After much disappointment and disillusionment, we begin to see directly that the “me” who seems to be going back and forth between getting it and losing it is nothing substantial or abiding (as we had thought), but that this “me” is an intermittent process that is part of the ever-changing, passing display. The “me” we had thought was so solid and real is nothing more than a conceptual idea made up of thoughts, memories, mental images, sensations and stories that together give rise to a kind of mirage. When we look closely, we cannot locate any actual “me” who is thinking my thoughts or making my decisions or living my life. We can’t find any actual boundary where “me” begins and ends, or where “inside of me” turns into “outside of me.” Any boundary we think we’ve found, if examined closely, turns out to be permeable and fluid or not really there. And there is something bigger than the bodymind that is seeing the bodymind, something that is beholding the mental images and the sensations and the apparent boundaries, and yet when we turn our gaze around to see what that “something” might be, there is no-thing there.
We begin to realize the emptiness of everything. Emptiness simply means that everything is empty of any inherent, objective, substantial, independent, persisting existence “out there” somewhere, outside of consciousness. There is only this seamless, boundless, beginningless, endless, streaming, flowing no-thing-ness in which everything is inseparable from everything else. This no-thing-ness is not “nothing” in some void-like sense, but rather, it is EVERYTHING without division: the sound of the airplane, the cry of the bird, the rumbling of the stomach, the breathing in and breathing out, the passing thoughts, the mental movies, the whole show and the awaring presence beholding it all.
And so in this way we begin to notice the bigger picture, the unicity that includes the whole show and the awaring of the show, the groundless ground, the groundlessness—the context in which that mirage of “me” and “the story of my life” comes and goes. We notice that awareness or presence or beingness (or as I often say, Here / Now) is the common factor in every experience—whether it is an experience of expansion or an experience of contraction, an experience of boundless spaciousness or an experience of encapsulation and limitation, a sunny day or a cloudy one. The present-ness of every experience, the suchness or thusness or IS-ness of it, the energetic aliveness or beingness is the same in calm weather or stormy weather. The awaring presence, the space of Here / Now within which everything appears, the eternal present, this ultimate subject is never not here. In deep sleep, everything perceivable and conceivable disappears completely along with the phantom observer, the one who cares about being enlightened or unenlightened. What remains? Any answer (any particular perceivable or conceivable thing) is not it. And yet intuitively, we know, something remains, even if the whole universe blows up and is no more. We miss it by trying to grasp it or see it—by trying to make some-thing (another object, another experience) out of no-thing-ness—but whatever the mind constructs or singles out or tries to hold onto, that is not it. And yet, there is nothing and nowhere that it is not.
Sometimes there is a tendency to draw an imaginary line between “awareness” and “everything that appears in awareness,” and this may be useful initially, but eventually we see that this line isn’t really there, that we cannot find any actual boundary between “awareness” and “what appears,” or between “me” and “the world,” or between “inside” and “outside,” or between “subject” and “object,” or between “seer” and “seen,” or between “the self” and “the Self.” It is all one undivided happening. The boundary lines are always conceptual. The living reality never forms into solid, separate, persisting, independent things. It is one undivided whole. And yet, we can still differentiate between me and you, table and chair, mountain and valley, up and down, good and evil. As they say in Zen, reality is “Not one, not two,” and awakening is “leaping clear of the many and the one.” Enlightenment is not being stuck in any view—not clinging to either the relative or the absolute—not building nests, as they say—not fixating anywhere—not grasping—not landing on one side of any imaginary divide.
Any “me” who claims to be in some permanently awakened state of consciousness is delusion, but in waking up, it is simply obvious that awakeness has always been here, that it was simply overlooked, and that it isn’t something that “I” have (or could ever lose)!
The thinking mind will always pop up with another “yes, but…” or “what if…” and if we try to resolve this by thinking our way to clarity, we will be endlessly chasing the imaginary carrot around and around on the hamster wheel. But there is another possibility, another way of being. What is it?
Don’t answer that question. Live with it. Fall into the answer-less-ness of not-knowing, the open wonder of this ever-changing, ever-present Here / Now that never comes, never goes, and never stays the same. Recognize yourself in everything that appears and as THAT which remains when everything perceivable and conceivable disappears.”