It seems we cannot rely on our senses to reveal what is real and what is a figment of our imagination. Perhaps, poetry, music and dance are better guides to reality than our intellect. Reality does not speak to us as much as it touches us. We do not see Reality but we feel it.
“To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.”
William Blake’s beautiful poem speaks to me in ways that science never could. His words go straight to the core of my being, bypassing flesh, bones and the intellect. There is nothing in science, except, perhaps, pure mathematics, that moves me so. “To see a world in a grain of sand….” are just words strung together, and, in a literal sense, the sentence is meaningless and a physical impossibility. Yet, the sentence transcends my senses and my intellect and touches me deep inside. What it touches inside of me feels as real to me as anything outside of me. And, in this case, the words of William Blake, evoke in me feelings that are deeper, richer and more pleasant than the physical world brought to me by my senses. What is inside of me feels more real than the outside. I am convinced that there is a presence inside of me that I should get to know.
Reading Rumi, listening to classical music, dancing like a Sufi or seeing Escher sketches, transports me to a different place. A reality that is beyond the reach of my five senses and my intellect. In this verse Rumi, it appears, is speaking to me “…. like a scientist you collect data and put facts together to come to some conclusion. Mystics arrive at what they know differently, they lay their heads on a person’s chest and drift into the answer. Thinking gives off smoke to prove that there is a fire. Mystic sits inside the burning.” (The Soul of Rumi, 2002).
I feel like the scientist in Rumi’s poem who has collected data from science and the scriptures and has come to the conclusion that reality is more than our senses can perceive. I know what it is not, but I am ignorant of what it is. I want to be the mystic. I want to “sit inside the burning”. I am longing to know.
I was looking for reality in all the wrong places. Physicists are in search of reality “out there”. The Vedic sages, on the other hand, believed that there in only one way to know Reality and that is to know oneself. Reality lies within, the sages say, and the mystics “sit inside the burning”- they live this truth. Many renunciates claim to be “with God” all the time. Can ordinary human beings, like me “live in the world and not be of it”?
J.Krishnamurti, a noted Indian philosopher, writes “… you can understand what you are, only by watching yourself, not trying to correct it, not trying to shape it, not trying to say this is right, this is wrong, but seeing what is actually taking place.” 30 Krishnamurti called this practice of watching one’s thoughts, moment to moment, Choiceless Awareness. To know oneself is to know the contents of one’s mind-the desires, the fears, the beliefs, the hurts, the memories-everything that is in there.
Choiceless Awareness is a process by which one withdraws from the world outside and turns the focus inward–on the self. Most people go through life unaware that their inner life is worth examining. They go through life not knowing who they really are. “Who are you?”, asked the Caterpillar, of Alice, in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, “I can’t explain myself, sir,” said Alice, “because I am not myself, you see.”
I was fortunate to have been introduced to the practice of Choiceless Awareness by my father-in-law. I taught myself to watch my thoughts, emotions and bodily sensations. I applied scientific tools of observation and data-gathering on myself. I recorded my thoughts as they surfaced and watched them without judging them and with complete detachment. I can watch a thought arise, and if I do not engage with it, it floats away, another thought appears, then another. After a while, the thoughts stop and the mind becomes quiet. In these moments I am lost to the world. These moments are like deep sleep except that I am awake. J. Krishnamurti, in his book “The First and Last Freedom”[i] writes that the path to freedom from suffering is self-discovery. According to the Upanishads self-knowledge is the ultimate goal of life.
My father-in-law advised me that the “only thing that you have to do is to watch your thoughts”. There is no need for a guru or a guide, one becomes one’s own guru just by watching one’s thoughts. By watching one’s thoughts one gets to know the contents of one’s mind and realize that we are not the contents of our mind, we get to know who we really are. “Know thyself” is an ancient Greek aphorism inscribed in the Temple of Apollo at Delphi.
“Who am I?” I am not my body. I am not my thoughts. I am not my fears. I am not my desires. So, who am I?