how are you perceiving it?

The real mystery to all of this is that this state isn’t an object, nor is it an idea, nor is it an emotion, yet through self-inquiry your conscious attention will eventually arrive at it.  This true Self, which you are, is Itself Self-Aware.  It can perceive Itself.  It knows Itself and has always known Itself.  Then when you direct your attention toward it, you’ll think, “What is this and where have you been this whole time?”  And it’s like, “I am”.  That’s when streams of tears roll down your face.  The thought then arises, “Oh my.  I’ve found God within myself!”  Then you enquire further and realize, oh wait, this is me, the real me.  I’ve always been this, and always will be this, and I never was any of the things I thought I was!”  More tears roll down your face followed by total peace.  The false illusory self dissolves, and you become this spaceless canvas of awareness.  You are now at one with everything, atonement, which means “at-one-ment”, the moment where all becomes one.  Sin is the belief that you were other than what you are, believing in “other” when all is one.  One must atone, or “at-one” for one’s sins.

What gave you the power to know that it is uncreated?

It’s directly perceived.  Directly known.  To even assume it was ever created makes no sense.  Time is flowing on the spaceless space of this awareness.

So now you’ve discovered this “Self”.  Of what value is such a discovery? And to whom?

Value systems are thoughts which one self-identifies with.  What this will mean to you depends on that value system.  This is beyond any conception of value, which would simply be an experience happening on this spaceless canvas of awareness.  The same goes to whoever one believes they are.   It can mean the world, it can mean nothing, it can be something one thinks about all the time, or something one never cares to think about at all.  To me, it meant everything.  It was all I ever wanted to know, and now that I know it, nothing else seems to matter, so much so that I dissolved completely within it and wanted nothing more to do with illusions of being ‘Jason’.  For the first time, I’m satisfied with something that I’ve found.  Everything I’ve searched for before, I found it all lacking,  but this is exactly what I was after.  How many other things in this world can you say that about?  I never want to let it go.  It’s the single most important event of my life, and I’d never give it up for anything or anyone.  I’d sell all I have for this realization.  Give up all worldly pleasures.  But one has to receive to call from within, I suppose.  If that’s not there, this will all just sound bizarre, possibly pointless.  This realization will not give you special powers or unique insights into anything.  There’s no big cash prize waiting for you.  It’s something one has to search for for its own sake, and looking back over my life since my late teens, it’s all I’ve ever searched for or cared about.  Now all I want to do is just remain in this state of awareness.