image credit: h.koppdelaney
In my previous post, What Ails You, on woundedness and becoming whole, I wrote about the process that eventually leads to the question, “Who am I?” For many people who go through a major life crisis or transition, it could be an opportunity, a turning point for inward exploration. It is at these junctures that the ego is weaker and we are more open to experiences from which we would normally be veiled. Some people may attempt to fill the space of emptiness that they feel inside, by engaging in outer substitutes which promise fulfillment. The teachings of spiritual masters tell us that our grief is brought about by a feeling of being cut off from the Self, our divine nature. We would be wise to engage in the spiritual search at these times, to avoid a cycle of pain and disappointment.
The question, “Who am I?” can take many forms. It is finding out who we truly are. It may be contemplation as taught by the spiritual master Ramana Maharshi, but sometimes with awareness, it can take the form of creative expression where the mind is quiet and the Self, our true nature is allowed center stage. It is when we experience a greater aspect of ourselves beyond our thoughts and feelings, where we feel connected to a deep central core, an energy source. The experience is described by poets, dancers, potters, painters, writers, gardeners, healers, and many others as a timeless, space-less presence that is blissful, free and knowingness itself. This is the state we attain when we consciously quieten the mind in deliberate practices such as meditation and chanting. Meditation both enhances and reinforces the practices of contemplating the Self through direct inquiry or through creative expression.
Who am I? This is the question that I asked myself after having a transcendent experience at a meditation retreat. During a meditation session, I found myself in a pool of deep, dark, velvety stillness that felt nurturing, alive, and pulsating with rays of bliss. This was not apart from me, it was me and I was a part of it. This experience stayed with me during the break. As I looked at the leaves on the trees, they were also pulsating with scintillating light and my blissful feeling was an extension of the iridescent light that suffused the space all around me. My mind was absolutely still, not commenting, It was as if this was how life naturally is.
My experience was similar to many whose spiritual energy was awakened through being in contact with a catalyst. This can be a spiritual teacher whose own spiritual energy flows at a high frequency, or a power center where the earth’s telluric currents or ley lines are strong. Some people have also claimed that they have experienced this in the dream-state.
What is this state that we sometimes get a glimpse of, this gift of Grace? The teachings of the East describe this state as the Self, the all-pervasive energy which contains all phenomena and takes form, manifesting as us and everything we can sense. The contemplation of the question, “Who am I?” was one of the practices that the spiritual master Ramana Maharshi gave to his students to realize the Self. He taught that self-inquiry is not a mere mental questioning, that it involves an intense activity of the entire mind to keep it steadily poised in pure Self-awareness. It is not a case of “I” searching for “I. It reveals the truth that neither the ego nor the mind really exists. He taught that if you practice self-inquiry you will reach the spiritual heart which is the Self. He said, “You yourself impose limitations on your true nature of Infinite Being, and then weep that you are but a finite creature. Then you take up this or that spiritual practice to transcend the non-existent limitations. But if your spiritual practice itself assumes the existence of the limitations, how can it help you to transcend them?….Bliss is not added to your nature, it is merely revealed as your true and natural state, eternal and imperishable. The only way to be rid of your grief is to know and be the Self. How can this be unattainable?”
The experience of oneness or the Self that the initiate receives in the beginning of his journey is a gift of Grace, a carrot dangling in his face to lure him towards making that experience his own. For most people it is not a lasting one. For a few months after that first transcendent experience, I was able to easily hold on to an inner blissful feeling. Although I have had good meditations since, it has not been of the same intensity as the first time. Over the years with diligent practice, the experience of meditation spills over into my daily life. My mind is mostly quiet and when situations that can be disturbing arise, I am able to witness myself in relationship which is a lot more effective way than being at the mercy of whatever emotion threatens to control how I think and feel.
The spiritual journey is a life long experience but once it is consciously engaged in, we become much more aware and free to choose how our minds work. When we identify with the Self we can navigate the difficulties that life brings with steadiness and wisdom. Pain and suffering will always be there, it is the human condition, the impermanence of this life. We will experience loss, sickness, and death. With the experience of our truth, we know that we are not the thoughts, emotions and feelings that move through us. We can choose to identify with the inner source of peace, steadiness and joy, no matter what is happening on the outside.
Joseph Campbell in his book, The Hero With A Thousand Faces, described the spiritual journey or the hero’s journey in this way: “This deed accomplished, life no longer suffers hopelessly under the terrible mutilations of ubiquitous disaster, battered by time, hideous throughout space; but with its horror visible still, its cries of anguish still tumultuous, it becomes penetrated by an all-suffering, all-sustaining love, and a knowledge of its own unconquered power. Something of the light that blazes invisible within the abysses of its normally opaque materiality breaks forth, with an increasing uproar. The dreadful mutilations are then seen as shadow, only, of an immanent, imperishable eternity; time yields to glory; and the world sings with the prodigious angelic, but perhaps finally monotonous, siren music of the spheres. Like happy families, the myths and the worlds redeemed are all alike.”