Awareness of Consciousness and “non-interference”

A simple idea has come to mind while sitting and I’m finding it more and more useful both on and off the cushion.  I want to explore it some, and see if anyone else finds it useful or knows of a buddhist equivalent for it.  That idea is “Non-interference”.

Here is how this idea arose.

First, I had gained an insight while listening to Joseph Goldstein’s zencast entitled “What is the Mind?” In this dharma talk, he parses the delicate concepts underlying the Mind, such as Consciousness and Perception. In discussing consciousness, he says that consciousness is that which “knows” it’s object. I started pondering this, along with the sutras which mention eye-consciousness, ear-consciousness, thought-consciousness and so forth.

It occurred to me that when we bring our awareness to a particular phenomena, what we are doing is bringing the awareness to a particular consciousness that is already there – it’s already tracking that object by it’s very nature (that’s what consciousness does).  This is a very subtle shift. Instead of bringing awareness to the breath as a thing, I experimented with bringing attention to the consciousness of breathing that was already there.

Is there really any difference between these two instructions??  Is attention or awareness different than consciousness?  I think that there is a difference.  Attention seems to have a property that is related to choice – we direct our attention to something – while consciousness suggests a facet of the mind that is simply and directly knowing that which it knows. This may take more philosophical exploration to work out, but it’s not really the point here. The point is that this was an experiment – and it yielded some results.

Bringing attention to the consciousness of breathing may seem on one hand like adding an unnecessary concept into the chain of meditation.  Maybe so. But it also brought a very real sense of both “effortlessness” and “non-interference” to the meditation.  By making consciousness the direct element to which I brought attention, there was a feeling that that consciousness was not something that could even be interfered with. And attention and consciousness merge so completely and fluidly, that there was no sense of effort or feeling of a “this” and “that”.. where one might get the sense that “one” is watching the “breath” and they are separate. Awareness of Consciousness of Breath broke the subject object duality by subtly changing the exercise.

I may be nuts, but this shift seems useful to my practice right now. Comments welcome – especially if someone is familiar with these concepts from established practices.

2 thoughts on “Awareness of Consciousness and “non-interference”

  1. Hello Mr. David — In your mind, do you think it could be “possible” to do a silent retreat with a partner? Do you know any partners that have done it together and had a peaceful time doing it? If so, how did they do it? Any pointers? Is it even POSSIBLE to do? I definitely know the value of doing it alone so no need in schooling me on that. Peace.

    • Yes. Absolutely. Silent retreats can be done with partners. I did a 10 day retreat with my wife, Sara, before she was my wife. I’ve also done retreats with friends and even with my dad.

      As you know, retreats are meant as a time to go ‘inward’ and develop concentration, which is harder if there is something in your experience which is pulling you ‘out’ or encouraging your mind to be in your story, instead of being with your present moment experience. I’m sure you know this, and thus the question.

      On some silent retreats, yogis are guided not even to look at other yogis. Even making eye contact with anybody brings with it the strong pull to start telling a story (interpreting the quality of the contact and immediately going from there). Silence, it turns out, isn’t just about sound.

      So, how to be at a retreat with a partner and keep the focus on your meditation? If this is your intention, then make that clear with them. Have an understanding about it. Try your best to stick with it. Really make sure you each understand that you won’t be socializing, chatting, doing sign language or passing notes. Any of that can be very disruptive.

      I also found that pure silence could start agitation in the mind if it was too strict. Passing your partner on the path to the zendo and coldly walking by can start a story going just as fast as a wink, smile or strange look. So how do you handle that? I found that a pre-arranged acknowledgement is good. When my wife and I would pass, we’d stay silent, make little eye contact, but if it felt right, we’d give each other a quick little bow. It’s obvious that we each saw each other in the first place, so just acknowledging that and bowing allowed us to silently say, “I see you there and honor you, fellow Buddha-in-training”.

      Is this as silent as a ‘solo’ silent retreat might be? No. But bringing dharma into a relationship can be a wonderful thing, so bringing your relationship to a retreat might change it slightly, but could be worth it. Try it. If it doesn’t work for you (both), then go solo for your next few retreats. Hopefully, this is just one of many anyway, right?

      Great Peace!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *