WHO AM I?
Self enquiry, don’t you just love it? Before I might have been able to answer that with a rattling off of statistics (name, age, nationality, gender, geographical location) along with an assortment of mindstuff (I think this, I believe that, I want this, I like that, I don’t like this) and I’d maybe even through in a few memories to give a little more cohesion and substance. Et voila – “me”!
But I don’t buy that anymore. That “me” is just a collection of interchangable mental content. Nothing solid, nothing concrete, nothing that has any inherent existence or realness. Much like you could start describing your car; you can name it, give me all sorts of information about it and what it does, has done or can do…but there’s ultimately no inherent realness to it! What you label a “car” and assume IS a “car” simply because that’s what you’ve labelled it, is in reality just a collection of various parts; metals, nuts and bolts, glass, fabric, mechanics. It’s the same with people…and I don’t mean that in a reductionist and nihilistic way at all. Clearly we have bodies and we have consciousness….but beyond that, when it comes to this notion of personal identity…..IT’S ALL JUST A MENTAL FABRICATION. Just like the car, we label it with a name and collect an assortment of facts and statistics and think we know what it is.
This is going pretty deep. I’ll understand if you want to bail out. For many people losing the sense of ego, of personal identity is a terrifying prospect. But ultimately it’s the only real way to be free. If you’re ready to shed your illusions then you’ll be open to what I say next. If not, if you’re quite happy to remain in the dream, then that’s fine – sweet dreams. Usually it’s not until the dream becomes painful (as it inevitably will) that you really have the impetus to wake up. For instance, have you ever been having a nightmare and you suddenly realise it’s a nightmare and you desperately try to will yourself to wake up?! Been there, done that, wearing the t-shirt. I haven’t fully woken up, but the more I practise the more I’m getting a glimpse of the twilight state between sleep and wakefulness. And it’s delicious, liberating and freeing beyond all previous imagination. And I want to share it with anyone that is open to it.
The more I delve into nondualism the more I’m realising (for the first time actually FEELING) that ‘I’, ‘myself’, this ego entity is hollow, unreal, a mirage, a phantom, an illusion. A chimera. There’s nothing there. So why big it up? Why seek to bolster the ego and solidify it and add to it when…its just a shadow? The real ‘me,’ is pure awareness, is just this sense of beingness; devoid of identity, devoid of characteristics and personality and even individual likes and dislikes. It’s the screen against which all the projections of the mind manifest – the projections of thoughts and beliefs, likes and dislikes, all conceptualisations of any kind.
It’s the only reality….and its this immense, spacious void-like immensity is completely impersonal, almost like the sky or the heavens at night. Objects arise in it; like clouds or stars or planetary bodies…but it’s beyond and ultimately quite detached from whatever appears within it. It’s the space in which all forms appear and disappear. It’s the ‘emptiness’ that Buddhists speak of…I never understood that before, but I do now – and moreover I’m experiencing it. It’s the space in which the mind manifests its thoughts. Compared to the mind (which is ultimately very limited) the background of spaciousness — this awareness that is at the core of our being — is unbounded, limitless and free. Whereas the mind attaches to concepts and thoughts and beliefs and all manner of conceptualisation, awareness is free of those.
Albert Camus once said, and I really love this quote:
“Gazing up at the stars, for the first time, the first, I laid my heart open to the benign indifference of the universe.”
And when you step beyond mind into awareness, that’s exactly what our true nature feels like: a gentle, vast, incomparable benign indifference. The sky doesn’t really mind what kind of cloud formations there are, what shape or consistency they take or whether or not they offer rain or thunder. The sky just allows it all and lets it happen, without judgement or intervention or manipulation or creating any sense of personalisation. That’s exactly what it feels like when you access and tap into the level of pure awareness that lies beneath mindstuff, beneath emotion and sensation, beneath the many layers of sediment of beliefs, memories, prejudices and conceptualisation that forms our perception of ourselves and the world around us.
We create little identities out of this sediment, little selves or ‘egos’. I knew all this stuff intellectually before but now I can actually sense the reality of it for myself. There’s nothing inherently wrong with these egos, they just are as they are. The problems begin however when we give them a solidity and realness they don’t possess, when we identify exclusively with them and believe that our egos are the real and only ‘us’. That’s like continually looking behind you, seeing only your shadow and thinking your shadow is ‘you’.
Some spiritual traditions see the ego as the enemy and something we have to battle and rid yourself of….but in reality you don’t need to. What’s the point in battling your shadow? No matter how hard you try you can’t make it cease to be. All you need to do is simply recognise that your shadow is not you and that in itself it has no inherent existence; its an illusion of the phenomenal world and has no substance. When you really understand that, you cease to identify with it. You cease to take your own thoughts and opinions and beliefs as seriously, because they too are like shadows, or clouds passing across the sky (going back to the metaphor of the sky as being like the nature of your true ‘self’ or core awareness).
When you get a glimpse into the ‘unreality’ and lack of solidity or inherent realness of the egoic structure and all these notions of identity based upon thoughts and beliefs and conceptualisation…..you let it go. You let go of ‘your story’, the story of who you think you are, who you think others are and what you think the world is about. Thoughts cease to be the buffer between your direct awareness and your peception of reality. You can then become more in touch with life, with the reality with what IS, than ever before…when you don’t buy into your thoughts about a thing, you are free to see and experience that thing as it IS, whereas previously you experienced it only through the filter of what you thought it was…
The best way to get a glimpse of this expanded awareness, and the loosening of all mental constructs is to practise meditation. Many people who have meditated will perhaps have at least some idea of what I’m talking about. Words are really insufficient to describe the indescribable, to put what is essentially formless into form by virtue of language. If you have never tasted the experience of going beyond mind into the stillness of pure awareness, then you’ll probably not ‘get’ a word of what I’ve just said. It’ll be meaningless, confusing and probably insane-sounding. In future entries I will take more about going how to achieve expanded awareness and go beyond the mind.
As the Buddhists say, ‘the mind is a wonderful servant but a terrible master’. The vast majority of the human race are trapped in the prison of mind, hostage to layers upon layers of dense and sticky mindstuff. Life is perceived only through the filter of mind. This is the cause of virtually all suffering on the planet. This is the reason all wars are fought and all conflict arises: my thoughts (which I am totally identified with and which I think comprise ‘me’) are contrary to your thoughts (which comprise ‘you’). Deep down of course we know that our thoughts and identity are hollow and that’s why we then have an unconscious compulsion solidify our sense of self and sadly most people do that by attacking and making enemies of those we deem to have opposing senses of self. But none of it’s real. A question that Byron Katie often poses is: ‘who would you be without your story?’ That’s a great one to reflect on. The short answer can be summed up in one word: “free”.
I share this with everyone because I came to realise long ago that the solution to the world’s problems won’t be found in better or greater technology or in more scientific advances (observe: despite all the miraculous technological advancements of the last 100 years, wars are still being fought and millions are still starving on the planet). Einstein observed that a problem can never be solved with the level of consciousness that created it. Ergo, the only way out of our problems is a shift in consciousness. I believe that the real exploration of the 21st century won’t be technology or anything outside of ourselves; it will occur within each individual and it will be a journey of consciousness.