Here’s a riddle. What is you and is not you at the same time? The answer is awareness. But how do we discover and then develop this incredible ally about which Eckhart Tolle says, “If you practice this, all that is unconscious in you will be brought into the light of consciousness?”

Discovering Awareness

What is extraordinary about awareness is that, in a sense, there is really nothing to do, no skill to learn. Or as the Zen master Susuki Roshi famously said: “Nowhere to go, nothing to do, just being.” Consciousness, or awareness, is actually a state that is accessible to us at any time. It is always present. As we access it, we sense its familiarity. The 13th century mystic and poet Jelaluddin Rumi opens his wonderful poem about love and consciousness, No Room for Form, with these lines:

“On the night that you cross the street
from your shop and your house
to the cemetery,

you’ll hear me hailing you from inside
the open grave and you will realize
 how we have always been together.

I am the clear consciousness core
 of your being, the same in
ecstasy as in self-hating fatigue.”

The gift is ours all along. In our busy work and home life, the shop and the house, we seldom realize its presence, and yet we and our consciousness “have always been together.”

Developing Awareness

While the terms being aware, being the witness, noticing and being conscious are used interchangeably; the concept of “being the witness” is very helpful for understanding the mechanics of awareness.  The part of us called “the witness” is that part that watches and observes everything that occurs in our lives. It is Rumi’s “clear consciousness core,” and it is “clear” because it is not distracted by judgment of unfolding events; by comparison or blame, or the need for change. It is at the core, the center; it is the truth of things. The great clue about consciousness that is offered in this verse is that it is “the same in ecstasy as in self-hating fatigue.”  In other words, it is not defined by emotion; it is not a part of the ego; it is beyond emotion and our reactions to the world.

The most important realization about practicing and developing awareness is that we can experience our feelings and emotions (avoiding the temptation to escape through objectivity, or getting lost in the story) while simultaneously, objectively, witnessing them.

This is a wonderful demonstration of spiritual paradox; of the holy.

Often, when we witness our interactions with others, we focus on how they are “making us feel” and “what they are doing to us” and on how “they” behave.  If we want positive change in our lives, it is vital to take the view that the lessons life is trying to teach us are found in our own behavior and reactions, not in the behavior of others.  As we focus our awareness; becoming more aware of our own reactions, and our own sometimes-unskillful behavior, we quickly realize we have plenty of work of our own to do; enough to keep us quite busy!  We begin to see that others are simply pushing our buttons, and that we are reacting, sometimes unskillfully, from our own reservoir of unconscious fear or sorrow or anger. The source of these emotions is our self; our reactions to incoming stimulus belong to us. No one can “make us feel” a certain way because we are responsible for our reactions and responses; we own the buttons.

One Caveat

As we develop awareness, there is a classic error we must avoid, confusing awareness with objectivity. Unlike awareness, objectivity denies the subjective, denies that our uncomfortable feelings exist.  Objectivity seems to stop the pain, but it actually just numbs it and buries it deeper. The cost is a simultaneous deadening of the joy and passion in our lives, and sadly, we also lose the lessons that are securely attached to our challenging, uncomfortable experiences.

Good News

It turns out that we do not have to wait until we cross the road to the cemetery, to discover awareness.  Later in No Room for Form Rumi tells us:

“No need to wait until we die!”
There’s more to want here than money
 or being famous or bites of roasted meat..”

In a world still motivated, as it was in the 13th century, by materialism, the desire for fame and money and personal comfort, we still have the choice for something greater.  Awareness, embracing consciousness, is the first step on the ancient, well-worn path that all mystics and saints have travelled into a more profound, joyful and fulfilling life.

john earleFor more information on John Earle or other pieces visit

Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus