The Personal Trap
Copyright © 1995 A-Hameed Ali ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
It is not that the fist needs to open up.
It is not a matter of surrender,
There is no fist to start with.
For some time I have been noticing an unexpected and strange sort of perception. At the beginning, it is difficult to focus on this awareness, for it comes in subtle intimations, fleeting intuitions, of a form of experience with which I am unfamiliar. It appears that inexhaustible Being is divulging a new manifestation, but so far in flashes and feelings, rather than in a full and clear manifestation. One such feeling is the intuition that there exists an awareness which is constant, always present, but not involved with whatever is happening. As the feeling becomes stronger the intuition becomes more specific: there exists the life process, with a person or a personal consciousness involved with it, or as part of it, but there exists also and concomitantly another kind of consciousness. This constant background consciousness is always aware of what is happening in the life process without being involved in it, even though the personal consciousness is sometimes so involved in what is happening that it becomes lost in it.
I intuit the existence of a consciousness that forms a constant background for the everyday personal consciousness, but is separate from and transcends it. Once in a while, as the intuition becomes strong and explicit, I become directly aware of this background consciousness, which I recognize as the source of the intuitions and intimations.
This consciousness, new in my experience, arises and meets the ordinary personal consciousness, and this meeting appears in the mind as flashes of intuition. As these intimations become clearer, the new clarity makes it possible for awareness to perceive more openly, accurately and directly the new sense of consciousness, which becomes now a direct perception. The experience still occurs in fleeting flashes, but these become strong enough to expose the sectors of the ordinary consciousness which function as obstacles to clearer awareness of the background consciousness.
Today, what is exposed by the impact of the arising consciousness is an awareness of how thoroughly I am lost in my personal life. I have the strong impression of being imprisoned by all the elements of my life, whether I like it or not. I become aware of how involved I am in my life: in my relationships, work, interests, writing, reading, books, house, family, students, ideas and thoughts, preferences and prejudices, everything that forms the content of my life. The absorption in my life situations, whether I experience it as desirable or not, is much more ubiquitous and thoroughgoing than I have imagined. This is true even with respect to the parts of my life that I feel are free and expanded, rewarding and fulfilling. Even deep experiences of realization of Being, of understanding fundamental truths and perceiving new dimensions, ensnare me. I become part of the experience, inseparable from it, and limited by it. I am seeing that because of the lack of a comparative frame of reference, involvement in my life imperceptibly becomes enmeshment.
The perception deepens into the understanding that not only am I enmeshed, some important aspect of me is actually lost in this involvement in my life. Understanding bequeaths its offspring: the action of Being in the direction of optimizing its presentations, here activating Being in its tendency to maximize personal experience. As usual, understanding opens consciousness to deeper and more expanded levels of Being. Experientially, understanding manifests at this point as the intensification of the glittering throbbing at the center of the forehead, while the action of Being manifests as the unfoldment of conscious experience into new presentations. This arises now as a feeling, unbidden, of wanting to be free from all this personal life. I am aware of intuiting myself to be beyond all personal life, and of wanting this truth to come to some experiential fruition.
Although I am aware of wanting something beyond this experience, I do not reject the perception of the experience of the personal life; thus the experience shifts from awareness of wanting more to a clearer perception of what is actually here in my experience. I can feel the totality of this life, my life: its present, past and future. It feels distinct and separate from who I am. The throbbing at the forehead develops into a sense of expanded clarity: I realize that there is usually the tendency to use all this content of the experience of my life to define me. This content limits not only what I experience, but also, and most importantly, the experience of who and what I am. This is particularly obvious in the case of thoughts, for I see that I can think only along certain lines. Although I might have many new thoughts and ideas, the general mental atmosphere remains the same. I see that the mind flows in predetermined grooves, where change is only a matter of the widening or narrowing of these grooves.
I feel that this is not right. There is a sense that I am beyond all of this. I feel, with some kind of inexplicable certainty, that any content of experience cannot contain or define me. Even fundamental functions I perform in my life, like being a father or a teacher, are just roles I have adopted, and they must not and cannot define or contain me. I am quite beyond all of it. I deeply feel a longing not to be caught by the content of my personal life.This feeling comes from an unknown place, where the concern is not with a particular emotion or state, but with the totality of the personal life. I do not feel any value judgment regarding my personal life, whether it is good or not, whether it is happy and fulfilled or not, whether it is desirable or not. There is only the longing to go beyond it, because of the felt certainty that I am in fact beyond it. This longing is for the truth to manifest, the truth which I am beginning to glimpse.
At this point, I cannot discern clearly what I am that is beyond my personal life and its content. Yet there is some kind of emptiness or awareness, with the feeling that I am something beyond all of what I have experienced in the totality of my life, and that I have adopted roles only in order to do certain things.
A few days later…
These intimations, feelings and intuitions continue for a few days, clarifying sometimes into fleeting glimpses of a background awareness. This has been allowing a greater capacity to see and understand personal situations and the feelings around them, engendering a state of personal happiness and contentment.
One of these days, in the afternoon, I begin to experience a dense heaviness near the stomach. The stomach area comes to feel thick, dense, bulky and heavy. I observe that the sensation of heaviness in this particular location makes it difficult for me to do my work, for I need to be empty and open to have the sensitivity that my work requires. I remember now feeling the same sensation the night before, when I felt as if someone had punched me in the stomach. The awareness now, as I contemplate the experience, is that there is something like a big slug in the area of the stomach. It gradually becomes clear, as I continue to be present to it, that it is a presence of some manifestation of consciousness which feels lead-like. There is a sensation of something that feels almost like an object, which is heavy, opaque and dense, but also with the somewhat soft, thick and metallic texture of lead.
For a long time my inner experience has included a dimension that can best be described as alchemical. “Alchemical” describes the sense of my own presence as different substantial qualities which transform. It began when I first discovered that I could experience presence instead of only feelings and thoughts. I saw also that I could experience this presence as the substantial existence of various inner forms. The presence sometimes takes the form of naturally occurring substances, like lead, iron, gold, mercury, wood, water, air, clouds, bone, diamonds, pearls, and so on. The experience is not exactly the same as seeing or touching these naturally occurring manifestations, but of qualities of consciousness that take forms that feel or look like these phenomena. I experience inner sensations of texture and temperature, taste, sight and sound, which correspond exactly to the naturally manifesting substances, although it is clear that they are manifestations of consciousness. This kind of experience is unusual in our everyday awareness, but this realm of experience becomes available at a certain depth of spiritual development, and in time becomes a normal part of ongoing experience. This dimension of perception greatly enriches our understanding, and endows it with a definiteness and precision not available in normal experience, for each form expresses a specific meaning. Some of these forms are the basis of metaphors in various languages. For example, when we feel “crystal clear” it is possible to perceive that this is the effect of an arising presence in the form of a faceted diamond in the head. These meanings can be known precisely only through the operation of the diamond-like nous.
By night I realize the thickness is a lead ball, what I would call a lead pearl. However, as I remain aware of it, it begins to attain a diamond-like hardness that lead does not usually possess, as if the leaden ball at the stomach has become faceted and crystallized. In other words, the heaviness has become quite specific, taking the form of what could be called a diamond lead pearl.
The feeling in this faceted leaden hardness is similar to the essential quality of will, but has also a sense of existence. Will, as a specific aspect of Being, feels like a solidity with the felt characteristics of immovability, determination and persistence, almost like a natural and healthy stubbornness. Will is a quality I recognize, which makes it possible to understand the meaning of the present experience of the diamond lead pearl. The throbbing sensation at the forehead, indicating the presence of nous, begins to luminate, a lumination that translates into precise understanding of what I am experiencing. I recognize the faceted leaden heaviness as an imitation of an essential manifestation of Being, the true will to exist.
The awareness of the phenomenon of an imitative quality reflects the understanding that the ego cannot be original. Whatever quality it develops is bound to be a reflection of an essential quality. Its strength reflects essential strength, its intelligence essential intelligence, and so on. These reflections can be seen as imitations, when we know the essential qualities. They are similar to the essential qualities in some ways, but lack the aliveness and luminosity of the real ones.
This recognition clarifies the significance of a passing feeling that I have had in the past few days, that there is something in my experience of myself that never changes. I did not know at the time how true this feeling was, and whether it had any significance, partly because the inquiry has been focused on a different line of investigation, the trap of involvement in the content of personal life. Now I see that my concern with the limitations inherent in the involvement in the content of the personal life was a first glimpse of this thread of experience. As the nous radiates more intensely, I begin to realize that I am perceiving another facet of the situation of being trapped in the particulars of personal life.
The realization dawns on me now that in spite of all the deep knowledge, understanding and realization I have attained so far, which has radically transformed my experience, there is something in me that never changes, is never affected by these realizations, something in me that never moves. I recognize the leaden heaviness as an imitation of the will to exist, along with awareness of something that does not change in relation to the involvement in personal life. The nous synthesizes these observations into the unexpected insight that it is the totality of the personality which does not change. So it is not a part of the ego-self that does not change, but the totality of this self, the familiar self.
Until now, my investigation has involved exploring various sectors of the personality, as part of the realization of particular qualities of Being. My inquiry now involves awareness of the totality of the self underlying this experience. Nous illuminates the situation by revealing that what has not changed so far is the totality of the personality. I continue to be the same person, with the same characteristics and preferences, even though there has been an amazing expansion of experience, to include many new dimensions of Being.
This insight naturally unfolds into the question of what is responsible for this lack of transformation. This question is heralded by the brightening of the yellow facet of the radiant nous. If sectors of the personality have transformed under the impact of the realization of aspects of Being, why does not this change the whole?
Now, understanding the leaden pearl, I begin to see what is responsible for the unchangeability of the personality as a whole. What I have not seen or investigated so far is what supports this totality. A quality or dimension which provides a ground for any segment can be perceived as the support for that segment. But I have never even suspected that the personality, as a whole, possesses its own support. The recognition arrives in a flash of exhilarating insight: it is the leaden heaviness which functions as this support, manifesting as the will to exist as the separate individual of ego.
The nous has the capacity to integrate elements of knowledge, from past understanding and present experience, in all known dimensions of experience, and synthesize the various elements into an insight that illuminates what I am investigating at the moment. This is not a thinking process, although logical thinking is one facet of it. It is the functioning of discriminating intelligence using all capacities of knowing and understanding inherent to consciousness, simultaneously as one act.
I can see in retrospect some of the elements synthesized by the nous in arriving at the overarching insight about the support for the totality of the personality. This analysis is also the functioning of the nous, for my personal mind could not have this global analysis and understanding:
- Lead indicates inertia, unchanging manifestation, conditioned inflexible existence.
- Hence, lead functions as the support for all conditioned patterns. Any pattern in the self will continue to exist, even after it is fully investigated and understood, until an inertia implicit in it is seen and understood. This inertia usually reveals itself to be the expression of the presence of leaden consciousness underlying the particular pattern. More specifically, the leaden heaviness is the substantial alchemical form that inertia takes in consciousness. When this lead quality is recognized the inertia supporting the particular pattern is seen.
- In the language of substantial or alchemical forms of consciousness, the pearl signifies personalness of experience. The pearl form appears both on the ego and essential dimensions of experience, always indicating a personal manifestation. Specifically, the pearl as a form of consciousness indicates the presence of the total individuality, the presence of the person in his wholeness, whether on the ego level or the essential level of Being. The pearl appears as a sphere of compact consciousness that possesses a pearly sheen.
- The facetedness of any form of consciousness signifies objective understanding or knowledge of what it is. In other words, when any quality of consciousness, like gold for instance, appears in a faceted jewel-like form, it indicates an objective understanding of what this form, gold, is.
- Existence is an essential aspect of Being. Being reveals itself to be the true existence of any manifestation. However, when Being reveals itself as the experience of true existence it manifests in a specific form, an immense presence of unusual density, solidity and reality. This form of presence has the shiny gray color of the metal molybdenum, but the mass and density of hematite.
- The aspect of existence functions partly as a form of will. It can be experienced as the will to exist. Here there is a doorway to other dimensions of essential experience, where each essential aspect can manifest in deeper and deeper dimensions of objectivity. In one of these dimensions each of the aspects functions as a form of will.
- The personality does not have true or essential existence, but conditioned existence. This conditioned existence, which appears as the unchanging manifestation of its patterns, depends on the inflexibility, rigidity, and fixation of these patterns. This inertia supports its continued appearance, which we ordinarily perceive as its existence. Therefore, inertia is what gives the personality patterns and sectors their apparent existence. In other words, the lead quality of consciousness is responsible for the continued existence of manifestations of the personality. This is the reason I understand the inner experience of lead to be an indication of false or apparent existence. Inertia is the support that is responsible for the unchangeability of a manifestation of personality. Being aware of this inertia as lead in one’s experience is to experience this phenomenon in the realm of alchemical forms.
The presence of lead points to the inertia supporting a manifestation of personality. The form of lead as a pearl points to the fact that this support is for the totality of the personality, which is the sense of being an individual, a separate person. The hard facetedness of the leaden ball means this is the objective understanding of the support for the totality of the personality. Since lead indicates false existence, and existence functions as will, then the diamond lead pearl means the objective understanding of the will of the ego to exist as a total individuality, a separate person.
The insight does not arise as the end result of such logical analysis. The existence and operation of the nous is a nonlocal phenomenon. The nous synthesizes beyond time; I can perceive only some of its functioning, and only when I am interested in the process of the arising of insight itself. Otherwise, I experience only the flash of insight, which is the cognitive aspect of the glittering radiance of the nous’ presence.
At this point in my process the nous synthesizes all these elements, all previous insights by nous, into the overarching new insight: the support for the totality of the personality is the will to exist as an ego.
This clarifies many previous experiences, like the heaviness that appears near the stomach when I feel that someone is blunting my personal expression. I recognize now that at such times the lead pearl surfaces close to consciousness, because I must experience such thwarting of personal expression as a threat to my personal existence.
Insight expands now to synthesize the understanding of being trapped in my personal life, and the recognition of the presence of inertia responsible for the unchangeability of the totality of the personality. This lead pearl is the determination/will of the personal existence of the ego, which has been unconscious till now, although implicit in all ego manifestations. As long as I am under the sway of this will of inertia, I will be enmeshed in my personal life whenever I am involved with any experience. In other words, the personal life continues to be the life of the totality of the personality, the life of the separate person of ego. This unconscious identification will always subsume new experiences and insights into its own personal life, turning them into possessions of the person of ego. My sense of myself has been trapped in my personal life because I have always had, unrecognized, the will to exist as the familiar individual.
The deepening insight into my personal experience and the personal inertia that underlies it, allows the leaden heaviness to gradually expand and dominate the consciousness. I am now this faceted, hard and spherical leaden density, immovable and unchangeable. This is curious. There is the feeling of expansion that accompanies the flow of insights, but there is also the thickening of consciousness as it becomes dominated by the leaden heaviness. However, there is no resistance to the leaden, thick consciousness which functions as the ground of the ego experience of self, and no value judgment about it. There is merely the openness to what is arising, and the curiosity that manifests as an open and open-ended inquiry into it. This openness and curiosity creates the space necessary for the arising and operation of the nous.
A kind of happy love appears at the left side of the body, a golden love with a sense of purity that gives it a sense of being divine. This love, sweet and light, quickens the consciousness, acting as the active agent, alchemically transforming its qualities. The heaviness of lead persists, side by side with lightness, openness and joy.