Everything that we perceive can be used as a tool to reinforce our own imprisonment and bondage to illusion. However, the good news is that everything that we perceive can also be used as a means to liberate ourselves from this imprisonment. We just have to learn how to approach phenomenal experience.
Before becoming free, we have to discover all the ways in which we are not free; that is, we have to discover the exact and precise nature of our own imprisonment. If an escaping prisoner is to understand how to escape his prison cell, he has to first understand exactly where the cell is located in relation to the rest of the prison and where he needs to tunnel through to break out of it.
Gradually, our naturally free and wholesome, space-like, not-limited-to-the-form mind, has become entangled with its own multifaceted perception/display. This gives the sense that what appears, what happens and does not happen in life, matters somehow – it has some kind of ‘existential weight’ or authority. As long as this kind of connection to appearances remains, suffering will naturally follow. This is because we become attached to one ‘mode of appearance’ over another, and because our will (no matter how powerful) does not have complete control over these appearances, eventually these appearances will change, and we will experience the grief of separation from our chosen and preferred mode of appearance (experience).
To understand this point deeply is one of greatest realisations to have, because then one can continually re-invoke the sincere knowledge that, no matter what does or does not (seem to) happen in this world, the result will not be permanent but will only flow into another, different kind of experience.
At the beginning of the path, what we think of as ‘ourselves’ is scattered and entwined with the manifold appearances of the world. Our ‘self’ is experienced as a collage of experience between thought, emotion and the five-sensory perception of the external world. Our work as practitioners is to untie our sense of being and self from these experiences. Instead of our sense of being, being scattered and lost in the ever changing flux and whirl of the apparent reality, including what we consider to be our ‘subjective emotional/mental experiences’, we learn to bring that sense of being into a state of absolute independence and autonomy from anything that changes.
Thus, the role of life-experiences changes from things we project as the means of our existential fulfillment, to a game-like display that in every moment illustrates to us how our naturally, free-in-itself, spacious awareness has become tied to the ever-changing display of form. Life experience no longer becomes important in itself, as when we perceive ourselves to be our ‘own man’ living our own ‘personal movie’, with all its ups and downs, climaxes and denouements. But rather, it becomes like a sport and a game, where each day we may ask: ‘What do I have to learn about my own awareness, and how has it intertwined and enmeshed itself with the displayed reality?’
The severance of awareness from the display may not be an instant process, but gradually, in time, our experience of life will become lighter and subtler and more unconditionally joyful and content. This feeling of lightness and contentment which does not depend on anything ‘that seems to happen or not happen’ is the best indicator of progress on the path.
Suffering increases to the extent that one’s awareness is hard-bound to some category of appearance that changes. It seems to be that awareness is somehow ‘addicted’ to dramatic copulation with the forms that appear upon its own screen. Just as the drug addict has to learn to gradually withdraw from the inner intensities, highs and lows of drug experiences, so does the patient practitioner have to gradually withdraw their inner free awareness from the highs and lows of the forever-shifting transitory experiences of what we call ‘life’.
The pain comes in this process of withdrawal, when instead of reacting to life the way we did before by trying to apply some kind of coping mechanism to deal with a situation that we find undesirable – we tell ourselves something about the situation that makes it more manageable, we run away and escape, we react with anger and rage to try and destroy this element within our consciousness – instead of doing these things, we simply observe the fact that our awareness has become innocently coupled, and thus bothered by this type of experience.
Knowing that what causes suffering is not the experience itself but the fact that our awareness has coupled with it, is the first step to releasing our awareness and attaining the freedom and contentment of that naturally free awareness. Eventually, when that particular perception stops receiving the energetic and conscious charge of our own concentrated-upon-it awareness, there will be a severance of awareness from that perception, and we will sink into unconditional inner bliss of that awareness, and the phenomena will be experienced neutrally as a kind of ‘sweet dream’.
During this process, our lives will also change, because rather than our reactions arising from a need to grasp, protect or hold on to some phenomenon in an attempt to attain some kind of ‘inner-fulfillment’, the inner fulfillment will already be there, and we will exist and act through that natural fulfillment and contentment. Such action no longer carries the seed of corrupt awareness, rather, it naturally transmits the pure unconditional essence of awareness.
Naturally, as the path goes on through the life-display, deeper and thicker roots of entanglement with phenomena will arise naturally to the surface – experiences that may seem unbearable and may trigger every kind of egoic reaction into instant effect. This is natural, as these entanglements are usually what give us our deep and seemingly absolute sense of individual embodied self. As this sense of self becomes subtler, free and unconditional, the very foundations of the illusionary existence will be exposed through one’s still-remaining reactions to life-circumstances.
We should experience all these difficult circumstances as blessings that give us the key to really unravel and uncouple our awareness totally. If we have built a solid foundation in practice and have established our experience of unconditional content awareness, then we should proceed to slice through and sever all binding-phenomenal attachments until we rest fully in that awareness in every moment and remain, on an inward level, unperturbed by the inevitable fluctuations of phenomenal existence.