Who is the one that is anxious?
Common knowledge versus our own experience
There is a common belief that we are separate beings, all located in different bodies. Each of us assumes he or she is a person with its own mind, private feelings, history—a mixture of all this, put together in a solid form that is born and will die one day.
We call this person “me.” We identify with the “me” while we look at all the other “me’s” around us, assuming they are apart from us.
This is what we are told and what we keep telling ourselves and each other.
But is it true? Is that how we truly experience ourselves, or is it an idea we came to believe over time?
To me, there always seems to be a certain gap between common knowledge and my own experience. They seem to be two different things, the first being how it should be, the latter how it actually is felt or seen.
But somehow, common knowledge has more authority than our own findings, especially when we are still young. Maybe that’s part of learning how to survive. The things we learned in childhood provide us with knowledge, a road map with certainties shared by others, so we can function and find our way in the community or the world we grow up in.
So we do need this road map, this common knowledge. It’s what happens, it’s inevitable. We copy what we see when we are little; that’s how we do it; that’s how we survive. We need labels, we need memory and mind in order to live. Remember the fridge, or the grocery list. We need to be able to relate to others, to know the rules. But none of this tells us who we are.
The road map offers security by labeling things—relationships, behavior and so on. We call something we sit on a “chair” and a warm glow in our chest “love.” What scares us is “bad” and what reassures us is “good.” Growing up, this labeling becomes part of us, we even label ourselves now. We label our bodies, our feelings, our accomplishments. More and more each of us seems to become an autonomous person, separate from others, with a name, a history, and a “life.”
And then the question arises: What is the meaning of this personal life? Is it a good life? Are we of any importance compared with others? Surely it cannot be enough to just be here…believing that we are this person, defined by our personal history, we become more and more deeply entangled in a virtual reality, on our way to some goal in the future.
As this person, we are supposed to be somebody, to find meaning or happiness, to get somewhere. We never seem to arrive, though. Have you ever truly arrived somewhere? Did you ever become somebody? Our minds suggest that we must first earn this—deserve this—but we never seem to get to that point where we are good enough, or safe enough.
So we just keep going, always looking for the next opportunity that will finally bring us home.
This is the story.
But what do we really experience? Do we fit into this image, this idea, this mind-map?
When we look closer, and trust our direct observations, trust what we actually feel and experience, we might find something that doesn’t have much to do with this story. We might find that the road map is something we can use, but that it can never, ever define what we are.
So who or what are we? What is “me”?
If you want, investigate this with me. Let’s forget about common knowledge, forget about what we know. And just stick to our own findings.
“Me” is something we seem to take for granted. We do not question the existence of “me” in our daily lives. And yet it is very difficult to find when you actually look for it! Some questions:
Is “me” locked inside the body? Do I end at my skin? If not, where do I end? A meter outside my body? Ten meters? A kilometer? Does “me” include this chair? The dog? Or the garden I’m am looking at through the window?
Is there a core—a me that I can locate or find?
I cannot locate it. “Me” doesn’t seem to be a something. It has no beginning or end. It has no shape or color.
So now let’s ask the question: What is “me”?
Is it my feelings? My specific character? My memories, my history? My inner conversation? My body?
How would you describe this me?
Who is the one describing this? Observing this? Can you be a description? Can you be a something?
Since I can observe my feelings, I cannot be them. I cannot be any description, for that matter.
Could it be that “me” is just an idea, an image, a thought?
A thought so many times confirmed that it feels like a presence, a substance, but is nowhere to be found?
Again, what is reality?
The mind creates a me, a separate person that travels by the roadmap. To travel you need a future, a past, a timeline, a route from A to B. It suggests all kinds of purposes, of getting somewhere. The “me” is an image in our heads. People told us who we were, many labels were put on us: sweet, ugly, beautiful, honest, lazy, worthless, successful, etc. etc. We collected these labels, believing they tell us who we are.
Truth is, we don’t know who we are.
(If we did, we wouldn’t need anyone to tell us.)
We are not a label or a playlist of labels.
We are a mystery, an openness; we cannot know what we are.
And in this openness, this consciousness, everything arises: the “me”, the roadmap, the wind, the chair, thoughts, the table, love, anger, your shoes, frustration. In you, as you, life appears in all its colors, shapes, and forms. Words can only point to what we are. Some call it consciousness, or unconditional love; some call it capacity for the world.
When we see through the illusion of the story of the mind, all that’s left is this. Right here, right now. What else can there be? Everything that is not here, is an image in our mind.
There is just experience. Just being. Nowhere else to go, this is it. You’re home. You are already home. You cannot lose anything because everything happens here.
Anxiety and “me”
How come we slowly relax when we allow everything to be? When we allow our feelings, our hurt, our restlessness, when we allow the weather (hello, rain) allow our bad mood, allow happiness, allow our bodies to be as they are?
We relax because we stop fighting. We simply stop resisting reality. We pause and let reality be. We do not need to defend or protect the “me,” this story-person who seems to be alone in a big world where we can fail, be unloved, be alone, lost, hurt, where we can die. In the concept of being a separate, vulnerable “me” we can lose everything that makes us feel safe (look at the television, read the newspaper, it’s all there). How can we not be anxious! How can we not be worried!
But without these thoughts, what is here now?
Be clear and awake. Name what is here.
Objects, light, sounds.
And there can also be hurt. Or sadness. Or fear. Or vulnerability. We cannot escape these feelings, they are part of life, just like there is rain and sunshine. To the “me,” they are bad news. The “me” wants to get rid of them because they threaten its safety, its identity. But when we realize we don’t need to defend an image, we can relax. We can open fully to the experience of, let’s say, sadness (that was there already, anyway…).
And when we do that, we find that feelings are just feelings… They are what they are, nothing more, they come and go. They arise, they are felt (knot in the stomach, heart beating faster, tears flooding). They are perfectly themselves, just like the chair you are sitting on. Life happening, presenting itself. Much less heavy without a complicated story attached to them, trying to justify, explain, or ignore what is felt.
Thank you for reading these words so far, I know they are not that easy to “get”, probably because what they point at is beyond the mind, really, and we are used to understanding things as concepts, as methods or means to improve ourselves. This is not about improving or getting somewhere. It is about waking up from the dream our minds present to us.
Maybe you recognise something or resonate with it somehow. Or maybe you find you’ve always known this!
Just see for yourself, try to bring yourself back regularly to the bare reality, here and now. Become aware of the miraculous presence of everything in this moment.
Trust your direct experience; it will always bring you home.
If you would like to investigate this through meditation then join me on the mat in my class: Meditation on anxiety, part two