The challenge of a human life is to live truly free. When you realize that you are not your name, you are not any function, you are not your gender, and in truth you are not anything you can think yourself to be, you recognize the spaciousness of who you truly are. You recognize this spacious consciousness to be already free, regardless of any thought that may appear in consciousness. I am — beingness — is primary spaciousness in form. In our human form I think follows being. To discover that by stopping thinking (while remaining conscious) for only a moment is to discover yourself independent of any thought of yourself.
Thinking is natural to human creatures. Thinking is wondrous and not the problem. The problem is the conviction that who we are is who we think we are. As long as we are attached to the belief that I am who I think I am, we are attached to something that is ephemeral and subject to change, that we can actually forget. If you are willing to not think yourself, who are you? What is left when you don’t believe the thought of who you are? What if you take this moment and actually not know who you are?
In not knowing, just for a moment, you can directly discover yourself. This discovery does not arrive by thought, but by your own immediate direct experience. What is here, before every thought, after every thought and during every thought?
That fresh aliveness — that consciousness — is already here, although it may be veiled by many layers of identification with thought. Consciousness can discover itself and know itself, without needing to think itself. Then false identity is cut, and you recognize yourself to be free.
The cognitive power to create identities is important. It is the way we make sense of reality as human beings. We collect identities based on the narratives we construct around our inward and outward experiences. These collections of identities form our story of who we think we are. Stories are wonderful. But in firm allegiance to our story we lose sight of spacious open mind, uncreated by any story.
By the time I met my teacher I had a well-developed story. I was an acupuncturist and a feminist. I thought of myself as an enlightened person who could see what was true and what was real. Underneath this story of success I hadn’t found the lasting happiness I was really seeking. And so my story continued to be a story seeking an identity that would give me permanent happiness. I was seeking a happy identity through different versions (stories) of myself.
In the willingness to consciously recognize my story and stop telling it for a moment of deep contemplation, I could see that this life force, this wonder of life, the simple joy of being that was present when I was a young child, was still present! It was available for discovery because it is always here. It is the silent core that all stories radiate from.
How can you make that same discovery? First there must be a willingness to overhear the ongoing narrative that defines you. We are aware of the end result of our narratives: I am a happy person, or I am a sad person; I am a success, or I am a failure. But often we are unaware that daily, hourly, we generate and live our own narrative. The narrative may seem simply like a commentary on reality. But actually it is an interpretation of reality, a version of reality. Without making that narrative right or wrong, we can discover what is closer than the narrative.
Before we are storytellers or thinkers we are conscious beings. We are aware that I am. And that awareness is underneath all stories.
In the discovery that life is aware of itself as consciousness, you are naked to yourself, not fooled by the cloaking devices of your narrative. You recognize the truth of yourself. Then, if it is appropriate that you act a certain way, or you repress or express a certain emotion, that is the play of life. You are not fooling yourself. In truth, you are naked, awake consciousness. You are. I am.
Gangaji’s newest book, Hidden Treasure: Uncovering the Truth in Your Life Story, was published by Penguin Tarcher in 2011, and is now available in paperback. Gangaji has been awarded the 2012 Best in Print Award for Auto/Biographical Writing by COVR (the Coalition of Visionary Resources).
Gangaji’s new radio show, A Conversation with Gangaji, was launched on Oct. 12. Each month, for 30 minutes, Gangaji and radio show host Hillary Larson will address subjects like addiction, chronic pain, intimacy, depression, anxiety, enlightenment, integrity, death and many others, offering the possibility to listeners across the globe to find freedom in their everyday challenges, and live free and fulfilled lives.