I Am Not, Yet I Am

“I am not the thinker of my thoughts”.

“I am not the doer of my deeds.”

“There is no one here that is witnessing this.”

“Thinking, doing, witnessing happens without cause.”

These were the words that came out of my mouth when I experienced my first awakening.

It was a staggering realization to see everything as one great movement. The universe still in the midst of that first bang. All my words, my thoughts, my actions, my desires that I had believed were my own and chosen by me – nothing more than part and parcel of that singular bang – still happening, happening, forever happening.

No I nor you. No this nor that. No here nor there. No now nor then. No cause nor effect. All just an endless unfolding and unpacking of a singular explosive event.

Space, time, matter, energy, self, world : these bedrock constants upon which our realities are based suddenly appeared completely fluid, elastic, changeable, hollow.

The world began to appear increasingly surreal – dreamlike. Everything, including nature, began to appear artificial – as if it were all made of plastic. My body too felt like something artificial, plastic, manufactured off some assembly line in China.

My mind began to feel similarly artificial. Like an A.I. programmed with myriad algorithms. My thoughts, my ideas, my opinions – nothing felt original to me. They felt like implants. And further, I had no control over when the thoughts occurred, how they took hold of me, what they convinced me to do, what other thoughts or emotional experiences or actions they triggered. It all seemed like an elaborate game my mind was playing with itself as I just sat uselessly watching and being moved like a puppet. Even the “watching” seemed to happen beyond me and my control.

“Then where the fuck am I?” I couldn’t find myself. There simply was no “I” in this equation that was in any way separate from what was occurring. Any “sense” of a self that there was, was only another appearance like space or time or matter.

At first, all of this felt immensely liberating, because it freed me of the burden that my own identity had become. I had suffered so intensely, hated my self so much, wished it destroyed, been ashamed of it, felt tormented by it. Imagine being the captive of some abusive kidnapper and suffering as their hostage for years. And then one day you realize the kidnapper is no longer there. They’ve just vanished.

Seeing that the story of my self was not only a piece of fiction, but also that the self was a mirage created by a trick of the mind similar to how one sees a face in the clouds, was like being set free from my captor.

I believed I was enlightened. In fact, I had no doubt about it.

Yet, I struggled to orient myself to this new reality. I had lost my bearings on reality altogether.

What was good, what was bad? What was right or wrong? Where was up or down? What was now, what was later? I became dysfunctional to a large extent. I had lost my coordinates and was drifting listlessly on an empty ocean of nonsensical experience that had no end.

I couldn’t relate to people easily because I had no language by which to relate. I didn’t understand rules of speech, decorum, boundaries of appropriateness. Everything became open season. Morality, ethics, laws, empathy, decency – none of these held much meaning.

Why can’t I eat rotten food? What’s the point of eating at all? Why can’t one sleep with another man’s wife? Why can’t one sleep with another man’s pet? Why can’t we just cannibalize each other for food? Why can’t I just step off the second storey balcony and see if my knee caps shatter on impact, just for the heck of it?

What at first seemed like great freedom and sanity soon devolved into a madness that I wouldn’t wish upon anyone. When it’s all uncaused, when there is no “thinker” to the thoughts, when there is no “doer” to the deeds – there also ceases to be a “regulator” of what is thought, said and done. The conscience is annihilated.

Yet, even in the absence of a separate self, the mind was still pumping out thoughts and emotions by the second. And this emotional roller coaster became terrifying at a point. The highs were intense highs and the lows were devastating lows. I lived in pure survival mode. Through it all, I struggled to function in my daily life: hold a job, pay rent, feed myself.

“It’s all made up. It’s all arbitrary. There is no real north or south, east or west. There is only this endless ocean of experience!”

At a certain point I came to realize that this was an unfeasible way to live. I had entered a realm of pure chaos. And if a life had to be lived, it needed an anchor around which perception could be ordered and life could be structured.

That anchor was the self.

Whether the self was real or illusory wasn’t the point. The point was that just like my “sense” of hearing converted waves of energy into SOUND, just like my “sense” of sight converted waves of energy into SHAPES and COLORS, just like my “sense” of touch converted waves of energy into SOLID, LIQUID OR VAPOR – so also did my “sense” of self convert waves of energy and information, coming from my nervous system, into ME.

“I am as real as the redness of a rose. I am as real as the resonance of a guitar string. I am as real as the hardness of this table. I am of the same nature as all that I see, feel, touch, smell and hear.

“If I am an illusion, then this is all an illusion too. So, we are of the same nature regardless. Then what is “real” and what is “illusory”? Only words.”

“Reality. Illusion. Are they separate? Are they not two aspects of the same?

“One may say the rose is real. Redness is only an illusion. But a rose without redness isn’t a rose. And redness cannot exist without a form like the rose to manifest it. “

“A rose without “redness” is simply an idea of a rose. A table without “hardness” is simply an idea of a table. A guitar string without its resonance is simply the idea of a guitar string. This world, without me, is simply the idea of a world.

“I am the essence of what it means for something to “exist”. I am what gives reality it’s “realness”. I am not real. I am realness itself.”

As my self reassumed it’s former position: Mountains once again became mountains. Rivers once again became rivers.

In a world innately free of coordinates, it became my responsibility to set my own coordinates. In the absence of any real cardinal directions, I established my own north and south using the magnetic pull of my intuition. I used my wife, my first daughter and then my second daughter as my three anchors to reality. And the deep love I felt for them became the immovable weight that held those anchors firm. I began building a new scaffolding around my life. A new set of rules by which to play the game…

Realizing that it’s all a made up game is one thing. Yet, as revelatory as that is, sitting on the bench for the rest of the game just because “it’s all made up” is a waste of a lifetime. Much better not to realize anything, if that’s the case! But getting off the bench and rejoining the game, knowing full well it’s a game is where true freedom lies. And that is also where true responsibility lies, because now you are not only responsible for how you play but also responsible for the game itself.

“I am not the thinker of my thoughts. Yet, I choose to be.”

“I am not the doer of my deeds. Yet, I choose to be.”

“There is no on here that is witnessing this. Yet, I choose to be.”

“Thinking, doing, witnessing happens without cause. Yet, I choose to be the cause of it all.”

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