“When we are asked the question, ‘Am I aware?’, in order to answer the question from experience, our attention has to go to the experience of being aware. So our attention removes itself from any object – from the door, from the sensation, from the thought – and it looks for the experience of being aware. But it can’t find it. Because attention can only be directed towards an object. So the attention vacillates for a moment between objects, looking for the experience of ‘being aware.’ Whether it goes outwards or inwards, it cannot find the experience of being aware. Anything it focuses itself on is not the experience of being aware, it is what we are aware of. So the attention vacillates for a moment, and then it begins to subside. It sinks back, and it goes back, and back, and back, and back, until it reaches its source, at which point it ceases to be attention.
Because attention can only stand by being directed towards an object. Without an object to be directed towards, the attention cannot stand. It falls, or collapses back into its source. And at some point, is revealed as pure consciousness – that is, consciousness without an object. We can define attention as consciousness directed towards an object.
In the absence of an object, upon which to focus our attention, attention cannot stand, and it falls back, through lack of support, into its source. It is a non-process, a non-practice.
The rising of attention is an activity. The sinking back of attention is the cessation of that activity. It’s often called meditation and it seems to be an effort that we have to make. It’s not an effort that we have to make, it is the cessation of a previous effort which we didn’t realize that we were making. So this non-practice of sinking the attention into its source is in Sanskrit called atma vichara, which for many years has been misleadingly translated as ‘self-inquiry’. Because when people hear ‘self-inquiry’ – what is an inquiry? An inquiry is an activity of the mind, directed towards an object. So when we hear practice self-inquiry, the first thing we all think - and I thought this for many years – is that self-inquiry is an activity of the mind searching for the ‘I’. And then of course the question arises ‘which I’ and ‘where is the I’ and we’re all aware of the confusions that have arisen around which I are we inquiring into, and what is the process of inquiry? Atma vichara is better translated, not as self-inquiry, but self-abidence or self-resting.
In Ouspensky’s tradition it is referred to as self-remembering. Again, that was, in most cases misunderstood because it’s only possible to remember something with objective qualities. That was not what was meant in that tradition, but it was misunderstood. So again, the mind went off in search of a self it was supposed to be remembering. No, it’s a non-objective remembrance of our eternal nature - its recognition, its re-knowing of itself.
Why is it called a recognition? It’s because previously, the attention or awareness or consciousness rises in the form of attention in order to know something other than itself. When consciousness knows something other than itself – such as an object, or person or world, or thought – it, as it were, turns its back on itself. It ceases gazing at itself, rises in the form of the finite mind or attention, and in the form of the finite mind or attention, it can look away from itself and this apparent looking away from itself involves the forgetting or overlooking of itself and this is in the spiritual tradition what is called the primal ignorance – the ignoring of the reality of consciousness.
So when attention sinks back into its source, it doesn’t know something new, it recognizes something which it’s always known, but seemed to overlook because of the exclusive focus of its attention on objects."