If you prefer to watch a video, here is an earlier version of the blog. It's a talk given during one of the online sangha meetings.
Self-inquiry is central to nondual teachings, and as it is presented in nondual Western teachings, this goes back to Ramana Maharshi and his question Who am I that he suggested for self-inquiry.
In my own practice, and also in mentoring and guiding people, I found that actually in the West this is not the best question to use. This may be different in more traditional Asian contexts, but in the more individualistic Western context, there is an almost obsessive concern with our personal identity: who we are, who we are in the world, are we ok, are we not ok.
This is ironic, because self-inquiry is supposed to liberate us from all this self-concern. And it can, but in asking the question, Who am I, all that baggage that’s very personal, emotional and mental, often stands in the way of the question really guiding us. I’m not saying it can’t guide us, because it is a very powerful question. If it calls you, do use it. But if you use it, be aware of what you project onto it.
By contrast, a question that comes with a lot less baggage, and is much more direct, is: What is Here?
This is a much more open question. It’s not about ME and who I am, it just allows us to open to what is here. At various levels: there may be thoughts, there may be emotions, there may be physical sensations.
And there is also this reality that is vast and that is what we’re looking for. And that is also us. But when we’re looking for that, it’s best not to make it a personal thing about who I am.
It's much easier to simply open our awareness from the usual narrow focus on something to a quality that's much less focused, and ultimately totally unfocused, totally spacious. This is where you start tasting awareness: the spaciousness of the awareness that you are. It's an opening to what is, and what is, is this ability to receive everything just as it is. To allow everything to be part of what you're aware of. And then ultimately you can take into this open awareness the very quality of this awareness itself.
So let’s do this together. In this very moment, if you’re listening to my talk, you’re aware of sound, me speaking, aware of seeing me if you’re looking at your screen, and you may be aware of the others on your screen. Or, if you’re reading this blog, you’re aware of the visual impression of the screen, the squiggles of the letters that form words and sentences. You may also be aware of surrounding noises and things you see around you other than the screen. So that’s awareness at different sensory levels.
You may be aware of how you’re feeling emotionally. There may be a positive tone, or a neutral tone. Or there may be a very specific emotion, or a feeling that we usually call more ‘negative’. You can include that in your awareness. You can also notice your thoughts if there are thoughts going through your mind, questions you may have, reactions to what I’m saying.
You can be aware of how you’re feeling energetically: relaxed, tense, vital and thriving or tired and low, speedy or calm.
And then in this very moment, you can also become aware of this ability that is there to be aware. It’s not at all personal. But it is what makes everything possible, and from which everything else arises: sense perceptions, thoughts, feelings, emotions. So in this moment, right now, I invite you to let go of all the objects of your awareness, and turn your awareness back to itself, noticing its quality, tasting it, savoring it. And if you’re more of a heart person and your perception is more one of the heart that includes everything, you can turn your attention back to the essential open, receptive quality of the heart.
So what is here includes this ability to be aware, this open, spacious quality, open spacious being that you are. And that is who YOU are, not in a personal way, but in essence. This is what self-inquiry leads you to if you don’t get stuck in personal projections about ME. AND: you can also go there more directly, by using the question What is Here.