I had a surprising encounter in my 40s ~ an encounter with myself. I looked into a mirror. What was looking back? Who looking back? I had no memory of ever seeing this face in the mirror. I saw, as though long-forgotten, this my face, a face pure, untainted, without any sense of guilt or wrongness that had conditioned seeing this face from early in my life. Guilt had been linked with a fundamentalist religious upbringing that communicated the body was a problem, so I was a problem; I was the prime cause of sin and "God's" judgment on me. I, now, in this moment, saw myself, that one looking back, this I, as the Holy, not in a religious sense, but in the sense of wholeness, pure and lovely, untouched by the past. Wonderful joy!
The self, the ego, is like walking into a room full of portraits. You see photos of yourself all over the walls. You are everywhere, or so it seems. Yet, looking, you find little consistency among the photos, even those taken in the same narrow time span, as though there is really, has never been, a you at all, but many and oft-contradictory yous. Confused, looking for a consistent I, someone you can say, "There I am!," you hear a voice, a voice arising from within. This voice whispers, kindly, "Now, who is the one doing the looking at all these portraits on the wall?"
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This is the same as the one looking at the one looking back in the mirror?
Yes. The I in the mirror mirrored back, awakened the other to, innocence. Yet, there is really only one I, they were not different.
Some say the one looking is the "I," while others say such an "I" itself is an illusion, that there is really no "I" at all. So, the latter say, this is oneness, no "I."
I is the I of oneness, One manifesting as many. Yet, the I is not the portraits on the wall; that is, you are not the images of yourself in your mind, in anyone's mind. Simply, you are not a thought, feeling, or sensation. You are imageless, but you are.
Some say to return in silence to the question, "Who am I?"
If you return, dropping every image of yourself when posing the question "Who am I?," every image of you within the mind, you will come to the point of no answer. No portraits lining the wall, the mind. You will be naked, in your pure state. You will see nothing, yet this nothing is something you cannot put on the wall, you cannot get the mind around, so to speak. This nothing is not another something. It is slippery, refusing to be grasped in the hand of thought.
So, as God is imageless, you, in God's image, are imageless?
Yes. God and you together are one imageless, not two.
After finding no answer, we're left with the "I Am" alone?
When you cannot find the answer to "Who am I?," you may drop into "I Am," yes. This means without an "I am this" or "I am that." Even that has no response. That which is has no need to affirm it is, has no need in itself to self-reflect; the true Self is spontaneous self-knowing. When anyone is acting without self-reflection, that is the spontaneous self-knowing, there being no gap between self and knowledge-of-self.
So, it's silent?
You got it! Silence is where nothing is, but where everything potential becomes something. So, what is left without needing "I am" or "I am not," that is I. Not the psychological I, that is the wall with portraits, the museum of many faces. I is one face, the Face. Still, this I can be misunderstood as the ego, and we are back with the many images on the wall. The ego likes to turn the Mystery into a something, this gives the ego a sense of control, of substantial being. When returning to the purity and innocence of I, remain with it, become more used to relaxing without any sense of knowing what you really are. This takes time, to learn the joy of relaxing in this nothingness. The whole body has to adjust to this new, but pure, way of being.
Is there a feeling with this I?
Mentally, you will not have an image of self, even if images float in and out of consciousness. They have no place to stick, to moor. Bodily, you will likely feel some degree of energy that feels very freeing, powerful, but subtlely powerful. We could say a sharp, clear, clean energy. This is a sense of I stripped of all identities. Think of being layered with many clothes and the relief of taking them all off, the freedom of nudity. Not by chance does the Hebrew and Christian Bibles early present us with primal humanity "naked and without shame."
Why do we fear this loss of the psychological I in life as in death?
We see it as a loss, when it is a gain, a return to the plenitude before the I-sense, or ego, arose. The I-sense constricts life to survive and thrive in bodily incarnation. We fear nothing is absence, but it is not. Death, meaning the loss of attachment to the self-sense, this is a gain, an opening to Love. We are all God on a journey here. God is always prepared to receive God, so that cannot logically be a loss. Life is always transforming; so, we can logically assume, whether in spiritual death or physical death, Life continues in another formation, even if that formation is simply returning back into, being reabsorbed back into, God as Source.
What value does this have for others though, that's not easy for me to see? This can sound, certainly to many, like a lot of spiritual mumbo jumbo. Like, "So what, there's only this pure, innocent I, how does that help us while we live in this body with others in bodies?"
I will share a story. Hopefully, this will help.
Once, stopping to fill my truck tank with gas, I began walking toward the front doors of a curb store. About 20 feet away, to my right, a woman stepped out of her truck. I saw dirt, she was dirty. I looked at her truck. I saw, again, dirt. The truck was dirty, all over, she was dirty. Her skin was dry and wrinkled; I sensed she was much younger than what see looked to be. She walked toward the door, I walked behind keeping a distance, not wanting to get close. At the entrance she took the handle of the door, opened the door, and stood aside welcoming me in. I looked at this dirty human being smiling for me a kind, glowing smile. I expressed appreciation and returned the smile. Relief came over me. Her sweet, beautiful benevolence came to awareness as a contrast with how I had seen her as a body, only an appearance.
Inside the store, as we both were in the snack area, she initiated conversation, again smiling and enjoying sharing with me. We shared not only words, but fellowship ~ and fellowship never arises from the body, only through the body.
When checking out, this dear one came to stand behind me. Leaving, we spoke well-wishes. I walked out and toward my truck, somewhat changed and seeing differently, and knowing her differently, as the lovely being she is. For days, I recalled her often, and all I saw was the most beautiful person I had ever seen.
I would take this to mean that in seeing ourselves as the one I, we are freed to see others that way.
We are free to love the other as more than an image, even more than an object to receive love. Then, also, when another is in pain or suffers, we more easily connect with compassion for the other, for we feel the union of heart of the one I, with the one appearing as another. This may sound all heady in theory, unrealistic, but it is practical, it has a great bearing on the means to transcend ourselves for others. In the general understanding of self-transcendence, that self is only a collection of thoughts, not a self at all. In the Self, with a capital, there is no need for self-transcendence, and Self-expression for the other arises naturally, spontaneously as Self with Self. So, in this sharing, there is no sense of depreciation of the other being helped by your being the so-called helper, for you realize you are sharing the same Beingness, the same Godness, the same Goodness.