Meditations: Self-Knowing and Consciousness
Self-Knowing and Consciousness
For the first time in two weeks, the morning breaks without fog, and the sun softly shines through a ceiling of high thin clouds. The winter’s day in California’s Central Valley grows increasingly clear. I seize the afternoon and drive to Upper Park.
The parking lot is nearly full, and a large group of runners is massed at the closed gate into the protected area. Unseen on the ridge, a machine is pile-driving steel girders into place for another monster house at the mouth of the canyon. Thankfully, fifteen minutes down the streamside trail, one can no longer hear the noise. Until about a year ago, the only man-made sound one heard in Upper Park was from a jet overhead.
Amazingly, given that it’s the end of January, I spot the first wildflower of the year, nestled in the lush winter grass — a kind of coreopsis I think. Enthralled with the scenes of cresting creek and brownstone cliffs, a joy begins to bubble up.
After nearly an hour's walk, I sit in the sun on the high bank, overlooking a long stretch of water and a vertical canyon wall fully visible through leafless branches of oaks and sycamores across the swollen stream. Soon I’m immersed in the sights, sounds, and smells so deeply that I lose myself. The ground of thought dissolves, and there is a palpable sense of beauty, life, and death.
Climbing the few hundred meters up to the deserted gravel road, the sight of the slanting light flooding the green slopes and bathing the brown canyon walls is dizzying. Completely alone, surrounded by miles of splendor, with the mind and heart for the moment wiped clean of separation and the past, the brain comes into contact with something that cannot be put into words, a sacredness that people have sought since time immemorial.
What does it mean to be self-knowing? Is there a difference between self-awareness and self-knowing?
Self-awareness is an orientation to living, a disposition that goes beyond mood or temperament. It is a skeptical inner eye, always open.
As such, self-awareness provides the ground for self-knowing and undivided observation, which uncovers the deepest layers of thought-consciousness, and provides the gateway beyond it.
With self-awareness there is still the sense of self, which, though it has no actuality, perhaps has organizational utility. However, with the attention of self-knowing there is no separate self at all, just a single seamless movement of thought and emotion. To the self-knowing person, the term ‘my consciousness’ is an oxymoron, since the illusory ‘my’ and ‘me’ have ceased to dominate and rule.
Continually doubting, to the right degree, what one actually feels and thinks is to be self-aware; watching every single feeling and thought as they arise is to be self-knowing.
Observing one’s reactions is the most important thing. Thoughts and emotions give rise to other thoughts and emotions in a chain-reaction that enchains the mind. Freedom means dissolving the shackles of thought, not through effort and will, but through effortless attention and insight.
No person who is unaware of themselves can be free. Why? Because the hidden darkness that lurks below the surface in all men and women is fodder for the collective darkness that presently rules human consciousness. Self-awareness does not necessarily end the darkness within one, but it shuts off the valve to evil.
If one takes the time to playfully observe the movement of consciousness in oneself, one notices that there is an observer standing apart from what is being observe. What is the observer? Is there really a separate entity, a ‘me’ that exists outside the thoughts that it is observing? No, the observer is part of the movement of thought, and only seems to be separate.
If you watch very closely, you can catch the observer in the act of separating itself off from the current of thought. Like holding a mirror up to a mirror, this initially produces a feeling of infinite regress. But if one sustains an intense, but playful observation, the observer suddenly stops dividing itself off from thought, and there is simply observation. Then one sees that the deep habit of thought dividing itself from itself is what keeps the mind needlessly going!
When thought is completely quiet (not drugged, forced, or hypnotized in any way), the brain is a powerful receiver for the background hum of creation and the infinite energy that infuses the universe. A brain possessing conscious thought is a necessary precondition for the awareness of this ineffable energy, just as it is to appreciate the beauty of nature. But paradoxically, the movement of thought, which is an inherently separative mechanism, completely blocks the sublime.
That’s where self-awareness and self-knowing come into the picture!
- Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He has been publishing in North America, Latin America, Africa, and Europe (and now New Zealand) for 20 years. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. The author welcomes comments.