Ramana Maharshi said, “Give up all questions except one: Who Am I? After all, the only fact you are sure of is that you are. The ‘I Am’ is certain. The ‘I am this’ is not. Be willing to struggle to find out what you are in reality.” I like ‘What am I?’ better than ‘Who am I?’, because there is no implied assumption of there being any ‘who’ or in other words, there is less of an implied existence of a separate person. We all assume that we are a person, but what exactly is a person apart from the idea that we are a person? All of our human experience is deeply conditioned by this idea that we are a person. I know I’m a person when I’m happy or sad, or afraid. What I’m aware of more and more, is that right in the midst of experiencing my emotions, is a flash of excitement asking ‘What is this really?’ The actual thought is almost totally irrelevant, but the feeling of the emotion and the seeing of the object of that emotion blend together. They blend together in the excitement of discovering, ‘Wow that is a separate thing existing out there!”
Asking ‘What is this really?’ comes before the enthrallment of recognizing the sense of separation. Then the conditioning of thinking we’re a person leads to the excitement of thinking separation is actually there. The actual practice of contemplative meditation is necessary for almost eyery one, in order to more fully illuminate this process. This is because the mind first needs slow down enough to reveal the embodied experience of ‘What is This?’ coming first, before the attachment to being ‘you’ shows up. Without the idea of ‘me’ the idea of separation can’t arise. So of course deeper than our assumption of the reality of separation, is the assumption of the reality of the separate self. Life is a lot more fun when the attachment to being ‘you’ is seen as irrelevant to our natural joy in just being alive. We begin to embody freedom when there is an allowing of our self conscious attempts to control our aliveness to simply pass by without indulging them.
Mine and others’ experience I’ve talked to about this, is that meditation is essential in helping us to feel in our bodies that there is less attachment to ‘me’ in asking ‘What is this really?’, than in exclaiming ‘there is separation happening here.’ Both the asking what is this, and the discovery of separation are saturated with a sense of wonder. This is the blending of the two experiences. The asking of what is this, isn’t preferable to the discovery of separation. They are both equally essential aspects of our ability to live a fully human life. The wonder of asking what is this, is a primal expression of our inner being, of our spirit of inquiry. It drives us deeper into the actuality of here and now, and blends with the discovery of separation by asking ‘what is this discovery of separation? What is this assumption that the objects of our experience are separate from what we imagine ourselves to be?
We need to be aware of the assumption of separation before we can actually question it. Most of us go through life with this unconscious of assumption of separation because our conditioning to believe separation is real goes deeper than our awareness of its depths. The aliveness of our wonder of ‘What is This?’ is what drives our inquiry to more deeply question all of our assumptions. The meaning of ‘What is this?’ is ‘WHAT IS THIS?’ When the aliveness of our inquiry is struggling with our demands on the moment of here and now, we are ignoring our attachment to our assumption of separation, and ignoring our attaching to the assumption of a separate self that gives rise to it. Ignorance is our ignoring of the way things actually are. In this context it is our ignoring the universal heart of inquiry wanting to express the freedom of our deep joy of being alive. The universal heart is always expressing itself free of all of suffering born of the ignorance of our imagined separate nature.
We can’t taste the sweetness of sugar by reading or hearing about it without actually tasting it. And we can’t fully taste the actual aliveness of spiritual inquiry without realizing it is what we all really want to taste more than anything else. Just honestly ask yourself: Could this aliveness of wanting to know my true self be the most important thing for me? It’s not that hard to realize that we are not our thoughts, or anything else we think we are. The presence witnessing our thoughts right now is much more than our thoughts, including the thoughts we try to define our self with. What is more difficult for almost all of us, is to learn to welcome the fear of this aliveness of wanting to know our real depth, the real truth of our being.
This fear is scary because we are deeply conditioned to want liberation from fear to be liberation of the person we think we are. If we’re persistent in our inquiry, we gradually realize that liberation is the actual dissolving of the person we think are. Liberation isn’t liberation of the person. Liberation doesn’t exclude the experience of the person, but it is liberation from the confines of the concept of the personal. The person we think we are is just a concept, our attachment to the concept is resistant to the very end. As our sense of identity shifts from the confines of the person to the vast openness of our actual being, we experience the fear dissolving along with our ideas of who we think we are. We need the support of the sangha to help us persevere and actually feel the loving support of spirit itself as we deepen this identity shift together. What is our role in contributing to the sangha as individuals? Just to be willing to express our longing, including the fear. We all have a very important unique contribution to make in expressing the longing of our collective sangha body. Our willingness to deeply enter the big questions together is our own unique expression, and is a complete full expression of the universal heart of spiritual inquiry.