According to Eckhart Tolle, when someone says he doesn’t know who he is, Tolle offers his congratulations, because the “person” is no longer identified with his own ego, or an illusory sense of self.
In fact, Tolle suggests that in meditation, a good mantra as you watch your thoughts float by, is to ask yourself “Who am I?” and go deeper, beyond your thoughts, to try to locate who or what is watching.
Or, for that matter, where in the body are “You.” Can you single out a location—as you sense something in your leg, are you your brain?
I discovered that abruptly confronting these ideas, and dropping the personality, without help or unexpectedly, can be a shock to the system.
During the summer of 2008, I had to drop my tech writing identity as Professor PowerPoint when my “career identity” began to evaporate, broke away from an identity as my girlfriend’s boyfriend/protector (emulating my father), and stopped seeing myself as a secure individual who worked and had savings, and essentially as someone who thought he knew what he was “doing.” As none of these identities or roles seemed to work, it isolated me more and more from the people with whom I’d been connected within these roles.
Looking back, I think that like a snake, I was shedding these roles, which were no longer comfortable for me, and it scared me to death.
Who was I?
I tested out some other identities; I took a trip to Kauai and found that, “wherever I went, there ‘I’ was”… Although the surroundings were beautiful and again comforting, and I stayed with wonderful friends, I felt alone, and isolated.
So what was happening? I sought out therapy and discovered the depth of the various layers of my personality, and in many cases their roots.
Another way to look at this can be clarified by thinking in terms of The Four Agreements written by don Miguel Ruiz. These four concepts of correct living are based on ancient Toltec wisdom—an Indian tribe from what is now Guatemala and Southern Mexico who preserved their wisdom mainly through an oral tradition.
Ruiz’s Four “Agreements” are:
1. Be Impeccable With Your Word
Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.
2. Don’t Take Anything Personally
Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.
3. Don’t Make Assumptions
Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.
4. Always Do Your Best
Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse and regret.
All four of these are very valuable tenets, but obviously the one I focus on here is No. 2 – Don’t Take Anything Personally
Clearly, this is another way of saying don’t identify with any of the roles that you have been comfortable playing; don’t identify with your ego; your personality is a false self…
And also, don’t believe your thoughts when they try to lead you astray—into reaction and judgment.
The problem is—can you live like that? I discovered that I couldn’t.
An intense period of self-observation began with a process of watching myself and my reactions to people and situations as though I was in a laboratory, watching what made me scared and occasionally what made me feel comfortable or even happy.
This resonates with what Michael Jeffreys later suggested as “becoming the Scientist in your life, as opposed to the victim;” it was a revelation to me when I confronted the fact that the identity of victim was just as appealing to the ego as any of my other roles.
One immediate benefit of this attitude is that it suspends judgment.
And it lets you see clearly how you are operating.
It took a long time but I could clearly identify prejudices toward negativity that were not shared by others—and I connected those with “agreements” I made with my parents—not to accept the world as a safe or loving place and basically to suffer, because of what happened to them.
Again, Eckhart Tolle refers to this in some ways as one’s “pain body,” but more to the point he suggests strongly that if we observe ourselves with sincerity we can see a layer of negativity that underlies our perception of the world, and he says that “the world will always give us what we want” – in this case, pain.
After a period of self-observation and surrender, I saw myself clearly as having chosen negativity. I had one incident where I received two pieces of mail, and in both cases I felt a sense of dread, and actually anticipated bad news before I opened either envelope. I noticed those feelings arise and gasped.
And then? Neither letter met my expectations; AT&T had actually lowered my phone bill, and some other benefit payments were not suspended as I had feared.
For 62 years, I had functioned within this operating system of fear and negativity.
What could I do to change?
I had read hundreds of books and followed numerous teachings, after therapy I worked with groups that enabled me to connect with other people with similar experiences and who also had gotten glimpses of the same ideas through various teachings.
Ultimately, all of these teachings basically say: You’re not who you think you are.
As a writer I am in love with words and ideas, but through these experiences I began to realize on a very deep level that the very concepts I had allowed myself to take as real were a trap.
My personas, my beliefs, indeed these agreements were all encoded in language—that’s how I was programmed.
But through my epiphany with seeing the code in DNA I could somehow grasp the significance when Michael Jeffreys said, “don’t mistake the menu for the meal.”
Eckhart Tolle said, as soon as you name a flower or a bird, you’ve lost the connection with its essence, echoing the previously quoted idea of Krishnamurti—once you teach a child the name of the bird he loses the capacity to truly see it.
So what have my thoughts, beliefs, ideas and concepts separated me from?
That reality of Life as it actually exists can be experienced in the night sky, when one looks at the stars and realizes that beyond one’s limited comprehension lies what we can call an “infinite” space.
But like the word “God,” the word “infinite” is simply a placeholder – a variable in computer terminology – for something we cannot really grasp or understand in its totality.
Most people I know, indeed many of my closest friends, don’t have a problem with this.
Life is random for them—they are able to just enjoy it while it lasts.
I always wanted answers, and it brought me to my knees.
The answer seems to be—life is to be lived, not to be understood.
But something else is going on. There is a recognition (re-cognition—remembering or knowing something we once knew?) that Life is not random.
For one thing, there is a code to organic life that instructs it—like the software in our computer.
We sense that the science we have placed our faith in is incomplete because it doesn’t take Life into account—and we are Life itself not as thought or words, but as an Observer–as Consciousness.
Beyond the many concepts that have served us in manipulating nature, building civilization as we know it, is a reality that every so often makes us realize, even as a species, we can’t take things “personally.”
Most species are extinct. Worlds and suns dies, ice ages come and go, comets and asteroids are real, all on a scale of time we don’t really comprehend–but which sometimes affects us in ways we may refer to as “acts of God.”
I believe that is the disquieting realization that is taking hold and making many of us even more afraid.
But we can’t really take it personally. It’s just Life. And to the extent that it is not experienced as a series of separate events beyond “our” control that make us afraid (victims)—and instead, we are able to surrender to its magnificence because we begin to sense that Life is Intelligent, and realize that it moves in ways far beyond the limitations of our own our own limited brains—we can breathe a bit more easily and have a sense of fulfillment.
If anything, the rhythm of Life is played out in the tides, and it resonates not within our minds, but in our hearts.