There is more than one way that knowing takes place in a human being. This is the case whether or not a person is awake, although for the most part the occurrence of a given episode of knowing, when it is under way, is not observed. Nor do most of us “pair” the two sorts of intelligence, recognize them as being kindred, and alike innate to our humanness.
It is only in recent life that this phenomenon has sorted itself out in my own observing consciousness, although since awakening, I have been aware of both breeds of intelligence operating, and have appreciated the potency embodied by each.
One way of knowing is experienced physically, in the body. It is felt, palpable. Such a moment tends to arrive unbidden, spontaneously. It may be startling. If you allow yourself to pause, you will notice that all momentum, everything mental, has grown quiet. This knowledge is known to be reliable. It is at some cost to ourselves that we avert our eyes from this momentary clarity. If someone you described it to were to attempt to dissuade you from its authenticity, you would struggle to let it go. Who can name the source of such a recognition? In vain would we try. No need: the only “need” is to pay attention.
One way of knowing occurs spontaneously. It is felt, palpable, known to be reliable. It is not mental.
Sometimes in my explorations with seekers, as I am looking for ways to guide them to see that more operates in themselves already than mere torment-generating thought, I will put this to them: Take a few moments now to hold still, to be quiet. I let some seconds go by, then say Can you feel you’re alive? What almost always happens is that there comes another brief stretch of quiet, then their voice saying Yes! I ask How do you know? How can you tell? Almost without exception what they report is I just know. Nothing could be more trustworthy.
There are a couple of points I mean to drive home here. One is that a person is endowed with two distinct ways of knowing. The other is this: the bodied one (unlike most of what’s dished up by the familiar knower) is to be trusted. To be able to tell the two apart, as life continues its unfolding, is to carry around in oneself the finest of all spiritual teachers.
* * *
One of the great blessings of awakening is that it cleanses the mind of the nightmare habit of inflicting mischief on itself. As if with a surgical blade, waking up cuts out all that has been useless — the story-telling that’s generated a self, devotedly defending it as if it had an objective reality — and leaves a person with a sweetly-rinsed intelligence no longer hellbent on suffering. Now what’s able to happen is reflection that is of true benefit. Insight is able to come, and processing that yields clarity, that is of value. The future is able to be anticipated in a way that generates not fear but rather a useful clarity. The recollection of the lived past now yields learning, appreciation — not useless regret and guilt. Curiosity comes altogether alive: you are a child again, marveling at every simple thing.
Imagine the mind — long a tormentor — now a beloved playmate, musing and whimsical. Brimming insight.
And so (in addition to the spontaneous bodily way of knowing) there is the knowledge that arrives courtesy of the processing mind. These distinct knowers are alive and well in a person whether or not awakening has occurred. Pre-awakening, though, it’s a trickier business indeed to distinguish between thinking that’s ego-driven and the sort that is “clean” and of actual benefit.
* * *
A clue to telling them apart is this: Does having this thought bring stillness to my body, or is there uncomfortable inner “movement” just now? Typically, the movement is circular, repetitive, one generating an emotion, and likely the resultant avoidance of that emotion. Ask yourself whether this thinking has an egoic means-to-an-end quality. Is its function related to self-maintenance?
The entire spiritual life, of course, can be devoted to recognizing the difference — not conceptually, but in a real-life way — between egoic thought and the sort that is of actual benefit. One of the most common (and imprisoning) delusions about spiritual inquiry is that “knowing” the difference between these things is of any value whatsoever. The poignant irony is that this confusion is yet another egoic application of thought: here, it is the spiritual ego supposing it has attained something of value.
My main message, dear heart, is this: when reflecting on your mind, for God’s sake do not “throw out the baby with the bathwater.” To reject all-things-mental, as though the mind were entirely useless, is to miss one of the largest points of spiritual exploration. This confusion represents one of the more unfortunate misunderstandings of non-duality. Learn to sort out useless mental activity — intent on sculpting an illusory self — from magnificent (untainted) intelligence. Notwithstanding all the manifest disasters our vast smarts have set in motion, likely concluding in our own demise and the ruination of our beloved planet, there’s abundant evidence that homo sapiens is in fact the most intelligent of mammals.
Too smart, alas, for our own good, both as a species and as individuals.
* * *
In my current mode of living, the two modes of knowing are alive and well, each a blessing for the way it informs day-to-day experience. One of them occurs consciously, deliberately, in the familiar processing sort of way; the other arrives spontaneously, out of the blue.
In the case of the latter, it’s as though a great deal of “processing” has been occurring, perhaps for a long while, entirely in the background, sans conscious awareness. I have not seen it coming. Frequently it is actually startling, for it may be momentous, in its ramifications for my practical life. Nor could I hope to avert my eyes from the truth just now seen. For the sudden arrival of this sort of knowing has the ring of absolute clarity. To deny it — to fail to set in motion whatever it indicates is wise or necessary — would be folly in the extreme.
This knowing is absolutely trustworthy. It has come to conscious awareness at the right moment. Nor, typically, did I previously have any conscious awareness that the processing was under way.
It is a strange phenomenon, to be sure. For historically, a matter carrying such significance would have been either entirely consuming of my present-moment awareness (doubtless generating suffering and a maddening absence of clarity), or it would have been ferociously forced underground, where my familiar human self “needed” to keep it hidden: for the person I was then would not have been able to bear the pain of looking a truth square in the face, when some kind of resolution wasn’t forthcoming.
Clarity arrives on its own schedule. When a major life change calls for processing, in my nowadays experience, it’s likely to occur underground, without familiar mental deliberation or conscious awareness. Not for the long-familiar reason, the avoidance of excruciating emotion.
When one of these moments of startling knowing occurs, it’s as though a committee of wise counselors, intent on my well-being, has been convening to sort out the what and the when of a major life change in order for me. In the rightness of time, out of the proverbial blue, I am tapped on the shoulder and handed, with palpable kindness, my marching orders.
[From a forthcoming book by Jan Frazier]