A Window is Where the Wall is Absent

The life impulse to express and to connect arises in me and in all of us. This blog is a celebration of these life impulses. Please feel free to join in the conversation or to just visit. There is a Family Photo Album beneath the posts so you can "meet" my family and I. Welcome!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Awareness and Perception

What is a perception apart from the awareness of that perception? There is no such thing as a perception without awareness; therefore awareness is a component, a part of what is perceived.

It's not hard to recognize that there is no perception in the absence of awareness. What is sound without an ear? It is at most vibrations evoked in the air, but without a tympanic membrane and auditory cortex, without a perceiving consciousness, how could there be sound?

What would reflected light off an object be if there were no retina and rod and cone cells to transduce that reflected light into a visual image? Without a consciousness capable of vision, all is molecules in darkness.

There is no perception without awareness.
But there is awareness even in the absence of anything perceived.

Awareness and perception are intimately blended together, and it seems easy to be focused on perceptions, thoughts, feelings, etc., while being mostly oblivious to the screen of awareness that is part and parcel of all experience. So for example, I am aware of a thought; but am I aware of the awareness of the thought? I am aware of a sound; but am I aware of the awareness of the sound? I am aware of experience; but am I aware of the awareness of experience? Moreover, am I the thought, or am I the awareness of the thought? Am I the experience, or am I the awareness of the experience?

These questions are not hard to answer directly, because in fact it is not difficult to notice and be aware of the perceiving consciousness itself that knows thoughts and feelings and perceptions. Whether it is in the mental world of words and images, or the physical world of sense perceptions, there is an underlying awareness that can be sensed, an underlying awareness in which the objects of the mental and physical world exist.

I'm not so interested in an intellectual understanding of this awareness (because I think it is outside the domain of the intellect). But I am VERY interested in noticing the existence of this awareness that lights up the mental and physical worlds. And this awareness can be noticed. It can be noticed in any instant. The more it is noticed the more compelling it becomes.

Eckhart Tolle says that awareness of awareness is the secret of balanced living. Without awareness of awareness it is easy to become lost in the whirl of thoughts, feelings, perceptions, experiences. Awareness is the solid river bank and river bed that is present as the river of life flows by. Stepping onto this river bank, being aware of awareness, there is an immediate sense of depth and stillness.

Now it's time to hang out with my kids, who just got home, and to enjoy the balance and blend of awareness and perception as I look into their eyes.

8 comments:

Cindy said...

Neat Colleen. The secret of balanced living. It makes the skin or sense of life vibrate to read about awareness. We like it!! :)

Colleen Loehr said...

Hi Cindy! Nice to see you out here in blogland, with my skin and sense of aliveness vibrating too. Awareness is the invisible medium in which experience occurs, like water is the invisible medium in which marine life occurs. These mediums are incredibly obvious and elusive at the same time. Here is how Eckhart describes awareness of awareness- "The awareness that is the essence of who I am becomes aware of itself." I always thought the neurotic hang-ups and convoluted stories and the whole head-full-of-stuff was who I am, and I'm not discounting that stuff or saying it isn't who I am. It's just stunning to sense that I may have missed something else that feels more like myself than my history and personality and whole bag-o-bones, and that something is the non-verbal awareness that is clearer and more intelligent than realm of thought and perception.

roseduncan said...

So how do you manage to maintain balance? Are there things you've come to that work for you on a daily basis? Or is it just moment by moment? I'm curious.

Colleen Loehr said...

Good question! All this stuff can easily be abstract and airy-fairy without practical implementation. Balance for me means when I get lost in my head I notice it (if I'm lucky) and then I look for a railing to hold onto, so to speak, so that I don't keep swirling in repetitive worries and the like. The railing to hold onto is the swivel of attention back to the fact of awareness itself. That feels like a kind of ground to stand on that is in the here and now. The sense of being aware is deeper than the sense of noise in the head, and I come home to myself when I notice it. And then plenty of times I'm just plain out of balance and lost in emotional reactivity and moods of all color...oh well. I hope this gives some feel for the practical approach to balance, and will continue exploring this question as we blog along.

Cindy said...

Pema Chodran taught me a new word - shenpa. I like it. She describes it as that firey feeling when you get swept up by a powerful emotion - so familiar.

I have experienced many moments of awareness of life without story on weekends walking in Fort Tryon Park all those years I was single and planning my move (it's much easier to tap into that stuff when life is simple). They were glorious times in some respects really.

Cindy said...

PS, I love these crazy words I have to type to post my comment. The last one was "frali." :)

Colleen Loehr said...

Frali- that does have a nice ring to it, and hickory-dickory-dock nonsense words have a way of breaking up the glaciers of connected words in the head. I like hearing about your awareness moments walking alone in Fort Tyron park. I read on a blog recently (by someone named Nirmala) that her most valuable resource is alone time- solitude. This is a precious resource. Shenpa I believe literally means "hook" or "hooked" and it refers to when we get caught up in the thresher of conditioned reactivity. I've heard it described as being ambushed or hijacked by an emotional chain reaction when a button is pushed, and I definitely been there- done that, and will undoubtable be there- doing that again many more times. Being human is a messy business, but I'm starting to make friends with the messiness instead of running away from it. Maybe "frali" should mean "making friends with the messiness of being human and caught up in fiery shenpa."...

Cindy said...

:)) I like that Colleen. Frali, the making friends with being caught up in messiness and fiery shenpa. Sounds perfect.

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Greetings. I am a psychiatrist working at a state hospital, and Adjunct Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at University of Missouri Medical School. I am also a wife and mother of three grown children. Qigong has profoundly changed my life for the better. I am interested in connecting with other people interested in qigong.

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