During the course of our lives, we all have direct in-sights, awakenings, into who or what we really are. Because these in-sights are usually very difficult to describe, however, and because they don’t fit readily into our ordinary views of ourselves and the world, we most often ignore them or write them off as fantasy. Perhaps some of the in-sights I recount here (as best I can) will help you notice and appreciate similar experiences that you have had, and remind you that it is only when we cease identification with our habitual thoughts, emotions, and perceptions that we become available to receiving direct, spontaneous impressions of who or what we really are.
I am in my garden doing qigong beneath the giant pine tree that blesses our home in San Francisco. The soft wind carrying the songs of several birds enters my awareness, along with the weight of my body on the earth and the movement of my waist and arms. I smell and sense the cool flower-scented air entering through my nose and moving down into my trachea and lungs, and slightly warmer air traveling back up and out. Various thoughts come and go in my awareness, and I see clearly how some of them result in emotional and physical tensions. Something well behind my mind and body says “yes” to everything that is happening, and there is no resistance to anything. My attention is taking in impressions of my entire body, including the rhythmical movements of my arms and head, and the stable, grounded sensation of being supported by the earth, and all of these impressions open up and dissolve into a sense of vast spaciousness—a sense that I am both the spaciousness and everything that is happening within it. I am fully present to the miracle of being.
It’s 6:30 AM. I’ve just woken up. The first sensations of my body are relaxed and comfortable as the visual remnants of my last dreams vanish. Thoughts in the form of questions and “shoulds” begin to arise: what’s happening with the war in Iraq?; I should get up and go to the other room to meditate; I should get the paper and read it. The arthritic pains I have lived with for the past 20 years begin to enter my awareness. I sense the habitual urge to get up and get moving. Perhaps that will help. Somehow I close my eyes instead and allow my attention to move deeper inward, toward the unknown center without losing awareness of the thoughts and sensations on the periphery. I touch something that I can only call Being—a subtle, pervasive, energetic sense of I Am, without being anything in particular. This energetic sense of I Am is both very familiar and very new. A direct knowing that I cannot objectify in any way. Somehow I know that that is what I am. And with it comes a new sense of freedom.
I am at home sitting at the kitchen table at breakfast time eating some oatmeal. I sense the spoonful of oatmeal in my hand and follow it visually as my hand brings it toward my mouth. As the oatmeal disappears into my mouth, the visual sensation gives way to an intense sensation of taste. I chew the oatmeal gently, savoring the taste that now fills my awareness. I sense how the oatmeal gradually moves down my esophagus and into my stomach, until the local sensation of movement disappears into the sensation of my whole body. At that moment, something separates in me, and I experience my entire body, thoughts, feelings, and sensations inside my awareness, which, paradoxically, seems somehow behind what I usually take to be myself. Time itself disappears into a spacious sensation that I can only describe as I Am. The I Am reveals itself as two natures, separate, yet somehow one–the silent awareness that I fundamentally am, and everything that fills it, including Dennis with all of his disparate thoughts, feelings, and sensations.
Many years ago I asked my teacher a question, which I think was about how to recognize and get what I really want. Though I’m not absolutely sure of the exact words I used, I remember well his response, since it has helped me understand the crucial role of attention and identification in my life.
“It’s as though you go out one day from your apartment to a drugstore to buy some toothpaste,” my teacher replied. “Of course, you know that your real motivation for going out is that you wish to meet the woman of your dreams, and you have the feeling that you might meet her today. Keeping your eyes open for the woman of your dreams, you head over to the toothpaste display and become engrossed in deciding which of the many brands you should buy—checking prices and so on, and deciding which one would be the best for your teeth. In the meantime, God has sent the woman of your dreams into the store and she is standing near the cash register. But you are so engrossed in deciding which toothpaste to buy that you don’t even look up. By the time you’ve decided on which brand to buy, she’s left the store and you never even noticed.”
It is clear to me today how much of my life takes place like this–in narrow, unconscious identification with the contents of my awareness, however seemingly consequential or inconsequential they might be. And, yet, that too is part of waking up to what actually is. For in those moments of seeing this process of identification in action, I experience a new appreciation for the statement that “the truth shall set us free.” And this enables me to relax into the immense freedom of the unknown, where the direct experience of I Am is more real than the thought of I am this or that.