The Power of Awareness
An Excerpt from
The Mandala of Being: Discovering the Power of Awareness
By Richard Moss, M.D.
Any story you tell yourself about who you are, any belief you
have, any feeling you are aware of, is only an object of your
larger consciousness. You, in your essence, are always something
that experiences all these and remains more complete than any
of them. When you realize that you are inherently larger than
any feeling that enters your awareness, this very awareness
will change the feeling, and it will release its grip on you.
Similarly, ideas that you have about yourself are relative,
not absolute truths. If you simply look at them and do not let
them lead you into further thinking, they will give way and
leave your mind open and silent. There is always a relationship
between who we believe or feel ourselves to be and something
else, the Self that is our larger awareness.
In awakening to this Self-me relationship, we begin to be present
with our experience in a new way. We learn to consciously hold
our thoughts and feelings in our own larger fields of awareness.
Then, even if we are troubled and confused, this nonreactive
quality of presence to ourselves allows us to restore ourselves
to a sense of wholeness. This is the power of awareness.
Sensation and Perception: Our Original Consciousness
The great Indian sage Ramana Maharshi said that if we want
to know our true selves, we must go back by the way that
we have come. Our original state of consciousness in childhood
is not one of being a separate entity with our own thoughts
and sensations, but rather is a relatively undifferentiated
domain of sensation and perception. Our parents, having already
reached the developmental stage of separate-self consciousness,
provide the model by which we begin to develop our own sense
of the separate self.
But when we take the developmental step into the consciousness
of the separate self and leave behind the universe of immediacy
and undifferentiated sensations, as a consequence we also become
identified with our sensations. Who is happy? Me. Who is angry,
tired, frustrated...? Me. Our feelings acquire names, however,
and at the same time, we are defined by those feelings.
The same is true with perception: we may not feel that the
sunshine on the trees is me, but we cannot identify it without
simultaneously existing as a separate me. In psychological and
philosophical theory, this level of consciousness is called
subject-object. It is the level of ego awareness
where most human development stops. We are aware as me, we react
as me, we defend as me, we desire as me, but we are not aware
of the true self. It is the true self that looks at all we think,
do, and experience, including our sense of me. In this looking,
a relationship is created that has the power to transform our
experience of ourselves and our worlds.
Throughout our lives, the moment we bring our awareness fully
into the Now, we enter the domain of the true self, and our
immediate conscious reality is once again that of sensation
and perception. As I sit in the park, the sunlight brightens
the leaves and casts shadows on the ground. I have a feeling
of contentment. And as long as I dont create
stories about what I am seeing or about the fact that I am feeling
content, which leads me away from my immediate experience, what
I experience remains simply perception and sensation.
The same is true for any feeling, any emotion. In the Now,
it is just what it is. In the Now, I go back to
my original awareness by the way that [I] have come.
When we directly perceive and experience whatever is present
in our larger fields of awareness, it is possible to have a
relationship with it without becoming lost in it or defined
Exercising the Power of Awareness
We exercise the power of awareness and strengthen our spiritual
muscle by bringing ourselves, over and over again, into the
immediate present. To do so, we must become present with what
we are feeling and thinking. We can turn our attention directly
toward what we are experiencing instead of staying enmeshed
in a feeling or blindly accepting our beliefs about ourselves.
It makes all the difference in the world whether we are caught
in a negative emotion and say, I am sad, angry, lonely,
and so on, or are able to recognize, at that moment, Here
am I, all wound up in sensations of resentment. Here am I, fuming
with anger. Awareness of our sensations is not the same
as identifying with our thoughts or feelings. Every movement
back to present-moment awareness grounds us in the body and
opens the connection to our larger awareness.
Even the smallest movement toward exercising the power of awareness,
instead of collapsing our larger awareness into our thoughts
and feelings and thereby becoming identified with them, restores
us to a more complete consciousness. It gives us the power to
start from a fresh, open, less conditioned relationship to our
This doesnt necessarily mean that our problems disappear.
But as we exercise the power of awareness, our reflexive reactivity
diminishes. We respond from a state of greater presence. When
we collapse into our feelings, we lose this capacity. We default
into me, and this limited self seems like the whole of who we
are. Then we have no choice but to react because we feel as
if we must defend ourselves.
The Fundamental Relationship
What are we actually doing when we bring our awareness fully
into the present and realize Here am I...? We are
moving into a more spacious awareness and thus creating conscious
distance from what we are experiencing. At the same time, we
are opening toward our immediate experience to see it as it
is, to see it fully, to invite it to reveal itself more completely
We are seeing as objectively as we can, without reacting or
judging. This lets us more completely realize what we are actually
feeling or sensing; we do not merely remain in our heads, interpreting
It is important to point out that moving our awareness into
the Now and thereby gaining distance from our feelings and thoughts
is not dissociation. A frequent mistake people make with Eastern
meditation practices is to try to rise above and detach from
an experience, especially whenever the experience is considered
To exercise the power of awareness, we are required to become
more present in our experiences without losing our larger awareness.
With this quality of attention, we gain true understanding.
We naturally begin to respond to our experiences in the most
appropriate and intelligent ways.
This intimate viewing of ourselves by our awareness is the
most fundamental of all relationships. We create the possibility
of a conscious, empathetic connection between me (or self) and
our true selves, or what is alternatively referred to as the
The personal self that we experience as ourselves is held,
seen, and felt deeply by that, which will never reject me, never
turn away, never judge me. It can see us judging, attacking
ourselves, creating our own misery; but it does not judge even
this. It is simply present with me.
This presence need not be merely neutral or indifferent. We
can let it be our trusted friend, like the Persian mystic poets
Hafiz and Rumi did when they referred to it as the Guest
or the Beloved, to whom they offered themselves
and who always received them.
The key to cultivating the healing potential of the self-Self
relationship is the quality of our attention the steadiness,
gentleness, and acceptance of the gaze we turn toward
ourselves. We must be truly willing to experience our feelings
and clearly see our thoughts without reaction, allowing the
moment to be exactly as it is without defending ourselves against
these feelings and thoughts, without our minds moving away into
Then that which transcends our capacity to name or categorize
it in any way, is present to us and has the same accepting quality
that we present to ourselves. This is also the essence of meditation
and prayer. By keeping our attention in the present moment,
we can become transparent to what is transcendent. It is the
Selfs profoundly empathetic acceptance of self that ultimately
sustains us when we face our deepest fears, including even our
egos primal terror, nonbeing.
Learning the Inner Gaze of Nonreactive Attention
The power of awareness rests on the ability to be present with
our experience in the way that a wise, experienced, and loving
mother holds her baby. Whether the baby is calm or disturbed,
the mothers attention is present. Her whole being is oriented
toward the child. She speaks to him, touches him, and maintains
a constant, steady presence. If the baby is upset, she herself
does not become upset but, through her voice and eyes, conveys
to the baby her awareness of his feeling.
She conveys to her baby the knowledge that these feelings are
part of the self, not something ultimately destructive to the
self. And on the occasions when she is actually concerned for
her baby, she knows that, by not losing touch with her deeper
center, she transmits much less of her fear to the child.
How we hold any feeling, whether anger, anxiety, or despair,
either intensifies our sense of me and leads us away from our
transcendent presence, or it lets us relax and even dissolve
that me. Me, in this sense, is analogous to a movie screen:
if the screen is opaque we see (or in this case, live) the movie.
If the screen becomes transparent, the movie disappears.
A feeling that we make space for and do not react to, do not
create thoughts to support, and do not invent worry stories
about gradually ceases to have power over us precisely because
there is less me reacting to the feeling. In this way we are
learning to become more transparent. We begin to experience
feelings in their purity.
A pure feeling is one that exists as simple sensation. It does
not become intensified by thoughts that judge it or become warped
by the minds efforts to analyze, change, prolong, or eliminate
it. Then every feeling has the opportunity to help us arrive
at a new depth of intimacy with ourselves naturally, without
effort, without seeking for anything at all.
At the same time, once the mind releases its grip on the feeling,
the feeling automatically begins to change. Everything is impermanent
when the mind isnt holding it fixed. Then we begin to
enter deeper layers of our beings, where we are already intrinsically
It is our judgment of our feelings and especially our
desire for them to end if they are unpleasant, or to continue
if they are good that locks us into suffering. To reject
a feeling is essentially to refuse the present: it is like deciding
this Now has less God, less wholeness, than some other moment.
Wanting a good feeling to continue is the same thing in reverse:
it causes us to resist anything else life presents, and therefore
we have less presence.
Each of these ways of reacting to our feelings represents a
movement away from the immediacy of our experience and is thus
actually a disengagement from reality. Just as we thrive when
we feel we are seen, listened to, and met, so do we begin to
thrive when, instead of reflexively reacting to our feelings,
we consciously touch them with exquisite attention.
A pure feeling is never a threat to us; only when we attempt
to control or alter feelings do they become threats. Such control
would be like a mother asking her child to stop crying before
she will love her, instead of loving her just as she is. This
is precisely what we do to so much of our own experience: we
ask it to be different before we have even turned our attention
toward it to experience it and accept it as it is.
This kind of direct and nonreactive relationship to our immediate
experience breaks the choke hold of the inner critic. We all
have internalized a disapproving voice that harshly judges us
and, in so doing, keeps us trapped in a cycle of emotional contraction,
defense, and self-rejection. We are particularly vulner-able
to the power of the critic, because it confirms what we already
deeply believe about ourselves: our early conditioned sense
But the moment we ask how we are aware of the critic and the
negative state it causes, we return to simple awareness: Here
am I...judging myself. Here am I...aware of this harsh inner
critic that is attacking me, calling me selfish.
The critic wants us to contract into a state of self-doubt
or into a renewed cycle of self-improvement efforts. It keeps
us self-involved. The critic says, You would not be feeling
this if..., and the reasons it gives are legion. The critic
is the defender of the original false hypothesis of insufficiency,
even while purportedly offering us a way out.
Paradoxically, listening to the critic, even though it makes
us miserable, allows our egos to feel supported and safe, because
the unconscious, familiar premise of insufficiency upon
which our egos rest remains intact. But the moment we
utilize the power of awareness to become directly present, without
having any goal to change what we are feeling, this threatens
the unconscious premise of insufficiency. Then the whole house
of cards begins to tumble.
To sit and feel a difficult feeling without identifying with
it may be unfamiliar and may make us feel vulnerable. We may
feel as if we might cease to exist if we dont collapse
into the familiar struggle with ourselves and our sense of insufficiency.
But allowing ourselves to be vulnerable is the path that takes
us to a fuller aliveness.
Spiritual Muscle and the Mystery of Faith
The ability to stay present requires muscular attention. The
effort to develop this ability initially resembles willpower.
It does take intention and determination, but an attitude of
tender curiosity and attentiveness to whatever we are experiencing
eventually takes the place of willpower. This attention does
not intrude on the feeling, does not try to control it. Instead
we give the feeling as much space as it requires by becoming
soft and vast around it.
When we apply our will to arrive at wholeness instead of beginning
from wholeness, we once again succumb to a distrust of our experience
instead of experiencing a relationship to our experience.
Spiritual muscle is not something we can coerce in ourselves.
Our initial reaction to negative feelings is to want to escape
them. We may consciously direct our attention toward positive
thoughts by means of intention and will by so-called
positive thinking and the use of positive affirmations. But
in doing so, we are only reacting, and we remain caught in our
fear or discomfort.
We can instead use real spiritual muscle (and true positive
thinking) and turn our nonreactive inner gaze toward whatever
we are afraid of. We can use the power of awareness itself.
The more we do so, instead of throwing our minds into some form
of self-protection, the more we grow in the mysterious power
that is faith.
Faith is perhaps the most profound and most mysterious experience
of all, and it is inextricably related to our power of awareness.
Faith grows as the self-Self relationship deepens and as we
learn to remain present in difficult situations that, at an
earlier stage of life, we would have completely identified with.
We associate faith with traditional religious belief systems
and notions of God. True faith, however, cannot rest on beliefs
or thoughts, or even on feelings, because we are always already
more than these by virtue of our awareness of them. Beliefs,
especially as they bring us meaning and purpose, can act as
a transitional medium for faith.
Consider how a teddy bear or soft blanket can act as a positive
transitional object and temporarily replace the comforting presence
of a mother for a child when she is not present. Similarly,
to the extent that we cling to beliefs to define and defend
who we are, we remain children as far as faith is concerned.
Faith can never be proclaimed in words; it can only be radiated
or transmitted through the quality of our presence, through
an inner poise that is not shaken by outer circumstances.
To proudly assert ones faith as unquestioning acceptance
of a particular religious belief system is to declare ones
lack of faith in oneself. It is a proclamation of ignorance
of the nature of ones own consciousness.
One paradox of faith is that when we sense it in another, it
gives us hope that we too can face our fears. Yet faith itself
is the capacity to meet fear without hope. If we require hope,
how can we say that we have faith? Faith is not a state of fearlessness,
but rather an ability to hold fear with the power of our awareness
and not lose touch with that in us which is more than whatever
we are afraid of.
A second paradoxical aspect of faith is that we can neither
see nor measure it. It is defined by the shape of our fears.
For example, when we approach intimacy with another but become
so afraid of rejection or abandonment or engulfment that we
withdraw, these fears mark the limits of our faith. But if we
choose to remain in the pure feeling of these fears and not
withdraw from a relationship, we empower ourselves and grow
in faith, which makes us capable of greater intimacy.
Many people discover the limits of their faith when they are
afraid of not having enough money. Too many of us let money
fears basic survival consciousness keep us in
jobs we dont enjoy or in relationships that are no longer
healthy for us. When we do so, our faith is only as alive as
the security we derive from having enough money.
But if we can look at this fear and see that it is simply a
sensation that can be accommodated and not reacted to, we increase
our faith. We demystify the power we have given to money and
can make wiser choices. Then money ceases to be such a defining
force in our lives.
In any aspect of life, whenever we dare not step forward because
of fear, whatever form it may take, we have reached the limits
of our faith. What we must do then is exercise the power of
awareness to remain present with our fears until nothing is
moving inside of us.
In this stillness, there is no longer such a strong sense of
me the me that can be threatened and so the fear
loses its power. As we become transparent, the energy in fear
is freed up and just becomes more energy to feed and increase
our power of awareness. In this way the power of awareness transforms
fear to faith.
One of my favorite stories about developing muscular attention
comes from the martial arts tradition of aikido. Master Morihei
Ueshiba, the founder of aikido, challenged his senior students
to rouse themselves from sleep every night and follow him with
their eyes as he walked across the dormitory to the bathroom.
At this point he was an old man and had to urinate several
times a night. If after a while a student had not learned to
wake up and become present, that student was deemed unfit and
asked to leave. The master was trying to cultivate in these
advanced students an exceptional capacity for attention that
extended even into their sleep.
Willpower alone would not have been successful. If these men
had willed themselves to stay awake, they would have become
exhausted. What they had to learn was to empower their attention
with intent, as well as to let go and enter a higher level of
We can bring this warrior quality of relaxed alertness to our
awareness of ourselves. We can wake up the moment we see our
minds fashioning stories that lead us away from the immediacy
of the present, and turn our nonreactive eye-of-attention toward
who we are right now.
If a particular feeling is painful, we can surrender to it
while simultaneously refusing to allow that feeling to drive
us into self-judgment or an escape strategy. In this profound
intimacy with our pain, which I call conscious suffering, a
transformation begins to occur.
As we grow more muscle and can stay fully present, whatever
events we can allow without reaction without collapsing
into them and losing ourselves gradually release their
power over our reality. Then we begin to rest in a natural state
of presence the luminosity of our faith. We can live
from our deepest selves.
Even at the darkest times, when we finally stop resisting,
what one moment seems like hell can suddenly become peace and
stillness, and we can regain a fundamental sense of wholeness
Gradually, as our capacity for conscious suffering grows, so
does our faith. It is not that we no longer feel fear, but that
we discover we have much more freedom even in the face of what
used to be our greatest fears. It takes consistent intention
to learn to live in the present and meet our suffering consciously.
But fundamental change occurs not because we find inventive
ways to avoid suffering; it emerges organically out of the depth
of our awareness in such suffering. The power of awareness itself
can set us free.
Even if our survival patterns have dominated us all our lives,
one day we will become aware that we are giving in to fear,
and we will turn consciously toward awareness of the fear instead
of going where it is trying to point us. In that moment we will
have transcended, by some small degree, our egos continuous
self-protection, what I call the survival project. New possibilities
for our lives are born in such moments.
The Survival Personality and the Idealized Self
The adaptations we have unconsciously made during preverbal
and later stages of childhood to escape from feelings of abandonment,
engulfment, or annihilation powerfully influence the way we
present ourselves to the world as adults. These frightening
feelings are repressed, buried in a subconscious stratum of
our beings, and we are no longer aware of them under most circumstances.
A part of early ego development is the adoption of strategies
for maintaining this repression by constructing a false self
that becomes the essence of the survival personality, a term
I borrow from psychosynthesis theory.
The survival personality is the one we present to the world
and more important, to ourselves. This generally positive
personality disguises our inner sense that something is wrong
with us. The task of the survival personality is to keep us
from facing this feeling by imagining, and ultimately becoming
fully identified with and believing in, a special or idealized
self, as mentioned in chapter 1.
The concept of the idealized self explains how most of us manage
to solve the problem of our core anxiety by endowing ourselves
with special capacities and gifts. We ameliorate the wounds
of childhood by fabricating a set of beliefs about ourselves
in which ordinary qualities become glorified and our weaknesses
are envisioned as virtues.
If we have loving feelings for a parent, a child, or a partner,
this love becomes evidence of our saintly devotion. If we are
angry and aggressive, we imagine ourselves as strong and heroic.
When we are compliant, we believe we are acting selflessly.
There is a compulsive quality to our need to glorify ourselves
and thereby distance ourselves from the core feeling of not
being good enough as we are. Consequently, there is also a compulsive
quality to how we later defend our idealized selves.
The idealized self grows out of our personal lives and how
we have unconsciously adapted to the psychological environment
of our early lives. If we have acquiesced to our mothers
psychology, rather than seeing ourselves as submissive and weak,
we may create an ideal of loyalty to her feelings and needs.
Later in life this causes us to feel indispensable not only
to her but also to anyone to whom we have transferred our allegiance.
If instead we rebel, we see our own combative and reactive
defenses as heroic intolerance for injustice. We might be cynical
about authority and haughtily believe we have a superior understanding
of the world and what it needs. But we never really know what
our own feelings or needs are, because they are derived from
what we reject and judge, rather than from what actually lives
Those of us whose defensive adaptation is to withdraw have
a tendency to retreat into an imaginary world and spend long
hours alone. Later in life we might hide in the world of books
or computers, eventually becoming more intimate with our area
of expertise than with the people in our lives. We may even
become aloof and disdainful of others, seeing them as unworthy
of our serious involvement.
If we never free ourselves from our survival personalities,
we can never simply be ourselves, can never really accept ourselves
as we are. We cannot be ordinary in the true sense of objectively
appreciating our bodies, our appearance, or our intellectual
or athletic abilities without feelings of superiority or inferiority.
We cannot just be who we are with our own feelings and our own
natural strengths and weaknesses. In a word, we cannot be humble.
And since our survival personalities are never who we really
are, but an ideal which by the very definition of the
word is not real we constantly fall short of their expectations.
No matter how we strive, we never can be attractive enough,
loving enough, secure enough, powerful enough, honest enough,
smart enough, and so on, because even when we are, we do not
We have to keep striving to fulfill the ideal, which is like
trying to reach the constantly receding horizon. The resulting
self-judgments arising from our inevitable failures to fulfill
the demands of our ideal selves lead us into neurotic suffering.
And this suffering creates an environment of self-involvement
that blinds us to the existence of our true selves.
From the point of view of our true selves, the whole survival
project is entirely unreal, even less than irrelevant. But from
the point of view of the survival personality, the effort to
begin to open to our true selves seems utterly futile and carries
the threat of annihilation.
In my own observations of thousands of people, the existence
of underlying and extremely threatening feelings, even in individuals
considered to be highly functioning, is unquestionable. We can
function very well, believing not only that we are satisfied
with our own lives but also that we are exceptional.
Yet eventually the illusion of our idealized selves begins
to disintegrate. Often this happens when there is illness, loss
of a loved one, or sudden financial ruin. For many people, the
demise of the idealized self begins when they have gone through
the misery of divorce, often multiple times, and begin to suspect
that the problem doesnt just lie in their partners.
Or it shows up when we actually begin to experience some of
the success that our idealized selves would lead us to expect
is our due, but which we deep down dont believe we deserve
and, eventually, subconsciously sabotage.
There is a yearning for authenticity and real freedom in all
of us, though, and so our souls cannot permit us to live indefinitely
in denial and self-deceit. When we finally decide to follow
that yearning, we find we must recognize and outgrow our idealized
In this process of growth, we find ourselves facing what I
call untamed emotions, such as a sense of utter
despair and dread (see chapter 5). It is these feelings that
limit our faith, and no further fundamental growth in consciousness
is possible until they can be met and embraced in a nonreactive
Beneath our survival personalities lie something we are trying
to protect ourselves from feeling. And sooner or later it inevitably
surfaces. This may happen with the breakup of a relationship,
the loss of a job, or some other traumatic event. It may happen
simply because our failure to fulfill the impossible expectations
of our idealized selves leads us to finally collapse in exhaustion.
At times like these, we can plunge into such despair or irrational
rage and self-hate that we feel as though we are being undone,
that we will go mad. We might even contemplate suicide.
At this point we have finally reached the inner Armageddon,
the battle for supremacy between our false selves and our true
selves. When this happens, we must, above all, learn to exercise
the power of awareness with unresisting attention and unlimited
compassion for our own suffering.
Because we have for so long mistaken our survival personalities
as ourselves, we can experience the deconstruction as loss of
self. This is a crisis in the journey of awakening to fuller
consciousness, akin to the dark night of the soul that Saint
John of the Cross wrote about. Ironically, we are then in an
innate healing and self-transcending process, yet it feels like
it can, and eventually will, lead us to a fundamental crisis
Meeting and freeing ourselves from many of our fears ultimately
brings us to the deepest fear of all: the egos primal
fear of nonbeing. This is why genuine transformation requires
our most sincere commitment. I believe this deepest fear ultimately
rules not only our individual survival personalities but also,
through it, our collective human survival project.
Modern society, and the culture it has constructed, is a collective
idealized self, a collective survival personality, and is founded
just as much upon the feelings we do not know how to meet and
hold as upon any higher vision we have for life. Until we individually,
one at a time, face this in ourselves, we will continue to unconsciously
live under the aegis of the god of fear.
The resulting quest for survival, unconsciously externalized
in so much of our way of life, will continue to pose a terrible
threat to our futures. In our reflexive universe, fear, even
if unconscious, only gives birth to more fear.
How the Survival Personality Survives Self-Realization
Even though I had a realization that profoundly transformed
my sense of being and awakened me to a new level of consciousness
what some might call Self-realization in which
I understood the unity of all things and that love is the heart
of our universe, and even though I experienced then, and many
times since, the most profound sense of wholeness and well-being,
I have had to accept the humiliating truth that my own survival
personality continues to operate. If my attention isnt
fully in the present, I can still lapse into distrust concerning
the future, or I can communicate indirectly to protect myself
or to avoid hurting or disappointing others.
If my wife or children are critical or flare at me in anger,
I can still, at times, close down and become defensive or judgmental.
And does one ever finally defeat the beasts of self-involvement
and self-importance that so easily insinuate themselves into
our behavior and thinking? I havent.
Just as we wake up each morning having forgotten ourselves
each night, our survival personalities wake up with us and in
so many subtle and not so subtle ways assert themselves into
our lives. I believe that all people, no matter what degree
of Self-realization they may have achieved, experience the ongoing
influence of the survival personality.
Appreciating this is important because it explains why some
spiritual and religious leaders who are, in many ways, exceptional,
nonetheless act immorally. Alternatively, they might create
communities that become elitist and insular, often limiting
the essential individuation of those who devote their lives
to these communities.
Especially when we are in a position of authority, we must
watch vigilantly for the survival personalitys potential
influence. If not, it will pervert even the best intentions
and make even the most brilliant teachings or leadership into
instruments for its own ends.
The moment we believe ourselves superior because we think our
understanding is greater than others, and that this gives
us special rights with respect to our students, employees, congregation,
or fellow citizens, the survival personality has us firmly in
its grasp. Only by continuously exercising the power of awareness
can we begin to free ourselves.
Awareness versus Self-Improvement
Once we understand that the power of awareness leads us to
essential humility and ordinariness, then we can grant ourselves
permission to inquire deeply into all aspects of ourselves that
constitute our identities. Often we are afraid to do this, imagining
that if we were to look at the darker parts of ourselves and
discover something particularly unpleasant or disillusioning,
we would not be able to face it.
But I am not talking about dwelling obsessively on the negative.
As soon as we turn our full, nonreactive gaze on a difficult
feeling, we are, by the very nature of awareness, already more
than it is. Our identification with that feeling weakens. It
is not what we feel or experience that we need fear; it is what
remains unconscious that poses the real threat.
Parts of our survival psychologies, such as an unconscious
need to feel loved and secure by helping others, eventually
betray us. They will always affect our motives and inevitably
distort our behavior, undermining even our best intentions.
This is why in my work, as I guide people to ever-deeper self-inquiry,
I frequently ask them, Are you undertaking this work because
something is innately wrong with you? Do you believe you need
to be fixed? The true answer is No! This work
is not about self-improvement.
It is only and simply about developing a fuller awareness.
We do this work not because it can relieve suffering but because,
when we are suffering, this suffering, in whatever form it takes,
is the truth of this particular moment. We must turn toward
it as if it were a child who needs the full and loving attention
of its mother. Remember:
Anything we can become aware of, we are already greater than.
Any attempt to change ourselves or improve ourselves as a means
of avoiding a feeling only leads to ceaseless self-manipulation
or the manipulation of others, and it does not change the underlying
sense of insufficiency from which we unconsciously continue
To turn toward what is, in the here and now, and to meet it
with the full power of awareness, is to arrive all at once at
the wholeness that is, and always has been, our essential selves.
Transforming ourselves by means of this path requires us to
become more aware in our suffering. Simply by being present,
without blinking which means keeping the mind completely
still as it gazes at the specific feeling we cease to
create the me that is the home of that suffering.
The image of not blinking comes from my childhood enjoyment
of Western movies, where, when two gunfighters faced each other,
whoever blinked first was shot. At a deeper level, masters of
martial arts know that the contestant who moves from thought,
which is much slower than moving from presence or being, generally
loses the match.
There are legends in the world of martial arts that tell of
victory being awarded in competitions even before any physical
contact has taken place. Some judges are so attuned that they
sense the movement in the minds of the competitors and call
the match in favor of the one with the deepest stillness.
In my work, to blink means that in the face of a difficult
feeling, we let our minds move away from the feeling into thoughts
about the past or the future, or into stories about ourselves
or about the feeling itself. In so doing we leave the original
feeling and become involved instead with these thoughts and
the secondary feelings they engender.
This propels us away from the Now, and this movement sustains
and intensifies the me that is resisting the original feeling.
We wind up suffering even more, but in a way that feels familiar
because it preserves our usual sense of me.
If we dont blink, me recedes. As we come into direct
relationship with the original feeling, we evolve and our interior
becomes more spacious. What began as fear of a feeling transforms
into energy and presence.
Then we can make our choices, such as leaving a job or a relationship,
in response to a sense of openness and possibility rather than
as a means to avoid a feeling.
The God of Fear and the God of Love
Fear is the principal force that divides our hearts. It will
continue to do so unless we increase the muscle of our attention
and faith that lets us remain present for more and more of reality.
When we consciously meet our fear, our faith grows. In the
deepest solitude of ourselves, when fear has brought us to our
knees and there is nothing left to do but surrender to it, we
discover what has all along been supporting us.
Fear is a great god, one that we can never defeat if we resist
or react to it in any way. Learning to grow faith is an in-cremental
process. I know of no one who has fully conquered fear.
I certainly havent. But I know that if, at the end of
a lifetime, our faith has grown a measure no bigger than just
the space between two hairs on our heads, we will have to a
degree transformed the very fabric of reality for ourselves
and everyone else.
As this power to resist fear grows within us, we begin to realize
a greater god: the god of love. I am using the term god here
to refer to the dominant unconscious force that influences us
at a given stage in our lives.
We could say that, at this point in history, in the majority
of us, the soul lives under the sway of fear. Yet there is a
growing minority whose souls obey the god of love, and the primary
evidence of this is that our lives are dominated by the yearning
to know who we really are. Love is not mere consolation for
our otherwise troubled lives.
Nor is it the sentimental, but pleasurable, mush
it has been reduced to in popular culture. Love, as Walt Whitman
wrote, is the kelson of the creation. The kelson
is the keel, or backbone, of a sailing ship that unites all
the ribs to form the hull.
Love is the backbone of reality: it is the unbroken connectedness
of all things, everything in relationship to everything else.
Nothing is ever in exile from it; there is nothing in life that
does not belong here, in reality. Even fear.
When love is our god, we have permission to be in relationship
to everything, even the darkest places of dread and terror.
When love is our god, we can enter into conscious relationship
to any aspect of our experience and consciously suffer it until
we realize that the very fabric of reality is love. There is
always that within each of us that is greater than fear in all
The god of fear offers hope but demands obedience: do this,
obtain this, follow these rules and you will be safe, you will
be happy. But the price we pay for the illusion that we can
attain happiness and security this way is an eternal battle
for survival, one that always starts from a sense of insufficiency.
The god of fear was our first teacher of survival. No doubt,
without fear we could not have survived. But now our mindless
obedience to this god threatens us with disruption at every
level of society and, perhaps, may even lead us to extinction.
Our obsession with survival and security always ultimately leads
us back to fear and all its minions power, control, righteousness,
jealousy, neediness, greed, blame, hate, and revenge.
We live in endless hope for imagined security, for freedom
from an endless legion of external threats, but in that very
hope hides the root fear, that which we have not yet turned
to meet and hold. Hope can never break us out of the cycle of
While fear thrives on obedience, the god of love asks only
for conscious relationship, and not to an abstract idea of God,
but to the immediacy of every moment.
When fear is overlord of a particular moment, filling our minds
with endless worries and demanding all kinds of actions in the
service of a hoped-for outcome or reward, love will hold and
support our aware selves as we turn trembling to stand and face
fear itself, straight on, whatever its guise.
In facing fear, we gradually become free of the cycle of fear
and hope and begin to fulfill the higher purpose of our human
existence: to reveal and express the fullness of our beings.
But what of those of us who derive our faith from belief in
God or Jesus or any other symbol that represents to us a reality
greater than ourselves? Experiencing faith in this way entails
projecting our own self-transcending capacity onto a symbol
of salvation and then deriving feelings of inspiration and sustenance
from those symbols.
But even though in our survival-oriented culture this passes
for true faith, it is really just borrowed faith: we borrow
it from something external to us, something we can think or
imagine, without realizing that that which resided in Jesus
and all the great souls resides as well in ourselves.
This fundamental consciousness, which everyone has the potential
to realize, is clearly what Jesus was referring to when he said,
Before Abraham was, I Am (John 8:58).
Depending on borrowed faith when we do not ultimately have
faith in ourselves, we remain prisoners of the god of fear,
even as we worship the icons we have dedicated to the god of
We claim to know what God wants, but we remain ignorant of
our own essence. We continue to be rooted in a survival-based
consciousness. There is a deeper faith that comes from exercising
the power of awareness to find our own source, what existed
prior to anything whatsoever that we have believed.
If we inquire deeply enough to realize that our conditional
faith comes at the price of giving away our own divinity, then
we meet the true test of faith: we finally face our egos
primal fear of being utterly and hopelessly extinguished. When
we face this fear, we ultimately come to realize the true source
of our beings.
The Problem with God
The problem with God is that God, as we think of
God, is a creation of our own minds. If in a given moment our
god-idea helps us to enter more fully into the present and into
the wholeness of our being, then this god-idea is alive in that
moment, part of the vital transformative conversation between
self and Self.
But when our god-ideas become more real to us than the awareness
that allows us to contemplate them, these ideas begin to imprison
It is always a mistake to separate our own consciousness from
our god-ideas. Jesus himself said, Whoever knows the All
but fails to know himself lacks everything. Whatever we
believe about God, we are knowingly or unknowingly speaking
about ourselves, and frequently it is our survival personalities
that influence what we say.
If we want a god to support us in battle or our nationhood
or our religious supremacy, we invent a god who legitimates
our cause. If we want a god who exonerates us and forgives us,
we open our hearts to a god who does that.
If we want a god who is pro-life or pro-choice, we create this
god in our minds. And once we have created this god, we always
construe evidence or scripture to support our belief.
But it is not really a question of what God does or doesnt
want. For the religious person, God excites the mind; for the
mystic, God stops it. When we speak of God from a spiritual
perspective, we refer to that which, when we turn our attention
completely toward it, ends all thought and instead reflects
us back to the ineffable source of our consciousness, the true
beginning of ourselves.
God in this sense is the ultimate mirror: whatever we see in
it is God. We must embrace every aspect of ourselves until,
ultimately, we each know that I and God are one.
Awareness Is the Path
If we begin unconsciously from the premise that we are insufficient,
we end up caught in the endless cycle of reacting to our insufficiency
and trying to fill ourselves. The only way to get off this misery-go-round
is to begin by being aware that we are whole. Consciousness
itself is that wholeness.
It is like water: it can assume any shape into which it is
poured, yet it never loses its own essence. Through the power
of awareness, we can enter into relationship to anything whatsoever
that we are experiencing and still remain, in our essence, whole
and full. We can be aware of the most devastating feelings of
insufficiency, and yet, the moment we say, Here am I,
and turn toward what we are experiencing, the part of us that
makes this awareness possible eternally receives us.
Our experience may not change immediately, the pain may remain
terrible for a while, but we know, even if only to the tiniest
degree, that we are more than this pain. The essential part
of ourselves is never broken, is never in itself corrupted in
any way. The true self is not a thing we can know; it is an
inexhaustible power that can carry us deeper and deeper into
ourselves and into reality.
How much more complete our knowledge of ourselves can become
depends on how deeply we yearn to know ourselves and how much
reality we can bear before fear chases us into a dream of our
The limit to Self-realization is set the moment we reach a
fear, such as the fear of abandonment, that we experience as
too great to face, or an idea so compelling that we identify
ourselves with it, like the idea of communism or the idea that
there is only one Son of God. At such a moment, we lose connection
to the beingness of human being and become only human.
Like the aikido students learning to wake up when the master
walks by, we have to wake up. We have to wake up out of the
dream created when our awareness buries itself in our stories
or roles, and particularly the dream created when we flee difficult
The path to awakening consciousness is a path of conscious
relationship to everything we experience and feel. It is ceaseless
self-inquiry and necessary, conscious suffering, which must
continue until more and more easefully we can rest in the fullness
*Reprinted by Permission of the publisher, New
. Copyright 2007 by Richard Moss
All rights reserved.
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