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337 pages, Kindle Edition
First published January 1, 1982
It is difficult to think of dying consciously when we notice how incomplete we feel, how frightened we are of life. It is almost as though we were never completely born, so much of ourselves is suppressed and compacted just beneath the surface. So much of ourselves postponed. So little have we investigated what has caused us to retract in pain from our lives. So often our inquiries into who we are have been "called on account of rain" because it was too painful to go deeper.
There is so much of ourselves we wish to not experience. So much fear, guilt, anger, confusion, and self-pity. So much self-doubt, so many weak excuses. Is it any wonder, considering the bizarre insistence of our conditioning -the conflict of one value system with another in the mind- that we feel so incomplete. One moment the mind is saying, "Take a big piece," and then the next it says, "I wouldn't have done that if I were you." No wonder we are all crazy, so fractured, trying to protect ourselves from who we fear we are. We dare not share our minds with anyone, even ourselves. We are so frightened of who we might be, of not being loved or lovable for the convolutions of our thoughts.
But I think it is very useful, and indeed more accurate, to call it "the mind" instead of "my mind."
Then one day there comes a moment when you're angry and all of a sudden you recognize anger. And you open to it in investigation: "What is it to be angry? How does it feel in my body? What does my mind do?" And settling back into a chair, closing our eyes, we begin to move toward that which blocks the heart, instead of pulling away from it and allowing it to mechanically close us to a fuller experience of the present. Examining anger or fear or guilt or doubt, we begin to see the impersonality of what seemed so much "I". We see that the mind has a mind of its own. That anger and fear and all these states of mind have their own personality, their own momentum. And we notice that it is not "I" that wishes to do harm to another but that the state of mind we call anger is by its nature aggressive and often wishes to insult or humiliate its object. We watch the fantasized conversations and arguments of the mind, the shadow-boxing that has so often left us breathless and alone and at last we begin to relinquish our suffering.
You notice "I" is only an idea. Where is this "I" when it is not being thought about?
Indeed, what's interesting when you watch thoughts is to see that all thoughts are old. Perception is based on memory. Take away memory, your collection box of concepts and symbolism coded to represent reality, and when you walk down a path, there is just walking. And when you look, there is just seeing. You feel what you feel. You don't experience everything secondhand. You experience the thing itself, without some afterthought casting a shadow of "someone" walking, seeing, experiencing.
We see that this thirst creates what could be called the "if only" mind.
What we call satisfaction is the momentary experience of the vastness which lies beneath. All of a sudden the clouds part and the sun shines through. The painfulness of desire does not exist. The mind for a moment experiences its wholeness. In that moment of nonwanting, the mind becomes like a clear pool no longer ruffled by the prevailing winds and we can see through the still water to what lies beneath. We experience a moment's participation in the joyousness that arises as we approach our true nature.
In a split second the satisfaction disappears as other desires arise to protect what it has just acquired.
There is a story about a fellow who dies and, leaving his body, finds himself in a glistening realm. Standing in the midst of shining flowers and an iridescent sky, he looks about and thinks to himself, "Wow, I was better than I thought. I've gone to heaven."
One after another his desires materialize the moment he wishes for them. But after about six months he notices that, though he's getting all he wants, he doesn't really feel more fulfilled in any deeper sense. He notices that the mind still holds fear. He recognizes that if all this were to disappear he would be devastated. Noticing how attached he has become to all this luxury he thinks, "I've always imagined that if only I could get what I want, I'd be happy. But how can I be happy if I depend so much on what is given to create my happiness? How can I depend so much on external conditions for my peace of mind?
All this gratification isn't really making me any lighter, any wiser, any quieter in the mind. There is less stress from not getting what I want, but there is really not any more peace."
After a while he goes to the head man and says, "I don't mean to sound ungrateful, and this may sound preposterous, but I think I'd rather transfer to hell." The head man turns slowly to him and says, "And where do you think you are!"
I don't really know who I am but it doesn't matter, because nothing I think of myself as being seems to hold it for long anyway. Somehow I am always something else, and I don't know what that is.
But as we begin to focus on the spaciousness out of which each changing form originates, we begin to see beyond thought. That just behind the ever-changing momentum of the illusory mind, there is a stillness which witnesses all that passes with a sense of equilibrium and compassionate nonattachment.
It is that willingness to work with what is given -the deep surrender which is not defeat but victory- that allows us to let go of "the experiencer" as a victim, that begins to make room for pain without some separate "sufferer" who is scrambling to be elsewhere.
Examining "Who am I?" is like beginning to go to the movies just to see how the movie is made. As we first sit down in the dark theater we find that we are relating to the objects of the melodrama, the motion on the screen. We pay attention to the storyline, which we notice is like the contents of the mind, allowing it to unfold as it will without judgment or the least interference. As we focus our attention on the process, we begin to see that the frames that constitute the film are like separate thoughts; then we begin to recognize the process by which the images are produced, and it breaks our enthrallment with the storyline. We notice that all the activity is just a projection on a blank screen. That all these figures dancing before us are an illusion produced by light passing through various densities on the film. We see that the film is like our conditioning, a repetitious imprint of images gone by. We see that the whole melodrama is a passing show of motion and change.
In the second stage of this process, we begin to focus on the screen, on consciousness itself. The objects of consciousness, the forms on the screen, no longer draw us into identification with them as being real. Instead, the reality becomes the space in which consciousness presents itself. Focusing on the screen, we recognize the flashing images to be just momentary illusions of no real substance, containing only the meaning we give to them.
In the last stage, we come to recognize that this shadow play arises only because of the presence of a constant source of light. And we begin to focus awareness on itself. We experience the spacious sense of "I am" as the screen of consciousness. However, awareness does not experience itself as some "thing", as a separateness, so there is no sense of I, only undifferentiated being.
No longer someone wondering "Who am I?" we become the investigation. At each moment, focusing on the light, we ask ourselves, "Who is it that thinks this thought? Who is seeing? Who is sitting in this chair reading this book?" And there comes a time when the body and mind no longer seem so real and distinct. After surveying all of the evidence, we simply don't know who or what we are. You have to let go of who you think you are to become who you really are. Having let go of even memory as real, you find yourself suspended in space without the reference points that mind is so addicted to. As mind withdraws from its habituation, it goes through a kind of cold turkey of doubt and fear. "Where am I?" it screams. The mind grasps at being someone, at being anything. There arises a feeling of emptiness at not having some assurance of who we are. There arises a kind of darkness at not having someone to be, at no longer being certain of the world, or even of our own separate existence. We tremble in the silence of having let go of the past, but the future has not arrived yet. This stage reminds me of children swinging across the monkey bars in a playground. Moving across the overhead trellis from one bar to the other with ease, one can see how easily children let go of the last and trust the next. Children seem almost to glide from one end of the bars to the other. But often, I'll notice a chaperoning parent come to play with their child on the monkey bars, attempting that same crossing. They don't move with such ease. They hang stiffly from one bar to the next. They will not let go of the last bar until they've grasped the next, dangling like a herniated chimp before falling to the ground. They don't trust the momentum that allows the next moment to appear as it will, without clinging to the last. We must let go of the last stage before we can go on to the next. We must allow ourselves to be infinitely insecure in order to know the truth. But if we grasp at security, at some mirage of solidity, that is as far as we will go. We recognize the groundlessness of the constantly changing mind, its continual change in point of view. We see there is nothing or no one in there to which we can anchor some sense of "I." It is all just process unfolding by itself.
Letting go of who we thought we were, the mind often angles for a new self-image, projects imagining of what it will be in the future. "Soon I'll be enlightened. No more monkey bars. I'll have great peace. I'll have infinite patience. I just can't wait."
The idea of enlightenment becomes just another fantasy in the mind. The ego wishes to be present at its own funeral.
No separation anywhere. Nowhere to go. Nothing to do. No one to be.