Awareness shines in every experience
In the final analysis, nothing that is absolutely true can be said of meditation, not even that it is the cessation of an activity, because meditation takes place or, more accurately, is present beyond the mind and the mind therefore, by definition, has no access to it.
However, in order to understand that meditation is not an activity, we first come to the understanding that it is the cessation of an activity. This understanding is a very efficient tool for undermining the belief that meditation is something that we do.
Once we have fully understood that meditation is not an activity, the activity that we previously considered to be meditation will naturally come to an end. At that point, the understanding that meditation is not an activity has fulfilled its purpose and can also be abandoned. Once the thorn has removed the thorn, both are thrown away.
In order to understand that meditation is not an activity we can use the example of a clenched fist. If we take our open hand and slowly close it tightly, an effort is required both to clench the hand and to maintain it in that contracted gesture.
If we maintain the hand in this contracted gesture for some time, the muscles will become accustomed to this new position, and we will soon cease to be aware that a subtle effort is continually being applied in order to maintain it.
If someone were now to ask us to open our hand, we would feel that the opening of the hand required some effort. At some stage, as we open our hand, we will become aware of the fact that we are not applying a new effort in order to open the hand, but rather that we are relaxing a previous effort, of which we were no longer even aware.
The apparent effort to open the hand turns out to be the relaxation of the original effort to contract the hand. What appeared to be the initiation of an effort turns out to be the cessation of an effort.
Meditation works in a similar way. Our true nature is open, unlimited, free, conscious, self-luminous and self-evident. This is our moment-by-moment experience, although we may not be aware of it.
This open, free, unlimited consciousness has contracted upon itself. It has seemingly shrunk itself into the narrow frame of a body and a mind, and limited itself to a tiny location in a vast space and into a brief moment in an endless expanse of time.
This is the primary self-contraction that open, free, unlimited consciousness chooses from moment to moment of its own free will. It draws a line within the seamless totality of its experience and says to itself, ‘I am this and not that’, ‘I am here and not there’, ‘I am me and not other’.
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Feeling itself isolated and therefore vulnerable and afraid, this open, free, unlimited consciousness now sets about supporting and protecting its new self-imposed identity as a fragment.
To effect this it reinforces its boundaries with layer upon layer of contraction. At the level of the mind these contractions are made out of desires and addictions on the one hand, and resistances, fears and rejections on the other. These are the many faces of our likes and dislikes, the ‘I want’ and the ‘I don’t want’.
At the level of the body these contractions are made out of bodily sensations, with which consciousness identifies itself. They are the apparent location of ‘I’ inside the body. With each new layer of contraction this open, free, unlimited consciousness forgets its own unlimited nature more and more profoundly, and in doing so throws a veil over itself. It hides itself from itself.
In spite of this there are frequent intrusions into its own self-generated isolation which remind itself of its real nature…the smile of a stranger, the cry of an infant, an unbearable grief, a brief desireless moment upon the fulfilment of a desire, a moment of humour, the peace of deep sleep, a pause in the thinking process, a memory of childhood, the transition between dreaming and waking, the recognition of beauty, the love of a friend, a glimpse of understanding.
These are moments that are offered to this now veiled presence of consciousness, innumerable tastes of its own freedom and happiness, which remind it briefly of itself, before it is eclipsed again by the efficiency of the defences within which it has apparently confined itself.
In this way, with layer upon layer of self-contraction, consciousness has reduced itself to a well-fortified, separate and vulnerable entity. This is not an activity that took place sometime in the past and which is now irrevocably cast in stone. It is an activity that is taking place now, in this moment.
This open, free, unlimited consciousness is, without knowing it, doing this very activity of separation. This activity defines the person, the separate entity. The separate entity is something we, as consciousness, do. It is not something we are.
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As a result of consciousness contracting upon itself and imagining itself to be a fragment in this way, it projects outside of itself everything that is not contained within the boundary of its own self-imposed and limited identity. The world now appears as ‘outside’ and ‘other’. It becomes everything that ‘consciousness as a fragment’ is not.
And this world that now appears separate from and outside of consciousness, seems to perfectly confirm consciousness’s new view of itself as a limited fragment. The world becomes the vast and potentially threatening container of this ‘consciousness as a fragment’.
Ironically, it is precisely because the world is, in reality, an appearance in consciousness and an expression of it that it so accurately reflects the ideas that consciousness entertains about it. If consciousness believes itself to be a fragment, to be limited, to be bound and to appear in time and space, then the world will appear as the counterpart of that fragment.
Having denied itself its own birth right, its own eternal, all-pervading status, consciousness confers that status on the world of appearances. It bestows its own reality on the world of appearances and in exchange appropriates for itself the fleeting fragility of that world.
Consciousness forgoes its own reality as the ground and nature of all experience, and instead projects it onto its own creation, onto the world of appearances. It exchanges its nature with the world of appearances. It has no alternative but to do this.
In fact, consciousness never ceases to experience itself. Embedded within every experience is the taste of its own eternity.
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However, having conceptualised itself into a limited and separate entity, it has to account for its own intimate experience of presence, of being, elsewhere and hence confers it on the ‘world’, on ‘other’. In this way, time and space seem to become the ground and substance of reality, the sine qua nonof our experience, and consciousness in turn seems to display the intermittent, limited, changing qualities that really belong to the world of appearances.
Consciousness forgets that it has done this, that it is doing this, and as a result the world seems to inherit the characteristics of consciousness. The world seems to become like consciousness: solid, real, permanent and substantial. In turn, consciousness seems to give up its own innate qualities and to assume those that rightfully belong to the world of appearances, that is, it seems to become fleeting, momentary, fragile and insubstantial.
In short, consciousness creates an appearance that is consistent with its own beliefs. In fact, the ‘belief of itself as a limited fragment’ and the ‘appearance of the world as a solid and separate entity’ are co-created as a seamless, mutually validating whole.
William Blake expressed the same understanding, ‘As a man is, so he sees’. This could also be expressed as, ‘As consciousness sees itself, so the world appears’. It is an almost watertight conspiracy, wrought of the freedom and creativity of consciousness itself.
However, it is the very same power that enables the world to appear in accordance with consciousness’s view of itself as a fragment that in turn enables the world to appear in accordance with consciousness’s new view of itself, when it begins to awaken to its own reality, when it begins to remember itself.
This is the magical nature of the world: that the same world can be seen to validate either ignorance or understanding. In fact, it is the magical nature of consciousness, its creativity, its omnipotence, which makes this possible!
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Whether we know it or not, we are always this open, free, unlimited consciousness, and yet sometimes we forget this. It is our freedom to forget. Once we have forgotten, no other freedom is available to us, save the freedom to remember again.
Although we are always this open, free, unlimited consciousness, at times we seem to be limited. We feel limited. Consciousness experiences itself as being bound by it own projection. Having projected a boundary within its own unlimitedness, consciousness then identifies itself with that limitation. It forgets its real nature. It falls into ignorance.
As a result, consciousness then feels that its own true nature is somehow strange, unknown and unfamiliar, that it has been lost and needs to be found, that it has been forgotten and needs to be remembered, that it is elsewhere, other and apart.
Consciousness does not realise that it is already precisely what it is looking for, that it is already itself. It does not see clearly that the very knowingness of whatever it is that is known in any moment is the knowing of itself.
However, no matter how deeply consciousness identifies itself with a fragment of its own making, no matter how deep the ignorance and the subsequent thoughts, feelings and activities that are generated by this ignorance, no matter how successfully consciousness conceals its own nature from itself, its memory of itself is always deeper than its forgetting.
This is always the case, simply by virtue of the fact that before consciousness seems to become anything other than itself, it is still always only itself. Consciousness is the primary experience in all experience, whatever the particular character of that experience. And for this reason, the search for itself, the desire to return to itself, to abide in itself, can never be extinguished.
And, ironically, it is for the very same reason that the search will be continually undermined, because when it is understood that consciousness always only experiences itself, it is understood simultaneously that consciousness has nowhere to go and nothing to become.
Therefore, from the point of view of ignorance, the search is the first step that consciousness takes in the return to itself. From the point of view of understanding, the search is the first step that consciousness takes away from itself. In neither case does consciousness ever go anywhere.
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Even when consciousness has veiled itself in a cloak of beliefs, doubts, fears and feelings, the taste of its own unlimited, free and fearless nature is embedded within every experience and this taste is often experienced as a sort of nostalgia or longing.
This longing is often wrongly associated with an event or a time in our lives, often in childhood, when things seemed to be better, when life seemed to be happier. However, this longing is not for a state that existed in the past; it is for the peace and freedom of consciousness that lies behind and is buried within every current experience.
What was present ‘then’ as ‘happiness’ was simply the unveiled presence of this very consciousness that is seeing and understanding these words.
Consciousness projects this current experience out of itself. It then loses itself in this projection, in the mind-body-world that it has projected from within itself, and identifies itself with a part of it. It is as if it says to itself, ‘I am no longer this open, free, unlimited consciousness. Rather, I am this limited fragment that I have just created within myself. I am a body.’
In doing so consciousness forgets itself. It forgets its own unlimited nature. This forgetting is known as ‘ignorance’. It is consciousness ignoring itself. As a result of this self-forgetting, the nostalgia appears and consciousness longs to return to itself, to be free. It does not realise, for the time being, that at every moment of this prodigal journey it is always only ever itself.
Meditation is simply the liberation of this projection from the burden of separation. It is the unwinding of the self-contraction, the unthreading of this web of confusion.
Instead of focusing its attention on the limited fragment, on the separate entity it has taken itself to be, consciousness gives its own attention back to itself as it truly is. It returns to itself. It remembers itself. And instead of projecting the world outside of itself, consciousness reclaims it, takes it back inside itself.
The activity of identifying with a fragment and the activity of projecting the world outside are one and the same activity. By the same token, when one activity ceases, the other collapses.
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Consciousness is so accustomed to thinking of itself as a limited entity, and to the concomitant projection of the world outside of itself, that it seems, to begin with, that remembering itself, returning to itself, is a counter-activity, something that consciousness needs to do in order to find itself. Like the opening of the hand, the unwinding of the self-contraction appears, to begin with, to be an activity.
However, each time consciousness returns to itself, each time it relaxes its fixation on a separate entity, each time it opens itself without choice or preference to the full spectrum of whatever experience is appearing within itself, it is, without knowing it, undermining the habit of self-avoidance, the habit of avoiding its own reality.
In this way, consciousness becomes more and more accustomed to remaining in itself, as itself, to no longer pretending to be something else, something other than itself. The impulse to contract into the separate entity is progressively undermined. Consciousness stays at home.
The impulses to search, to seek, to avoid, to pretend, to contract, keep appearing but consciousness is no longer compelled by them. It recognises the impulses but no longer acts on them, and as a result the frequency and ferocity of these impulses begin to subside.
Consciousness no longer goes out of itself towards things. It stays at home within itself and things come to it. Things, that is thoughts, feelings and perceptions, come to it, appear to it, arise within it, but consciousness no longer needs to forget itself in order to experience the body, the mind and the world.
Consciousness shines in every experience.
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There comes a moment when everything falls into place. This open, free, unlimited consciousness that is our own intimate self realises that it has always been and will always be only itself, that it has never left itself for a fraction of a moment, that what appeared to be the return to itself, the remembering of itself, was simply the recognition of itself, the recognition that it has always, only ever been abiding in and as itself.
Consciousness realises that the separate entity that it previously took itself to be is in fact simply an activity that it does, from time to time. By the same token, it realises that the activity that it seemed to do from time to time, the activity that we call meditation, is in fact what it always is.
It realises that meditation is not a state that comes and goes, but that it is that in which all states come and go. Meditation is simply the natural presence of consciousness, ever present, all-embracing, unchanging, unending, unlimited, self-luminous, self-knowing, self-evident.
From the point of view of the limited, separate entity, all descriptions of meditation appear as something to be done by that separate entity. As soon as it is clearly seen that the separate entity is none other than a belief and a feeling that consciousness entertains about itself, then the very words that previously seemed to describe a process or an activity called ‘meditation’, that seemed to be an injunction to do something, are now understood to be simply a description of how things are.
From the point of view of ignorance, the person is what we are and meditation is something that we do from time to time. From the point of view of understanding, meditation is what we are and the person is something that we do from time to time.
Meditation is not something that we do. Whether we know it or not, it is what we are.