Many people confuse awareness, mindfulness, and mental alertness. Actually, these are three very distinct things.
Mental alertness is what we feel when we are in danger, or when we are mentally focused on some task at hand. The mind is involved, and it is an active thinking and evaluation process. Mindfulness still involves the mind but is not in such an aggressively alert mode – rather a dynamic sense of presence is brought to bare. In mindfulness, the physiology is rather more relaxed and there is a sense of openness to all experience as sensed by the mind. Mindfulness is grounded in appreciation and gratitude and is much less dependent on an active thought process. Mental alertness and even mindfulness can be switched on, and switched off
True awareness is something else altogether. When spiritual masters refer to being in awareness, they are talking about simply residing in life as it arises. There is no mind. Aliveness is awareness, there is no difference. Awareness is the answer to how you know that you exist. Awareness cannot be switched off, but it can be veiled. It’s always there, it’s just that we are not conscious of it – always living in a distracted state of mind. To become aware, the distractions need to be minimized – and that is the spiritual process.
Just as life is always unfolding, awareness is always on, even when we sleep. We don’t have to go anywhere or strive for anything because it’s already here. SNAP! This is it, right now…
In many spiritual texts, our current condition is actually compared to being asleep. We are said to be dreaming all of this illusion, living in a virtual world of thoughts and concepts. Yes, it is that way because we live in our minds all the time. Why did Buddha declare himself to be awakened? Because he became awareness itself. He realized himself to be just life unfolding spontaneously. So that is awareness, and there is no mind.
But we are too much in the mind and body. So then the work is just to thin out the veil, and hopefully one day we see through it, only to realize that we have always been in presence all along. So simple, how could we have missed it all that time?
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