Who am I? What are the characteristics of my True or “Real” Self? This is one of the fundamental questions that the great wisdom and meditation traditions of the world all ask, and when we experientially find the answer in meditation it always indicates an enlightenment experience.
One of the key understandings we need in order to search for our True Self is that it is theultimate subject, it looks out onto the world and at objects from a subjective point of view. The True Self is always the subject of your consciousness.
If we have something that we think may be our True Self, we can see if we can turn it into an object with objective qualities. If we can do so, then we can be certain that that thing is not our True or Real Self.
Lets’ take a few examples:
Is my body my True Self?
Certainly much of the time our sense of self is based around the feelings and experiences of being in a physical body. If someone says to us “You look like a bit of a fatty today!” we will most likely respond as if they have insulted our real self! But hold on, if we check it is actually quite easy to change our subjective identification with our physical body into an objective experience. For example we say “My body”. This indicates that the body is the possessed and we the self are the possessor. Since we can observe our body as an object in this way we can conclude that it is not our True or Ultimate Self.
Are my mind, feelings thoughts and opinions my True Self?
Like the physical body we can generate extremely strong self-sense based around different feelings, thoughts and opinions that our mind generates. However, like our body it is possible to take an objective stance and watch our mind objectively, so our mind fails the subjectivity test too.
Is the body-mind combined my True Self?
The combination of body and mind is a tempting thing to place our sense of self upon, but since we have already seen that both can be objectified, it follows that the combination of both can’t be the True Self.
Is my spirit my True Self?
Many spiritual people would jump onto this one. The True Self must be the luminous, formless ground of being that we discover when we go beyond the mind into silence and the inner space that lies beyond the mind. However, although a subtle and deeper aspect of self than the body or mind, our spiritual being can be observed objectively like the everyday body and mind, thus it too fails the test of being the True Self, the only aspect of self that we cannot turn into an object.
The Witness Consciousness
What is it that remains constant whether we are observing our body, mind or spirit? Termed most often as the “pure witness consciousness”, this aspect of self has only one quality; it is the witness of whatever is arising in our mind. Beyond this witnessing there it has no other qualities! This is our True Self. It remains at all times the same, whether we are focused on our physical world, mental world or spiritual world.
The Non-Dual Self
Moreover it is the same witnessing consciousness in me that is in you, the witness within me and the witness within you are indistinguishable. Thus by connecting and meditating upon the witness self we connect to the Universal Self, that unified Self that lies within the heart of all living beings without exception and looks out through an infinite number of pairs of eyes!
By meditating upon the True Self or Witness Self we also therefore arrive at an experience of Unity with the Selves all other living beings. Multiple selves in infinite living beings become the one True Self looking out through the eyes of all. In this sense by discovering our own True Self we have also discovered the Non-Dual Self, the One-Self that lives in all living beings.
Meditating on the True Self
The above explanation of how to find and connect with the True Self as I mentioned is implicitly found in all of the great wisdom traditions of the world, but the wording borrows most explicitly from the Hindu Vedanta tradition. Essentially meditating on the True Self is very simple, but infinitely deep and can be done in two parts as follows:
1) Observe the flow of your awareness from moment to moment, become aware of that which is watching and observing the flow of sensory, mental and spiritual objects though your awareness. Recognize this subjective, witnessing awareness as your True Self and focus upon it gently.
2) Once you have some familiarity with step 1, then become aware that the witness awareness that you are now recognizing as your True Self is the same witnessing self or True Self within everyone else. In this sense it is the Universal or Non-Dual Self that is present in yourself and every other creature that you meet. As you are placing your focus upon your witnessing awareness, integrate the recognition that it is the True Self and also the Universal Self, the Self that is one in all and all in one.
There you go, simple enough for a beginner, deep enough for the most practiced Yogi!
© Toby Ouvry 2011, you are welcome to use or share this article, but please cite Toby as the source and include reference to his website www.tobyouvry.com