Sense of Being – Part 2: “I am”
In my last post, I wrote about the sense of being. In this post, I want to continue my train of thought by writing about the “I am” thought.
The “I am” is the first thought. It is the origin of separation or of duality: of the witness or observer. Even in its most elemental form that exists prior to language, even before the verbalization of “I am,” there is the sense of being that comes with being attuned with that which arises both internally (e.g., thoughts) and from the environment. That sense of being might be unconscious or it might be conscious. I differentiated the two by referring to having an unconscious sense of being as just being or beingness.
At some point in time, the “I am” becomes internalized and articulated; when this occurs, the sense of having an independent self arises: call it the ego; the sense of a personal identity; ‘or the me’. However, prior to identifying with one's 'me', there is just the sense of a witness or observer, or an 'eye' or an 'I'.
So, let’s break this down a little.
When a human baby is born, consciousness and beingness both arise simultaneously.
At some point in time, the “I am” thought arises. Again, this might not necessarily be verbally articulated, but may take the form of the separation of beingness into that of an observer and that which is observed, including the sense of being.
Later on, identification occurs, at which point the “I am” becomes attached to an idea, as in “I am Vince”.
And from here, the downward spiral begins, because identification with a name and a set of beliefs is the cause of suffering. (see https://www.vinji.org/single-post/2017/10/29/The-Ignoble-truths-from-Fred-Davis)
Let’s look at this another way. Many people, who wish to alleviate suffering begin to ask questions: they become seekers. They begin to understand that they are more than what they have come to believe.
For some, they come upon teachings that focus on processes of inquiry. Inquiry involves questioning one’s beliefs and seeing through what one is not. This is the ‘neti-neti’ (not this; not that) approach. “Am I my thoughts”? “Am I my feelings?” “Who is having the feeling?” “Who is thinking the thought?” “Whose thought is it?” “Whose experience is this?”
Next (although different spiritual teachers do not necessary follow this exact order), seekers are asked to direct their attention toward the sense of being. Such exploration might involve examining whether it has any edges or boundaries to it, or whether it has any center to it.
Awarenesss of the sense of being is a crucial and often critical stage in waking up. One perhaps realizes that this is what they are! They realize that they are the awake space that includes everything that arises: sensations, perceptions, feelings, and thoughts.
But for many, there is still a sense of duality here. That, because there is still as sense of an observer and and that which is observed, such as the sense of being. Thus, technically speaking, there is still a ‘sense’ of something, even if, in this case, it is a sense of being. Having a sense of being implies duality.
This is why I’m beginning to prefer to think of the sense of being as originating with the “I thought” or “I am” thought, rather than being identical to consciousness, which I discussed in the previous post. I prefer to link consciousness with beingness; and a sense of being with the origin of the witness.
The “I am” thought, therefore, is the first thought. It is the thought that creates worlds; it creates separation between the observer and the observed, including being aware of the sense of being. The “I thought” arises out of consciousness. Nisargadatta and Ramana Maharshi both encouraged their followers to trace their “I thought” back to its source.
So, what do you find when you do that. Back, back, back you go. What is prior to the “I thought”? Call it spacious awareness, if you will. Call it consciousness. Call it Awakeness. Call it oneness. Call it whatever you like. The point is that to direct one’s attention to the sense of being, to your own true nature, requires, subtle as it might be, an observer that is aware.
But what is it that is aware? Awareness itself! And what is it aware of? Itself as itself and all that arises within itself.
However, eventually, the witness or observer has to disappear. The sense of being has to dissipate into just beingness.
So what happens when this final and subtle duality is transcended? The “I am” or observer falls away and there is no longer an “I” or a “sense” of anything, even the sense of being. There is just being, as a verb. Or beingness. Or listening, or seeing, or feeling. There are the raw sensations associated with being alive and being an energetic interactive field that includes both consciousness and all corresponding sensations, perceptions, feelings, and thoughts.
And when all duality is transcended; when the witness or observed completely disappears, activity occurs freely because there is no sense of separation between the observer and the observed. There is just being or beingness itself.