"The unaware life is not worth living"
Socrates said, “The unaware life is not worth living.” It’s sad, but most people don’t live aware lives. They live mechanical lives, with mechanical thoughts that are mostly not their own, mechanical emotions, mechanical actions, mechanical reactions. Here, I’ll prove it. When someone gives you a compliment, you feel good. I press a button and you feel good; I press another button and you feel bad. We are like little monkeys. We all carry a list around, and we tell ourselves we must live up to this list—tall, dark, handsome, “I’m in love.” You’re not in love. Any time you’re in love you’re being a fool. Sit down and watch what’s happening to you. You’re running away from yourself. You want to escape.
We are so mechanical, so controlled. We write books about being controlled and how wonderful it is to be controlled and how necessary it is that people tell you you’re O.K. Then you’ll have a good feeling about yourself. You’ve built a cage for yourself. Do you like being in prison? Do you like being controlled? If you ever let yourself feel good when people tell you that you’re O.K., you are setting yourself up for the time when they tell you you’re not O.K. As long as you live to fulfill other people’s expectations, you better watch what you wear, how you comb your hair, whether your shoes are polished; whether you live up to every expectation. Do you call that human?
When you observe yourself you’re neither O.K. nor not O.K. You may fit the current mood or trend or fashion but that doesn’t mean you’re O.K. Does your O.K.-ness depend on what people think of you? You’re not O.K. and you’re not, not O.K., you’re you. Stop all the O.K. stuff and the not-O.K. stuff; stop all the judgments and simply observe, watch.
Psychology and spirituality will not solve your problems. They exchange your
problems for other problems. You had a problem, now you changed it for another one. It’s always going to be that way until we solve the problem called “you.” Who are you?
The great masters tell us that the most important question in the world is: “Who am
I?” Or rather: “What is ‘I’?” What is this thing I call “I”? What is this thing I call self? You understood astronomy and black holes and quasars and computer science, and you don’t know who you are? Who is the person doing the understanding? Find that out first. That’s the foundation of everything. It’s because we haven’t understood this that we’ve got all these stupid religious people involved in all these stupid religious wars—Muslims fighting against Jews, Protestants fighting Catholics, and all the rest. They don’t know who they are, because if they did, there wouldn’t be wars.
Who’s living in you? You think you are free, but there probably isn’t a gesture, a thought, an emotion, an attitude, a belief in you that isn’t coming from someone else and you don’t know it. You feel pretty strongly about certain things, and you think it is you who are feeling strongly about them, but are you really? It’s going to take a lot of awareness for you to understand that perhaps this thing you call “I” is simply a conglomeration of your past experiences, of your conditioning
When you’re beginning to awaken, you experience a great deal of pain. It’s painful to see your illusions being shattered. Everything that you thought you had built up crumbles and that’s painful. That’s what repentance is all about; that’s what waking up is all about.
Be aware of your presence. Say to yourself, “I’m in this room.” It’s as if you were outside yourself looking at yourself. If you find yourself condemning yourself or approving yourself, don’t stop the condemnation and don’t stop the judgment or approval, just watch it. I’m condemning me; I’m disapproving of me; I’m approving of me. Just look at it, period. Don’t try to change it! Self-observation means watching and observing whatever is going on in you and around you as if it were happening to someone else.
Think about how you would describe yourself—for example, businessman, priest, human being, Catholic, Jew, anything. You may think of yourself as fruitful, searching pilgrim, competent, alive, impatient, centered, flexible, reconciler, lover, member of the human race, overly structured. Notice how it is “I” observing “me.” This is an interesting phenomenon that has never ceased to cause wonder to philosophers, mystics, scientists, psychologists, that the “I” can observe “me.” It would seem that animals are not able to do this at all. It
would seem that one needs a certain amount of intelligence to be able to do this.The great mystics are really referring to that “I,” not to the “me.” As a matter of fact, some of these mystics tell us that we begin first with things, with an awareness of things; then we move on to an awareness of thoughts (that’s the “me”); and finally we get to awareness of the thinker. Things, thoughts, thinker. What we’re really searching for is the thinker. Can the thinker know himself? Can I know what “I” is? Some of these mystics reply, “Can the knife cut itself? Can the tooth bite itself? Can the eye see itself?
Am I my thoughts, the thoughts that I am thinking? No. Thoughts come and go; I am not my thoughts. Am I my body? They tell us that millions of cells in our body are changed or are renewed every minute, so that by the end of seven years we don’t have a single living cell in our body that was there seven years before. Cells come and go. Cells arise and die. But “I” seems to persist. So am I my body? Evidently not!
“I” is something other and more than the body. You might say the body is part of “I,” but it is a changing part. It keeps moving, it keeps changing. We have the same name for it but it constantly changes. Just as we have the same name for a river, but the river is constantly changing. We use the same name for an ever-changing reality.
Is “I” my name? No, because I can change my name without changing the “I.” How about my career? How about my beliefs? I say I am a Catholic, a Jew—is that an essential part of “I”? When I change my beliefs, move from one religion to has the “I” changed? Do I have a new “I” or is it the same “I” that has changed? In other words, is my name an essential part of me, of the “I”? Is my religion an essential part of the “I”? We spend so much of our lives reacting to labels, our own and others’. We identify the labels with the “I.”
When you’re caught up in labels, what value do these labels have, as far as the “I” is
concerned? Could we say that “I” is none of the labels we attach to it? Labels belong to
“me.” What constantly changes is “me.” Does “I” ever change? Does the observer ever
change? The fact is that no matter what labels you think of you should apply them to “me. “I” is none of these things. So when you step out of yourself and observe “me,” you no longer identify with “me.” Suffering exists in “me,” so when you identify “I” with “me,” suffering begins.
When “I” does not identify with money, or name, or nationality, or persons, or friends, or any quality, the “I” is never threatened. It can be very active, but it isn’t threatened. Think of anything that caused or is causing you pain or worry or anxiety. First, can you pick up the desire under that suffering, that there’s something you desire or else you wouldn’t be
suffering. What is that desire? Second, it isn’t simply a desire; there’s an identification
there. You have somehow said to yourself, “The well-being of ‘I,’ the existence of ‘I,’ is tied up with this desire.” All suffering is caused by my identifying myself with something, whether that something is within me or outside of me.
There no me, there is only I. I Am.