A Brief Preface
I must preface this with a little bit of information. Today is the birthday ofSri Ramana Maharshi (December 30, 1879 to April 14, 1950). If you don’t know who he is, he is venerated around the world as a true seeker and Indian guru. He maintained that the purest form of his teachings was through a powerful silence. It was said to radiate from his presence and quiet the minds of those attuned to it. He gave spoken teachings only for the benefit of those who could not understand his silence or couldn’t understand how to attain this state. His verbal teachings were said to flow from his direct experience of Atman as the only existing reality. He recommended self-inquiry as a means to achieving that realization.
I’m marking this occasion because Ramana is the only spiritual teacher I’ve ever encountered who really spoke to something deep in me. I can attribute part of that to the fact I’m just not a good follower. I’ve always preferred to find my own way. As a result of this mindset, I find myself blundering into things just when I’m truly ready to experience them. So, in keeping with my ways, it was through synchronous events that I even learned of his existence a little over a year ago. That discovery launched me into childhood memories long forgotten that would significantly deepen my own spiritual growth. It reminded me of the game I used to play with myself as a child I called “Who am I?”
The Who Am I Game
The game was very simple. I would sit and inquire of myself,
“Who am I?”
My mind would begin making its list:
- You’re Jean
- You’re a girl
- You’re Arsene and Mildred’s daughter
- You have long hair
- You love horses
- You have a penchant for potato chips
- You love fish sandwiches
- You live in Nebraska
- You go to elementary school
You get the picture. Quite a tidy little list, but then the game took a twist. The next question:
“You are all these things, but who is the one experiencing them?”
In my childish mind the question was more like, “Yes, but who am I behind those things?” I knew what I meant and that’s what counted.
The True Nature
When the answer came it was a very strange experience. It didn’t come in words. Now that I’m older I understand why, but then I just accepted what came with the typical trusting innocence ever inherent in children. My list would evanesce like meaningless smoke and go forgotten. I was left with a very odd and expansive feeling accompanied by the certainty that this was who I really was; this was my true nature.
It’s not something that can be explained easily. It defies the intellect to quantify and measure it. The intellect is just an island floating in this infinite sea of the Self. And an Island only knows itself and the waters lapping against its shores. It can’t fathom the depth or the breadth of its sea home nor the sky above it.
But what happened in my experience was the experiencing of that vast sea and sky. I became aware that the list was just clothing I wore, and that by its very nature would always change but this am-ness I was experiencing is, was, and always will be unchanging. This is pretty heavy stuff for a kid. I would then begin to feel like I was invading a private room I didn’t belong in and would quickly slip back into my “Jean clothes” none the worse for wear.
As with many things, the passing of time and encroaching maturity pushed the game back into a little closet in my mind to make room for more important things in life. The more-important-things that lead to anxiety, fatigue, stress, under-achieving, over-achieving, countless blunders and a few successes along the way didn’t leave room for anything else.
Then along came middle age and the proverbial house-cleaning of “those important things” that comes with it. Some call this wisdom. I call it being too tired of dragging all those important things around and weeding them out to make life more manageable. Whatever it’s called, it left some room for air, and that meant room for opportunity; the opportunity for synchronicity and flow; the opportunity to remember.
So now we find ourselves back to the beginning of this story. My husband off-handedly asked me one day if I had heard of the silent guru. I told him I hadn’t and started the half-listening thing spouses do when I heard him say,
“He encourages meditating on the question ‘who am I?’”
I felt I’d been struck by a truck. That one innocent remark threw open that long forgotten closet door in my mind and the game crept back out along with the experiences. I play the game every day now and I’m finding the game doesn’t have an end. I’m finding the bliss of this am-ness and the freedom it affords me to be much more than just a list.
Copyright Jean Mishra 2011