If there’s one particularly difficult barrier to knowing our true nature, it’s the hard-coded belief that we already know the answer to the question. No need to look, already have a pretty good feel for who I am, but thanks anyway.
We envy those who are said to be “comfortable in their own skin,” who are confident and secure, who come of age in loving, nurturing, stable homes. But these also happen to be the individuals most resistant to looking at themselves. If there is a problem, it resides somewhere other than with them.
For others, however, the quest begins when we reach that point where this “I” character has become intolerable – when we’re as apt to jump off a bridge as to greet another day. Eckhart Tolle describes the night when, suicidally depressed, came the thought, “I cannot live with myself.” Suddenly, profoundly, arose the mind-shattering question: Who is this I that can’t live with itself – is there one or two of me?
This kind of spontaneous awakening occurs precisely because the mind – that owner, author, architect of ‘me’ – is sufficiently blindsided to question everything it knows about itself. The agent of that blindsiding might be suffering, a work of art, anything that stops the mind or turns it inward on itself.
This is why suffering is considered such a powerful entry-point to self-discovery: because it drops that cocksure entity to its knees and says, “you don’t have a clue what’s really going on. All you’ve ever ‘known’ is what you already know, and what you already know was taught to you.”
Translation: you don’t know shit, so let’s stop pretending, shall we, and see what’s really going on.
To paraphrase David Carse, this is the point – if we are willing and open to being gutted, hollowed out, emptied – the adventure can begin.
Conversely, if we resort to the usual rationalizations and defenses of self, we remain trapped behind a fiction not of our own making. It’s safe, it’s predictable, and it’s an illusion that keeps us going round and round and round.
So envy not the confident. Celebrate, instead, your insecurities, your anxieties, your fears, and ask, again and again and again, “Who is it that is doing all this suffering?” Then sit back and allow life – rather than your mind – to answer.