header pic header text

The Rebirth of "I"

Recently a friend was describing a situation in which giving something away was difficult for him:

"I knew that we needed to get rid of those things, yet I didn't want to give them up. So, (my wife) said she'd give them away. But that was still too much to endure, so I had to leave for a few hours." At which point his wife happily added: "And I gave them all away." 

Then, with a contented grin, he said: "It was easy to give them away when I wasn't there!"

Yes, that's the key! What a brilliant statement. When our sense of self-concerned "I" is not there, matters such as worldly possessions are not important. Fortunately, whenever we choose, we can create a new way of life in which the self-concerned "I" is no longer an obstacle.

The surface of the mind is covered with a layer of self-concern called the ego, while the depth of the mind is a spark of the divine which is poetically referred to as the heart. The surface of the mind is ever churning and chattering with thoughts, opinions and worries, while the depths of the mind remain ever pure and calm. Unfortunately, it's all too easy to be so preoccupied with living on the surface that we forget about the pure, calm depths within.

Whenever we choose, we can shift our awareness away from the self-centered concerns of the head, into the selfless joys of the heart; a shift from limitation into the unlimited; a shift from attachments and desires into equanimity, shift from a world of doubt, attachment and suffering into a realm of blissful presence.

The head asks: What's in it for me? What can I gain? How can I have more prestige, more wealth, more possessions?

The heart knows: There's more that I can give! I can be more loving! I can be more kind, more generous, more compassionate!

When one abides in the selfless bliss and strength of the heart, then one's worldly acts such as giving and receiving are accomplished with graceful ease, there is no longer excessive preoccupation with concern about one's own self, and there is no compulsion to assert or defend one's self.

But these thoughts bring questions, such as:

      How can we shift our allegiance from head to heart?
      How can we shift from self-centered to selfless?
      How can this sense of "I" be reborn?

So... let's take a deeper look....

The Depths of the Heart:

There is, deep within every person, an ever-present (yet often overlooked) inner sense of calm, strength, and well-being. In poetic terms, this place of enduring peace, strength and well-being is called the heart, and it is most easily encountered (at least initially) in silence.

But silence is of two kinds: silence of the tongue and silence of the heart. In the beginning, silence of the tongue will help one to encounter the silence of the heart. In the silence of the heart, the endless chatter of the mind gradually fades into unimportance, and one's former self-centered concerns about "I", "me" and "mine" all fade into selflessness.

How is this accomplished? Gradually! With patience,  intention and commitment one can make step by step progress from a troublesome self-centered "I" to the wonders of a heart-centered "I".

It's not necessary, or even desirable, to eradicate "I", but rather every word and every act of the reborn "I" should be inspired and informed by the clarity, understanding, loving-kindness and beauty of the heart.

A student of Sri Ramakrishna said:  Sir, if one gave up the I, nothing whatsoever would remain.

Ramakrishna replied:  I am not asking you to give up all of the I. You should give up only the unripe I. The unripe I makes one feel: I am the doer, these are my wife and children, I am a teacher.

Renounce this unripe I and keep the ripe I which makes you feel that you are God's servant, His devotee, and that God is the doer and you are His instrument.

Sri Ramakrishna

Often we may desire, or even expect, significant changes to happen instantly. But, alas, that's an unrealistic expectation. The entire process is much easier if one is willing to accept and appreciate the wonders of gradual changes, step by step, little by little.

As they say, the longest journey begins with a single step. And similarly we must each embark on our own individual inner journey with patience and intention, proceeding little by little, step by step, ever striving toward the goal, gradually day by day living less from the head and more from the heart.

This inner journey requires intention and commitment. One must strive with dedication to stay focused on this journey into the realm of inner silence where the gifts of calm, peace and well-being abound. The rewards for success in this journey are beyond measure, yet all too few are willing to stay the course.

Daily Practice:

Those who consciously choose to change their quality of life by welcoming the wonders of the inner life generally find it useful to make a commitment to daily practice, perhaps in the beginning setting aside 20 minutes in the morning and another 20 minutes in the evening to think about ways in which they might improve, and then simply sit quietly and calmly, letting go of all passing thoughts, and treasuring the moments of calm, allowing the heart-centered "I" to blossom and flourish.

To get started, it may be useful to strengthen one's power of concentration. The ability to control one's own mind is crucial. The untrained mind will wander about aimlessly, but through the power of concentration one's thoughts may be intentionally directed toward any desired topic or activity.

For example, to help enter the silence, you might use the power of concentration to imagine a beautiful flower peacefully basking in the nourishing sunshine, or imagine the gentle light of the moon perfectly reflected on still waters, or simply concentrate on the coming and going of your own breath, and then allow that mental calm to gently carry you into the depths of inner silence, the depths of the loving heart within.

Just rest in the silence. Let the silence do its work. Simply allow your heart to be empowered by the silence. Let the inner spark of divine light illuminate your path. There's nothing for you to do, just allow yourself to be the grateful recipient of this inner grace.

Gradually, you'll be able to carry this silent inner strength and light with you throughout the day, and the formerly troublesome "I" will be gradually transformed from a liability into an asset, transformed from a self-centered "I" to heart-centered "I".

Perhaps you may hear some distracting sounds, and perhaps the mind may continue chattering, but gradually the sounds and chatter will fade into the background and you'll find yourself abiding in a state of mind which is permeated with a sense of calm, peace and well-being. Focus your attention on the silence rather than the chatter.

During your silent time, resist the temptation to do anything whatsoever. Don't even take time to write down any of the "great insights" which may pass through your mind. Just relax and bask in the inner sense of calm, peace and well-being.

The inner silence is an indescribable place where there is no concern about thoughts or joy or pain, there is simply vast unadorned potential, a place from which beneficent qualities such peace, strength and understanding are continually arising.

Be empty of worrying.
Think of who created thought!

Why do you stay in prison
when the door is so wide open?

Move outside the tangle of fear-thinking.
Live in silence.

Rumi, The Essential Rumi, Coleman Barks, p3


After your silent time has ended, it may be useful to have a notepad at hand to write down the essence of any ideas and insights which have arisen. (Take care to identify the real essence of the ideas and insights, not the analysis and embellishment which the mind so quickly adds.) And then, take a few moments to give thanks, to be grateful for whatever progress you've made and whatever insights or strengths have arisen.

It may take weeks, months or years of step by step gradual progress to consistently abide in the inner silence. And, along the way there may be some times of noticeable progress followed by times of considerable difficulty. Don't be discouraged, this is a journey, and all along the way there are new wonders, new opportunities, new avenues of love, harmony and beauty arising into the midst of everyday life... if only one will take the time to notice and enjoy them.

Strive to focus your attention on the inner silence rather than the chatter of the mind. At first, you may only find very brief silent gaps in the sounds and chatter. But gradually, with devoted practice, the silent gaps in the noise and chatter will become longer and more frequent. That's progress; step by step, little by little. Be grateful, give thanks, enjoy the wonders of this day, and keep on working at it. As your daily practice matures, longer periods of inner calm and clarity will be found more easily, and the heart-centered "I" will flourish even in the midst of daily life.

However, no one else can do it for you. You must have your own breakthroughs, your own realizations, through your own direct experience. Don't despair, progress may be gradual, but the end result is truly worth the effort! The heart-centered "I" is a great treasure.

Outer Life is a Reflection of the Inner Life:

The greatest treasures in one's worldly life, such as love, compassion, and happiness must first be found within, and then brought out into the world as gifts. Trying to get such fulfillment from worldly possessions or from other people is doomed to failure. All great things must arise from within.

Within the depths of your inner peace and calm, you may also discover a sense of inner strength and a sense of insightful understanding which arrive without any words or thoughts. They just arrive whole and complete, ready to incorporate into your daily life.

This venture into the depths of inner silence is not an escape, but rather it is an empowerment, a time when one's heart becomes mightier than the head. We need both the head and the heart, but the ideals and visions of the heart must be the foundation upon which one's life is built.

In the depths of inner silence there is a spirit of guidance, a spark of the divine, which is patiently awaiting discovery, ready and willing to empower your life with wondrous gifts such as inner peace, inner strength and understanding which surpasses reason.

Why are you so afraid of silence,
silence is the root of everything.

If you spiral into its void,
a hundred voices will thunder messages you long to hear.

Rumi - 'Hidden Music' - Maryam Mafi & Azima Melita Kolin


When the head, filled with it's own self-centered reasoning and worry, is allowed to dominate one's life, troubles abound. But when the reason of the head follows the gentle guidance of the heart, then life becomes filled with joyful ease.

We need both the inner life and the outer life, yet we need to bring these two aspects of life together in the most fortunate manner, a manner in which the inner and outer become one as the inner life informs and guides the outer life. (The other way, with the outer life simply trampling over the inner life, only leads to emptiness and dissatisfaction.)

How will you know if this process is working? You'll know it's working when you gradually discover that you're becoming a better person, that your daily life is filled with more joy and  greater ease, and that qualities such as love, harmony and beauty are becoming your constant companions. Frequently, one's friends and family will be the first to notice the changes.

Gradually this time of inner silence of the heart will become so important, so valuable, so much a part of you, that you'll feel a profound sense of something missing when you do not visit the inner silence often enough.

In silence things take form, and we must wait and watch. In us, in our secret depth, lies the knowing element which sees and hears that which we do not see nor hear. All our perceptions, all the things we have done, all that we are today, dwelt once in that knowing, silent depth, that treasure chamber in the soul.

Kahlil Gibran, Beloved prophet: the love letters, p268


As the old superficial "I" fades away, everything which is truly important for your happiness and fulfillment will gradually emerge from the depths of the great silence into your daily life, as a lotus unfolding petal by petal, empowered by the wondrous inner peace, strength and understanding of your beautiful heart.

 

Wishing you love, harmony and beauty,
    wahiduddin

28 Apr 2011
updated 26 May 2011

 

Insights for Further Study:

   The Method of No-Method: Silent Illumination, by Sheng Yen

   Why Meditate, by Matthieu Ricard

   Contemplative Prayer, by Fr. Thomas Keating          

   Perfect Love, Imperfect Relationships, by John Welwood

   A Listening Heart, by Brother David Steindl-Rast