“So, you look. You bring your attention, for just a moment, to what it feels like to be you. Not to anything that you know to be the case, but to what it feels like to be you, just to touch it, just for a moment. And if you do that once, you’ll do it again, and again, until it has its way with you, until you are finished with not noticing yourself, until you are finished with the hatred of your life, with the fear of your life, with the dissatisfaction of your life. Until dissatisfaction itself reveals itself to be not a problem, not needing to be fixed, just part of the adventure, part of the tour. Sensation only.” John Sherman
If your goal is to be rid of the underlying fear of life then literally everything that you do and say and think and believe is beside the point.
What is it that we know for sure?
All I know is that there is existence and there is awareness of existence. That’s all I know for sure.
And I feel that life isn’t quite right. Instinctively I know that it should easier than it is. Why isn’t life quite right?
Well, because there is an underlying fear of life–an underlying, constant unrightness. I don’t know this the way I know that there is existence and awareness of existence. But it makes sense to me. There is an underlying fear, a lie, a lens through which we live life.
Those of us who recognize this will run to try to solve this problem in many ways. There is basic drive in all of us to solve this, to understand, and in many of us, this shows up as religion. But it doesn’t stop there–we also run to spirituality, analysis, philosophy, psychology, therapy, sudden enlightenment, transcendence, understanding, practices, meditation and all the rest of it.
We try our best to receive this understanding. We construct and maintain and defend an identity. We are always in the process of becoming.
And we follow some people we trust. Eckhart Tolle, Shankara, Buddha, Vedanta, tapas, sutras, Ramana, or some religious maniac, or some philosophy, political systems, and all the rest of it.
Has any of that really worked? We can look at all of human history or we can look at just span of our own lives, and ask this basic question. Have any of these endeavors worked?
Nisargadatta said he broke free of the this underlying unrightness of life by holding on to the sense of I AM. Ramana said that all you have to do is inquire “Who am I?”
When I first came cross these, I was confused by this simple thing they suggest. That’s because my head was full of ideas. I didn’t know what they were telling me to do. What I are they referring to? The ego? The false I? The True Self? The mind, thoughts, emotions, body?
I was also confused because I thought this was an investigation. The effort of inquiry didn’t scare me–I was pretty desperate then, willing to put in effort. But an inquiry–well, that requires figuring it out. I thought it would be some sort of unraveling, where I look at this and then that and then that, until delusions are cut away. I didn’t want to figure it out. That didn’t sound right to me.
I didn’t understand. Though it’s actually a very simple thing to understand.
And even a few months ago when I decided to go back to Nisargadatta and Ramana, this question bothered me. I explored what they said and explored what others said about them, and this question, that I have to sit down and figure it out, with an inquiry, with an investigation, bothered me.
John Sherman clarified it for me. It’s not about figuring it out. It’s about looking. Look at yourself. Period.
Ramana was not telling me to inquire. He was telling me to look at myself.
The you that you are is constant. It’s same you that you were when you were a baby. Thoughts, emotions, beliefs, ideas, practices, mental states–these are not constant, they come and they go.
These guys were simply telling me to look at my sense of me. Just look at, not look for anything in particular. The answer to “Who am I?” is not relevant. What’s relevant is just the looking at.
I suppose I came across John Sherman just at the right time.
I am in a place where releasing and awareness have achieved some success. I conduct my life with calm and peace, and I can release fears and anxiety very quickly. I have no confusion about what is right and wrong, and no confusion about the conflict between awakening and the practical demands of life. I don’t worry. All the worries about health and security and relationships and weight and addictions and future are gone. It’s not even that these problems are solved, it’s just that the thinking about them are gone.
It’s a pretty good place to be.
But this is not freedom.
Because the constant low-level fear of life is not gone.
How do I know this? How do I now that this is just another state and not freedom? After all, it’s a pretty good state, very seductive.
I don’t really know how I know this. A month ago I would have said it’s because of humility and honesty. But now I realize that honesty is just another idea. It’s mental process which can and is easily subverted by the mind.
If we can’t rely on honesty, what can we rely on?
Well, it turns out we don’t have to rely on anything except ourselves. And since you are already you, that shouldn’t be very hard.
If I had listened to Nisargadatta and Ramana without my ideas I would have known what they were asking me to do was very simple. They were not telling me to inquire and unravel the mystery of life. They are were not asking me to absorb or give up any ideas or beliefs or practices. They were not telling me to look for anything.
They were saying just to look at yourself. Whatever my sense of me is, look/listen/feel that. I am here. Look at that. Just feel the sense of I, the sense of amness, the sense of I am, the sense of I am here.
John Sherman is particularly good at saying this. Check him out.
So, how do I know that this looking is effective?
I don’t know. I have to prove it or disprove to myself.
But it does make instinctive sense to me.
First, it’s all about me. What everything points to is me. All the teachings, arcane and new, bizarre and sensible, everything I do, say, think, my altruism, selfishness, everything, is about me. Suffering and depression is me. Happiness and compassion is me. Problems are me. Solutions are me.
Then, doesn’t it make sense to look at me?
Not the ego, not the mind, not awareness, not consciousness, not oneness, not presence, not persona. Not anything crazy-spiritual-mystical. Just me.
Also, I tried looking at me and very soon I felt agitated. That’s a pretty good sign that something is happening.
More, I’ve know for some time now that I have to do this for myself. You have to actually do this for yourself. Sure there is guidance out there. There is also a lot of mis-guidance. I have to rely on myself. I have to see for myself. No amount of practices or understanding will do it.
So if you have to to do it for yourself, it makes sense to start with you. You have to look at you for yourself.
Now this can scare the hell out of some people. The thought that I have to rely on myself can be frightening, because I don’t really understand anything and I don’t know where to start.
Yeah, maybe a little scary but also quite freeing. I don’t need to explore or understand or read more spiritual books, or practice other people’s practices, or the rest of it.
And here’s another thing I like about this looking. It’s consistent with my understanding that it all comes down to observance. I used to say it comes down to observance, willingness and honesty. But I realize now that willingness and honesty are just ideas, and completely beside the point.
So, how does this work, this looking at you. How do you start?
The word “look” brings up a visual connotation, but clearly you can’t look at you with your eyes. You look at you with your mind’s eye. Look, listen, feel, whatever makes sense to you, at yourself.
The word “at” is important because you are not trying to look for anything. You are not trying to discover the false self or ego or mind or awareness or presence or oneness. You are not looking for the boundaries. (There really are no boundaries, there is no place where thoughts end and the mind begins, or the ego ends and awareness begins, or any such thing, but it’s also irrelevant if you see that or you don’t see that.)
You are just looking at the sense of you.
Is it hard? Is it effortful?
It wasn’t hard for me to start. Or you can see it another way and say it was very hard for me to start, because I didn’t start four years ago when I first came across it. What could be easier than looking inside to see what you already are? The actual starting of it can feel like effort.
“In all cases, in all practices, in all traditions, the inquiry is the end of the road. It is always the case. Everything leads to this. Everything leads to this only question that really matters, which is “What am I, really?” It is the only thing that really matters.” John Sherman