Who am I?
Am I this body, these emotions, these thoughts? If sensation, emotion and thoughts, come and go, are they the deepest truth of who I am? Who is the witness of it all, the one who watches the passing of these clouds of body sensation,emotion and thought, through the sky of awareness?
The Indian saint and spiritual teacher, Sri Ramana Maharshi, asked himself these important questions and fell into a deep silence that lasted the rest of his lifetime? Not a silence that was isolated but one in which he experienced a deep connection to all that is. Through a meditative process of inquiry, or self-examination, he was able to discover what he was not (neti, neti). He realized that he was not his body sensations, emotions or thoughts but rather the witness who watched them. As Ramana explored this witness consciousness, what some call presence or mindfulness, he realized his true nature, sat-chit-ananda, a sanskrit word which translates into, being(truth), awareness and bliss.
In our culture, generally speaking, we are very identified with sensation, emotion and thought. This identification is the realm of the ego. We then put great effort into protecting the status quo of the this persona, we can suffer greatly. The ego is neither good nor bad but everything is a medicine or a poison. When the ego is master, it is a poison, when the ego is servant, it is a great medicine. Think of the ego, or persona, as self-preservation software, which protects the body-mind vehicle so we can learn the soul lessons of this incarnation, nothing more. Suffering results when, through our separation from source, we bolster the ego and let fear and desire rule our lives. We suffer, we believe that a better job, house, or relationship will bring us lasting happiness.
Much the spiritual journey is a process of negation (neti, neti) versus addition. It’s not about adding more but rather removing that which no longer serves so that we can come to know our true purpose. The sculpture chisels away the stone until the truth is revealed. As we cleanse and purify old mental patterns, beliefs, and concepts, we begin to perceive the truth more clearly so that we can make more conscious choices and move into alignment with our soul path.
A practice which greatly supports the process of self-inquiry and realizing the truth of who we are, is meditation. There are many types of meditation but most of them support us in moving from: doing to being, stress to relaxation, darkness to light, illusion to reality, lower-self to higher-self, distortion to clarity, the finite to the infinite, and fear to love, though not the romantic kind. In this third dimensional realm of polarity, dark and light are not bad and good, they are just here to teach. When we learn, the polarities fade into unity, or non-duality (the ancient yogic path of advaita vedanta).
It is said, that Buddha shared, if something changes (impermanence), it is not real. Ramama asked us to find and connect to that which never changes.
Mindfulness Practice: sit in an upright yet relaxed posture, close the eyes and let the body breath naturally through the nose. Bring your attention to the eyes resting in their sockets and then let a soft wave of relaxation spread out from the eyes through the whole body. With each inhalation, welcome the love and light of creation. With each exhalation, soften and let go of all that no longer serves. Imagine you are a mountain, grounded to the earth and open to the sky. See this in your mind’s eye, feel this, know this. Continue to relax with each cycle of breath. Now envision clouds passing through a blue sky, these are the clouds of body sensation, emotion and thought. Welcome the clouds, note them by saying to yourself – thinking, feeling, or sensing, and then return to the breath at the base of the nose. Let this breath at the base of the nose, the sensation of breathing, be your anchor to the present moment. Become the witness, welcome the clouds with kindness. Consider that everything arising, just needs the light of your love, the presence of your being. Let go of all judgement and just be a kind and compassionate witness. This is all that is required.
As you continue to practice, a particular cloud may need more attention. Sometimes the sky is blue, clear and open with wispy clouds, other times, storms can arise. When a large cloud appears, bring your attention to it, more fully. You may need to hold vigil with a particular cloud for an unknown length of time, this is perfect. Hold the space, be the witness, watch the cloud with love and kindness. Eventually the cloud, after it has received the light and love it needs, will pass on, through the sky and you can return to the breath at the base of the nose.
During this practice, you may drop into the space between the clouds, that pure, empty, awareness of being. As your practice deepens, this will happen more and more. However, for now, just keep your focus on the breath at the base of the nose and be the witness that watches the clouds with love and kindness.
In the practice of meditation, we let go of the goal – awakening, and we live the process. With practice, we learn to love, unconditionally. This love is the vehicle for light and light transforms the dark, dispelling distortion and illusion. With practice, with intention, with love, we come to know the truth of who we are.
With love and kindness, Eaden Shantay
Eaden Co-Owns True Nature Healing Arts with his wife Deva Shantay. He offers weekly meditation on Thursday evenings at 7pm at TNHA in Carbondale, CO, and plays live music for Deva’s Monday 5:30pm yoga class.