top of page
Essays listed in chronological order starting with most recent. For archives, please see previous volumes below.
  • Writer's pictureRudy Bauer

Considerations of Mind-Awareness Distinction

By: Rudolph Bauer, Ph.D Diplomate in Clinical Psychology, A.B.P.P.

For much of my personal and professional life I have had an enduring

interest in the distinction between mind and awareness. As my education

unfolded over these many years, I have been happy to recognize that this

distinction between mind and awareness is of serious consideration in

continental phenomenology, in forms of psychoanalytic understanding such

as the object relations work of Donald Winnicott, as well as in many forms

of the experiential psychotherapies such as Gestalt, experiential focusing,

in Ericksonian hypnosis, structural family therapy, archetypal

psychotherapy, existential psychotherapy, existential psychoanalysis to

name a few.

When I began to extend my interest based on continental phenomenology

into the eastern wisdom traditions, I found the same distinction within the

Hindu Tantric tradition of Kashmir Shavism. Later in my life I found the

same distinction within the Tibetan non-dual Nyingma tradition of

Dzogchen. In my study of the Qi Gong tradition, I had the good fortune of

being able to study for a number of years with Dr. Yan Xin who is a most

remarkable healer and who has this same distinction of mind and

awareness in his form of Daoist Qi Gong.

From an historical view point, this distinction of mind and awareness was

central in gnostic philosophy and gnostic theology. In contemporary

Jungian archetypal psychology there is a similar distinction between the

knowing of mind of ordinary life world of lived experience and the knowing

of the archetypal dimension of lived experience, as well as the knowing of

the primordial awareness dimension of pure potentiality.

I have also had this interest in and through the phenomena of my own

knowingness, the knowing of self, the knowing of others and of knowing of

the encompassing nature of Existential Being. I have had for as long as I

can remember, the sense of the explicit experience of my mind as explicit

thoughts, and explicit feelings and explicit sensations and explicit

imaginative imagery, and at the same time a subtle sense of tacit or

implicate or implicit sense of intuitive knowing. In this way I have always felt

I had two ways of knowing.

I felt I had a knowing through my mind and the functions of my mind such

as knowing feelings, as knowing through sensations, as knowing through

thoughts as knowing through memory and as knowing through imagination.

And simultaneously I also had this knowing through my felt sense of

awareness which is more or less direct, and more or less immediate, more

or less unmediated, more or less non conceptual. Of course, this knowing

is more or less mysterious.

I began to reflect on this phenomena of my two ways of knowing in my

second year of college where my psychology professor Pius Lartigue told

me about the book Existence by Rollo May. And within this most wonderful

book, I found explicit discussion about these two ways of knowing that is for

some, the heart of existential phenomenology.

Years later, as my academic work unfolded I did experimental studies on

phenomenological themes such as cognitive style, future time perspective,

awareness of death, personal identity development, the use of focusing

experientially in order to make the implicit explicit. I had studied time and

timelessness phenomenologically at the Institute of Time Perspective in

Louvain, Belgium with Dr. Joseph Nuttin. Later I did further post graduate

work in experiential psychoanalysis and existential phenomenological

psychotherapy where a foundational theme was analytic knowing and

experiential knowing. I had many great teachers in this endeavor. I

especially loved Erving and Miriam Polster who were masters of this

understanding both as psychotherapists and as people.

In my professional training of clinical psychology and psychotherapy, I was

aware of the different forms of knowing that are important in the

transformative experience of psychotherapy. The languages varied but

descriptors like reflective and pre-reflective knowing, analytic and

experiential knowing, conscious knowing and unconscious knowing,

mediated and unmediated knowing, mental knowing and contemplative

knowing, conceptual and non- conceptual knowing all expressed the

various nuances of the two ways of knowing.

In time in the unfolding of the profession of clinical psychology, I began to

experience that clinical psychology over the years has become more

cognitive to the exclusion of the experiential realm. I began to experience

and see the split between mind and awareness and between the

psychology of mind and the experience of existential ontology. Some would

say mind and spirituality. For myself spirituality is existential ontology or the

realm of Being and the realm of Being-ness of beings.

In the realm of existential phenomenology and in existential psychotherapy

these two dimensions of knowing are explicitly and essentially within the

heart of existential phenomenological psychotherapy. These two natural

dimensions of human existence are intertwined as the knowing-ness of

mind and the knowing-ness of awareness. Another way of expressing is the

mediated knowing of mind and direct knowing of awareness. For my

purpose here I will focus on knowing of mind and knowing of awareness.

Let’s make explicit these two ways of knowing in existential


Our mind knows forms, things, beings, both subtle and gross. Our mind

knows faces, buildings, trees, math formulas. Our mind knows subject and

our mind knows objects. Our mind knows dualities, our mind knows me and

you, us and them. Our mind knows time, our mind knows the sense of past,

and mind knows the sense of the present and the sense of the future. The

mind knows difference. The mind know beings and entities. The mind

knows dualistically.

Our awareness knows Being directly and awareness knows the Being-ness

of Beings directly. Awareness knows Being is not a being and awareness

can know Being manifesting beings. Being manifests beings, and manifests

Being within beings, as their Being. Being itself is not an entity, not a being.

Being is non-duality. Being knows the non-duality of everything and

anything. Being is oneness and pervasiveness. Being is openness. Being

self-manifests as radiant knowing light.

By becoming aware of our own awareness, we may actually experience

primordial awareness which is the ground of beings, which is pure Being.

Awareness is Being. Awareness is Being knowing itself. Being knows

Being and the Being-ness of beings. Awareness can know timelessness

as well as knowing Being in time as beings. Our awareness can be both in

timelessness and in time simultaneously.

The mind knows time, and awareness knows timelessness in time and

beyond time. Being knows timelessness in time, and Being is timelessness

manifesting time. Being becomes everything and anything. Being self-

manifests as everything and anything. Being is no thingness. Awareness

knows Being. Awareness is the nature of Being.

When mind and awareness integrate, then we can know the Being-ness of

a being, and within a being we can know Being. Within our own being we

can know Being. Mind and awareness are intertwined. Without mind there

is only the knowingness of Being. And without awareness there is only the

knowingness of beings. When our mind and awareness are integrated, we

can know Being through beings including our own being.

Institutional Limitations

Of course institutional belief can play a cultural and limiting role in our

knowing. Institutional scientific mind only wants to know the evidence of

mind alone. The scientific mind knows things and entities. Scientific mind

knows duality. This knowing though mind alone is very limiting and

incomplete. These limitations are forms of concrete realism.

Institutional belief, as the various forms of religion, can also limit our

manner of knowing since forms of religion or forms of spirituality often

mythologize our direct knowing-ness of awareness and our knowing-ness

of Being. Religious myth about our knowing of awareness and our knowing

of Being contextualizes this most natural knowing only as a function of

spiritual earning and spiritual merit. Institutional religion often

contextualizes our natural form of knowing as belonging to and a function

of particular religion tradition or format. Religion brands direct knowing-

ness as belonging to itself and itself alone.

This knowing which is actually, and naturally us, becomes reified and

sanctified and in this sanctification becomes experientially distant from

ordinary life. Persons under institutional influence begin to think that they

must earn spiritual merit in order to experience the nature of their own

being which is Being itself. They begin to think they must spiritually earn

what is already given. Some people think, they really think they have to

submit to religious authority and moralistic monastic framing in order to

experience the innate liberation of self-awareness. Many people think they

must be subsumed under some patriarchal theocratic authority to

experience the Being of their own being. Religion relentlessly mythologizes

and takes possession of this natural given-ness of our innermost luminous

awareness knowing-ness. Religion politicizes our human nature of

awareness field which is naturally infinite in its horizons and


Some forms of eastern religion even discount the actuality of beings and

only think that the only reality is Pure Being which Pure Being is formulated

as some kind of transcendental otherness. All phenomena and all human

experience are considered delusional perceptions of mind, including you

and me. Of course this distorted sense of the unreality of phenomena

creates a distorted sense of unreality of sense of self .This transcendental

view does not support the immanent sense of Being within us, as being the

very Being-ness of our being. When the sense of Being is no longer within

us, and we are not living within the sense of Being, we begin to live in a

dissociated ‘la la’ land. This is the land of ‘as if!’ In this land all experience

is unreal. All experience is a delusion.

On the other extreme institutional psychology in its cognitive wisdom

declares that human beings are only cognitions. Human being are simply

cognitions. And of course there is no Being within human beings.

Contemporary psychology only experiences duality. Contemporary

psychology only experiences dualistic facticity and dualistic data. Just as

some religions only experience non-duality. Both extremes of spiritual

idealism and mechanical realism are incomplete, completely incomplete.

The wonderful and immediate actuality of duality being within non-duality

and non-duality being within duality is foreclosed and missed. Natural

liberation is foreclosed.

These distinctions of mind and awareness are foundational in non-dual

existential Dzogchen of Tibetan Buddhism. The same distinction is

foundational made in non-dual Kashmir Shavism. In these eastern dual/

non-dual traditions the experience and understanding is that the mind and

functions of the mind are a different dimension of existence then the field of


The Dzogchen uses the word sems for mind and semde for awareness.

This is the most important and foundational distinction in Dzogchen. The

focus of praxis utilizes this difference. For the most part a person is

considered to be located in their mind. And a person shifts to become

aware of their mind which is a form of mindfulness. And then the person

make another shift into becoming no longer aware of their mind, but they

become aware of awareness itself. As a person becomes aware of their

own awareness, the qualities of awareness begin to manifest. These

qualities are spaciousness, luminous knowing-ness, and vibrational energy.

Other qualities also arises in time, namely the sense of purity of Being.

Purity of Being is not the same as purity of mind or purity of character or

purity of behavior.

Moreover as a person remains in awareness, the field qualities of

awareness manifest and the field of awareness is infinite in its horizons and

vast and multidimensional. As a person establishes themselves in

awareness the sense of direct perception arises and the capacity of the

experience Being within phenomena and Being as phenomena opens.

It is of interest that this description of Dzogchen praxis is not unlike

continental phenomenology’s description of the epoche and reduction.

These two traditions are very similar. They are also similar in that a person

after having establish their sense of awareness of awareness or rigpa, the

person then integrate their mind into the field of awareness and this

luminous awareness infuses their mind and the qualities of their mind.

I have had many great Dzogchen teachers who have supported me in my

integration endeavors including Lama Tharchin, Lama Norhla, Kungsang

Dechen Lingpa, Rigdzin Dorge Rinpoche, Lama Wangdor, Namkai Norbu

Rinpoche, Penor Rinpoche, YangThang Rinpoche to name some. In the

tantric tradition of Kashmir Shavism my mentor and teacher was Swami

Muktananda for many years.In the cosmological view of Vedic Astrology

my mentor and friend was Chakrapani Ullal. In Daoist Qigong, my teacher

was the great healer Dr. Yan Xin. With these remarkable teachers I have

always experienced them as companions and friends and not as would be

deities. They were all individualistic and supported individuation. Neither

were they a mother figure or father figure. They were companions and


The various psychotherapies that utilize these forms of praxis can be very

beneficial for people. As the psychoanalysis Donald Winnicott points out,

this base of awareness which he calls transitional space facilitates change

within the mind. There also arises within this multidimensional field of

awareness a sense of potential space which can be experienced as

timeless awareness in time. In the unfolding of transitional space, a

person’s sense of self or subjectivity changes and unfolds from a cognitive

representation, or a cognition or mind part to an ongoing sense of

continuity of Being. The true sense of the self is the ongoing continuity of

Being embodied in time, as Winnicott so beautifully languages.

This integration of mind within awareness facilities change at different

levels of experience. There can be change at the level of ordinary life

world, and there can be change at the level of archetypal dimension and

there can be change at the dimension of pure potential space.

This multidimensional understanding offers multiple opportunity for change

and transformation. This multidimensional understanding for

phenomenological change has always interested me. This understanding is

located in the mind awareness difference. This existential understanding

offers a way of knowing and working within the intertwining of psychology

of mind and ontological dimension of human existence.

This understanding that the mind- awareness continuum offers many

different skills. One such skill is that awareness field can be extended and

transmitted from one person to another. Another skill is that instinctual

drives such as sexuality and rage can be integrated into this innate field of

luminous awareness. Awareness metabolizes experience. Instinctual

energies as well as affective states can be metabolized into the heart

essence of innate awareness increasing the power and vital-ness of the

field of awareness.

Of course the study of the newer imaging instruments are of great interest

to study the brain’s drama in this drama of awareness mind interface.

Furthermore the experience of healing is always related in the

intersubjective context. True intersubjective experience is the inside to

inside experience of awareness entering awareness. This inner conjunctio

to use Jung’s language is an essence of healing. The experience of duality

within non-duality and non-duality within duality is the essence of healing


The power of this unfolding is that the field of Being itself and the

psychology of mind are intimately related. We could also use the language

of natural spirituality within our understanding that spiritualty and Being are

the same.

Rudolph Bauer, Ph.D, Diplomate in Clinical Psychology, A.B.P.P. The

Washington Center for Consciousness Studies and the Washington Center

for Phenomenological and Existential Psychotherapy Studies

168 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

The Multidimensional Experience of Dying

Rudolph Bauer, Ph.D Diplomate in Clinical Psychology, A.B.P.P. The Washington Center for Consciousness Studies and The Washington Center for Phenomenological and Existential Psychotherapy Dying as the

The Experience of Presence in Dzogchen: A Phenomenology

Rudolph Bauer, Ph.D. Diplomate in Clinical Psychology, A.B.P.P. Washington Center for Consciousness Studies and the Washington Center for Phenomenological and Existential Psychotherapy Presence The fo

bottom of page