Welcome to What Never Changes.
I received an email with a question that I have heard many times in many forms over the years. The question is, Can you help me get beyond this very solid sense that I am this experiencer, the one who is caged in this body, and suffers? I wrote the following reply:
It sounds like you have been very successful on your own with your reading and meditation. And you have reached a point which I also have, and I think that many seekers have, beyond which the road is a little bit hazy. The point I'm talking about is just what you describe – that the experience of being the experiencer can't be shaken, except during meditation and other very still and clear times. In the normal experience of the world, there still seems to be this experiencer, and there still seem to be the ups and downs of life, or suffering. And "caged" is a word I can relate to as well.
I am not sure about the experience of the sages who say the experiencer is left behind. I can imagine there are some, like Ramana, who so disengaged from world activity that he was able to rest and abide in “I Am” all the time. And someone like Nisargadatta, also, since all he did was talk about “I Am” all day long to students. I can see where that kind of life could have one perpetually in a non-experience of a personal self, abiding in consciousness.
But for the rest of us, and that includes current and past teachers who write about their “non-personhood,” I think it’s not so perpetual. For instance, I can write about abiding in consciousness during a very clear time, and although the words are there forever, the experience of that passes. So people come along and read the words and assume I’m like that all the time. This is what we do with all the words of the teachers we read. I am not sure it’s a reasonable way to judge what’s really going on. These writings are not meant to deceive, but it’s just that something that seems permanent when written down is not really permanent in the long run.
My teacher (James Swartz) teaches that it is the knowledge “I am consciousness” that is the freedom. In other words, moksha is not experience, but knowledge. There are problems with that model, I have come to find out. How can I have knowledge without an experience of that knowledge? Knowledge seems to be dependent on experience, so it seems that experience is still the bottom line. Swartz would argue that experience passes but knowledge does not. That just didn’t finally pass my test — there were times of great suffering during which I could not access that knowledge. If I can’t access it, what good is it?
So I think there might be another approach, and that is to fully accept that I am “caged” — limited, confined to a body — and to find the freedom within that limitation, since there seems to be no escape from it. And the good news about this is, we aren’t just the limited one — we are ALSO the infinite, divine, absolute One. We are both. So there is absolute truth to the statement “I Am.” That is always the bedrock. And in “I Am” there is the experience of this person in this world, and that experience does not need to be run away from or denied.
The denial of the experience of the person is exhausting and fruitless. I got really bloody banging up against the rungs of my cage. It is quite painful, as you know. You know you are not really caged, and so the instinct is to deny it. But when we accept that we have a certain aspect of us that is caged — that is living in Maya, in the world — then we can come to love that all for what it is, and what it is is ME! It is all consciousness, after all.
It just doesn’t seem to me that there is any way to be free from the experience of the personal self, and so the goal should instead be to be free within the experience of the personal self, by ceasing to reject anything within that experience that arises. It can all be embraced and welcomed, even the most painful things, and that embracing somehow transforms them. When all is embraced as one, including the experiencer and the experienced, and nothing is rejected, then the true meaning and import of “it’s all one” becomes real and practical.
When suffering of any kind arises, it can be greeted with, “Hello! You are welcome to be here!” We can ask what it is trying to tell us. This is the first step, I think. Any fear, anxiety, worry, anger, sadness, hatred, irritation, physical pain — anything at all — we can welcome it all, as opposed to making an attempt to disavow it. As long-time seekers, we supposedly have some advanced understanding that these limitations cannot possibly exist. And so they are not welcomed – they are rejected and cut off.
But these things are normal parts of being human. Cutting them off is not loving, nor helpful. So my only advice to you at this time would be to try a new way of dealing with your normal human responses to life. Know that you are not just the infinite absolute, but you are also limited and in a form. At the same time! Embrace both. And then it is seen that both the limitlessness and the limitations are indeed still just the same one perfection. We can embrace life, we can embrace and even love the world in all its insanity. How else can life be but insane?
Maybe another teacher would tell you to just keep on trying to abide always in the absolute, and that eventually the experiencer will go away. Many teachers would tell you that is the case. But I don’t think it’s true that the experiencer goes away. And I think you are coming to a point where you don’t think it’s true either.
I found that being right here, as an experiencer, smack dab in the middle of this messy, messed-up world, was going to have to be okay with me somehow. And how it is okay is that I don’t push it away, and I realize that ultimately love is all of it, perfection is all of it. There isn’t anything out of place. It’s all Being, expressing as me, expressing as you, just experiencing embodiment in all these different forms, without any one of these forms having a lack or a need. There is great peace in this acceptance that although my real, true nature is divine, the limited form that experiences being in a body is also “real” in a very true sense. It is real because it is consciousness.*
Perhaps through this acceptance there is an end to suffering. Certainly within the painful experiences that arise, this acceptance is a beautiful and loving way to deal with the suffering, which is in itself helpful.
*The body and experiencer are technically “contents of consciousness.” Are the contents of consciousness still consciousness? I believe that they are. This is a fine philosophical point and I don’t know if it is helpful here, but I think it is an important bit ultimately. Some teachings reject the contents of consciousness as unreal. This is a point that could be argued forever, but I am coming down here on the side of practicality.
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Last updated 5-24-15