My Own Self-Inquiry

After a great deal of self-inquiry, reflection, and meditation, I’ve realized the Self.  For the first time ever, I feel satisfied with my own thoughts and beliefs as to what I am and it’s brought incredible peace.  I owe it all to Ramana Maharshi.  I had searched for this using physics, philosophy, religion, neuroscience, psychology, and many other disciplines, but everything I was getting only confused me more.  But Maharshi’s method of Self-Inquiry led me to a direct experience of the unmanifest ‘I AM’ within myself at the root of everything I experience, the source.

This life has felt like a giant mind-game, filled with confusion, and all of this confusion ultimately is rooted in wrong identification with things I am not.

Take wrongful identification with the body.  Before I really sat and reflected on all of this, I used to believe I was the originator of my actions.  I chose to stand up, I chose to sit down, I chose to say the words coming out of my mouth, and so on.  But then when I studied physics, I really began to wonder.  I would lift my arm, or squeeze my hand into a fist, or stand up using my legs, and it felt as if “I” was responsible, but who was this “I”?  It didn’t reside in my “normal” conscious mind.  Think of all the electrical pulses throughout all the nerves required to contract the muscles, the flow of ions down all the nerve channels, and all the rest of it.  Did I set all of that into motion?  No, the conscious “I” in my head most certainly did not.  It would speak as if it did, saying, “Oh, ‘I’ did that!”, but wait a minute!  It doesn’t even know how all the biology works, much less did it direct each and every atom and electron to perform that movement.  There’s no way this ‘I’ in my conscious attention did that.  So who or what did?  And why does it feel as if “I” was responsible for the movement, even though the entirety of my conscious attention and mind were clearly inadequate for such a task?  It was a true mystery for me for a long time.

Really sit down and think about this problem.  You’re going to lift your right arm and wave hello to your friend across the room.  Think about everything that needed to happen.  According to physics, every Planck time there is a new “frame” of reality.  Every 5*10^(-44) seconds a new frame needs to be generated, containing all the new positions of every atomic nucleus, every electron, all the photons creating the electric and magnetic fields, the exact curvatures of space-time due to energy and mass, and all the rest of it.   Think of all the frames required to move your arm!  It’s a number so large we don’t even have words for it, and within each frame you’re going to have to give positions and velocities to all the particles, which are also so numerous we don’t have words for it either.  Who did all that?  Yet, we do it effortlessly.  But how?  And why do we feel as if we are doing it?

If that’s not complicated enough, let’s talk about this idea of “choosing” to lift your arm.  Within your consciousness, can you recall any moment when a a giant catalog was presented to you, containing all the different arm motions and gestures available in the vast infinite of what’s possible?  Did you browse through it, and then pick and choose the flow of movements, one Planck time to the next?  That’s what free will as respect to bodily movements would entail.  I can only speak for me, but my consciousness was never presented with this catalog.  However, according to quantum physics, such a catalog of infinite possibilities does indeed exist and something is choosing these events to take place.  Something, but what?  And why in the world do “I” feel responsible for it?

The same could be said for internal states of consciousness, such as thought and emotion.  At any point you can remember, were you ever presented with a catalog of thought processes and emotional states which you arbitrarily could assign to each and every moment?  I never did.  Both thoughts and emotions come and go on their own.  So why do we feel they’re “our” thoughts and “our” emotions?

So here’s the million dollar question.  Why are we associating with what these physical bodies are doing, what they’re thinking about, or the various emotional states we humans experience?  Why say “this is me” when you’re not choosing or in control of any of it?  Why is there this feeling that somehow you’re doing all this, yet whenever you sit and reflect on it all, there doesn’t seem to be any way that that is the case?

Brace yourselves, this is going to be a deep revelation!  The answer is that the real you IS doing it all, but the real you is NOT the body, is NOT the thoughts bouncing around in your head, and is NOT your emotions.  The real you is something unmanifest, formless, shapeless, yet within this real Self is your body, and all other possible bodies, your thoughts and all possible thoughts, and your emotions along with all possible emotions.  This reality of me being “Jason” and you being Joe Smith is a projection from this real Self, which we all share, the eternal, unchanging, I AM.  You can call this God, the Source, the Alpha and Omega, whatever.  We are all aspects of that, which is the only thing that’s real.  We’re all characters in the mind of God, all being played by God.  It’s like when Carl Sagan said we are the universe looking back at itself.  But the universe isn’t a machine!  It’s all God, and God places veils on His own consciousness, creates characters, and looks back at Himself through all these vantage points and characters.  There are all these infinite stages and infinite dramas unfolding!

That’s why you feel that you’re lifting your arm.  You’re God!  You chose the experience.  You created the character and now you’re experiencing it.  But you needed to hide this fact in order for it to be truly immersive, so you placed a veil over your fullness, and you’re temporarily experiencing this character, which has this finite illusory mind.  But the character has no power.  So the character reflects on what’s happening and it’s like, I don’t make the waves, I don’t make the sun shine, I don’t make my body move, I don’t control my thoughts, etc.  BUT, who is this “I” speaking within the character’s mind?  That’s the false “I”, thoughts which themselves were written into the screenplay.  This is the very false “I” a neuroscientist will tell you about.  Of course it’s not real, of course it doesn’t really make the body move, etc.  Yet that’s not to say there isn’t a real “I” within!  The problem is when this real “I”, existing within each and every one of us, is wrongly associated with things that it is not!  That’s when life goes from a movie to enjoy, to all kinds of fear and misery.

This real “I” is not the body and it is not the mind, yet these things are projecting out of it.  You are projector with all the possible film reels and also the screen which this life movie is being projected on, but you are NOT ultimately the characters or the settings within the movie. I’m not Jason, and you’re not Bob, or Steve, or Sarah.  You’re the I AM which is WATCHING the movie that YOU WROTE!   Claiming you are your body or mind is like claiming the author of a novel is his characters and those characters thoughts/feelings.  Not quite.  They came out of the author, but they’re not the same.  This wrongful identification is the most significant cause of our suffering in this life.

So yes, you did choose to lift your arm.  Jason didn’t do it, as he’s just a character, but the real me, which is right there experiencing the character first hand, this real I did.  That’s why I experience that subjective ownership. I did choose to have that emotional experience at that time.  I did choose these thoughts.  But, and this is a big but, I did so when I was writing this movie!  As for right now, I am in a state of highly focused attention, very closely “zoomed in” on this character I created, just watching a very immersive virtual reality movie.

You may say, bah, how do you know this to be true?  I’ll tell you — by DIRECT EXPERIENCE.  Anyone can experience it.  For example, if you’ll do Maharshi’s method of Self-Enquiry, you will find the unchanging, eternal I AM right within your direct experience.  Every time you hear your mind say, “I did this…” or “I am hungry”, or “I want to go outside…”, just then ask yourself, “Who is the ‘I’ who is hungry?  Who is the ‘I’ who wants to go outside”, and trace it back.  You’ll eventually end up at this eternal, unchanging ‘I AM’ which will be with you always.  At every moment of your life’s movie.

People will say, “You cannot know if God exists.”  No no no.  It’s the only thing you can actually know exists!  Everything else you’ll always be unsure about.  But the fact of this I AM, directly within your consciousness cannot be denied.  God’s right there.  It’s you!

As for direct perception that all of this is a movie, that’s more challenging, but it is possible to hop out of the movie.  How?  There are various means, but a primary one is through meditation.  The movie plays by you focusing your attention on the characters and settings which appear outside of you.  What you have to do is learn how to pull the searchlights of the senses back inward, and then focus back on the I AM.  The movie stops playing and you perceive this infinite self!   With enough focus of attention back inward, you return to your real self, the Infinite!

What’s most interesting about all of this is that it can all be directly experienced, both your real Self identity, and with enough meditating and focus, you can even hop out of the movie entirely.

People Can Suffer Anything

The sort of science and engineering I help teach at the university has led to a world with great material comfort. The average person today lives a more comfortable life than royalty did in ages past. I’m definitely all for this, but I’m slowly realizing that if we don’t work on a sort of inner engineering, none of us will be able to enjoy the material benefits. From what I see, every life situation becomes a problem if person has not tamed their mind. If a person is poor, they suffer that. If they’re rich, they worry about all they have to lose. If they’re not educated, they suffer a lack of opportunity. If a person has a chance at a good education, the majority of students do not want to be there. If they lack a job, they suffer unemployment. Give them a job, they don’t want to go in. If they’re not married, they suffer being alone. If married, they murmur about their spouse. If they don’t have children, they’re unhappy. You give them children and they’re unhappy with the sleepless nights and all the work involved. I could go on, but I won’t. Will greater material benefits fix these problems? I can’t see flat-screen televisions, faster computers, or new iPhones fixing any of this. We’re our own problem. The mind is like a super-computer with too many knobs, buttons, and features, and people struggle to pilot the mind. They can’t properly control its energies.

A lot of it comes down to garbage in, garbage out. If you eat bad food, you get diarrhea. Similarly, if you focus the mind’s attention on garbage, you get mental diarrhea. You have to change your mental diet.

As a physicist, I like to look for the most fundamental rules behind anything I observe. When it comes to a mind that has turned on itself, the most fundamental principle is identification with things you are not. As Sadhguru points out in this video, “The mind should not be telling its own stories all of the time.” If you understand and master this principle, the mind will sit still, waiting for you to tell it what to do. It can be a real battle, but if you don’t take the time to learn this, the mind will be a constant nuisance. It won’t matter how blessed your life is, you won’t enjoy it. You’ll always find something that’s not how it should be.  However, when I rid myself of these mental stories, these projections onto the world around me, life has become a quite pleasant experience.

Chalkboard Musings

The other day I entered my classroom and saw the word ‘Anarchy’ written in large letters for all to see on the chalkboard. I silently crossed it out and wrote ‘Love, Peace, and Order’ underneath it. Some may crave anarchy, but I crave peace, continually striving for an inner silence which comes from deep within. That to me is freedom, not chaos. As someone sows, they will also reap and chaotic behavior soon reaps a whirlwind of negative repercussions; before long all one’s time and energy is spent trying to put out self-inflicted fires instead of moving in a worthwhile direction. This is especially true of one’s own mind. Chaotic thinking destroys one’s potential to accomplish anything of value. The world outside of us flows from what’s first within us, and our outer world is a mirror of our own thoughts, beliefs, and actions reflected back at us. As a person thinks, so they are, and the world around us is a collective product of how everyone thinks.  A lot of the problems we experience in life are simply reflections of our own inner chaos being cast back at us;  sadly, we lack self-awareness and don’t see this happening.

I want to talk a little bit about this mirror. It’s all similar to a Rorschach test, where a person is shown random inkblot splatters and are then asked by a psychologist what they see on the page. The images in and of themselves are nonsense, but if you give someone enough time, and keep flashing these inkblot images to them, their inner world will be projected onto those images, and then this inner dialog starts coming out of them.  Their joys, their fears, things they hate, people they’re mad at, things they desire, the list goes on.  This is exactly what we do each and every day with just about everything.

Life is like a giant Rorschach test.  When you wake up tomorrow morning, just stand in front of the bathroom mirror and stare at yourself for a moment.  Observe what happens within you.  Step outside your home and look at the neighborhood.  What happens inside of you?  Go to your job and for a brief moment, take a look at your coworkers, your desk, and your office breakroom.  What sort of thoughts happen within you?  For most people, some inner dialog starts.  What is it saying?  What is what you’re hearing telling you about yourself?  Even more importantly, where are these voices coming from?  Do you identify with them?  Do you have to identify with them?  Should you identify with them?  If a lot of what you’re hearing is negative and causing you to suffer, are the things these voices saying true?  Based on what?  Challenge them. Place your own thoughts and mind on a witness stand, like you’re in court.  Prosecute them.  Who are you?  Where do you come from?  You say these nasty things about me and others, but what proof do you have?  Why should I believe you?

I’ll give you all an example.  The other day I finished teaching and walked home from work.  As I was leaving the physics building, a thought entered my mind, “I don’t want to walk home.”  I then put it on the witness stand.  Who is this “I” who doesn’t want to walk home?  How do you know “I” do not want to walk home and would rather drive home?  It was silent.  Just as I thought.  I’m self-aware enough to realize these stupid mind-games my own brain likes to put me through. I then proceeded to walk home, the weather was nice outside, I enjoyed the breeze as it was cool out, and within 15~20 minutes I was home.  The walk was nice.  I didn’t suffer at all throughout the entire experience.  So who was this “I” who didn’t want to walk home?  It wasn’t me because I actually enjoyed the walk.  This thought had no idea what it was talking about, but I could’ve believed it and amplified its negativity in my mind, letting it brew the entire walk home, complaining within, and let it ruin my entire mood.  But why?  There was nothing waiting for me in the world that had suffering on its agenda, but crazy forces within me sure had plans to make me miserable.   They didn’t win that day.

I can give all kinds of other examples.  Oftentimes I’ll wake up in the morning and my mind will spew out, “I don’t want to go to work this morning.”  I put it on the same witness stand.  This thought sits defiantly in the booth, with its arms crossed, exclaiming, “I don’t want to go in today.”  What continues to baffle me is that this thought has the audacity to claim that it is me and that I feel this way!  Who’s it kidding?  I tell it to take its place and have a seat.  It doesn’t tell me who I am and who I am not, what I will and will not like, what to look forward to or what to dread.  It’s been wrong too many times to give it that kind of confidence.  The ONLY thing it has a right to do is propose certain ideas, and that’s it.  Propose.  Theorize.  Speculate.  And if I look into something it proposes and it’s flat wrong, I don’t pay those trains of thought any mind any longer.  When they arise I disavow them, let them pass, and do not give them my attention.  It can say “I” this, and “I” that all it wants, but it has nothing to do with me.

But anyway, this thought seemed to be telling me, in supposed advance foreknowledge, that I will dislike my day at work and that I shouldn’t go in.  A day at work is not worth experiencing.  For the first few days when I went into work at the university, I told this thought, “We’ll see.”  I gave it the benefit of the doubt, but then I actually observed my days at work without any emotional “coloring” from these inner random thoughts and the results were interesting.  I let the day itself make impressions on my emotions naturally, without interference from these made-up inner mental projections and I found that I do not hate going to work.  I do not mind teaching.  Many times when I’m joking around with students and I see them learning, I actually find it rewarding.   While at work, my own inner world goes from indifference, to bursts of a rewarding feeling, to a mild peaceful joy, and then oftentimes back to indifference, that is, if I’m not caught up in these inner mental projections.  So who was it that didn’t want to go to work?  Not me.  When I look at the evidence, the real me is indifferent to work at times, and enjoys it at other times.

Do you see how life is just like a Rorschach test?  Those inkblots do not contain any of the projections of the person looking into them.  In the same way, your life probably doesn’t contain half of the things you’re projecting into it either.

Speaking of which, I find that 95% of what goes through my head is nonsense if I actually call it out and make it prove itself.   I don’t hate going into work, I don’t mind walking home on certain days, and the list goes on.  For example, after going through same process in other thought areas, I soon realized that I don’t need or even desire half of the things the mind goes, claiming they’re the only tickets to happiness and a good life.  It goes on about career goals, relationship stuff, projections of what it thinks coworkers, students, faculty members, and others think of me, weird insecurities, things I should be angry about, things that would make me happy, things I desperately need to avoid, and so on, and at the end of the day, it’s just a giant onslaught of nonsense.  Almost all of it is garbage that isn’t worth paying attention to and these days I don’t.  I view it like a some sort of confused parrot hopping on my shoulder, saying things it doesn’t even grasp or understand, screaming it into my ear.  I playfully return its gaze and think, “Oh, you again?  You’ve been wrong 99 times out of 100.  Oh, you don’t say? Another one of your wild conjectures.  I wonder why it is I don’t believe you anymore?”

In the past, one of biggest forms of my own suffering was who I believed I was.  I used to have worries that I was a little human, trapped in a giant universe that doesn’t care about me at all.  I’m here today, gone tomorrow, and it’s all pointless as I’m just going to die and leave everything I work for behind.  However, I don’t feel that way today.  I kept looking into everything, and as I’m often told, if you seek, you will find.  I wanted to know who and what I am, and I kept digging.  What did I find?  No matter where I looked, I saw a world beyond time, and I kept seeing glimpses of infinity, infinity, infinity, over and over and over.  I studied Einstein’s general relativity and I saw universes springing into existence, big bang after big bang, like bubbles in a champagne bottle, bursting into existence from literally nothing, forever and ever (study eternal inflation).  I’m just in awe, so I try to look into things more close to Earth.  How about the dirt that I’m made out of?  I look into the nature of the physical matter and I see infinity once again, some sort of infinite branching of possibilities (Everett interpretation of quantum mechanics), or these probability clouds of infinite possibilities somehow collapsing and unfolding according to some source beyond anything I can grasp (Bohr interpretation), or maybe according to Bohm there is some sort of unfolding within the infinite mind of God giving rise to me.  Either way, infinity, infinity, infinity.  What a complete mystery!  I examine my brain and wonder about consciousness and why I experience what I do, and I have no answers.  I don’t know what I’m made out of, I don’t know what I am, I don’t know where I am, and I don’t know where all of this is going.  The more deeply I look into anything, I realize I know absolutely nothing, and if “I” should identify with anything, it’s this ignorance.  Even still, I try understand.  Maybe it’s futile.

But what tools am I going to use to understand all of this?  Thought?  Logic?  Where do “my” thoughts come from?  When I think a thought was there this giant catalog of all thoughts to choose from, and “I” browsed through them before each moment, and from this infinity of possibilities sit down and chose the thoughts I’m having?  No.  “I” was never presented this catalog nor can I recall a sensation of choosing any of these thoughts.  So do I even control what I think?  Maybe, at least I feel I can believe in or reject thoughts, such as when I thought, “I do not want to go to work”, but that’s not the same thing.  So who or what is the true “I” controlling all of this?  It seems to happen, just like everything else.  So who wrote this “script” of thought and action I’m experiencing?  “I” am at a loss.  I lack such self-awareness.  Whatever causes it all to go also causes me to go, that’s all I’m comfortable saying.

If you think “you” are doing it all, please tell me how you lift your arm?  Can you tell me what even a single atom in your arm is?  Can you describe it in its fullness?  I’m a physicist and I can tell you we have no idea what an atom is.  How are you moving countless numbers of them when you move your arm around?  Yet “you” can!  But who is this “you” doing it?  And how come?  And stranger still, this illusory mind we all have likes to take the credit, saying “I” lifted “my” arm.  It’s just another false mental projection.  The mind really has no idea what’s going on.  It sees some complicated happening, just like the ink blots, and it’s like, “Oh, ‘I’ know what’s going on!”  Right, sure you do!  “I” lifted my arm.  Uh huh. I can barely describe electrical currents to my students and yet this thought in my brain likes to say that “I” created bazillions of neural firings in my brain and arm, and conducted this energy down my arm, and contracted the muscles, and all the rest of it.  How?  I don’t even fully understand how it all works, even on a conceptual level.  I don’t know how the brain does what it does, I don’t understand how it’s all wired up, and I barely understand the biology of muscle tissue and how muscles even contract, much less how all the ion channels give rise to neural conduction and all the rest of it.  Yeah, “I” did that.  Give me a break.  That’s impossible.  What an incredible illusion believing that “I” am in control of anything.

So what is this “I”?  The brain seems to generate thoughts, and most of what it is says is stupid nonsense.  Most of what it has to say isn’t much better than radio static.  Some of the stupidest thoughts we have are those which try to tell us who and what we are, and those which attempt to interpret what is happening in this infinite unfoldment we call reality.  Not all the brain’s thoughts are nonsense, but be wary if you ask it anything deep or complicated.  Maybe I’m too hard on the human brain?

Whatever the universe is, I’m the same thing, I think, but maybe not?  Who knows.  But if so, does this make me a machine and my identity unreal?  That would be true IF this universe was a giant machine, just mechanically flowing deterministically one moment to the next, but is it?  I used to believe that to be the case, and maybe you believe it is that way as well, but from all I’ve studied I see no evidence that that’s how things work.  Quantum theory is our most fundamental description of the universe, and it doesn’t describe anything like that.  Also, how come I feel this subjective feeling of being “me”?  Oh, that’s the brain doing all that?  Ok.  Why would electricity flowing in the jelly of my brain give rise to that?  And like I pointed out, we don’t know what matter is, so how can you tell me what this brain even is?  I don’t know.  Consciousness is a complete mystery to science.  How come electrical currents in the brain give rise to me feeling sensations of hearing music, seeing colors on a television screen, or the sweetness of chocolate cake?  I don’t know.  I think I’m a lot more than “I” think I am.  My true identity is beyond my frail human brain’s comprehension.  But as I said earlier, I am more prone to identify with complete ignorance these days than to claim to know anything.  My mind is finite and anything finite trying to wrap itself around something that’s infinite isn’t going to fare well.

Even all my worries about who and what I am, and my ultimate destiny, those fears were just Rorschach projections of a human mind, reflecting on the tiny handful of events that happened to its body.  Strangely, I live far more mindlessly than ever before, thinking less and less, and I’ve never been happier.  I just have reserved my thinking power for issues that are more interesting and worth investing time into.  If I have some goal to work on, I apply my mind toward that, but as for all these worthless mental projections, nah.  I’m done with all that.