This is an excerpt from my book Better than Sex.
In this moment, you can see squiggly hieroglyphics on a white page. Is that true? If you look up for a moment, I am sure you can see other things as well: shapes, colors, textures, and movement. If I look up from the desk in my house I can see trees, and the sunlight moving through the trees. What can you see from where you are?
Now I am going to ask you a series of questions. As you hear or read each question, please pause for a moment, long enough to find out what is the honest and accurate answer for you.
The first question: do you need to think in order to see an object that is in front of you? For example, hold up your hand in front of your face. Look at the hand. Now that the hand is here, to see the hand, just to see it, not to understand or compare or give it meaning, does it require any thinking on your part?
Now look at something else. Look at this asterisk here, for example:
Unlike words, the asterisk has no meaning. It is just a shape. To see it, just to see it, is thinking required? Or is it possible to fully see the shape before you without the need for thought?
Is it possible that seeing in fact occurs without thinking?
In the same way, does it require any effort, or decision, to see an object or a shape once it is already in front of you? Take a look at the asterisk again:
Once you have turned the attention to it, does it then require any effort or decision to see what is already here? Take a moment to look around, wherever you are. See the colors. See the movement. See the shapes. Does it require any effort or decision to see what is already in front of you?
Is it possible that seeing also occurs free of decision or effort?
And finally, is there any time delay, in your subjective experience, between the object being there and your experience of the object? You need to rely here on your own subjective experience, not what you think or have learned conceptually. When you see the asterisk:
… do you notice any time delay between the asterisk being here and the experience of the asterisk being here? Is it possible that seeing also happens outside of time?
Noticing this about seeing, which is happening now, and now, and now, consider whether it is possible that seeing is actually happening all the time, free of thinking, free of effort, free of decision, free of time.
Could you relax, even now, into being that which is seeing shapes and colors and movement?
Could you relax into being that now?
What is that, which we loosely refer to as “me,” which is seeing in this moment?
Who, or what, is experiencing this moment?
What Can You Hear?
In the same way, let’s investigate together the nature of hearing. When you hear a sound, like a passing car, or a bird outside the window, do you have to think to hear the sound? Or would it be true to say that hearing is free of thinking?
As you hear a sound, any sound, do you have to make an effort to hear the sound that is already here? Do you say to your body, “OK, start to hear sounds?” Or might it be true that hearing is also effortless, decision-less?
Do you notice any time delay, in your own subjective experience, between the sound and the experience of the sound?
Take a moment to really investigate this for yourself. Hear the sounds now. And notice the process of hearing itself. Does hearing require thought, decision, effort, or time?
Could you relax now into being that which is hearing?
Who is it, or what is it, that is actually experiencing this very moment?
Feel the Sensations in the Body
Finally, we can ask the same questions about the sensations that are happening right now in your body. Take a moment to scan your body. Perhaps you can notice the moisture inside your mouth. Perhaps you can feel sensations of tension or relaxation.
In just the same way, when a sensation is present, does it require any thought to notice the sensation? Does it require any effort or decision to be aware of a sensation in the body, once the sensation is already there? Is there any time delay, in your subjective experience, between the sensation and the experience of the sensation?
Does feeling require any thought, effort, decision, or time?
Or is feeling also just happening on its own?
Could you relax into being that which is seeing, hearing, and feeling in this very moment, now?
Who is it, or what is it, that is noticing shapes, sounds, and physical sensations in this moment?
Who, or what, is experiencing this moment?
Take some time to investigate this before we continue.
Let’s Compare Notes
Since 1991, I have asked this same series of questions to tens of thousands of people, not as an intellectual exercise, but as a genuine inquiry to find out what is true, from direct experience. Hopefully, you have had a chance now to find out what is true for you. Let’s compare notes on what you discovered for yourself, even if it was only the tiniest taste, and what tens of thousands of other people have discovered as well.
People describe what they discover when they go look for that which is experiencing this moment in various ways. Consciousness… Spaciousness… Presence… Awareness….
Like a signpost that has the word “Rome” written on it, these words are pointing to something much bigger than words or concepts. These words are pointing towards a mysterious vastness, empty of content, but full of love and presence. It is this vast presence that is actually experiencing this moment.
For sure, there is also a story here, of a person born in time, and who will also die in time. Both of these exist simultaneously. The important difference is that the story requires thought, whereas the recognition of the presence is free of thought.
Sometimes people say, “I am experiencing this moment. I am. It is me.” It is now necessary to investigate this “I” itself. What is it? Does it have any size? Does it have any color? Does it make any sound? Can it be found, from direct experience? Generally, when we investigate in this way, we discover that we have been using the words “I,” “me,” “mine,” and “myself” for our whole lives without really knowing exactly what these words are referring to. When we investigate the “I,” when we go look for it, it cannot be found, and the inquiry leads us directly to the spaciousness of consciousness itself.
When people have a glimpse of their “true nature” in this way—as vast, spacious, silent, and completely present—the question often comes up, “How can I keep this in my day-to-day life?” A good coach will help you to discover that this is not the most useful question to ask. A better question would be, “Is it actually possible to make this spaciousness go away in my day-to-day life?” Try it now. Move your hand from left to right. That is a movement, just like all the other movements that you make every day in your life. Did the movement make any difference to the awareness of the movement, to the spaciousness itself?
Go ahead and think any thought you choose. It could be a “positive” thought or a “negative” thought. It doesn’t matter. Think any thought you like. Does the thought cause that which is aware of thought to disappear? Does it actually make any difference to the presence itself? Whatever thought arises, there can also be awareness of that thought, and that awareness does not change. That is who you are.
You can conjure up any kind of emotion. Experience the emotion, and then simply notice that you are also aware of the emotion. The emotion makes no difference to the presence.
It is a great practice to spend the rest of your life seeing if there is anything you can experience, think, or feel that could actually make any difference to this vast silent presence itself. You can try bungee jumping, skydiving, or running with the bulls. Wherever you are, there is also awareness of what is happening. The awareness does not change.
From Better than Sex by Arjuna Ardagh. You can order on Kindle or as a paperback on Amazon here.