During my meditation this morning an image of a ball popped into my head, and I heard my internal voice say, “Stay aware of the ball.” Then my critical self-observer said, “No, you’re meditating, stay aware of yourself. The ball is external; it isn’t the point.”
And then, a flash of insight: when I am aware of the ball, I am only ever aware of it in relationship to myself. Moreover, this is true of everything I observe: when I am aware of anything outside myself, I am only ever aware of it in relationship to myself. In other words, I perceive only from the perspective of my own consciousness, and therefore to be aware of anything is simultaneously and automatically to be aware of my self.
Put another way: I can’t conceive of what it would be like to be aware of something outside myself completely divorced from its relationship to me. If I observe that the coffee table in front of me is there, I am necessarily aware that I am here, even if I don’t have that literal thought in the moment. “But what if I just look at a photograph of a painting that hangs in the Louvre?” I might argue with myself. “I’m now aware of that far-away painting even though I can’t see myself in relationship to it, and I’m conscious of the painter even though he died long ago and I never met him.” Even here, conceiving of the painting as “far away” is only possible because of my awareness of myself as “right here.” And understanding the painter as an inhabitant of the past amounts to a recognition of myself as existent in the present moment. Awareness of anything else as removed from me in either space or time not only leads to, but actually IS awareness of myself as present.
In my meditative state, this insight led quickly to a collapse of my perceived distinction between the world and myself. My perception of anything else is just that: a perception, a function of my consciousness, and therefore also an expression of my consciousness. If I go unconscious, I will no longer be aware of the world around me, and therefore will also no longer be aware of myself. Awareness of myself, I think, actually arises from awareness of things outside myself.
This understanding leads to a transformation of consciousness: it transforms the experience of daily life from an automatic interaction with the other to a perpetual meditation: every interaction with the world becomes a direct experience of my own consciousness. By devoting my attention to the world, I gain directly proportional access to self-awareness.
As I move into my day, I will take this insight with me. I will be kinder, gentler, and more attentive to the world and the people around me, supported by a new recognition that there’s not so much of a distinction between us as I once thought.