Spiritual awareness is a realization that although we are experiencing ourselves as separate individual consciousness, there is a unifying source of higher consciousness that is the origin of everything.
What is Spiritual Awareness?
Normally, we experience this world of duality, i.e., an observer (us) experiencing an object (the observed). Most people mistake duality for being an illusion. It is not an illusion but another layer of reality that emerges from the unity.
The idea of spiritual awareness is that we are much more than this mind-body complex. Limiting ourselves to the material world creates suffering. We are both material and spiritual, and both are equally important.
We cannot survive without material because, by nature, our body has been designed to consume material. Our mental body has a subtle connection with the physical body.
When we disrespect our physical body by denying it the love and nutrition it requires, our mental body feels the pain, including the spirit that embraces all the layers of our being.
And the opposite is also true. When we traumatize our mental body by creating negative thoughts, it creates inflammation in the physical body. There is an intricate connection between both.
Usually, we limit the understanding of our being to the psychological condition we have received since childhood. Self-awareness is important, but before that, one must clearly understand what the “self” is.
There are various levels of self-awareness. The awareness at the level of the mind enables us to function in this world effectively. That, in turn, helps us cultivate self-compassion.
It helps us build healthy relationships, creativity, focus, dedication to work towards our goals, awareness of what we like and dislike, pursuit of different interests and hobbies without fear, and much more.
However, this level of self-awareness is limited to the material world, including the physical and the psychological. Our true self goes beyond the mind. It is the unchanging, unlimited, and all-pervasive consciousness that witnesses everything, including the mind.
It is the awareness that is the spirit. The spiritual-self-awareness is the awareness of the higher self. It is the realization that the true self is eternal and transcends the body and mind.
Spiritual awareness is unconditional love. Love much more than a mere feeling. Love that does not bind but liberates. It is the essence of our “being.”
Once you attain spiritual awareness, you never feel lonely. You feel connected to every aspect of life and understand your higher purpose.
When you understand your mind, you can achieve anything in life and fulfill all your desires. But when you realize your spirit, desires become irrelevant, and you become the happiness, joy, bliss, or ecstasy you seek.
Identifying The Inner Critic
The inner critic is a little voice in our minds’ background that continually reinforces negative thoughts, beliefs, and emotions. Sometimes this voice is extremely critical and unforgiving.
It acts like a tyrannical master, sadistically punishing us and creating feelings of unworthiness, inadequacy, and self-sabotage.
According to Sigmund Freud, the inner critic is the superego that is rooted in our childhood. During childhood, we acquire the ideas and beliefs of our caretakers as our own.
We create an internal image based on external views. These include family, relationships, religious beliefs, money, sexuality, and more.
The inner critic rises when we fail to achieve the standards set forth by our parents, teachers, caretakers, and society in general.
As children, we lack the superior cognitive abilities to reason the practicality of unreasonable expectations laid upon us. Therefore, when we fail, we internalize a lot of shame, guilt, and negative feelings.
Over time these negative traits seep deep into our unconscious mind and become a part of the shadow — a part of us that is oblivious to the conscious mind but produces pathological behaviors now and then.
Some of these behaviors include irritation, restlessness, anxiety, rage, sexual perversions, emotional dysregulation, and more.
You must have observed that your inner critic awakens often and causes you to self-sabotage. Be it work, relationships, or finances — it creates destructive patterns in all aspects of life.
The feeling of “not being enough” coupled with low self-esteem causes addictions like binge-eating, sex, drugs, hoarding, shopping, gambling, alcohol, and other substance abuse.
It is not that the inner critic is asleep. It is always awake. But that voice grows louder whenever you are about to perform a critical task. It makes you feel unworthy and anxious. It catastrophizes events.
For example, I’ve often heard stories of how a huge hurricane or tornado will hit America and wipe out the entire nation in the future. Or that a giant asteroid will hit the earth and wipe out humanity.
Although none of that is likely to happen during our lifetime, these thoughts create significant anxiety. It is the reason why many people believe in doomsday preparation.
The inner critic magnifies the bad and minimizes the good. Your mind underplays your achievements and overplays your failures. On social media, your mind anxiously obsesses on one dislike you get from a troll rather than the hundreds of likes you received from your supporters.
You don’t acknowledge the beautiful things your family, friends, and coworkers do for you but preoccupy your mind with that one instance where someone you hardly knew was rude to you.
The inner critic makes you hypervigilant to criticism even when it’s delivered compassionately for your self-improvement. It happens because you have created strong identifications with destructive traits and tendencies solidified by the inner critic.
You’re operating in the default mode, where the awareness is extremely low. Therefore, you get carried away by the troubling emotions.
Your inner critic creates resistance to speaking your mind. You feel scared of being ridiculed for expressing your views and opinions on a particular matter. In other words, you lose authenticity.
You start suppressing yourself more. This suppression leads to unhealthy coping and toxic behaviors. For example, you might vent out anger and frustration at an unsuspecting target or someone who can’t retaliate, like a child or an elderly person.
Most people believe that venting out frustration is a solution to their problem, but that only reinvigorates the inner critic and damages relationships. The frustration increases over time, both in frequency and magnitude.
Cultivating awareness of our true self and nature helps us understand the inner critic. And the old habitual pattern of thinking gets exposed and replaced with a positive-self-affirming image.
The idea is to be aware of the inner critic and mindfully separate yourself from the afflicting feelings it creates. As awareness rises, the negative impact of the inner critic reduces.
We feel worthy of love, compassion, empathy, support, and success in all life endeavors.
The Overthinking “Monkey” Mind
One of the best ways to observe your mind is to sit still with your eyes closed for a few minutes. You’ll notice a continuous stream of thoughts — some reflecting on the past incidents while others fantasize about the future. They are in a constant state of flux.
These thoughts may carry pleasant or unpleasant energy. This energy is called emotion, i.e., energy in motion. Thoughts create emotions, and emotions can further create more thoughts. It’s a repetitive cycle that goes on forever.
The mind is always engaged in generating thoughts. One after the other, the mind creates a chain-like structure of thoughts, creating a frequently repeated pattern.
Buddhist refer to the mind as the monkey mind. Just like a monkey jumps from one branch of the tree to another, leaving behind half-eaten fruits, the monkey mind jumps from one thought to another without fully consuming them.
These partially consumed thoughts create a string of afflicting emotions that creates unhappiness and restlessness.
This activity is also known as mind wandering. It is a scientifically proven fact that mind-wandering is associated with activation in the brain regions that are related to stress, worry, and restlessness.
This mind-wandering increases when we perform uninteresting tasks. It directs our attention to reliving past events or creates anticipation about the future.
You invariably become anxious about thing-to-do, like picking up your child from school, paying pending bills, completing pending tasks, or simply getting lost in fantasies. You’re entirely distracted from the present moment.
Our mind is in the wandering mode most of the time. Modern life provides conveniences through technology, but at the same time, it creates many distractions.
Building a laser-like focus to achieve goals has become more challenging than ever before. We spend nearly half of our life in wandering-mind mode. The present moment offers an opportunity to live a joyful life.
Practices like mindfulness and meditation reduce mind-wandering and enable us to experience the joy of presence. The present moment is “now.” It is free from past burdens, anxiety about the future, or senseless daydreaming.
The process of thinking in itself is not the problem. Critical thinking leads to creative innovations. But a mind stuck in an endless loop of unproductive thoughts creates psychosomatic issues.
It creates stress, worry, anxiety, depression, and other psychological ailments. Forcing the mind to stop thoughts altogether does not work either. In fact, that creates more unhappiness and can also possibly cause severe damage.
Our aim here is not to get rid of the monkey but to tame it sufficiently to behave. When we meditate, we repeatedly bring our attention to the present moment.
During meditation, the mind wanders frequently. But over time, the repeated action of bringing back the attention to the present moment trains the mind to watch the thoughts and feelings rather than “being” them.
It creates a sense of separation between the thoughts and us, which significantly reduces overthinking and mind-wandering.
Understanding Non Attachment: Surrendering and Letting Go
I’m using the word non-attachment instead of detachment. There is no such thing as detachment. Life is designed in such a way that we cannot truly detach from anything.
According to Buddhist philosophy, nothing can exist in isolation; everything exists relative to other things. Non-attachment is the idea that we reduce our grasping or craving of desires, beliefs, views, opinions, and thoughts.
We experience suffering when we create strong identifications with aspects of us that desire Material pleasures. The real source of happiness lies within us.
Anything that we desire externally will have an impermanent existence. What that means is that it will provide temporary satisfaction. Once the desire is fulfilled, the dissatisfaction comes back with a new desire to attain more.
It is this unhealthy desire to attain happiness externally that creates the illusion of control. We believe that through our actions, we can control external circumstances, but in reality, we cannot control anything that is outside of us.
What we can control are our own internal tendencies that create unhappiness and restlessness and the very idea that we can control others.
The reason why we are obsessed with controlling others is that there is an underlying fear. An existential fear that is created by the false self-projected by the ego.
We feel threatened and scared that others will dominate and manipulate us if we let go of the control.
According to Jiddu Krishnamurti, even the fear of death is not the fear of the unknown but the fear of leaving behind the known. What lies behind the fear is the desire to hold onto what you have.
You fear losing your job Because you’re attached to the idea of security and the fixed income it provides. You Fear losing relationships because there is deep-seated insecurity that you will end up alone and lonely.
You don’t question religious beliefs and nonsensical scriptures because of your fear that you will be ostracized in this life and punished in hell afterlife.
All of these fears exist because we cling to worldly desires in the hope of achieving lasting happiness. What, instead, we experience is temporary excitement that starts to fade the moment that desire is fulfilled. It’s like an addiction.
We’re unclear as to what we are trying to achieve in life. We keep running and chasing one goal after another without pausing and contemplating why we’re behaving in this manner.
This happens because we have not understood the nature of our minds. Our ego is never satisfied, and it keeps us trapped. What we’re seeking outside is within us. IT IS US.
I’m not saying it is wrong to have desires, but having an intense craving to fulfill those desires is the problem. Surrendering and letting go of desires eventually leads to abiding happiness and peace.
The process of letting go is gradual and should commence in bits and pieces. Letting go of the idea of outside control from our grasp provides significant relief.
However, it is not an easy process because the ego offers resistance at every step. Only when the mind is sufficiently quiet, and there is enough presence or awareness will there be an element of non-attached watchfulness.
This watchfulness makes us see how the mind plays out the ego. I’m not talking about the Freudian concept of ego but the sense of ‘I’ we perceive in our daily experiences.
All of our identifications are deeply rooted in this sense of “I.” The more we identify with external objects, the more dominant this sense of ‘I’ becomes. However, we are not the “I” we experience.
To put it philosophically, we are the witness consciousness that shines on this ‘I’ sense and creates an illusion of duality. It is how we experience ourselves as individual consciousness.
It is the veil of ignorance that creates the impression of separateness. Going about our daily lives as this individual consciousness, we do realize our true nature.
We feel empty and isolated in the world. It is why we become fearful and seek dependence on others. Being part of a community gives a sense of belonging.
This, however, is a trap. In the long run, the individual must conform to the community’s ideologies and beliefs rather than the other way around. And again, we find ourselves in the same situation that we were trying to escape earlier.
So what is the solution? Surrender! Letting go of the illusion of control liberates us from the bondage of the mind. Every time you do it, you move closer to the source of infinite happiness and bliss that lies within you.
When you surrender, you indirectly gain control of the situation. You don’t have to make an effort to do it. Surrender comes to you naturally when you’re aware of your real essence.
Therefore, cultivating awareness is the key to self-realization. And that’s what we are going to explore in the next section.
The Rising of Presence (Deep Awareness)
The awareness that I’m talking about is not the sense of ‘I’ that I mentioned in the previous lesson, but the one that knows the I. It is pure, timeless, and unchanging awareness or presence.
But we can’t experience this awareness directly. It shows up as an experience of emptiness in the mind.
This awareness shows up when the mind is sufficiently silent and free from the influence of thoughts and emotions. Thoughts keep playing in the background as a secondary factor, but the mind remains fixated on the experience of awareness.
It is in this awareness we experience the ultimate happiness. It grows gradually over time as we meditate or perform self-inquiry or even on its own. It makes us realize who we are. In this state, our mind becomes restful. There is a feeling of serenity and calm.
It’s not that the awareness grows — it’s always present. Our minds are mostly preoccupied with memories of the past or fear of the future, and that is why we cannot feel the presence of this awareness.
I’ll admit that the title of this guide is a bit misleading. There’s nothing to cultivate. Just open your mind and see. To understand this concept, we use the analogy of the sun and clouds.
The sun is always present, radiating sunlight. But the dark clouds cover the sunlight and give an illusion of dullness. The moment these clouds move away, the light reaches us.
Similarly, awareness is always present. It is the dark clouds of doubt, worry, stress, anxiety, cynicism, skepticism, suspicion, and pessimism that block this radiant awareness.
When we practice mindfulness and meditation, the mind starts getting clear. It becomes relaxed free of doubts and worry.
You may wonder, what’s the big deal about this awareness? You see, this awareness is a field of consciousness. When you condense this field, it’s called the focus. Therefore, cultivating awareness helps build a strong focus.
Additionally, it makes us more responsive instead of reactive. How many times has it happened that you react in anger to a situation that you know you could’ve handled gracefully? You reacted impulsively. You said unpleasant things only to regret them later and even had to apologize.
When you’re aware, you gain control over your impulsive reactions. You understand the source from where they come. And you know to transform that disruptive energy into a compassionate one. You respond with calmness because you don’t fear anything.
Your deep-seated fears and insecurities come to light in awareness, and they lose the power to influence you anymore. You become more creative. Your interpersonal relationships improve.
You become more accepting of yourself and others. You develop patience, tolerance, compassion, forgiveness, and empathy for those who are struggling.
You become confident in dealing with challenging situations and don’t seek validation or support from others. You’re not afraid to take risks. You’re not scared of speaking your mind. And much more.