Logical and Spiritual REFLECTIONS
Book 4. More Meditations
Chapter 3. Self awareness
The philosophical idea of Monism is of utility to meditation. When the philosopher proposes that matter, mind and spirit must eventually be One, he/she does so because this theory seems like a logical conclusion from all the data of experience and thought. But for someone engaged in meditation, this idea has a more practical intent: it informs him/her that all common distinctions are ultimately unnecessary to meditation, even artificial impediments to it, since they disturb the natural rest of the psyche, i.e. they are psychologically pointless and fatiguing.
In truth, it is more accurate to say that the distinction between soul and mind-and-body is at first psychologically valuable, too, in that it allows us to focus on the non-phenomenal soul alone, while regarding the phenomena of body and mind as mere distractions relative to that object of meditation. Once this level has been mastered, and we become adept at strongly intuiting the self in the midst of mind-body events, it becomes wise to transcend all such separation, and view self-awareness as a distraction, too.
We may distinguish four senses or levels or types of “self-awareness” in the course of spiritual development:
a. The lowest form of self-awareness is that of the narcissist. Here one focuses on aspects of one’s body and mind, of one’s life and history, etc., that are either pleasing or displeasing, confusing this “ego” construct with one’s self. This is a sort of egotistic and egoistic indulgence devoid of reflection, an unconscious and unintelligent existence.
b. At a higher level of self-awareness, one begins to look upon the preceding level with some degree of criticality. Here, one realizes that one’s behavior thus far has been stupid and unseemly, and one makes some effort to improve and correct it. This is a start of spiritual consciousness, tending towards a more wholesome understanding of who one is.
c. In a later stage, one realizes the distinction between: the non-phenomenal soul on the one hand, and the phenomenal body-mind complex on the other. As this realization develops, and one dissociates oneself more and more from the body and mind, and one associates oneself progressively more with the soul – one’s value system and behavior patterns are radically changed.
d. But even the latter evolution is not final, because the soul one identifies with there is the individuated soul, whereas one has to eventually realize the universal soul; or, as some prefer to put it, the non-soul (i.e. non-individual soul). Although the individual soul is already realized to be non-phenomenal, it is still restrictive in scope; only when such limits are transcended, one attains true self-awareness.
For monotheists, this last stage corresponds to full consciousness of God; for Buddhists, it signifies enlightenment, realizing the Buddha-mind or emptiness. Thus, meditation proceeds by broadening and internalizing consciousness, tending gradually towards a holistic consciousness and a deep understanding of self.
The problem of identifying with one’s real self could be viewed as a linguistic problem, to some extent. When you feel pangs of hunger, do not think “I am hungry” but think “my body is emitting pangs of hunger”; or when you feel some emotion, do not think “I am sad (or happy)” but “my mind is manifesting waves of sadness (or happiness)”. Likewise, in similar circumstances – use language with precision, or at least be peripherally aware of the more accurate description of experience. Avoid bad habits, and do not confuse linguistic shortcuts with phenomenological formulations.