This morning I decided to yoga-stretch these muscles and joints, slowly, mindfully. One breath per movement. This ten-minute routine brings joy when I consciously decide to do it. Although often the mind attempts to talk it away. Let’s not do it today, it advises, because it’s too boring, inconvenient or useless. Because it doesn’t feel good at first. It feels too effortful, even though it’s one of the slowest stretching routines on the planet.
In the middle of the downward dog or upward something-or-other, another thought attempted to take root. “I don’t know anything,” said the thought. Immediately a wave of complimentary emotion accompanied the thought, because that’s what emotion does when it thinks a thought is true. The emotion seemed to say, “Because you know nothing, you’re worthless, ridiculous, empty, pathetic and awful.”
If a person believes every thought is produced by an independent mind—and the thought defines who the person is and what she believes—then suffering often ensues. Thought becomes entangled in identity. What I think equals who I am. It’s a disastrous recipe for human suffering.
Somewhere in this journey of life dozens of kind guides pointed out the fallacy of this. Thoughts do not define us. Thoughts are not who we are. Thoughts come and go in the field of our awareness. Thoughts arise in us but exist more as kind guides or sadistic demons. Depending on our willingness to believe and identify, our struggles often arise and continue.
It’s possible to discover the truth of who we are at the ground of being. Not our outward labels of woman, man, mother, father, gay, straight, black, white, yellow or red. Not our clouds of feelings: happy, sad, angry, accepting, annoying, loving, hating, wondering. Not even the sensations arising that say we’re a separate mind in a separate body. Of course we’re this body: what else could we be?
When we look at experience—the experience of the room or space where we’re reading these words—we notice the desk, the couch, the blanket, the computer, the book, the trees, the umbrella, the bird song, the body, the ticking clock. We’ve been conditioned by our culture to identify with only one aspect in the multi-faceted infinite awareness. We choose one object (our body) and say, “This is who I am!” We ignored the birdsong and the wind and the spiral staircase and the ringing phone. We call all this awareness “other”. We are the body and nothing else. The world is then populated with other-ness, solid objects apart from the person-in-the-body.
Look again at the wide-open nature of experience. Look at the seamlessness which really arises. Without thought interjecting labels, is there really any separation? Or is it a field of unity, of connected reality? One whole. One life, one dream, one reality. Isn’t it all us?
With another look, can you actually find a “me” separate from awareness? Or is it all awareness, undivided? Is it awareness pouring out of your eyes? Aren’t the supposed objects simply awareness? Can you find a place where you begin and the objects start? Or is awareness a fluid river of appearance? Isn’t it indivisible, whole, completely saturated in and as awareness?
To glimpse this even once can awaken us from the dream of separation.
For most of us, though, we need a hundred glimpses, a thousand glimpses, a billion glimpses in each new and shining ever-present moment to truly realize this in the cells of our body, in our neurological systems.
We can begin to realize how we’ve created a world of thought, of naming. We’ve populated a world from awareness in which we attempt to protect the imagined separate self. Look again in experience: where is the separate self? See the field of “I am”, the endless infinite awareness.
Thought quite often pops back in with a thousand explanations about why we’re the body/mind. Why we’re separate. We’ve been taught that we’re separate human beings in a body since the womb pushed us outward. Our mamas and papas and brothers and sisters and grandparents and kindergarten friends all agreed.
“Of course, you’re a body!” they would say if asked. “Are you daft? The body is everywhere you are. Your thoughts seem to come from your mind. Duh!”
Look again, dear reader, look left, look right, look down, look up. See the field of awareness that you are? See how the body appears IN it? How the thoughts appear IN it?
Thoughts are not who we are. The body is not who we are.
When we see this again and again in the present moment, when we begin to see the truth of this perspective, our world shifts like that baby in the womb and something new stirs.
Everything changes, or at least attempts to establish itself in consciousness, in a new truth.
Then a thought might arise, “I don’t know anything” with its accompanying emotional anguish. But Truth sees beyond the limits of the conditioned reaction. It perhaps sees with some degree of clarity that it doesn’t NEED to know anything. That the truth of the moment is that there is no separate self that knows anything beyond “I am”. Or perhaps it sees that whatever needs to be known will be known when it’s needed.
In any event, what is clearly seen is that thought is fluid, liquid, not binding, not the property of a separate individual. There’s a choice to see the truth or the dream. We can continue dreaming or we can wake up to what we now know is true.
In the next moment, we may be dreaming again. It’s OK. For me, it’s the dedication to truth which is bearing fruit at times, which creates apples and oranges and limes and lemons with deep gratitude and compassion.