In the past, my most powerful toolset for understanding myself was meditation, in silence, carefully observing every thought, emotion, and state of consciousness. Like a scientific instrument, my mind had to be cooled to nearly zero Kelvin, quiet, silent, without any noise, all so I could perceive the most subtle of conscious states without interfering with them. I would just carefully watch and then inquire with questions like, “Who is perceiving these events which are unfolding? Who is experiencing this emotion? This feeling? This bodily sensation? Why is this happening?”
When I performed self-inquiry, I didn’t just perceive events without carefully analyzing and trying to understand them. When I would perceive an emotion, I would carefully watch my own consciousness for what triggers different states of being within the body and the mind. For example, if I was feeling angry, I would ask, “Why is this anger happening? When did it start? What causes it? What triggers it? Does it happen every time such and such happens? How long does it last? What effects does this have on my behavior? My emotional state? Is it beneficial? Is it harmful?” I did similar inquiries into happiness, sadness, what activities I was enjoying, when I was enjoying them, what aspects of the activities I was enjoying and wasn’t enjoying, you get the idea. I carefully watched and questioned everything, as much as I could. I always benefited from such inquiries.
This was extremely powerful, up to a point, but even this had its limits. As you get deep into such inquiries, you come to realize that your entire identity is a mental construct, a bundle of thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations which come and go, changing all of the time, not fundamental at all. But what is it all changing relative to? Memories? It certainly seemed to rely on memory to an extent. Each moment I experienced, when in silence, could be analyzed as a temporary manifestation within consciousness which came and later dissolved back into the void. It wasn’t just thoughts and self-conceptions which were coming and going, it was pretty much everything. The world, the people in it, emotional states, thoughts, pretty much all I’d ever known. The same pattern was always taking place — a temporary manifestation was witnessed within a more fundamental awareness, and later all such events would eventually dissolve. So you keep focusing your attention, looking, searching, inquiring, asking, “Ok, so everything is coming and going. Who is having these experiences? Maybe that is just an idea as well?”
With careful enough attention and inquiry, even the so-called witness dissolves as an idea, a mental construct. The idea that there is a “you” and this “you” is making decisions and controlling this entire display of life is seen as an illusion. Every aspect of this process is witnessed as a temporary manifestation which comes and goes. There is no central point-like witness, nor is this witness “acting” with some imaginary will. All events are happening spontaneously.
This is where language starts to fail me. When speaking of things at a level this fundamental, the more proper phrasing might be, “There is a spontaneous witnessing of events.” They aren’t witnessed by an entity, there is just a spontaneous witnessing. For example, the idea that “I am thinking this thought”, itself is just an idea. First there’s the manifestation of the thought, whatever it may be. Then this thought is followed by another thought which claims ownership of it, claiming “this thought is mine”. Oftentimes they both come simultaneously, from separate parallel mental processes, but I’m breaking it up for illustration purposes. Both are just temporary manifestations. If the thought “this thought is mine” is then believed (the belief being yet another type of mental thing), then you have self-identification. Other people may have a thought which doesn’t jive with them, and then they say, “Why am ‘I’ thinking this? This isn’t like ‘me’.” This is when a person does not self-identify with the thought. This is all illusory, just one process of the mind fighting with another, and even this fight process can be carefully watched and observed. This entire dynamic is the self-identification process I often speak of. That’s all it is, a sort of mental thought process, a process itself which comes and goes relative something more fundamental. This “I” is an illusion, a false idea of ownership which doesn’t actually exist. There’s just the spontaneous manifestation of the various thoughts within awareness, which later dissolve, and the self-identification-ideas are just hollow attachments without any substance. Strangely, if in meditation the mind becomes aware of this false process, it cleans itself up on its own, and this is a primary method into calming the mind.
If you silence the mind and just pay attention, eventually you come to the “container” of consciousness, where all of the flows of thought, emotion, bodily perceptions, and the rest of it all takes place. You feel everything coming and going, but this “container” remains, similar to events happening within space. However, even it being a “container” is just an idea. It’s not a container. It’s formless, shapeless, without qualities. Like I said, I’ve run out of concepts and ideas to explain it with. Many different kinds of events happen within this conscious space, but the space itself remains unchanged. Even all self-concepts are manifestations which come and go from this level. You sort of lock into observing events relative to this unchanging space, and you “watch” events manifest into being, and later dissolve, but this space remains unaffected.
Now you say, ok, I want to know more! The question at this point becomes, “What more is there to know?” What even is knowing when you’re looking at things from such a fundamental state? Any sort of “understanding” in terms of logic and thoughts are mental objects which manifest and dissolve within this fundamental space. When you’re in such a state of silence, “you” watch “your” own attempts to understand this space manifest and dissolve. You think, “Maybe this is what’s happening”, and you watch both that thought, and all the concepts and thoughts involved with it, manifest, display to this conscious awareness, and then later dissolve. Then it’s like, “No, this is more fundamental than that”, but at the very same time you’re watching even that thought manifest and then dissolve. You can’t even think about this “space” without creating ripples in it which themselves are observed! Then you think, “Where are these thoughts coming from?” Same thing. You spontaneously “hear” yourself asking that thought, and conjectures as to what is happening manifest, display for a time in the mind, and then dissolve. This “canvas”, this “container”, it somehow contains all this stuff, and can “display” these things within awareness, but yet it isn’t any individual thing being displayed, all at the same time.
When I was reading the talks of Nisargadatta Maharaj, he captured the problem quite elegantly when responding to a question.
“It is extremely difficult to get at the root of the conscious energy — the perfect adept in the art of assuming an infinite variety of forms. The consciousness to be apprehended and the power of concentration are one and the same. Being polymorphous by nature, it cannot be pinned down to any definite form or name or place.”
Where does that leave us? This state isn’t something you can think about. You can’t analyze it. You try to focus in on something, but that mental focus itself creates ripples which are not what we’re trying to get at. There’s no words to describe it. All of these things are various kinds of objects which themselves are manifested and later dissolve within this fundamental awareness. We’ve hit the root, the Source, the bedrock of experience. There’s nothing beyond it. Nothing more to know, nothing more to say. There is just this container capable of “displaying” an infinite variety of forms, emotions, thoughts, and who knows what else. It’s the end of questions. The end of understanding. From this level, to understand something is to be it. We are all this Source. That’s what all of this is — a big manifestation within this Source. This mind of God if you will.
“Now I do not feel the necessity of meditation any more. For the very nature of meditation is such that it is spontaneous. In its process it gives rise to innumerable forms and names and qualities. How could all these ever be cognised or otherwise recorded? And what have I got to do with it all? Now I am convinced beyond doubt that this meditation of mine is born of God; and the world of things is the product of my meditation only. The cyclic process of origination, sustenance and destruction is the very core of its (of the world) being. Howsoever more I may try to know, the same process must repeat as often! My inquisitiveness has come to an end.”
Now to take things even deeper, even you meditating on all of this, trying to figure it out, all of that is happening spontaneously. As far as I can tell, the search is over. There’s no more questions to ask. Nothing more to know, at least about my fundamental identity. How can I be defined when any definition is just a limiting concept contained within the Absolute? What idea or experience will fully capture this infinite totality? There isn’t any.