A me... or not a me

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A me... or not a me (1) - a couple of years ago I was at work doing what had to be done. I walked off the shop floor into the warehouse, with a degree of tension and disquiet in the mind (which is nothing remotely unusual), and….bang!

I almost stopped dead in my tracks as the realisation arose that there is no-one in here, in reality there is no me. This has come many times before, as it does for many, however this felt almost cellular – deep down. It was so abundantly clear that this ‘me’ is a collection of experiences, conditioning, attitudes, concepts etc. The effects of this ‘knowing’ seemed to spread out, almost instantaneously, into so many other concepts, assumptions – into ignorance.

And in that moment it shattered them.

I realised that there is no reincarnation, no afterlife. What do these concepts depend upon? – a “me”! This may sound nihilistic and depressing.

Far from it. There was the most incredible sense of relief – as though the correct order of things was seen and there was no-one left to hold on to any concepts or theories, there was no-one who needed to. There was the most exhilarating freedom – the freedom from ‘me’.

If we are honest, in this light, we can see how so many of our concepts and theories are so egocentric. They are created to protect, to perpetuate, the very idea of me. We have created God in own our image or maybe more accurately we have created God to serve and protect our own image of what we think we are. If we see the ‘me’ for what it is, the “ghost in the machine” where is the need for re-birth, for karma? The need doesn’t even arise. We realise that fundamentally the only bondage that shackles the human being is his unswerving belief in his own self and the never-ending struggle to then protect, serve and perpetuate this self (even beyond death with all manner of notions).

Again this is in no way nihilistic. It’s honest.

And yet as part of the mystery we spend our lives as embodied beings completely accepting and identifying as this ‘me’ (the echo of the experience described above lasted for a few hours, leading to such an easy afternoon at work, however slowly but surely the ‘me’-ness reaffirmed itself and I was me again. It was amazing to watch for well over a week that I wanted this understanding back even though it meant the I seeing itself for what it was - illusory).

On this path our challenge is to realise the truth behind the appearance of our embodied being.

Yet, almost paradoxically, we are also asked to live our lives as fully as possible. We have all no doubt experienced that the more we are able to throw ourselves into life the more energised and engaged we become.  

There is a line in a film I watched recently that struck me deeply. Not so much because of the words used, more because of the context to which they applied. The film is Lone Survivor, which is based on actual events. A small unit of US Navy Seals (highly trained special forces) find themselves in combat with a vastly greater number of Taliban forces in the mountains of Afghanistan. Eventually there are only 2 of the Seals alive (out of 4) and they’ve both been wounded numerous times. Knowing that survival is extremely unlikely one of the men turns to his friend and says:

“If I die I want you to make sure that Cindy knows how much I love her and that I died with my brothers with a full f*?king heart.” (2)

And those were the words that struck me - with a full “bleep” heart. It doesn’t matter what we do (3). Who knows what are calling in life will be. But when we know it, when we feel it in the depths of our heart we must act. Joseph Campbell often stated that when his students asked him “what should I do with my life?” his answer was always simply “follow your bliss” (4). And as that man in the film prepared to face his death he knew he had lived with a full heart.

I know in myself that I have not taken numerous opportunities that life has offered me and it is already a source of frustration and regret. However the thing with life is, is that until we are dead there is always now – and in this moment we too can accept the challenge of living with a full heart, of living authentically. Of being the fullest (5) expression of Life's creative force you can be – in whatever way Life chooses.

Maybe this is where the expression comes from “to be in the world but not of the world” – where we live fully engaged in life yet with that deeper knowing that all is not as it appears and that we are expressions of a great mystery.

by Nick Edge, currently resident at the ashram

Notes:

(1)    With an acknowledgement and a sincere apology to William Shakespeare
(2)    Lone Survivor
(3)    It would be very easy to judge the life these men had led from a so-called spiritual point of view. I would drop that tendency as soon as possible. The same Mystery plays out as each and every one of us and who are we to judge?
(4)    Joseph Campbell
(5)    Remember, don’t get too rigid in thinking “is this spiritual, is this not spiritual…..blah blah blah”. Your heart will tell you – however it may not always be the most comfortable option.