“Who we are is the space of the moment arising in awareness.” – Eckhart Tolle
The pioneering psychologist Carl Jung coined the terms extraversion and introversion to indicate directions of consciousness energy, with extraversion being mental energy moving out from the interior of a person’s experience into the external world and introversion the bringing of that which is perceived as external into the field of mind for consideration. With this understanding, we typically connect the idea of a person being extraverted with being expansive in a rather loud and assertive manner. Conversely, we consider being introverted as rather quiet and unobtrusive, a person absorbed in their inner world of thoughts and emotions. To the degree that extraversion and introversion have to do with qualities of personality, another way of talking about ego-states, these are appropriate understandings. In extraversion, we are projecting our personality, our ego, out into the world; while in introversion, we are bringing the circumstances of the external world into our internal world to examine them and give them our interpretation. There is definitely an “in here” and an “out there.” Two places, one me, the other not me. As such, this constitutes a dualistic perspective. Because we are an ego oriented culture, we are accustomed to these uses of the terms extraverted and introverted, but importantly, there can also be non-egoic instances of extraversion and introversion to which we give very little consideration.
Buddhism is a culture that is very interested in the non-egoic state of consciousness that is awareness and in exploring ever-deepening levels of experience and insight into the human condition and the true nature of existence through engaged awareness. As an example of this consciousness energy directed in an introverted manner we have meditation, among its purposes being the focusing into and stabilizing of our internal world of mind. As many experience mind as dominated by incessant thought and emotion, this internal world of mind seems restless, perhaps even exhausting, and so we need some practice that trains us in holding a stable internal focus and in learning about and gaining insight into this restless searching mind, perhaps opening the way to calming and relaxing it.
This requires the introversion of awareness, the silent looking in at the activity of mind which can, like a reassuring mother to an over-excited child, calm and soothe the excitation and hyperactivity, in a sense, like a mother enfolding it within its embrace. With meditation, we are also increasingly aware of awareness, and bring into the foreground of experience that which has been operating silently in the background, opening the insight that as there is this dimension of mind that is awareness capable of examining the turbulent dimension of mind that is ego, then who we are at our most fundamental level must be awareness, stable and free of the turbulence. In bringing awareness to awareness we discover mind at its own source; stable, silent, intelligent and undisturbed by mental activity. This is a great discovery and liberation.
Having explored the introversion of awareness in meditation, it is then important to examine the importance of awareness extraverted in what Buddhism refers to as mindfulness. This is the bringing of the silent dimension of awareness deliberately into the world experienced as outside a person. Here, extraversion is paradoxically simultaneously expansive and receptive, meaning that it is simultaneously reaching out and taking in, and rather than being boisterous, this expansiveness is marked by profound quiet, even silence. We typically enter this state of consciousness reflexively when the external world is either extraordinarily beautiful or extraordinarily threatening and “out there” becomes so compelling that we forget about “me-in-here.” These are times when all of our consciousness energy leaves “in here” and with hushed awe or wariness, extends out into the environment, perhaps realizing that we ARE the environment, every bit as much as the trees, the clouds, the sky, and the Earth. This is a non-dualistic state of consciousness where there is only this moment in awareness.
So, we are left with the quandary: are we the activity and contents of our mind, all of which has some origin in biological/psychological/social/cultural conditioning and creates the sense of a separate “me,” or are we the field of consciousness within which all that is experienced occurs? Buddhist teaching and the teachings of various mystical traditions cross-culturally aim at awakening us into the realization that who we are is the consciousness energy of awareness in which the moment arises. With this awakening, there occurs a profound shift from the dualistic paradigm of “in here” and “out there” into non-dualistic “just this.” What is experienced as “out there” is realized as occurring in the field of consciousness, along with this body and this mental activity commenting on the “out there.” There is only this moment IN awareness. Inside and outside become meaningless, for we find we are IN that which previously was experienced as outside. The boundaries of egoic self dissolve.
This is the heart of spiritual awakening, and it initiates a process of transformation leading to a profound state of mental health and well-being where we are increasingly less buffeted about by the changing conditions of life and the mind’s incessant commentary about the conditions of life, but rather realize we are fundamentally that which does not change and has never changed, within which everything is always changing. If you can realize that the awareness that witnesses the reading of these words is the same awareness that witnessed your first breath and will witness your last breath and every moment between, this may be a very important “aha!” moment for you.
This expansive experience of self occurs in the silent dynamic stillness of the field of consciousness energy that is individuated awareness. The experience of “I” leaves the confines of locus in this body and mind to extend into the subject of attention in a non-dualistic connection. “I” becomes the interaction. While to see this stated may be quite new, the experience is not. We, in fact, do this quite frequently; yet do not notice its effect. As I sit typing these words at my computer, “I” exist in a connection of mind, hands and computer. When we garden, stroke our pets, speak with a loved one, hike silently in the woods with our senses sharp and attentive, or when we drive our car on a scenic road, if we do so with any degree of mindfulness, which is saying, in a very real way, with love, we have extended our sense of self into the field of interaction. We may notice that there is an accompanying sense of good feeling and well-being with these activities; and so we may seek them out with some regularity, citing them as important to us. We give these activities special status, as we might a religious experience, yet Zen teaches us it is, in fact, everyday mind – when we awaken into the truth of being awareness. Mindfulness practice is to recognize that these activities are not the source of our good feeling and well-being, but rather simply the stimuli for the action of extending awareness, of forgetting ourselves in the act of becoming one with any activity.
This is the essential truth of who we are, and this realization is immensely liberating and also is the birth of true compassion, for as all we experience is connected in this field of consciousness energy, “I” exist within this interconnected field – and so, in a sense, when we are in each other’s presence as we co-arise in this field of awareness, “I” has to contain “you.” And – as awareness is not limited to the range of the physical senses and can intuit Universal Life, this is a compassion that can extend to all of Life in all its forms.
Realizing this, our practice can then be to deliberately extend awareness into the here-and-now at subtler and subtler levels into the seemingly mundane contents and activities of our lives while also extending it limitlessly into a vast sense of our cosmic origin and presence, the entire spectrum now taking on a sense of the Sacred. We can begin living deliberately as the expansive silence of awareness within which we walk and talk and interact, living as feeling, thought, sight and sound, without an “I” at the center. This expansive silence is realized as the self beyond form and identity and opens our lives to a rich realization of our origin in infinity walking and experiencing the finite. A deep and abiding peace results allowing perspective on the “what is” that becomes a source of compassion and wisdom always available when we remember we are “the space of the moment arising in awareness.” And when you see some spiritual writing that says we are “That,” you will know what is meant.