What is enlightenment?
Enlightenment is when you no longer identify with your thoughts.
Since the story of your life, what you think about yourself, and positions you hold dear, are all thoughts, when you “wake up,” these thoughts stop feeling like you. They don’t necessarily go away, but they do lose their power over you – you stop identifying with them. You stop identifying with the ego story.
Recognizing that you are the witness to all thoughts, sights, sounds, and activities that the brain translates for you, is what I call Stage I Enlightenment. You identify with (think of yourself as) the Witness. The Witness is a very apt term used in most non-dual communities (enlightenment seekers). Perceiver is another good name. You, as the Witness, lie behind all your thoughts. You are the witness to the thoughts the brain puts out.
Because most people’s brains are generating thoughts all the time, and the ego story is the main “character” in those thoughts, people naturally tend to identify with (think of themselves as) their story – rather than the entity who is witnessing/hearing/feeling the story.
The easiest way to clarify this is to remember a dream you had. Take the one I had the other day. Imagine you are having that dream. Here you are, walking into a windsurfing shop and the salesman says that you need to buy one of these strange masks/helmets on the wall. Why didn’t you tell the salesman, “No way! If I were to fall in the water wearing that helmet, it would be like my head were in a fishbowl. I’d drown!”
Why didn’t you say that? Because you weren’t thinking – your conscious mind was unconscious, unresponsive, asleep, AWOL. (Note: I’m not talking about lucid or semi-lucid dreams where the conscious mind is partially awake.)
The key part is that you witnessed the dream, but that no thoughts were going on. You were witnessing the salesman, the masks, even yourself, but you weren’t thinking. If you were thinking, you would have realized it was a dream.
What is my point? Since you witness your dreams without thinking, you therefore cannot be your thoughts. Something (You the Witness) sees your dreams while you (ego) are unconscious!
You are the witness to what goes on in your head, not the contents of what goes on in your head. Recognizing this is the first step to seeing your thoughts, and more importantly, seeing your ego story as just a collection of thoughts.
Try to recall a memorable dream. Try to see how you watched that dream, much like a movie. Try to get in touch with You as the Watcher/Witness of that movie.
Now if you look closely at You as the Witness, you will see that you have never changed. Since your earliest memory, you have always been there watching. You were there watching as you learned how to tie your shoes, ride your bike, or learn to speak. You probably don’t remember it, but you were even there watching at the moment of your birth. Your brain and body were changing and growing, but You were always there watching, always constant, always the same. You were the same because You as the Witness are not your ego, your memories, or your story – all of those are just thoughts. You as the Witness are constant, clear, open, radiant and wonderful awareness.
What’s fascinating is that you can even see the Witness when you look into a baby’s eyes. Their brains are dumb as rocks, but you can still see and sense the life/love/wonder gleaming behind their eyes. That gleaming is their Witness shining forth.
The next article will give you another real-world example to help you see your thoughts – and, hopefully, further strengthening you identification with the Witness. (Update: Due to circumstances beyond my control, my Dark Night of the Soul, the article following that miserable one will be about the seeing your thoughts – WW).
Please let me hear any feedback in the comments if this isn’t clear. Thanks.
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