I want to know myself at every level. What does that even mean? At some point, many of us want to know why we exist, what is our purpose, what are we doing and where are we going.
There are lots of lofty philosophical answers. We exist because the world exists and the world exists because we exist. We are meaningless without the world and the world is meaningless without us. Those are a couple of good ones. But how do we get a more concrete understanding of how to know ourselves and why we are here?
We can start by simply looking around at our world and who and what is in it. All of us arrive here in more or less the same way and are graced with a limited span of time that allows us to experience whatever this world allows us to experience. Each of us is a finite being with a specific set of tools to do whatever it is we came here to do.
We all share the common characteristic of being human and then we also have our own uniquely individual characteristics. Acknowledging this allows us to understand ourselves from two perspectives: how we are all the same and how we are all different. So, we are part of a greater whole, yet we are also a unique individual with a unique role to play.
First and foremost, in order to survive once we get here we all must fulfill our basic needs for food, sleep and shelter. These needs must be maintained throughout our lives on the planet. Once these needs are met, we have an opportunity to consider that there may be more to life than simply meeting the basic needs of our existence. What might that look like for us as individuals and as a collective whole?
In most towns and cities, you don’t have to drive too far to find a graveyard full of signs of those that came before us. The graveyard is full of people who once were happy, sad, ambitious, lazy, married, divorced, rich or poor. They had the very same gift of life that we have. What happened to these people? As long as they had a form, they were able to do exactly what we are able to do. Without a form, they are no longer able to continue doing what they once did.
Now it is our turn to experience what they too once experienced. We are contained in a fully living and breathing body with the capacity to meet the basic needs of our survival and the ability to question the purpose of our existence. This world gives us the framework to experience life through our senses, to feel love and loss, to be a living and functioning part of the human race.
Being human in the world gives us the space to experience what it is like to be a human. Simply put, it allows us to experience that which we could not experience if we were not born as a human. We have the capacity to imagine ourselves as something more than we are. A rabbit sees himself only as a rabbit. A giraffe sees itself only as a giraffe. We can choose to love or hate. We can choose to be happy or sad. Unlike the natural world, we are not so bound by nature.
One breath at a time, we move through the stages of our human life. We constantly experience change in the world inside us and outside us. First we are an infant, then a toddler and then an adult. Now it’s spring, soon it will be summer, and there is an ever-changingness to life.
This is all true. But it is not the point. The point is, that somewhere in our journey we may be lucky enough to discover something about ourselves that doesn’t change. Swami Rama, one of the great sages of the Himalayan Tradition was fond of saying all of the body is in the mind, but not all of the mind is in the body. There is a part of us that we simply cannot experience through our senses. This is true for every one of us.
There is a cause of our existence, a reason that we are here. The body we find ourselves in, the form we currently have is the effect of that cause. We are subtler than what we appear to be. On one hand, we are exactly what we see ourselves to be. On the other hand, we are invisible and intangible.
The part that we see, hear, touch and feel is the part of us that changes. This is simply the ‘effect’. Then what is the cause? A much greater force that knows how to create life, maintain life and take life is the cause of our existence. This force knows how to build a human being, how to guide a seed to grow and blossom and teach a bird to sing.
Those people that came before us paved the way for our existence. We are a product of our ancestors, those who came before us. We are the recipients of their hard work, toil and sweat. Everything that we experience today is a gift (whether we like it or not) from our ancestors.
The world gives us an opportunity to see purpose and meaning in everything that exists. But there is an even greater joy in understanding that we exist on a level that we cannot hear, see or touch. And even more exciting is the idea that we can actually experience our existence on a level that our senses have no access to.
Skillful meditation brings us closer to this reality and awakens us to the idea that our existence is connected with something far more gentle, powerful and real than we previously understood. A step outside of a world that is constantly changing. A view or perspective that witnesses the change but is itself not subject to change.
We have been given a gift. It is called life. We are not in the graveyard. Now is the time to experience everything that those before us experienced and go one step beyond. Here beyond does not mean going even further outside of ourselves in search of meaning, but rather turning our awareness and attention deeper within ourselves.
Life is short. As long as we have a body, we can experience life. Life affords us the opportunity to continue the journey paved by the ones who came before us. It is helpful to adopt an attitude that we landed exactly where we needed to land with exactly the right tools to do the job of recognizing and fulfilling our purpose.
Start by doing something good, appropriate and healthy for yourself. And when it feels right, share it with others. Be content with what you have and who you are and soften the sense of forward movement. In this way, you will begin to discover who you are and why you are here.