I can remember as a very young child recognizing, "I am," and feeling both enormous wonder and fear. Before that moment my attention (in my memory, at least) was focused solely on survival: mother, breast, food. In that instant, attention was opened to consciousness, expanding beyond my known limits.
As I began to grow up, I attempted to define myself -- this presence of "I" -- through endlessly collecting information. I collected many definitions of who I was from family, teachers and subjects in school, from my religious beliefs, all my social interactions (every "other"), the cultural and social conditioning surrounding me, and much later from various alternative political, social, and spiritual movements. In this natural process of mental awareness inhabiting a body, I discovered a symphonic mandala of sometimes competing, sometimes complementing explanations. The sound and light of this mandala was in itself awesome and often evoked feelings of wonder. And yet somehow I never found a definition of "I am" that could fully reflect and sustain that initial innocent wonder.
When I met my teacher H.W.L Poonja (Papaji) he asked me to first tell the truth about what comes and goes, and second to discover what doesn't come and go. He stopped me in my tracks; in that instant the outward search for a definition of myself was revealed to be the magic that "creates" a mirage. When I told the truth about the nature of everything (appearance, existence, disappearance), I could stop looking for permanence where there was none. I could stop looking for myself in anything whatsoever. In that return of my search to its origin, I overflowed in bliss and self-recognition.
With surprise, I discovered that the essential and undefiled truth of that initial wonder -- the nature of recognizing oneself as being -- was still present. I discovered that while all definitions appeared in the limitless presence of consciousness, and each explanation reflected some aspect of that, none could contain it. Certain unexamined definitions or explanations had the capacity to either cloud my consciousness or attempt to define it, but consciousness remained itself, free of all. In the willingness to stop defining, the wonder of life was freshly, uncontainedly revealed.
When Papaji gave me the assignment to find out what comes and goes, I saw that both good and bad experiences come and go. My experience of my body comes when I wake up in the morning and goes when I drop into sleep at night. Evaluations of my goodness or badness, my intelligence or my stupidity, come and go. In fact, all thoughts come and go. All emotions come and go. All events come and go. My various identities of myself (all my arrangements of definitions of myself), come and go. My definition or explanation of anything comes and goes.
But what doesn't come and go is life. Whether I am aware of it or not, life is here. Even if I have a thought denying life, life is still here. When this particular form has no life left in it, life remains. It was here before this form was made. Life itself doesn't need this particular individual life form for its beingness and presence.
When I turn my attention in the deepest, most intimate way toward discovering what this universal pronoun "I" points to, I discover life -- life in a way that refuses to be limited by any definition and yet is inseparable from any definition, life that is unfragmented regardless of the various experiences of fragmentation, life that is unfazed by a formula defining it as limited to a carbon molecule. Life that is not contained by even the grandest of its names, including God, Self, no-self, truth, emptiness, or even the word life.
How thrilling is this time in history as scientific discoveries align with the oldest of spiritual wisdom! How liberating to hear about the scientific proofs that both time and space -- our linch pins for definitions -- do not truly exist as we have conceived them. Life is continually collapsing our mental constructs and showing itself to be both more ancient, more vast, and more here than can be imagined. The daily newspaper reveals that the universe is bigger than can be imagined and older than all previous estimates.
How thrilling to hear of scientific discoveries that demonstrate what we directly discover in opening our minds to the indefinable yet undeniable presence of life itself. As we recognize ourselves, as we become more and more conscious of ourselves, we discover no separation between life and the wonder of life. In attempting to find "I," who we are is directly realized to be immeasurable and free of locality. Immeasurable yet undeniable.
The parameters of who we are collapse as we examine them, yet the undeniable perception of being remains. As we are unencumbered by our power to name and measure, we realize the unnameable. We directly know ourselves and realize directly "I is." Wonder lives! Who we are is life.
What has appeared in life as a particular form that uses the pronoun I, with particular mind-body experiences, is only present because of life. When the attention of a particular form discovers life it discovers itself. Closer than a name, closer than a gender, bigger than any mood, bigger than any particular experience or explanation of that experience, whether that explanation be scientific or spiritual. Conscious life discovers itself as being.
The result of this discovery is also the discovery of what in Sanskrit is called ananda. We could call ananda joyous love. Joyous love naturally overflows in the recognition of oneself as ever present life. Wonder is freshly in love with itself as life, as beingness conscious of itself.
If you have given your attention to this mystery of yourself, this mystery of life itself, you know that wonder is here. I salute this wonder, I bow to it, and I encourage you to honor it. There are so many ways that we can overlook it in our mental sophistication. There are so many temptations to be entrapped by our capacity to explain or define. Yet at any moment we are free to stop. We are free to simply surrender to what does not come and go. It is here, it is alive, and it is conscious of itself as the limitless treasure of who you are.
This blog post was adapted from a talk given at the Science and Non-Duality Conference, October 2011. Gangaji is the author of Hidden Treasure: Uncovering the Truth in Your Life Story, published by Tacher/Penguin. In this life-changing book, Gangaji uses the telling of her own life story to help readers uncover the truth in their own. Publisher's Weekly said, "This gently flowing but often disarming volume invites readers to examine the narratives that shape them, and is a call to pass beyond personal stories to find a deeper, more universal self."
Gangaji will be offering a silent retreat in May at Fallen Leaf Lake in South Lake Tahoe, Calif. Visit www.gangaji.org for more information about Gangaji and her upcoming events, including the monthly Webcast, With Gangaji, which is currently undergoing an in-depth study of Hidden Treasure.
For more by Gangaji, click here.
For more on consciousness, click here.