Awareness & Thinking: A User's Guide to Recursive Consciousness

Something Tolle said from the very beginning rubbed the trained Philosopher in me the wrong way: Stop Thinking. That’s like blasphemy for someone who deals in definition, analysis and understanding. Or so I initially reacted.

Tolle makes a deeply subtle distinction between thinking and awareness that helps to illuminate the nature of reflective, or recursive, consciousness. Simple on its surface, the fact that human consciousness is multileveled and that the levels are free to act independently or interact together has been the bedrock of philosophical observation since the Ancients. Plato and Aristotle used the metaphor of the tripartite soul. The Medievals related to God as the ordering principle. Descartes made a crucial, revealing and powerful error in taking as his bedrock “Cogito ergo sum” often translated “I think, therefore I am.”

Tolle directs us behind thinking, defined as unbridled naming or language using. Who is it who thinks, and thus knows “is”? (Yes, Billie, it does depend on what the definition of “is” is.) Tolle’s work is no polemic against analysis or language, but a careful understanding of its relevance, which has for so long been taken to be universal. Language depends on distinctions, on duality. The very structure of sentence making depends on the subject object distinction and is remarkably useful. We are often seduced by this usefulness, however, into mistaking description for experience. Tolle’s call is one to experience, to silence punctuating our endless naming which breaks the present apart into past, present, future, memory and expectation, subject and object.

Take breathing breaks to interupt the stream of unconsciousness and bring awareness to thinking mind. Do you know where your mind is and what it’s up to? Check in, surprise yourself.


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