Recognizing Our Essential Self
by Rupert Spira
The essential non-dual understanding that is the essence of all the great religious and spiritual traditions can be stated very simply: Happiness is your nature.
Happiness, which for which all people long above all else, is not something that depends upon what happens. It is the very nature of our self, and it is available to all people, at all times, under all circumstances.
We might wonder why, if happiness is the nature of our self, and we are obviously our self all the time, we do not experience our innate happiness all the time. It is simply because we have overlooked or forgotten our essential nature, our being, who we truly are.
We have mistaken our self for a cluster of thoughts, images, memories, feelings, activities, and relationships. We have lost our self in the content of experience and, as a result, have lost contact with our innate peace and happiness.
Most people’s lives are governed by the belief that the acquisition of some object, substance, situation, or relationship will one day finally produce the happiness for which they long. One who holds this belief is destined for disappointment and unhappiness.
All that is necessary to access our inherent happiness is to remain in touch with one’s essential nature or being, the simple fact of being aware of awareness itself. All the peace and happiness we have ever longed for resides there. The knowing of our own being, or its knowing of itself as it essentially is, is the experience of peace and joy.
Having said that, to suggest that we should remain in touch with our essential nature or being is to imply that we are one thing and our being is another, something we may or may not stay in touch with. No, we are our being; we are our self.
It is we who allow our self to become mixed up with or qualified by the content of experience. It is we who lose our self to experience, and it is we who come back to our self.
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How do we come back to our self? We simply allow our attention to come to rest in our self rather than in our experience. When I use the word “experience” in this context I mean our objective experience, that is, our thoughts, feelings, and perceptions.
Try this now. Allow experience to be exactly as it is from moment to moment, without any impulse to change it in any way. Be sure to include the full range of your experience: thoughts, images, memories, feelings, sensations of the body, and perceptions of the world. Do not reject any particular experience and do not hold on to any particular experience.
Notice that we have the ability to focus our attention on a particular object of experience, and then to defocus our attention. So now, instead of being aware of the entire uniform field of experience, focus your attention on, say, the current thought, whatever its content may be.
It’s like focusing the lens of a camera on a particular object in the field of perception: everything else goes slightly out of focus. In the same way, when we focus our attention on an object, everything else goes to the periphery of our experience. So just give your attention to the current thought.
Now soften the focus of your attention and allow it to relax back into its source. Your attention comes to rest in your self, the presence of awareness.
Now direct your attention towards a sensation, say, the tingling sensation at the soles of your feet. And now cease focusing on the sensation; allow your attention to soften and return to its source. We are not turning away from our experience; we are simply ceasing to focus on any aspect of it.
Direct your attention to whatever sounds are present in your environment. Now soften the focus of attention.
Notice in this way that attention is like a two-way street. It can be traveled in two directions: forwards, so to speak, towards the content of experience, and backwards towards its source, towards our essential self.
Everyday life requires the directing of our attention from its source to the objects of experience. Now we simply take the same journey but in the opposite direction, from the objects of experience to the source of attention, and we rest there.
This resting of our attention in its source is what is known as meditation or prayer.
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Don’t try to make the source of attention an object of attention. That would be like trying to shine a flashlight on the bulb from which the beam of light proceeds.
This return to the source of attention can only be brought about by sinking, relaxing, or falling backwards rather than proceeding forwards. It is like a young child sinking backwards into her mother’s arms. The child cannot see the mother – she is behind her – but she feels her all-embracing presence.
It is the same with our self. We cannot know or perceive the source of attention as an object; we can only sink or relax backwards into the all-embracing presence of awareness. That is the essence of meditation and the direct path to peace and happiness.
As we go about our daily life, we are required to give our attention to the objects of experience, but we can do so without losing touch with the inherently peaceful aware being that is our essential self.
If the resting of our attention in its source, the all-embracing presence of awareness, is the art of meditation or prayer, then the giving of our attention to the content of experience without losing touch with the background of awareness is the art of life.
Just come back to your self, your being. To begin with, it may feel neutral, but gradually its essential nature of peace will make itself known. In time that peace will grow into a quiet joy.
ABOUT: From an early age, Rupert Spira was deeply interested in the nature of reality and the source of lasting peace and happiness. He began to meditate at the age of 17 and spent the next 20 years immersed in the teachings of classical Advaita Vedanta. In 1997, he met his teacher, Francis Lucille, who introduced him to the Direct Path approach of Atmananda Krishna Menon and the Tantric tradition of Kashmir Shaivism–and the means whereby one may recognize the source of lasting peace and happiness in oneself.
Spira is also the author of The Transparency of Things – Contemplating the Nature of Experience; Presence, Volume I – The Art of Peace and Happiness; Presence, Volume II – The Intimacy of All Experience; The Ashes of Love – Sayings on the Essence of Non-Duality; The Light of Pure Knowing – Thirty Meditations on the Essence of Non-Duality; Transparent Body, Luminous World – The Tantric Yoga of Sensation and Perception; The Nature of Consciousness – Essays on the Unity of Mind and Matter and A Meditation on I Am.