You Are Not What You Think You Are

You’re alone tonight, and you don’t like being alone. Ever, let alone tonight.

For you, there’s nothing worse–or almost–than being alone with your own thoughts. Because these thoughts and these emotions are painful. Your self-talk–that is, your self-referential talk–pains you.

“I hate myself.” “I’m not good at anything.” “I’m not a good X-er and X-ers are very important to be.” “I’m not at Y point in my life, and I’m being passed by.” “I know what I should do, but I’m not doing what I should do. I’m not where I should be. I need to hurry up to get there.” “I don’t have Z quality and if I had Z quality, my life would be better; I would be better.” “I’m loveless and unlovable. powerless, insignificant, and pathetic and thus I’ll always be alone.”

The standard line of thought is that you need to develop healthy self-esteem. (Or, a la CBT, you need to “challenge” “unhealthy” or “irrational” beliefs.) Now you’re an adult, however, not a child. Hence, perhaps the standard line of thought is not the right one for you.

For notice that “I love myself” and “I hate myself,” that “I’m great” and “I’m pathetic” are all self-referential thoughts. What if the trouble, nonduality suggests, is with all self-referential thoughts? Not with the existence of self-referential thoughts but with getting caught up in and thereby held captive by such thoughts.

Better yet, the trouble lies in the following:

  • Taking a thought or emotion to be permanent rather than transient
  • Presuming that you are identical with that thought or emotion
  • Believing, therefore, that you shall continue to be held within the cage of thought X or emotion Y or thought pattern Z

You’ve made a whole bunch of mistakes. To see what the mistakes are, begin by imagining that you are a tree. Feel your roots sink down into the earth. Feel the water suck up into your trunk. Feel the sturdiness of your trunk, the angling of your arms, the leafing of your hands.

Now, peel yourself off the tree, walk 10 or 15 paces away from the tree, turn around, and simply look at it. Observe it.

The same thing is true of your thoughts and emotions, but you don’t know it. When you ask yourself the question, “Who is it or what it it that it observing or contemplating this thought [e.g., I’m no good])”?, you soon discover that you are, as it were, peeled off of the thought and that you must (so to speak) travel backward so that you can look at the thought.

From this point of view, YOU ARE the Observer. As the Observer, you clearly notice or deduce:

  • That no thought or emotion is permanent (see that each thought comes and goes)
  • That WHO YOU ARE cannot be identical with any thought or emotion, be it a lovely thought or a terrible thought. Why? Because the thought comes and goes yet you remain throughout the process of the thought coming and going. Ergo, since you perdure while it disappears, it follows that WHO YOU ARE cannot be it.
  • Therefore, it likewise follows that you are not in the cage of negative thoughts or negative emotions for you stand at a different–no, better: a higher–vantage point.

The eye cannot turn around to see itself; the ear cannot turn around to hear itself; the nose cannot smell itself; a fingertip cannot touch itself; the tongue cannot taste itself. All can only perceive an object that is other than themselves. At this early stage of the practice, the idea is to simply accept the provisionally dual nature of Observer and Observed, where the two are not understood–again, at this stage–ontologically distinct.

Get established in being the Observer. Continue to remember that, from this point of view, YOU ARE the Observer. When you do, you also find that there’s a mild peace or niceness associated with being the Observer. Therefore, you experience, here and now, that not being with others does not mean being painfully alone.