The Faceless Seer
– The Nature of Awareness –
We all spend a lot of time thinking about ourselves. In Western culture especially, self-concern is on the rise. And with it, our hearts’ discontent.
We have a material wealth that no other generation could have imagined. We have the world’s libraries and collection of knowledge at our fingertips. We can connect with people across states and countries in an instant. And yet we are drowning in unhappiness, in loneliness and self-pity.
We consume antidepressants, painkillers, alcohol, MDMA and other party drugs, in shocking amounts, believing they will pull us out of the depths of our suffering. We post picture after picture to our social media accounts, pretending to live – putting up a facade, living for the perception of others – as if hiding from reality, as if hiding from the truth, is the way to peace and happiness.
We incessantly chase happiness outside ourselves, focusing not on what we have but rather on what we lack. And the more we feed our insatiable desires, the larger our appetites become. We need the latest phone, a fancier car, a nicer home. We need prestigious jobs, big boobs, the perfect hair, big muscles, or whatever. But no matter what we have, no matter what we acquire, it never seems to be enough.
And, astonishingly, it’s not just happiness we seek outside of ourselves. But we look to the outside world to tell us who we are, to tell us who we should become, rather than listening to the cries of our own hearts.
Because we’re so disconnected from our inner lives, because we’re so lost in the outer, material world, because we’re so overwhelmed by the noise, by busyness, we have lost touch with ourselves entirely and instead find ourselves suffocating under the pressure of cultural, religious, and social expectations.
It’s a weird paradox we find ourselves in. Though our entire lives revolve around ourselves, around what we possess, around how we look, around what job we have and what titles we hold, at the same time, we haven’t even stopped to examine who we truly are. We take our ‘selves’, we take the “I”, for granted. We take it to be self-evident.
I wonder what would happen, though, if you actually looked for your ‘self’, if you tried to locate the ‘I’. Who are ‘you‘, really? You talk repeatedly about yourself – my things, my pain, my body, I’m hungry, I’m angry, I’m depressed. But where is this thing you call ‘I’? What is it? What is it like?
Because “I” can’t be removed from you, because it’s essential to you, only you can investigate it for yourself. So, go ahead, take a look. What is this thing you call “I”? Where is it? What is it like? What qualities does it have? What is its nature?
Weird questions? Yeah, I know. “What do you mean ‘What is it?’ and ‘Where is it?’ It’s me, duh. I’m right here.”
I know. But just humor me for a moment. Try to relax. Maybe take a few deep breaths. And then take a good look at your experience – at whatever there is to be known in this moment.
Now, ask yourself: ‘What is there to be known? What is here in my ever-changing experience to be noticed? Are there sensual impressions, sensations in the body? Are there sounds? Are there perceptions? Are there thoughts and feelings?’
Okay. And what about “You”? Where are you in this picture? Where are you in experience? Are you somewhere behind your face, at the center of experience, directing attention at what there is to be known — at perceptions, thoughts, and feelings?
If you think so, what happens when you turn your attention around, when you follow your gaze or a sound or a bodily sensation back to the place where you seem to be directing attention from? Can you find your self? Can you find the “I”? Can you find anything stable and unchanging?
You might have to tune-up your concentration a bit to do what I’m asking, but it’s possible to witness something remarkable here. When you really look for the “I”, when you turn attention around and follow an object back to the place where “you” seem to be directing attention from, you won’t find your “self” – you won’t find the “I”.
Rather, what’s there to be noticed in each moment is simply the wide-open space of experience — the continuous flow of the ever-changing contents of awareness. And the feeling that you are behind your face directing attention out at the world or into your mind or body is yet another one of the ever-changing contents of awareness.
Who is this faceless, formless witness of experience? Who are You? What is this thing you call “I”?
So many of us take this little “I” or the ego for granted. We never stop to take a real interest in it. But once we do, once we try to find it and understand it, we realize that ‘I’ – or this feeling of ‘I’ – is just the result of thinking without knowing we’re thinking, dreaming without knowing we’re dreaming. It’s what it feels like when awareness has lost itself in its contents; when awareness identifies with what is arising.
No content of your experience, however, no object of your awareness, no thought, feeling, or perception, can be who or what “You” are. The dream vapors of experience vanish almost the moment they’re known. So, how can this next thought, whatever its content, be who “You” are? It can’t.
“You”, then, are no thing, though you know, encompass, and contain all things.
“You and I are all as much continuous with the physical universe as a wave is continuous with the ocean.” — Alan Watts
There’s no separation in existence. The world, your experience, is whole. How, then, can you be anything less than it – Love, God, Awareness, or whatever else you wanna call that which encompasses all things.
This Love, this connection, is always there for you to notice, right on the surface. But because we have developed over many years of conditioning thoughts that are centered around the ego, it will take time to unwind them. It will take time cultivate a direct understanding of Love that you can carry with you always.
If this is something you’re interested in, if you do decide to commit to a formal practice like vipassana, please allow patience for yourself. Thoughts are slippery. It will take time. But each time you practice, each time you catch yourself lost in thought, identified with its contents, take joy in that moment. Be grateful that you have been able to wake up from that dream. And soak in marvel, in awe and reverence for the remarkable fact of experience. Try to remember that most of us are never even presented with the opportunity for awakening to arise. So, please, don’t let that gratitude, that progress, go unnoticed.
As you continue to polish your awareness either through formal practice or through some other route you’ve carved out for yourself, I’m excited for you to see what insights await your discovery. I think one of the first things you discover – and, again, don’t take my word for it but see for yourself – is that there is actually no space between you and what is known.
And as you continue to experience this insight directly, as you become more aware of the true nature of your mind, I think you’ll notice that the character and quality of your experience will change dramatically. More and more, I think you’ll find yourself in extraordinary spaces of possibility – in open, soft, warm, and expansive states of being, even in the midst of pain and sorrow.
But don’t take my word for it. See for yourself. Pay close attention in each moment to that space in which everything is appearing and being known. And with mindfulness – with an open and sincere interest – ask yourself, ‘What is there to be known?’
Nothing, I’d argue, is worthier of your investigation than awareness. After all, worth, significance, and value all arise in it. Awareness is what gives any thing — art, music, understanding — any significance at all. It is the substance of knowing; it is the substance of all things.
I encourage you, then, to keep awareness close as you travel through this awe-inspiring Space of Possibility that “You” are.
Now, before you go, get your ass over here, cuddle your warm face to mine, and soak with me for a moment in this astonishing space of existence. Feel its warmth. Its love. Its security. Feel its expansiveness. Its vastness. Its boundlessness. Now, recognize in a flash that all this is a reflection of You.