Spirituality Zen

Who are you?

“They were looking for something, even though many had stopped looking. They were wishing for something even though many had stopped wishing. They were tired. That’s what it was. They were bone-weary tired. Tired of living. I would never have imagined that to be true – that all of the people who came to the Dreaming Room had all but given up. Even though their lives were chockfull of doing whatever they were up to, they were resigned to never truly figuring life out, business out, themselves out. “Who am I?” was a question they had all long ago stopped asking in favour of “What’s next?””

Michael E Gerber, Awakening the Entrepreneur Within

Stop and focus.

What is it you want for your life?

A field of possessions?

A star-studded career?

A life where money is no object (even though you may not have worked out how it will happen)?

I’ve written gobs and gobs about my experience of work, social media and our always on culture. But I’ve also written about self-enquiry, coming through my reading of The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, Who Am I? by Sri Ramana Maharshi and, most especially, my mentoring by Ando Perez.

For me, up to this point my focus and, therefore, my time and energy was invested in the accretion of more.

But, it was hopeless.

It was hopeless because all it did was fuel my ego to believe that my life would be complete when I had achieved some noteworthy goal. Worse still, it distracted me from finding out what was important; namely who am I? (And I don’t mean in some contrived, list-making sense, but rather to understand my fundamental beingness.)

You see the ego loves to have something to focus on. If it doesn’t, it will create something. Of course, for many people that’s how they’re conditioned to react, particularly to silence, emptiness or non-doing (“I’m bored” – yes but who is the ‘I’ that’s bored?).

If our focus should be anywhere (and nowhere) it should, surely, be in figuring out who it is that notices the internal voice inside of us all (pretty obscure stuff I know).

Q. When you get right down to it who is it that perceives?

None of this is easy. Even to ask the question runs against the tide, particularly when the media, politics and culture is about enveloping ourselves with things, experiences and a job. Not that any of those things are inherently wrong (it’s all in the purpose) but when they corrupt the insight to understand who we are or what we are, you have to question if they’re nothing but a faux crutch.

For some of you, reading these words you will think I’ve lost the plot. And I wouldn’t disagree on one level (“shut up ego…!”). For most of my adult life, I’ve focused my energy on getting some place. I thought the name of the game was to control my thoughts to engineer success. Never once did I question the motive. It was as if I was on auto-pilot. But, having received a severe whack to the side of the head and reading a book on Zen Buddhism, it dawned on me that I had never stopped to ask anything fundamental about my existence. In particular, reading the Heart Sutra (the most widely known lines are ‘form is emptiness and emptiness is form’), I was destined to pursue self-enquiry.

Why am I telling you all this?

In truth, I don’t know. It’s not something that I’ve shared much with my family (my kids already think I’ve undergone some mid-life crisis – as if!) or my friends, but I feel it important to set in context the fact that I no longer have this insatiable drive to be or to get something. That’s not to say that my life is bland or unimportant. It just means that my focus is an unfocus now. It’s important to say that part of me is scared to death that if I turn my energies to one thing to the exclusion of everything else that once again I will lose sight of my natural state of happiness. You see, once you start down a road laden with personal dreams you are doomed to disappointment. Even if I’m wrong, the moment you think you’ve arrived you’re on to the next thing, and the next. And that’s no fun at all.

In undoing all my past conditioning, it feels sometimes like I’m in a deadly duel with an unknown force like the Id from the film The Forbidden Planet. You know the sort of force that can’t be seen, smelt or felt but you know it exists (“yes, you fool, it’s in your mind…!”). It takes all my will-power to stop myself from falling down a black, narcissistic hole. And, I’ll be honest, there have been times where I’ve questioned my very sanity. But, as I’ve also said, I’ve no choice.

You’ll know too that I’ve written and spoken a lot about my creative self-expression. I may be wrong but for me it seems to sit right alongside my self-enquiry. In the moment when I’m at my creative best, my mind turns off and I really have that sense of no mind. Some would say that this is mere escapism but, trust me, when you’re trying to face down your insecurities as an artist it’s anything but that.

I don’t know what the future holds for me or my family. Part of me, a big part of me, wants to go a lot deeper. I’ve jokingly remarked (much like millions I suspect) that I want to go off in my not-yet-acquired VW camper and explore without a map, plan or any sense of achievement. You know, just to see where the winds takes us (I know it sounds very 1960s, but then I was born in 1967). I know right now that that’s unrealistic but I want to pull myself further out of the system and see what lies out there in the spiritual world. We’ll see.

I suppose if I have a message for you, it’s this. I’ve no doubt that you will be attracted to fuelling your ambition but ultimately the sacrifice isn’t worth it if you’re not happy. The sooner you accept that happiness is not something to be acquired or achieved but is our natural state – yes I know that’s hard to believe – the easier it is to let go of all those dreams, goals and aspirations that never quite feel yours.

Of course, it would be easy for me to tell you to read or study something but there’s a risk that that just pulls you further down another rabbit hole. Instead, you would be better off in contemplating who you are. If you’re willing to suspend your cynicism and proceed on a journey of self-enquiry, I know it will have a profound impact on your life.

Focus. It’s great when we need it, but don’t let it steak your attention to the point that you stop questioning who you are.