This is an excerpt from the book One Grain of Sand, a work now in progress.
In a sense you’re everything, but where is the you beneath social roles? Who is the you that is there when no one else is there to influence it? Who is the you that dreams when the body is asleep? You can’t get that answer from anyone but you, and you’ll have to crack the crust and dive into the mantle before you find your core. How to start digging, you ask? Don’t fret. It’s a matter of achieving consistency, not complexity.
We have a tendency to make things too complicated. All you really need is silence, solitude, and sticktuitiveness. The spectrum of human imagination is huge. Depending on who you are the idea of sacred space may conjure up visions of anything from the cathedral to the charnel house, but there isn’t a right answer. You’ll know what you need when you find it or build it from scratch. The beauty of creating a “temporary autonomous zone” in your mind is that you can do so whenever and wherever you like. Will you do it in the rain? Will you do it on a train?
Just find a safe place to sit down at a time when you can concentrate. Get comfortable, and close your eyes. You may feel silly at first, because the simplicity of this approach seems absurd in a world where everything is portrayed as having to be complex and contrived. People spend decades and fortunes trying to achieve “enlightenment” because they can’t believe how simple it really is to change your perspective a little, which is enough to work from. We think we have to suffer to grow and so we get busy suffering as much as we can so we can “earn” self-love and inner growth. That’s us working for The Con.
I’ve got other meditations ready for you a bit later on, ranging from gradual empathy stretching to a visual/auditory exercise so complex you won’t be able to do anything else. For now, we have to break you in. Sit down, shut up, and get still. Really try to get past the habit of getting caught in the current of frenetic thoughts and feel your body. Concentrate on its weight, but try not to slouch. This is the hardest part for me. I’ll give you a tip I was given. Imagine your spine being straightened by an invisible cord that yanks you up when you bend too much. (There’s a theory floating around that Jacob’s Ladder to Heaven was a metaphor for an aligned set of vertebrae.) Give it a go. If you’re having trouble, take a moment and look at your hand, concentrating on feeling the life within it. Extend this until you can feel it anywhere you direct your attention. Now close your eyes and focus on the feeling of air going through your nostrils. If you can’t, switch to feeling your muscles moving that air in and out. Go back and forth as you need to.
Now here comes the part you can laugh at, but it works anyway. We’ll do a basic “you are here” visualization. Imagine a white hot ball of light in the center of your chest. Let it build in intensity, and then imagine that it is shooting a beam of light through the top of your head to an infinite height and extending down through your core to an infinite depth. Feel that column and straighten up so it’s not interrupted. Now do the same thing to the left and to the right, infinite in both directions. Finally, do the same from forward to back. You’re now squarely in the center of a triple axis, grounded.
This visualization will take all your concentration to maintain at first, so it wipes away all the gnats of stray thought while you sharpen your focus. Because you need to concentrate, it’s best to try this in private until it feels natural. Through practice you can do this anywhere, any time. In time you won’t need the security of the familiar. You can do this anywhere, alone or in a crowd, and no one needs to know. When you feel that grounding, just think or say “I am here.” Do nothing else for as long as you can. Keep doing it until you can feel it. Elevators are pretty good for this. Traffic jams. Checkout lines. Waiting rooms. Operating tables while you wait for the anesthesia to kick in. Bus stations. You’ll have your own list. Any time you can, keep saying or thinking “I am here.” When you don’t even have to consciously shift your attention, you’re well on your way. Eventually, you can drop “here,” and just repeat “I am.”
When we say “I am ____” and fill the blank with some role or quality we’ve associated with through habit, we define ourselves in ways that can also limit us. To say “I am” is to acknowledge the primal truth and identify with something impossible to define or limit: The Great Mystery of consciousness. “I am” is that feeling you have in the fleeting moments between waking from sleep and having your ego load your personality programs and call your attention to the day’s agenda. The goal of holding on to “I am” is not to keep your ego from doing this, because your responsibilities deserve the love of your attention. The goal is to be able at any time, in any place, in any situation to call yourself back to the center of the awareness that lies behind ego and in contact with the larger body consciousness itself, the hub of the wheel in which we all are spokes. When that conduit is open, whether you call it God or something else or nothing at all, you have access to your true power, and no circumstance can restrict you unless you allow it.
Now a point of clarification. It may seem from the language I use to describe identity that I’m against it. That would be absurd. Just as we trust clocks but know there is no time outside the mind, we need to use identity as a point of reference. I’m not condemning ego/identity outright or the shapes it takes, which we call personalities. This is just how it works for us. If we understand the clockwork, we avoid becoming slaves to it. I think it wise to consider the ways in which identifying too closely with the part of ourselves that is tied up in acquisition and defense can restrict the potential for well-rounded experience and minimal conflict while we’re visiting. In other words, as you seek peace, wouldn’t it be good to know how much you are in your own way?