Edited by HENRY REED, Ph.D.
April 10, 2007
The Intuitive-Connections Network

The Power of Awareness

The Power of Awareness

An Excerpt from

The Mandala of Being: Discovering the Power of Awareness

By Richard Moss, M.D.

Any story you tell yourself about who you are, any belief you have, any feeling you are aware of, is only an object of your larger consciousness. You, in your essence, are always something that experiences all these and remains more complete than any of them. When you realize that you are inherently larger than any feeling that enters your awareness, this very awareness will change the feeling, and it will release its grip on you.

Similarly, ideas that you have about yourself are relative, not absolute truths. If you simply look at them and do not let them lead you into further thinking, they will give way and leave your mind open and silent. There is always a relationship between who we believe or feel ourselves to be and something else, the Self that is our larger awareness.

In awakening to this Self-me relationship, we begin to be present with our experience in a new way. We learn to consciously hold our thoughts and feelings in our own larger fields of awareness. Then, even if we are troubled and confused, this nonreactive quality of presence to ourselves allows us to restore ourselves to a sense of wholeness. This is the power of awareness.

Sensation and Perception: Our Original Consciousness

The great Indian sage Ramana Maharshi said that if we want to know our true selves, we must “go back by the way that we have come.” Our original state of consciousness in childhood is not one of being a separate entity with our own thoughts and sensations, but rather is a relatively undifferentiated domain of sensation and perception. Our parents, having already reached the developmental stage of separate-self consciousness, provide the model by which we begin to develop our own sense of the separate self.

But when we take the developmental step into the consciousness of the separate self and leave behind the universe of immediacy and undifferentiated sensations, as a consequence we also become identified with our sensations. Who is happy? Me. Who is angry, tired, frustrated...? Me. Our feelings acquire names, however, and at the same time, we are defined by those feelings.

The same is true with perception: we may not feel that the sunshine on the trees is me, but we cannot identify it without simultaneously existing as a separate me. In psychological and philosophical theory, this level of consciousness is called “subject-object.” It is the level of ego awareness where most human development stops. We are aware as me, we react as me, we defend as me, we desire as me, but we are not aware of the true self. It is the true self that looks at all we think, do, and experience, including our sense of me. In this looking, a relationship is created that has the power to transform our experience of ourselves and our worlds.

Throughout our lives, the moment we bring our awareness fully into the Now, we enter the domain of the true self, and our immediate conscious reality is once again that of sensation and perception. As I sit in the park, the sunlight brightens the leaves and casts shadows on the ground. I have a feeling of contentment. And as long as “I” don’t create stories about what I am seeing or about the fact that I am feeling content, which leads me away from my immediate experience, what I experience remains simply perception and sensation.

The same is true for any feeling, any emotion. In the Now, it is just what it is. In the Now, I “go back” to my original awareness “by the way that [I] have come.” When we directly perceive and experience whatever is present in our larger fields of awareness, it is possible to have a relationship with it without becoming lost in it or defined by it.

Exercising the Power of Awareness

We exercise the power of awareness and strengthen our spiritual muscle by bringing ourselves, over and over again, into the immediate present. To do so, we must become present with what we are feeling and thinking. We can turn our attention directly toward what we are experiencing instead of staying enmeshed in a feeling or blindly accepting our beliefs about ourselves.

It makes all the difference in the world whether we are caught in a negative emotion and say, “I am sad, angry, lonely,” and so on, or are able to recognize, at that moment, “Here am I, all wound up in sensations of resentment. Here am I, fuming with anger.” Awareness of our sensations is not the same as identifying with our thoughts or feelings. Every movement back to present-moment awareness grounds us in the body and opens the connection to our larger awareness.

Even the smallest movement toward exercising the power of awareness, instead of collapsing our larger awareness into our thoughts and feelings and thereby becoming identified with them, restores us to a more complete consciousness. It gives us the power to start from a fresh, open, less conditioned relationship to our experience.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that our problems disappear. But as we exercise the power of awareness, our reflexive reactivity diminishes. We respond from a state of greater presence. When we collapse into our feelings, we lose this capacity. We default into me, and this limited self seems like the whole of who we are. Then we have no choice but to react because we feel as if we must defend ourselves.

The Fundamental Relationship

What are we actually doing when we bring our awareness fully into the present and realize “Here am I...”? We are moving into a more spacious awareness and thus creating conscious distance from what we are experiencing. At the same time, we are opening toward our immediate experience to see it as it is, to see it fully, to invite it to reveal itself more completely to us.

We are seeing as objectively as we can, without reacting or judging. This lets us more completely realize what we are actually feeling or sensing; we do not merely remain in our heads, interpreting and analyzing.

It is important to point out that moving our awareness into the Now and thereby gaining distance from our feelings and thoughts is not dissociation. A frequent mistake people make with Eastern meditation practices is to try to rise above and detach from an experience, especially whenever the experience is considered negative.

To exercise the power of awareness, we are required to become more present in our experiences without losing our larger awareness. With this quality of attention, we gain true understanding. We naturally begin to respond to our experiences in the most appropriate and intelligent ways.

This intimate viewing of ourselves by our awareness is the most fundamental of all relationships. We create the possibility of a conscious, empathetic connection between me (or self) and our true selves, or what is alternatively referred to as the Self.

The personal self that we experience as ourselves is held, seen, and felt deeply by that, which will never reject me, never turn away, never judge me. It can see us judging, attacking ourselves, creating our own misery; but it does not judge even this. It is simply present with me.

This presence need not be merely neutral or indifferent. We can let it be our trusted friend, like the Persian mystic poets Hafiz and Rumi did when they referred to it as the “Guest” or the “Beloved,” to whom they offered themselves and who always received them.

The key to cultivating the healing potential of the self-Self relationship is the quality of our attention — the steadiness, gentleness, and acceptance of the “gaze” we turn toward ourselves. We must be truly willing to experience our feelings and clearly see our thoughts without reaction, allowing the moment to be exactly as it is without defending ourselves against these feelings and thoughts, without our minds moving away into further thought.

Then that which transcends our capacity to name or categorize it in any way, is present to us and has the same accepting quality that we present to ourselves. This is also the essence of meditation and prayer. By keeping our attention in the present moment, we can become transparent to what is transcendent. It is the Self’s profoundly empathetic acceptance of self that ultimately sustains us when we face our deepest fears, including even our egos’ primal terror, nonbeing.

Learning the Inner Gaze of Nonreactive Attention

The power of awareness rests on the ability to be present with our experience in the way that a wise, experienced, and loving mother holds her baby. Whether the baby is calm or disturbed, the mother’s attention is present. Her whole being is oriented toward the child. She speaks to him, touches him, and maintains a constant, steady presence. If the baby is upset, she herself does not become upset but, through her voice and eyes, conveys to the baby her awareness of his feeling.

She conveys to her baby the knowledge that these feelings are part of the self, not something ultimately destructive to the self. And on the occasions when she is actually concerned for her baby, she knows that, by not losing touch with her deeper center, she transmits much less of her fear to the child.

How we hold any feeling, whether anger, anxiety, or despair, either intensifies our sense of me and leads us away from our transcendent presence, or it lets us relax and even dissolve that me. Me, in this sense, is analogous to a movie screen: if the screen is opaque we see (or in this case, live) the “movie.” If the screen becomes transparent, the movie disappears.

A feeling that we make space for and do not react to, do not create thoughts to support, and do not invent “worry stories” about gradually ceases to have power over us precisely because there is less me reacting to the feeling. In this way we are learning to become more transparent. We begin to experience feelings in their purity.

A pure feeling is one that exists as simple sensation. It does not become intensified by thoughts that judge it or become warped by the mind’s efforts to analyze, change, prolong, or eliminate it. Then every feeling has the opportunity to help us arrive at a new depth of intimacy with ourselves naturally, without effort, without seeking for anything at all.

At the same time, once the mind releases its grip on the feeling, the feeling automatically begins to change. Everything is impermanent when the mind isn’t holding it fixed. Then we begin to enter deeper layers of our beings, where we are already intrinsically more whole.

It is our judgment of our feelings — and especially our desire for them to end if they are unpleasant, or to continue if they are good — that locks us into suffering. To reject a feeling is essentially to refuse the present: it is like deciding this Now has less God, less wholeness, than some other moment. Wanting a good feeling to continue is the same thing in reverse: it causes us to resist anything else life presents, and therefore we have less presence.

Each of these ways of reacting to our feelings represents a movement away from the immediacy of our experience and is thus actually a disengagement from reality. Just as we thrive when we feel we are seen, listened to, and met, so do we begin to thrive when, instead of reflexively reacting to our feelings, we consciously touch them with exquisite attention.

A pure feeling is never a threat to us; only when we attempt to control or alter feelings do they become threats. Such control would be like a mother asking her child to stop crying before she will love her, instead of loving her just as she is. This is precisely what we do to so much of our own experience: we ask it to be different before we have even turned our attention toward it to experience it and accept it as it is.

This kind of direct and nonreactive relationship to our immediate experience breaks the choke hold of the inner critic. We all have internalized a disapproving voice that harshly judges us and, in so doing, keeps us trapped in a cycle of emotional contraction, defense, and self-rejection. We are particularly vulner-able to the power of the critic, because it confirms what we already deeply believe about ourselves: our early conditioned sense of insufficiency.

But the moment we ask how we are aware of the critic and the negative state it causes, we return to simple awareness: “Here am I...judging myself. Here am I...aware of this harsh inner critic that is attacking me, calling me selfish.”

The critic wants us to contract into a state of self-doubt or into a renewed cycle of self-improvement efforts. It keeps us self-involved. The critic says, “You would not be feeling this if...,” and the reasons it gives are legion. The critic is the defender of the original false hypothesis of insufficiency, even while purportedly offering us a way out.

Paradoxically, listening to the critic, even though it makes us miserable, allows our egos to feel supported and safe, because the unconscious, familiar premise of insufficiency — upon which our egos rest — remains intact. But the moment we utilize the power of awareness to become directly present, without having any goal to change what we are feeling, this threatens the unconscious premise of insufficiency. Then the whole house of cards begins to tumble.

To sit and feel a difficult feeling without identifying with it may be unfamiliar and may make us feel vulnerable. We may feel as if we might cease to exist if we don’t collapse into the familiar struggle with ourselves and our sense of insufficiency. But allowing ourselves to be vulnerable is the path that takes us to a fuller aliveness.

Spiritual Muscle and the Mystery of Faith

The ability to stay present requires muscular attention. The effort to develop this ability initially resembles willpower. It does take intention and determination, but an attitude of tender curiosity and attentiveness to whatever we are experiencing eventually takes the place of willpower. This attention does not intrude on the feeling, does not try to control it. Instead we give the feeling as much space as it requires by becoming soft and vast around it.

When we apply our will to arrive at wholeness instead of beginning from wholeness, we once again succumb to a distrust of our experience instead of experiencing a relationship to our experience.

Spiritual muscle is not something we can coerce in ourselves. Our initial reaction to negative feelings is to want to escape them. We may consciously direct our attention toward positive thoughts by means of intention and will — by so-called positive thinking and the use of positive affirmations. But in doing so, we are only reacting, and we remain caught in our fear or discomfort.

We can instead use real spiritual muscle (and true positive thinking) and turn our nonreactive inner gaze toward whatever we are afraid of. We can use the power of awareness itself. The more we do so, instead of throwing our minds into some form of self-protection, the more we grow in the mysterious power that is faith.

Faith is perhaps the most profound and most mysterious experience of all, and it is inextricably related to our power of awareness. Faith grows as the self-Self relationship deepens and as we learn to remain present in difficult situations that, at an earlier stage of life, we would have completely identified with.

We associate faith with traditional religious belief systems and notions of God. True faith, however, cannot rest on beliefs or thoughts, or even on feelings, because we are always already more than these by virtue of our awareness of them. Beliefs, especially as they bring us meaning and purpose, can act as a transitional medium for faith.

Consider how a teddy bear or soft blanket can act as a positive transitional object and temporarily replace the comforting presence of a mother for a child when she is not present. Similarly, to the extent that we cling to beliefs to define and defend who we are, we remain children as far as faith is concerned. Faith can never be proclaimed in words; it can only be radiated or transmitted through the quality of our presence, through an inner poise that is not shaken by outer circumstances.

To proudly assert one’s faith as unquestioning acceptance of a particular religious belief system is to declare one’s lack of faith in oneself. It is a proclamation of ignorance of the nature of one’s own consciousness.

One paradox of faith is that when we sense it in another, it gives us hope that we too can face our fears. Yet faith itself is the capacity to meet fear without hope. If we require hope, how can we say that we have faith? Faith is not a state of fearlessness, but rather an ability to hold fear with the power of our awareness and not lose touch with that in us which is more than whatever we are afraid of.

A second paradoxical aspect of faith is that we can neither see nor measure it. It is defined by the shape of our fears. For example, when we approach intimacy with another but become so afraid of rejection or abandonment or engulfment that we withdraw, these fears mark the limits of our faith. But if we choose to remain in the pure feeling of these fears and not withdraw from a relationship, we empower ourselves and grow in faith, which makes us capable of greater intimacy.

Many people discover the limits of their faith when they are afraid of not having enough money. Too many of us let money fears — basic survival consciousness — keep us in jobs we don’t enjoy or in relationships that are no longer healthy for us. When we do so, our faith is only as alive as the security we derive from having enough money.

But if we can look at this fear and see that it is simply a sensation that can be accommodated and not reacted to, we increase our faith. We demystify the power we have given to money and can make wiser choices. Then money ceases to be such a defining force in our lives.

In any aspect of life, whenever we dare not step forward because of fear, whatever form it may take, we have reached the limits of our faith. What we must do then is exercise the power of awareness to remain present with our fears until nothing is moving inside of us.

In this stillness, there is no longer such a strong sense of me — the me that can be threatened — and so the fear loses its power. As we become transparent, the energy in fear is freed up and just becomes more energy to feed and increase our power of awareness. In this way the power of awareness transforms fear to faith.

One of my favorite stories about developing muscular attention comes from the martial arts tradition of aikido. Master Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of aikido, challenged his senior students to rouse themselves from sleep every night and follow him with their eyes as he walked across the dormitory to the bathroom.

At this point he was an old man and had to urinate several times a night. If after a while a student had not learned to wake up and become present, that student was deemed unfit and asked to leave. The master was trying to cultivate in these advanced students an exceptional capacity for attention that extended even into their sleep.

Willpower alone would not have been successful. If these men had willed themselves to stay awake, they would have become exhausted. What they had to learn was to empower their attention with intent, as well as to let go and enter a higher level of relaxed alertness.

We can bring this warrior quality of relaxed alertness to our awareness of ourselves. We can wake up the moment we see our minds fashioning stories that lead us away from the immediacy of the present, and turn our nonreactive eye-of-attention toward who we are right now.

If a particular feeling is painful, we can surrender to it while simultaneously refusing to allow that feeling to drive us into self-judgment or an escape strategy. In this profound intimacy with our pain, which I call conscious suffering, a transformation begins to occur.

As we grow more muscle and can stay fully present, whatever events we can allow without reaction — without collapsing into them and losing ourselves — gradually release their power over our reality. Then we begin to rest in a natural state of presence — the luminosity of our faith. We can live from our deepest selves.

Even at the darkest times, when we finally stop resisting, what one moment seems like hell can suddenly become peace and stillness, and we can regain a fundamental sense of wholeness and gratitude.

Gradually, as our capacity for conscious suffering grows, so does our faith. It is not that we no longer feel fear, but that we discover we have much more freedom even in the face of what used to be our greatest fears. It takes consistent intention to learn to live in the present and meet our suffering consciously.

But fundamental change occurs not because we find inventive ways to avoid suffering; it emerges organically out of the depth of our awareness in such suffering. The power of awareness itself can set us free.

Even if our survival patterns have dominated us all our lives, one day we will become aware that we are giving in to fear, and we will turn consciously toward awareness of the fear instead of going where it is trying to point us. In that moment we will have transcended, by some small degree, our ego’s continuous self-protection, what I call the survival project. New possibilities for our lives are born in such moments.

The Survival Personality and the Idealized Self

The adaptations we have unconsciously made during preverbal and later stages of childhood to escape from feelings of abandonment, engulfment, or annihilation powerfully influence the way we present ourselves to the world as adults. These frightening feelings are repressed, buried in a subconscious stratum of our beings, and we are no longer aware of them under most circumstances.

A part of early ego development is the adoption of strategies for maintaining this repression by constructing a false self that becomes the essence of the survival personality, a term I borrow from psychosynthesis theory.

The survival personality is the one we present to the world — and more important, to ourselves. This generally positive personality disguises our inner sense that something is wrong with us. The task of the survival personality is to keep us from facing this feeling by imagining, and ultimately becoming fully identified with and believing in, a special or idealized self, as mentioned in chapter 1.

The concept of the idealized self explains how most of us manage to solve the problem of our core anxiety by endowing ourselves with special capacities and gifts. We ameliorate the wounds of childhood by fabricating a set of beliefs about ourselves in which ordinary qualities become glorified and our weaknesses are envisioned as virtues.

If we have loving feelings for a parent, a child, or a partner, this love becomes evidence of our saintly devotion. If we are angry and aggressive, we imagine ourselves as strong and heroic. When we are compliant, we believe we are acting selflessly.

There is a compulsive quality to our need to glorify ourselves and thereby distance ourselves from the core feeling of not being good enough as we are. Consequently, there is also a compulsive quality to how we later defend our idealized selves.

The idealized self grows out of our personal lives and how we have unconsciously adapted to the psychological environment of our early lives. If we have acquiesced to our mothers’ psychology, rather than seeing ourselves as submissive and weak, we may create an ideal of loyalty to her feelings and needs. Later in life this causes us to feel indispensable not only to her but also to anyone to whom we have transferred our allegiance.

If instead we rebel, we see our own combative and reactive defenses as heroic intolerance for injustice. We might be cynical about authority and haughtily believe we have a superior understanding of the world and what it needs. But we never really know what our own feelings or needs are, because they are derived from what we reject and judge, rather than from what actually lives within us.

Those of us whose defensive adaptation is to withdraw have a tendency to retreat into an imaginary world and spend long hours alone. Later in life we might hide in the world of books or computers, eventually becoming more intimate with our area of expertise than with the people in our lives. We may even become aloof and disdainful of others, seeing them as unworthy of our serious involvement.

If we never free ourselves from our survival personalities, we can never simply be ourselves, can never really accept ourselves as we are. We cannot be ordinary in the true sense of objectively appreciating our bodies, our appearance, or our intellectual or athletic abilities without feelings of superiority or inferiority. We cannot just be who we are with our own feelings and our own natural strengths and weaknesses. In a word, we cannot be humble.

And since our survival personalities are never who we really are, but an ideal — which by the very definition of the word is not real — we constantly fall short of their expectations. No matter how we strive, we never can be attractive enough, loving enough, secure enough, powerful enough, honest enough, smart enough, and so on, because even when we are, we do not believe it.

We have to keep striving to fulfill the ideal, which is like trying to reach the constantly receding horizon. The resulting self-judgments arising from our inevitable failures to fulfill the demands of our ideal selves lead us into neurotic suffering. And this suffering creates an environment of self-involvement that blinds us to the existence of our true selves.

From the point of view of our true selves, the whole survival project is entirely unreal, even less than irrelevant. But from the point of view of the survival personality, the effort to begin to open to our true selves seems utterly futile and carries the threat of annihilation.

In my own observations of thousands of people, the existence of underlying and extremely threatening feelings, even in individuals considered to be highly functioning, is unquestionable. We can function very well, believing not only that we are satisfied with our own lives but also that we are exceptional.

Yet eventually the illusion of our idealized selves begins to disintegrate. Often this happens when there is illness, loss of a loved one, or sudden financial ruin. For many people, the demise of the idealized self begins when they have gone through the misery of divorce, often multiple times, and begin to suspect that the problem doesn’t just lie in their partners.

Or it shows up when we actually begin to experience some of the success that our idealized selves would lead us to expect is our due, but which we deep down don’t believe we deserve and, eventually, subconsciously sabotage.

There is a yearning for authenticity and real freedom in all of us, though, and so our souls cannot permit us to live indefinitely in denial and self-deceit. When we finally decide to follow that yearning, we find we must recognize and outgrow our idealized selves.

In this process of growth, we find ourselves facing what I call “untamed” emotions, such as a sense of utter despair and dread (see chapter 5). It is these feelings that limit our faith, and no further fundamental growth in consciousness is possible until they can be met and embraced in a nonreactive way.

Beneath our survival personalities lie something we are trying to protect ourselves from feeling. And sooner or later it inevitably surfaces. This may happen with the breakup of a relationship, the loss of a job, or some other traumatic event. It may happen simply because our failure to fulfill the impossible expectations of our idealized selves leads us to finally collapse in exhaustion.

At times like these, we can plunge into such despair or irrational rage and self-hate that we feel as though we are being undone, that we will go mad. We might even contemplate suicide.

At this point we have finally reached the inner Armageddon, the battle for supremacy between our false selves and our true selves. When this happens, we must, above all, learn to exercise the power of awareness with unresisting attention and unlimited compassion for our own suffering.

Because we have for so long mistaken our survival personalities as ourselves, we can experience the deconstruction as loss of self. This is a crisis in the journey of awakening to fuller consciousness, akin to the dark night of the soul that Saint John of the Cross wrote about. Ironically, we are then in an innate healing and self-transcending process, yet it feels like it can, and eventually will, lead us to a fundamental crisis of identity.

Meeting and freeing ourselves from many of our fears ultimately brings us to the deepest fear of all: the ego’s primal fear of nonbeing. This is why genuine transformation requires our most sincere commitment. I believe this deepest fear ultimately rules not only our individual survival personalities but also, through it, our collective human survival project.

Modern society, and the culture it has constructed, is a collective idealized self, a collective survival personality, and is founded just as much upon the feelings we do not know how to meet and hold as upon any higher vision we have for life. Until we individually, one at a time, face this in ourselves, we will continue to unconsciously live under the aegis of the god of fear.

The resulting quest for survival, unconsciously externalized in so much of our way of life, will continue to pose a terrible threat to our futures. In our reflexive universe, fear, even if unconscious, only gives birth to more fear.

How the Survival Personality Survives Self-Realization

Even though I had a realization that profoundly transformed my sense of being and awakened me to a new level of consciousness — what some might call Self-realization — in which I understood the unity of all things and that love is the heart of our universe, and even though I experienced then, and many times since, the most profound sense of wholeness and well-being,

I have had to accept the humiliating truth that my own survival personality continues to operate. If my attention isn’t fully in the present, I can still lapse into distrust concerning the future, or I can communicate indirectly to protect myself or to avoid hurting or disappointing others.

If my wife or children are critical or flare at me in anger, I can still, at times, close down and become defensive or judgmental. And does one ever finally defeat the beasts of self-involvement and self-importance that so easily insinuate themselves into our behavior and thinking? I haven’t.

Just as we wake up each morning having forgotten ourselves each night, our survival personalities wake up with us and in so many subtle and not so subtle ways assert themselves into our lives. I believe that all people, no matter what degree of Self-realization they may have achieved, experience the ongoing influence of the survival personality.

Appreciating this is important because it explains why some spiritual and religious leaders who are, in many ways, exceptional, nonetheless act immorally. Alternatively, they might create communities that become elitist and insular, often limiting the essential individuation of those who devote their lives to these communities.

Especially when we are in a position of authority, we must watch vigilantly for the survival personality’s potential influence. If not, it will pervert even the best intentions and make even the most brilliant teachings or leadership into instruments for its own ends.

The moment we believe ourselves superior because we think our understanding is greater than others’, and that this gives us special rights with respect to our students, employees, congregation, or fellow citizens, the survival personality has us firmly in its grasp. Only by continuously exercising the power of awareness can we begin to free ourselves.

Awareness versus Self-Improvement

Once we understand that the power of awareness leads us to essential humility and ordinariness, then we can grant ourselves permission to inquire deeply into all aspects of ourselves that constitute our identities. Often we are afraid to do this, imagining that if we were to look at the darker parts of ourselves and discover something particularly unpleasant or disillusioning, we would not be able to face it.

But I am not talking about dwelling obsessively on the negative. As soon as we turn our full, nonreactive gaze on a difficult feeling, we are, by the very nature of awareness, already more than it is. Our identification with that feeling weakens. It is not what we feel or experience that we need fear; it is what remains unconscious that poses the real threat.

Parts of our survival psychologies, such as an unconscious need to feel loved and secure by helping others, eventually betray us. They will always affect our motives and inevitably distort our behavior, undermining even our best intentions.

This is why in my work, as I guide people to ever-deeper self-inquiry, I frequently ask them, “Are you undertaking this work because something is innately wrong with you? Do you believe you need to be fixed?” The true answer is “No!” This work is not about self-improvement.

It is only and simply about developing a fuller awareness. We do this work not because it can relieve suffering but because, when we are suffering, this suffering, in whatever form it takes, is the truth of this particular moment. We must turn toward it as if it were a child who needs the full and loving attention of its mother. Remember:

Anything we can become aware of, we are already greater than. Any attempt to change ourselves or improve ourselves as a means of avoiding a feeling only leads to ceaseless self-manipulation or the manipulation of others, and it does not change the underlying sense of insufficiency from which we unconsciously continue to run.

To turn toward what is, in the here and now, and to meet it with the full power of awareness, is to arrive all at once at the wholeness that is, and always has been, our essential selves.

Transforming ourselves by means of this path requires us to become more aware in our suffering. Simply by being present, without blinking — which means keeping the mind completely still as it gazes at the specific feeling — we cease to create the me that is the home of that suffering.

The image of not blinking comes from my childhood enjoyment of Western movies, where, when two gunfighters faced each other, whoever blinked first was shot. At a deeper level, masters of martial arts know that the contestant who moves from thought, which is much slower than moving from presence or being, generally loses the match.

There are legends in the world of martial arts that tell of victory being awarded in competitions even before any physical contact has taken place. Some judges are so attuned that they sense the movement in the minds of the competitors and call the match in favor of the one with the deepest stillness.

In my work, to blink means that in the face of a difficult feeling, we let our minds move away from the feeling into thoughts about the past or the future, or into stories about ourselves or about the feeling itself. In so doing we leave the original feeling and become involved instead with these thoughts and the secondary feelings they engender.

This propels us away from the Now, and this movement sustains and intensifies the me that is resisting the original feeling. We wind up suffering even more, but in a way that feels familiar because it preserves our usual sense of me.

If we don’t blink, me recedes. As we come into direct relationship with the original feeling, we evolve and our interior becomes more spacious. What began as fear of a feeling transforms into energy and presence.

Then we can make our choices, such as leaving a job or a relationship, in response to a sense of openness and possibility rather than as a means to avoid a feeling.

The God of Fear and the God of Love

Fear is the principal force that divides our hearts. It will continue to do so unless we increase the muscle of our attention and faith that lets us remain present for more and more of reality.

When we consciously meet our fear, our faith grows. In the deepest solitude of ourselves, when fear has brought us to our knees and there is nothing left to do but surrender to it, we discover what has all along been supporting us.

Fear is a great god, one that we can never defeat if we resist or react to it in any way. Learning to grow faith is an in-cremental process. I know of no one who has fully conquered fear.

I certainly haven’t. But I know that if, at the end of a lifetime, our faith has grown a measure no bigger than just the space between two hairs on our heads, we will have to a degree transformed the very fabric of reality for ourselves and everyone else.

As this power to resist fear grows within us, we begin to realize a greater god: the god of love. I am using the term god here to refer to the dominant unconscious force that influences us at a given stage in our lives.

We could say that, at this point in history, in the majority of us, the soul lives under the sway of fear. Yet there is a growing minority whose souls obey the god of love, and the primary evidence of this is that our lives are dominated by the yearning to know who we really are. Love is not mere consolation for our otherwise troubled lives.

Nor is it the sentimental, but pleasurable, “mush” it has been reduced to in popular culture. Love, as Walt Whitman wrote, is “the kelson of the creation.” The kelson is the keel, or backbone, of a sailing ship that unites all the ribs to form the hull.

Love is the backbone of reality: it is the unbroken connectedness of all things, everything in relationship to everything else. Nothing is ever in exile from it; there is nothing in life that does not belong here, in reality. Even fear.

When love is our god, we have permission to be in relationship to everything, even the darkest places of dread and terror. When love is our god, we can enter into conscious relationship to any aspect of our experience and consciously suffer it until we realize that the very fabric of reality is love. There is always that within each of us that is greater than fear in all its forms.

The god of fear offers hope but demands obedience: do this, obtain this, follow these rules and you will be safe, you will be happy. But the price we pay for the illusion that we can attain happiness and security this way is an eternal battle for survival, one that always starts from a sense of insufficiency.

The god of fear was our first teacher of survival. No doubt, without fear we could not have survived. But now our mindless obedience to this god threatens us with disruption at every level of society and, perhaps, may even lead us to extinction. Our obsession with survival and security always ultimately leads us back to fear and all its minions — power, control, righteousness, jealousy, neediness, greed, blame, hate, and revenge.

We live in endless hope for imagined security, for freedom from an endless legion of external threats, but in that very hope hides the root fear, that which we have not yet turned to meet and hold. Hope can never break us out of the cycle of survival.

While fear thrives on obedience, the god of love asks only for conscious relationship, and not to an abstract idea of God, but to the immediacy of every moment.

When fear is overlord of a particular moment, filling our minds with endless worries and demanding all kinds of actions in the service of a hoped-for outcome or reward, love will hold and support our aware selves as we turn trembling to stand and face fear itself, straight on, whatever its guise.

In facing fear, we gradually become free of the cycle of fear and hope and begin to fulfill the higher purpose of our human existence: to reveal and express the fullness of our beings.

But what of those of us who derive our faith from belief in God or Jesus or any other symbol that represents to us a reality greater than ourselves? Experiencing faith in this way entails projecting our own self-transcending capacity onto a symbol of salvation and then deriving feelings of inspiration and sustenance from those symbols.

But even though in our survival-oriented culture this passes for true faith, it is really just borrowed faith: we borrow it from something external to us, something we can think or imagine, without realizing that that which resided in Jesus and all the great souls resides as well in ourselves.

This fundamental consciousness, which everyone has the potential to realize, is clearly what Jesus was referring to when he said, “Before Abraham was, I Am” (John 8:58).

Depending on borrowed faith when we do not ultimately have faith in ourselves, we remain prisoners of the god of fear, even as we worship the icons we have dedicated to the god of love.

We claim to know what God wants, but we remain ignorant of our own essence. We continue to be rooted in a survival-based consciousness. There is a deeper faith that comes from exercising the power of awareness to find our own source, what existed prior to anything whatsoever that we have believed.

If we inquire deeply enough to realize that our conditional faith comes at the price of giving away our own divinity, then we meet the true test of faith: we finally face our egos’ primal fear of being utterly and hopelessly extinguished. When we face this fear, we ultimately come to realize the true source of our beings.

The Problem with God

The problem with God is that “God,” as we think of God, is a creation of our own minds. If in a given moment our god-idea helps us to enter more fully into the present and into the wholeness of our being, then this god-idea is alive in that moment, part of the vital transformative conversation between self and Self.

But when our god-ideas become more real to us than the awareness that allows us to contemplate them, these ideas begin to imprison our souls.

It is always a mistake to separate our own consciousness from our god-ideas. Jesus himself said, “Whoever knows the All but fails to know himself lacks everything.” Whatever we believe about God, we are knowingly or unknowingly speaking about ourselves, and frequently it is our survival personalities that influence what we say.

If we want a god to support us in battle or our nationhood or our religious supremacy, we invent a god who legitimates our cause. If we want a god who exonerates us and forgives us, we open our hearts to a god who does that.

If we want a god who is pro-life or pro-choice, we create this god in our minds. And once we have created this god, we always construe evidence or scripture to support our belief.

But it is not really a question of what God does or doesn’t want. For the religious person, God excites the mind; for the mystic, God stops it. When we speak of God from a spiritual perspective, we refer to that which, when we turn our attention completely toward it, ends all thought and instead reflects us back to the ineffable source of our consciousness, the true beginning of ourselves.

God in this sense is the ultimate mirror: whatever we see in it is God. We must embrace every aspect of ourselves until, ultimately, we each know that I and God are one.

Awareness Is the Path

If we begin unconsciously from the premise that we are insufficient, we end up caught in the endless cycle of reacting to our insufficiency and trying to fill ourselves. The only way to get off this misery-go-round is to begin by being aware that we are whole. Consciousness itself is that wholeness.

It is like water: it can assume any shape into which it is poured, yet it never loses its own essence. Through the power of awareness, we can enter into relationship to anything whatsoever that we are experiencing and still remain, in our essence, whole and full. We can be aware of the most devastating feelings of insufficiency, and yet, the moment we say, “Here am I,” and turn toward what we are experiencing, the part of us that makes this awareness possible eternally receives us.

Our experience may not change immediately, the pain may remain terrible for a while, but we know, even if only to the tiniest degree, that we are more than this pain. The essential part of ourselves is never broken, is never in itself corrupted in any way. The true self is not a thing we can know; it is an inexhaustible power that can carry us deeper and deeper into ourselves and into reality.

How much more complete our knowledge of ourselves can become depends on how deeply we yearn to know ourselves and how much reality we can bear before fear chases us into a dream of our own fabrication.

The limit to Self-realization is set the moment we reach a fear, such as the fear of abandonment, that we experience as too great to face, or an idea so compelling that we identify ourselves with it, like the idea of communism or the idea that there is only one Son of God. At such a moment, we lose connection to the beingness of human being and become only human.

Like the aikido students learning to wake up when the master walks by, we have to wake up. We have to wake up out of the dream created when our awareness buries itself in our stories or roles, and particularly the dream created when we flee difficult feelings.

The path to awakening consciousness is a path of conscious relationship to everything we experience and feel. It is ceaseless self-inquiry and necessary, conscious suffering, which must continue until more and more easefully we can rest in the fullness of being.

*Reprinted by Permission of the publisher, New World Library. Copyright 2007 by Richard Moss. All rights reserved.
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