There are as many paths to understanding as there are people. At various times, the path we walk may change significantly. Some may be more intellect-oriented, whilst others may walk a more devotional-orientation, or one may use elements from a variety of disciplines and traditions. Resonance is key.
Whatever path we walk, the focus is singular; we are enthusiastically and sincerely interested in the reality of our own existence.
Initially, the path has two functions:
- to clear the psyche of clutter and obstructions, or rather distractions, ‘veiling’ clear insight, and
- to point our innate curiosity toward the truth.
For a few ‘people’, the idea that there is no separate limited self may be sufficient to reveal what has thus far been overlooked. For everyone else, there is the concise path of self-inquiry…
A Concise Path
Before you begin and throughout your contemplations, always try to remember to put aside your preconceptions and biases regarding what you may find. If you do not begin this journey as much a blank slate as possible, the process is wasted effort – not sincere inquiry.
The Principle of Subjectivity
First, one must acknowledge and recognise within experience, the profound and fundamental mystery at the heart of that experience – subjectivity. Notice that this mysterious subjectivity is generally taken almost completely for granted, and see clearly that the mere fact of existence is quite unlike anything else. To recognise subjectivity is to recognise the essential subject of questions such as, ‘what is existence?’ and ‘why is there something?’
Subjectivity – or awareness – is literally the ground of all experience. For all intents and purposes, it is you. To emphasise the point: the sky you see is ‘made of’ this subjectivity. Your body, in so far as you can see and know it, is ‘made of’ this subjectivity. In fact, from the standpoint of you/consciousness, you never directly encounter, know or interact with anything other than the presence of this most intimate subjectivity. Let that sink in! The majority of people will seldom contemplate this fact with more than a superficial interest.
Part of the reason this simple and seldom acknowledged fact is so important, is because whatever you are is inextricable from everything you will ever encounter. Regardless of our personal metaphysical speculations or allegiances, the everyday mundane lived reality for everybody always takes place within/as this subjective experiential realm.
Whilst our philosophy and sciences can tell us a great deal about the patterns and regularities of the experience, they do not tell us what it is. Moreover, contemporary science overlooks the raw and immediate truth of the subject almost entirely. Nevertheless subjectivity is the stage upon which our lives will play out.
Taking a careful look at the subject, we may discover still more that has been critically overlooked.
The Qualities of Experience
Having understood what is meant by subjectivity, we must investigate the experiential nature of the subject of our inquiry – that is, subjectivity. We must observe it closely in many situations so that we may begin to characterise the essential qualities of this subject that we are. Thus, we may begin to spot the numerous contradictions that emerge between our experience of reality – how reality actually is for us – versus the cultural narrative we have inherited from the society in which we live.
For instance, most of us probably assume that we are limited to a separate body-mind, located in something physics calls ‘space-time’. Take a close-enough look at your direct and immediate experience, however, and you will find a contradiction between your common sense understanding of yourself, and your actual experience. Whilst experience contains a particular localised perspective – that of your body-mind – experience itself is not actually located in space-time. Rather, in the most direct sense, everything actually appears to be contained within subjective experience – within you!
Progressively taking a good look at experience in this way, we will eventually uncover a variety of incontrovertible facts – the truth of them is at least common to all possible experience. These facts unequivocally invalidate the ultimate reality of our culturally inherited worldview. It is important to notice the qualification within that previous sentence: these facts do not invalidate all practical applications of our existing (mis)understanding – they do not invalidate the basis of our technology. To be precise, they merely augment what we already ‘know’ to provide us with a more complete, accurate and nuanced understanding of the fundamentals of our reality.
Here are some key pointers for your contemplation and consideration:
- consciousness is not localised in space-time
- the quality and presence of subjectivity never wanes or changes
- we can never experience non-existence
- consciousness is not dependant upon the body-mind
- our reality is actually universal and thus singular/unitary
- meaning is grounded in what we choose to believe/come to understand
- there is a sameness to all experience: including pleasure and pain
- the mystery is unbounded and profound
- consciousness is forever at peace
- reality is all-accepting, all-loving
- compassion and joy are how reality ‘moves’
We should continue this investigation throughout everyday life until we have at least established, that in fact, we have no direct experiential evidence to support a belief in the separate, limited self. Essentially we see if any of our assumed ‘evidence’ withstands careful scrutiny, in light of the nature of the immediate subjective experience.
This is critical, because if we do not have it, it follows by way of the common subject of investigation that nobody else does either. Further, we must recognise that other forms of evidence (conceptual), can only ever be secondary to our primary experience – we literally never experience anything else. Conceptual knowledge may at best, temporarily inform our behaviour and the more ‘superficial’ facets of our identity.
The Nonduality of Reality
At some point, it will become obvious that there is only one reality.
There is not ‘your reality’ and ‘my reality’, though there are obviously many ‘windows’ upon the self. There is not a fundamentally distinct reality to pain and pleasure, nor existence and non-existence, nor good and bad. Birth and death happen to the body-mind appearance – but not to the self.
All that remains, is for us to begin the process of reshaping our psyche to account for our new found humility in the face of the mystery, and our new found compassion in the face of the many practical challenges of everyday living.
Instead of a niggling or recurrent sense of lack, and a blind faith to ‘our’ story, we can learn to gradually and deeply relax into our new found understanding. Our first contact with experience is always a positive one, even when the psyche reflects a challenging personal situation or environment.