When we speak of awakening as the Self waking up to Itself by observing itself in this apparent form, it may be useful to unpack what this is to reduce some confusion. Some experiences can seem a lot like this but are experiences rather than the shift in being that takes place with awakening.
In the koshas, we can note there is (subjectively) body, emotions, mind, intellect, causal, flow (space), and atman (cosmic Self).
Body and emotions cannot really be said to “observe”. They’re more about response to stimulus. From a mind perspective, we describe this as “sub-conscious”.
The mind is the home of the senses (they function physically but are integrated by the mind), so the mind observes the emotions, body, and environment. When people speak of mindfulness, often they’re talking only of the mind noticing it’s experiences. This may encourage being more present and settling the mind but it is not Self doing the observing here. This is why I suggest effortless meditation for direct experience of the Self.
The intellect can observe the mind observing. There can even be a sense of noticing the noticing. This may be confused with “witnessing” or the observer as it is a stage deeper than mind. It’s a great indication of clarity but intellect is discriminating, even judging. The true observer is neutral and has a quality of boundlessness or being non-local.
We can associate the ego with either or both mind and intellect – it depends on what is identified with. In one sense ego is the concept of a me but in a deeper sense it is the sense of being individual and separate. The second is an effect of the intellect discriminating and thus separating. What is different is more prominent that what is the same.
The causal and flow levels are more about the process of observing (and creating). Most people are not identified there. Finally, we have Atman itself, consciousness, the actual observer and what has been observing and giving rise to the others.
Atman has been what is actually observing the whole time. But it was not aware of this locally. The next stage is to become aware of it’s observing locally. We notice pure observing taking place. This might be called the first stage of witnessing. But it’s not until it wakes up to itself as the observer – that Self observes itself rather than it’s contents – that awakening happens. Then we shift from seeing ourselves as a person or me (objects) to seeing ourselves as the Self, as the observer, as cosmic being.
People who use Buddhist terminology may describe waking up to no-self as an emptiness. This may be the use of terminology or may be waking to Chittamaya (flow), the space of self-aware consciousness. The second is actually not quite it yet. It is awakening to the container rather than the Self itself.
You can thus see why clarity and a settled mind are what typically create the scenario for a clear shift. Fatigue, a busy mind, and rigid ideas are all common barriers, although in the end it is not even the Self that decides to wake up. It is grace.
It’s all very simple really. But it does express progressively so it’s easy to confuse parts of expression with the whole. None of these are really different but if not seen as a whole, that’s not it yet.