Awareness is a quality which utilizes more sources than the intellect or the brain’s information processing. The thinking mind cognizes and perceives but neither of these add up to awareness. Awareness includes presence; the presence of the one cognizing. It also considers experiences available from other sources. Signal processing isn’t the only experience available to the human organism.

When we look out at the world with the five senses and what the brain processes through them, the world is solid and works in specific ways. When we look out to the world with awareness, its solidity starts to break up. It also becomes apparent that there are other possibilities in the way the world works.

This is true of our inner workings as well. If we only cognize our challenges and dilemmas, many times they seem unsolvable, set, and punishing. If we bring the same into awareness, however, space opens up and new possibilities arise in that space. We also find that we’re far less identified with or even as those ‘personal problems.’

If we imagine that our mind is like the blue sky, and that across it pass thoughts as clouds, we can get a feel for that part of it which is other than our thoughts. The sky is always present; it contains the clouds and yet is not contained by them. So with our awareness. It is present and encompasses all our thoughts, feelings, and sensations; yet it is not the same as them. To recognize and acknowledge this awareness, with its spacious, peaceful quality, is to find a very useful resource within. We see that we need not identify with each thought just because it happens to occur. We can remain quiet and choose which thought we wish to attend to. And we can remain aware behind all these thoughts, in a state that offers an entirely new level of openness and insight.

— Ram Dass

The Heart-Mind

The thinking process gets all the fanfare. Schooling produces thinkers. Our mental capacities are touted, researched, edified and respected. Rightly so in many ways; the human mind is amazing. What becomes detrimental is the focus on the mind to the exclusion of other amazing aspects of our being, the chief of which is the heart.

This isn’t the biological heart or the heart of romance. It’s not operating only at the level of emotion. It isn’t entangled in our self-identity as ego. In fact it’s free of us entirely, acting as a backdrop to daily existence, and a container for the human journey.

In Sanskrit this Heart is called hridayam, the locus of consciousness where our true Self lives.

There’s nothing bad about having an ego. Those thoughts and feelings are necessary for a healthy personality. But if you identify so strongly with the ego that you think that’s all there is, that limited view can keep you from your deeper Self.

— Ram Dass

As amazing the mind can be, it’s also conditioned, fragmented, distracted, trapped and fearful. It isn’t able to extricate itself from such influences by relying only on its own brilliance. It needs the balance of the Heart, and the awareness that’s available there. It needs to become heart-mind.

… in all Asian languages — at least I’ve been told this; I don’t know all Asian languages — but in all Asian languages the word for “mind” and the word for “heart” are the same word.

— Jon Kabat-Zinn

There isn’t a mind without the Heart. Thinking without awareness gets us into trouble. We become narrow and exalt temporary truths. Thought-generated awareness is limited, the input it gets comes from the material world which gives us only a partial view.

The heart-mind is awareness turned inward, awareness of the spiritual universe within, and the quality of that awareness, the feeling that accompanies it, is love.

— Ram Dass


True awareness doesn’t originate in the mind. Cognition and perception are too narrow to produce awareness. There’s a contemplative quality to awareness and routine thoughts are too fast and disparate to be contemplative. The mind needs the ballast of the Heart. The mind is linear and trapped in time. The Heart is nonlinear and timeless. With heart-mind we can be in time and deal with our daily life, and also renew and recalibrate in the timeless. With heart-mind our sojourn in time is sweetened and enhanced by our diving into a nonlinear, timeless center of wholeness.

Mind by itself also leaves us trapped in ‘local problems.’ These are the stuff of everyday living, all the usual pressures, stresses and dramas. Awareness sources in the nonlocal. It’s ever-present and impersonal. It doesn’t make judgments or evaluations. It simply and directly reveals what is. Although readily available, like the Heart, awareness needs to be cultivated, promoted and made familiar to our consciousness.

So much of what is considered “smart” is brain-based. There’s another, holistic intelligence; that of the Heart. Education, business, social and behavioral sciences all emphasize brain development. Yet we’re inhuman without the Heart. It’s not the heart of cardiology or heartache that bests the brain, but the Heart of exquisite Being and Presence.

Awareness is available at the Being level of reality. Here there’s Presence. Mind isn’t equated with the brain in its superlative states. Mind breaks the barriers of the brain. Yet even then, if it doesn’t hold hands with the Heart, it can’t know itself, it can’t participate in Presence.

Presence is ineffable, but it can be known and felt once we make ourselves available to it.

This presence whether experienced as Allah, as Atman, as Sunyata, or as the Buddha-nature or as Bodhisattva; whether as Tao or as the One or as the Divine Feminine, is the atmosphere in which humans breathe deepest and without which they eventually suffocate.

— Thomas Berry

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Awareness: Journey into the Heart-Mind