If we don’t meditate and do so consistently and deeply, then we probably won’t know ourselves. Instead, we’ll catch ourselves well after something has happened or after our “programming” or “conditioning” has already has its way with us.
We’ve already booked the flights to Bali and said goodbye to the woman we weren’t sure about anyway. Why did we do that? We don’t know, so we throw a pat, post hoc label on it: “Commitment issues.”
But because we showed up way too late, that is, because the situation is already well over, we don’t really know what happened. All we know is that we’re sitting on a plane headed for Bali while feeling a welter of vague, inarticulate feelings. As we try to go back to earlier scenes, they are, and shall likely remain, veiled from us.
But why is that so? Because neither awareness nor attention were trained on what was actually salient then and there.
Attention and awareness are, in fact, separate. The former is like a spotlight that narrowly places its focus on some object–a thought, a sensation, a feeling. Because ordinary mind is wandering mind, untrained attention is helplessly wayward. Accordingly, it has great difficulty resting on a particular object for long. Instead, it darts and bounces from one object to another.
And awareness? To begin with, awareness is being conscious of where attention has fallen. What’s key here is the word “of.” You can be aware “of” when you remark: “I didn’t know till now that I loved her.” Your awareness has just fallen on a particular kind of thought we might call “insight.” Thus, you are aware of your love for her.
This is not the end of awareness, however. Awareness can also be utterly without attention or beyond attention. Here, there is no “of-ness,” only what Zen sometimes calls “the empty sky.” Call this “awareness pure and simple.” To be sure, attention may continue to operate as is its wont, yet merging more and more with awareness, one too experiences a sense of being “the empty sky.”
Being able to skillfully dwell in awareness pure and simple and then to move to awareness “of” and then also to rest one’s attention gently and intently on a particular object all enable one to know thyself. Knowing thyself, one does less harm to others. Consequently–shall we say?–one isn’t caught anymore with one’s pants down.