From the journal Material For Thought, issue number 13

© 1969 Far West Editions


Awakening to Myself


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A right kind of prayer: “I wish to see myself as I am.”

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For years I asked teachers and philosophers the question “what is mind?” Many words were spoken to me but I heard nothing. If real answers fall on a different place, a very quiet place, then an inner transformation can begin. Reaching this place is a result of years of preparation, work, building one brick at a time. My own living questions help form the bricks and mortar of this place.

There are many questions that arise in me for which I can find answers in books, lectures, and the words of “learned persons.” But there are still questions in me, questions I can hardly formulate, questions whose presence I can only feel, which are beyond my ability to express.

These questions bring about an awareness of what objective reality means. They can make me see the illusions I have about myself. The strange thing is that this is not destructive or discouraging. On the contrary, it clears the air, brings in different energies which enable and force me to get a sharper image of what I am. They bring the light which is consciousness and provide me with a hint of a direction for my inner work.

For me, there is but one way: silence, inner quiet, total stillness of the body, “outer” mind and emotions. Do I have the courage and patience to stay in front of my questions and just accept the state of not knowing, not understanding?

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To see myself requires attention. What is attention?

It is a quality of awareness, like a powerful searchlight illu-minating my inner and outer situation. It is like a chemical which separates other chemicals in my organism into individual substances, identifying what they are and enabling me to deal with each individually.

Focused, directed attention allows me to hear what my mind, body and feelings are telling me, to see myself as objectively as possible, with little or no daydreaming. It helps me to see my laziness and direct my energies toward making efforts.

Working with attention, I have moments of the total inner quiet needed for the transformation of what I am into what I wish to be. Attention is a force which gathers my scattered energies into one place.

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I must continually extricate myself from the state of self-infatuation. It is from this state that I must escape if I want to change my life. My life could be different if I could become conscious. Consciousness is my life’s aim. How do I go about pursuing it? I begin with the commitment to strive for my aim constantly. I put this in front of me as I wake up, as I start the day. I don’t permit myself to make excuses. It takes will and determination to continue when confronted with “I just don’t feel like working now.” I must observe, see myself, my sleep, and the sleep of the other people around me. This already wakes me up for a moment.

I get glimpses of myself. I am driving downtown to work. What goes on inside of me during this drive? Am I totally unconscious? Am I daydreaming? Do I get impatient at the length of a red light? Do I swear at people who cut in front of me or are going too slowly? This is my waking sleep. But this morning I decided to observe myself; at one moment in my drive I see all this and I become conscious, aware of my hands on the steering wheel, aware of my surroundings as well as of what went on in me seconds ago.

For a moment I sense myself, I see my posture, perhaps even hear my own voice, and then I fall asleep again. But, remembering my aim, I will again become the observer and will have a few seconds of awakening. Gradually those moments will become more frequent, longer, and the periods of sleep between them shorter.

This is a taste of consciousness. Granted, it is fleeting, some-thing that I cannot hold, but this is the first step toward being awake more often.

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Some years ago I was an ardent horseman. I remember the first jumping horse I bought in the early 1940’s. I loved it and was quite convinced that I was an excellent rider. One day a light went on in my head. I saw myself as I was and realized that, while I was athletic and could sit on a horse, I knew nothing about real horsemanship at all. So I asked who was the best riding teacher on Long Island, where I lived at the time, and was directed to a Swiss cavalry officer, Captain Vogt.

Captain Vogt said, “I will take you on provided you keep quiet, listen to me, and only ask a question when I am through explaining.”

I recognized that to become a horseman instead of a “rider” I had to submit to authority, superior knowledge, to learn obedience and acquire a new kind of discipline.

Captain Vogt was thorough, scientific. He taught my mind all about horsemanship. I say “my mind” because much later I learned that my body had to be educated and utilized to set the horse for a jump and to judge the speed and distance.

Years before, I lived in Vienna and spent summers in the Alps. For four weeks, my friend and I were alone above 14,000 feet on the glaciers.

Glacier work is something special. You must sense if the new snow will hold you or if it disguises a crevasse with a drop of a thousand feet. We had to be totally present with every single step, to be attuned to something, a warning bell inside of us. Day-dreaming could mean a serious accident or death.

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When a person wishes to grow, a payment has to be made for advancing in his or her evolution and inner expansion. This is the law. We get nothing for free.

How do we pay? First, if we want something, we must pay with effort. Effort needs knowledge, recognition of the moment when the effort is useful. Efforts can take such forms as doing a task well, being present to yourself as often as you can during your waking hours, being quiet when emotions are draining your energy, sensing yourself and preventing your attention from being pulled out of you and absorbed in a life situation.

Payment is a most important principle. This must be understood. You have to pay in advance of results, and the first real payment is to take the trouble to study and understand the things you hear, read and see. This, in turn, creates the conditions required for further levels of payment. You sacrifice imagination to live in the real world. If you work long enough, perhaps you will sacrifice your negativity, your anger, your laziness and your multitude of contradictory parts. You may eventually be able to sacrifice who you are for what you can become.

John Fuchs