Who/what am I?

… ordinary human life, such as it is in the present world, is ruled by the mind… everything proceeds from the mind. In all things the primordial element is mind… therefore, the most important thing is to control one’s mind… to observe, to watch over, to control, to master…

~Living within – the yoga approach to psychological health and growth

Last month I attended a 10-day silent meditation retreat (Vipassana). Just like it sounds, the better part of my days were spent meditating – from the first sit at 4:30am to lights out at 9:30pm, with three break periods in between, and an hour (or so) long discourse at night. Holy tomolie! I know. Nothing else to do other than to close my eyes and try to observe what’s going on in and around me. “Concentrate on the sensation of your breath as it flows in and out of your nostrils and onto the area just below the nose.” Easy enough. Right? Wrong. For the first good while, a lot of my sitting was divided between floating among the thoughts going through my head and [sensations and thoughts of] pain – turns out that sitting in the same position for the better part of the day is even more uncomfortable than it sounds. “Concentrate on feeling the sensation of your breath. Don’t get sucked into focusing on your thoughts.” Sounds like a great plan, but thoughts sure can be enticing – memories of the past, thoughts of the future, old woes buried deep down, the soundtrack to Dirty Dancing and flashbacks to those sweet, sweet dance moves in those fabulously tight pants from the 80’s… and then there’s the thoughts about the present – feelings of agitation related to pain; edginess and boredom; questions about why, after working for >12 hours/day for the past 2-3 months, I had chosen to spend my “time off” here, instead of on a warm beach or deep in the forest playing in nature; thoughts about packing up shop and running for the hills… thoughts of giving up. But slowly, slowly, the more I made an effort to pay attention to the sensation of my breath, the more I became aware of my ability to separate myself from my thoughts.  “You must learn to let your thoughts float past you, as though you are sitting at the bank of a river, watching the water flow past.” With time, concentration, and sheer will, the ability to dissociate myself from a lot of the feelings of pain came as well – especially after we were taught a new meditation technique.

Scan your body from the top of your head to the bottom of your feet. Slowly, bit by bit, part by part. Feel. Don’t judge. Don’t react. Just observe. Just feel. Notice the transient nature of it all. Just as thoughts come and go, so do the sensations throughout your body. Nothing is permanent.” The more I concentrated on just feeling the sensations throughout the different parts of my body, the more I began to come to the realization that I have an identity that’s separate from my body. By not reacting to sensations and just letting my consciousness drift to other parts of my body, I could detach from the sensations within me. Then I realized something even cooler – when I was able to detach from my mind, it would eventually quiet. Then, as I let go of the tension in my body, I could fix my attention onto a sensation, just “look at it” and “feel it” with my inner eye and then it would begin to pulse and heat up and then sometimes it would just disappear completely. Neat. But bizarre. What’s going on around here?!?

The body is a part of me, but I’m not my body. I’m not my mind either. There exists a place of quiet and still within me, within all of us, that is separate from the mind. It processes things differently. It watches the mind but has its own way of communicating that has a much different feel than the mind – and can coexist as the mind is chattering and the body is feeling.

What am I? I’m… a consciousness of sort… a watcher that is affected by and part of, yet also distinct, from the mind… and the body. This realization unlocked a whole new plane of meditation (and way of being) for me… but it also sent me reeling not only for the remaining portion of the retreat, but also in the weeks since coming back. I’m not my body. I’m not my mind. I’m this consciousness that exists at a still point within my Being. How do I continue to tap into this facet of me? Into who I truly am?  Meditation is one of the fundamental ways. To tame the mind and open the heart – opening, glowing, cultivating loving-kindness and compassion until every ounce of my Being emanates love. Replace the places of fear within me with love. The five-fold path.

“The ordinary man does not distinguish himself from his thoughts. He does not even know that he thinks. He thinks by habit. And if he is asked all of a sudden, “what are you thinking of?”, he knows nothing about it. That is to say, ninety-five times out of a hundred he will answer, “I do not know.” There is a complete identification between the movement of thought and the consciousness of the being.”

~Living within – the yoga approach to psychological health and growth

I’m not my mind. And neither are you…

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