We can never be prepared for life, but we can be close to the heart of it, so that when it beats, its surprise is welcomed.
That closeness is what I want to emphasize in this article, because I am not a proponent of what I like to call the “faraway” method of spirituality—that is, being obsessed with abiding as “Pure Awareness.”
I am more on the side of Jeff Foster, who, in an essay, once said,
“We are not simply ‘Pure Awareness’—no, we are sex and dirt and longing too. We are blood and guts and passion. We are wildness and we are fire. We are gods, and so very fragile—heartbroken gods, gods who ache, imperfect gods.”
If the words, “Pure Awareness” mean nothing to you, just think of deep sleep: in that state, there is no duality, nothing to cling onto, and no objects of experience to be aware of. It is simply awareness aware of itself—a space of knowing, if you will.
Many traditions of meditation emphasize this awareness that is devoid of form. Standing back from thoughts, feelings, sensations, and perceptions certainly helps us to understand that we are the witness to all of these. We are awareness itself.
This practice is an impeccable way to turn away from what has caused suffering within us because unfortunately, so many people, whether they are aware of it or not, are completely lost in the dream of objective experience.
From the moment they wake up to the moment they go to bed, thoughts control their moods and behavior. And the content of their thoughts is what determines their attitude toward life. It never occurs to them that every thought—regardless of how terrible, insane, sickening, or beautiful it may seem—is just a thought.
The content of one thought might be different from another, but the quality of it is always the same.
This never occurs to some people, and for quite some time, it never occurred to me. It doesn’t even occur to some intellectuals. In fact, it is harder for them to realize this because their identity is attached to the dimension of thought. Some people considered to be geniuses like Nietzsche or Wittgenstein, for example, were, in my eyes, actually insane. These philosophers believed and felt their thoughts to be real, and for this reason, never understood the nature of thought itself. They took life far too seriously because they took their thoughts far too seriously.
When you see through the entire structure of thought, a book like Thus Spoke Zarathustra, which is praised for being an epic, is actually nauseating to read. For it is written from an extremely limited state of consciousness—one we are now beginning to wake up from (thank goodness).
When I came to the realization that thought could be observed by a space of awareness, it was more than a weight off my shoulders—it was the closest thing to total freedom I had experienced.
It might make sense, then, to stay there—to stay as the witness of all experience. It is peaceful, after all.
But the peace found from standing back is just the opposite of the suffering found in being mistakenly identified with form.
And the goal (if I may use such a word) is not to be on either side of life. You want to hear its breath panting in your ear, from every side. You want peace, as well as fire. You want heartbreak, as well as bliss.
Why?—Because that’s what life is!
It doesn’t matter who you are, or how enlightened you claim to be—loved ones are going to pass away, suffering is going to occur, and tears will be shed. Joy is also going to inevitably crash through your front and back door.
What is the point in attaching to any of it, or pretending like it doesn’t exist, because you are “pure awareness?” Nonsense. You are as human as you are awareness.
So, the best way to celebrate awareness is to celebrate being human. Participate in everything. Do not hide away from everything in the name of being pure awareness, or attach yourself to the wrong things by being lost in the egoic state of consciousness. If we do that, we live in the world of opposites and never get to experience the beauty Rumi was pointing to when he said,
“Beyond our ideas of right-doing and wrong-doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”
That field is heaven, for it includes everything you could imagine: pain, heartache, sorrow, joy—you name it. In that field, there are wreaths of dark mist, accompanied by flowers and golden tears.
Whatever occurs there is honored, but it is not held onto or pushed away. Grief is seen as a gift, people cry when loved ones pass away, sexual energy is cultivated carefully and done with the energy of Eros. And passion—one of the most divine human emotions—is not competitive but necessary.
It is colorful and spacious, gritty and sublime, painful and beautiful in that field—and though it appears as though opposites exist, really, it is just emptiness dancing and celebrating itself.
If you are not experiencing life in this way, you have not yet taken the next big step—which is into everything you turned away from. And you will remain dull and boring like a statue, instead of dynamic and human, like Jesus, who once flipped tables upside down at a temple because of the ignorant way in which people were using it.
(Would someone in “Pure Awareness” do something as splendid as that?)
Switching the lights off may have been necessary in order for you to hide away from all the monsters in the room, in order for you to not be scared of them anymore. But the monsters are not going anywhere. You have to switch the light back on and give them a kiss. Maybe even dance with them, for they are not separate from the room itself. That is why Yogi Bhajan said,
“If you can’t see God in all, you can’t see God at all.”
Everything you despise is God. Everything you hold onto for dear life is also God. To say you learn from one more than the other is untrue, for each one has something dear to teach you. What has brought you to your knees and caused you to feel disgust is just as important as anything that has caused you to skip down a street and feel at one with the universe. It is all here to refine your consciousness.
Love it all. Fall in love with it all.
Only then will you understand it all and move with wholeness in this world.