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For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been privy to an awareness more profound than any I have had to date.
When you experience an awakening similar what I am about to describe, words can elude you—at least temporarily—and the core of the message you hope to convey often gets lost in translation. Language after all, is dualistic, a product of the mind.
Consciousness, on the other hand, is like the universe prior the gigantic explosion that birthed matter and formed the billions of galaxies we think we know of today. Consciousness is a singularity that contains within it the infinite wisdom of the ancient world. It requires no description; it simply exists and that in itself is challenging for our limited minds to grasp.
I’ve been seeing counselors off and on consecutively for the past several years. Their messages have always been the same: why don’t you reframe that thought? Instead of thinking about it like that, why don’t you think of it like this? This is called cognitive reframing, a well-known technique used in CBT.
Well, as it turns out, I now believe that thinking was actually at the very root of every so-called problem—and it wasn’t necessarily the ways in which I was or was not processing any particular circumstance or sensation. Instead, it was the fact that I was giving those feelings or events any extraneous thought at all.
Like so many people, I’ve been existing with a chronic underlying low-grade level of dysthymia. When you’re in this state, the view from the lens from which you gaze out at the world around and before you appears dull and colorless.
Sometimes while in this state, good things would happen and I would wonder why I didn’t feel all that excited about them. Happiness was always reserved for a later date or was the byproduct of a past moment frozen in time. Hardly ever was happiness in the here and now.
I sometimes felt like a robot on autopilot. I loved beautiful landscapes and pleasant scenery, but all too often, when I walked through a forest or along the beach, I would be too caught up in my head to really appreciate—much less even notice—all the wonder that surrounded me.
Overthinking is a disease I battle every single day. I try to meditate and don’t even realize in the moment that my mind has been wandering. When am I going to plan my trip? Oh, I need to remember to go to the store tomorrow at 1 p.m.! I need to organize my week; I am concerned I’ll forget something. I need to organize my entire life. Right now…ugh, when is this stupid meditation going to be over? I’ve got things I need to do!
Before I knew it, the present moment was once again lost. Similarly, I would get excited making plans and then once I was actually in that moment—at least physically speaking—I would begin to feel bored, impatient, or I would disengage. Sometimes I would even grab a pen and my daily planner and begin to make plans one, two, three, or four weeks in advance while only marginally showing up for the present occasion. I was entirely out of alignment with the here and now.
Decisions, even relatively minor ones, were difficult to make. I felt as though I was playing a game of chess in my head. Each time I moved one thought-piece, I had to take into account or make room for yet another consideration and then wonder where those pieces would ultimately have to land in the end. Often, I was torn between my heart and mind, as well. I couldn’t just “unplug” or “shut off.” Once I started thinking about something, I would often stew on it. I would practically marinate in my own thoughts. I resented any and every interruption while I was thinking, which sometimes meant feeling irritated with anyone who demanded my attention while I was “busy” trying to overthink my way to a conclusion.
This, of course, is a modern-day affliction, the human condition.
None of us are immune to it, yet we all struggle to varying degrees with symptoms that present themselves differently for everyone. Fortunately, I’ve always had a strong inclination toward introspection. I regularly self-reflect. I also have the capacity to be brutally honest with myself. I do not characteristically avoid or sweep things under the proverbial rug. I also have an analytical mind.
For years, I’ve heard therapists tell me how impressed they were with the level of my self-awareness. I’ve been told that my capacity for introspection is nothing short of outstanding. (Of course, I was always pleased with those kinds of remarks). One of two counselors in my late teens and early 20s had even commented that I should be doing what they were doing.
Yet, all that time, I wondered why I seemed to struggle to reconcile two seemingly disparate parts of my psyche. I could look at an issue and size it up from several different angles and yet I somehow continuously felt a heaviness both in and around me. I thought: if I am so self-aware, how come I continue to feel so much unexplained inner turmoil? Also, why do I sometimes feel so triggered by certain events, people, or even by my own maladaptive thought patterns? I know they’re just thought patterns and nothing more, but they seem to take on a life of their own regardless.
Recently, I started listening to a coach and rereading, The Power of Now, by spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle. This time, I found myself in a far more receptive place and really began taking (dare I say) those “concepts” to heart.
In a matter of a couple of days after discovering this coach’s channel, I found myself feeling as though I had found a lost optical lens and yet at the same time, also wanted to jump far out of the scope of my own vision because I recognized how challenging it is for the mind to really see itself for all that it is.
I remained in a pensive state for the proceeding few days until I went on a short two-day trip up north. Perhaps it was the mountain climbing and the view from the top of the breathtaking Georgian Bay, but as I drove home that night, something someone said to me triggered what came to me as an almost involuntary thought: I am not the thinker. I have thoughts. I have a mind. However, I am not my mind. I am pure consciousness.
After I heard myself say those sentences in my head, I felt as though I was atop that mountain once again, marveling at the view beneath and before me. Suddenly, I felt so free and so unmistakably alive. I realized in that pivotal moment, that the mind is, as Einstein put it, “a faithful servant,” a tool necessary only for survival and for efficiently navigating this material world of structure, rules, time, and duality, but in actuality, who I am is so much deeper than its contents.
Ten years ago, when I first listened to Eckhart Tolle, I thought to myself: what the hell is this guy talking about? What does he mean we’re not our mind? If we didn’t have a mind, we wouldn’t even be alive for goodness’ sake! What a flake this man must be! How can we stop thinking? The only time we can stop using our minds is when we’re dead!
I’ve matured greatly since the age of 20 and am now on the path to embodying presence.
So, why is this state of presence so important? Because when we identify more rightfully as the watcher of the mind as opposed to the thinker, new light codes infiltrate us. We become who we truly are and feel an irrepressible aliveness in every cell of our being. We can still use our minds, but only to the extent it helps us to survive—instead of allowing it to dampen the breadth of experience.
We begin to resonate with the witnessing presence and become more adept at simply observing our thoughts as opposed to believing in what they tell us about ourselves, other people, and our life circumstances. The mind is a tool. It is nothing more than an apparatus, which helps us survive in a world of duality and structure. We use it to plan, build, create, make decisions, solve problems, and make judgments.
However, as helpful as is for these tasks, we weren’t really meant to identify with the mind. We were meant to use our minds, but instead, our minds use us. When this happens, we become deeply unaware, unconscious, and unhappy. We resist the now and create narratives that cause us endless amounts of suffering.
All of those years on and off in therapy helped me gain more knowledge and insight into the workings of my mind, but it did not help me move beyond it. That I now realize is an inside job.
Truth be told, remembering to remember who we really are is a struggle simply because we exist in a duality-based world where virtually everyone on the planet believes they are their mind.
I try to catch myself on a daily basis chronically overthinking and forgetting who I really am. I nudge myself, gently but firmly: see, there you go again. Are you the stories you’re telling yourself? No. I then picture myself getting off of a train. I try to stop myself identifying with the thinker dead in my own tracks.
Overtime, I am hoping this will become more seamless, and hopefully, the moments I feel present will increase in quantity and in quality. No longer will those moments be fleeting. Whenever I catch myself, I also attempt to redirect my energy away from my thoughts and back into the present moment. Where am I now? How do I feel? What am I doing?
It is only in those infinitesimal moments that I feel that life force pulsating through me. For the vast majority of my life, I’ve been in two or more places at once, but seldom in the here and now. I now realize just how often I am not present, and that in itself is presence—or at least is a precursor to it.
Last week, I watched an enlightening movie that resonated with my journey.
If you haven’t yet seen the 2017, three-part film “Samadhi,” I highly recommend it. It more articulately encapsulates the ideas I’ve described in this article and painstakingly dissects the human condition, its causes, and its effects. I do not watch television and movies often—preferring to read or be active—but I was nevertheless utterly blown away speechless by this movie.
Below are some quotes from this film that give me shivers, and I thought I’d share them because I love quotes:
1. “When you’re awake, you don’t become identified with your character. You don’t believe that you are the masks that you are wearing. But nor do you give up playing a role.” (“Samadhi,” 2017)
2. “It is not that you are in prison; you are the prison.” (“Samadhi,” 2017)
3. “Less suffering does not mean life is free from pain.” (“Samadhi,” 2017)
4. “If the mind only tries to change the outer world to conform with some idea of what you think the path should be, it is like trying to change the image in a mirror by manipulating the reflection.” (“Samadhi,” 2017)
5. “We can never succeed in the outer struggle, because it is just a refection of our inner world.” (“Samadhi,” 2017)
6. “The inner world is where the revolution must first take place.” (“Samadhi,” 2017)
7. “So, it’s not that thinking and the existence of the self is bad. Thinking is a wonderful tool when the mind is in service to the heart.” (“Samadhi,” 2017)
8. “Pathological thinking is what passes for normal life.” (“Samadhi,” 2017)
9. “The path to freedom is not self-improvement, or somehow satisfying the self’s agenda, but it’s a dropping of the self’s agenda altogether. Some people fear that awakening their true nature will mean that they lose their individuality and enjoyment of life.” (“Samadhi,” 2017)
10. “It’s important to note that when we accept reality as it is, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we stop taking action in the world, or become meditating pacificists.”
11. “Fighting for peace is like shouting for silence: it just creates more of what you don’t want.” (“Samadhi,” 2017)
12. “Birds in a cage think flying is an illness.” ~ Alejandro Jodorowsky
13. “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.” (Zen proverb)
14. “The basic reason why we don’t notice the self is that the self doesn’t need to look at itself. A knife doesn’t need to cut itself; water doesn’t need to quench itself and light doesn’t need to shine upon itself.” ~ Alan Watts.
15. “It is no measure of one’s health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” ~ Jiddu Krishnamurti
16. “Enlightenment is the ego’s ultimate disappointment.” ~ Chögyam Trungpa
17. “Wisdom is knowing that I am nothing. Love is knowing I am everything. In between the two, my life flows”. ~ Lao Tzu