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Direct Experience

Glossary of Spiritual Wisdom

Excerpts about Direct Experience

Direct Experience Understood as the Mind, the Medium of Knowing, being in Direct Contact with the Object of Knowledge

However, the experience of the senses is not what the explorers of Reality in the wisdom traditions call direct experience. In fact, the wisdom traditions of humankind, Eastern and Western, ancient and modern, speak of sense experience as exactly what is immediately present in the way of direct experience. When they speak of direct experience in intuitive knowing or spiritual contemplation, they mean that the mind itself, the medium of knowing, is in direct contact with the object of knowledge.

Essence is the Only Thing in Us that is Directly Aware of Its Own Existence

So in the experience of presence, what is present is essence, our true nature, which is independent of conditioning. Presence and essence are the same. We have discussed presence to give a taste of what essence is. As we see, essence is the part of us that is the experience of “I am.” Essence is the direct experience of existence. Of course, essence can be experienced as other things, such as love, truth, peace, and the like. But the sense of existence is its most basic characteristic. It is the clearest, most definitive aspect that sets it apart from other categories of experience. Essence is, and that is what is most basic to its experience.
This experience of “I am,” of direct apprehension of existence, is not a mental or emotional experience and cannot be understood from the perspective of the usual categories of experience. The mind can think about existence, but it cannot reach it. We have seen this in discussing presence. The answer to the question: “What is essence?” is “what is in us that can experience ‘I am.’” Essence is the only thing in us that is directly aware of its own existence. Awareness of its existence is an intrinsic quality of essence.

If You Adhere to and are Satisfied with Indirect Knowledge You Will Disconnect from the Immediacy of Your Experience

The third problem is that reliance on information and assumptions communicated by others establishes in us the habit of not exercising our own intelligence. Then our capacity to know, and our love of knowing, weaken in ways that we do not even notice, especially in terms of experiencing and knowing ourselves. That is why it is important to find out what is true throughyour own direct experience and knowledge. If you only listen to others, you don’t exercise your own muscles of inquiry or your own intelligence. If you adhere to—and are satisfied with—indirect knowledge, you will disconnect from the immediacy of your experience. So our work has to do with inquiry into the very consciousness and perceptivity of our experience. We need to rely more and more on our own immediate, direct knowledge. However, even true knowledge based on our own experience is composed of concepts, labels, ideas, images, and so on. So it exists only as a memory. For instance, you work on yourself and you have the experience of being an ocean of consciousness. This is a true, direct knowledge of your consciousness. But the next moment, it is just memory, an image, concept, idea, impression from the past. It is true knowledge in that you got it directly, but it immediately becomes ordinary knowledge, old
knowledge.

Knowing by Being, by Identifying with What We Know

Being is more fundamental than the thinking mind and more fundamental than feelings and emotions. It is the ground of all manifestation. And we can focus our knowing on this dimension, rather than on manifestation, the content of normal experience and perception. When we do that we find we are presence. As presence, I am because I am. Before we go into the subtle question of identity, whether presence is an “I” (which is discussed in The Point of Existence), the point we are emphasizing here is that presence is known by presence. In this dimension, being and knowing are one, not yet differentiated. From the perspective of a culture whose perspective is dominated by the dissociation of self, world, and Being, this unity of knowing and being seems like a novel idea.

Pure Self-Recognition is the Direct Experience of Our Identity

This inner sense that characterizes each one of us is usually so familiar that we do not know it is there unless we experience its absence, or a threat to its presence. We become aware of it more easily when it is absent or disturbed, than by directly feeling it. But it is possible to identify it in our lived experience. This feeling of identity is related to, and might be composed of, and at least partially generated by, the identifying gestalt. However, it is a unique category of experience. This inner recognition of oneself, as a feeling, an affective tone, a psychological quality, can only be called identity. Just as the sense of being an individual is not exactly the same as that of being an entity, so, too, the sense of identity is not the same as these. We can
recognize ourselves as entities. We can recognize ourselves as individuals. And we can simply recognize ourselves. This pure self-recognition is the direct experience of our identity; it is possible because the self has an identity. If not for this identity, we would not be able to recognize ourselves by merely feeling ourselves; we would have to infer our identity by observing our characteristics.

Rejecting Object Relation

We refer to this structure as the rejecting object relation because rejection is its primary affect. The self feels that it is rejected, or is going to be, with various degrees of aggression. Furthermore, when someone begins to experience this object relation, it is experienced as actual rejection or the fear of it. Only upon investigation does one recognize the primitive core of this structure. To understand this object relation involves recognizing the defense mechanism of splitting, and therefore coming into contact with one’s split-off hatred and destructiveness. When one finally recognizes that it is one’s projected hatred that one is afraid of, and deals with the fear and the splitting, one then begins to feel the hatred directly. The direct experience of the hatred can take the soul to a clear experience of itself as the animal soul: ruthless, irrational, heartless, hateful, destructive, and very powerful. The natural human tendency is of course to reject this structure; one wants to feel that it is alien to oneself, thus the impulse toward splitting. But with sufficient openness and objectivity one can experience it fully, as a powerful entity, an alien animal form full of brute instinct and ruthless determination to get what it wants regardless of consequences to others.

The Direct Experience of Self-Realization Reveals to Us the Distance between Knowing Oneself and Being Oneself

The mental images and attitudes that determine how we experience ourselves form the basis of a whole implicit world view. We also experience ourselves only indirectly, as a subject experiencing an object. We are aware of ourselves as an object like other objects, seeing ourselves in the world as one object among others. Even when one is aware of oneself as perceiver or subject, this perception is different from the direct sense of our facticity, from the fact of our existence. We still know ourselves through the veil of memory. As indicated above, ordinarily it is impossible to appreciate the extent of the influence of past experience on our sense of ourselves without having some other form of experience as a referent. What gives us the opportunity to see this omnipresent influence is the direct experience of self-realization, which reveals to us the distance between knowing oneself and being oneself. The self is constrained by the subject-object dichotomy: one is a subject experiencing oneself as an object. In the conventional dimension of experience the most intimate way we can experience ourselves is through such self-reflective consciousness.

The Direct Experience of the Soul Involves Penetrating or Bypassing Many Layers of Beliefs and Concepts about Ourselves and About Reality

Even though we are always the soul, for the soul is what we are, the direct knowledge of the soul is not so accessible. It is like the water we swim in, while we are thirsty and looking for it. We not only swim in this water; our bodies are largely made of it. In terms of knowing the soul, we have been so identified with being the normal self, the self that has lost awareness of its spiritual ground, that we cannot even envision what it will be like to recognize ourselves as soul. The degeneration from soul to self, which in actual lived experience is no different in our era than in others, involves such fundamental and far-reaching alienation that to reverse it requires an extensive path of transformation. The direct experience of the soul involves penetrating or bypassing many layers of beliefs and concepts about ourselves and about reality; for most of us the full perception of soul occurs only occasionally, so rarely that most of us do not even comprehend at such times that it is our soul we are experiencing. Therefore, even in a path of inner transformation it is not possible at the beginning to directly recognize the soul. Understanding develops gradually and in stages as one progresses in one’s work.

To Realize the Absolute is to Recognize in Direct Experience that there is Nothing that is Not Constituted by It

The absolute is such a mystery that even though it is total selflessness it is also the ultimate self. What can that mean? We have seen that the absolute is the divine essence, the inner essence of Being. It is the final nature of everything, including ego and essence. It is the absolute nature of the soul, her deepest ground. To realize it is to recognize in direct experience that there is nothing that is not constituted by it. We feel we are constituted by it, that it forms our very substance and identity. We are it, and it is us. We feel and see it as a luminous crystal presence of black clarity. But at the same time we feel it is I, nothing but me, for there is nothing else that can be me. It is not like there is a cognitive sense or feeling of I, identity, or self. There is no conceptual quality of the beingness of the mystery. But there is a perception or apperception that it is none other than I. It is a perception of the luminous night being the
beingness of me, without the feeling of me. The I is not the familiar I, whether ego or essence. It is like I know it is I because I am it. There is nothing else that is I. It is the sense of complete subjectivity. It is like recognizing the subject that is I, which turns out to be the absolute.

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