In this apparent world, the state of individuality is accepted as normal. For the individual, self-awareness is a constant confirmation of individual existence.
“I am aware that I am, and I am aware that you are, together with everything else that is happening. I am also aware that I am in a story in which I have free will and choice”.
This seems to be the individual’s established reality. However, it seems that, at this time, long established beliefs about reality are beginning to unravel.
Hidden within what appears to be the history of spiritual seeking can be found reference to the possibility of the separate self being illusory.
More recently, research by neuroscientists and others has established that the idea of there being a separate individual with free will and choice is illusory, but is maintained by the function of self-awareness. There has been much communication about these radical and surprising discoveries through the media, but with hardly any interest or reaction from the general public.
In what is seen in the story as part of the evolutionary process, the brain has generated a sense of self to bring about a partnership which can apparently create a primary animal, powerful and intelligent enough to control and dominate what is assumed to be a dualistic and threatening world.
For the process of a dominant self to emerge, the accumulation of knowledge seems very important, and so personal awareness would be a built-in function. For awareness to function it needs something apart to be aware of, i.e. “I know I am sitting on a chair” or “I know I am splitting the atom”. This individual capacity to be aware of and know apparently brings with it the opportunity to manipulate and dominate the world it lives in and also, perhaps, to satisfy its needs. However, none of these individual activities and efforts to make life better seem to bring self-satisfaction or a contentment that is constant. Consequently, seeking for some deeper meaning to life arises and finds expression in a multitude of ways. Again, the false assumption that personal knowing must be the approach to everything, including the attainment of constant fulfilment, inevitably confines the seeker to the limitation of its own experience.
Personal awareness initiates a subject-object experience in which everything that is happening seems real. This experience generates a profound sense of something missing or lost.
The self, the individual, is a divided energy brought about by its apparent separation from unity. There are attempts to seek unity which are futile because the separate seeker is the very dualism from which it is trying to escape. However, the idea of non-duality arises and, although there is no such thing, the seeker inevitably hopes that it is a something that they can be aware of and attain. Teachings arise to satisfy this hope, and there are even conferences organised to discuss and discover how “non-duality” can be understood and realised. It is interesting that the major part of these conferences are concentrated on the investigation of awareness and consciousness, because these functions are believed to be the means by which self-realisation can be achieved. Unknowing is hardly ever mentioned.
Scientists are also involved in these conferences and attempt to describe what they have discovered about what they call “the nature of reality”. But whose reality are they talking about? If it is a reality which they personally experience, then it would surely be dualistic. Is that why their conclusions seem to be complex and contradictory, because they are attempting to find unity within a polarised experience?
An intrinsic part of the individual’s need to survive is its investment in meaning and purpose which reinforces the story of past and future, hence its assurance of continuation and progress. Personal awareness or consciousness is a knowing of apparent meaning and purpose within the story of me. It is this personal awareness that constantly maintains the sense of self, but also reinforces a sense of separation from that which has never been lost but can never be known.
Painting of Tony Parsons by Fred Schley