In my yoga class today, the wonderful Micki quoted from Ramana Maharishi to start and end the class. I found the quote very moving and have been contemplating it (between some stressful work tasks) today. So, I thought I would share…
You are awareness. Awareness is another name for you. Since you are awareness there is no need to attain or cultivate it. All that you have to do is to give up being aware of other things, that is of the not-Self. If one gives up being aware of them then pure awareness alone remains, and that is the Self. ~ From Be As You Are: The Teachings of Ramana Maharishi
What does this quote mean? Many people think that meditating or doing yoga is about attaining a state of awareness. Awareness then becomes a goal, a state of being that we work and effort toward. Ramana Maharishi tells us here that this is a faulty and limiting way of thinking about awareness. Awareness is our natural state of being. It is only because we have limited ourselves (through what we learn as we grow up) that we do not experience this awareness. If we can let go of these limits, awareness is there. We don’t have to “do” something to reach it; we have to stop “doing” something.
So, what is it that we need to let go of? I think, and this seems correspondent with the teachings of R.M., that what we need to let go of is our tendency to evaluate/categorize/separate/individualize. When we are tiny babies, we experience the self only in the sense of being the self. As we grow and learn the expectations of the culture, we start to assign labels to the self. We go beyond the “I am” to the “I am a woman,” “I am smart,” “I am fat,” and so on. In doing this, we also create the false dichotomy between self and other, “I am not you.” Now, here is where it gets fun.
One of my favorite communication theorists is Gregory Bateson. Bateson (and others) make the argument that, in Westernized thought, we tend toward dichotomy in our understandings. This means we think in terms of opposition (as a nice example, consider how few words we have for the states between too opposites – if it is not dark nor light, it is? – if one is not tall nor short, one is? – if one is not fat nor thin, one is? – if the food is not great nor horrible, it is?). We do this in our understanding of self as well. What is not self is other. What is other is not self. And, we tend to think of the skin as the boundary line for self and other (anything in is me… anything out is not). Small children, before they learn this dichotomy, do not see the skin as the boundary of self. A toddler is not disturbed at the notion of drooling into his cup and then drinking it, but an adult would be (you can think of all the other examples of this…. I won’t disgust you by writing them here). This bifurcation of self and other causes us to see our own experiences as “my successes,” “my failures,” “my problems,” rather than understanding the fully systemic nature of being.
Ok, I’m going to depart from Ramana Maharishi here (because there is a lot to be said about his ideas – much of which I only loosely grasp – and I’m too “pragmatic” to be able to fully embrace the theoretical idea that reality and suffering only exist in the mind and that the only reality is the self… when I start to go there, I want to curl up in a ball in the corner) and talk about what all of this means to me, rather than in terms of his particular teaching.
- I need to stop continually evaluating myself – I am. I am. I do not need to label myself as good or bad or smart or stupid or thin or fat. I need to just be as I am. This is particularly good news and a difficult task for me, because I am a constant self-critic. Even after hearing this beautiful quote and thinking how right it was, I found myself thinking (during yoga) – “boy, I am a crappy yogi… I am never going to do Pincha Mayurasana, I should give up now.” How nice, very yogic of me, huh? Let go… Let go. I am not the body. I am not the body. I am. But, this doesn’t mean that I get to just selfishly ignore everyone else to be whatever I want, because of the next point.
- I am other, other is me, there is no division. This is a way of thinking and not a physical state, because clearly the things that happen to the physical bodies of each of us do not happen to all of us (though RM would say they do not happen to any of us, really, but our experience of them is what it is, so let’s just go with that for now). But, if I stop thinking about myself as something separate from others, individual, distinct, it pushes me to more carefully and fully appreciate and consider the world community, and to realize that what is good for others is good for me (because it’s not “someone else’s problem”). When people all over the U.S. have adequate healthcare, this is good for me as part of the universal community. So, why would I not want that? If I treat others with disrespect, I disrespect myself. Why would I want to do that? When I help others, I should not do so as a way of being proud of myself (“Look at me, I donated money and I built a house for someone in poverty.”). I should do so in the understanding that I am the other, and the other is me, and I act to help the self, which is both of us. It is not something to feel egotistical and proud about; it is just a responsible part of being the universal self.
Whew. There is certainly much more that can be said about this, and I haven’t even been able to fully explain what I’m thinking here, but it’s a nice start. I am. You are.