I am in a prison of my own design...
Material life is like a vacuum, especially if it comes with lots of attachments. It's easy to get caught up in the common definitions and necessary demands of our lives and completely overlook the truly essential part of it – the part that's always there and never really changes. Our eternal selves need recognition too, you know.
Probably the easiest way to pick out what's part of our eternal self and what isn't, is simply to look at what parts of our lives are always changing and what parts aren't. My hair, and the shape of my face and my body keep changing (dammit). The nature and circumstances of my work life do too, and really always have. My appointments and emergencies come and go; my bills pile up, and then go away (and then come back). In fact, all of the temporary aspects of my life, the externals, have always been continuously changing, even when they haven't appeared to. Trying to control or hang on to these parts of life that change is what sucks you in.
You'll hear Buddhists talking about "attachments," and "selfish cravings," and it can sound a little holier-than-thou, or even kind of cold, like: I am detaching from that, because I don't like it...or like: I am so "spiritual" that I pretend not to want nice things. Sometimes you're perfectly right to wish things to stay the same, like when you say: I am perfectly right to like things just the way they are. While these attachments can lead us away from happiness, the secret to finding a little serene self-realization is right there in the structure of every one of those statements.
It may be obvious that grammar is not my strongest suit, but even my amateur analysis of sentence structure in this case might help open the window up to a wider, more carefree view of Life. Ramana Maharshi, a famous Indian swami, put his finger right on it when he said simply (and I paraphrase): The important part of "I am this or that" is the "I Am" part – it's the "this or that" that is always the problem.
With that helpful foot up from Swami Maharshi I'd like to point out the simple (but very profound) distinction between the start of those statements we make about ourselves – "I am" – and the finish – "this or that" – and what an easy way it is to separate the transitory part that causes a lot of the problems in our lives from the eternal part that's truly essential to our sense of wholeness and happiness.
"I am hungry; I am an American; I am still waiting to get paid for that job; I am unhappy with my landlord; I am smarter than they are; I am detaching from that; I am very spiritual." What changes and what doesn't in all of those statements? You'll notice the second part, "this or that," is what always changes, or can always change. The first part, "I Am" always stays the same, and just that simply, there's your connection to the eternal.
"What never changes is what is real"
"What never changes is what is real"
That "I Am" that never changes is what we all share, the common ground we all spring from and stand upon. It's how we are all the same, the way we can always identify with each other – especially with people who could use a little help, or with difficult people who need understanding. That I Am isn't just the start of our shared human experience, it's the ground of it – a little grammatical door to the actual Source of all this beauty and apparent craziness we all swim in everyday.
It can not only compassionately connect us to each other, but to all of nature and the universe – all the plants and animals; the oceans and the earth – even the stars. It can realistically inform our relationships to one another and to our planet, and help direct a true sense of responsibility for the behaviors we choose and the actions we take. No small trick for such a little bit of grammar, right?
"I am the All. The All came forth from me and the All came into me. Split the wood, and I am there. Turn over the stone, and you will find me."
The Gospel of Thomas, 77
On a personal level, identifying primarily with "I Am" can really make our lives a lot easier and more comfortable, especially when you consider what that second half lets us in for. Not only do we usually start separating ourselves from one another when we say "I am this or that," we also open the door to our regrets, fantasies, and sense of self-entitlement: I was our Homecoming Queen; I was the first to use that technique; I am planning on retiring to Bermuda; I am more deserving of that promotion than anyone else.
When we are living in the past (regrets) or in the future (expectations), we're not grounded in the present, where everything actually manifests, including our wholeness and happiness. "I Am" immediately reconnects us to the truthful, important stuff in Life, and appropriately disconnects us from the unnecessary desires, fears, fantasies, conceits, and the like; that emotional quicksand our egos create – our troublesome attachments to the vacuum of the material, so to speak.
Here are a couple things the "I Am" is telling me always, as well as in this very moment: I am a very lucky guy, and, I am going on long enough about this...and that is about to change right now.
How to Survive Life (and Death), is available from Conari Press, or at all major booksellers (but get it from your local bookshop...)