“Awareness implies that you are not only conscious of things (objects), but you are also conscious of being conscious. If you can sense an alert inner stillness in the background while things happen in the foreground – that’s it! This dimension is there in everyone, but most people are completely unaware of it”. Eckhart Tolle – A New Earth
I wasn’t planning doing a second part to ‘Developing Awareness’ today, exactly following the first part. I was planning to let some other few articles in between.
However, I was flipping through pencil-written bookmarks and side notes I left on Tolle’s book*, when I came across the verse quoted above. It struck me a second time as being an important practical tip worth noting and sharing.
I would also love to hear your thoughts on this.
The alert stillness in the background:
This phrase says it all. For me it completely defines what I feel during mindfulness meditation.
It can be called stillness because your awareness feels still, centered, grounded and solidly whole but at the same time it is alert. Sounds like a contradiction but it isn’t.
The alertness comes from the freshness of being grounded in the present and the aliveness of giving soft attention to your surroundings and experience. You are there present with your being not floating in some hazy daydreaming or in anxious thoughts about things you have yet to sort out.
This alert stillness can be described to be in the background because it doesn’t come out in the forefront of your consciousness and awareness in any obvious way like thoughts or perception. It is subtle and sedimentary. It is felt when the constant stream of thought subsides and there is less intensity in the forefront (that is why some point at the ‘gap between thoughts’ as the access point to your inner awareness). The foreground noise is cleared and so the background signal emerges clearly.
When I first succeeded in having a proper mindfulness meditation experience it was nothing like I had previously expected. Before that day I had imagined that in a purely meditative state, the mind will be purely absorbed in nothingness as if no thought existed. When I then experienced a state of mindfulness meditation, I could exactly describe it as “an alert stillness in the background while things happen in the foreground.”
Thoughts were still happening in the foreground (although less in number and intensity) but they did not distract me or annoy me because my awareness was grounded in the alert stillness in the background.
Does this ring any bell to you whether in meditation or otherwise? Did you have any experiences of the alert stillness in the background?
Tolle uses the concept of ‘space consciousness’ to describe this undercurrent of awareness. Space consciousness can be distinguished in contrast to ‘object consciousness’.
Object consciousness is when your reality is fully anchored to the world of objects and believe that there is nothing more to it. It is unfortunately the reality of most people who take life at face value. For them the only concrete reality is that that of things, objects, thoughts and petty human conventions. There is nothing more than that.
“Space consciousness means that in addition to being conscious of things – which always comes down to sense perceptions, thoughts and emotions – there is an undercurrent of awareness.” A New Earth
This Dimension is there in everyone:
This awareness Tolle is pointing at is easily missed because of its subtlety yet it is there in every human being. It is there in you right now. It is always present there in the background but we are never taught to single it out. We take it for granted that outer reality and thoughts about that outer reality is everything there is.
If you do not have a concept of something, you can’t see it even if it stands right in front of you and slaps you in the face. We can only recognize patterns that we have a previous concept of. It’s the same thing with the awareness of our inner stillness – our space consciousness.
Since we are not guided into being aware of it, we never identify it even if I’m sure that everyone experiences it at some point in time.
The bottom line is this: If you have at least a foundation of it as a concept and recognize that it exists, the mind can more easily identify it when it arises.
The second step is watching out for it. I suggest using the observation on awareness I laid out in part 1.
Once you recognize it as part of your experience you know where to look for it next time because you would have opened up the space for that possibility. You would start having a ‘feel’ of your inner space – your space consciousness.
*(Even though I read the book some time ago I still keep it as a reference for some notes and concepts. The book was given as a gift by my special friend Valerie who I thank from my heart. )