The End Of Self-Inquiry

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.

Unaffected By Stories

The deeper I go down this road of meditation, the less affected I am by stories.  The more my peace and happiness comes from within, so to speak, and the more my contentment comes from the ‘I am’ presence, which never changes, the less I’m inclined to pursue or even worry about many of the things I see others caught up in.  There are many states of conscious which human life is filled with, but I find them all inferior to the peace and inner happiness of inner silence.

I never was all that into movies, even when I was young, but now I’m hardly interested in them at all.  Take the other day.  I loaded up Netflix and decided to watch the first Rocky movie again.  I remember seeing it as a kid and it brought back some childhood memories.  Many feel it’s the best of the series.  For those who haven’t seen it, Rocky is a “nobody”, working as a loan shark collector, spending his spare time in the gym training as a boxer.  By some auspicious circumstances, he gets a chance to fight Apollo Creed, the heavyweight champion of the world.  This is his big shot, his chance to prove to the world that he’s got what it takes, his chance to leave a life of poverty and become “something”.  He trains hard, goes the distance with the champ (he doesn’t get knocked out), and the movie ends with Rocky standing strong at the end of fifteen rounds, toe to toe with the champ, face beaten to a pulp, screaming, “I did it Adrian!”, and his wife Adrian running to his side yelling “I love you.”

As I watched the movie, all I wanted to do is sit with Rocky and ask him, are you really nobody, or is this just an idea you entertain in your mind?  And where did this idea come from?  Why do you entertain it?  Will becoming the champion really change anything, other than how you perceive yourself in your own mind?  He felt he needed to prove himself, but to who?  His wife Adrian didn’t care.  She would love him anyway.  The ordinary folks of Philadelphia, where Rocky is from, outside of wanting an entertaining fight to help them escape from their day to day lives, they’re not thinking about Rocky, at least not regularly.  When you spend time meditating, and become aware of why you’re doing what you’re doing, it all seems ridiculous.

Ramana Maharshi taught me that happiness and peace are our nature.  That’s what we are at our core if our mind is silent, but when we get caught up in these false self identities, that peace and happiness is masked over.  Rocky is self-identifying with being “nobody”, so now his peace is snapped away from him.  Standing toe to toe with the champ wasn’t what made Rocky happy at the end of the movie.  His real nature is peace.  When he finally got a chance to prove himself, to himself, all that happened was that he was temporarily relieved from the torment that his own mind was putting him through.   When his mind was satisfied with this false idea he had of himself, this idea that he’s tough, and could go the distance,  and had what it takes, then his mind finally subsided, and he felt his inner nature shine through again.  But was all that necessary?  He could feel that peace all the time if he just gave up the idea that he is a nobody.  Give up all these illusory self conceptions.  They’re not real.  You don’t have to fight the champ, beat yourself up, worry your wife that you’ll be permanently injured for the rest of you life, or anything like that.  You see how this works?  You believe that you’re nobody, and now you have to overcome this idea that you inflicted on yourself.

When I look around me, almost everyone I see is filled with these illusory self-conceptions.  It causes so much misery in the world, to themselves and to others.

Let’s keep talking about movies.  Consider romance movies.  You’ll see some man or woman trying to impress someone they’re interested in, all because they believe happiness comes from this romance and love.  So much energy is spent searching for something we all already have.  This entire dynamic is also all in the mind.  You believe that you’re lonely, you believe that you need companionship, that you need all these things from other people, etc.,  and you make it true.  But there is no such thing as loneliness.  It’s an imagined construct, and what misery you feel from it is self-inflicted.  You believe that this person or that will make you happy, and then you become upset when you’re not loved in return.  You struggle with feelings of inadequacy, thinking you’re not good enough, that you’re boring, unlovable, etc.

But assuming you find love, happiness does not come from the other person, it comes from within.  Silence the mind and you’ll be comfortable no matter who you’re around, and you won’t be pulled around by all these desires any longer.  You won’t need anyone’s presence to feel at home, or happy, etc., but if you’re with someone you love (you’ll begin to love everyone equally), go ahead, love them, it’ll be easier to do than ever before.  There will be so much new-found space within you, once that self-conception dies, you’ll be ready to give and love like never before.  What will leave you is burden of all the things you always thought you needed to be happy.  You don’t need someone to praise you everyday, telling you how wonderful you are.  You don’t need someone to tell you that you’re beautiful.  You don’t need someone to sit with you at night to keep you company, or someone to listen to your problems, or someone to spend your days with.  If someone is there, that’s fine, but none of it is required to be fulfilled and content with your life.

But people don’t believe that.  They get jealous and angry when someone leaves them, or disappoints them, or lets them down.  They feel they can’t enjoy the things they formerly enjoyed unless this other person is present.  First they believe that this or that is necessary for their happiness, and then when that something, whatever it may be, is taken away, that’s when they get resentful.  “I need you to be happy and you left me!”  “I can’t do this without you”, “I can’t enjoy this without you”.  Or worse, the other person dies, and then this anger and resentment is then passed onto whatever power they feel governs the universe.  They carry these imagined infractions along with them in memory, conjuring up misery in their own minds.  They drag it all with them, and for what?

However, the illusions of the mind can take you in the other direction as well, feeling others are stealing your joy and must cease to exist in order for you to happy.  They’re ruining everything.  If only they weren’t here!  Enter the world of special cliques, pride, and snobbish behavior.  Nobody else is good enough for this imagined “you”.  Or maybe you’re religious or spiritual and view these others as “impure”, “sinners”, something to be avoided.  Or you go on the dating scene and nobody makes the cut, they’re all a bore, nobody is worthy of your presence!  You’re not happy in any job or situation.  You’re better than the job you’re in, they’re lucky you tolerate them!  The mind now has to spend a great amount of energy to find ways to avoid those unworthy of your presence.  That’s when you’ve lost touch with your true nature within.  Only pain can bring you home.

Ultimately memory is the source of fear and desire.  A person remembers something painful or pleasurable, and then they self-identify with a thought stream and project these memories out into the future.  The original source of joy came unasked for, unplanned, a gift from the universe.  You were just living life, exploring, and came across something or someone, and you had a good time.  But then people make a mistake.  They come to believe this or that is the source of their joy, but it’s not.  These beliefs soon become a prison of their own making. They believe this person, this situation, this type of activity is necessary for their happiness, etc.  Life just isn’t worth experiencing if these things aren’t present.  For example, they believe this career path is required to experience happiness at work, this or that possession must be present in order for them to feel at home, this friend must be with them in order to enjoy this or that activity, etc.  Now life becomes harder and harder because the mind has to juggle all these often conflicting desires, needs, and wants.  This inner strife becomes draining and painful.  The mind becomes very busy, filled with chaotic thoughts, consumed with protecting all of these imagined fountains of joy, trying to keep things as they were and have been, or attempting to create things they imagine will make them happy.  Also, as each one of these fountains dries up or is destroyed, the mind is filled with pain and sorrow.  I NEED this, I NEED that, I’ll do ANYTHING to feel happy, loved, and content!  But everything in this world comes and goes, mainly because the universe is ready to share something new with you.  But instead of letting the flow continue, you get in your own way.  The universe gave you joys unasked for and unplanned initially, why can it not do so again?  Have faith.

I suppose I could elaborate a little on these mental prisons.  Say you believe you need a big, beautiful home in order to enjoy life.  This is how mental prisons are constructed.  Consider what happens when you can no longer afford the beautiful home?  Or what if you’re stuck doing work you hate in order to afford the big home?  Or what if your partner leaves you and you cannot afford the home on your own?  Or maybe you married someone you didn’t love because they had money and could provide these things you felt you needed to be happy?  Now you’re doubting whether you made the right decision.  You’ve created conflicts within yourself and your mind spends all this effort and energy juggling and prioritizing these supposed needs and desires.  You hate your partner for leaving you because they stole your home, the source of your joy, but you don’t want to be a hateful person because this doesn’t align with your value system.  So now these mental conflicts are building up.  You’ve told yourself you have these imagined dreams, but you’re not doing anything toward making them reality, and those very thoughts make you  hate your current job (which is stealing your time), but you want to be positive and give others joy (isn’t that also your dream?), but you don’t feel you’re doing that so you’re disappointed with yourself.  These illusions just go on and on on and on.  Then you think, oh, why am I stuck working in a job I hate in order to have the things I need to be happy!  Woe is me!  Life is so unfair!  If only I were rich, like the celebrities and superstars!   You then create imagined compromises, the supposed work/life balance.  You’re jealous over what others have.  Angry about how this or that turned out.  You regret decisions that you’ve made, wondering if some other path could’ve brought certain advantages, joys, and other forms of abundance into your life.  None of it is real.  Inner silence will give you what you’re after, and you can live a lot more simply.

This video from Mooji really resonates with me.  He reflects on all of these sorts of things, these elements of our stories, and he tells us, “It’s nothing, nothing, nothing.” It’s the same conclusion I’ve came to.  He continues to pass on the teachings of Ramana Maharshi.  I believe he helps a lot of people.

Everywhere I look, people are searching for some form of acknowledgment from others, seeking accomplishments, or hoping someone will notice them, accept them, praise them, think they’re wonderful, find them interesting, let them be the source of all joy.  This sort of needy behavior creates so much misery in the world.  It’s all rooted in confusions of the mind.  You don’t need any of it.  But you hear people all the time, complaining, how come “I” didn’t get the little plaque on the wall, saying I’m the most valuable employee!  How come “I” am not desired, while all these other inferior people get the things that I want!  How come “I” wasn’t addressed with the proper honorifics?!  Don’t you know how hard I worked to get where I am?  Praise me, respect me, honor me!  Me, me, me!  I hear all this and think, “It’s nothing, nothing, nothing.”

This is why I don’t listen to music much anymore.  Every song is filled with this silliness.  I was in the gym the other day and heard this song, “Look mom, I made it!”  Now my peers acknowledge me (not much different from Rocky).  Look at me, I have all the girls, all the money, I’m successful!  Woohoo, look at me!  What, you’re not looking?  WHY AREN’T YOU LOOKING AND ADMIRING ME!  Then you come to the next song, so and so left me, she’ll regret it!  Half of the song is filled with subtle forms of revenge.  Then the next song, oh she loves me, how happy I am now that she’s with me.  Once again, nothing, nothing, nothing.  I just hope they one day realize they’re creating prisons for themselves, locking away their own happiness, happiness which is with them right here, right now.

I was trying to communicate all of this to a person who left a comment on my blog the other day.  If you meditate and give up all of these illusory self-conceptions, these projections, etc.,  realizing that that they aren’t necessary for happiness, all of the mental noise associated with it goes away.  Your life becomes more simplistic on its own.  Your mind becomes quiet on its own, simply by realizing this.  You just have to become aware that happiness isn’t in any of these things.  You just have to see this inner nature within, feel it, experience it.  Feel the unconditional joy, the unconditional peace.  Know it, firsthand.  That’s all that’s needed, the rest happens on its own.  The anger, the regrets, the constant plotting and scheming to make affairs how you believe they should be, it all just goes away.  This takes with it 95% of the suffering people go through in this life.  It took away practically all suffering I knew of.  Almost all suffering is emotional in nature.  Most of us have plenty to eat, we have a roof over our heads, and we’re able to get by.  The rest of our struggles are imagined, and there’s no end to those.  Seek silence.  In that new found silence, you’ll find a simple joy that’s unconditional.  You’ll see things you never used to see before, you’ll be open to the new things life wants to give you, instead of being caught up in what was before.

This same person asked if I have any motivation to do much of anything anymore.  Do I just sit, idle, doing nothing?  Would I ever exert effort to achieve something whenever I have this unconditional peace within?  Mooji answers this question in the following video.

In my case, I continue to pursue physics, but I spend my time pursuing the physics topics I enjoy for their own sake.  I research the things that truly interest me.  I do not seek awards, recognition, or other ego traps.  There was a career path others were trying to push me down, wanting me to crank out papers that meant nothing to me, doing “respectable” research, and all of that sort of thing, but I just hopped off the train because there was no point to it.  There was a purification within me.  There’s a more authentic expression within, done without aspiring, without chasing, without needing a particular result, finding, or way things should be.  I also don’t consider myself a physicist.  It’s like Mooji says, if a king spends an afternoon in the garden, does that make him a gardener?  No.  In the same way, I’m not a physicist.  I’m not a scientist.  I’m beyond labels.  I’d also be fine doing any other kind of work.  Just the other day I helped a friend frame his house.  I found it really interesting, then I was reading up on carpentry and construction, and watching Youtube videos on home renovation.  But wait, I’m a physicist, I’m not supposed to do work like that.  Who says?  A newfound joy came unasked, unplanned, so I go down that road and explore it.  I’m free of stories.