Colin Drake – Beyond The Separate Self
Interview by Iain McNay
Iain: Hello and welcome to conscious.tv, my name is Iain McNay and today my guest is Colin Drake. Hi Colin, I’m over here! [much laughter by Colin who was looking at the wrong camera] Colin has written several books which I have three of them here. One is called Beyond the Separate Self - The End of Anxiety and Mental Suffering; Awakening and Beyond - Self Recognition and its Consequences; and Awareness of Awareness -The Open Way - Pointers to Awakening. Those are the ones I’ve got and there are others as well. So were going to talk a little bit about Colin’s life and his wisdom and, just as usual on conscious.tv, see where the interview goes.
So Colin you are living in Australia now, but you originally come from London, and [from] some notes I pulled out from the book, you were living in London in the mid-sixties and you were in the flower power movement experimenting with different drugs. How was that?
Colin: I enjoyed it, but I mean at the age, I was in my early twenties, living in Earl’s Court and the Albert Hall was just up the road and I would see live bands up there; and was living with a lot of alternatives - you call hippies, and we had a great time. It was good, but it's something that I sort of grew out of; you go beyond it, but at the time it was fun and the thing you are particularly interested in, I suspect, is my encounter with LSD. What happened there was, I was at a party, at our flat in fact and an American from California who was just passing through - I had never had anything like that before, and I had had a few drink and he said, “Here try this”, and he gave me a pill. I was game for everything, apart from, I always stayed clear of the opiates. I always stayed clear of heroin and morphine, all those because I knew they were particular deadly, so I stayed clear of those and I just popped the pill and about an hour later I said to him "Oh that didn’t do anything" so he said, “have another one.” So being young and foolish I did have another one, and for about eight hours I guess you say I was technically insane, in that, what that actually did, was to remove the gate between the unconscious and the conscious. So everything that was going on into my unconscious from the moment I was actually been born just came out. Because I was born into a very Methodist household, I had a lot of religious conditioning and all that, and that just came up; appeared and literally, one moment I would be crying and next minute screaming, and I’d be laughing the next minute. I was in that kind of state - moving from one state to another, but the interesting thing there was one, [I know now what it was – it was called Awareness] there was one portion of my being that was looking at this and saying, ”Oh you’ve gone mad”, and then that same voice of my being would be saying, ”hang on there, this portion hasn’t gone mad, although it’s mad, but this portion is fine.” That went on for about eight hours I supposed, but the main thing that it did was, all of that stuff which was trapped in my unconscious, all conditioning came out. So when it was over, I had this amazing feeling of cleanliness like somebody had literally washed out that stuff which was amazing, because all that conditioning, no longer affected me, because it was gone. It was a very drastic way to get rid of that, and I don’t think I would recommend it, because in that state, you could do anything, literally; and people have climbed off buildings and thought they could fly. I wouldn’t recommend it and I certainly didn’t do it with the intention of that happening, but that is what happened and I felt amazingly clean after that.
Then a few times after that I experimented with mescaline. Mescaline is from the Peyote which is what the Mexican Indians use and the difference between mescaline and acid is that acid can be freaky. It can make you go up and down and make you paranoid. It can be really freaky, whereas mescaline is like a pure high. You go up very slowly, and you reach this beautiful high, you stay on a plateau and then you come down again. Now in that plateau state, it takes you to a state where you can literally be out of your body. In one encounter I was just sitting and my whole being was above my body. I was with some people and I was looking at my own body. It took me out of my body. Now that was in a way, a very deeply spiritual experience. I used to take mescaline purely as a spiritual experience. I would actually make sure I had a bath, the flat was nice and clean, I wouldn’t be disturbed by anybody; I didn’t want to be disturbed by anything and wanted everything to be nice. So I would take it, would spend a lovely day just being in that state. For me it was very beautiful, but it also gave a glimpse of the type of consciousness you can achieve by awakening. I was home and was reading Ouspensky at the time and he talked about these things and it struck me that it was very similar to what he was talking about, but he wasn’t talking about it doing it through drugs, he was doing it through, long, hard spiritual practice. I could see that there were similarities here, so for me, I found that valuable too, because he gave me a glimpse of what was possible. One of the amazing things about mescaline… have you ever read The Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley?
Iain: I haven’t. No.
Colin: Well in that he was into Advaita, Non-Duality the whole thing. He was really into it and he used to take mescaline for the same reason really; and in The Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell, in the book he describes the state so beautifully that if you have taken mescaline and you read the book - well I haven’t taken it for forty years - but when I read the book, it brings it back, you can feel it, wow, it actually brings back the feelings. He describes colors as being supernaturally bright and the world as being incredibly vivid and this can be one of the outcomes of awakening. These things occur and they are very similar. As I say, for me it was useful.
The thing about drugs, I think they can be useful, but it depends entirely on your personality, and also on the intention, that is, why you take them, actually. For instance, if you just take them for enjoyment they can be fine, but they can be dangerous if overdone, and if you’ve got an addictive personality of course, it is dangerous to dabble in them.
Iain: It’s like you are trying to escape, but with you it was like a curiosity from what I am hearing.
Colin: Well, yes to me, with the hallucinogens it was purely that, that was it. Trying to see what was out there in a higher state, I would have to say with cannabis it was just fun. I enjoyed listening to music, hanging out with my friends… it was just fun.
Iain: At the same time it was a process in a way that was opening you up to the possibility that there was another way of seeing life.
Colin: Yes, yes. I found it valuable, but one other thing that I would add about drugs, that if you have an addictive personality you best just stay clear of them, because anything alcohol, cigarettes, marijuana, any drug… if you get addicted to it obviously it’s going to be bad for you.
Iain: So what was the next growth stage on your adventure like?
Colin: Well the next stage was, really Janet, my wife and I was living in Sydney and we were both working and earning good money. We were living a life where there was plenty of money, we were going out a lot, in theory enjoying ourselves, but life just seemed a bit empty. There did not seem to be any point to it, and so we were kind of ready for the next stage; and she started doing yoga classes with an ex-Jesuit priest, his name was Matthew O’Malveny. During the classes he used to quote texts from the Baghavad Gita, The Upanishads, The Dhammapada; he would just come out with them during the class; and the class had a lot of relaxation and mediation so it was a very nice spiritual thing to do and I started going along too and I enjoyed that. It was very good and that was kind of what got me in again. Then we saw a poster in a shop window talking about the love of God, but it wasn’t in a Christian way. I can’t describe the difference, anyway the poster was talking about it and it just kind of struck a chord with me, so we went along to the seminar and it was The Raja Yoga, Brahma Kumaris. Have you ever heard of them?
Iain: I have actually. Yes, yes.
Colin: They had a Centre just up the road from us. They were quite close and we started going up there. They have this meditation technique where we sit around in a circle and you all focus on the third eye of the presenter. The presenter was very good and the mediation was very sweet. It was really lovely and we enjoyed it. That was very nice. Then after a while they started bring their dogma in there. Now they have a very, very set dogma. Do you know anything about the dogma of the Brahma Kumaris?
Colin: Well, according to their dogma five thousand years ago I was sitting here talking to you about the Brahma Kumaris and five thousand years before that I was sitting here talking to you. They literally believe that everything goes in 5000 years cycles and everything is repeated, exactly.
Iain: That’s interesting…
Colin: It is interesting, but I literally, could not accept that. So although we enjoyed that and we were involved with that maybe a year or so, we had to let that one go because you can’t obviously be involved with a system that has a dogma that you cannot accept.
Iain: What do you feel was guiding you during this time, or driving you during this time? You mentioned that life was okay but you felt possibly something was missing.
Colin: We were looking for something more. More meaning, more fulfillment and of course, having had the experience I have had in the past I knew there was more to be had in terms of Awareness, basically of higher consciousness. I knew there was more to be had and I knew also that, that was something to be aimed for, because when I read Ouspensky I could really understand what he was saying and I felt that what he was saying was right. It’s just that I was in my early twenties. Have you ever read Meeting with Remarkable Men? [Colin meant to say In Search of the Miraculous]
Iain: Yes, Gurdjieff.
Colin: In the process he actually describes raising your conscious by ‘the fourth way’ [also the title of a later book by Ouspensky]. It is very onerous. It looks like you have to be superhuman to actually do it. I mean, it is a lot of work and I was only twenty and I was young, loose and fancy free, but I thought he was right, awakening the aim of life, but that I might leave it for a bit. So when I got back in touch with yoga and the Brahma Kumaris, this kind of put me back on that path. I had had eight years of just enjoying myself. Now it was time to get involved with something more important.
The yoga class that we were going to, they were associated with the IYTA in Australia, which is the Independent Yoga Teacher’s Association and they had an association with Satyananda. We got involved with Satyananda a bit and when we went to live - we were both potters, and we weren’t potters when we were living in Sydney making a lot of money but we both studied and became potters and then we went to live in the country - in the country we found a teacher who was giving a beautiful hour and half long Satyananda yoga class with about half an hour meditation and half an hour relaxation in it. So it was mainly meditation and relaxation more than hatha yoga (there were asanas in it) and we really enjoyed that, and then we discovered there was an ashram nearby. At one time Satyananda had thirty ashrams in Australia. It was really big. It fell apart for reasons we won’t go into here. It wasn’t Satyananda’s fault that it fell apart, but it did. So we got really involved in that. We got initiated by Satyananda. He gave us a mala and a mantra and a symbol, so he gave us meditation techniques. The great thing about Satyananda was that he talked about yogic lifestyles and he talked about the awakened state, but there was no dogma attached to Satyananda and what he talked about. It was basically all about doing yoga to experience.
Iain: What was attracting you to that?
Colin: I enjoyed doing the physical yoga, and the meditation and the relaxation.
Iain: I suppose what I am trying to get at is, you had the taste on LSD that you later realized was Awareness: something always there when your unconsciousness was coming out. You thought you were going crazy, but there was something else, you didn’t mention the word ‘stillness’, but it was that still point. Was that still point still growing in you at that time?
Colin: I don’t think the still point ever grows in you because it is always there. It is what you are in. You are actually within that still point at all times. What grows is your Awareness of the still point.
Iain: That’s what I’m getting at.
Colin: As the title of my fourth book says, Awareness of Awareness. The still point is actually pure Awareness which we are always within. Relaxation and meditation, because they still the mind, make you more aware of that [Awareness] being there. But even then we were doing yoga-nidra, it’s a relaxation technique that was developed by Swami Satyananda, and you basically lie down and follow a set format given by a teacher and it is amazingly relaxing. I think its power is underestimated, but in that technique you are very, very deeply relaxed, but I would not say you are aware of Awareness. You almost go beyond Awareness. You just sink deeper and deeper… and the meditation technique that he propounded is a concentration technique, where you use a mantra with the breath and the symbol that you are given. The aim of this is to actually still the mind completely, because you basically start with three things to concentrate on and you are doing the meditation and the deeper you go, slowly the thoughts quiet down until there are only the three things. In theory, you go beyond that state where they drop away too and there is pure stillness, but it is actually quite hard to get to that, so there is a lot of work. You have to be deeply concentrated. The mind has to be deeply concentrated to do that and until you actually reach that point, you tend to wonder. It seems like a very artificial activity that you are doing.
Iain: Because you are working towards something…
Colin: Yes, you kind of think, ”What is the point of this?” You are stilling the mind, it makes you calmer, but it is a lot of hard work. You spend hours and hours doing it, but it is somewhat artificial. I always thought it was slightly artificial, but I enjoyed doing it because of the peace it does instill and you do sort of get into these things…
Iain: This is an important point you are making here. There are so many people we have interviewed on conscious.tv that have said it is a lot of hard work involved to get there. But if you are not enjoying the process of doing it and if you just focus on the end result, some way you are going to miss out on it. If you are enjoying the relaxation and you understand the journey, then it is that moment to moment enjoyment that, in a way, is the gateway to where you are going.
Colin: That’s why when I was talking to you on the phone last night you said it took you years of hard work. And I said to you, “But I enjoyed it” and I was enjoying it, but there was still something missing.
Iain: I get that completely, but that’s okay, isn’t it?
Colin: Yes, and then I was on a weekend silent retreat with a Swami Satyananda Sannyasin and I was just looking at his library and a book that caught my eye was The Gospel of Ramakrishna. Have you read that?
Colin: This is some book. I looked at it and thought “What a pretentious title.” So I pulled it out just to satisfy my curiosity, that this was pretentious title, and I ended up mind blown… you can’t really describe that book. I don’t know if you’ve heard of Ramakrishna [Iain nods], now Ramakrishna was an amazing Hindu holy man. He wasn’t a saint in that he didn’t appear in a saintly way. He enjoyed life to the full. He really loved life. He loved singing, he liked dancing. He really enjoyed himself. He wasn’t a saint sitting on a rock meditating; he was somebody who was really involved with his devotees. He was somebody who, before he got to that stage, practiced lots of different spiritual paths to find out where they led, and he was such an adept. Say for instance, he was worshipping Shiva, being a Shaivite, most people would be involved with that particular path all their lifetime and they might reach the final conclusion near the end, but he could (readily) reach the conclusion of any path - it depends - sometimes in ten days, three days, sometimes it took him six months, but it never took him longer than six months. And then once he was finished one particular path he would say, “Wow that was great! What’s next on the spiritual menu?” And that’s kind of the way he was.
By the time he started having devotees, he had actually discovered that virtually all the Hindu paths, plus Islam and Christianity, led to exactly the same conclusion so that, when he gathered devotees around him, he could actually direct each one of them on their particular path. He was like a multi guru and if he found that one devotee had been trying to convert another devotee to their path, he would be very angry. For instance, there was a famous example with Swami Vivekananda, who was his most foremost disciple. Swami Vivekananda went to America in the 1890s to the Parliament of Religions and then he did a lecture tour. He set up all of the Vedanta societies in America – that was Vivekananda, and he was Ramakrishna’s major disciple. He was a nondualist, an Advaita Vedantist, and he was talking to his [Ramakrishna’s] second favorite disciple who was a Bhakta, a devotee, and Swami Vivekananda was trying to persuade him that what he was doing was wrong. Forget about all that devotion stuff, and when Ramakrishna heard this, he was absolutely incensed and he talked to Vivekananda and said, “This is not right. You are harming his spiritual life by trying to get him to change his path. We each have our own path and once you have found it you should stick to it. Don’t change somebody else.” So that was Ramakrishna. He was amazing. I think he was the most amazing being that was ever born. I don’t know of any other being that actually proved to himself, within his own experience the universality of all religions, the fact that they all lead to the same goal.
Iain: I want to lead you on a bit. I want to say that you met someone who said, “Stop. Be still. Stop. Be still.”
Colin: That was after. I spent about ten years as a Ramakrishna devotee and within that path I was doing a lot of meditations, reading a lot of books about Ramakrishna. Then, I used to sell my pots at Baron Bay market and a woman came up to me, a friend of mine and said, “You know you are really stuck.” I said, “No”; because I was happy in what I was doing and she said, “no you are really stuck” and she gave me a tape, a video tape of Gangaji and I didn’t feel like I could refuse it. So I took it home and it sat on my coffee table for about three weeks for I was used to Indian Swamis and this was a southern North American…
Iain: Californian, from Santa Fe.
Colin: …she had blond wavy hair, quite attractive and I thought, “I don’t know if I can handle this, I can’t watch it.” Anyway, we got a week away from the next market and I thought just to be fair I’d have a quick look. I’d give her five minutes and I couldn’t stop watching it. This woman was dynamite. She was saying what I had heard before, but she was saying it in a different way. She was saying what you need to do when you’ve been on a spiritual path and are doing a lot of work - you need to just stop completely and see what’s here, what is always here, because while you are working you overlook what is already here. That is the problem, and that was like such a revelation actually, and when I did stop there it was.
Iain: What’s always here? What was it?
Colin: Awareness. That’s always here.
Iain: And that kind of hit you… that it is always here.
Colin: It’s always here in our experience, our moment to moment experience, the only ‘thing’ [not a thing but a ‘presence’, the presence in which all ‘things’ come and go] that is constant. Not images and sensations, these come and go they are always changing. These are like a flow of ever changing objects, and there is Awareness of these objects as they come and go, and that [Awareness] is the only ‘thing’ that is constant in our existence. So if you look and notice that there is this constant subjective presence, then what am I within in that… what am I? What is my essence within that? Now if you look at the way in which essence is defined like the soul of that person, the spirit that is considered to be the unchanging presence, within each moment to moment experience the presence that is always there and is not changing, is Awareness. You can check any second. You can check it is always there, it never goes anywhere. So if you want to identify with the unchanging presence within you then it has to be with Awareness and not the thoughts and sensations.
Iain: You see for me, the identifying with, is kind of duality. I am identifying with… but I understand what you are saying, it is a recognition of that and if the recognition has a depth, then there is just the Awareness
Colin: I agree with you. If there is identification, up to a point there is duality, but most of us, when we first start, are totally locked in duality, we are lost in duality and to identify with the Awareness, which is always within us and in which we appear, that is a stepping stone - a bridge between being asleep and being awake, because when you identify with mind/body, with thoughts and sensation, you actually identify with duality. The bridge between the two is moving from that into seeing the Awareness and deciding to identify with that Awareness.
Iain: I agree and how is that for you now, the identifying with Awareness?
Colin: Indescribable… but it has a lot of positives by-product, we should say. For instance I don’t worry about myself as a small self and also I don’t have any self-concern about the future, or the past. I very rarely think about the past and I don’t think about the future anymore, which is quite major actually, because a lot of mental angst and most mental suffering is being lost in the past, or worrying about the future.
Iain: Tell me about it. We all do that.
Colin: We all do, but once somebody has identified with Awareness, that drops away completely, because Awareness is never affected by the past or the future. Awareness isn’t affected by anything.
Iain: Yes, Colin. That is a wonderful theory and it is correct, but of course, you need so much diligence and one of the things that you talk about in the second book is staying awake. It is like walking on a razor’s edge… it is as if you have a taste, you have an experience which is unknown, let’s say I am Awareness, then something happens, a future/past projection, all these things start go against this vigilance. I’m going off, I’m going back, I’m going up, I need to come back and as you say, re-identify with Awareness, which is not necessarily the final place, but it is a pretty good interim stop.
Colin: Yes. It is like walking on a razor’s edge and we all fall off, of course. We all misidentify at times. The thing about misidentification is this will always at some stage, eventually or initially, cause mental suffering… it will cause unnecessary mental suffering. As soon as any mental suffering occurs, this should be used like an alarm or ‘dharma bell’ to say, “What is happening here? What am I worrying about? What is causing this suffering?” When you look at that, it is mental suffering. I’m not talking about mental pain caused by somebody dying, I am talking about unnecessary suffering - worrying about oneself, worrying about the future, worrying about almost anything to do with the small self. That is unnecessary mental suffering, and when that occurs, it can be used as an indication that you have fallen off the edge of the razor. To re-identify with Awareness can be very quick because it is just seeing that you are actually aware of this mental suffering. So now you have got two things: the Awareness and the mental suffering and if we identify with the Awareness then the mental suffering just fades away, because it loses its power, it loses its bite because in most case that mental suffering is associate with a non-existent entity which you have erroneously identified yourself as.
Iain: You talked about Gurdjieff and he used to talk about self-remembering. So it’s a kind of self-remembering.
Colin: Yes, that’s right Self-Remembering… not only remembering because remembering implies something you have forgotten and then you remember it. This is the direct seeing rather than remembering - I am aware of this suffering, so Awareness is here. It is a direct seeing. It is not from remembering, I was Awareness, or to remember that I should be aware. It is a direct seeing, “Ha, hang on, I am aware of the moment.” It is like the same seeing as when I was on LSD. There was a small part of me that was still and could see the rest of me. It was like a re-recognition of that stillness which is actually not a small part, but it gets overlaid by the layers of mental suffering.
Iain: And that has to be nurtured, doesn’t it? You have to nurture that process.
Colin: Yes, you do have to nurture it. As I said, I think some people will use it just as a way of overcoming their mental suffering, but if it is just an escape clause, rather than a way of living, like taking a drink, so you just go and do some meditation to escape from the suffering, but when you come back if you misidentify without being vigilant, then you just pick up that mental suffering again and it hasn’t changed your being really... it is just like going into another room and watching TV and then coming back and it’s still there, whereas if you stay alert and vigilant every time mental suffering re-surfaces, you re-identify with Awareness…
Iain: …and it strengthens it somehow. You’ve weakened the process of misidentification.
Colin: Yes, yes. The more you identify correctly, the less misidentification there is and the easier it becomes. It is well worth the effort and every time you rediscover Awareness that is a beautiful thing, because it immediately puts you back into a deep sense of peace, because all of the other rubbish that your mind is full of is just seen to be of no weight at all… If you could have a beautiful experience every time this occurs, then this will slowly strengthen it. It will become self-regenerating.
Iain: You see, people watching you, and possibly watching this on TV, could say, “Well I don’t have a reference point. I don’t know what Awareness is.” What do you say to them?
Colin: That’s the basic thrust of my books, to actually give them a framework within which to discover what Awareness is and how to find it.
Iain: What’s the framework?
Colin: The framework is… the first thing to realize, is to accept while doing the exercise, that life is itself just a series of moment to moment experiences. Every moment, to each one of us is just an experience. That is all it is.
Iain: That is a huge jump.
Colin: You say it is a huge jump, but let’s just accept it for a moment.
Iain: I’m playing devil’s advocate here.
Colin: I know. A lot of people will say, “That can’t be right because we’ve come this far and that is what makes us what we are.”
Iain: I think what I am trying to look for Colin [is what] you had with a drug experience in which Awareness appeared and you could see Awareness and you knew you were Awareness - that is huge, absolutely huge. Once you had that, I think it is intelligent to cultivate that over the years and you started the spiritual search that you went on and it became a reference point, which is real and which could be understood, could be identified with… [But] for someone who doesn’t have that - and you say that life is moment to moment - you see, that is science fiction to people.
Colin: But it is actually the fact. It might appear to be fiction, but to you and I, at this moment, all there is, is this moment. What’s gone, is gone; what will be, will be. There is only this moment.
Iain: But I am still thinking what my next question will be…
Colin: But even that thought is just an object appearing in Awareness. That thought is just an object, so let’s just consider this moment. Do you agree that this moment is just an experience? That’s all there is…
Iain: I’ll tell you how I’d do it - I have to be three or four seconds still. I remember when I interviewed Gangaji three or four years ago - and she was a lovely lady I agree - and at one point it was quite hard to do the interview, because I felt stillness and I was almost pulling myself out of the stillness to do the interview. Actually somebody, I think more than one person, emailed me and said, “You did a really bad job staying in the stillness,” but there is some truth in that and at the end of the day it is about stillness. And one of the things you say, (I’m jumping around a bit here, but I’m trying to get something across) is that you live simply. You are a potter. You live in Australia. You are from London and you live just above the poverty level, but you are not poor. You don’t feel poor. You live simply and you have that chance to be still and be simple and that seems to me a prerequisite - almost essential now - in that busy, busy, world; busy, busy life we have. If you don’t have the complete still lifestyle, at least have an oasis for half an hour a day.
Colin: Yes, I fully agree with that, but even then for you to say, “Just be still for half an hour” virtually nobody can do that. Just be still. It requires tools. What I am talking about here, this framework for investigating experience, is a tool. This is what that is. And it is a tool for actually pointing out that what is and what you are, is this Awareness, but you need to start somewhere. Now some people would start by doing meditation using mantra, etc. I know what that is like. That is a very slow process. This, what I am talking about here can be very quick…. I’ve seen people who have been to a Gangaji satsang and they ‘got it’ - young people who haven’t got a lot of experience, and they picked it up very quickly.
Iain: Let’s do the process now… very quickly.
Colin: So, we will just take the assumption that all there is at this moment is an experience. Now each moment of experience only has three basic components: there are thoughts and mental images, there are sensations in the body and there is the Awareness of these. That is all there is. There is nothing else - would you agree with that?
Iain: Yes. I would say my thoughts are very much influenced by what’s happening in the body.
Colin: That’s true. That’s true, but your thoughts and your body and your feelings - which are a combination of thoughts and sensations, that’s all they are - all those things are series of ever changing objects which you are aware of. You are aware of your thoughts, otherwise you wouldn’t even know they were there, and you are aware of your sensations, otherwise you wouldn’t even know they were there.
Iain: Yes but you see, unless I am quiet there is not the gap between the Awareness and the thought, so I feel and I think I am the thoughts and am driven by the thoughts.
Colin: That’s why this process has been developed. You start off by actually analyzing experience itself. So we have agreed that there are only three components, you agree?
Iain: Go on, you are the expert…
Colin: But the person who does the process has to experience it as they go… So in each moment of experience there are three components. There are thoughts, including mental images - that’s the mental component, sensations, and there is Awareness of those. Now within that framework, thoughts, mental images and sensations are objects. These are ‘things’ that are seen and they are ever changing. You are aware of them and this Awareness is the subject that sees the thoughts and sensations and it is that by which you know these are occurring - this Awareness. Without Awareness you wouldn’t know that they are taking place.
Iain: This is good. Not everyone finds this whole process simple. I am playing devil’s advocate, but I would say there is also a thinking process that is also aware of the thoughts. Yes, if I really come back there is Awareness of everything going on, but there is a mental observer in the mind watching the thoughts, but that in itself might have a commentary too.
Colin: Yes, that brings me to the Awareness which has two components. If you take the title of my third book, Awareness of Awareness, awareness of Awareness has both those components. So awareness as normally defined in the dictionary, and as most of us think of it, is the mind noticing something; the mind becoming aware of something. I notice an itch on my nose… I am aware of something… that is the mind noticing, but beyond is the Awareness in which every sensation in your body is always present and that is easy to notice: because as soon as you switch your mind to any other part of your body, you are aware of the sensation in that, and those sensations in your whole body are always there in Awareness, but your mind only notices that on which it focuses.
Iain: That’s correct. Right.
Colin: So when you say awareness of Awareness, what you are talking about is the mind focusing. You are aware of the Awareness itself, in which everything appears. So the small definition of awareness is just the mind focusing. The large definition of Awareness is the Awareness in which all of your sensations are occurring. They are both [essentially] the same, but the small definition is just a small part of that, because all the sensations are there in Awareness, but the mind is only noticing one small part of that. So in Awareness itself, everything, mind, thoughts, sensations… they are all there and you notice them by the mind focusing, but it’s still all Awareness, there is no difference. The mind focusing is just like a spotlight where the mind is putting a spotlight on what interests it.
The example I gave in Awareness of Awareness, if you are taken to a beautiful outlook, a lovely, amazing view and your eyes are closed, and somebody says, “Open our eyes” and you open your eyes then everything you see and hear and smell is all there in Awareness immediately. You are aware of the whole scene… however for the mind to make anything of it, it has to focus on something in particular, “…such a lovely smell.” While you are saying it is a lovely smell… and the mind is focused on the sense of smell, there is still Awareness of the whole beauty. In fact you are aware of it at once, but the mind is picking things off to describe it, “Wow, this is an amazing view, look there’s an eagle”…picking things off. That is the mind focusing, that’s small awareness, but the overall Awareness of the whole vista and all the sensations - that is Awareness and there is no difference. One is just a smaller incidence of the larger.
So getting back to where we were then. In Awareness you have thoughts, mental images and sensation. Now the thoughts and sensations are ephemeral objects. They continue to change, they come and go, just a flow of objects. The Awareness… that is a constant presence.
Iain: I have heard it described as the ever-changing and the never-changing.
Colin: Yeah, I like that! Most people identify themselves as the stream of objects. They identify themselves as their thoughts, but the only thing that is constant and is always there, is not the stream of objects, but the constant subjective presence of Awareness itself. So in any moment of experience you are that Awareness, and if you look back through your whole life, ever since you’ve been born, one thing that has been constant is that Awareness. The rest of it has been changing. So to say my past makes me what I am, yes, your past does - but it’s only the pure Awareness that’s always been there, that makes you what you are. The rest of it is just a flow of object, it’s always changing, and if you identify with that flow of object you are in trouble. That is what causes the suffering, because Awareness itself is unaffected by circumstances. So now we have agreed, if we agree on that now we can go look at Awareness itself. People say you can’t…
Iain: I am just warning you, we have five minutes left so you can pace yourself a bit.
Colin: People say that you can’t use your mind to investigate the Absolute… it can’t be done. But I would say I disagree entirely. Let’s look at this Awareness. We agree that there is Awareness and that is what we are. Now the first thing is, if you look at Awareness it is always still, because it notices the movement occurring within it. It is the still ground in which the movement occurs so it is always still. Secondly it is always silent for the same reason, because it notices all the noise occurring in it. It is the silent presence in which noise occurs. So if it is always still, and it is always silent, then it is always at peace, because that is the definition of peace, stillness and silence. So, what you are is pure Awareness which is always at peace. In one’s own experience Awareness is always present, even when you are asleep it is always present. That is when the mind is asleep and not focusing on things, the ‘small example’ of awareness is not present. However you are aware of your dreams, you are always aware of the quality of your sleep that when you wake up you can say, “Oh that was a great sleep” or “no I didn’t sleep very good.” So there is some Awareness of the quality of the sleep and also there is some Awareness of the sensations in your body, because if you are lying in an uncomfortable position, then that will wake you up because it becomes uncomfortable. Certainly as you get older you notice that... my hips and thighs, whatever. Awareness is always present when you are asleep and it is present when you are awake, so Awareness is always present in our own experience. It’s Omniscient in that it sees our every thought and our sensation - it’s pure. When I say it is pure, what I mean by that is, the things that appear in it - our thoughts and sensations - they do not change it. They don’t taint it. It is always pure, always the same. Nothing can taint it. The things that flow through it don’t taint it. So it is pure and it’s also radiant. When I say radiant is it is the light by which we see our thoughts and sensations. It provides the ‘light.’ Do you understand what I mean by that?
Colin: So we have found that it is still, silent, peaceful, omnipresent, omniscient, pure and radiant. Now, we have decided that purely by looking directly at it and analyzing it. If you look at those properties and you look at the way the Absolute is described in most religions you will find those properties are assigned to the Absolute. Thus I would contend that pure Awareness is the Absolute Reality. And there are many more discoveries that you can make. The more you investigate the more you discover, so it is an ongoing process and in fact you never run out of discovery, because what you are investigating is The Absolute, the infinite. It doesn’t matter how long you investigate it, the more you are going to find.
Iain: It goes on forever...
Colin: Yes, it’s infinite. You are investigating the infinite with the less than infinite so you are never going to run out of discovery. It is amazing.
Iain: Good. Colin, thank you. We got somewhere in the end.
Colin: Well, yes that is right we got there at the end. It was a long story, sorry about that.
Iain: No it’s good, it’s good. I am going to show three of your books I’ve got here. Colin just mentioned this, Awareness of Awareness - The Open Way; Awakening and Beyond; and Beyond the Separate Self - The End of Anxiety and Mental Suffering; which a lot of us want. So that is a good title. Thanks again Colin and thanks everyone out there for watching conscious.tv, I hope we see you again soon.
To watch the original video
interview click here. This programme has been transcribed on a voluntary basis. If you would like to offer to transcribe a video on the same basis, then please
All text copyright © Conscious TV Ltd.