Distinguishing Awareness and Presence


Q: I was listening to this video of Fr. Keating:


If a clearer or fuller context is required, it might be necessary to listen to a few minutes before and after these time points, but between 08:40 and 09:54 in the above video, Fr. Keating says:

“So, at this level of secrecy, there is a letting go of self-reflection itself. So that the self-conscious self is forgotten. ‘Ever present awareness’ that Ken Wilbur speaks about in one of his books describing non-duality, is not really awareness at all, it’s just presence. So the secrecy that Jesus invites us to here, is the silence of self. And this is the ultimate attitude or disposition for which the other two silences are a preparation and a discipline. Notice the cascading effect: exterior silence, interior silence or stillness, and finally, secrecy.”

Now, to be more specific, from the above quote, I would like to understand more clearly what Fr. Keating means when he says that the ever present awareness (spoken of by Ken Wilbur) is:

“Not really awareness at all, it’s just presence.”

My own experience in meditation/prayer, is that the presence/being of my real self is always aware or conscious. And even if there are no thoughts arising in the mind to be aware of, the presence/being of my real self, still remains aware of itself (i.e., the real self is self-illuminating).

So, as the presence/being of my real self can never not be aware, am I to take it that when Fr. Keating says . . .

“ever present awareness is not really awareness at all, it’s just presence”

. . . he simply means that at that deeper level, presence is not aware in the sense of ‚Äúordinary psychological awareness‚Äù (awareness of objects, thoughts, emotions, reactions, judgements etc.). It is indeed still aware, but that awareness, is not  the ‚Äúordinary awareness‚Äù?

Is this what he means here?

I hope you understand my question, and that I have expressed it clearly. I appreciate it is a subtle thing, and I am happy to try and explain it another way if required.

A: Thank you for your comments. I viewed the video and enjoyed listening to Fr. Thomas once again; his insights are always refreshing for me.

As I listened to his comments after the section you quoted, I found he clarified further his meaning of awareness, especially when in the prayer you are no longer the fixed point of reference — your consciousness goes beyond yourself to the presence of the divine within you. That presence is manifested in how one’s life changes. Prayer is a relationship with the divine and it opens us to a forgetting of ourselves in order to make more space for God‚Äôs indwelling presence.

I would like to share with you a quote from Fr Keating’s book Intimacy With God, chapter 7:

‚ÄúThe surface of the river represents our ordinary psychological level of awareness. But a river also has its depths, and so does our awareness. Beneath the ordinary psychological level of awareness, there is the spiritual level of awareness where our intellect and will are functioning  in their own proper way in a spiritual manner. Deeper still, or more ‚Äúcentered,‚Äù is the Divine Indwelling where the divine energy is present as the source of our being and inspiration at every moment (see Diagram 4). Personal effort and grace meet at the most centered or inward part of our being, which the mystics call the ‚Äúground of being‚Äù or the ‚Äúpeak of the spirit.‚Äù

I hope this sheds more light on the statement, “not really awareness at all, it’s just presence.”  I look forward to your response, knowing that words never quite capture what we experience in our prayers.

Blessings, Fr Carl