We live our lives in definition, in naming. Above all, in self-definition. All of life, it’s I am a this, I am a that. As if a label, a declaration, can account for it all, for all of whatever it is to be alive, to really live.
Any label is limiting. Confining. Like a small room, our self-definition walls off whatever is beyond it, separating it from awareness, from direct experience of the larger truth of what we are. And the structure we’ve built (and then occupy) is so heavy! A terrible burden that we carry around, everywhere we go, like a turtle hauling its protective enclosure. It’s a way to show others who we are. A way to appear real, substantial, a way to matter. To relate to others, or to distinguish ourselves from them (all of whom carry their own weighty self-enclosures). Self-definition can be a way to hide from others — or (most poignantly) from ourselves.
We declare ourselves one thing or another as a way to feel good about ourselves, or at least to convince ourselves we exist. To legitimize the space we take up. Perhaps to set something right: I might call myself a survivor, in favor of “victim,” as a perceived kind of antidote to a devastating life experience.
In the perfect stillness of a quiet heart, when the mind is blessedly at rest, the definitions are nowhere to be found.
A person declares, I am an addict, a republican, an orphan, a Capricorn, a Buddhist, a Christian, a vegan, a scientist, an atheist, a teacher, a seeker. (How long is your list?)
But in the perfect stillness of a quiet heart, when the mind is blessedly at rest, the definitions are nowhere to be found. Doesn’t this tell us something about what’s real? And so, doesn’t it inform the elemental uselessness of definitions?
In order to name oneself in terms of a certain life experience (trait, role, talent, whatever), it’s necessary to first go into the mind — which is where all the trouble is generated. The mind is the container of memory, the drawer of conclusions, the granter of definitions. It’s the builder of defenses — as if the “self” being defended is what we really are. As if that self were what we were born to know. The mind is incapable of encountering life itself; it only can process it. Experience occurs prior to processing, always.
To feel aliveness, the pure tingling sensation of being, asks nothing whatever of the mind’s engagement. Aliveness is sensed directly, in utter disregard of anything the mind has ever come up with. Awareness itself — what you most deeply are — isn’t “an” anything.
Don’t expect this to be comforting to the apparently-real you . . . which is created in the mind. (See how air-tight this whole thing is?)
Present-moment knowing is without mental filtering. It’s immediate, brief, in constant flux. It cannot be held on to. As soon as the chatty mind opens its mouth to observe something about that tingly, empty stillness — the emptiness is filling up with words, stories, pictures.
This must be why Nisargadatta encouraged people to meditate on the stripped-down I am. Just that. The “am-ness” of the felt, present moment. Plain. Unadorned by selfhood, by ideas. In the deep contemplation of I am, even the impression of there being an apparent “I” is felt to dissolve, after a while, so that what’s left is Am, all by itself. No “self” at all felt to be there.
Pure being, sensing itself. Alive. Real. (The only real there is.)
In reality, there is no difference between the awareness sensing life, and momentary life itself.
(The only kind of life is “momentary.” All else is memory, concept.)
It’s when all definition — when any possible extension of that short sentence I am — is allowed to melt into stillness, that we finally know what’s real. When we sense, in a bodied way, that there are no boundaries between I and not-I.
Nothing matters the way this does. In that clarity, life is allowed to be itself. Which is delicious. (Yes, even when something “hard” comes along.)
See, it isn’t something the mind can sort out. Give up trying.
How’s that for an idea?Jan Frazier