Even before the first thought arises in our minds, there is existence. I refer to this as “amness.” When we are born, we have unconscious (formless or nonconceptual) awareness, but we do not possess “consciousness” per se. Consciousness, as we normally think about it, is based on facts and concepts and thinking patterns and logic and reasoning and intuition and can be correctly described as conceptual consciousness.
A newborn baby has an unconscious awareness (formless or nonconceptual awareness). Awareness is the one constant feature of existence. In fact, you have never had an experience that you were not aware of. Every experience that you have ever had occurred within your conscious awareness. Awareness of awareness, or conscious (form-based or conceptual) awareness, is what is normally referred to as consciousness. Awareness of awareness doesn’t arise when you are born, it arises later.
Until you realize that you are a “thing,” until you realize that you have “itness,” you have unconscious (formless or nonconceptual) awareness. It is for this reason that most people have almost no memories of themselves as a very small child. Two factors are at play here – 1) with no language skills and a lack of symbolic logic, it is quite difficult to imprint or program memories and 2) you haven’t realized that you are a “thing” yet, so how could anything happen to you that you can remember?
This is not to say that nothing happened to you when you were a small child. You were fed and cuddled and dressed and transported and had diaper changes and baths. You played with other children and adults. But because you didn’t realize that you were a thing, nothing could happen that you were consciously aware of. Because you didn’t realize that you had itness, you had no reference point to encode a memory for anything that happened to you. Every single memory that you have is from after you developed an egoic sense of self because prior to the development of the ego you had no reference point to have memories.
In many spiritual traditions, an effort is made to get people to disidentify with everything external and internal. The line of thinking goes something like this: “You are not your body, you are not your thoughts, you are not your relationships, you are not your possessions, you are not your ego, you are not your job, you are not how you show up in the world, etc.” and to a large extent, this line of thinking is correct except, it leaves you with the conclusion that you are ONLY a formless field of clear awareness.
Formlessness moves into form and then back into formlessness. Impermanence is a very real thing. Many spiritual traditions and teachers provide a very binary choice of EITHER identifying as a formless field of clear awareness OR as your egoic sense of self.
Binary choices are a very limited way to perceive yourself. Your egoic sense of self (Iself) is a fluid act of improvisation and this egoic sense of self is rooted in your personal history, your body and your emotions. Your ego will perish when your body perishes and yet, for a very brief moment in time, this egoic self is an aspect of who you are.
Your Iself is the “mask” you put on when you go out into the world and it is who you tell yourself you are when you are talking to yourself in your head all day long. It is the character you are playing in the divine comedy we call life. Underneath this mask, you are the Noself.
You are all form and you are all formlessness. You are all consciousness. You are the ocean in a drop and you are a drop in the ocean. You are the deep still waters and you are the waves appearing on the surface. You are all of it. Below is a map of consciousness. On the left side is what is known. On the right side is what is unknown. The left side corresponds with the world of forms. The right side corresponds with formlessness. While it is tempting to identify ONLY as what is formless, to identify as strictly the Noself ignores all forms and is a logical error. You are ALL of consciousness, not only the formless aspects of consciousness.
I will close this post with these 2 videos. The speakers in these videos have a slightly different perspective than I do, but those differences are slight and inconsequential.