“Who I am” is “What I see”

During meditation, I have been noticing something interesting. As I observe sensations closely, they seem to behave differently. For instance, the very act of breathing changes when I observe it closely. The vibrations that float around breathing change as I observe them closely. Initially, the vibrations are in sync with breathing and when I watch them closely, they go out of sync and when I step back, they get in sync again.

Same is the case with painful sensations. While scanning one part of the body, a pain in another part of the body calls my attention. When I actually get to that part of the body to observe the pain closely, the very nature of the pain starts to shift. It may start off as a solid-pain-object, but as I observe it closely, it morphs into a jelly-like-pain-object and then liquid-like-pain-object and then it becomes varying patterns of heat, and then a little while later it becomes varying kinds of contraction and expansion. Sometimes the pain-object also seems to move, stretch, expand, contract and then spread out before disappearing entirely.

Same is the case with difficult thoughts. At first they show up glorified, with the full force of whatever emotional charge (anger, fear etc) they seem to have. As I watch them closely, the visual, auditory and somatic aspects of the thoughts show up separately. Upon observing each of those aspects, they seem to change and not stay put. For instance, the visual aspect of the thought starts to flicker, change size or orientation. Sometimes the content of the visual itself changes and sometimes the visual vanishes while I am trying to watch it closely. Same is the case with the auditory aspect. What was perhaps occurring like mental-talk a few moments ago, might become a song or an abstract sound a few moments later. Sometimes the narrator’s voice in the mental talk changes. Sometimes the commentary changes. And sometimes, the whole thing vanishes. The somatic aspects which might have seemed to convey fear a few moments ago, may now appear like they are anger or desire or something else.

The very nature of the thing I observe seems to change. It’s so damn hard to keep whatever I observe in a fixed state so I can fully see it. 

Ofcourse, nothing is permanent. That’s a given. But I am wondering

  • is it that the phenomenon that I observed which is changing, or
  • is it the one observing (me in this case) who is changing, or
  • is it the case that the observer is the one who is being observed and there is likely nothing else there!

Jiddu Krishnamurti famously said that Observer is the Observed. That was his way of teaching non-duality. While I never really understood it before, I am currently perplexed by what I am seeing during my meditation. If I had to language it in my own words, I would say one or more of the following

  • “What I observe” is “Who I am” at that moment, or
  • “What I see or experience” is “Who I am” at that moment, or
  • “What I see or experience” reveals “Who I am” at that moment

I would probably go as far as asserting that: “Who I am” is “What I see”, and “What I see” is “Who I am”.

This is not to say that I am eternally self-centred. What it means is that when I look at a physical object out there in the world, like a flower for example, I am looking at my perception of the flower rather than the flower-in-itself (to borrow a suffixology from Sartre). My perception reveals more about me than it does about the flower itself.

  • if who I am at that moment is an “appreciation for beauty”, I will see a beautiful flower.
  • if who I am at that moment is a romantic, I will experience beauty, fragrance and the prospect of giving the flower to my beloved
  • if who I am at that moment is into botany, I will look at the bees and pollen and all that.

The flower isn’t beautiful, romantic or scientific in-itself. My perception of the flower is a total match for whoever I am at that moment. And since who I am is a moving target, I might falsely conclude that the flower itself is a moving target.

Coming back, the point that captures my insight, so to speak, fully is this: “Who I am” is “What I see”, and “What I see” is “Who I am.” How else can I comprehend the fact that a single vibration signature sometimes feels like bliss, sometimes feels like anger, sometimes feels like lust, sometimes feels like hatred, sometimes feels like boredom and sometimes feels like confusion?  Clearly, the vibrations aren’t anything in themselves. I see them as “angry” if “I am angry”, I see them as “fear” if “I am scared”, I see them as bliss if “I am blissful” and so on. It appears that I am not seeing the vibrations as they are, I am seeing the vibrations as I am. Since there is no fixed-way in which I am, the stuff that I see shifts totally in sync with “who I am” at that moment. Vibrations look like pain when “I am pain”, bliss when “I am blissful” and angry when “I am angry” and so on.

“Who I am” is a moving target, consequently I assume the vibrations are a moving target too. 

But, is that a valid conclusion?

Come to think of it, are there vibrations out there or, am I the one vibrating?

The notion that there is “something out there” that is separate from “whoever I am at that moment” leads to all sorts of alienating and uncomfortable experiences.

What’s out there is exactly “Who I am”, or put in other words: “Who I am” is not separate from “whatever is out there”.

Irrespective of how utterly counterintuitive it sounds, if I can simply let it be – there is truly an extraordinary sense of ease and freedom.