Simply Aware

Awareness is always aware. It may be odd to consider awareness as something that flourishes without needing “you.” I don’t mean that there is no requirement for a body that is alive, a brain that receives and interprets sensory input, and the alchemy that occurs when all these elements come together. I mean that awareness is aware before the person thinks that they are aware and continues after a moment of self-conscious awareness. Awareness is just aware. It is only aware.

Simple awareness does not move, makes no comment, has no preferences and does not require the reflexive “self” to flourish. Awareness, like breathing is not something we do. We can become conscious of our thinking, reflecting, feeling, story making, reacting, and all the miraculous capacities of consciousness. But simple awareness just rests as awareness, a place in which we enact all of these self-generating and self-maintaining activities. We can become conscious of our breath as well. We can manipulate it wilfully, but eventually it will continue to breathe us. There is no self needed for breath to continue during sleep or in any moment in which we forget ourselves and move effortlessly in present moment experience.

Awareness is simple aware.

Zazen is said to be “just sitting.” Technically, it is not a form of meditation. It is not an instrumental activity used to create a personal result. Zazen does zazen, yet we engage in the ceremony of sitting in an upright posture, in relative silence and stillness, to bear witness to and to embody simple awareness.

In zazen we are invited not to move, even as we sit in an alive body that is subtly moving. We are invited not to comment, even on our comments. We are invited to hold preferences lightly and release them, even as they inevitably arise. Zazen does zazen. There is no need for a meditator nor a meditation in order to demonstrate our commitment to simple awareness.

Immediately following Inquiry on August 18, I visited Antaro Burke in his room at Christopher House (a facility for Austin Hospice). He was not socially engaged in a conventional way, yet there was awareness. His personality was not required for the shared intimacy. There was no one else in the room with us so I simply sat and touched him—a hand on his shoulder, moments of gently holding his hand, or at times a soft hand on his forehead. I said a few things but not much. Simple awareness. Just sitting. Together. It was clear that awareness was aware. I have no idea of the form or content of “his” awareness. In fact, I now see that as soon as I use the pronoun “his” I create a self that is aware. And in writing this sentence there is the necessity to type “I create a self” and in doing so I create not only a self lying in the bed, but a self-standing by the bed attending to the one in the bed. It is inevitable that we create these selves but completely unnecessary for awareness to be aware. No self was required, yet the moment was complete. This is the great mystery. I have no idea how consciousness works and neuroscientist are unable to explain it. Yet, there was awareness, the flow of presence. There was Antaro in the bed, and Flint sitting with him. It seemed to me that there were small responses, simple shifts in orientation, the ever-changing breath, all seemingly in response to our vital connection. But I really don’t know. The contents of awareness were irrelevant, just the simple fact of awareness and our presence. No “I” was required for profound connection. No “self” was required for love to open. Just awareness and bodily presence.

Antaro passed away peacefully surrounded by his family at 3:20 PM on Monday, August 24. His Memorial Service was held at Live Oak Unitarian Church on Friday, August 28.

Here are a few teaching quotes I drew from for this Inquiry. I’ve not added any additional commentary here because they are used in the Inquiry talk. I offer them here for your reflection.

The zazen I speak of is not learning meditation. – Dogen

The more you think about these matters, the farther you are from the truth. Step aside from all thinking and there is nowhere you can’t go. – Hsin Hsin Ming

One should realize that one does not meditate in order to go deeply into oneself and
withdraw from the world... There should be no feeling of striving to reach some exalted
or higher state, since this simply produces something conditioned and artificial that will
act as an obstruction to the free flow of the mind... The everyday practice is simply to
develop as complete awareness and openness to all situations and emotions, and to all
people, experiencing everything totally without mental reservations and blockages, so
that one never withdraws or centralizes onto oneself… – Dzogchen text

Wide and far-reaching without limit,
pure and clean, it emits light.
Its spiritual potency is unobscured.
Although it is bright, there are no objects of illumination.
It can be said to be empty,
yet this emptiness is [full of] luminosity.
It illumines in self-purity,
beyond the working of causes and conditions,
apart from subject and object.
Its wondrousness and subtleties are ever present,
its luminosity is also vast and open.
Moreover, this is not something that can be conceived of
as existence or nonexistence.
Nor can it be deliberated about with words and analogies.
Right here—at this pivotal axle,
opening the swinging gate and clearing the way—
it is able to respond effortlessly to circumstances;
the great function is free from hindrances.
At all places, turning and turning about,
it does not follow conditions, nor can it be trapped in models.

– On Silent Illumination: Hongzhi

Inquiry audio: