My teacher taught me to maintain my awareness at my highest level of attainment. Seemingly straightforward, this instruction is actually rather mysterious. It is an instruction to ‘this one,’ the one who needs to awaken, and hence already paradoxical. Won’t I interpret what it means to maintain my awareness in accord with what I take to be wakeful? And if I do, doesn’t that imply that I know what wakeful is even though I am not yet awake? Yes, and that is the first paradox. Nevertheless, the instruction stands.
Our energy, and therefore our will, is tied up with our desire to be fulfilled. This is natural and as it should be. However, we spawn false images of freedom constantly, and advertisers, who are experts on images of freedom, lure us with ready-made suggestions as to what could satisfy. There is no need for me to offer a litany of these images. Merely by mentioning advertising, I am sure they come to mind.
Non-dualists often diminish the significance of our discriminating mind. Clarity is essential to the one who aspires to freedom. As each tantalizing image comes to our mind we must ask ourselves if attaining the image would really satisfy. If not, it should be cast aside. Sometimes we are tempted to argue with ourselves and present rationalizations. “I need a car, anyway,” we say. “Why not this one?” It is an advanced practice to design a life compatible with the effort to wake up. It is our task to make the effort despite our ignorance. It is helpful to ask about each activity or purchase is simply, “Will this help me wake up?” Often an answer immediately appears.
So, what is attention? Answering the question, “What will help me wake up?” to the best of our ability is one way to clarify focus. The parallel activity of casting aside what has already been discredited by insight helps tighten our practice.
What is a discredited pattern or interest? Simply, it is pursuing what you already know won’t lead to freedom. It is common nowadays when the writings of the ancients are easily accessible (and nearly everyone seems interested in some form of new age spirituality) to hear phrases that can be misleading out of context. For example, “You already are the Buddha.” Perhaps this is true, but for this one who doesn’t know how it is true the statement adds little by way of elucidation.
Recently on a yoga website I pursued, I saw the phrase, “Stinking Thinking.” This is a variation of the idea communicated by a campus poster I once saw that said, “Shut up and Dance!” Or even of the complaint some of my clients share with me, “I think too much.” It is tempting, to some, to want to cast aside the intellect. This is especially true because it is the current flavor of our culture to distrust thinking. There is some truth in this concern. When a person is emotionally distant from his or her thinking it is unlikely that thinking will be much help. But don’t throw away one of the most wonderful tools we were granted. It is better to distinguish productive thinking from ruminating than to eliminate thinking.
Clear thinking is like a scalpel that can be used to cut away diseased delusion. We need the discriminating mind to help us fathom the difference between healthy and unhealthy pursuits. Neurotic patterns have to be identified and then rejected. An act of discipline and perception is required.
All actions and patterns that lead to repetitive swirls of thought, relationship, addiction or any other illusion have to be forcefully cast aside. Turning away from false answers will lead you to the desert of the soul referenced in many mystical traditions. This is where you will need courage and faith.
Cultivate courage by practicing intent. Your faith can be supported in two ways. First, you can witness a person who is free. This is possible if you are fortunate enough to have found a true teacher. Witnessing that person points to another order of awareness, of reality even. In the best case, the teacher will be an example of freedom attained in this lifetime. The second source of faith can be found in your own discoveries. You can see from your own experience that when you let go of an inadequate solution you don’t die. If you sustained your effort, you were born again. Nothing will help you more than witnessing and experiencing this process. The story of the phoenix rising from its ashes is a reference to this psychic truth.
So now let’s answer the question. What does it mean to sustain your awareness? It means to live at the highest level of development that you are capable of while refusing to enter again into levels of life you no longer believe in. It means to live.