The sense of “I AM,” what is it? How do I experience this sense? Now this is a very common question that I get quite frequently in my emails. There is one answer: I AM is the substratum, so it is never that you’re not in the I AM, you’re always there (or here). But that doesn’t satisfy our intellectual curiosity because we feel that we need something more to reach “there.”
In that context, I would introduce the duality into the picture and say that when you identify with your thoughts, feelings, sensations, and emotions, you flow from Stillness, which is the I AM, and you move in horizontal time as “I am this, I am that, I do this, I do that, I did this, I did that,” and so on.
The whole circle of life with alternating pain and pleasure takes place when we get caught up in life. We get identified with emotions, sensations, beliefs, and ideas and this whole structure keeps on repeating endlessly. We have built these very powerful egoic structures that we are unwilling to seriously examine.
We reaffirm the same things (that we are the feelings and sensations) over and over again, “I am this, I did that, I should not have done this, I should not have done that, what if this happens, what if that happens,” and so on. The I AM is free from all such conceptualizations.
Ramesh Balsekar called I AM the vertical thought. What does vertical thought mean? A thought that does not flow in horizontal time as, “I am the feeling, I am feeling this, I am feeling that, I am experiencing this sensation, I am experiencing that sensation,” and so on.
It is just I AM. Nisargadatta Maharaj would say, stay with the I AM and you will know. What we do is that we try to forcefully stay still. The problem with that approach is that when you force yourself to stay still, you teach the mind to be still for some time and the mind learns the trick. The mind knows what game you are playing because you and your mind are one.
So the mind says okay. See that the duality has already been created because there is one part of you that wants to stay in the I AM and then there is another part of you that is trying to work out how to do that. You say okay let me stay still for some time. You sit somewhere quietly. You forcefully try to focus but it is not about focusing because the moment “you” focus, the dualistic split is created and there is a subject focusing on an object.
Slowly as you ease into it there comes a point where you drop all effort and then what you experience is pure Stillness, which is the vertical thought I AM. In that state, you don’t experience yourself as the person, there is no person in the I AM because I AM alone is you. Just “be” in the now. In the pure “being” there’s nothing else.
There is no conceptualization of any kind in the I AM. I say the best way to have that experience is to simply relax. When I say relax what I mean is to be completely with yourself, the way you are, don’t try to change anything, don’t try to force anything, don’t try to “do” anything, but simply Be The Way You Are.
It is a big challenge to be like that because we are so conditioned to effort. We are so conditioned to respond to certain things, situations, and stimuli that we cannot help but react. When I say react I’m not talking about the kind of reaction that we have with another person because of a situation but reaction to a thought.
Say a sexual thought comes up and immediately there is a reaction that I want to feel this more or it could be that I don’t want to feel this anymore. That it is dirty or whatever way we are conditioned to see it. What happens when you allow things to be the way they are?
Slowly the Stillness of pure presence grows. It grows and it takes over everything and the best part of it is that that presence stays with you even while you do random work. Even during heightened emotions like anger, restlessness, and anxiety, the presence stays.
You’re always mindful of what is going on because now your identification as the person is not as strong as it used to be. There is still an identification with the person or the individual but because of the presence that identification is now weakened.
In that, there is generally no involvement in what is happening externally, so even during heightened emotional moments like anxiety and anger, you can see all of it playing out as a detached and unaffected observer, you can see that it is happening, not happening to me, but simply a happening. That is the Witness!
The witness does not discriminate. It is very difficult to explain this state to someone who has not had this awareness because we get so identified with the images and with the sense of separateness that it is difficult for us to have this clear seeing of things. Witness is the direct vision which is the key to the final understanding. That is why Ramana Maharishi said, stay with the “I” thought, and eventually it will merge back into the Source of pure consciousness.
I say to experience the sense of “I AM” just relax. Just be with yourself the way you are without trying to change anything. See what’s going on and there will be moments when you will be tempted to change things to divert attention from one thing to another. You know, it’s very easy to pick up the phone or go on social media or switch on the television but all that is a diversion from now or the present moment.
Again, don’t force yourself to sit with your thoughts all the time because that is also a trick of the ego mind. The vigilant mind is trying to attain something by using itself as the means. What the Mind does not know is that it itself is the biggest roadblock to its liberation. Isn’t it such a paradox that the mind is the only key we have and yet it is the greatest obstacle?
To experience pure awareness, you have to use the mind. To go beyond there is no bypassing the mind and that is why the scriptures say that to know the Maya (illusion) you have to go through it. You need the mind to know the mind.