Thoughts on ‘primal awareness’: the “is”

Some time ago we visited some people with a newborn.  There was some discussion on how the newborn “didn’t know anything”.  I replied, “yes, but he is aware”.   This fact brings up some interesting things.


I have always felt that there was an awareness in our earliest years, even into the womb.  In fact, it seems to me that there has to be awareness in the womb as that is when our ‘mind’ begins.  The brain is developing and expanding and beginning to be ‘open’.   Normally, people think awareness is a result of sensory stimulation.  At this stage, when the mind begins to be ‘awake’, there is no real sensory stimulation.  The mind as if begins to ‘work’ in a ‘sensory vacuum’.  This, it seems to me, creates a sense of “non-sensory awareness”.  This is ‘primal awareness’.

Because this is the first or ‘base’ awareness it is the awareness that all other awareness is based on or, rather, it is the foundation of which everything else rests.  As such, it affects all other awareness.  As a result, I call this the ‘original primal awareness’

Once born, we are bombarded by sensations which as if forces our self and minds to grow and learn.  This creates a new form of awareness:  “sensory awareness”.  As we grow and develop, the ‘sensory awareness’ as if changes our ‘original primal awareness’, altering it, making it so that it is lost in its original form.  But its ‘framework’, so to speak, is there in our minds creating something like a “shadow” that continues into our lives and can have great impact on us and how we view life.  This is the ‘altered primal awareness’.

This new awareness hangs over all our lives.  From this ‘altered primal awareness’ we feel the ‘original primal awareness’ but in a different way, changed by growth, learning, experience, and our self.  It creates new and different reactions such as:

  • Religious feelings.
  • Feelings of god.
  • Questions about life and meaning.
  • A sense of depth.
  • An interiorness.

For most people these are feelings that appear from time to time.  For other people they can have periods where they can be felt strongly.  For a small proportion of people, it can be felt so strongly that it is sought and pursued.  But we all will be influenced by it . . . in varying degrees and in varying ways . . . that it becomes a big part of human life.


It seems to me that the ‘primal awareness’ primarily consists of a sense of what I always call the “is”.  This is because it is a sense that “it is”, meaning that existence “is”.  This, it seems to me, reflects the ‘newly awakened mind’ that has developed and that has had no sensory stimulation, something you’d find in the womb.  In many ways, the unique quality of the “is” may be a result of its complete absence of sensory stimulation.

The “is” has qualities such as:

  • There’s no images of existence, or any ‘thing’ for that matter.
  • There’s no sensory stimulation.
  • There isn’t any knowledge of the world.
  • There is no sense of others.
  • There is no sense of self.
  • There is no emotions, feelings, or passion.
  • There is also no ‘feelings’ toward the “is”, such as love or fear.
  • This “is” also has with it an inability to conceive of anything else other than the “is”.  In other words, it only senses itself – the “is” – so that the ‘non-is’ is incomprehensible.   The “is” is the world, everything, the ‘all’.

All this creates a condition where all that is there is a sense that existence “is” . . . that’s it.


As we grow and develop we see the world, learn about things in it, and feelings are awakened within us.  These are as if ‘overlayed’ on the “is”, as if added to it.  We also begin to develop a sense of us-in-the-world:  the self.  All this creates a sense of “existence-in-the-world” which is so strong that we ‘forget’ the “is”, that it was even there.  This is the “is” amnesia. 

Typically, we become engrossed in the “existence-in-the-world” to such an extent that we are as if ‘sucked into’ it and it dominates our lives.  Everything is looked at from the perspective of “existence-in-the-world” that any other way is incomprehensible.  The “is” fades from view and is usually forgotten, at least to some extent.


The “is” amnesia makes it so that we are no longer aware of the “is”.  It’s knowledge, experience, and awareness is generally usurped by the “existence-in-the-world”.  But, deep down, it is there.  It does not go away for a number of reasons:

  • Its framework is there.  Our minds have already experienced it and know it.
  • All other forms of awareness are built upon it.
  • The fact that it is our ‘first’ awareness gives it great impact on our minds.  It is, after all, our introduction to the world, our ‘first impression’.

A big reason why the “is” resurfaces is because it has qualities that are different, and opposite, from that experienced in living and the “existence-in-the-world”.  As a result, it is comforting, and often intriguing, to us for that reason.  This gives the “is” great power in our lives.  This effect gives a number of qualities such as:

  • Because it is not associated with the ‘world’, the problems and burdens of the world are not associated with it.  As a result of this, it is often associated with a peacefulness and calm.
  • Because it is thoughtless and has an ‘unknowing’ quality, it becomes associated with the ‘mystery of life’ and how things can’t be explained.
  • Because it ‘goes beyond’ the world, so to speak, it is associated with things that is beyond what we know or can grasp.
  • Because it is ‘primal’, having the quality of existing before us, it has a quality of ‘great authority’ making it associated with things like god.
  • Because it is perceived as being different from the world it has a quality of being another ‘world’.
  • Because it is associated with us ‘deep within’, it is associated with a sense of depth.

This resurfacing is no small thing as a big part of life is rediscovering the “is” in some form or another We all go through and experience the “is” in various phases and times in our lives.  Sometimes, this can become a big part of a person’s life, even so much that their lives will revolve around it.  For most people, though, it is experienced only here and there.

Generally, this ‘rediscovery’ begins with a ‘sense’ that is often vague and unclear . . . but this vague and unclear ‘sense’, seeming so mild, can have great impact on a person.  It seems that seldom does it do anything dramatic though.  Typically, a person must ‘pursue’ and be open to the ‘sense’ in order to truly rediscover it.  Its like the ‘sense’ is an invitation.  If you don’t accept it then you will never know it.  This means that, often, rediscovery of the “is” is dependent on the persons willingness to be open to it. 


Rediscovering the “is” seems to create a number of common reactions:

  • Fear.  After one has developed the “existence-in-the-world, rediscovering the “is” can be frightening and painful.  This is because the rediscovery of the “is” requires us to shed off and remove qualities of the “existence-in-the-world”, such as the self, the image of how the world works, feelings, attachments, etc.  It becomes, in some sense, an unlearning and a destroying of what growth, experience, and development has created in us.  As such, it feels like it is a threat to our self and who we are.
  • A sense of death or dying.
  • A sense of god.
  • A sense of eternity, beyondness, and all.
  • Joy, happiness, security, love.
  • A sense of mystery or the unknown.
  • A sense that there is ‘something else’.  This can perplex and annoy people at times as they often feel there is ‘something more’ in life.

Almost all of these feelings are associated with ‘spiritual’ or ‘religious’ things.  It shows that the “is” is a major element of these feelings.  In other words, ‘primal awareness’, or the “is”, is the origin of many of the senses revolving around spirituality and religion.

Often, though, the “is” is only experienced fleetingly, often lasting a few moments.  But its effects are often felt long afterwords, often creating great reflection on its ‘fact’.  It can create great reflection on life and other philosophical things.

More than once have I thought that one reason why we feel the “is” so fleetingly and sporadically is because it is such a ‘threat’ to our self.  The “is” is an awareness that, at first glance, tends to destroy the self and ones reality.  But, if we look deeper, we find that the “is” actually tends to lead to life and a deepness in life.  This, though, takes a certain perspective, of looking deeper into the “is” and looking beyond the ‘threat’.  Some people can do this.  Some can’t.  It shows that, when we rediscover the “is” it is rediscovered according to what we can handle and our abilities.


I have always felt that the sense of a ‘god’ is a projection of our self toward the “is”.  I should point out that when I say ‘god’ I do not mean a pre-established cultural image of a god (such as that he is a man with a beard that controls things), but the ‘sense’ that appears naturally in a person individually . . . the ‘personal sense of god’.  I feel there are a number of reasons for this projection:

  • Our first awareness is existence.  Because of this, we feel it as a part of us.  In effect, the world is perceived, initially, as ‘our self’, as ‘us’.  Everything we are aware of is perceived as ‘us’.  In doing this, we are projected upon the world, and equated with it.  As we grow, though, we discover that the world is not ‘us’.  This creates a sense of ‘us’ and the ‘world’.  Because this is our earliest awareness each one of us has the tendency of identifying our self with the world.  One effect of this is that it makes existence appear as something ‘living’, often as a person.  Existence, then, becomes ‘like us’ because we are projecting ourselves upon it.  This often makes existence appear as something like a god, a person like our self.  This fact would show that the sense of god comes from our earliest origins.
  • Our earliest awareness is not of ‘us’ as a person for we do not have a self initially.  As a result, the sense of god is really a ‘pre-self’ perception of ones self.

My experience is that a perception of god is greatly influenced by the person.  In many cases, it is dependent on the person.  Each one of us has different ideas as to what ‘god’, regardless of how we may make it fit a cultural pattern or image.  Not only that, it changes with growth and life experience.  Even my own experience shows that ones perception of god changes with growth.  In other words, the perception of god varies and changes.

This means that our perception of god has a number of qualities:

  1. It is not based on an absolutely ‘correct’ image.
  2. It is greatly influenced by our own self and growth.
  3. It is personal.
  4. A cultural image of god only gives a base or guide in the perception of god.

This is not to say that ‘god’ does not exist nor am I trying to make ‘god’ out as just a perception-among-many.  In actuality, in my opinion, all this ‘confirms’ the existence of god and, on the human level, it shows the need for god.

The “is” is an awareness of existence, which is really god.  Existence is the ‘great fact’, the ‘great mystery’, that we all reside in.   It is that which we can never understand, that is beyond us, that comes before us and after us.  We are born into it.  It has authority over us.  It is fact, a reality, and it is ‘living’ because we are living.

The projection of self is a result of an association with existence, that it is a part of us and in us.  The projecting of self is not the projection of petty impulses and ideas upon the world, of making the world ‘like you’.  Projection of self is really a statement of “I am alive” or “I am here in existence”.  It implants us into existence, makes us a part of it.   It also implants existence within us and makes us a part of it.  Projection, then, is what unifies us with existence.  Without this projection, we are not really in existence.  A lot of life’s problems are caused because there is a lack of projection of self.

Projection, though, tends to change as we grow.  As with the ‘primal awareness’, of which it is associated, there are two forms:

  1. Primal projection of self.
  2. Altered projection of self.

The former is the projection of self that I speak of.  The ‘altered projection of self’ the ‘primal projection of self’ altered by growth and experience.  It can develop healthy and unhealthy formations.  Examples of healthy ‘altered projections of self’ include:

  • The tendency to makes ones surroundings and environment livable and pleasant.
  • Having acceptable clothes and appearance.
  • Creating a lifestyle that suits oneself.
  • Feeling a part of ones land.
  • Feeling a part of ones country or people.

As we can see, ‘altered projection of self’ is instrumental in creating the world about us:  our surroundings, our lifestyle, our country, our people, even our looks.  It creates a ‘human livable’ world.  It is projection of self that makes us create things to suit our nature.  In other words, ‘altered projection of self’ is critical in what it means to be human-in-the-world.

Unhealthy ‘altered projection of self’ includes:

  • Thinking you are god or the voice of god.
  • Thinking that what you like or believe in should be forced upon everyone else or the world.
  • Thinking that everyone should be like you.
  • Thinking that you are in control of everything or trying to control everything.
  • Putting your own personal conflicts and dilemma’s upon your surroundings or people about you.

A lot of unhealthy ‘altered projection of self’ is really variations of trying to “force” your surroundings to be like you, regardless of its effects.


When we get older experiencing “pure is” can be horrifying.  By “pure is” I mean an “is” in which we have not projected ourselves.  This shows that in the projection of self toward the “is” we give it meaning and, in so doing, make it ‘tolerable’ and ‘acceptable’ . . . we need to give it the stamp of ‘our life’ to make it relevent.  Without this ‘stamp’ the “pure is” has qualities about it that are almost inhuman.  This is because it is a sense without self, without emotions, without a world image, etc.  These, sensed purely, go counter to our whole life.

“Pure is” can appear in our lives, from time to time.  Often, all it encompasses is a ‘flash’ of awareness . . . and that’s usually enough.  Other times, its ‘sense’ can hang over us like a great cloud.  Some people can be haunted by it.  It can create effects like:

  • Experiences of horror or terror.
  • Thoughts of death.
  • Various mental problems.
  • A sense of dehumanization.

“Pure is” seems to take us out of our ‘human fact’, throwing us into an inhuman world.  In this world we die-like and cease to be.  This fact creates the horror of “pure is”.  This horror, though, can affect a person in many different ways, such as:

  • Incapacitate.  It can leave a person frozen with horror and terror.
  • Indecisive.  It can leave a person stunned, speechless, not knowing how to react.
  • Instigate.  It can force a person to do some action they otherwise would not do.
  • Insightful.  Sometimes, the horror of the “pure is” can ‘joggle’ us enough to force a change in self or a new awareness or an insight.  Often, it is sought for this reason and is seen in a lot of religious customs.

In all cases, we are reacting to the inhumanness of “pure is”.  This shows that the “pure is”, by itself, does not make us human.  This appeared unusual to me at first, as you’d think our first ‘primal awareness’ would be associated with being human.  But it really shows that what makes us human are the various forms of awareness and growth that are later built upon the “is”.  The “is” is human-by-association, so to speak, not human-by-fact.  The more we develop an association with the “is”, later in life, the more human we become . . . but to seek it “purely” is death and alienation.  The “is” that is healthy is the “is” that we project ourselves onto and build upon and grow with.


Some people will deliberately seek the “is” in life.  This is because there is great power and life in the “is”.

By itself, the “is” does not seem to be all that productive.  I tend to think this is because it originates from ones earliest origins and, as a result,  has qualities of not-in-the-world.  This makes it have little impact by itself.  The “is” needs help!  When the “is” becomes associated with other things it can be powerful.

Some of the ways that help us seek the “is” are:

  • Prayer and contemplation.
  • Developing a sense of god.
  • Developing a sense of mystery in life.
  • Having a sense of humility.
  • Having a sense of submission.
  • Trying to be calm and peaceful.
  • Finding expression in life.
  • Practicing a belief system.
  • Being open to the awareness of the “is” or things that have the “is” quality.

But, because of the horror of the “is”, we need to be cautious.  Very often, it can drag us down into unproductive and painful things.  Things to be cautious of include:

  • Getting bogged down in the ‘question’ of life.  I sometimes refer to this as the “is” sickness.  Often, it becomes like a hole one gets into and can’t get out of.
  • Being overwhelmed by fear or terror.
  • Not getting carried away with the feeling of the “is”.  I’ve seen people turn the awareness of the “is” into some great ‘revelation’ or ‘magical’ experience, thinking they’ve ‘spoken to god’ or something.  They turn it into the “is” drug.
  • Being too intellectual and having to analyze everything about it.

It shows that there is danger in the “is” awareness, such is its power and force.


I’ve learned that the “is” is something to be respected.  This would make sense as its our ‘first awareness’, our first confrontation with existence, the beginning of everything.  As such, its awareness is firmly planted in our mind . . . the first thing implanted in fact.  However much our minds learn and develop it remains there, often hidden and lost, but it’s there.  Being the beginning of awareness, the awareness of life is often grasped strongest in its awareness.  There, awareness transcends us, goes beyond us into the basic fact of existence.

(Also see my article “Thoughts on ‘inherent truth’“).


Copyright by Mike Michelsen

This entry was posted in Contemplation, monastacism, shamanism, spirituality, prayer, and such, Existence, Awareness, Beingness, Consciousness, Conceptionism, and such, Philosophy, Psychology and psychoanalysis, Religion and religious stuff and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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