What is Awareness?

But if by “total” he meant the practical content, too, then one wouldn’t be able to function, so why didn’t he specify the psychological content only?

Say we notice a sound, or we recognise the sound as children playing outside (which is already quite a lot of concepts) - I don’t think we would call any of this inner thought yet would we?

I reckon Inner thought is when we think : its them pesky kids again, they’re gonna (insert annoying activity here)!

He does specify it in the video. Bohm asks him whether this emptiness includes the emptiness of the world outside (or words to that effect), and K says of course not.

But it’s true that K’s nonverbal communication does suggest (to me at least) that in that state of emptiness there may be an absolute nothingness (in the sense that the Buddhists think about it). This may be an insight into an actual truth about the world.

But it obviously doesn’t mean that K as the historical entity in the world no longer had need of practical thought and knowledge. One takes that as a given.

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It may depend on what ‘level’ of emptiness we are talking about?

In the ‘K world’ we are not supposed to talk about ‘levels’ because this leads to comparison. But Adeen’s comment about K not having thought, followed by the video clip he shared in which K talks about total emptiness, means that we may be talking about a ‘level’ of emptiness or nothingness in which ordinary recognition no longer applies.

In a later discussion he had with Bohm in Ojai (I think from 1984) - a conversation that took place at the dinner table with very poor sound recording (so it hasn’t been released) - K talks to Bohm about a state of total nothingness.

Now, usually when K uses the word ‘nothingness’ he breaks it up as ‘no-thing-ness’ to indicate that what he is communicating is not a completely negative state (i.e. that it is a positive state in which there are simply no ‘things’ of thought).

But nevertheless K’s style and emphasis in those dialogues suggests to me that in a certain state of nothingness there really is a completely different sense of the world - and perhaps no ‘recognition’ of external reality in the ordinary sense.

In Buddhism as you may know they talk about the state of emptiness - but there are many different ideas about it. There are weaker and stronger interpretations of what emptiness means. But what that state really is (i.e. the ‘nothingness’ that talked about) is complete speculation for me.

We desire “nothingness”. freedom from the known - but without the fear of what we don’t know, which we know all too well.

It’s the fear of what I don’t know that enslaves I to what I think I know. If, however, I feel in my bones that the universe is orderly - not random, mindless, and unreliable - I have no fear of what I don’t know because the universe will inform me as I need to know (if I’m alert and attentive, not caught up in my insecurity). And though this may be no more than faith, religion as we know it, it may be that faith is all one can have until one cannot have anything.

If I feel in my bones that the universe takes care of its own, and its own are those who own nothing more than their faith and trust in the universe, how can I go wrong when I can only do what feels right? As it turns out, what I feel is not a reliable guide. So I go with rational thought, which, however, brings me to the same place: there’s no way of knowing more than I actually do, and I never know how little that is because I presume to know far more than I do.

The level that may be missing for me is the level of “unnamed things”

I get the level of no experience (which might be Samadhi or “zoning out” or “lost time” or it might not) - a sort of unconsciousness despite being very much awake (not asleep).

I get the level of experiencing phenomenon/objects - but I feel that objects are always known (I recognise them)

And I get the level of reacting emotionally towards the world (like/dislike, should/shouldn’t)

But the idea of experiencing objects without knowing/naming them is not something I have noticed.

I have started a separate thread on the topic of emptiness (and nothingness) so that we can continue to talk about awareness in a more ordinary way here.

In awareness there being no subject, only object. Subject being observer.

I don’t understand how this is connected to the video? In the video K doesn’t mention subjects and objects, awareness or the observer.

Usually when one is involved in a dialogue one attempts to contextualise and explain any new terms being used, and to be careful to relate them to the conversational thread. You don’t seem to be interested in doing this for some reason?

So all I can do is take your rather elliptical statement and make sense of it for myself.

This is stated as a matter of fact, and so I take it that you are claiming this to be a universal phenomenon.

Ordinarily when we use the word ‘subject’ it implies as its corollary ‘object’. If there is no subject, there is no object.

Similarly when we talk about ‘inside’ and ‘outside’, the word ‘inside’ has no logical meaning divorced from ‘outside’.

Therefore, as these statements break the ordinary rules of language and logic that make communication possible, one cannot assume them to immediately communicate something meaningful.

However, by ‘inner’ you simply mean ‘thought’:

And by ‘subject’ you have said you mean the ‘observer’.

Obviously K has said that there can be an observation without the ‘observer’.

This sounds confusing at first, because observation necessarily implies that something is being observed by something capable of observation - but by ‘observer’ K makes it clear in his talks that he simply means the aspect of ‘thought’ that interferes with observation.

So K invites us to ‘observe’ without the ‘observer’ (i.e. thought).

To be aware of a flower, a tree, another human being (the ‘outer’), without interpreting what we see through a screen of thinking or reacting (the ‘inner’).

Isn’t this what we have been discussing further up the thread about ‘bare attention’ and choiceless awareness? I think it is.

The question then, for me, is: seeing as thought has put together the contents of our consciousness (our fears, our anxieties, our reactions, etc), can there be a choiceless awareness of these contents as they express themselves in daily life; i.e. in relationship?

You have said that there is bare awareness for a few moments before one’s conditioned response takes over, so I’m guessing your answer to this question is Yes, no?

Hi James and all. Rather than compare ourselves with K, I think it’s interesting to consider what K discovered for himself regarding attention and awareness. Isn’t it possible that his discovery of a seemingly extended, very high level of awareness is actually accessible to all of us?

Having said that, it does seem to come back to attention and inattention. Am I aware of when I’m inattentive? Do I catch myself eating, for example, and become aware of the fact that I am completely inattentive as to how I’m eating? Does this make sense

Rather than saying “you have said”, why not test it out? This is a basic teaching of K’s, one he repeats over and over again.

I mentioned before that it doesn’t make sense (to me at least) to talk about awareness unless one has some basic sensitivity to nature - to ordinary scents and sights, to flowers and birds and trees, etc. You replied by saying that access to nature is elitist. But even if one lives in a very built up area there are still natural sights and sounds and smells to be aware of.

I’ve heard that some people who have a very hard time slowing down enough to be aware of anything have benefited from spending 2 or 3 minutes tasting a raison in their mouth! Surely anyone can do that?

Seeing as you have used the word ‘conditioning’ so frequently maybe it is worth being on the same page about its meaning?

As I understand it there are two broad types of conditioning: physical and mental; and the mental can be distinguished into two further kinds: practical and psychological.

The physical conditioning - our brains and bodies, our genetic DNA, the motor operations and cortical movements of our eyes, etc - we can do very little about. Deep rooted character traits may also belong to our biology.

There are also practical forms of mental conditioning that are relatively neutral - such as being able to speak English or French or Mandarin, knowing how to drive a car, etc.

Then there are psychological forms of conditioning: these are our fears, our desires, sufferings, our irritations, our tendencies, our preferences, our ideological convictions, beliefs, social identification, thoughts, reactions, and ideas. All psychological conditioning is based on memory.

As I understand it K invites us to be aware of all these kinds of conditioning, but the conditioning that he is most concerned with is our psychological conditioning.

So the question for any ordinary, relatively healthy brain is whether there can be an awareness (without criticism or judgment), in the moment, of our psychological content of thought.

This is not a yes/no type question - it is something to be looked at, explored, inquired into without drawing any firm conclusions.

I take it that K’s teaching is for everyone - or for anyone who listens. So when he talks about awareness and attention I understand him to be talking about factual states that are within anyone’s ‘grasp’.

But K the person, the historical entity, does appear to have existed at the extreme edge of what is humanly possible. I think one has to accept that he was a genius in the realm of ‘consciousness’. He indicates this when he said that another brain like his will not be found for hundreds of years (there is no way of verifying this of course). So there may have been depths or degrees of awareness (or Mind) that he was able to contact that no other brain now living is likely to touch.

This is something we can be interested in, curious about, as we go about our daily lives moment by moment (as you said, when we are eating for example; or putting out the garbage, walking to the shops, watering the plants, making the bed, and so on). I find that if I treat it lightly, as a kind of experiment, I am much more likely to pay attention to these things than if I feel some moral responsibility or duty to do so. Paying attention (or discovering one’s inattention) can be fun!

There are two more aspects of this awareness business that I want to look at still. They are

  1. the question of whether the brain can be - at least relatively - quiet and still. And
  2. whether there can be a sense of wholeness in perception: the feeling that the room in which I am sitting, the house, the street outside, the garden and the sky above are a ‘part of me’ (if you understand what I mean).

Probably these two aspects go together.

Hi Douglas, this is a reply to your post on the Nothingness thread, as I think it is more relevant to this Awareness thread.

You said:

I am wondering what It means to experience space - as I, and other objects would be absent.

You may have heard or read Bohm say that what we sense as empty space is actually full of energy - an infinite “sea” of energy. What I take from this, at the level of theory, is that there is no such thing as ‘dead space’. Space is a living thing (or ‘no-thing’).

So probably it is my projection, but what I intuit about ‘empty space’ is that it has a very subtle energetic quality to it. In any case, it is difficult - or I should say impossible - to untangle the diffuse sense of alive awareness from the purely physical detection of space.

When I talk about ‘experiencing’ or being aware of space I am not talking about some mystical state or rarified samadhi state in which there are no objects. I am just talking about the ordinary perception we have of space around us (of which we usually take little notice).

But if you have experimented with it a little you can see how one’s sense of space can change.

I’m sure you have experienced the sense of scale when looking at a very tall building, or when looking down from a mountain side towards the valley below? And similarly when one looks up at the moon when it is full or nearly full - or, if you have been in a desert, at the clear stars.

The sense of scale or space - which we usually ignore or place in the background of experience - takes up centre stage.

But we don’t need to climb a mountain or go up the Eiffel Tower to get a sense of space. There is the ordinary everyday space in the room where one is sitting right now, and the space outside the room which includes the sky.

Can one separate or distinguish this sense of space from the awareness one has of it? I don’t think one can. I find this interesting.

Anyway, this thread could go on indefinitely - words words words!

So I’ll maybe finish with what I take to be the two most salient features of awareness.

The first is summarised well in the Wikipedia entry on ‘observation’:

Observation is an act or instance of noticing

As simple as that.

And the second: all awareness is present moment awareness.

This, again, is captured for me in a sentence I read somewhere:

The awareness that you are here, right now, is the ultimate fact.

So, to put these two together:

awareness is the act or instance of noticing what is here right now.

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How is “awareness is noticing” different from what I say way early on in the thread “awareness is detection?” I ask because you and others had strong objections to “awareness is detection.” How is the act of noticing essentially different from detecting? (In retrospect, I could just as well have said “awareness is noticing” back then, they are functionally synonymous to me.) ?

What actually are you pointing at - what is interesting?

I’m confused because you might be pointing at different words for the same thing (ie. sense of space & awareness of distance) and then marvelling that they cannot be separated.

or maybe you’re saying that we are always self conscious of our feelings when we feel the sense of spaciousness?

I don’ get it.

I also wonder why we should take the awareness of distance, geometric volumes and our relation to them, as something significant? (or maybe thats not what you’re pointing at either) - are we maybe equivocating between emptiness (of concepts) and volumes (of space) between objects?

I don’t remember the exact context of the discussion at that point Rick, but I recollect you saying something along the lines of awareness being ‘no more complex than a radio’, and that there is nothing it is ‘like’ to be aware (you mentioned ‘philosophical zombies’). Maybe that is what created the confusion?

The only important difference would be the difference between : pinpointing separate objects & seeing the whole picture (which includes the experience of the subject seeing those objects)

It’s alright Douglas - if it doesn’t communicate, it doesn’t communicate. No biggie.

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