In any investigation of consciousness, the best place to start is with oneself. This does not necessarily mean that we need to resort to some kind of traditional psychological analysis, or even to the usual efforts of seekers to accumulate intellectual, emotional, or even so-called spiritual knowledge about ourselves. All of that may be included along the way, of course, but prior to any of those elaborations, there needs to be an in-depth inquiry into our core motivation — the basic script or personal narrative at the foundation of our sense of self, our identity. What is really driving us?
Upon inspection, what we can notice is that there is an underlying quality of stressfulness and dilemma that characterizes our existence. At the very root of our being, there appears to be a persistent contraction of life energy that in turn is always spawning a search for relief, whether it be of the body, the mind, or the spirit. In pursuit of an always elusive happiness, humans have sought since time immemorial to change their current state, devising and employing myriad idealistic strategies in the process.
To compound the matter, the exoteric religious teachings which humans have created infer that this human life itself is some kind of error or unfortunate occurrence — something to transcend, make right, awaken or escape from — some sin or even something of the nature of a stain on the immaculate canvas of the soul. Most even propose that our very nature is tainted simply by virtue of having taken birth in this realm.
Indeed, there are all sorts of theories humans have devised to account for their pervasive sense of dissatisfaction about being here, such as suggesting that prior misdeeds in previous lives are responsible for this unfortunate circumstance of life on earth that we currently must suffer through. Others attribute it to the will of some Supreme Being or Beings, who manipulate our fate for mysterious reasons. By investigating comparative cultural myths, we can find all sorts of variations on that blame game.
However, if we persevere in the inquiry, we can come to recognize that consciousness manifests as form for an obvious reason. It manifests as form in order to be conscious as form, to experience itself as form. That’s the wonder and beauty of this ordinary human birth. It provides a 3-D platform for the expression of Spirit.
Our present life is not a mistake. Consciousness itself can become self-aware through this very human form! It can not only become self-aware, but can express that self-awareness through form, through our human-ness, in all of the complex and often paradoxical ways that we live and relate in this dimensional field of space and time. There is no greater purpose than just being, just living this amazing, miraculous experience of life as it is, in whatever way it is!
To be “liberated” from being a human being is not actually the point at all. Spirit touches matter, and consciousness is born. There is an urge, an irrepressible impulse, to manifest itself in this world of space and time, or else it simply wouldn’t. Nevertheless, this is where a sense of complication, or confusion (avidya), invariably arises. In the maturation process of evolving into self-awareness through materiality, consciousness seems to forget itself, its true nature, in a kind of temporary amnesia when it contracts into form.
The Formless appears as form, but in the process, “it” then imagines that it is that form exclusively — a self or person — separate and divided from all else (not-self) which is perceived to arise simultaneously within the sphere of awareness. From this apparent case of mistaken identity, a lot of toil and trouble ensues, typically revolving around issues such as hope and fear, love and hate, ignorance and integrity.
Even so, what we call “mis-identification” (when consciousness manifests as an apparently individual formation and temporarily takes itself to be that form) may actually represent a natural part of a cosmic process, the totality of which is still beyond our human comprehension, but in simple terms, consists of something along the lines of “losing ourselves to find ourselves”. In other words, it is not an aberration at all, but an aspect of the Play that we attribute a negative value to, based solely on arbitrary human concepts.
The only real “problem”, as mentioned above, is when energy and attention fixate on any temporary manifestation, halting the natural flow of the universal functioning and contracting into a tight and unyielding solidity. Such a contraction represents a quality of suffering, since the evolutionary movement of consciousness is towards infinite expansion.
Nevertheless, with the benefit of the “bigger picture” perspective derived from expanded awareness, it can be seen that all such challenges simply constitute the labor pangs of consciousness remembering its own true nature — our own original innocence. However, the ensuing developmental struggle to adapt and fully embody that recognition in all of life and relationships can and does generate a lot of stress, reflected in the pervasive conflict and discord which permeates this realm.
Another way to view this condition of amnesia with which we arrive here is to use the analogy of a virtual reality game, in which we identify with the avatar to such a degree that we momentarily forget our true identity. By doing this, we are able to get the full impact of the virtual reality experience. Just so, by identifying with the human bio-vehicle, we are able to get the full experience of being human, and that appears to be our chief purpose for incarnating, but it comes with a catch — the aforementioned case of mistaken identity.
For the Formless to be fully aware in and as form, functioning unobstructed, and without contracting into a story of lack and limitation – this is the direction in which consciousness seems to be evolving. It’s a birthing from an act of indescribable Love, a Love that seeks to embody itself in matter, just as much as in the ethereal light of the higher planes.
Manifesting in and as these human forms is certainly not a kind of terrible mistake or punishment which we need to redress by escaping into some hopeful elsewhere, some idealized locale where we will finally be able to be what we are — we can never be anything other than what we are, limitless and all-inclusive!
In the realm of spiritual endeavor, there are those religious teachers who claim that, unless the ego is removed, one will remain in delusion. However, in this human circumstance, if the ego is removed, one would not be able to function in the objective world. We wouldn’t even be able to get out of bed.
The ego is not the problem. The problem is our obsessive fixation on the limited egoic identity, to the point that we have come to believe that it is who and what we are. In other words, the ego is a natural function of the human body-mind mechanism, but due to ignorance born of mistaken identity, we have enthroned it as an entity — an entity consumed with an instinct for survival at any cost. This is why the sages talk about transcending or subduing it, in the same sense as they suggest practices geared towards taming the self-absorbed “monkey mind”.
In any case, the ego itself is not an entity, like some ghostly person residing inside the brain, sending out commands and directives. It is a tool, and like any tool, it must be used wisely, otherwise problems ensue. To learn how to manage this function is the art of life. Trying to remove it, on the other hand, is simply perpetuating a war with oneself that can never be won, since we are jousting with our own shadow.
When the futility of that effort is finally recognized, a kind of spaciousness or free attention becomes available, which was previously occupied with cycles of alternating craving and aversion, desire and fear. Within such awaking awareness, it becomes apparent that we are not the identities we have taken ourselves to be. Rather, we seem to be more like a formless, impersonal witness, or observer, of all thoughts, emotions, memories, sensations, and perceptions.
We also notice how we have been linking our thoughts, emotions, etc. into a kind of narrative, or story line, that has resulted in an apparent subject-object dichotomy. This dualistic narrative has been habitually dividing consciousness into fantasies, or mental fabrications, of self and other, but as we persist in recognition, we come to realize that consciousness is actually a unity — oneness.
In the “place” where consciousness is really unified, where it sees the true nature and indivisibility of both formlessness and form as it’s own nondual truth, such phrases as “I am That” are actually true. It is no idealistic platitude, since one’s sense of self actually “expands” to include everything – all phenomena. Here nothing is really outside of the indivisible molecular presence of itself. This view of unity consciousness is even vaster than the views of formless consciousness and egoic consciousness which preceded it.
It would initially appear that this experience of unity consciousness is complete, once there is the realization that “I am That”, “I am everything”. It may seem that there is nothing more to see. Many pause and settle here, and why not? Nevertheless, if the inquiry proceeds further, there is something very simple yet crucial that is still awaiting recognition.
Even in this unity consciousness there is still an awareness of this unity consciousness. There is an impersonal aware knowing of this unity consciousness’ arising. This awake awareness has no perceivable qualities whatsoever – not even divine ones. Sometimes this open spacious awareness is called Emptiness, yet it is even empty of any qualities of emptiness, silence, bliss, or light. Here there is no self or Self, or even any Witness, which are all immediately recognizable as conceptual designations, fantasies of interpretation on perception.
It is not even a state of consciousness, and yet it does not cancel or invalidate that of which it is prior. Discursive mind cannot go there, because it is before that stage of attention — prior to consciousness’ arrival. Formless consciousness, separate self-consciousness, unity consciousness — all are arising within This, all are being birthed within this timeless aware space, this transparent “knowingness”. Nothing needs to be manipulated, modified, subtracted, or enhanced, since the nature of everything is already this emptiness — perfect as it is. Here, all states and levels are actually illuminated, and thus spontaneously “liberated” from any fixation within this embrace, as is any sense of division or impediment.
Since everything arises from the very no-beginning within this spacious awake awareness, there is nothing that needs to be eliminated. The only obstacle to the free flow and flowering of consciousness was the contracting fixation on any level, and subsequent attachment to limited perspectives. However, from this prior, unobstructed angle of vision, all states are spontaneously recognized to be manifesting non-exclusively and interdependently, as perfect expressions of an unfathomable, unconditional love.
When this is truly and deeply Seen, and all stifling fixation has been gracefully exceeded by the recognition of Reality, the realization dawns that this awareness, which one IS, does not need to cling to egoic consciousness, to formless consciousness, to unity consciousness, to any experience, view, or position – it loves them all by granting them all the power to exist. It functions through them all, but is always already free of any story, even the story of freedom. After all, freedom implies bondage, but such dualities are tacitly recognized as mere errors of appreciation, and rendered obsolete in the shine of unbounded awareness.
Here, the purpose of the evolution of consciousness would appear to be fulfilled, and yet this realization is more like a good beginning, and what now waits to be explored and discovered in the multiversal halls of Infinity is beyond any human words or concepts that could be applied. Such is the divine adventure that beckons us all, as we let go of all superimposed and limiting fixation with which we have heretofore defined ourselves.
Having integrated both the light as well as the shadow elements of our nature into dynamic balance, and having also seen through the dreaminess of fixed identification with any of it, we are now capable enough to fully “embody” or real-ize (make real) our natural potential as powerful spiritual beings and conscious co-creators with immortal Spirit Itself.
“Blessed be you, mighty matter, irresistible march of evolution, reality ever newborn; you who, by constantly shattering our mental categories, force us to go ever further and further in our pursuit of the truth.”
~Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Hymn of the Universe
By Bob O'Hearn