Becoming Aware Of Our Awareness

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In meditation we intentionally focus our awareness on an anchor such as breathing in order to move it away from the rambling thoughts in our head. This is not about controlling our thoughts, but is an exercise in separating ourselves from them. Too often we consider our thoughts to be part of our identity, part of our personality and character, and when they are unceasingly negative, we often allow them to drag us down and occupy our entire sense of self.

But we cannot focus on two things at once. And through meditation – and the act of drawing our attention away from our thoughts – we teach ourselves that, while our thoughts are part of us, they are not us. Just as our arms and legs are not us, but they are part of us. And with this new notion in our toolkit, we can turn the volume down on the incessant chatter. 

And as we become aware of our thoughts as something separate to ourselves, our role in the relationship changes. As we are no longer entangled with them, we find ourselves as observers of our thoughts. Where once they were the constant voice in our head, we move into a position of awareness of our them. We become abstracted from them, and we see them from a new perspective. 

Rather than being in the traffic, we find ourselves at the side of the road, observing the traffic.

And this adds a new dimension. We become aware that we are the witness to our thoughts. In essence, we become aware of our awareness. And with this comes a challenge.

In acknowledging that we are aware of our awareness, again we become abstracted. We are aware that we are aware of our awareness. And on and on it goes. Each time we become aware, we abstract ourselves. At first we were our thoughts. Then we were the witness to our thoughts. Then we were the observer of the witness to our thoughts. 

In theory this could go on infinitely. So the question is, who are we really? How far down the rabbit hole do we have to go before we come to a stop and truly find ourselves? Or could we, in theory, just keep going until we evaporate completely, leaving nothing but air behind. 

Is this what ultimate release is? Is this Nirvana? Is this enlightenment?

But this is less a rabbit hole, and more a swirling, tempestuous maelstrom. It sucks us down and then spits us back up. Each time we reach a new level of awareness it challenges us, and this flings us back up to face our ego. Each time we reveal more of ourselves, we are left asking ourselves if we wish to shed this layer or hold on to it. Is this who I am? And is this who I want to be? How much letting go am I prepared to do? How much of what I identify as, and am attached to, as myself, will I allow to evaporate. Can I let it all go? What will remain.

There are stories, perhaps urban myths, of ancient statues of meditating Buddhist monks. But encased in these statues are the remains of real monks, still sat in the lotus position. These monks, so the story goes, are not dead, but have achieved such a deep state of meditation that they have transcended their physical bodies and have become light. And rather than wake them from their meditation, they were instead incased in the statue, until such time that they return, should they wish, to this earthly world.

When our awareness deepens, when we let go and let go and let go, we must decide how much we are willing to let go of. What are we willing to abstract ourselves from? Our wants and desires? Sure. Our ego? Perhaps. Our sense of identity? Maybe. Our physical existence in this plane of reality? That’s a different question. A question of faith, and commitment and humanity.

But right now, from where we are, we don’t need to answer that question. Life, after all is a Koan, an unanswerable riddle. We’re not looking for answers, we’re just here to dance with the question. So for the moment, let just focus on directing our attention away from the naysayers in our heads, and just breathe.