Stillness and silence clear the muddy waters1. As we wander these valleys, we agitate our minds into murkiness. The longer we go without sitting, the more unconscious the muddy water is. By meditation, we gain inner distance enough to perceive our tumbling thoughts. If you sit for a while, you’ll see overlapping trains of thought surging like storm-whipped waves. If you sit longer in stillness and silence, the thoughts will diminish into a luminous clarity of awareness.
There is a vast difference between clarity of mind and clarity of awareness. When our minds are clear, we can distinguish the filters of perception from perceptions. We can become that which we do: he who works wood becomes the working of wood. She who strolls the garden becomes the garden’s unveiling. This presence and absorption is lovely and spiritual. But clarity of mind is a passing thing: it inevitably arises and subsides.
But, when our awareness is clear, we perceive mind itself. With a clear mind, I adjust my glasses, and then forget them as I dive into my task. With a clear awareness, I observe myself diving into the task, glasses and all. A clear mind is a functional tool. To have a clear awareness is to be more than a tool. Clarity of awareness need not be a passing thing, and it promotes clarity of mind.
A good way of talking about clarity of mind is to discuss another embodiment, our physical body. With a clouded mind and a clouded awareness, perhaps the physical body is in pain or discomfort and we remain completely unaware of it. We suffer, but do not understand the nature of our suffering. With a clear mind but clouded awareness, we can at best know pain as possession or identification: I have pain or I am pain. The latter is much “more true” than the former, but both are still illusion. The cascade of manifestation is only optionally clothed with ownership or identity.
With a clear awareness, we observe the embodiments proceeding from the grosser to the more subtle: first, my body has pain. Second, my mind intimately perceives the pain of my body without becoming consumed by it – a deep mind-body connection does not mean that pain of the body corresponds to mental disorder (or the other way around, for that matter). Third, I am not that mind, that body, or that pain – all three of these embodiments are presentations in my awareness just as the meadows and breezes of the “outer” world. These are the clouds and I am the sky.
This distinction between clarity of mind and clarity of awareness is of deep importance for wholeness and healing. If we forever chase after clarity and wholeness, we are afflicted and we suffer. The mind and body are better off healing without our attachment speaking with a critical, negative mental voice. Endless striving wounds and prevents wounds from clotting.
But, even more importantly, the distinction between clarity of mind and clarity of awareness is about freedom. If we can observe our confounded minds or pained bodies like the weather, we are free even in the midst of chaos and darkness. That freedom is a spiritual lightness – joy and bliss.
Minds and bodies come and go. You will have others, so long as you desire them. Released of our obsessive play, we can look up into the garden that lends itself to such playing by the Children of God. Clarity of awareness dismantles the cages of the world and sets you free into the seas of love.
1 Paraphrasing of Alan Watts as quoted by meditationSHIFT: “Muddy water is best cleared by leaving it alone.”