by Donna Quesada: My Zen teacher used to say, “you’re not who you think you are.” He was trying to nudge me past the usual ways that I identify myself.
Past all the defining features, like Teacher, Writer, Artist, Dog lover, and so on. He was especially trying to nudge me past the markers that I’m most proud of, with the idea of going past pride, altogether. And ultimately, past the personality, altogether.
The yogis of old—and I have always considered Yoga, in its wider sense, to be the parent tradition from which Zen derived—always said it’s simply…
“You are not this body.”
In other words, what we are is ultimately something more subtle than the physical body. Something that goes beyond the physical body and even beyond the mind and the mind’s tumult. Beyond the thoughts it thinks. Beyond all the limitations of this physical embodiment. Beyond its changes into old age. And beyond birth and death. We are spirit. We are spiritual beings having a human experience. We are eternal. We wear this body for a little while and then we shed it, as a snake sheds its skin. And then, perhaps… we take up life in a new form. Or we don’t…perhaps we just flicker about in the universe, like infinite sparkles in the sky, like that luminescent plankton that glows at night in the sea.
If we do come back, we wear a different body for a little while and it’s like wearing a new coat. We’ll eventually take that one off, too. Along with each new body comes a new identity and a new game to play, with new goals to achieve, and more lessons to learn. That is our karma. At least until we wake up to the realization that we are divine, eternal beings that never really die.
But, it’s one thing to speak in these terms. It’s another to live by the certainty that it’s true. And if we did live by that certainty, how would it change our lives? What would we do differently? After all, it sounds and feels like poetry until we wholeheartedly believe it. And because we don’t wholeheartedly believe it, it’s only interesting, but not really comforting.
If we knew it in our hearts to be true, would our lives be easier and happier? If so, how so and why?
To begin with, you would know that the idea of a separate self is just a story. Therefore, you would know that you are deeply connected to everything and everyone. And so, you would begin to look upon everything you do as an opportunity to bridge that made-up gap between us. You would look upon meetings with others as opportunities to touch that divine spark. Or if you’d rather, to know God, as he/she appears in the temporary guise of “others.” You would become less worried about the outcome of things and just experience this moment because you’d know it’s fleeting, just as you are… at least as you are right now, in this incarnation. And you’d appreciate everything and everyone that inhabits this moment with you all the more, for the same reasons… because it’s all a flash of lightening.
And all the things you strive for… your “stuff,” your achievements, your reputation, your titles and praise and flattery, even your bank balances would find their rightful place in the back seat. And the worries that go along with those things… having them and holding them, would begin to seem pointless. The worries may even dissolve into nothingness… because you’d see them as unreal.
You’d come to see that stuff as “earth stuff.” You’d know that the real you is… beyond all of that. The real you is utterly beyond the ever-changing features and incessant challenges of your physical self.
And just like that, this realization, this Self-realization would bring a profound shift to inner peace. You’d know that you are Source. And everything is Source. And you are everything! Like the Beatles lyrics, “I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.”
Here is a meditation to do that… to experience ourselves as spirit:
Kundalini Meditation: I Am I Am
Commentary from the annals of the Kundalini Yoga tradition: The mantra “I Am I Am” connects the finite and Infinite identities. The first “I Am” emphasizes the “I” and is the personal and finite sense of self. The second “I Am”emphasizes slightly the “Am” and is the impersonal and transcendent sense of the Self.
All real mantras blend this polarity of the Infinite and finite in their internal structure and design. If you only say the first “I Am,” the mind will automatically try to answer, “I am what?” This sends the mind on a search through all the categories and roles that hold the finite identities.
If you immediately say the second part of the mantra, “I Am,” the thought becomes, “I Am what I Am.” To be what you are is the essence of truth and will lead you to the nature of Reality.
A yogi cultivates the relationship between the finite sense of the self and the Infinite sense of the Self. The mind often forgets this relationship when it becomes attached to a particular emotion or object that it wants to keep. One of the important habits the yogi instills in the mind is the ability to break that trance of attachment by a shift to the perspective of Infinity. It is very powerful and effective to remind the mind of your true identity with your Infinite Being.
Posture: Sit ion a cushion with the spine elongated.
Mudra: Place the right hand over the right knee. Keep the elbow straight and the hand relaxed in Gyan Mudra (the index finger tip on the tip of the thumb). Raise the left hand in front of the Heart Center 6 inches (15 cm) from the chest. The palm is flat and faces toward the chest. The fingers point to the right.
Eyes: Eyes are gently closed
Mantra & Movement: Chant out loud “I Am” as you draw the left hand closer to the chest, to a distance of about 4 inches (10 cm). Then chant “I Am” as you extend the palm straight away from the front of the chest to a distance of about 12 inches (30 cm).
Then take a short breath through the nose as you draw the hand back to the original position of 6 inches (15 cm) from the chest. Create a steady rhythm with the mantra and the breath. The hand and the breath move in rhythm and strengthen your ability to maintain a sense of self as your awareness expands.
Continue for 11 – 31 minutes. To end, inhale deeply, hold, and relax completely.