Human beings erect boundaries around themselves, beginning at a very early age. We build walls of stories to protect a self that does not exist, except in our minds. As far as we know, we appear to be the only creatures on Earth to do this. Spiders weave webs, but we weave stories to which we attach great significance and take to be true. But if we investigate the stories, can we find that any story is really true, including the story of me?
At birth, we open eyes upon a mysterious world. Aware, but empty of all concepts – for we have not yet developed an understanding of language – we gaze upon what is seen with no interest in naming or knowing what is seen. We have no awareness of a ‘self’ as separate from ‘other’ – all we appear to be is aware (of sights, sounds, smells, touch, bodily sensations – such as hunger, cold and warmth). We may experience pleasure or pain, and although others around us may label or categorize our experiences, we merely express them physically – perhaps in wide-eyed wonder or with a wail.
We remain blissfully unaware that we have been given a name, identified as a gender and race with a future religious persuasion. We know not that we are being gifted with a myriad of labels. We have no recognition of the labels, nor do we feel enhanced or constrained by them.
As we grow up, we begin attaching significance to labels. We start to identify with certain ones, such as the name we were given (or perhaps later in life, chose for ourselves), gender, race, religious affiliation, political leanings, etc. We own and accept labels or rebel and reject them. For example, we might embrace being Jewish or Catholic, reject the religion our family embraces in favor of another, or claim to have no belief in God or a higher power and call ourselves atheist. In this way, we weave a tapestry of stories into one unique story: the story of me.
Each of us feels individual and special. There is only one me with its unique story – not even identical twins share the same story. Humans in all cultures grow up to believe that the story of me is who they are.
Many stories – the ones we tend to be most drawn to – are stories of triumph over adversity. The constant striving to be something (good, smart, special, attractive, accepted, loved, helpful, capable, skilled, talented, etc. ) influences and colors our every action. And most of us are motivated to do something to improve the story, to help others and to be remembered. (Some never feel that their efforts to be something positive succeed, but are so intent on not passing into obscurity that they perform heinous acts that are remembered (and shared) long after their death.)
Striving – to be something special, to be remembered – drives our actions for as long as it takes for most of us to realize that we may actually never live up to our own expectations. Our story may never come out as we had hoped, or planned. How many approach death with ease? It appears very few; more often there is an unsettling sense of incompleteness, disappointment and resignation, a feeling that “I did the best I could.” And within the confines of the story of me we are all doing the best we can, even those who do terrible things to others. But what is true outside of the limited belief in a me who succeeds or fails? Can we even know?
Who are we without a story? Who are we without our attachment to and identification with all the labels that define us? Who are we without a name, gender, race, religion and political affiliation, without defining our actions as failures or accomplishments, without all the ideas that we think make us who we are?
If we suspend – even for only a moment – all belief, including belief and attachment to the story of me, do we cease to exist? Or do we return to (or finally see) our inherent, inborn nature as pure awareness that is not burdened by labels or beliefs? Are we any less than we were with those labels, or are we simply no longer burdened by the limitations of our beliefs? Free of story.
In all of existence as we know it, it appears that the story of me causes acute suffering, internal and external war. Without a me to uphold, and all the requisite beliefs that this me carries, what is there to defend?
What if there is only this – Being – being human? Living, breathing, loving. What if all longing in all humans is to return to this Beingness? What if it is this – This – that ultimately vanquishes the fear of the unknown, of death? What if all fear dissolves when we know who we are beyond (or beneath) the story of me? If, at birth, all humans are not assigned some label – then what, where, are our differences? Differences can only exist in labels and beliefs. And whose labels, whose beliefs are right? In order to answer such a question, one must arbitrarily assign a definition to ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. Who is to do that? Would not that mean that those definitions would be – should be – true for all? And within all stories, is there any such truth?
“Yeah, but… let’s talk about right and wrong, good and evil.” These labels seem necessary, useful. And they are, of course. But we seem to think that by labeling our behavior we can know how to behave. We lose sight of the fact that labels are just labels, and we miss the thing that underlies them: awareness. The labels are laid on top of that, and they are labels. Stories. We could even call them lies.
A star is born, exists for a time and dies, leaving a black hole, or just space. Is this bad? Or wrong? Only if we attach significance to the star and think it should exist forever.
A solar system is born, a planet with the amazing capacity to support life, humans and other animals populate it, they live, they die. Of what significance is this? Can any human claim to know? Or only suggest it is significant. Important. Meaningful. Human beings believe that they are more important than anything else that lives (or exists) and dies. In the meantime, reality unfolds, moment to moment. A human or other being is born, lives, and then dies. What is it that makes this so? Is that, perhaps, the only significant thing that is? Our perceived individual lives are but a blip in time. Are we to learn something from our brief time here, and if so, what is it that we are to learn? How can we learn it?
In moments of awe or crisis, we become privy to some magical force that seems to guide or transport us to a different place – a space where all fear disappears and there is just action, or total stillness, where awareness simply takes over and does what is required, or is silent in wonder. It is in these moments when we all feel most truly our true ‘selves’. We are devoid of agenda, absent any layers, empty of concepts, free of labels. As close to God, or consciousness or pure awareness as we can be. Or feel we can be.
What makes us feel distant from God, or Consciousness, or pure awareness, our true nature, from reality? Whatever you want to call it. Is it not the labels and beliefs that distance us from what is? For without them, what … remains?
Many of us spend our lives trying to prove to ourselves (and others) that our story – the story of me – is a worthy story. And it isn’t that we must forsake our story, or stop using language and labels – it is that we can end our suffering by ceasing to believe that we know that the stories are true, that they define who we really are. We can stop believing that we know that our ideas and opinions are right… that we know anything at all to be accurate and true.
If we question ourselves, question every belief we hold near and dear, all anyone can ever know for certain is that they are aware. Everything else is piled on top of that indisputable fact. We live a whole life grasping, clinging to the story of me. But it’s just a story. Opening to the possibility that we really don’t know who or what we are is to invite the truth of who we are to be revealed. It is to stop lying and to start living.