Whoever or whatever we may think we are, we know we exist. Even when we are lost in our thoughts, feelings, sensations, perceptions, or experiences of life, somehow we know that we exist.
If we did not exist, there would be no thoughts, feelings, sensations, perceptions, or experiences. There would be no one, no person, no perceiver, no “me” or “I” to whom thoughts, feelings, sensations, perceptions, or experiences would appear.
And whatever that knowingness that we exist is, we discover that knowingness more clearly in those moments where we step out of our chronic absorption in those very thoughts, feelings, sensations, perceptions, or experiences of life.
In those moments we notice our sense of self, our sense of being. We have a tangible sense or knowing that we exist independently of whatever we may experience. In those moments that sense of “me” or “I” takes on a feeling of existing independently of all the thoughts, feelings, sensations and perceptions that occur to us.
That knowing that we exist is our sense of being, our sense of identity. While we may not have a clear sense of being, or even know what our being really is, we know it is there, because we have this clearer sense of it. And, it seems most fundamental to who we feel we are. And we may notice that it was always there, but hidden by our deep engagement in thoughts, feelings, sensations, and perceptions.
Even if we rarely pay attention to any underlying sense of our being, or even notice it, our being is there. Being is always there, even though we may not know where it comes from. And we can feel confident our being is there, whether we notice or not.
And we may notice that our sense of being is always the same when we pay attention or think about it. Our bodies age. Our life is filled with both good and bad experiences. And yet our sense of being, our sense of self, seems to remain the same, often seeming not to change at all over the years. Yes, we may feel the aging of our body. We may feel good on good days and bad on bad days. But who we are as that sense of being is still the same. There is a fundamental persistence and continuity to our sense of being.
Even if we define ourselves by our gender, our stage of life as a child or adult, our familial role as a sibling or parent, our role in life, our work or profession, our strengths or weaknesses, our accomplishments, or any number of definitions by which we refer to ourselves, our sense of being is still present, persistent and continuous in the background.
Present in our sense of being, is the capacity to know, not only to know that we exist, but to know we have thoughts, feelings, sensations, perceptions, or experiences. This knowing means we are conscious. If we were not conscious, we would not know anything. We would not know anything of thoughts, feelings, sensations, perceptions, or experiences, let alone that we exist.
Everything we know, every thought, feeling, sensation, perception or experience occurs in our consciousness on the basis of our sense of being. Being and consciousness are inseparable.
Some might argue that all we know or experience takes place in the mind, not in some abstract consciousness of being. But this would not be true to what we know directly. We experience our minds as the container of our thoughts, and of the faculty of our intellect. If we take a step back into our sense of being, we notice that our sense of being is independent of the mind. We know we are thinking. To know we are thinking directly points to our underlying sense of being as the conscious knower of our thoughts. We find our sense of being is conscious. Couldn’t we then consider that being is conscious and that everything we know or experience occurs in this consciousness of being itself?
And this extends to sensations and feelings we experience in our body. When we become conscious of feelings and sensations in our body, there is the knowing that we have these feelings and sensations. So even sensations and feelings, not just thoughts, occur in the consciousness of our being.
You may have had times when you are awake, not sleeping, where you do not seem to have thoughts, feelings, sensations, or perceptions. It is as though there is simply a cessation of being conscious of anything in particular. Would you say you cease to exist, cease to be, in those instances? Perhaps one cannot say for sure. But we know that once we begin to notice thoughts, feelings and sensations again, we have the feeling that our sense of being was persistent and continuous, even throughout those periods where we cease to be conscious of anything in particular.
This is very similar to how, when we go to sleep at night, we pass through phases of mind and brain function, but do not feel we’ve ceased to exist, ceased to be. We wake up the same person, the same being, in the morning as when we went to bed at night. Perhaps not incontrovertible evidence, but highly suggestive that being persists unchanged through even deep sleep where the mind is silent and there is no experience of which we are conscious.
If we can accept that our conscious being is indeed persistent and continuous, then it reinforces the premise that the capacity of consciousness of our being does not depend on perceptions and experience to exist. And we can then make a tentative conclusion that the consciousness of our being can exist all by itself, without any content of thoughts, feelings, sensations, perceptions or experiences. We could call this pure consciousness, consciousness ready and alert without any content.
What would the experience of pure consciousness be? Without the experience of it, we can speculate that pure consciousness would not be constrained by any content. It would be free, unrestricted. It might even have qualities of peace and joy. We know from our experience that our suffering often comes from feeling trapped in our thoughts, feeling or sensations. If we were not trapped, then we might notice more peace, love, joy and contentment in our lives. Perhaps this is what we might derive from the experience of pure consciousness.
What all this suggests, even if we don’t agree with all the assertions or conclusions, is that who we are is multi-dimensional. The whole reality of who we are includes more fundamental, more subtle, more abstract levels. And at the basis of the whole reality of who we are is existence, being and consciousness.
Perhaps the only way to verify any of this is through investigation within ourselves. And while there are many approaches to self-investigation, the spiritual path offers the tools to go to the greatest depth where we can discover the reality of our existence, our being, and consciousness itself.
But why does coming to know the wholeness of who we are matter anyway? Maybe our lives are good enough the way things are now. Maybe we just don’t have grand plans, or the motivation, to pursue a spiritual path.
In those moments where we discover our sense of being independent of our thoughts, feelings, sensations, and perceptions, we feel some increase of peace and love. We may also notice a greater sense of fluidity and comfort in our body. We may feel some gentle sense of joy. Or contentment.
Most people would like to have more peace, love, joy and contentment in their lives. Wouldn’t you? And most people try many ways to accomplish that with varying degrees of success, through relationships, family, and career. The spiritual path is another way to find more peace, love, joy and contentment, because the spiritual path leads to the source of peace, love, joy, and contentment.
For those who are interested in the experiment of pursuing a spiritual path, faith is not needed. All that is needed is the motivation to explore spiritual practice as a means to come to a deeper knowingness of the fullness of who you are and to reveal the peace, love, joy, and contentment that develops gradually as a result.
The spiritual path is a process of self-discovery, self-awakening, and self-realization. And it leads us to know reality as it really is, Divine. We may not believe that there is anything such as the Divine, but belief gradually falls away as the truth of reality as it really is becomes our direct experience.
So, whether or not you believe that spiritual practice is a means to align us with the Divine Reality, the source of our being and consciousness; or whether or not you believe that the Divine Reality is the source of lasting love, peace, joy and contentment; or whether or not you believe that aligning ourselves with the Divine Reality prepares us to receive Divine Grace, the function of the Divine which is the cause of awakening to Divine Reality and the realization of your divine nature; it doesn’t matter. Each of us will awaken on our own path of unfoldment, and our beliefs will shift, change, or cease to matter as the truth of reality dawns.