Consciousness is Awareness
I recently finished a book titled The Untethered Soul-the journey beyond yourself. The book is mainly about becoming aware of the inner chatter in our heads and letting thoughts pass without bias. The goal is to lead a more fulfilling life by focusing on the present. The ideas in the book utilize teachings from Eastern traditions such as Buddhism and Taoism. In particular, I was struck by the way the author describes consciousness and how we use experiences throughout our lifetime to build our personality or ego. I have struggled with the idea that when we die we lose all individual identity from our previous lives returning to the collective consciousness of mankind. I have long since departed from irrational fears of eternal damnation in the afterlife. However, the thought of losing one’s individuality is equally frightening, and what about the connection we keep with our loved ones when they die? Becoming an indistinct part of some collective consciousness sounds just as bad as fading into nothing. What then is the need for individual experience and incarnation if it is all experienced by the same collective entity. Why tell stories of reincarnation, believing ourselves spiritual beings experiencing physical incarnation. What is the point if the experiences that shape us are lost in the river of forgetfulness.
Our true self is the quiet consciousness that is constantly aware of the mind’s inner voice. It is the part of us that observes and listens regardless of the situation. This is the true self that we connect with in meditation; it is aware when our mind sleeps and continues its awareness after death. The way the author presents the concept of consciousness made a lot more sense to me. He describes it in terms of expanding and contracting awareness. Our infinite consciousness can expand to fill the entire Universe or it can focus in on a single material incarnation. This concept of awareness seems to fit neatly with ideas of an afterlife, reincarnation, and spiritual lineage. To the Buddhists the goal was to escape the illusion of samsara and continual reincarnation and become one with Nirvana. This concept of enlightenment or oneness can be found in many mystic traditions of one form or another. In Western society there seems to have been much more emphasis on the value of the individual soul. As reincarnation was not an option in Christendom, much of a person’s life was spent preparing for the life after. This is also seen in Pagan mythology and folklore when powerful people in life maintain their identity and potency as spirits.
Our own consciousness is just as infinite as the expanding Universe, whose macrocosmic selves both started as singular microcosmic points of existence. The mutability of our own Universe is reflected in the very nature of our being. Within ourselves we are able to reach out and connect with the Universe in its entirety, while being simultaneously aware of our individual nature. Contemplating non-physical existence is a difficult task while occupying a physical body. We identify so closely with our body and its outward persona that there is a sense of loss when leaving such things behind. The fist step is to remember that the physical reality is not our original state. As non-physical beings our focus becomes narrowed when physically incarnated. Many of our personality traits are coping mechanisms of our psyche. Through meditation and spiritual practice we are able to remove artificial layers of the personality and sit with our eternal selves in silent awareness.