The main spiritual traditions all seem to be saying some version of the same thing: The highest goal of humans is to eliminate the noisy, negative, chattering mind, the sum total of which most people identify as their “self.”
That sum total of one’s self-image includes thoughts about your past (went to X college, played Y sport, had Z jobs, had a bad temper, good son to parents, etc.), thoughts about your present (successful/unsuccessful career, make a lot/not enough money, single but wish I was married, too heavy/think my body is great) and thoughts about your future (worried I won’t have enough money to retire/send my kids to college, will never find the right career, will never get married/have kids…).
This leads to possibly the most vexing question in all of spirituality: Once you quieten your crazy, thinking mind, what’s left?
In other words, if all these traditions are correct, that our thoughts are not who we are, it stands to reason that once you quieten those thoughts what’s leftover is who we are.
So the $64,000 question is this: What is that entity in us that is us once the mind is tamed?
Some, like Eckhart Tolle, say that what’s left is simply consciousness. His analogy is that our true self is the sky and the clouds are the thoughts and feelings we have.
The sky is timeless and never changes, while the clouds, like thoughts and feelings, constantly come and go.
What is the ‘Real You’?
Michael Singer would say that the real you is the entity inside that merely witnesses your thoughts and emotions. So, for example, the real you isn’t the one who’s jealous because your wife is flirting with her attractive boss at a cocktail party. The real youis the consciousness that is aware that you’re experiencing this feeling of jealousy.
This concept of the true self being merely consciousness is almost impossible for most people to comprehend. Why? Because most people are so stuck inside their thought bombarded heads that they can’t fathom that people are comprised of two entities: their thoughts and feelings and their awareness of those thoughts and feelings.
This idea of the self as consciousness is also murky for many serious spiritual seekers, myself included. One way I’ve found to better “get” this concept is to actually experience people who have reached this high spiritual path, people like the aforementioned Eckhart Tolle and Michael Singer.
When I watch Eckhart give a talk, I sense no ego. There’s no Eckhart. There’s just…consciousness. And inner peace. Watching Eckhart has the effect of calming me, regardless of the words he’s speaking. They say that the great gurus from India also emanate this sense of peace, light and egoless presence.
But describing the true self as consciousness or awareness seems antiseptic and uninspiring to me. To me, those words don’t capture the totality of what the true self is.
Which brings me to Ram Dass, the great spiritual teacher who passed away last month. In reading some of the testimonials about his life, I came across his description of how he viewed his true self. When I read it, bells went off inside me. He said that he was simply loving awareness. Not consciousness or presence or regular awareness, but loving awareness.
What’s the difference? Some people may see awareness/consciousness as somebody sitting around looking like a glassy-eyed zombie. My belief is that when the mind is stilled and the ego eliminated, what’s left is, by definition, loving awareness.
And that only through a still mind and egoless presence can one become a channel for love. And some would even say, including me, a channel for God to come into the world.
The Two Takeaways
I know. These are some pretty heady, metaphysical concepts here. That’s the bad news. The good news is that the two takeaways from all this are simple and easy to understand.
- Number one, you attain the ultimate human form, loving awareness, by stilling the mind, which diminishes the ego.
- Number two, the best technique for stilling the mind is regular meditation. Any of you who’ve read my previous articles may think I’m a broken record on this, to which I say, guilty as charged.
All meditation involves is sitting quietly and placing your attention on something happening in the present moment, like your breathing. Then when your mind grabs your attention and throws you into thought, you simply notice that that has happened and bring attention back to your breathing.
Can that be difficult at times? Sure. For one reason: The human mind loves to wander. But like anything else, the more you meditate, the better you get at it.
With time, your mind will become stiller and your ego less dominant in your life. And with that, more and more of you will become loving awareness, the highest plane any of us humans can reach.