Where is awareness?

Photography: Alex E. Proimos, Sydney

Photography: Alex E. Proimos, Sydney

 

At this moment, awareness is occurring for you; it’s creating experience; it’s creating the appearance of sounds inside your head and dancing with pixelated images upon a screen. Perhaps it’s also creating a backdrop of planning or judgemental thoughts along the lines ‘can I be bothered reading this?’ and ‘I’ll skim this and then grab a coffee’. Or maybe it’s creating irritable feelings now because an imperceptible flash of thought came to regard your dancing partner as presumptive. Can you say what appeared in that awareness over the past twenty seconds?

It’s rather complex isn’t it? When we look closely at this phenomenon, using memory or introspection, we begin to see that the intricate nature of awareness almost eludes thorough examination. Unless the mind is in a particularly concentrated state, then awareness is an ephemeral flux of sense representations such that knowing it retrospectively in its exquisite detail becomes almost too much a task. We know that, just then, our mood was such and such, or that, just then, certain verbal forms appeared; yet to know its true intricacy in recall is a problem.

Why should this be so? One answer is that in remembering, we’re creating an artificial locality of it; we’re referencing it internally as if there were some store of it within the cranial cavity. If you ask yourself now what your awareness presented during the first hour of today, you may find your eyes avert to mid-space as attention reaches back into the head to haul out an answer. We close down externality and direct the attention inwards so as to remember. This process indicates to us that we regard awareness as somehow storable, recallable, and localised.

What this means is that we regard awareness as a faculty of a subject. We presume there to be contained within the body a subject with agency – an entity with doer-ship, authorship and a receiver of what comes to be experience. This subject thinks that in some vague way, awareness is successively channelling towards it. Either this, or it loosely conceives of awareness as being able to stretch out into the world from say, the eyes, the nose or the ears, again creating a conduit along which it runs. So we regard this awareness as localised around a central subject of agency.

Sometimes though, it may be seen that awareness is in fact non-local; and when this occurs, it is also seen to be non-dual. To be strictly accurate, this occurrence is an instance of it seeing itself; again, as both non-local and non-dual. That is to say, it knows itself as itself rather than being mediated by an apparent subject. This subject – the imagined experiencer of experience – vanishes as a running aspect of awareness; and with its non-appearance, all notions of otherness vanish too. Now when this occurs, the question of locality is rendered meaningless.

As what’s just been stated may sound rather esoteric or fanciful, then for those who perceive it as such, I propose a little experiment. Whilst far from there being any certainty that this non-locality will be apprehended precisely as such, what will become apparent is that the question of locality is at least dubious. If we are able to arrive at this point of questioning, then dependent upon whatever inquisitiveness is brought forth, further exploration may follow. As the entirety of experience is but awareness, then this experiment is surely worthy of consideration.

It’s important that during this experiment we release all our knowledge, ideas and assumptions about awareness and our own being. So for now, forget about photons and sound waves channelling towards you; drop all that and just be aware along the lines instructed, remaining open to all possibilities as well as impossibilities.  This means allowing paradox to rest in the mind if responses appear to logic as such. Now, enquire what response you may make after very slowly, and with exquisite attentiveness, having read out aloud the following two paragraphs:

“I am very slowly reading aloud the words on my screen. I will remember to remain exquisitely attentive to awareness itself, not to ideas about its location, or where attention is placed, but to awareness itself. Read slower. Can I sense awareness now? I will rest for a few seconds in answering this: can I sense awareness now, without thought, without grasping, can I sense awareness now? Be utterly silent now . . . I am reading aloud slowly once more. I am beginning to feel the intimacy of awareness; as I grasp at it with the mind, that intimacy disappears.”

“I am aware of a blurring in the field of vision caused by the protrusion of my nose and which interrupts the lines of sight of my two eyes. This blurring in my visual awareness disappears in flashes as I concentrate hard on the words; now harder still. Why am I doing this? This is stupid and now I’m starting to feel uncomfortably self-conscious. Never mind, I am intensely aware of the process and am paying exquisite attention. By the end of this paragraph, which I see in peripheral vision is just coming up, I must know where this intense awareness is located. Where is it?”

So, photons were channelling through space; thoughts were channelling within the cranial cavity; sound waves channelled both through space and bodily tissue from your throat to your ears, and feelings channelled within your body and limbs. But awareness was not channelling, and this is because awareness has no locus and is itself not spatially referenced. It references phenomena and entities spatially, whilst being devoid of any locus itself. Eyes, ears, brain and nervous system are necessary causal participants, though are not locations of awareness.

 

 

 

49 thoughts on “Where is awareness?

    • Thank you for taking the time to respond Marga; I greatly appreciate it. Bit of an odd one this – with the little experiment – so was not at all sure how it would be received! With all best wishes, Hariod. ❤

  1. Awareness is such a tricky thing. It’s easy to get to distracted into thinking that awareness IS your eyes when you are walking down the street, careful not to walk into oncoming traffic. Or that awareness IS your stomach when it is tossing and turning so much that it’s hard to listen to your friend talking. You put it so well. Turn from the semi-conscious awareness and to an awareness of the magic happening all around us. Thanks Hariod.

    • Hi there VA, I’m delighted that you took the time to walk through this article; and am very appreciative of your kind words and thoughts. The little experiment is really quite interesting once you engage fully with it, very slowly and with exquisite attentiveness. This is probably a bit too much to ask of anyone reading a blog post, but I thought I’d give it a shot anyway.

      Take care now friend; and thanks once again for commenting.

      Hariod.

  2. Oh so wonderful. Reading it aloud in silence put me very much in touch with the wonders of my breath and body . . . and the ecstasy of silence. Oh So Soothing to touch the Now.

    I could almost taste Clarissa’s paintings too . . . the gold is luscious.

    Thank you for slowness.

    Thank you.

    • Gosh, I’m thrilled that you’ve so obviously taken my little experiment seriously and exactly as I intended it should be Amanda. That is extremely gratifying; particularly as I’m never quite sure how much attention people pay to my articles. I tend to write around 800-900 words and so this is well beyond the guidelines for what I gather one can expect people to read in a blog (I am new to this medium). It truly is touching and humbling that you have given of your time and effort to consider what I’ve put down here. Thank you also for your gracious and evocative comment about Clarissa’s paintings which I too find exquisite.

      With much gratitude and respect to you dear Amanda.

      Hariod. ❤

  3. I have often contemplated that it is the (seemingly), empty space around ‘my’ body that is what actually allows the feeling of it to be experienced at all . . . and how it is the empty spaces left between the words that allow meaningtobepercievedwithouttheherculianeffort that comes when there is no stillness in awareness created by an empty space/pause in the flow. Excellent little exercise to share to bring awareness of awareness into focus one step further into the fullness found in ‘slower’ time and ’empty’ space. -x.M

    • I am tempted simply to leave an empty space by means of a response to your insightful words M. This however, would not sit well with my oh-so-English compulsion to convey an apparent decency. [I say ‘apparent’ . . . 😉 ]

      H ❤

  4. Beautiful, Hariod. In reading the words, by the time I neared the end of the second paragraph I came back from a place of not really knowing who was reading them. The sound of my own voice became a lullaby. Is this a hypnosis trick!? Ha! I think our minds become so fluid with the agency of words, it’s like those times when we’re driving the car to a familiar destination and miss the trip. Where was I?

    I think the way you sprinkled the first paragraph with a mix of speaking to self, of self observation, with commands to self, as if my own voice were an “other” issuing gentle commands, precipitated this wandering off. How could I be both? And yet the experience unfolds . . . I found myself somewhere between a voice, the song of birds in the garden, and the feel of a cool breeze.

    I also much enjoyed contemplating the reservoir I intuitively dive into when asking, ‘what was I thinking upon waking this morning?’ It provoked the realization that awareness is a continuous stream, and I ALSO have this little box of RAM in me somewhere. What is the distinction between memory and the fluid stream of awareness, that we can interrupt that stream to insert bits of our past, recalling them so vividly, down to colors, smells and sounds? I may be way off base, but it is as if awareness, in its non-locality, can leap to and fro . . .

    In gratitude . . .

    Michael.

    • Darling Michael,

      You suggest that it is I who am the hypnotist? Is it not you who leave us congregants in mesmeric reverie at your world-less words? Still, it pleases me that I might learn a trick or two from the Master M – not forgetting Mistress M too of course, and whose own portal I do believe was pointed to from within the heavenly confines of your own.

      Thank you for taking a shot at my little experiment dear friend; and thank you for doing so with your typical and unwavering integrity – faculties of yours which both humble and encourage me in my own endeavours. Your generosity and forbearance with my ways speaks much of your noble nature, and which I would do very well to emulate.

      With love.

      Hariod.

  5. Dear Hariod,

    I find this very helpful and will do it again and again until I think I have gotten it. I really appreciate this sort of exercise so I can compare my own experience to what people are writing about awareness, non-duality, I, being, etc.

    I must say your training really shows and I wish I had that in my background and under my belt. Coming to all this late in life with a mind that insists on being so concrete due to Asperger’s, or Bipolar, or meds for those, or all of the above. Anyhow I loved the post and will keep it.

    Thank you so much for posting and also for supporting my blog too.

    I really enjoy the art work.

    Ellen.

    • Dear Ellen,

      It’s so very kind of you to let me know that you’ve taken my odd little experiment seriously. One has to be very patient and deliberate with it of course, heeding not only the meaning of the words, but heeding also one’s sensing of awareness without preconception. It’s actually not at all easy to do this, and I admire you for having the open-mindedness to give it a good try.

      I am of course aware of your condition both from your book and your website Ellen. Whilst it would be silly to pretend that I have any true sense of how the condition and the necessary medication impacts upon your formal practices, I can at least imagine that they are in some way unhelpful, and possibly quite an obstacle.

      You did a wonderful job with your post today about animal welfare Ellen; truly you did. [ http://stockdalewolfe.com/2014/07/22/sir-paul-mccartney-on-animal-suffering/ ]

      With gratitude and respect as ever.

      Hariod.

  6. Thank you so much, Hariod, for your support of the animal cruelty post. But also thank you so much for posting your experiment. I am calmer now and read it for the fourth time. I finally get some of it.

    Awareness is non-local is what I think I understand correctly. Of course mind wonders if awareness is the same as life force; but life force is dependent upon the breath and we are not sure (or I am not sure), that awareness is dependent on the breath. I would say not.

    This opens up the can of worms: awareness after mortal life ends? A psychic once told me that she was in contact with my father and he did not know he was dead. Not the best source to bring up but perplexing. Best to stop here I think.

    • Many thanks Ellen for your further thoughts on this piece; I greatly appreciate hearing them.

      Just as a general point, and so not relating to you specifically:

      Many people find that applying mindfulness practices throughout the day wearies them a little; though this is because they are practising it unskilfully; that is to say, with effort or wrong application. So a great way of being very gently contemplative, and as a respite from any practise that’s become stale, is to occasionally ask oneself ‘where is awareness?’

      This question takes us straight into the immediacy of Nondualism – or if you prefer, non-separation, or non-self – and can have powerful, transformative effects. It’s a very effective way of immediately seeing the world differently, and radically so, yet with very little application. It also immediately brings an inquisitiveness to the mind, and we engage with what we’re doing more fully as a result of the interest induced.

      All best wishes Ellen.

      Hariod.

  7. Thanks for a thoughtful and helpful post Hariod.

    I played along with your experiment for a moment and had a sense of my awareness shifting and expanding.

    Lovely artwork that you included.

    Thanks for nudging us along the path. 🙂

    • Many thanks for giving time to my odd little exercise Brad; you clearly demonstrate that you have done so with your references to awareness ‘shifting and expanding’.

      It’s actually a useful little tool to occasionally ask ‘where is awareness?’ as it takes us out of mentation and our assumptions, into a passively inquisitive frame of mind in which the non-local nature of awareness can be glimpsed.

      Thank you also for commenting on the artwork; I’m certainly pleased to hear that my choices met with your approval, and that, hopefully, I’m finding the right balance between text and imagery.

      With very best wishes and much gratitude to you Brad.

      Hariod.

  8. Visiting your site is like walking through a gallery for the senses.

    Thank you Hariod!! Beautiful.

    ~ Lauren.

    • Thank you so much Lauren for letting me know your reaction to this new project of mine. It’s really very gratifying to hear that you appreciate the visual side of my website, and it means a lot to me that you do.

      I set myself quite a challenge trying to make my words in any way match the quality of the imagery, though I feel it’s useful to do so – if only as an aspiration! Maybe one day . . .

      Many thanks for visiting Lauren; I greatly value and appreciate your occasional presence here; truly I do.

      Hariod.

  9. I find accessing that space of the non-defined difficult but rewarding. So much human culture and language is structured around set ideas and definitions that relating with an awareness that is neither an idea nor a definition is challenging. Your guidance here is very helpful Hariod. Thank you.

    • Many thanks for giving my little experiment a try Michael. This is actually quite a nifty little trick to bring us straight into either non-dual space, or to dance at the perimeters of it so to speak. Just saying in any given moment ‘where is awareness’ takes us out of the ideas and concepts you refer to. It can also be a substitute for those times when we feel a little jaded at the prospect of trying to be mindful; or at least, it’s an alternative take on mindfulness.

      Good to hear from you Michael!

      Hariod.

    • Thank you so much Amy for reading this article and for your encouraging words on the accompanying imagery; I greatly appreciate your presence and your input, as I do also your own creative output.

      It has come as something of a surprise to me that my site has attracted interest from a number of fine artists, such as yourself. This is a very low-key place in terms of visitors and subscribers, though I think there are some 10 or 12 painters who subscribe and occasionally comment. I am so delighted to have you amongst their number Amy.

      With much gratitude and respect.

      Hariod.

  10. This is such a fabulous post Hariod. Brilliant.

    You said “We close down externally and direct the attention inwards so as to remember. This process indicates to us that we regard awareness as somehow storable, recallable, and localised.” I guess I have been going inwards a lot lately. And the inner chatter has been listening, viewing, and processing.

    Great post. I relate to it very well. 🙂 Sue.

    • What a lovely and fulsome compliment Sue; thank you so much. Your words are a great encouragement as I continue to flounder somewhat in what it is, to me at least, this new arena of short-form blog writing. I greatly appreciate you giving a little of your time to read my words here Sue, and of course, for adding your own much-valued reflection.

      Hariod. ❤

  11. Thank you for this. Your ‘experiment’ was very effective; to me, it felt like a meditation tutorial.

    Awareness is a fascinating subject. I’d love to know, for instance, how it happened that I arrived at this – one of your site’s many offerings. I know that a part of the answer (only) lies in the fact that I recently visited Dr Bob Rich’s intriguing article I is a paradox, but there is much more to it than just that. I do know that there is as much point seeking the answer as there is trying to determine what I had to eat, say, 2,643 days ago. Awareness moves on, and we have no choice but to move with it.

    I see from your comments above that you feel uncertain of your skill; as one who has been fooling around on the Internet for some time now, it’s my opinion that you have absolutely no cause for concern.

    • Thank you so much for participating in my little experiment; and you are correct of course, it is indeed a mini-meditation. As you may know, the difference between something like this and conventional meditations is that rather than either looking at the content of the mind, or seeking to pacify those same representations, or seeking to alter the mental state overall, this practice turns the attention of awareness upon itself, so to speak, though without any presumption of there being a subject, or any presumed experiencer of experience.

      As to how your awareness came to reside here temporarily – virtually speaking – then one could perhaps say that it was due in part to a particular chain of causation that both included and preceded even that amorous moment occurring between your parents some 40 weeks prior to your arrival in the world. Similarly, it was as much to do with another chain of causation that preceded and followed my own arrival in the world. So yes, I agree, there is no first cause as to what determined your breakfast choice on Tuesday 21st. August 2007. [i.e. 2,643 days ago] It may perhaps have been a deviance from your usual fare were you to have arisen early so as to monitor the perilous progress of the troubled Space Shuttle Endeavour as it sought its safe return to earth, which of itself was dependent upon . . . and so it goes on.

      And I must thank you also for your kind reassurances as to my activities here on this site; as to which, as you correctly identify, I remain a little uncertain of. I must confess I am somewhat amazed that anyone takes any notice at all, and because of this feel both honoured and humbled by kind souls such as yourself who are gracious enough to let me know that they are there, and who leave a reflection or kind thought with me.

      Thank you!

      Hariod.

      P.S. I will now follow the link that you included, for which many thanks.

  12. This post encapsulates why I come here. It takes me away from apparent awareness to actual awareness, which is quite something when you grasp it; though you must not try to grasp it because then you’ve lost it again.

    I enjoyed the experiment, and have been engaging in a great deal of similar ones of late myself upon the Cloud. This very morning I found myself, and my awareness, just by holding a lychee for a while. They are also rather delicious so I ate it afterwards. *smiles*.

    Another marvellous article. I’ve been here before, and wanted to come back again to re-read, as ever.

    – Sonmi upon the Cloud

  13. I wasn’t being facetious about the lychee, just so you know. Awareness and mindfulness are part of my daily routine. I’m adding to said routine with a package that arrived upon the Cloud a few days ago, a book no less. One written by a fine author. I believe she prefers to be known as. . . ‘aitch’. *smiles*

    – Sonmi considering how much lychees look like eyeballs upon the Cloud.

    • Oh gosh, you’re being altogether too kind to me, though I feel genuinely touched by your warm and generous comments Sonmi. I never presumed for a moment that you were being facetious about the lychee; I can already feel the beauty of experiencing something like that. That’s the marvellous thing I think, that even the simplest of experiences can be just exquisitely beautiful once we slow down and get out of the damned way. It’s so very hard for many to appreciate this, yet clearly you do, and fully.

      I had a transcendent experience with a carrot once. [Stop laughing!] All I perceived was an orange form rotating slowly through space and coming towards my face – think Stanley Kubrick’s space odyssey. There were no ideas, no expectations, no commentary, and just this pure form and pure colour comprised the whole world in that moment. I told a professional painter (abstract oils) about it later and she was incredibly jealous – she understood the significance of it. It was an interesting reaction, because it gave me an insight into what she was striving for in her work.

      I actually had no idea that awareness and mindfulness were something that featured prominently in your life. Ha! – that sounds awful doesn’t it? You know what I mean. I would have very happily posted you a gratis copy of my little book, though I know you’re still wondering if I’m an axe murderer so would probably have been reluctant to let me have an address. I could always have left a copy at some odd location, like in a scene from a John le Carré book, or The Ipcress File, but the deed is done, the lucre submitted – to who? Watkins? Karnac? The evil Amazon?

      What can I say? Firstly, thank you so very much – truly. Nearly all my sales (get me) are eBooks because I only have distribution in the U.K. for the physical book. I loathe eBooks frankly, but there you go – a necessary thing for neophyte and niche writers such as me. Also dear Sonmi, I have to warn you that you will find many failings in my writing – seriously. I wrote that book in 13 weeks straight and did so just as some sort of beneficence (a futile one) in memory of my grandson. It really needed 2 years and for me to have been in some other frame of mind. You have been warned.

      Lots of love and gratitude.

      Aitch ❤

  14. No I’m not, tis all true, and I had already noted earlier, in previous comments, that you have offered to send people hard copies for free, so I was onto you *laughs*. You must have your book profits no matter if they don’t seem much, you put an awful lot of work into it and deserve to accrue more than happiness that someone wants to read it. Not to besmirch happiness for one moment mind.

    I too prefer hard copies of books, but have often ended up buying both because there are times when I’m travelling that I simply can’t carry more than one tome, and I want access to as many as possible. You must get onto Evil Amazon by the way, for they had no hard copies at all left, only virtual ones. I ended up getting mine from Karnac, and very swift delivery it was too.

    And 13 weeks straight?!! By the Gods you are a marvel woman! No putting it down either, I have no doubt it will be something to behold and have already dipped in and out a few times so shush.

    I know you’re not an axe murderer Aitch *laughs a lot*, but for the moment I must keep my identity and precise location a secret because being an international spy who is hiding out on a Cloud demands such measures. When that career is over, perhaps I’ll come and find you and you can sign the book for me over afternoon tea with lychees and a big ole carrot eh?

    – Sonmi laughing at the carrot upon the Cloud

      • If I understand correctly, it’s a scientific model of what you describe. It considers the brain to consist of competing sub-systems, all clamouring for attention. The mind therefore is a collection of parallel thoughts, processes, emotions, memories and sensations – some conscious, some subconscious. One (or more) of these threads is observing the mind itself, as the competing components jostle for attention. The resulting shifting maelstrom of thoughts is the self.

        I know that in Eastern thinking, the thoughts are regarded mainly as distractions from the ‘true self’, but this introduces a duality that doesn’t sit easily with scientific models of the mind. That’s another story.

        • Thank you very much Steve; it seems you’re drawing a parallel with Graziano’s ‘Peripersonal Space’. Who knows what’s going on in truth? I am drawn to Chalmers’ idea that any accurate Science of Consciousness will involve something rather more left-field than brain correlates as causation. Tononi and Koch seem to be at the cutting edge with their Integrated Information Theory, and Panpsychism is also on the table, unfashionable though that once was. One area in which I think most physicalist research poses no questions, let alone answers, is in distinguishing an objectless lucidity (which I call ‘awareness’), from consciousness itself, and which necessarily comprises an object of knowledge (a psychical representation). Some researchers even suggest that language is a necessary concomitant of all awareness/consciousness, and this baffles me; it’s as if they believe the former comprise only percepts, all of which have some verbal symbol which instantiates them. That’s just wrong by my lights.

          What I know, is that there is an experience of non-duality which, when it occurs, completely turns upside down one’s ideas about awareness. It cannot even be thought about, so is not a product of imagination. The senses, naturally enough, continue to do their thing, and yet the assumed point of centrality dissolves. This is actually no different from what is happening in your awareness in this instant, but for the assumption (which I assume to be there – ha!), which assigns a centrality to every moment, of some sort of experiencer within the experience. As you may or may not know Steve, when this occurs, then the question of the localisation of awareness becomes moot. The awareness then seems to have as much claim to locality in the screen and its pixels as it does to your eyes or supposed mind. One can remain indifferent about correlations in the brain, and simply take the pragmatic effects of it. These are, amongst other things, that one’s old ideas were incorrect.

          • I am also baffled by the notion that language is a necessary concomitant of all awareness/consciousness. That’s not how ‘I’ experience being ‘me’ – much of it cannot be articulated.

            My understanding of ‘awareness’ is that the brain is observing itself being ‘conscious’ and reporting this as part of the general brain activity. Indeed, much of what we believe ‘ourselves’ to be deciding is simply one part of the mind noticing what another sub-system has already decided.

            http://selfawarepatterns.com/2014/03/17/is-consciousness-in-control-does-it-matter/

            • Thank you very much Steve; we appear to share the idea that it is perhaps useful to create almost a separate category to consciousness which generally is deemed unnecessary. Anyone who observes their mind very closely, perhaps by means of some formal practise, may become familiar with an awareness without knowledge, and which therefore cannot rightly be deemed consciousness, which itself means ‘with knowledge’. Why not call this ‘awareness’, if only to create a distinction between the two states? Your definition of awareness appears to be a representation, actually a meta-level representation. Are you saying it is in effect the functioning of very short-term memory?

  15. I found a great perspective on awareness through this post, especially the importance of the paragraph where you are relaying to us to release all knowledge, ideas, and assumptions about awareness and our own being, then allowing the paradox to become part of the thought energies. This process is the hardest part of truly connecting and then understanding awareness. I thought you were brilliant in describing a path to tap into awareness. Thank you for sharing. Always enjoy your perspectives, Hariod.

    • Thankyou so much for your kind words of encouragement and approval; I find it tremendously helpful to hear how readers respond to pieces, and with this one especially so as it rather demands reader participation. I devised this technique as a simple meditative reflection that can be applied in daily life during moments of downtime – waiting for the kettle to boil, relaxing in the bath, or when out in nature and resting visual awareness on a distant tree perhaps. It seems that much of meditation instruction focuses on phenomena and mental concentration, rather than gently inviting this exquisitely subtle question of ‘where is awareness?’, and which can be tremendously powerful once cultivated, I find. So pleased you found something that chimed with your own thinking on the matter.

      Very best wishes, Hariod.

Ask Hariod a question or leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s