Mindfulness, Ego, and Essence

I am going to say something about mindfulness, ego, and essence that may seem surprising to some - mindfulness and meditation in general, is a trick! A very useful trick, but none the less a trick to awaken you to your own ego, and essence, your one true nature.

Let me explain. Above is an image which at first appears to be no more than a senseless jumble of lines. But for those of you who have seen these images before you know that embedded within those squiggles is a 3D image. At first you must squint your eyes and move the image back and forth, ever shifting your focus, until, either suddenly, or gradually that 3D picture appears before you. “Way cool!”. Some of us struggle and struggle and it seems impossible to “get it”, but if we persist, eventually we see the picture.

This is a metaphor for meditation. It is a trick to get us to shift our focus so we can “get it”. At first, and maybe for a good long time we’re not sure what we’re supposed to get. We go on great journeys into mystical bliss states, shamanistic journeys, deep insight into our ego’s, and maybe weeks and months of utter boredom while we sit and contemplate the dust mote in front of our eyes. “Why am I doing this?”, you think. But again you persist because someone else “got it” and it’s “way cool!”, or so they say...but at times you really wonder what it’s all about.

Finally you begin to notice something - wherever you go there you are. No matter if you go into total boredom or ecstatic bliss, you’re always aware of it. Yes! Whatever state you experience you’re always aware of it - ever present awareness! You are that awareness. This is what your supposed to get. But wait, there’s little more to it.

Lets take a slight detour. We will, for the sake of this discussion define consciousness as awareness+content+state. Awareness in the simplest of terms is noticing that you have noticed. The content is what you just noticed, and the state is the condition your mind/brain/body is in at the moment of noticing, for our purposes the EEG state.

At this juncture it’s fair to ask if awareness is really a separate function of consciousness? Remember we defined consciousness as comprised of three elements; awareness, content, and state.

Content is all we are aware of; sensation, feelings, and thoughts. Researcher Benjamin Libet has persuasively demonstrated that awareness is a separate function from content...

“...results ( of experiments) proved that awareness is a phenomenon independent of content.”( Libet, “Mind Time” 2004)

States are the physiological states of the body: waking, dreaming sleep, non-dreaming sleep. Research into lucid dreaming ( “Conscious Mind, Sleeping Brain”, Gackenbach and LaBerge) conclusively demonstrates that waking awareness can be continuous with dreaming states, and ongoing research show that it may be continuous throughout all stages of sleep with training.

These lines of research then strongly demonstrate that awareness has a functional integrity independent of both state and content. Ultimately meditation is the training of awareness to dis-identify with both state and content.

So where does this take us?

We are born into a body with certain traits, temperaments, talents, intelligences, etc. these are biological givens. This is our essence. As we physically grow our bodies go through changes, or stages of growth, and we attach meanings at each of these stages to the experiences we have. Giving meaning to experience is called a “cognitive drive”. These meanings we attach to our experiences become an explanatory style, that is the way we explain the world to ourselves, sometimes called our “ego”. The ego plus our essence is what we call our personality type or style, and corresponds to the various types described by the Enneagram for example.

As we grow our awareness becomes totally identified, merged, or confluent with, our explanatory style...our ego. Our awareness and ego are one and this is the stage of “self”-awareness. For most of us we are somewhere in this stage of development all of our lives. This comprises most of the stages of development described by western psychology.

If our experiences have been extremely traumatic as we grow our explanatory style begins to widely diverge from our essence. This corresponds to the bottom three levels or stages of type development in the Enneagram. The middle three show an increasing connection between the ego, our explanatory style, and essence. However there is a degree of disordering or mismatch between ego and essence at this level, not a one to one relationship. Finally in the top three stages there is an ever increasing identification of explanatory style with essence. That is explanatory style - ego - becomes totally congruent with our body essence. Another way of explaining this would be by strange attractors in chaos theory, but that would take us too far a field here.

There is throughout all of this what I call an “experiential center of gravity” for the self. By self I mean the confluence of awareness, ego, and essence, and remember your essence arises from your physical body, as does awareness. At the lower stages of development the self is experienced as fragmented, detached, and disassociated from essence. At the top three stages of type development in the Enneagram the self is either totally, or almost so, congruent with essence. However throughout all of these developmental stages awareness remains completely identified with the ego, your explanatory style.

Mindfulness, then is the means by which we can begin to shift focus. It is the continual, moment-to-moment, tracking of experience, unconditionally accepting all that arises, without judgment, and with an attitude of loving-kindness. As one continues with this practice the Awakened Mind state can gradually emerge allowing us to delve deeper and deeper into our subconscious content.

The Awakened Mind is the access state which allows all the content of mind to come into awareness...to make the unconscious conscious regardless of ones developmental stage. Most meditation practices in general will produce an Awakened Mind state over time, though not necessarily.

It is the initial intention one has in the Awakened Mind state that determines the content of the state. If one’s intention is shamanistic work then that is what one will experience, if you are doing some form of re-birthing then you will begin to experience the conditions of your conception and birth, or out-of-body travel if that is what you are seeking, or if you are doing psychotherapy you will access your emotional traumas, and so on. It is the intention which determines the initial condition, or set point of experience.

Mindfulness keeps you focused on the process of awareness itself throughout all states and content. Eventually you begin to experience a shift in identification from the “content of awareness” to the “process of awareness". At that point we begin enter a state of “no-self”. That is one’s explanatory style/ego/content, drops away, what we normally experience as our "self". Awareness does not think or explain the world, it just is. One can experience a sense of spaciousness, equanimity, and presence. Awareness and essence merge and we experience the world directly, as it is presented to our senses, no intervening explanation by the ego. This is not to be mistaken for any disassociative states, or trancing out.One actually feels more present and awake. The body is the lens through which awareness is focused in this plane.

Ego didn’t die or even fade away, it was just bypassed by the next developmental stage of awareness. There is a shift of our “center of gravity” for the experiential self away from the content of awareness to awareness itself. This is the “trick” of meditation, to shift the "self center of gravity" out of your ego content and into awareness itself.

It is for this reason mindfulness is combined with the Awakened Mind state. The Awakened Mind state may be necessary for a shift in emotional and psychological stages, but does not, in and of its self, foster an increase in the stages of growth of awareness...that is the dis-identification of awareness with state and content.