“When we begin to see through the illusion we once took to be “me”, there is a simultaneous emergence of our true nature from the background, where it has been waiting patiently for us to sober up from the intoxication of seeking. What was never lost need not be sought. When we realize directly that we have been like a wave searching for the ocean, the momentum of the search is undermined, and we can finally exhale... In doing so, we begin to feel the Mystery at the heart, rather than relying solely on the thought energy which constitutes the mind. Moreover, in seeing through and discarding any lingering struggle and recoil, it at last becomes obvious that this Mystery, this Life, is who we are, have always been, and will always be..” ~Bob O’Hearn
The following are excerpts from The Conscious Process, a collection of essays by Bob O’Hearn, a modern mystic living in Northern California. Bob studied Zen formally for a number of years during the 1960s and 1970s, with Shunryu Suzuki & Joshu Sasaki. His teachings are aligned with the non-dual view presented by Advaita & Dzogchen teachers. Links to the full essays on his blog follow each excerpt.
Consciousness & Awareness
“The Buddha made an eminently astute observation when he noted that what we are is the result of our thinking: “As ye think, so shall you be.” Indeed, it is consciousness — the power of thought-energy – which creates everything we take to be reality… Consequently, taking responsibility for our thoughts is a necessary step in our being able to function effectively in this realm.
One perennial obstacle in the consideration of consciousness, however, is that the terms “consciousness” and “awareness” are often used interchangeably, resulting in a lot of ensuing confusion and misunderstanding… Essentially, consciousness can be regarded as mind with objects, whereas awareness refers to mind without objects.
In this perspective, consciousness might be considered the relative nature of mind, since it is transitory and dependent on conditions, whereas awareness would be regarded as a reflection of the absolute nature of mind, since it is the unchanging background..
Whatever is subject to change has no enduring reality. Since consciousness is always moving, it cannot comprehend the motionless, so it falls into silence.
Just so, by dis-engaging from identification with the stream of thought objects, a space is created for awareness to shine forth unobstructed. This is the purpose of meditation, releasing attention from the passing neural parade by being aware of being aware. In this way, attention can penetrate the surface layers where it typically resides and fall back into its source – the silent and aware, transparent and spacious essence of mind’s true nature.
Ramana Maharshi put it this way: “You are awareness. Awareness is another name for you. Since you are awareness there is no need to attain or cultivate it. All that you have to do is to give up being aware of other things, that is, of the not-self. If one gives up being aware of them then pure awareness alone remains . . .”
Through repeated practice of detachment from “other things”, the power of the mind to abide in its source increases. Thus, the spiritual endeavor in its most fundamental form is a process of letting go, surrender.
The sages are unanimous in their suggestion that we give up our obsessions with the past and future, our efforts at trying to force life into our idea of the way it should be, and simply relax into our natural state, which is peace.
In the beginning, there is effort involved, because the distracting power of our mental habits is strong, and the “monkey mind” will not willingly relinquish its throne, but with consistent practice, the effort becomes effortless, and a natural and relaxed spontaneity blossoms.
We no longer need to mistake the body and its consciousness for who and what we are, because those errors in discernment and identification have been outshone by the clear recognition of our true nature — Awareness.” Full essay: Consciousness and Awareness
The Joy of Unknowing
“Mind cannot be used to grasp mind. The more we try to grasp mind, the more we realize that we are only grasping air. Actually, if we search for the mind, we will not find any such entity. All we will find are thoughts, and even if we try and fixate on a thought, it will be like trying to hold on to smoke…
Based upon various conditioning factors, we tend by habit to identify with thought energy. In the process, we develop the conviction that what we think is what we are.
In this way, consciousness itself can seem like a limitation, contracting down into various afflicted self-images, such as “I am not worthy, I am too fat, I am not smart enough, or rich enough, or spiritual enough”, or the opposite, such as “I am better than my peers, I am prettier than the others, I am more enlightened”, and so on ad infinitum.
All such manufactured images are based on thought energy with which we identify, and which become our prison cages as we do so.
However, if we take a step back and just let thoughts come and go without attaching any personal significance to them, it becomes apparent that we are not the thoughts, but the witness of thoughts. We are not the passing traffic, but the space in which the traffic flows.
This primordial space need not become anything other than itself, but simply abide as itself, regardless of the passing parade…
What remains when all grasping falls away is pure aware spaciousness, the motionless timeless background. It is our true nature — prior to, during, and after thoughts, memories, sensations, perceptions, and all transient self-images arise and dissolve. It is here where we can come to rest, in this ineffable stillness. The only “inner voice” now is silence. ” Source: The Joy of Unknowing
Self Improvement Projects
“If we take up various “spiritual” techniques, methods, or remedial schemes based on the notion of improving this self (as me), we merely become more entangled in the narrative of the “me-story”. Any effort, mental or physical, only reinforces the illusion that this self can become enlightened. It can’t. It is a thought-complex arising and dissolving in the limitless ocean of Awareness.
That fictitious entity we believe ourselves to be when we assume the role of “aspirant” does not somehow perform certain practices successfully enough to finally arrive at Awareness. Nothing leads to Awareness. Since we are already Awareness, to what can we be led? Nothing needs to be changed or improved in Awareness, which is already and always perfect as it is.
As the great Thai Forest teacher, Ajahn Chah, suggests: “Do not try to become anything. Do not make yourself into anything. Do not be a meditator. Do not become enlightened. When you sit, let it be. When you walk, let it be. Grasp at nothing. Resist nothing.”
In the course of turning our attention to its root, and simply being aware of being aware, rather than chasing after any mere modifications of consciousness, what may occur is a sudden flash of insight that has nothing to do with the conceptual mind or separate self-sense. Our true nature, the aware space in which all thoughts, emotions, memories, and self-images appear and disappear, suddenly “wakes up” to Itself.
What is critical to understand here is that the “me” does not suddenly have a realization. In fact, that conceptual designation is what disappears in the midst of true re-cognition. This revelatory flash of true identity is completely beyond the claims of “me and mine”. In such Awakening, all of the self-improvement projects are rendered utterly pointless, since the one we have taken ourselves to be — the “seeker” — drops away in that moment of Seeing.” Full essay: Self Improvement Projects
Emotional Intelligence & Skillful Living
“To really embody the attitude of Loving-kindness, we need to be able to include all beings in our embrace, extending the same unconditional loving regard to everyone and everything with both intention and attention, recognizing all as mirrors of ourselves, manifestations of the same Source in which we all inhere, beyond any apparent separation.
Its hallmark is the sincere desire for the happiness of others, without any expectation of some reward in return. In that sense, it is truly free of the taint of self-interest, which pervades the lesser forms of love.
With true Loving-kindness, there is no desire to possess or manipulate, since it is characterized by selflessness at its root. It is the perfect cure for the emotional contraction at the heart, because it is fearless in its free and open loving, neither grasping nor turning away, and always ready to exceed itself in service to love.
It begins with learning to love oneself, and then extends that love to others, eventually encompassing the whole totality of universal manifestation with no exclusions in unconditional loving regard…” Full essay: Emotional Intelligence and Skillful Living
In Search of Self & Beyond
“Fundamentally, there are no [separate] sentient beings in the universe — there is only Source, playing all the roles, wearing every mask, engaged in all the functions, and purely for the joy of the dance.
Any sense of separate self which we might clothe ourselves in is merely a temporary dream costume of Source, as is any illusion of substantial and enduring personhood. As the bliss-permeated saint Ananadamayi Ma poetically remarked: “Who is it that loves and who that suffers? He alone stages a play with Himself; who exists save Him?”
Indeed, whatever we interpret from our limited human point of view as the “Divine” is simply “That” which is looking out of our eyes, living us as Its own life, and replicating that same process in an infinite numbers of ways, an infinite number of lives, yet each distinct to the eyes through which It lives and sees and creates.
Here, the mystics’ claim that “there is only God” is actually the literal truth, or as Alan Watts said: “You are an aperture through which the universe is looking at and exploring itself.”
When even the illusion of being an independent and exclusive higher light being self finally drops away in the Light of Love’s unconditional grace, we recognize that our highest human conceptions of liberation and Nirvana were simply crude representations of the reality of our infinite loving potential.
Although uniquely individual expressions of Source Energy, we have also never been other than Source Itself. Pointing to this paradox, the sage Ramana Maharshi noted: “The ‘I’ casts off the illusion of “I”, but remains as ‘I’.” How amazing!
Furthermore, there was never anything to acquire, attain, or become that was not already true of us. We have never been other than “That”. We are the whole thing, and simultaneously no-thing.
It is the Universal Reality itself – the matrix of all that is — which is manifesting as the Great Perfection, a super-hologram (to use a quantum term) in which past, present, and future all exist simultaneously, in a divinely joyous choreography beyond human comprehension.” Full essay: In Search of Self & Beyond
The End of the Seeker
“When we begin to see through the illusion we once took to be “me”, there is a simultaneous emergence of our true nature from the background, where it has been waiting patiently for us to sober up from the intoxication of seeking.
What was never lost need not be sought. When we realize directly that we have been like a wave searching for the ocean, the momentum of the search is undermined, and we can finally exhale.
In that blossoming ripeness we can welcome life’s embrace, and also see what it is that we are still unwilling to allow in. In doing so, we begin to feel the Mystery at the heart, rather than relying solely on the thought energy which constitutes the mind.
Moreover, in seeing through and discarding any lingering struggle and recoil, it at last becomes obvious that this Mystery, this Life, is who we are, have always been, and will always be..
When we begin to intuit that the seeker we have taken ourselves to be is nothing but a bundle of thoughts and impulses, memories and emotions, sensations and perceptions, all packaged together like a customized software program and conditioned by arbitrary factors which have no ultimate reality, then the façade of our carefully constructed identity begins to wobble and crumble. No independent self nor existing independent object can be found, given their essential impermanence. Now what?
As the Dzogchen master, Anam Thubten, writes: “When all the layers of false identity have been stripped off, there is no longer any version of that old self. What is left behind is pure consciousness. That is our original being. That is our true identity. Our true nature is indestructible. No matter whether we are sick or healthy, poor or wealthy, it always remains divine and perfect as it is. When we realize our true nature, our life is transformed in a way we could not have imagined before. We realize the very meaning of our life and it puts an end to all searching right there.” Full essay: The End of the Seeker
“In Buddhism, that thread of energy which moves from life to life is called the “mindstream”, and represents the continuum of consciousness that arises moment to moment, dependent on causes and conditions, and thus persists in a state of perpetual flux..
The mindstream carries certain concretized fixations with it, called “karmic imprints” (Sanskrit “Vasanas”) from birth to birth, and these imprints are either compounded further by life and relations or dissolved, depending on how one takes responsibility for them.
For example, the selfishness born of grasping and avoiding causes us to engage in negative actions, which in turn place negative imprints on the mindstream. On the other hand, seeing through and discarding selfish motives has the opposite effect, and is comparable to dropping off extra baggage, rather than accumulating it.
As the baggage of the self-contraction is released, we become “lighter”, and the mindstream is freed up of those karmic imprints that have trapped it in a vicious cycle of craving and fear. As the afflictive states spawned by negative karmic imprints are recognized, seen through, and released, liberation becomes a possibility..
The karmic imprints or energetic impulses, when activated, create the illusion of a solid and enduring self, which exists just on edge of the storehouse consciousness where the karmic imprints reside. They bind us to the sense and belief that we are a substantial and independent human person, separate from Source, rather than the limitless, indivisible Spirit that is our true identity…
In the midst of all this, it is especially important to remember that the greatest solvents for karmic imprints are humility, forgiveness, gratitude, and love. The cultivation of selfless compassion (Bodhicitta) serves to transform the mindstream and benefit all, and it is just such an attitude which is the foundation of the Buddhist Bodhisattva ideal, in which one sets aside their own personal welfare for the welfare of others.
Thus, it can be said that a transformed mindstream self-liberates through the power of love, and ultimately, it couldn’t happen in any other way. Released of its accumulated burden, the unfettered mind falls into its Source, also called the Heart, and shines there, at home, at peace.” Full essay: Mindstream
The Practice of Non-Dwelling
“Essentially, the practice of non-dwelling, or non-abiding, consists of a sustained refusal to grant reality to that which is not real, or to fixate attention on any of what changes, including one’s transient moods, hopes, desires, fears, memories, schemes, or regrets. In other words, it is refraining from clinging to any mental or emotional formations which would lead to the fabrication of a separate and enduring self-sense.
The practice of non-dwelling cuts through the noise and reveals the potent silence of our own true nature. It is the antidote to hope and fear, grasping and avoidance. It is the essence of true compassion in action, because it frees attention from the self-obsession, rendering it available to life and relationship. It is the gift that never ceases giving. It depends on no religion or philosophy, answers to no messiah, master, or guru, and requires no initiation or special rituals or rites.
This practice, when applied with sincerity and consistency, gives the ego-mind (including the “spiritual” ego) no place to land. When starved for attention, the “me-story” begins to disintegrate, and what emerges in its place is free and clear attention, as well as our innate compassion and capacity for true recognition.
By spending a little time each day refraining from following our thoughts around like a slave, and instead just observe them arise and dissolve without attaching to any of them, we would soon come to the direct recognition that we are not the person we had assumed ourselves to be.
We are not our thoughts, and in fact we are a total mystery — undefinable and inconceivable. In reality each experience has its own experiencer. The sense of some continuous identity which we habitually cling to is actually based on bits of thoughts and memory. Upon thorough inspection, no real person can be established.” Full essay: The Practice of Non-dwelling
“At its root, unhappiness is essentially the activity of contraction, based on a fixated sense of independent self – “me and mine”. Most take this “me story” seriously, having become convinced that it is real – that it is what they are.
Identifying exclusively with this perception, rather than simply relaxing as that prior condition within which the transient sense “me” arises and dissolves, can turn millionaires into imaginary paupers. On that premise, let’s inspect this apparent case of mistaken identity, and see where it leads us…”
“We are all dream characters in the heart-mind of Source, and Source makes no distinction in terms of superior or inferior, so why should we? That’s what “unconditional” means. Each one of us is a unique vehicle for Source to explore its own nature, which is de facto also our own nature.
We are, each of us in our own way, the universe in the process of becoming increasingly self-aware, and whether we climb the highest mountain or just look after our pets at home, really makes no difference. It is all perfect fuel for self-awareness, and one dream adventure or virtual reality game is no better or more enlightened than the next, just different.
The only value in truly “awakening” is to let go of the stress of trying to make things be other than they are, trying to figure the magnificent mystery of life out, trying to make it conform to the way we imagine it should be, based on second-hand opinions and idealistic speculation. What is, simply is.
As Nisargadatta Maharaj so pointedly put it: “There is nothing to practice. To know yourself, be yourself. To be yourself, stop imagining yourself to be this or that. Just be. Let your true nature emerge. Don’t disturb your mind with seeking.”
Just letting that sink in, just letting that be the case, can be eminently relaxing. Letting go, surrendering the need to have it all end in some triumphant march through the streets of heaven, is not really so difficult, except to the one who takes their fictional narrative seriously.” Full essay: Just Be
About the author: Bob O’Hearn currently lives with his Beloved, Mazie, and their dog, Amos, in a lovely little mountain town called Paradise, situated on the ridge of the Little Grand Canyon, in the Northern California Sierra Nevada range. He is not affiliated with any religious system, program, or group, although in the course of his life (and after spending 7 years in a Catholic seminary) he studied with a number of spiritual teachers in both the Buddhist as well as the Advaitic lineages, including 3 years in a Rinzai Zen Buddhist monastery. Bob is grateful for the friendship of all who visit his page The Conscious Process, and wish us all well in our various endeavors.
Bob has some additional sites you may enjoy: Photo Gallery * Poetry and Prosetry * Free Transliterations of Selected Spiritual Texts * Selections from the writings of Classic and Modern Western Mystics * Love Poems & Duets with Mazie * Autobiographical Fragments, Stories, and Fables *