The crux of the spiritual endeavor
Most of us suffer from the automatic and unexamined identification with the relentlessness of the thought process and our ever-fluctuating emotions and body sensations. This is almost always a stifling and anxiety-ridden condition and we seek relief from the inner discomfort and discord with alcohol, ambition, experiences, consumption, entertainment, sex, therapy and so on. Anything to distract us from the seemingly unending and usually unsettling stream of thoughts, feelings and sensations. We long for peace and rest and a quality of expansiveness and ease.
Beginning to become aware of the passing thoughts, feelings and sensations is a great first step and allows us to start to disidentify with the ongoing content of our experience. We’re not simply getting lost in thought, for example, we’re paying attention to what thoughts we are having. We’re creating a gap where we can witness what is happening, and in the witnessing have some distance or perspective.
What really revolutionizes our experience though and gives rise to the peace and equanimity most of us are longing for, is to begin putting our attention on what it is that is aware of all these passing thoughts, feelings and sensations. In other words, shifting our attention from the content of our awareness to awareness itself.
It is a dramatic shift of gestalt which suddenly changes everything. When we become aware of awareness (instead of only being aware of the contents in awareness), we are freed from the sense of constriction and restriction, anxiety and fearfulness. Our own essential Being is revealed, and in that we find the peace, clarity and inner refuge we have so yearned for.
This is the crux of the spiritual endeavor and what all the teachings in their various ways are attempting to illuminate for the seeker.