Awareness and Zen
Today I share with you an understanding of awareness in terms of Zen, which differs from the way I talked about awareness before.
First of all, awareness exists in all of us. One does not have to create or implement awareness per se because it is alwas there, always a part of us. Then how come we have not all become Zen masters?
What happened is that all the cultural, societal, and environmental conditioning that happened during our youth stopped us from being aware more and more so as we grow up. We live in an age and era where we are trained and told to be driven by emotions and thoughts. Emotions and thoughts exactly the things that cloud and bury our awareness. What we need to do is to stop buying into such culture to uncover the awareness that has always been there.
Awareness is above and separate from what our thoughts and feelings. It is about seeing the truth, unclouded and without the intrusion of thoughts. You can think of awareness as a silent observer with a third-person perspective.
Thoughts distort reality and prohibit us from seeing thing as it is. Seeing things with a pessimistic point of view is a distortion of reality. Seeing things with a optimistic point of view is also a distortion of reality. Thoughts are always subjective because they are based on one’s perspective. Awareness — the silent observer within each of us — allows us to be aware of our thoughts, and then we will start to see things as they are.
Sadness is just sadness. Pain is just pain. Happiness is just happiness. Passion is just passion. But we do not experience life like that. We label those experience as “good” and “bad” with subjective thoughts. We think that being sad is bad and being happy is good, even though we all know that is not always true. What hurts now may become beneficial for us later, and what gives us pleasure now may induce pain later.
There is no need to suppress sadness or try to avoid it. Same for pain. Same for happiness. When you are sad, you are just sad. Likewise, when you are happy, you are just happy. There is no need to perpetually drown in the sadness, nor there is any need to try to capture and retain the sense of happiness. There is no need to worry about how this happiness will eventually disappear. There is no need to punch people in the face when you are angry. You just need to feel and experience the emotions fully, without suppression, without dramatization. Fully experiencing is a silent act.
It is the same for our thoughts. There is no need to suppress thoughts. Instead, when you are aware, you simply see the thoughts that linger in your mind purely as they are, and hence you see the truth within yourself.
Put in other words, awareness is simply being. When we see a beautiful sunset, we can simply watch and be in the moment of watching sunset. That is simply being. When we try to capture the sunset, that is not simply being. When we exclaim, “what a beautiful sunset!”, it is not simply being, but I am not saying you cannot say such things :)
I am not saying we should be emotionless and heartless because we are humans after all. Living in society, we cannot be without attachments and therefore emotions and feelings. What we can achieve is being aware of our thoughts and emotions, and emotions being just bodily sensations in the most basic levels. When we see our thoughts, then we see thing as it is. Awareness is inside all of us. But for most of us, it is like a mirror cover with a thick layer of dirt as we grow up. We will need to uncover it to once again to use it in life.
The more you practice awareness, the more time you can sustain it. You will shift in and our of being aware as you practice. Ideally, enlightenment is when you are aware 100% of the time in life, but it’s very difficult to reach that level. Going back to the mirror analogy, the process of practicing awareness is like polishing the mirror. Englightenment is the moment when you becomes the mirror. When you are the mirror, there is also no mirror. This is the basic principle of oneness, void, emptiness, connectedness in Zen and Buddhism.
You must understand, however, that awareness is not a silver bullet. It does not solve all your problems. It does not take away pain and sadness. In fact, if defined through common subjective point of view, it makes living experience MORE painful because you are no longer running away from emotions. What it allows is, to provide you with a sense of peace and calmness in situations to allow you to make the best judgement and decisions. It does not provide right or wrong answer, but it most probably allow you to make choices to move in directions that is more desirable to your being. It is also through awareness that this peace and calmness allow you to find a sense of joy, which not the same as happiness, in life. Joy is the ability to appreicate and find wonder in each moment.
It is important to specify that that awareness does not solve your problems because people often turn to Zen when they run into obstacles in life and would like to “try out” Zen as a solution, an answer to their problems. By seeking Zen as a solution and trying to “find” awareness in order to be rid of the pain and suffering, they have already fail the fundamental concept of Zen and awareness. The action of trying to “find” awareness in itself already defies the essense of awareness or Zen. It is not an object or a destination to be reached because it is already a part of you. The notion of removing pain and suffering is also defiant to the concept awareness because pain and suffering is a part of life as long as you are alive. You simply have to be aware of your pain and suffering, and any other thoughts and emotions. Just being aware of and experiencing those things as they are untainted by thoughts. You simply be.
Awareness is simple and straightforward, but it is not easy. It is difficult because each and everyone of us grew up years under life conditions that put us in varying degree of unaware state. It is difficult because it is not easy to simply be, under the scope of modern society. It is difficult because it could take any amount of time to for people to regain awareness. It may takes years, or even a lifetime because everyone goes through different experience in life. This difficulty turns a lot of people away and not follow through with Zen. Additionally, Zen is indescribable and can only be experienced, which makes it incomprehensible despite all the Zen writings available out there. What I am doing here is sharing with you my experience, the best I can describe in words.
With that said, let me try to provide an example of awareness in a personal finance scenario. Let’s say a stock for which you own a lot of shares is dropping. You will likely begin to feel a panic. Maybe you will quickly sell all the shares because of the panic. However, if you maintain awareness, you are aware of the panic sensation and aware of the fright of loss. You simply be aware and and experience them, knowing that they are just emotions. With that, you keep your calmness and analyze if the prospect of the stock is really that bad, then you should sell the stocks, or if it’s only temporary and you can wait it out.
Now let’s move on to a different scenario that concerns personal relationship. In fact, this is a personal example based on my own recent experience. A person who I consider important to me has decided to give up on our relationship. Honestly speaking, it is the last thing I want to happen between us, but it did after a conversation. As I am only human, it is most unpleasant, and I felt sad. Additionally, thoughts like what could have been done and doubts about the real causes inevitably torment me. However, I do my best to be aware of those thoughts and the feeling of sadness. I simply am aware of them. That allows me to see that she has made a decision to the best of her ability based on her situations, and that I have offered the best of myself throughout the time together. That is simply how it is. She has chosen a different path. I feel the same way toward her before this happens and wish that whatever happens, she is happy.
It is not that I do not think anymore. It is not that I am not sad anymore. It is that… When I am sad, I am fully sad. When I am angry, I am fully angry. When I am happy, I am fully happy. Emotions are emotions and thoughts are just thoughts. They are all parts of my experience. I am not to suppress them. I am not to avoid them. I identify and acknowledge them as they happen. I simply experience them and be. It is a moment in my life like any other ones, and as I experience and be in the moment, life continues as I remain in peace. In a sense, being aware has indirectly helped me come to terms or let go of the life events faster.
Zen is simply being aware. Awareness is simply being. That’s why simply being lets you find joy and peace in each moment.
That is how I understand awareness and Zen now.