“Awareness trumps thoughts because you can always be aware of your thoughts.”
This quote by Jon Kabat-Zinn may be one of the most profound yet simplest concepts I have ever heard. It points to the authentic self in us all. The thoughts and emotions are not the authentic self. They are the psychological self, created through a life of meaning making experiences. The authentic self is the one who is aware of those experiences and the thoughts and emotions that remind us of them.
Obviously, there is someone aware of the thoughts. Who is this someone? That is an important question to ask. We are not the thoughts. This simple awareness is absolutely liberating. What a freeing feeling to know that we can control thoughts and they are for us to use or dismiss however we so choose.
In speaking to awareness Eckhart Tolle wrote, “See the link between your thinking and your emotions. Rather than being your thoughts and emotions, be the awareness that’s behind them.” This quote points to the importance of witnessing thoughts and emotions before they have a chance to activate the ego and take us down a path of suffering. Turning attention to the thought/emotion process allows us to separate the thoughts from the emotions. We can then observe the current event without injecting emotions from past experiences into it. This is how we can have authentic interactions with people in the absence of judgment and ego.
The Birth of the Ego
Tolle suggested that the concept “my life” is the beginning of ego. This line of thinking splits self and separates I and life. It is the catalyst to view the world from the perspective of separateness. According to Tolle, “I am life” is much more accurate. The concept of I am life brings thoughts of connection and unity. It can help us to feel part of something bigger than ourselves. It can also remove the fear of death since knowing we are life rather than we have life means it cannot be lost. Paradoxically, we can only truly separate ourselves from the mind and body by believing that we are one with everything.
It takes awareness to recognize ego. What is ego? It is the sense of self, acquired through a lifetime of experiences as mirrored to us by others. According to Eckhart Tolle, the ego derives its sense of self worth by how it is viewed by others. He states:
Others Give Us Our Sense of Self
“We are not called human doings. We are called human beings. It is not about doing. It is about being. Once the truth of this statement is discovered, the idea of oneness will be known.”
You need others to give you a sense of self, and if you live in a culture that to a large extent equates self-worth with how much and what you have, if you cannot look through this collective delusion, you will be condemned to chasing after things for the rest of your life in the vain hope of finding your worth and completion of your sense of self there.
It is helpful to keep in mind, however, that chasing after “things” does not mean only material items. Thoughts are things. It would take more than this brief description to demonstrate the truth in that. For now, just try to imagine it is true and search yourself for those “things” in you. For thirty years I gained a sense of self-worth by competing with others in sports. That was my “thing.” What’s yours?
After stepping away from it all and looking at what was left I realized something extremely important. I am not those “things.” I am not what I do or what I have or what I have done. I am not what others see. I am the one who experiences those things. What is the authentic self? It is the joy of being in the absence of thought, with no attachment to beliefs, or to material items. Letting go of defining ourselves through the lens of the ego, prescribed by the ideology of society, is what will show us the true meaning of the word oneness. But it must be experienced. We are not called human doings. We are called human beings. It is not about doing. It is about being. Once the truth of this statement is discovered, the idea of oneness will be known. The authentic self already knows this.