You are not the body. This body is like any other garment that you wear. It’s yours, but not you. The body changes, yet the core sense of self remains the same, from birth to death. You are not the mind. The mind serves you, thinks thoughts, solves problems, feels feelings. These are always in flux. But there is still a sense of a witness who monitors all these changes. That one is stable – always there, watching. That is you. You are so accustomed to tagging along after the body on its various adventures and to owning the mind – its thoughts, feelings and fancies – that you forget you are none of these things. These are attributes, possessions. They are emanations from you, but they are not the essential you. The body-mind is simply a device which enables the experience of a human life.
You are the unchanging. You instinctively know this. If you were the changing, then you would not have a sense of a core identity. You would be a different person from youth to middle age. You would be a different person from year to year, from day to day, from moment to moment. There would be no secure point of reference, and hence no sense of continuity. But there is. You are somehow, in some way, always you.
In fact, in times of turmoil or simply exploration, we may even try to lose ourselves by tinkering with identity: a new hair color, job or career; a new relationship, religion or spiritual path; a new diet or lifestyle; a new abode across the continent or even oceans. These changes can provide a lift, make us feel like a new person – but only temporarily. If we had hoped that they would relieve us of the burden of consciousness that is inherent to living as a separate self, we are soon disappointed. No amount of shifting around within the human body-mind unit can free us from its limitations.
This is the bad news. You cannot escape yourself. But the good news is that you are not who you think you are. You are not Chris or John or Joyce. You are not a separate being. You are the animating force of that being. The individual struggles and suffers. The animating force emanates bliss. You don’t need to change or escape yourself to be freed from the burden of self-awareness. You just have to be yourself – your true self. Discover who you are, and be that One.
Step out of the usual paradigm. Shift your focus away from the character, its attributes (intelligent, attractive, or not so much) and its story. Make a special point of disassociating from your favorite qualities. Are you known for your kindness? Do you especially value your spiritual knowledge? What if you lost these attributes through a brain injury? Who would you be without your favorite traits? Would you still recognize yourself?
Once you drop all that you believe defines who you are, you may feel untethered, as if you were floating in a void. Explore this feeling. You are weightless, empty, without dimensions. This can feel unnerving at first. But fear comes only from the character, the illusory self. Trust that you have discovered something wonderful; disregard any trepidation. You are expansive, unlimited. You are free of all attributes. You cannot be described. You simply are.
Explore this new territory. You were not born, and will not die. It is only the body that is born and dies. You do not remember what was before your birth, or even prior to the age of three or four. But not remembering does not mean not being. You were there – as far back as you can imagine, beyond the infinite regress of time.
And you will remain here after the death of this body. Awareness with no object may contract into seed state, resting in its potential before creation. But for now, forms abound, and when this particular body dies, you will continue to experience sensation and thoughts through other sentient bodies, human or animal.
Your story will continue. For now you have a human form and a past, with experiences and conditioning culminating in a collection of habits, beliefs and knowledge. But this isn’t you. You are the witness to it all; you are the unchanging backdrop to it all.
Knowing this, keeping this ever present in mind, changes the story. You become less involved in your own drama: calmer, with greater equanimity toward the ups and downs of life. You begin to live as peace. You feel compassion toward other beings, seeing that they are part of you. They are You. Most of them don’t know this, and so they struggle. You have compassion for all that they endure. You have compassion for yourself, too, as you know intimately all that you have endured. Your heart opens.
Knowing yourself as the absolute brings these gifts. But they can also be cultivated by practice. Act as if, or “fake it ‘till you make it.” Practice being what you are: peace itself. Practice equanimity. Be indifferent to either praise or blame, to all that seems to go either for or against you. Accept all events and feelings as simply experience to be experienced, rather than as pleasant or unpleasant, to be grasped or shunned. Be generous in spirit, giving your smile and attention to all whom you encounter. All beings love attention. This is one of the greatest gifts you can give. The tongue may be silver, but listening is gold.
Emulating the behavior of our most awakened, conscious state is like smile therapy. Typically, we wait to feel better, and the smile follows. But smile first, and the dark mood will lift sooner. It is the same with acting in accordance with our higher Self. Inquiry reveals the truth of who we are. But we can also practice being what we are, regardless of our level of clarity. Remain steady and serene as you witness the stories of your life and this world unfold. Offer love and kind attention to others. Practice self-restraint, caring for this body-mind unit with moderation in all things.
Remind yourself daily that whatever happens, it is the best possible thing that could happen – even if it happens to be illness, injury or death. It is Oneness in flux. Remind yourself often that all you see is pure illusion. You, as the character, are in a dream. Your true self is the dreamer.
Stay in the present. Do your best not to regret the past or fear the future. The now is What Is, the past and present are imagination. Honor truth by your willingness to sit with whatever arises, to be with it. This moment needs you. Don’t run from it with mindless activity, or bury it in excess food or drink.
Act as if you already have the gifts of deeply knowing that you are the absolute, and you will find that you ease into that direct experience more often and more readily.
Continue, of course, with inquiry and investigation. Question who arises in the morning, who moves throughout the day. Question whose thoughts these are, whose life this is. No one arises in the morning, these thoughts belong to no one. There is no doer. Without a person, serenity is easy. But when you feel yourself being pulled back into the dream, be true to your True Self, and remain at ease.
Nondual inquiry combined with the active practice of being what you are embraces the awakened state from all directions. Skillful inquiry and observation lifts you into the absolute, revealing life as a dream. Living each day as if you were secure in that knowledge, receiving all that comes and goes lightly, anchors you in that truth. The dream has much less power to draw you back into illusion if you habitually greet it as such. Inquiry awakens truth, but patterns and habits run strong. Living as peace, i.e., with minimal objection from the character, greatly facilitates the awakening and clearing process.
Accept the gifts of awakening even if you feel you have not yet fully received them, and you will see that, indeed, they are already yours. They are you. Act as if you know this, and you will know it. Be true to yourself – your True Self – here and now. You are peace, freedom, love. Live according to this knowing, and your inquiry and investigation, encountering no resistance, more readily reveals truth. Be what you are, now, and you will see what you are and always have been: absolutely and perfectly This, all of This, and only This. This bliss.
Kathleen Sutherland is a student of The Living Method and is editor of ACN. She lives in Iowa.