The content of this blog stretches back over almost 18 years. It began as a search of the truth of human behaviour, prompted by a curiosity about why people behave the way they do. The short answer, I discovered, is conditioning. In whichever direction we look, it’s there; an intense and intrusive force with a seemingly unstoppable momentum behind it. There are the years of societal conditioning for example; generations of familial conditioning; and centuries of cultural conditioning.
Add to that our own thoughts about how we think the world works, which inform our earliest strategies at an age when we are too young to know what we’re doing, and the veil is almost complete. Finally, there is our attachment to a personal identity which is pushed so far into the foreground that it blocks the light from reaching the deeper, more subtle aspects of existence.
My search for the truth was honoured by the work I did with Karaj. The confronting nature of his influence compelled me to question who I thought I was. It was the most illuminating time of my life. In his company I gained a fundamental understanding of conditioning and the need to transcend it. But how far do you go? Is it enough just to shed society’s influence, or is there even more freedom to be gained from relinquishing cultural and family conditioning too? And what about identity? How much of who you are can be retained?
The inevitable conclusion came in the teachings of Self-enquiry, which have captured my attention this year. The method, expounded so beautifully by Mooji, suggests that the individual is nothing more than a cloak worn over the true Self (consciousness) and that in order to return to the vastness of who we truly are, we need only be empty (let go) of conditioning and identity.
The simplicity of it is too obvious to ignore. All one needs do is to ask the question ‘Who Am I?’ whenever a thought arises. You see, it’s the mind which leads us astray, and according to Ramana Maharshi, ‘in order to quieten the mind, one has only to enquire within oneself what one’s Self is.’
(Interestingly, although I began to immerse myself in Self-enquiry this year, I was first exposed to it 20 years ago whilst living in Germany. At that time, I was clearly not ready. It seems I had to examine my own conditioning thoroughly in order to reach the place where I can understand and embrace the value of emptiness.)
The difficulty we have, however, is that emptiness has a negative connotation (which itself is an example of conditioning). It implies nothingness in a world which values the opposite, and so our conditioned response is to reject it. We do so because we think we know what it means and we think we know what’s important, yet we are quite possibly wrong on both counts. Firstly, the worldly treasures, pleasures and achievements we accumulate are not the source of eternal happiness. They are a powerful yet insignificant distraction when compared to the wealth we already carry within us.
Secondly, emptiness is not the absence we think it is. And therein lies the next problem, because to even begin to describe what it means to be empty of conditioning, is to use the very tools and structures of that conditioning. It cannot be done. All we can do is trust that when we rid ourselves of our attachments to worldly thoughts and experiences, something much greater is revealed. Beyond that, any attempt to describe what comes next is another thought, made up of words, concepts and ideas which are all products of the mind; the very thing we are trying to quieten.
The best thing to do, therefore, is to stop here, remain quiet, and simply enquire ‘Who am I?’ until, in the emptiness, only the Self remains.