Friday, April 8, 2011

The Path of Awareness

“There are only two paths: the path of awareness and the path of non-awareness.” Anam Thubten
Those words represent the most fundamental of the Buddha’s teachings and they are my life raft, particularly during times of great upheaval. When my life turns upside down, I try my best to view it as an opportunity to practice; especially when it is my own unskillfulness that has caused harm to others or myself. And practicing can very hard to do when we suffer with a broken heart, or a mind mired in fear and doubt or fixated on mistakes and regrets. These are the times when remembering that there are only two paths—awareness and non-awareness—gives us the courage to practice by stepping back, observing, and asking ourselves: “How I am showing up at this moment?” “What is really happening right now?” “Is my fear or anger or shame narrating a story about what is occuring that prevents me from knowing things as they are?” “Am I resisting what is happening, wanting another outcome, or desperately needing certainty and control?” “Am I unwilling to fearlessly know the longings of my heart and express it to others?”
Just writing those questions wakes me up. As you read them maybe you also felt a stirring in your thoughts or emotions or even some bodily sensation. I always question how much of the time I am actually asleep in my experience. Even in the therapy room with patients, where I make such an effort to be present, mindful, and caring, I still have times when I find my mind wandering in non-awareness.
Though many of us have spent long hours on retreat cultivating awareness, to learn how to wake up on the fly, right in the middle of the muck of life, is the most effective way to increase the amount of time we spend on the path of awareness. So how do we do this?
First we have to understand what is awareness? Here are two answers from Anam Thubten. The first may seem somewhat esoteric, “Awareness is the luminous, unfettered dimension of our consciousness.” The luminous aspect of awareness is it’s innate quality of knowing. When objects present themselves to awareness, we can know them. The unfettered dimension of consciousness refers to an awareness that is untainted by our own mentally generated concepts about phenomena, such as opinions, likes and dislikes. In addition, awareness is self-luminous, so it can know itself. This what we call pure awareness.
Anam Thubten’s second answer tells us more about how to recognize the path of awareness in any moment, “If you simply let go of all your thoughts and perceptions, don’t hold to anything in your consciousness, including the illusion of self, then the luminosity [of awareness] reveals itself.” This letting go refers to a mind that does not cling to any ideas as solid, permanent, and self-existing; including our own “precious” notions of self-identity, which feel so real and so solid.
Imagine in a moment of anger choosing the path of awareness, and from that directly knowing the limitation of holding tightly to that painful, reactive emotion. Feeling it in the body; knowing the harsh thoughts that arise with anger. The luminosity of awareness naturally opens us into a more accepting attitude toward our anger, allowing compassion and wisdom to arise out of a moment that could have caused so much suffering.
This is what is referred to as, “not believing in your mind.” When you are not believing in your mind, there is awareness. When there is awareness, there is liberation from suffering. And every moment of our lives is one where we get to choose the path of awareness or non-awareness. Try this tomorrow as you go though day. See what happens when you pause to not believe in your mind and instead, consciously choose the path of awareness.
You can watch Anam Thubten give a beautiful talk on this topic:

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