The goals for a spiritual practice are to realize that you are the subjective self or, as some say, the true or authentic Self and to identify with it.
To realize that you are the subjective self, your meditation practice should examine all objects of consciousness that arise in awareness and recognize that as objects they cannot be subjects. It is you that is the subject that is perceiving them and is aware of them.
When you see a tree, the eyes take in a sensory data stream that is processed and represented as an image that you recognize as a tree. As an image, it has entered your awareness and become an object of consciousness. This is true for all sensory data, be it a sight, sound, touch, smell or taste. This is equally true for your physical body, which is observed much like any other object in the environment and, when observed, becomes an object of consciousness.
This is also true of perceptions of bodily processes such as the beating of the heart or the flow of breath, the pressure from a full bladder or the grumbling of a hungry stomach. All of these are experienced as objects of consciousness, and they cannot be subjects. If the body, including its perceivable activity, is an object, then it can’t be a subject. Therefore, you are not your body.
So perhaps you are your mind. What kinds of things might we attribute to mind? Some of those things include thoughts (I’m tired), emotions (I’m happy) memories (I recall learning to ride a bike), personality, ego and so on. All of these things have to be objects of consciousness for you to be aware of them. Thus, they cannot be you because you being the subject in these subject-object relations are apart from them, just as you were apart from sensory objects in the physical world, including your body. Therefore, you are not your mind.
Maybe you are the intellect. Suppose that you studied mathematics and physics very deeply while you were in school. You can now know many ways to solve measurement problems and know many things about the patterns of physicality. But, consider that here too all these formal things you’ve learned are intellectual achievements and are also objects of consciousness. Because you are aware of them, they are perceivable and therefore are objects and can’t be subjects. You are apart from them and thus you are not the intellect either.
You (the subjective self or the observer or witness as some say) are not any of these perceivable objects of consciousness. The one thing that is not an object in awareness is the subjective self or awareness itself. The subjective self can never become an object of consciousness anymore than an eye can directly look at itself. In other words, the subjective self cannot be an object to itself.
This is probably why Adyashanti says true meditation is to simply be with awareness itself or just being with what is. This is also, in part, why in a Guide to Sensory Field Meditation*, I suggest that one begin meditation by allowing awareness to fill with and empty out of the objects of consciousness that arise and subside naturally, while maintaining attention on the gestalt or the field of awareness as a unified whole. That is, focus on the whole rather than upon individual objects arising and subsiding within the gestalt. This gives a global or right brain view of the underlying processes of awareness. You cannot make of awareness an object for it is no-thing when empty of objects. Thus, it is only by observing the process of awareness that you can come, indirectly, to a sense of it. Ultimately, you may find that everything in awareness drops away, and you become awareness or consciousness itself. You form an identity with it, which is not an observational state. Eastern traditions call this state the Void or Samadhi.
Besides being perceivable as objects of consciousness what do the sensory objects you perceive, the body that you perceive and the mind that you perceive all have in common? They are ever changing. As the philosopher Henri Bergson said of the perceivable world – it is in a constant state of flux. Everything perceivable changes. Some things like a mountain may not noticeably change in your life time but even it is changing. The trees that you see change, the body that you inhabit changes, the mind that you exhibit changes and the intellect that you employ changes. When you are young the changes largely tend toward growth and as you become older the changes tend toward deterioration.
So, what doesn’t change? The subjective self is a constant amidst all of this flux. Though Source Consciousness exists outside of space-time, your embodied thread of consciousness in the physical world of space-time appears to have what Bergson called duration and persists unchanged. Even if you deteriorate to the point of being unable to recognize or understand what appears in your awareness, you still perceive and are aware of objects of consciousness.
Only physical death seems to end the subjective self, but that is just from the perspective of observers in the physical world. Given its unchanging nature that is impervious to all the flux it observes, it is reasonable to assume that it continues to persist once the body it inhabited succumbs to entropy. Being an embodied thread of Source Consciousness, it stands to reason that when no longer embodied, your consciousness withdraws back into Source Consciousness, which exists outside of space-time and just is.
Many spiritual practices also include Self-inquiry. This practice might be thought of as a project to recognize the subjective self as the true Self by the process of elimination. This practice can be done simply by asking, about each object of consciousness that arises in awareness — whether during meditation or periods of normal activity — is this the true Self? If what is perceived is an object of consciousness and it must be for you to be aware of it, the answer is “No, not that.” That is not the true Self. This practice continues until you are convinced that none of these many things that arise in awareness are the subjective self. If the subjective self or true Self cannot be found in awareness, then by the process of elimination, you have only one option remaining and that is consciousness itself. When you fully accept this conclusion without doubt or qualification, you have realized your true Self and should identify with it. This is the ultimate goal of a spiritual practice.
You are now on the cusp of what is often referred to as enlightenment. This next step reveals the connection between your embodied thread of consciousness and the Source Consciousness to which it is tethered. It is generally accepted that there are no methods to be employed in this last step. Your practice should be to simply abide in and through the true Self and patiently wait for this experience of your connection to Source Consciousness to take you.
* You can download a PDF copy of Guide to Sensory Field Meditation as part two of Meditation: What, Why and How. You can find this by going to my website’s Pick Up Page and scrolling down until you reach it then follow the directions given at the top of the page for downloads, if you aren’t already familiar with this process.