“You are not objects out there, you are not feelings, you are not thoughts-lessly aware of all those, so you are not those. Who or what are you?”
The witnessing of awareness can persist through waking, dreaming and deep sleep. The Witness is fully available in any state, including your own present state of awareness right now. So I’m going to talk you into this state, or try to, using what are known as “pointing out instructions.” I am not going to try to get you into a different state of consciousness, or an altered state of consciousness, or a non-ordinary state. I am going to simply point out something that is already occurring in your own present, ordinary, natural state.
So let’s start by just being aware of the world around us. Look out there at the sky, and just relax your mind; let your mind and the sky mingle. Notice the clouds floating by in the sky. Notice that this takes no effort on your part. Your present awareness, in which these clouds are floating, is very simple, very easy, effortless, spontaneous. You simply notice that there is an effortless awareness of the clouds. The same is true of those trees, and those birds, and those rocks. You simply and effortlessly witness them.
Look now at the sensations in your own body. You can be aware of whatever bodily feelings are present-perhaps pressure where you are sitting, perhaps warmth in your tummy, maybe tightness in your neck. But even if these feelings are tight and tense, you can easily be aware of them. These feelings arise in your present awareness, and that awareness is very simple, easy, effortless, spontaneous. You simply and effortlessly witness them.
Look at the thoughts arising in your mind. You might notice various images, symbols, concepts, desires, hopes and fears, all spontaneously arising in your awareness. They arise, stay a bit, and pass. These thoughts and feelings arise in your present awareness, and that awareness is very simple, effortless, spontaneous. You simply and effortlessly witness them.
So notice: you can see the clouds float by because you are not those clouds-you are the witness of those clouds. You can feel bodily feelings because you are not those feelings-you are the witness of those feelings. You can see thoughts float by because you are not those thoughts-you are the witness of those thoughts. Spontaneously and naturally, these things all arise, on their own, in your present, effortless awareness.
So who are you? You are not objects out there, you are not feelings, you are not thoughts-you are effortlessly aware of all those, so you are not those. Who or what are you?
Say it this way to yourself: I have feelings, but I am not those feelings. Who am I? I have thoughts, but I am not those thoughts. Who am I? I have desires, but I am not those desires. Who am I?
So you push back into the source of your own awareness. You push back into the Witness, and you rest in the Witness. I am not objects, not feelings, not desires, not thoughts.
But then people usually make a big mistake. They think that if they rest in the Witness, they are going to see something or feel something-something really neat and special. But you won’t see anything. If you see something, that is just another object-another feeling, another thought, another sensation, another image. But those are all objects; those are what you are not.
No, as you rest in the Witness-realizing, I am not objects, I am not feelings, I am not thoughts-all you will notice is a sense of freedom, a sense of liberation, a sense of release-release from the terrible constriction of identifying with these puny little finite objects, your little body and little mind and little ego, all of which are objects that can be seen, and thus are not the true Seer, the real Self, the pure Witness, which is what you really are.
So you won’t see anything in particular. Whatever is arising is fine. Clouds float by in the sky, feelings float by in the body, thoughts float by in the mind-and you can effortlessly witness all of them. They all spontaneously arise in your own present, easy, effortless awareness. And this witnessing awareness is not itself anything specific you can see. It is just a vast, background sense of freedom-or pure emptiness-and in that pure emptiness, which you are, the entire manifest world arises. You are that freedom, openness, emptiness-and not any itty bitty thing that arises in it.
Resting in that empty, free, easy, effortless witnessing, notice that the clouds are arising in the vast space of your awareness. The clouds are arising within you-so much so, you can taste the clouds, you are one with the clouds. It is as if they are on this side of your skin, they are so close. The sky and your awareness have become one, and all things in the sky are floating effortlessly through your own awareness. You can kiss the sun, swallow the mountain, they are that close. Zen says “Swallow the Pacific Ocean in a single gulp,” and that’s the easiest thing in the world, when inside and outside are no longer two, when subject and object are nondual, when the looker and looked at are One Taste. You see?
Material in this column appears in One Taste: The Journals of Ken Wilber, from Shambhala Publications Inc., Boston. Copyright Ken Wilber, 1998.