When you were dreaming last night, the dream you were in seemed real. The sights, sounds, and smells were recognizable, as were the people. However, when you woke up this morning, you thought back and said, “It was a dream, it wasn’t real!” The great enlightened teachers who have walked this path before us, tell us that one day we will wake up from this dream we call life and realize it wasn’t real.
The dreams you have at night are predominately the result of the release of mental and emotional stress, with the occasional prophetic dream slipped in. Just the same, this dream that we call life, is the result of past actions or karma, being processed through our memories and desires. In Eastern traditions, the journey of the soul, through numerous lifetimes, is to release itself of all karma to attain the state known as moksha, the freedom of self-realization.
Meeting My True Self
I first learned to meditate in England in the early 1970s. I had been living in London when my job moved me to a small town on the East Coast. It was winter, I didn’t know anyone there, and was looking in the local newspaper for something to do when I came across an advertisement for a course in meditation. It sounded interesting, I’d heard a little about meditation, the Beatles had gone to India. Then this great reason to attend the course popped into my head, “Maybe I’ll meet some girls on this course.” I took the course and it completely changed my life. I became a meditation teacher and have taught and practiced meditation ever since. I didn’t meet any girls on the course, at least not in the way I had hoped. However, I did meet someone who became my best friend and the most important person in my life. That person was, of course, me.
This is the great gift of meditation, to re-introduce us to our true selves. That person who has always been with us, hidden away inside. The one who knows all the right answers and makes only the right choices. But it doesn’t happen instantaneously the first time we meditate. It’s a gradual unfolding; I continue to discover and enjoy new aspects of my essential self daily.
The good news is that our true self is always, and has always, been with us. The bad news is that we’ve forgotten him or her. Our journey of spiritual awakening is to wake up to who we really are: an ageless, timeless, eternal, and immortal being.
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Why do we forget ourselves? We get distracted by everything around us. This happens every day. Think back to yesterday. When you woke up, you had a mental list of all the things you were going to do during the day. How many were accomplished and how many were sidetracked or forgotten completely because you became distracted by other things? This has been happening all our lives or, in the Eastern traditions for thousands of lifetimes.
Our real Self has been covered over by layers upon layers of mental conditioning, through which we each create our own distorted picture of reality. Just as in last night’s dream, we projected our own unreality. The writer George Bernard Shaw referred to Earth as the lunatic asylum of the universe. Looking around at today’s world, it’s easy to believe him. We are all suffering from a kind of spiritual dementia and living in a spiritual rehab center. The great thing about this specific type of spiritual dementia, though, is that it’s fully curable.
You or Your Ego?
Much of the time, most of us live in the world and are totally of the world. Our lives are a vast collection of stories, which we regularly create and update from our memories and desires. Probably the most common words in any language are “I am.” Whatever follows “I am” is one of our stories. It’s not who we really are. For example, let’s say I ask a man to tell me about himself. He says, “I’m Fred, I live in New York. I have a two-bedroom apartment. I have $50,000.00 in the bank and a Labrador.”
But none of that is who he really is. These are all just stories created by his ego, and that come and go. He learns to meditate and six months later, he’s changed his name to Swami Lovechild, given all his money to charity, is living in a cabin in the mountains, and his dog ran away in disgust. Our stories are constantly changing as are the stories of the world around us, which is why life can be so confusing. We don’t know what to believe. Everything changes, except your True Self, which is the one unchanging constant. The only thing you can rely on in the midst of change, chaos, and confusion is your Real Self.
Exercise: Drop Your Stories
Here’s an exercise to help you drop the stories.
The stories we are most attached to are our names. Your surname is your family dramas and all the history that goes with it. Race, religion, ancestors—it’s your lineage. Your first name is the stories you’ve created around yourself, and nowadays, the stories you have adopted from social media.
- Sit comfortably and close your eyes.
- Begin silently repeating “I am” followed by your first and last names.
- Continue for about 30 seconds.
- Now drop the last name, dropping all the family stories, just repeating “I am” and your first name.
- Do this for another 30 seconds.
- Now drop the name completely, drop all the personal stories, and repeat “I am.”
- When we drop all the stories, all that remains is I.
It’s good to do this exercise before your meditation period. It clears the way for inner silence, but you could also do it at any other convenient time. In general, try to be careful what you say after “I am.” Whatever follows is the life you are creating for yourself. See if you can get in the habit of saying things like “I am happy. I am peaceful. I am content.”
Beyond Your Stories
Meditation takes us on an inward journey beyond all the stories and falsely created concepts of life. It’s the tool to help us begin peeling off the layers, under which our True Self has been hiding. As the layers go, who we really are, begins to shine through into our everyday life. On a cloudy day, we can’t see the sun; if every day was cloudy, we’d forget what the sun looked like. But, as the clouds begin to disperse, the sunlight begins to break through, and we start to feel its warmth. As our spiritual practices remove the layers of confusion, we begin to see the truth of life. It’s quite simple when we know where to look. As the Sufi poet, Rumi said, “I have lived on the lip of insanity, searching for reason, I was knocking at the door, the door opens, I was knocking from the inside.”
As we’ve learned, our journey is one of spiritual awakening. Waking up to Higher Consciousness, or the state of consciousness that is our birthright to enjoy every day. Stepping out of time-bound awareness into the timeless, breaking free from our self-imposed boundaries, and into unlimited freedom.
Being born into a human body is rather like taking a role in a play. Unfortunately, we’ve so identified with our role that we’ve forgotten that it’s all just a play. Waking up to Higher Consciousness means that we are still in the play, but we remember that we are the role-player and not the role. Or, as the great enlightened sages say, “We are in the world but not of the world.” Now we can enjoy all the good scenes, the bad scenes, and all the melodramas without being overwhelmed by them. We become the witness of all of these. We realize that how we react to anything is a choice. We enjoy the pleasures of life without being attached to them, which breaks our conditioning to cling to pain.
As the Buddhist teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh told us, “It is not impermanence that makes us suffer. What makes us suffer is wanting things to be permanent when they are not.” When we live in the world but are not of the world, we still see the challenges and suffering of others. Now, however, instead of being engulfed by the challenges and suffering, we have the ability to look beyond them and recognize the opportunities that lie ahead. By rediscovering ourselves, we can change the world.
The roles, jobs, relationships, and bank balances all have their scenes—their moments in the limelight and then make their exits. One day the play will be over but the immortal you will have new and exciting roles enjoy—the Veda Lila, the eternal play of life. Enjoy being in the world without being of it.