SELF INQUIRY - WHO AM 'I'?
WHO IS ‘I’?
The journey back to our true essence, or consciousness, begins with paying attention to that who we call ‘I’. You see, when we were young children, the filters with which we viewed the world through were largely non- existent. There may have been some subconscious programming passed on via lineage in our DNA pool. But the vast part of our conditioning – that which is acquired through nurture, life’s experiences and the reference points that we go through, was essentially non-existent. Hence the desire of many adults to return to their days of childhood – a period of simplicity. ‘I’ refers to our identity, our preferences, our dislikes, our fears, our beliefs, our emotions (even if we don’t fully acknowledge they exist), our past, our conceptions about the future. In essence, ‘I’ is our mental makeup. But do we ever stop to question who the ‘I’ is, and how it impacts our day to day living?
It is no coincidence that two similar people (i.e take identical twins) can grow up with the same amount of love, compassion, traumatic experiences etc and have two very different views of the world. Some may argue that chemical imbalances can cause this, and while there may be a notion of truth to that, the stories we feed ourselves can be a large contributing factor. This is not to say that the one with a positive outlook is any better than the one with a potentially negative outlook. There is actually something to be learned from both cases here. That the filters we see the world with, whether positive or negative, are still just, that, filters.
If we sit down for just five minutes a day (does not even have to be a premeditated or predetermined practice), without distractions present, and allow our minds to run amok as they do, we will slowly notice a space between ourselves and our thoughts. Whether we have thoughts of love, hate, envy, admiration, fear, excitement, boredom, happiness or sadness, we can notice that these thoughts are coming and going. Who is noticing these thoughts? Please note that this is not a mental exercise. It is one of being aware. To just be with that which arises, without judgement. If a judging thought automatically pops up, let that be there too. The key is to not deliberately add further judgement. To just simply notice that which is happening.
What thoughts are passing through. What sensations are present in my being? Am I upset about what my colleague said yesterday? Am I expecting a promotion and living in excitement? Am I concerned that my colleague is trying to undermine my work? Am I feeling anxious because I am about to give a presentation tomorrow? Am I overwhelmed by the amount of work I have to do to take my business to the next step? Am I filled with regret about an opportunity I did not take. Am I envious of a friends success? Am I bored because I want to relive the last adrenaline rush from my skydive? Am I wound up with excitement at my upcoming league basketball game? Whatever thoughts, feelings and sensations may be pervading our existing moment, they are worth simply noticing.
RECOGNIZING THE SPACE
They key is, to acknowledge (not mentally), through simply being, that there is a space before our thoughts. How, otherwise, would we be aware of them? If our thoughts were everything that we are, we would simply never be able to be aware of them. Most of us are in this automatic mode on a daily basis – an almost zombie like behavior of walking around with incessant chatter in our heads. It pervades our experience, we make it our truth, and then we wonder why we are drained at the end of the day- even if our day did not require that much movement or mental capacity. It is the interpretation of what is around us and our lives that clogs our perceptions, makes us feel confused, feeds anxiety, and makes us seek escape through consumerism, alcohol, cigarettes, binge eating, drugs, porn, excessive exercise, overtly frequent travel and any other activity that can be taken to the extremes.
This daily habit (which I believe is the only ‘effort’ really required with spiritual inquisition) will at some point have you deeper in the space that is witnessing thoughts and emotions go by. You may then start to wonder, well ‘who is the observer observing the observer!’, and realize that there isn’t one. That is your irreducible consciousness. This is not fairy tale la la land. This is rooted in physics. Some of the most inspiring consciously connected people I’ve had the privilege of listening to have been theoretical physicists, astro-physics majors and the like at leading institutions both in the US and UK. This is an inquisition into what is real. The unfolding of experience in its purest form, without interpreting it through the lens of the conditioned mind. Unfiltered experience. Raw. Felt and experienced as is. Moment to moment.
BECOMING CENTERED WITH INTEGRATED THOUGHTS AND FEELINGS
You see, what we may believe is real, whether it’s the fight we just had with a significant other, the perception we have of our boss, the issues we have with our families, is only as real as the focus we place on it. Sure, it does not mean that an arrogant sports team member isn’t arrogant. Or that an abusive spouse or parent is not abusive. Or that a ill spirited boss is not an asshole. What it does mean is that the weight we place on these interpretations is significantly diminished. Hence, these thoughts can arise. But without further fuel, they are just that. We soon get into a space where we allow ourselves to fully integrate with our thoughts and feelings. We are no longer observing them, but we allow them to come in and out of our consciousness without actively feeding them. Without being dragged around by their narratives. We feel, yet we don’t attach.
It is in this strange paradox that we start to live life without adding weight to any of our filters. Our filters still exist, and our ego is still in place. This is borne out of necessity, as we each need an individual perspective to offer the planet and ourselves points of differentiation. But we are no longer enslaved by it. We can go moment to moment. Even in difficult moments, the thoughts about a situation will come and go, without us paying attention to them. Even in the deepest pits of despair, we can take each moment as it comes, without being drowned out by the narrative that is accompanying it in our minds.
A STATE OF CLARITY
From this point of clarity, any action that needs to be taken in a given moment will be taken. We will be acting from pure consciousness, from a place of clarity. Not from the conditioned mind. Step back and think about how the nature of the mind is a loop. We humans, with our minds, try to convince ourselves to act in ways that are in opposition to our beliefs, to struggle or fight our way out of situations. We are trying to fight our way out of a ‘problem’, using the very tool that got us there in the first place. The Mind. There is no clarity here, even though we are conditioned to believe that there is. Sure, the mind can produce clarity. When it is given silence and space to operate in. Not when it is forcibly tangled within itself, trying to use itself to find a solution to its own problems. This is pure insanity. It is just so widespread that it has become socially acceptable. We don’t even question it. We think it’s normal. And hence we walk around like zombies.
So how do we go from a place of relaxed awareness, where we are simply observing what the mind is producing, to living a fully integrated life where our thoughts and emotions come through us without being fed further attention? It is important to note that this is not a ‘practice’ that requires effort. Rather, it is the stripping away of effort. After all, if it is the ‘I’, that is making the effort, we have a circular problem. The ‘I’ trying to quieten our own minds is the very ‘I’ we are ‘trying’ to quiet. Such vicious circles never end with an optimum outcome. To quote Albert Einstein, who was a brilliant philosopher in addition to being a world reknown phycisist ‘we cannot solve a problem on the same level it was created’.
As we rest in this space of being, and become fully integrated with our thoughts and feelings over time, we allow ourselves to live from a relaxed place of mind. This is often confused with inactivity. The ability to be with ones thoughts and emotions lays a foundation for us upon which to express ourselves. Without being held back by judgement, by fear or inhibition. It allows us to live life without seeking escape, to embrace each moment as it comes and to allow life to unfold without getting caught up in the drama created by the world’s strongest narrator, ‘I’.