Pure awareness vs being eaten by a tiger

If pure awareness transcends body and mind and personal narrative, wtf comes next?

The clue is that this state of identifying with pure awareness feels good to the body and mind. It’s not dissociation. It’s not a trance. It feels good which means it has value in relation to the body and mind…and at the same time affirms the value of the body and mind.

Some spiritual systems demonise the body and/or the mind. But if pure awareness brings physical and mental relief, then there is an underlying coherence between all three. This coherence is “wtf comes next”.

The solution is to take all the coherent pieces of our narrative and weave a new story where the self who lives in this body and mind is having a good experience, which connects easily with the experience of pure awareness.

Often we are told that it is not “spiritual” to want things. We are taught that spiritual people are immune to temptation and desire, and have no regard for profit and loss.

But this is a misinterpretation. In the state of pure awareness we don’t feel compelled or coerced. We are temporarily able to see through craving or yearning or temptation or fear. We can see the difference, for example, between wanting to eat out of genuine hunger versus wanting to eat out of boredom or craving or unhappiness or habit.

However, pure awareness also dampens our desire and appreciation for genuinely good things. If you were extremely hungry, pure awareness would dampen your hunger and make it feel less pressing.

Why? Because pure awareness takes us out of the body and mind that are the subjects of hunger and other desires. At the same time the purity of pure awareness gives it higher value than anything else in our physical or mental experience.

In other words, if we are in a state of pure awareness we are not going to be strongly moved by anything except immediate and emergency threats to our safety, and even these might not move experienced meditators.

This is why some spiritual teachings end with complete renunciation of life in favour of pure awareness. They will literally starve to death while meditating in pure awareness. And this has given rise to real questions about the purpose of spiritual practice and the meaning of life if the height of spiritual attainment seems to deny the value of the human experience.

On the other hand there are plenty of spiritual teachings that veer away from this extreme, especially when it comes to the lives of everyday people with work and family and other responsibilities.

Zhuangzi shares the anecdote of a “spiritual” man who lived in the mountains, subsisted only on water, and at seventy years old still had the complexion of a child. But one day he crossed paths with a tiger and the tiger ate him. This is shared as an example of someone who nourishes the “inner man” but neglects the outer. He contrasts this spiritualised extreme with that of a worldly and influential official who despite his ambition, wealth and power became ill and died at the age of forty.

From the Daoist perspective both of these outcomes demonstrate something awry. To me it says that the “spiritual” man living in the mountains was neglecting the reality of his human experience. The text explains that he “would not share with the people in their toils and the benefits springing from them”.

The value of pure awareness might transcend everyday experience, but that doesn’t negate or eliminate everyday experience. We are here for a reason and our everyday life remains even when we take the time to be more fully aware of it.

We can use pure awareness to help us change our stories and our habits, creating a life that brings us happiness and enjoyment at all levels of our being.

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