“Another thing that happens sometimes is as soon as I turn inward instead of looking outward, I feel pain. A kind of burning sensation in the heart area that immediately makes my eyes fill with tears. This is a strong disincentive ... I can hear my mind urging: oh this bad feeling will go away if you stop this enquiry business. I do my best not to give in to this and to feel through the pain to the sense of "I am" -- even if the pain does not go away -- though it does if I stick with this long enough.”
I don't commonly have these experiences of pain when I practice self-enquiry, but it reminds me of a basic principle in deep-tissue massage, which is that you have to learn to relax and surrender into the pain. My son has been learning deep-tissue massage techniques, and tried them out on me recently when I visited him in Santa Cruz. He's become quite the expert at finding the areas in the body where I hold tension and am, essentially, “fighting” myself, not relaxed and surrendered. When he pushes on those points, I can't tell you how painful it is. My first reaction is to tense up and fight his pushing, clenching my muscles, which also numbs them to the pain. But then I realize I have to let go and surrender to the pain, and let the whole fitful tensing process relax. A lot of the time I was able to do this, and though it hurt, it was good, and I could let go of some of that tension-effort. But some spots were just so fricking painful I just had to plead with him to stop (he let up, but not by much).
I think there's a general principle here in relation to any experience in life, but particularly the wisdom which comes from even a little bit of self-enquiry. Which is to simply observe and feel whatever is coming up in the body or mind, and not react to it, not try to fight it, but simply relax the grip we have on ourselves that we reinforce through every kind of experience, even painful ones. I think self-enquiry brings these things up, because it goes deeper than the body, deeper than the mind, and thus whatever we are holding onto in body and mind will make itself none, and sometimes painfully so. What this woman experiences in self-enquiry is probably unique to her in the specifics, but universal in the basic pattern. I think Ramana said that virtually everyone who takes up self-enquiry will go through a lot of trials and difficulties, internal and/or external. I gather it gets subtler over time, and maybe even the content gets “subtle”, but the process seems pretty much the same in principle all the way through. Everything that we experience has to be let go of, because holding onto our experience is in some sense the very essence of our suffering. The devil of course is in the details.
I suppose this is what I mean by there not being much guidance out there for what literally goes on in the practice of those embarking on self-enquiry, and I don't know if it really changes all that much even for those who are very mature in it. From the accounts of Muruganar and Ammamalai, for example, this seems to be the case. They of course had the direct guidance of Ramana. Most people out here in the west have little to none, and much of what does pass for “guidance” falls well short of the mark. In fact, even the more prominent pseudo-Advaita gurus out there don't seem to talk about self-enquiry much, probably because they don't know much about it.
I recall when I first began to re-read Ramana about three years ago (for the first time since I was a teenager) and flirted with self-enquiry for the first time, I sensed that I was in for big trouble. Sure enough, I went through the most difficult time of my life rather suddenly. Something I read in Ramana really stuck with me and came alive to help me through this, when he said that the biggest mistake most people make is that they thank God when good things happen, and never when bad things happen. I just started repeating this over and over and thanking God every day for all the difficulties I was going through, and you know what? It really helped. And in the end, things did work themselves out fairly well. And I had a chance to see what was really important in life, which is why I began, eventually, to take self-enquiry more seriously. So maybe that's another thing to do. When the shit really hits the fan while doing self-enquiry, thank God, or the Self, or Ramana, or whatever you want to call it, for it, and don't just thank him for the blissful experiences that sometimes come.
We also got a comment from Kang, who sometimes gets a little over-excited, but we appreciate his passion. He writes:
“You know, I don't care what you or anyone else or even Ramana might say about this, self-enquiry is not a "practice." To call it that is just to make a self-conscious, narcissistic, egoistically fetishistic affair out of what is patently, in that case, NOT self-enquiry.”Come on, Kang, don't be shy, tell us how your really feel.
Okay, this isn't really so hard. As the other dude says, this is just words. I understand the whole “no practice” teaching of Papaji, and I love his way of putting it, and I also know that he teaches self-enquiry, but says that self-enquiry isn't a practice. I guess you are arguing along those lines? Well, good. There's a serious truth there. Self-enquiry isn't a “practice” like doing mantra japa or meditating on Tibetan visualizations of Tara. It is, as you say, merely finding out who we are. But let's face it, semantics aside, if you have to do it more than once, it's a practice. Those who only did it once and succeeded can be counted on the fingers of one hand, that I know of. Ramana, Papaji, and Lakshmana. Obviously all three were hugely prepared to make self-enquiry effective. The rest of us who have tried at least once and not realized the Self, well, if we want to keep trying, we might as well just call it a practice.
Is the practice of self-enquiry a self-conscious, narcissistic, egoistically fetishistic affair? Yes, I think so, if we are honest with ourselves. I mean, what's more narcissistic than putting all our attention on ourselves? What's more egotistical than focusing on the “I”-thought? It's hard for me to think of anything. It's egotism pure and simple, which I think is really what makes the whole thing work. Rather than beating around the bush, or running away from the ego, or trying to purify and transform the ego, self-enquiry just looks at the ego head on, no fuss, no muss. As Ramana said, in self-enquiry we look for the guy who is claiming to be the boss of this whole affair, and when we make the enquiry thorough and still can't find him, the whole charade is up. That's the end of the ego, and yet the process means putting all attention on this imaginary ego, until we see through ourselves.
My own experience with self-enquiry is erratic, but a lot does come up that I have to surrender. Lots of emotions come up, lots of happiness comes up, lots of tears, lots of devotion, lots of doubt, lots of mediocrity, etc. For me, it's all about simply feeling the “feeling of self”, which I don't even know quite how to describe. That's kind of how I got into self-enquiry in the first place. I was still in Adidam, and I'd pretty much given up on most of it, but something about the whole description of the “self-contraction” in Adidam had always intrigued me, and so I had gotten into “feeling the self-contraction” not in the usual way people talked about in Adidam, as a cramp in the gut or the mind, but in the basic self-position. When I left Adidam shortly thereafter that's about the only thing I took with me, spiritually speaking – not that I practiced it much, or did anything about it really. But when I began reading Ramana again the practice of Self-enquiry now seemed to make sense to me, which it hadn't long ago when I first knew of Ramana. The feeling of self seemed like a good starting place for moving into self-enquiry, and it seems to obviate something of the more headache-inducing notions about self-enquiry such as “awareness watching awareness”.
Although I must admit the AWA teachings, based of course on great quotes from Ramana and Nisargadatta, are excellent ways of looking at self-enquiry, but they try to distill it too far from its source, and make a fetishistic obsession of it that is divorced from its living reality, by which I mean the whole living reality of spirituality altogether. I've definitely benefited from such views, but I always find that the reality of Ramana is much wider than that narrow understanding and reductionism of self-enquiry.
I suppose that's why I react a bit to some of those who pass on the great teachings of Ramana, even very astute and high-minded guys like David Godman. There's a tendency, I think, to reduce Ramana's teaching to a “practice”, rather than a living relationship to a profoundly overwhelming Transcendental Being residing in our Heart. Ramana himself didn't do self-enquiry till the last minute. Before then, he was hanging out at the local temple, staring at the statue of the Goddess there with tears running down his cheeks. Now, could we say that practice was a form of self-enquiry? Maybe we could, if we understood self-enquiry in a way that's a little “out of the box”. Because I think self-enquiry includes a lot more than just the most literal exercise of asking “who am I?” for a half hour each morning and evening, and randomly throughout the day. It involves more than merely putting attention on awareness itself. I don't know that I want to define what it really is, but I do know that it's more than any of the book definitions let on.
Of course, maybe there's a reason why this doesn't get talked about much. Maybe it's not supposed to be talked about. I'm not sure why that would be, but it could be the case. And maybe it's a mistake for me to even broach the subject, much less have a blog like this. I gotta say, every week I wonder if I should just let this go. Who knows, maybe God will strike me dead. I should be so lucky.
Anyway, that's where I get off, this feeling of self. Meditating on that feeling is quite relaxing, really, even if it is just ego. Somehow, by meditating on the feeling of self, I feel something beyond self. Meditating on the “I', not as an abstraction, but as a feeling, makes the process seem real to me in ways that many conceptual approaches simply don't. The feeling of self isn't limited to just some sense of interior personae, but is the feeling of the body, and the feeling of the mind, as a sense of self. So when I practice self-enquiry, and feel this sense of self, it isn't apart from the body really. It's coincident with the body, just not limited to the body. It's coincident with the breath, with awareness, with feeling altogether. Somehow, that makes it work for me. And it's easy to see that this “I” is a feeling that runs through the whole of our being, all of our bodies, all the sheaths, to whatever degree we are aware of them. Everywhere we experience anything, there is a feeling of self at the core of that experience, and we experience that feeling all the time.
So, that's just my beginner's experience. It hasn't made me into some kind of enlightened dude who can now pontificate about the ultimates. Or rather, it hasn't stopped me from being a pompous dude who likes to pontificate about ultimates whether he knows what he's talking about or not. But it does feel damn good, and as Janis says, that can't be bad.