Having questions for our sense of self is an essential part of growth.
There are so many roles and labels for us to put on in the society — background, gender, race, political beliefs, Myers-Briggs personality types, or astrological signs. These things are great discussion topics over dinner tables with friends and family. They can be starting points for you to explore who you are.
But allowing beliefs or experiences to shape our sense of identity greatly limits us to discover and remember who we truly are.
Being aware of our beliefs and experiences, and the fact that they are never really permanent is what offers us a real sense of liberation.
As my teacher Jack Kornfield puts it in his teachings, the training of awareness offers us freedom. It allows us to become the conscious witness of experiences rather than being entangled or lost in them.
It’s in those moments when we get stuck in conflicts or emotions, and then we notice, “Oh, really caught in this, aren’t I?”
“Consciousness is the clear, pure, transparent, lucid quality that knows touch, thoughts, feelings. But it’s more like a mirror that reflects all things, knowing experience but not limited by them.” — Jack Kornfield
After years of meditation trainings, a Thai Buddhist monk called Ajahn Chah went to see a famous master. He described all of his understandings and insights from his experiences.
When he finished talking, the master shook his head, and said,
“You’ve missed the point. The point isn’t having some particular experience because experiences are always changing. You can’t hold onto them. The point is realizing who is it that’s having these experiences? Turn yourself back and become the witness— the one who knows. And you will find the great freedom that’s possible.”
We use, inhabit and care for our embodied life. But when we become over-identified with it, we create sufferings for ourselves. As my teacher Jack explains in his teachings,
“if we become over-identified with it —how it looks, the aging process… there’s enormous suffering such as body-image issues and eating disorders. So identification with the body can cause suffering. Or, when seen wisely, we can hold and inhabit and love the body, but from a place of graciousness and ease.”
With conscious awareness, we can shift from being caught in the objects, dramas, or emotions from our experiences. We can become the witness, and not identify with any of those things.
Witnessing allows us to recognize our experience and then to respond to it, rather than to be caught up or react, no matter the circumstances.
We can treat our awareness like a massive, neutral and still space. With ease, the space of awareness can hold and be present with things, but it does not hold onto anything.
We can sit in this space and observe everything that happens. But we are always the ones who know. We know that none of it stays permanently. We know that these things do not identify who we truly are or can become. We know that real freedom comes from seeing the possibilities beyond the human beliefs and experiences.
There is this beautiful analogy for opening up the space of awareness by Jack Kornfield that I absolutely love,
“If you take a spoon of salt and put it in a cup, the cup tastes really salty. But if you put that same salt-- spoon of salt in a lake, the lake still tastes pure and clear.”
Kornfield and Brach. (2020). Session05–aTranscript [PDF]. Retrieved from https://product.soundstrue.com/power-of-awareness/
Melody Zheng :)