Awareness, Consciousness, Experience, Attention
The root of reality is boundless awareness. Carlos Castaneda used the metaphor “the dark sea of awareness,” referring to the same thing. We can’t say that dark sea is infinitely large or infinitely small, because there is only awareness, with nothing to compare it to. It’s not contained within anything, nor is it outside of anything. Awareness just IS. Boundless awareness is not aware of anything. At the level of the boundless, there is no of. There is simply awareness, and it is unmoving and unchanging, perfectly and infinitely still.
I don’t know why this occurred, but at some point boundless awareness began to move. The moving dark sea of awareness formed two currents, the Current of Imagination, and the Current of Manifestation (aka the Current of Things). They flow in opposite directions. They are identical in substance – awareness in motion, which we label consciousness. The only difference between them is their direction of flow.
Consciousness is awareness in motion. More accurately, what we from our human perspective label consciousness is not something different or separate from boundless awareness. Rather, from where we’re located in the basic structure of everything, currents of flowing awareness look to us like separate structures (imagination, things), the way waterfalls or waves look to us like separate structures but are really just water in motion. Humans look and see imagination and things, which are flowing consciousness, and consciousness is awareness in motion. These are varying perspectives on the same phenomenon.
At this early stage, from unmoving awareness to awareness in motion, the Current of Imagination is not yet what we think of as human imagination, nor is the Current of Manifestation physical reality as we know it, so don’t get hung up on words. The currents are just awareness in motion, just consciousness not yet conscious of anything. They aren’t imagination or things. What they are is two currents of awareness, now labeled consciousness because they are moving, flowing in opposite directions. When at a later stage we perceive those motions from where we’re located in the basic structure of everything, they look to us like the human experience we call imagination and the human experience we call things. Our labels describe those currents from our perspective and our experience, like waterfalls or waves. But our labels are not the currents themselves. What we label consciousness (imagination, things) is a behavior of awareness. Consciousness is something awareness is doing.
When the opposite-flowing Current of Imagination and Current of Manifestation meet, they form a new apparent structure like a whirlpool. Again, this only appears to be a stable structure from our perspective. From the perspective of boundless awareness, it’s just awareness in motion, just something awareness is doing.
But from our perspective, the whirlpool of imagination and manifestation gives rise to experience.
This is counterintuitive. We usually tell ourselves I am having an experience, or more specifically, I am having an experience of that thing over there in the world. What actually happens is that, when a whirlpool of experience forms, the prehuman consciousness-current we’re calling imagination and the pre-manifest consciousness-current we label physical reality (things) give rise to experience (think of chemical bonds, i.e. Hydrogen + Oxygen = water), forming you, things, the world, and the experience of you perceiving things in the world as a single doing.
Just because you identify your body as a separate, tangible entity “in the world,” and the world of things as a self-existing reality outside of your body, doesn’t make it so. It’s all one thing. You, the world, and all the things you perceive in the world are a single behavior that consciousness is doing, just as consciousness is a behavior that awareness is doing. There is no separate you that is having an experience, no separate thing that is being experienced, and no such thing as “the world.” There is only experience. You, the world, and things in the world are not disconnected, or even intimately interconnected, parts. There are no parts. Experience is the seamless whole of YouWorldThingness.
Consider a dream. Dreams take place in a dream-world, with a dream-you, surrounded by dream characters, locations and things. But ask:
Does your dream-you continue to exist tangibly when you’re awake, waiting somewhere for you to go to sleep again so he can continue living his life?
Does your dream-world physically exist somewhere, waiting for your dream-you to enter it like stepping through a door?
Do dream characters continue to exist in the dream-world once you’re awake?
No, no, and no. Everything about a dream – the dream-world, the dream-you, dream characters, dream things, dream events – are born whole, a single inseparable doing. You may identify with the dream-you while the dream is unfolding, but once you’re awake it’s clear that all the apparently-separate characters, locations and events weren’t really separate at all. There’s only one thing here, the dream. Just because in a dream you identify your dream-body as a separate, tangible entity “in the world,” and the dream-world of things as a self-existing reality outside of your dream-body, doesn’t make it so.
Just like waking life.
Just as a dream is a whole experience that blooms and fades as one – DreamWorldYouCharactersContentEvents —so your life, from beginning to end, cradle to grave, waking and sleeping, is a single experience, the seamless whole of YouWorldThingness.
Attention is a behavior of consciousness, which is a behavior of awareness. The key is to remember that the root of reality is boundless awareness. That’s all that really exists. Everything else is something that awareness is doing, seen from our human perspective, and labeled by us as if those behaviors were independent things.
We label awareness in motion consciousness. When the two streams of consciousness (imagination and manifestation) merge, we label it experience – YouWorldThingness. Because the currents of imagination and manifestation flow in opposite directions, YouWorldThingness/experience whirls. YouWorldThingness is a spinning whirlpool of manifest imagination, and our never-ceasing whirl exerts a natural force that we label attention.
The arrows in the diagram above indicate attention. Note the outward direction of the arrows. The whirling pressure of manifest imagination naturally pushes attention outward, toward manifestation (in experience, toward physical reality), and simultaneously toward imagination (in experience, toward imaginal reality). This is the state of a newborn human or a wild animal, in which attention flows naturally outward toward physical/imaginal (physimaginal ) experience.
The Human Predicament
Most animals are born knowing how to survive. Think of insects, fish, turtles, worms, and other creatures that are thrust alone into the world on day one, with no instruction for life at all. Yet they feed, nest, mate, procreate. How is that possible? The term “instinct” only names the phenomenon without explaining it. What is instinct? Where does all the knowledge of an entire species come from? Where is it stored? How does species-level knowledge reach the individual?
The previous diagram explains it. Every manifest thing, from a Higgs Boson, to a molecule, to a blade of grass, to a raccoon, to a person, to a planet, to a galaxy, to the universe is a physimaginal YouWorldThingness whirlpool, formed in the interaction of imagination and manifestation. Everything we are capable of perceiving is physimaginal. In a physimaginal YouWorldThingness whirlpool, imagination and manifestation are not separate streams. Their very inseparability has become experience.
What we label instinct –knowledge, memory, habits, images, behaviors, patterns, stories etc. (Archetypes) – is carried by the Consciousness Current of Imagination. That is the direction unbound awareness flows in that current. What we label physicality – fields, waves, particles, atoms, molecules, cells, bodies, worlds – is carried by the Consciousness Current of Manifestation. That’s the direction unbound awareness flows in that current. The whole of everything carried by both currents forms a whirlpool of experience. An inseparable physimaginal YouWorldThingness.
Let’s say a newly formed YouWorldThingness whirlpool is a raccoon. The moment its physimaginal YouWorldThingness forms as raccoon experience,everything about the raccoon – not just its “racoonness” in an Archetypal/instinctive sense, but everything about this raccoon as a unique individual – is already present. The raccoon’s experience is not divided into imagination and manifestation, mind and body, self and world. There is only YouWorldThingness, and if it were anything other than an undivided whole physimaginal experience raccoon, it wouldn’t be a raccoon.
Imagination and manifestation are not separate in the experience of raccoons (or any other wild animal). In its natural state, depicted in the previous diagram, the whirling pressure of the raccoon’s attention flows outward from birth to death in unbroken individual YouWorldThingness. As individual expressions of a species, animals have no need for an “inner life” differentiated from an “outer life.” They are undivided physimaginal experience.
The Attention-Generated Self
Humans don’t remain long in their natural state.
A newborn human is just like a newborn raccoon – a newly-formed undivided whole physimaginal experience whirlpool of YouWorldThingness,with no need for an “inner life” differentiated from an “outer life.” Human newborns are undivided physimaginal human experiences.
Almost immediately after birth, though, a process begins with no parallel in Nature. This is the one true difference between humans and all other animals.
Humans develop an attention-generated self.
A newborn human does not experience itself as a body in a world. It just experiences – itself, the mother, the breast, the crib, lights, sounds and smells – all as one experience. Babies are born physimaginal YouWorldThingness experiences.
Then Mother begins to coo, “Pretty baby, good baby…” She touches fingers and toes, massages the baby’s body, says her name, “Elizabeth!” Every word, every action, every sound, every offering of food references back to the baby as there, as individually present, as separate from the mother and from the world.
In such innocence begins the training of the attention. Those arrows pointing outward in the diagram above are gradually redirected inward. It takes a few years, but with consistent training the mother, father, siblings, friends, teachers and others in the child’s environment turn the natural outward pressure of attention inward – or more accurately, toward recreating in the child their own already-trained attachment to separateness, to a self “inside” them that is located in a world “out there.”
The first and most fundamental shift in the training of attention is from physimaginal experience to the experience of “I” in the world. “I in the world” is the attention-generated self.
The formation of the attention-generated self divides the child’s experience into three parts:
1. A world out there, in which the child experiences herself to be contained. She no longer experiences the world-as-self, but now focuses her attention on how the world affects her, how the world makes her feel. Her prime experience is of herself, not of the world.
2. The attention-generated self, which must now continuously feed to survive by demanding ever more attention be directed to it, expending more and more energy on bending the arrows of attention “selfward.” It’s not enough to simply ask how the world makes her feel. She must now dwell on her feelings, and set standards for how the world ought to make her feel, etc.
3. Imagination. Now that her experience has been unnaturally divided into a physical body contained in a physical world, her innate human knowledge, memory, habits, images, behaviors, patterns, stories etc. (Archetypes) are experienced as emanations from an alien “otherworld” she is instructed by society to disregard. Her family and culture will train her, in early childhood, to label imagination “dreams” and “play,” entertaining but not real. By age eight or nine, pretty much all imagination will have been externally redirected into reading, movies and TV, the internet, video games, etc. The only imagination allowed will be passive and escapist. She stops remembering most nighttime dreams – not because they are fewer, but because she has learned they’re not important. She stops paying attention to them.
NOTE #1: A child identified by parents/culture as having an “artistic temperament” may be allowed greater access to imagination, but she will be trained to believe that her art is a product of her attention-generated self, and that the purpose of her creative expression “in the world” is to feed the attention-generated self – to be “a great artist,” an “important artist,” a “successful artist.” She will be guided to make “artist in the world” a point of identity for the attention-generated self. This simultaneously bonds imagination with the attention-generated self and pits the two against each other in a competition for energy. Free access to imagination requires attention outflow. Feeding the attention-generated self demands attention inflow. This tug o’ war explains the disproportionate level of mental difficulties among artists.
NOTE #2: This section is a bare thumbnail of the attention-generated self and the familial/cultural training of attention. My 2006 book The Simplest Path to Personal and Planetary Awakening: FREE YOUR MIND is an in-depth treatment of that process. That book was my first attempt to explore in writing the information received in my 1988 download experience. I didn’t know the term attention-generated self at that time, but it will be obvious when you read FREE YOUR MIND that the attention-generated self is what I’m describing there.
The Veils Between the Worlds
Through a complex and years-long process of enculturation (training of the attention) by family, education, religion, social custom, peer pressure, media, etc., almost every child reaches their teen years tyrannically ruled by an unnatural and insatiable attention-generated self, and, as a consequence, mostly oblivious to any direct experience of either imagination or the world. Her experience is obsessively focused on her sense of “I in the world.”
The next diagram shows the veils that form as a consequence of the attention-generated self. The veils are not directly generated by the attention-generated self, but are a side effect of its successful bending of the current of attention.
Think of these veils as eddies that form due to the unnatural redirection of attention toward the attention-generated self. They are ultimately experience in motion, just as experience is consciousness in motion, and consciousness is unbounded awareness in motion. Like everything else, the veils are ultimately just something awareness is doing. But from the perspective of individual human experience, they present real obstacles.
With the bulk of our attention directed toward our attention-generated self, we live a severely limited experience. Objectively, we remain undivided whole physimaginal human experience whirlpools of YouWorldThingness. But once we reach this sorry, attention-trained state, we are capable of experiencing almost nothing of our human fullness.
The Veil of Imagination
By the time we are teens, the veil of imagination might as well be a brick wall. At this stage, there are at best five types of imagination still available to us in daily life:
1. Small creative ideas that trickle piecemeal through the veil, only to be snapped up and exploited by the attention-generated self to feed it’s insatiable hunger for attention.
2. Daydreams and fantasies that the attention-generated self plays with to entertain and aggrandize itself, or pathologically, to worry and distress itself.
3. Culturally-sanctioned, externalized imaginative activities such as reading, watching movies, or playing video games.
4. Nighttime dreams, which the attention-generated self commandeers to weave into narratives about itself.
5. Rare spontaneous irruptions of the Archetypal imagination.
The first three are fairly self-explanatory, but let’s go deeper into numbers four and five.
Everyone dreams four to six times a night on average, yet most adults remember one dream or fewer per week. Many adults claim not to dream at all, which just shows that they consistently forget them all (though they still dream).
The diagram on the previous page shows why. The crescent labeled imagination behind the left veil still belongs to our YouWorldThingness. We are an imaginal repository of human knowledge, memory, habits, images, behaviors, patterns, stories etc. (Archetypes), and we’re always experiencing that on some level. Nothing can change that. But with the bulk of our attention bent toward the attention-generated self, we have no attention free with which to register imaginal experience. So we forget. Imaginal experiences still occur, but we have no available attention with which to grasp and hold them.
When we do remember a dream, it’s almost always because during our last dream of the night before waking, that final ungraspable experience of the Archetypal repository of imagination, some fragment of the experience drifts through the veil. Caught in the “selfward” flow of waking attention, the attention-generated self grabs the fragment, and in an instant twists it into a narrative about itself. The dream we remember is always a story with us at its center, with the same vain concerns our attention-generated self displays when awake. The dream we remember isn’t the full imaginal experience that was taking place. It’s a faint trace of that experience spun (like yellow journalism is spun, to manipulate its meaning) toward self-aggrandizement – or self-abasement, which serves the same purpose of putting the attention-generated self at center stage.
Note that the veil of imagination is not an obstacle separating two defined areas, imagination over here and the attention-generated self over there. That’s a limitation of trying to show this on a two-dimensional diagram. The real veil separates our experience of the imaginal and our attention sufficient to claim that experience throughout the whole of our YouWorldThingness.
By the time we’re adults, our attention-generated self has so thoroughly monopolized our attention that imagination doesn’t stand a chance. Our dreams lie imprisoned in an otherworld beyond the veil.
Irruptions of the Imagination
Remember that the way you experience yourself, as an internal “I,” located inside a physical body that is separate from and contained within its physical environment, and with imagination mostly blocked from memory or under strict external control, is not what you really are.
You are not your attention-generated self, although once it comes into existence, that is indeed a part of you that you have to deal with.
Being domesticated by enculturation can’t change what you are. Being divided against yourself hasn’t changed what you are.
You are an undivided whole physimaginal experience whirlpool of YouWorldThingness.
You just forgot. You were trained to forget.
And once or twice in a lifetime, imagination may come crashing through the veil to remind you of the YouWorldThingness you really are.
The most common way imagination crashes the barrier is by way of an Archetypal dream. Let’s look again at the diagram with the veils:
The slim crescent of imagination that is inside experience, but behind the veil, represents your individual allotment of the Consciousness Current of Imagination, as uniquely manifested in your physimaginal YouWorldThingness. It’s compressed and pressurized behind the veil, because you’ve been trained to actively disregard it, to push it away. It’s similar to Jung’s concept of the Unconscious. This full allotment of imagination not only belongs to you, but is you. But you’re ignoring it to pay attention to the attention-generated self instead.
Most of the time, we successfully hold back the pressure. Ordinary dreams act like the rocker on a pressure cooker, letting manageable puffs of dream slip through the veil to be commandeered by the attention-generated self for self-aggrandizement. Many people successfully repress imagination that way their whole lives.
But it can also happen that the pressure cooker explodes. Compressed imagination rushes through the veil and overwhelms the attention-generated self. We experience profound, revelatory, life-changing dreams. Spiritual literature is full of examples, and you probably have examples of your own.
There are two types of Irruption of the Imagination dreams:
1. Most commonly, dream experience is flooded with individual repressed imagination. The dream meaningfully reveals the knowledge, memory, habits, images, behaviors, patterns, stories etc. (Archetypes) inhabiting your unique YouWorldThingness, usually in symbols that communicate how much more there is to you than just an attention-generated self. Think “higher self” or “Holy Guardian Angel.”
2. It can also happen that the irruption through the veil obstructing your individual imagination is so powerful that it draws impersonal consciousness from the greater Consciousness Current of Imagination into your individual YouWorldThingness and right on past the veil. You are visited by the extra-human consciousness beyond the human store of knowledge, memory, habits, images, behaviors, patterns, stories etc. (Archetypes). Your attention-generated self could be obliterated in an instant, or utterly transformed, or permanently damaged. You could wake up enlightened or insane, a saint or a madman, depending on how you handle it. This is why spiritual traditions train devotees for long years in a serious practice – to be ready to process this kind of spontaneous irruption if/when it occurs.
Mystic visions work exactly the same way as Irruption of the Imagination dreams, but they occur while you’re awake. The flat, 2-dimensional diagram above creates a false sense of dualism, with imagination over here, and the world over there. That’s a limitation of modelling this in 2-D. YouWorldThingness is whole. Imagination is everywhere, just as the world is everywhere – one physimaginal experience.
“Awake” and “asleep” are arbitrary distinctions. Imagination is repressed/suppressed in both states, and so irruption is equally likely in either. The benefit of having an Irruption of the Imagination occur while awake is that there’s a better chance of remembering it clearly and taking it seriously (i.e., not disregarding it as “just a dream”). Also, if you maintain a spiritual practice and have been training for this moment, you’ll likely have better access to those training resources when awake. Otherwise, they’re the same phenomenon.
The Veil of The World
Imagination is not alone in being starved for attention. Just like the veil of imagination, the veil of the world is an eddy that forms when attention is redirected toward the attention-generated self, and most of manifest physimaginal experience disappears behind it. We stop seeing the world and start seeing how the world affects us, how the world makes us feel, what we want from the world or want to avoid in the world. We exchange what the world is for what we decide the world means. We see what causes us pleasure and fear, and stop seeing what doesn’t attract or repel us. The physical world disappears behind a dulling hypnosis of routine, expectation, and self-concern.
We expect to see what we see every day, and because we expect it, that’s what we see. Our experience of the world narrows into a reliable, comforting perceptual rut that grants us an illusion of control over life’s vicissitudes.
There’s a video you can find on the internet of a psychological experiment in which a group of people are tossing balls back and forth between them. Subjects/viewers are asked to pay close attention and count how many times a particular ball changes hands. Halfway through the video, a man in a gorilla suit enters the scene, waves his arms wildly, then exits. The majority, attentively-counting the ball-exchanges, never see the gorilla. When told what they missed, they’re incredulous. They can’t believe they missed something so obvious!
The ball-exchanges are the daily routines, concerns, self-involvement, and obsessive schemes for attention of the attention-generated self. The gorilla is the world. The unseen but effective barrier that makes the gorilla invisible is the veil of the world.
The veil of the world works just like the veil of imagination. By our teens (if not sooner), with all of our attention on the attention-generated self, we stop seeing the outside world. We see, instead, a pale projection of the concerns of our attention-generated self –how the world affects us, how the world makes us feel – and beyond those narrow concerns the manifest, like imagination, is effectively an alien “otherworld.”
If we ever did see the “outside world” as-it-is, free of attention-generated self projections, we would immediately notice that there is no “outside world.” It only appears “out there” thanks to the veil of the world. Lift the veil and the undivided WakingWorldYouCharactersContentEvents of YouWorldThingness reappears.
Note that the veil of the world is not an obstacle separating two defined areas, the world “out there” and the attention-generated self “in here.” That’s a limitation of trying to show this on a two-dimensional diagram. The veil of the world separates our experience of the manifest and our attention sufficient to claim that experience throughout the whole of our YouWorldThingness.
The Path to Freedom
There are two independent, though by no means mutually exclusive, paths to liberation from the human predicament. They follow naturally from the basic structure of everything as outlined so far. While each path can be travelled independently to powerful effect, and either one alone provides major improvement over The Human Predicament, only through the achievement of both paths can one achieve total freedom
The first path to freedom is reclaiming attention, the gradual retraining of unnatural inward self-focused attention back to its natural outward flow toward the Manifest and the Imaginal, toward physimaginal experience.
The attention-generated self is not our true selves. It is a product of the unnatural redirection of attention. We – the real “us” that is our undivided whole physimaginal YouWorldThingness experience – did not cause that redirection of attention, at least not initially. It was imposed upon us from without, by other people, family, teachers, clergy, media, culture, etc. At a certain point we adopted their habit of redirecting attention and began to identify our attention-generated self as the “real me.” We focused all of your attention on it and devoted the bulk of our energy to its maintenance and growth. That habit of redirecting attention split us into three parts and allowed the veils of Imagination and Manifestation to form. This is The Human Predicament.
But if what we desire now is freedom and the restoration of wholeness, to reclaim YouWorldThingness, it’s important to understand that the attention-generated self is not the cause of The Human Predicament. It is a consequence of it.
The attention-generated self is not our enemy, though in practical terms it has become an obstacle.
The majority of spiritual practices the world over address this problem. They work to disidentify the seeker from ego, to eliminate the craving self, and/or to expand consciousness (in the colloquial meaning) to include the “hidden realms” of the material and imaginal beyond the illusion (behind the veils). However, as I argued in The Simplest Path to Personal and Planetary Awakening: FREE YOUR MIND, many/most of those practices were long ago derailed by religious and cultural memes that loop attention right back to ego and feed the attention-generated self rather than subduing it.
But subduing ego is not the path to awakening. Negative attention to the attention-generated self feeds it just as much as positive attention. Whether we’re chasing after ego or chasing it away, we’re still chasing it. To the extent traditional spiritual practices focus positively or negatively on ego, memes have coopted their power and those practices should be abandoned. To understand this reference to memes, read FREE YOUR MIND.
Practices that successfully awaken us to undivided whole physimaginal YouWorldThingness experience make no efforts to quell ego. Instead, they direct attention to the Manifest and Imaginal without reference to the attention-generated self. By fully experiencing our divided outer and inner worlds with indifference to how ego feels, what it likes or dislikes, what it thinks it all means, we retrain our attention toward YouWorldThingness. Pay the Manifest and the Imaginal the attention they’re due and sooner or later the apparent inner-outer division will be healed and the natural outward flow of undivided whole physimaginal YouWorldThingness experience will be restored.
It is not necessary to “kill the ego” or do any kind of violence to the attention-generated self. All that’s needed is a disciplined retraining of attention back to experience itself. This reverses what was imposed on us in childhood, and undoes the decades of habit by which we’ve reinforced that training in adulthood.
When our undivided whole physimaginal YouWorldThingness is restored, both the attention-generated self and the veils of Imagination and Manifestation dissipate as if they were never there. This is a state the world’s religions label enlightenment, awakening, satori, nirvana, Moksha, sainthood, realization, individuation, etc.
This is the theory behind the restoration of undivided whole physimaginal YouWorldThingness. I will explore hands-on exercises for retraining attention in the “Practices” section.
Recall this summation from the previous section on attention:
“Attention is a behavior of consciousness, which is a behavior of awareness. The key is to remember that the root of reality is boundless awareness. That’s all that really exists. Everything else is something that awareness is doing, seen from our human perspective, and labeled by us as if those behaviors were independent things.“
Boundless “unmoving and unchanging, perfectly and infinitely still” awareness is what reality is.
That can’t be changed.
Consciousness, imagination, manifestation, experience, attention, “the world,” you, me, and everything else is something awareness is doing.
Doings change all the time. Awareness does consciousness flowing as imagination and manifestation, that whirl into experience, which generates attention. When a physimaginal YouWorldThingness experience whirlpool dies, all of the doings that participated in it separate and go on to do other things.
Doings are malleable. They not only change regularly of their own accord, one flowing into the other, but we have the power to willfully direct them.
The basic theory behind transformative stillness is straightforward. Awareness is “unmoving and unchanging, perfectly and infinitely still.” Every doing is a motion. When we still that motion, when we stop doing the doings, they revert to what they are, awareness. What only appeared to us to be real reverts to reality as-it-is.
This is experienced differently depending on the level of stillness attained, from partial to complete. With partial stillness, one may witness boundless awareness and experience the unity of all things. With total stillness, one becomes boundless awareness, in which there are no things. There are many gradients in-between.
The experience of awareness through transformative stillness is also labeled enlightenment, awakening, satori, nirvana, Moksha, sainthood, realization, individuation, etc. in religious/spiritual traditions, though it is not the same thing as reclaiming attention.
Reclaiming attention and transformative stillness are two different, equally valid paths to freedom in this life. Most mystical traditions include both, and rarely distinguish between them.
They are different, though. Reclaiming attention and transformative stillness are equally valid paths that lead to different destinations within the territory of freedom. Ideally, one will travel both paths simultaneously and arrive fully at both destinations.
Either path alone is a great liberation. But both are necessary to realize the ultimate possibility of human freedom, Immortality.
One common definition of “immortality” is eternal life, but that’s not how I’m using the term. I don’t know how long a fully realized human continues to exist in the realized state. Maybe forever, and maybe not. “Forever” is a word with very little meaning at this level of attainment.
My narrowly defined use of the word “immortality” for the purposes of this writing refers to individual survival of physical death. Which does not happen for most people.
Everything, including us, is something awareness is doing, and awareness is boundless (which also means not bound by time). Everything is eternal in a general sense, insofar as all doings are at root awareness and awareness is eternal. Consciousness, imagination, manifestation, experience, attention, “the world,” you, me, and everything else, however, are doings, and doings come and go.
Doings have a beginning and an end. Doings are born, and doings die.
(not to be confused with “the afterlife”)
Every human physimaginal YouWorldThingness experience whirlpool dies, and when physical death occurs, there are four possible outcomes
1. Death while trapped in The Human Predicament (almost everyone)
2. Death having reclaimed attention, but not having attained transformative stillness
3. Death having attained transformative stillness, but not having reclaimed attention.
4. Death having reclaimed attention and attained transformative stillness
Death While Trapped in the Human Predicament (almost everyone)
Most of us die with the bulk of our attention directed toward our attention-generated self, our veils of imagination and manifestation firmly in place, and having never experienced – or even become aware of – our human fullness. That’s the Human Predicament, of course, but it is also what almost everyone thinks of as “ordinary life.” Most of us die just as we’ve lived.
When a person in this state dies, the Consciousness Current of Imagination and the Consciousness Current of Manifestation separate and flow off to do other things, to participate in new experience whirlpools. Attention ceases to be generated, and so the attention-generated self dissipates into nothing. The veils of imagination and manifestation, which were always only eddies caused by misdirected attention, settle and vanish. The imagination and world that were unique to that physimaginal YouWorldThingness experience whirlpool are absorbed and flow on with their respective larger currents. Nothing is left that has not now rejoined the currents from which the whirlpool was formed. Yet nothing is lost, since everything the whirlpool was, the currents also were, just seen from a certain perspective.
Every snowflake is unique and when melted is gone forever. But the water cycle continues and what the snowflake was will be a snowflake again. And a thunderstorm. And a gentle spring rain. Same thing here. Nothing but awareness lasts, but everything is at root awareness, so ultimately nothing is lost.
Death Having Reclaimed Attention, but Not Having Attained Transformative Stillness
When we have reclaimed attention, the attention-generated self and the veils of imagination and manifestation no longer vex us. We live in the fullness of physimaginal YouWorldThingness experience in a state of living enlightenment, awakening, satori, nirvana, Moksha, sainthood, realization, individuation, etc.
But that won’t help us at death. Having achieved in life the fullest authentic experience of the unique human whirlpool that we are, at death the Consciousness Current of Imagination and the Consciousness Current of Manifestation will still separate and flow off to do other things. The imagination and world that were unique to our physimaginal YouWorldThingness experience whirlpool are still absorbed and flow on with their respective larger currents.
Only boundless “unmoving and unchanging, perfectly and infinitely still” awareness is real. A human physimaginal YouWorldThingness experience whirlpool is a doing, and therefore only appears to be real from our perspective. Fully awake in life to the whirl of doings that we are, when those doings end in death, so do we.
Death Having Attained Transformative Stillness, but Not Having Reclaimed Attention
Let’s say we have spent years following a daily practice of transformative stillness (Zazen meditation, for example). We have witnessed boundless awareness and experienced the unity of all things. We may even have become boundless awareness, in which there are no things. More likely we are somewhere in-between.
That will not help us at death.
Individual survival of physical death requires two things, “unmoving and unchanging, perfectly and infinitely still” awareness, and an individual with sufficient integrity to remain an individual in that state. Even if one has accomplished total stillness and become boundless awareness while alive (which is rare; most are somewhere along a continuum toward that goal), should we reach death still in the thrall to the attention-generated self, the separation at death of the Consciousness currents of Imagination and Manifestation will rip the attention-generated self to shreds. The result is dissipation into the dark sea of awareness.
Whatever in us that has become awareness in life may go on forever as awareness after life, but without having reclaimed attention there is no us there to distinguish it from the infinite dark sea of awareness. We do not hold together. When a drop of water enters the ocean, it remains water but it doesn’t stay a drop. It becomes the ocean.
Death Having Reclaimed Attention and Attained Transformative Stillness
20th Century Russian mystic G. I. Gurdjieff taught that a human being is not born with a soul, but only with a fragile essence and the ability, with effort, to grow a soul to protect it. This is a helpful way to think about this fourth possible outcome at death.
Our undivided whole physimaginal YouWorldThingness experience is our true human essence. That’s what we really are, and everyone starts out in that fullness at birth. But in the first years of life the sleeping people around us sing our essence to sleep. We fall into the dream of The Human Condition, ruled by the tyranny of the attention-generated self. At death, the whole of a sleeping person dissipates back into the scattered doings of awareness.
Reclaiming attention is the path of reversing the hypnosis of enculturation, dispelling the attention-generated self, and fully reinhabiting our lost physimaginal YouWorldThingness experience (“awakening essence,” in Gurdjieff-speak).
But that’s not enough. As we have seen, even an awakened essence dissipates at death without some force or structure capable of maintaining its integrity when the Consciousness Currents of Imagination and Manifestation separate.
The force/structure which can preserve essence beyond physical death is what Gurdjieff called the soul, though there are many other names for it around the world.
Soul is not something anyone is born with. It is, rather, the result of two-step process:
1. Fully inhabit our physimaginal YouWorldThingness experience (awaken essence) by reclaiming attention, and
2. “Cook” YouWorldThingness/essence in the fire of transformative stillness.
When YouWorldThingness “cooks” long enough in transformative stillness while we are alive, it becomes awareness with the integrity to survive physical death, and to launch out onto the dark seas of awareness without dissipation.
YouWorldThingness that has become awareness is soul. Soul is not a sheath or body that encases and protects essence, but is rather what YouWorldThingness becomes when exposed at length to transformative stillness.
A human soul is immortal. And rare.
I don’t know what the life of an immortal human soul is like once it survives death and launches out onto the dark seas of awareness. But I will explore some ideas about that in the “Speculations” section of this book.