Peter fenner interviewed by Tami Simon
Tami Simon: […] You mention people using the phrase “increasing awareness.” I hear that all the time: “The purpose of meditation is to expand awareness.” But really the person must be saying something different.
Peter Fenner: Sure. I think that what people are saying is that what’s expanding are the horizons of their conditioned experience. For example, if people are meditating, they’re opening themselves up to this perhaps infinite interior reality composed of thoughts, subtle feelings and sensations, meditative states. So people are expanding what’s in the field of awareness, but I don’t see that they are expanding awareness itself.
TS: That’s a really good point. Now, one of the things you talk about in your book Radiant Mind, that I’ve never heard anybody else introduce is this idea that we can track, in a certain way, how deeply we know, and can rest in unconditioned awareness by using these three different—I guess I might call them “measurements,” but you can correct me here if I’m misrepresenting anything. You talk about purity, depth, and duration. Would you say these are three qualities? How would you describe it? That we start relating, being as unconditioned awareness, that we can look at the purity, depth, and duration? Can you talk a bit about that, Peter?
Peter Fenner: Sure. Firstly, in a way, we can view this from how it is when we’re resting within awareness itself, or we can talk about this from how it is from the side of our conditioned existence. So when we’re resting within awareness itself, those three dimensions or parameters don’t apply, because awareness itself is even beyond notions of purity and impurity. There’s nothing that can be pure or impure. There’s nothing to prolong or nothing to shorten, so even the notion of duration doesn’t apply, because within awareness itself, it’s atemporal; we can’t measure time. Within awareness itself, there’s no deepening; we can’t have a more shallow or a deeper resting in this state when we’re viewing it from within awareness itself, but when we step back and see how resting in awareness plays out within our conditioned existence, then I feel that we can usefully make those distinctions, those three parameters.
For example, purity is just the way that sometimes, when people are resting in awareness, they still create that it’s some type of subtle experience. It’s what I call “experientializing the state.” People can say, “Wow, this is really blissful!” or “This is a really . . .” They can feel the palpability of the field, so they overlay onto the nothing of awareness some subtle fabric. That’s what I mean by introducing an impurity into the experience.
Then, with depth, to me that’s really important to acknowledge, because by depth, I mean the extent to which we can integrate the present thing of unconditioned awareness into our life. Because, at least in my experience, what happens is that I’m resting in awareness, and then something comes along that’s outside of my preferences, and then I’m triggered into a reaction of attraction and aversion, so then I lose the resting, because I become identified with what’s happening in my experience. I feel that this can be deepened. I think that this makes the difference, for example, between me and the great masters. Great masters are able to just include anything and everything within the field of awareness, without their being triggered into aversive or attractive reactions.
TS: So to see if I understand what you’re saying: you’re describing that, as a person, we visit or we touch or we rest for periods of time in unconditioned awareness. Would you say that?
Peter Fenner: Exactly! Exactly, but also I’m noting that when we are resting in awareness, while the awareness is unconditioned, our capacity to rest in awareness is conditioned. It’s conditioned by the ambient circumstances in the moment. For example, we have to be relatively free of physical pain. We have to be in, for most people, an environment that’s relatively settled. And our mind needs to be reasonably settled. If we’re in a really intense situation, it can be difficult to presence awareness.
TS: OK, I’m with you. And I think that, in terms of these three dimensions—depth, duration, and purity—I think duration seems pretty obvious to people: how long am I resting in unconditioned awareness before I start thinking about something or, as you say, pay attention to the pain in my back, or something like that. So duration seems obvious. Depth and purity, I’m not as clear on.
Peter Fenner: OK, so firstly, I’ll talk a little bit about purity. By purity, I’m really meaning that, when we’re resting in awareness in a pure way, there’s a clear recognition that this, as awareness, is not a thing. It’s no thing. It’s not a phenomenon. It has no structure to it. It has no directionality. We can’t talk about it—we can’t qualify it in any way, because there’s nothing to qualify, nothing to put any labels on.
What can happen is that, when people are resting in awareness, there can be a tendency to make the no thing into something. Why? Because often, really nice experiences come along in the slipstream of the presencing of awareness, things like clarity, bliss, feelings of intimacy and deep connection, and so then people can feel, “Ah! Those things, those secondary phenomena, are qualities of awareness itself!”[…]
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Copyright © Peter Fenner, 2011