Do you ever wish things were different about yourself?
Do you declare things like:
“I wish I could keep to a more healthy diet.”
“I wish I didn’t drink so much.”
“I wish I didn’t care what people think.”
“I wish I didn’t always react like this when my partner does that.”
I suspect we all have elements of ourselves that we struggle to improve, patterns of behavior that we lament—into which we feel trapped.
If there was a simple solution to these struggles, then an entire self-help industry would be devastated, but there’s a simple tool at our disposal that can make a big difference.
First, let’s take another look at each of those statements above. Apart from the desire for change, there is another common motif and that is that there are two ‘I’s in each wish: the ‘I’ who does the wishing and the ‘I’ who could do with some help in order to change.
Those who have studied Hindu philosophy and yoga may, like me, have been tied in intellectual knots by the concepts to do with the mind and self, the differences between Ātman, Jiva, and Brahman, between individual and universal consciousness, and between Purusha and Prakriti. Unravelling these knots in order to comprehend the subtle and complex distinctions is a profound reward in itself.
But in practice, whether we look to a spiritual paradigm or not, I wonder if untying the logic of our own language doesn’t bring its own rewards too.
There is an errant ‘I’—who strays into ways of thinking and behaving that are less than optimal. This is the ‘I’ who drinks too much or binges on ice cream; the ‘I’ who snaps at their partner about an annoying habit; the ‘I’ who wastes time and effort (to say nothing of the self-inflicted damage that ensues) on worrying about others’ opinions.
This ‘I’ is unruly and acts as if it has a mind of its own.
And then there is the ‘I’ that sees and rues the errant ‘I’—who aspires to do better, to be better, to manifest all the positive behaviors instructed by experience. This is the ‘I’ who knows right from wrong as if, to borrow from the spiritual discourse, this ‘I’ was omniscient: the benevolent guide, one’s very own guardian angel.
This ‘I’ may well be omnipresent—for regardless of our inattention and the scant recognition it receives from us—it patiently reminds us that there is a better way.
Acknowledging this division, this split personality that is evident in our everyday speech and recognizing the balance of power that is weighted against our better nature, how do we change it?
How do we shift the balance of power? Can knowing the omniscient ‘I’ as separate from the errant ‘I’ make a difference?
In meditation it can, through meditation it can.
The next time you are sitting to meditate, or for that matter, the next time you are walking absent-mindedly in the park or staring into space and day-dreaming (because meditation is not about sitting with your legs crossed and emptying your mind) and one of these “I wish” thoughts come into your head, do not curse and beat yourself up for not “stilling the fluctuations of the mind.”
Instead, submit to the thought, indulge it, inspect it, turn it over, scratch it, tease it, tickle it, and as you become more familiar with that “I wish” thought, notice the space between the two ‘I’s. Feel into that space. Extend into it, as carefully as you would reaching for berries among brambles, and part the ‘I’s—separate them—turning from the errant ‘I’ breathe with the ‘I’ that knows.
Let this omniscient ‘I’ settle and take up space, let it assert its authority for once. Give it your full attention.
For here is your guide—your guardian angel. The more closely we align with our guides, the closer we attend to them, the more carefully we listen, the more fully we inhabit their presence within us, then the more likely we are to make that change we want in our lives.