In last Thursday’s Mindsight Intensive course a student I will call Sarah shared with us her direct experience of the doors of avoidance I talked about within the context of Dynamic Mindfulness.

Movements of our limbs is one of those doors of avoidance. To create safety the brain uses physical movements of our arms and legs. You are certainly familiar with this phenomenon. Before your meeting with your disgruntled boss for example you see yourself fidgeting, nervously picking your fingers, rhythmically moving your foot back and forth in fast motion or frequently changing body position. Unconsciously engaging in these movements creates a superficial sense of internal pressure relief, but never addresses the cause of our restlessness. Were you in such circumstances making a point of relinquishing control of your limbs and keep them absolutely still, the finer internal energy flow of emotions and thought patterns would surface more clearly into your consciousness, and you would be much better able to explore how you create your internal hell, realize distortions you engage in and modify your outlook to your advantage.

Through experimentation Sarah was astonished to realize so viscerally how powerful movement can be in obscuring our view of our internal world. When in complete physical motionlessness of formal practice she deliberately moved just one finger, the spaciousness of awareness with its focused and stable attention got disrupted and her view of the internal energy flow became murky, like water becomes murky when the sediment that has settled at the bottom gets stirred up. This direct realization of the doors of avoidance I had been talking about was just the sideshow to the main story of this blog.

In describing her experience Sarah wanted to know what the scientific explanation of this phenomenon was, and that was what immediately piqued both my and her curiosity. The question was motivated by more than just intellectual curiosity. There was a sense that her subjective experience, as powerful and clear as it was, required scientific validation. Why was her experience not enough for her understanding of reality? Why did she need a scientific explanation to validate her experience? This profound question brought tears to her eyes, an expression of sadness that would take her some time to understand within the psychodynamic context of her childhood experiences. However, beyond the conditioning of her childhood there was an existential learning in store, and that was the radical primacy of subjective experience. Let me explain.

Carl Jung once talked to one of his students about a dream one of his patients had, which involved this patient walking on the moon. In telling this dream he spoke as if the patient had actually been walking on the moon, which struck his student as somewhat odd. The student asked somewhat perplexed: “But he was not really walking on the moon, only metaphorically so in the dream?” To which Jung answered: “No, no, he absolutely and really had been walking on the moon.” At that moment the student experienced an orthogonal shift, as John Kabat-Zinn would say, “… a transition from a two-dimensional ‘flatland’ into a third spacial dimension, at right angles (orthogonal) to the other two” (J. Kabat-Zinn, Coming to our senses, p. 350, Hyperion, 2005). This is the fundamental shift I invited my students to explore during our exploration of non-dual awareness, and which Sarah was about to experience in a direct embodied fashion. It was the shift into realizing the fundamental primacy of our inner world, from which all sense of meaning emerges.

The shift is radical, from a strongly conditioned conventional consensus reality that is ultimately incomplete and therefore a mere superficial appearance, to a spacious, unconditioned view of what is often referred to as ultimate reality, which is capable of recognizing conditioning as it arises. This absolute reality is awareness itself, more fundamental than conventional reality and every bit as real, the knowing capacity of mind itself beyond a knower and what is known. We tend to see ourselves as inhabitants of a world we are born into, and which we experience as conventional everyday reality of lived experience ‘out there’ created by the way our brain processes information from our external five senses. The deep conditioning at the root of this view creates a consensus trance we all share, akin to a dream world we don’t recognize as such. The orthogonal shift created through awareness feels like an awakening from this dream, more often than not experienced as nightmare, and we recognize how like fog the dream obscured our view of the horizon that opens up multiple degrees of freedom we did not know we had before. Suddenly we realize that seeing ourselves as inhabitants of a world we are born into is limited, and that in fact in every moment of our lives a world is born and vanishes in us, provided we allow ourselves to recognize our identity as the timeless Being that we are.

Sarah experienced this shift in slow motion as it unfolded in front of our very eyes. From seeing herself as arising and passing in a world, she shifted into seeing a world arising and passing in herself. The moment of her realization did not require scientific validation, as if science was more fundamental than our experience. Instead, accepting her experience as complete in itself opened the door for her to deeply honor awareness itself and its manyfold manifestations. At that moment, when she was able to let go of the conditioned need for a rational scientific explanation, she honored her deep, unique subjectivity without any attachment to what is supposed to be. She discovered the pleasure in living in a world that is either not supposed to be, or already there as it is, and that does not have to be anything. The healing effect of deeply listening to herself that way consisted of knowing that when we rest in awareness anything can happen, and we don’t have to make ourselves be like what other people want us to be or what is going to be accepted.

Consider this: When you touch the chair you are sitting on, you will never know the chair in itself. The closest you can come to knowing the chair is by way of translation, the very specific way your senses cause neurofiring patterns in your body and your brain. You can ultimately only know your own neurofiring patterns, not the chair itself, and if you had a very different brain, the chair would look and feel very differently, leading to very different conclusions about reality. When we honor that fact we realize the primacy of awareness, and our sense of Being profoundly expands in many new directions, providing untold degrees of freedom that reduce our conditioned and optional human suffering.

Copyright © 2016 by Dr. Stéphane Treyvaud. All rights reserved.