My son is five months old and every day I observe his dedicated efforts to persuade his body to honour his desires. Watching him come to terms with the most basic of operations highlights just how much time is required to master the subtleties of bodily movement. From the day we are born, we are captivated by our physical body, then later our mind and our emotions.
Those factors, together with our conditioning and our beliefs, make up an identity which is so convincing that we look no further for our happiness. The satisfaction we feel as babies when we first grasp whatever object we find in our field of vision, is no different to the satisfaction we seek later in life. The objects may change, but the grasping doesn’t.
We are staggeringly attached to who we think we are, investing continuously in an identity which forms only a veneer on the surface of something much greater. Our attachment is cemented in those early years of development as we pay exclusive attention, day after day, to the workings of a highly complex machine, packed with potential and subtlety, but completely without instructions. It takes years to be able to control the refined network of nerves, muscles and joints. Mastery comes as a result of thousands of hours of focused experimentation and practice.
As a consequence, our natural state – the ‘you’ before you learnt to crawl, walk, or catch a ball – is overlooked, ignored, and eventually replaced by the tangible. It’s almost as if we arrive ready to express our true self but are restricted by a physical incarnation which demands our undivided attention; and by the time we look up from our efforts we are already lost in the world of experience, spellbound by the treasures of identity. It’s our attachment to identity which creates the sense of distance from our true nature.
But there is no distance. Our true nature never went away. It is a constant, and can be accessed any time. The key, as always, is awareness. We need only retrace the steps of our worldly development and become more aware of our beliefs, conditioning, feelings, thoughts, and body; and finally of awareness itself. When we come to rest in that place of awareness, and observe our attachment to the surface-level distractions, they begin to fall away, until all that is left is the freedom and vastness of true presence.