For the last several months, I thought I was becoming a conscious being, but I just realized – I have a long way to go. A long, long way to go. However, that recognition does not trouble me. In fact, the recognition that I am not a conscious being actually inspires me. It inspires me because I have a now have clearer idea of what I aspire to be; a conscious being of course.
What is a conscious being? Let’s take a step back first.
Last week I loaned a copy of The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer to an acquaintance after realizing we shared an interest in mindfulness. I first learned about this book several years ago from a close friend. Since then I have read it several times and bought some extra copies, which I’ve occasionally given to close friends and family as gifts. In fact, I posted about The Untethered Soul on this blog, back in July 2017, which you can find here if you care to check it out later. https://petecormier.com/2017/07/.
The Untethered Soul is a book about mindfulness and awareness. It describes a path to becoming a conscious being by using awareness to separate oneself from one’s thoughts, emotions and physical senses. Why would we want to separate ourselves from our thoughts, emotions and physical senses? Because those things are not who we are. We are the being observing our thoughts, emotions and physical senses.
Now, what I love about this book, is that I only need to read a few paragraphs for it to have an impact on me, sometimes a profound impact on me. So, earlier today, I picked it up and turned to a dog-eared page and found this passage.
What differentiates a conscious, centered being from a person who is not so conscious is simply the focus of their awareness. It is not a difference in the consciousness itself. All consciousness is the same. The difference is when your consciousness is not centered within, it becomes totally focused on the objects of consciousness. (Singer, p. 36)
A good example of not being consciously aware is when we are watching a good program or movie on TV. We can become so engrossed in the movie that we can temporarily ‘lose ourselves’ in the film. However, when we step back and realize we are only watching a movie, we become aware that we had been completely focused on the film. Nothing really changed, we simply stopped projecting our self onto that movie.
Singer is suggesting we take the same step back and become aware of our thoughts, emotions and sensory experiences without letting them take our complete focus and without projecting our self onto those objects. Let’s return to Singer.
What if consciousness were to focus on itself? When that happens, instead of being aware of your thoughts, you’re aware that you’re aware of your thoughts. Once you become conscious of the consciousness itself, you attain a totally different state. You are now aware of who you are. You have become an awakened being. (Singer, p. 37-37)
Seems simple right? Well it is, kind of, at least for a moment. What is difficult is sustaining the detachment from our thoughts, emotions and sensory inputs. For anyone who’s tried to be mindful, it is a similar challenge. It is easy to be mindful, for a moment or even a few minutes, but it is really hard to sustain that mindfulness for more than a few minutes.
However, as soon as we notice that we are no longer mindful, we are becoming more mindful, because the act of realizing we’re not mindful is a mindful act. We have become aware that we are not being aware. Singer continues.
As you pull back into the consciousness, this world ceases to be a problem. It’s just something you’re watching. The more you are willing to just let the world be something you’re aware of, the more it will let you be who you are – the awareness, the Self, The Atman, the Soul. (Singer, p. 37).
So far so good, right? Try sitting back and watching your thoughts for a bit or try noticing your emotions. Just acknowledge them. Hey, there’s that thought about needing to pick up my water bottle that I left at the community center yesterday, or what am I going to eat for dinner tonight, or what is the next thing on my action list, or a million other random thoughts that can bounce around in my head at any given moment.
Now, this is where it gets wild. I think I missed this passage in my previous readings.
You realize you are not who you thought you were. You’re not even a human being. You just happen to be watching one. When you start to explore consciousness instead of form, you realize your consciousness only appears to be small and limited because you are focusing on small and limited objects. Instead of just focusing on this one human being’s thoughts, emotions and sensory world, you can pull back and see everything. (Singer, p. 37)
OK, admittedly there is a lot to digest here, let’s do a quick review. In the first stage of awareness, one practices being mindful.
In the second stage of awareness, one becomes aware of one’s thoughts, emotions, sensory experiences and, of being mindful.
Now, in the 3rd stage of awareness, one becomes aware of consciousness itself. One begins to realize the conscious being is one who is observing the human being.
It is somewhat mind-boggling, at least to me. But it makes sense. I am not merely the human being I think I am. I am the conscious being observing the human being I thought I was. If only for this instant, I think I have glimpsed what it means to be a conscious, aware being. I am not there yet, I am just starting and have a long ways to go. But I think I am beginning to figure out what being aware of being aware really means, at least to me. And that is all that matters, I suppose.
Singer, M.A. (2007). The untethered soul: the journey beyond yourself. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications and Noetic Books.
Last three Images: Pete Cormier