Discover Your Essence
By Dr. Steve Taubman
I'm sitting in a crowded cafe. Straight ahead is a young couple, the woman staring intently at a computer screen, the man writing feverishly in a notebook. They work steadily, not looking up or speaking with each other. Ahead and to the right sits another couple. The young man sips from a large cup. He stares blankly ahead and then looks around aimlessly. The young woman concentrates on some of the artwork on the wall, turning occasionally to comment on the pieces. The young man breaks his reverie to nod agreement with her opinion. The counter is populated on the customer's side by a young woman, digging busily in her purse for money, and on the servers' side by a still younger woman with dreadlocks and a simple cloth skirt over a pair of jeans.
Everyone I see is busy. Whatever they're doing seems so important to them. They're very serious. They don't smile. They seldom interact. If I were a visitor from another planet, I'd say that these Earthlings are a very troubled, very preoccupied species. Actually, they all look hypnotized, dazed, entranced.
I watch the flow of life going on around me. I'm at peace. I'm content. Are there things I could be doing? Yes. Are there things I could be planning, reviewing, or worrying about? Sure. I'm human. I've got a life. But, for right now, I'm choosing to be in the moment. For me, there is no past, no future. Just now.
From this perspective, many things become clear: one is just how not present most people are. Another is how unnecessary it is to live anywhere but in the present moment. Our preoccupation with our difficulties is routed in the mistaken idea that something is terribly wrong and must be fixed. The first words to ponder in the workbook for The Course in Miracles by Russ Wise are these:
That's it. Just those two simple words with the infinite power to change our entire lives.
Now, I can hear many of you reacting in defiance against this principle. And that's OK. You'd get lots of agreement from society at large for the insistence that some things do matter. What about war, disease, injustice? Don't these things matter?
Yes and no. From a human perspective, of course they do. We try our best to live within certain parameters and help when we can. But from a spiritual perspective, it's all neutral. Nothing has the inherent quality of goodness or badness. It just is what it is. We humans attribute those qualities to the people and things around us. Devoid of judgment, the world actually becomes a friendlier place.
How would you treat others if you were God, or Jesus, or the Buddha? Would you accept some people or situations and reject others? No. You would love and cherish all beings and circumstances. You would treat everyone, regardless of his actions, with respect. You'd see those who acted inappropriately not as unacceptable, repulsive beings, but as confused children who had lost their way. How would you treat yourself? As a broken, hopeless mass of neuroses, or as a cherished, wonderful, and innocent individual, perfect exactly as you are?
We simply don't have the right to sit in judgment of ourselves or others. We have neither the experience nor the perspective to see the whole picture, and our judgments are necessarily skewed by the culture in which we were raised and the beliefs we've unwittingly imbibed.
That is why the great spiritual leaders of every age have advocated detachment. Detachment is the ability to step back from our mental constructs and look at the world from a neutral perspective. It's what Barry Weiss, a meditation teacher of thirty years, calls "being backstage." In other words, we recognize that all our thoughts, plans, beliefs, judgments, prejudices, problems, and solutions take place on the stage of life. But here's the good news. We're not who we think we are! We're not the ongoing monologue between our ears. We are, in fact, nothing more nor less than pure consciousness. We are backstage while the play of our life takes place before our eyes.
What is essence? Christians call it soul. Quakers call it that still small voice. Hindus call it the Atman. Buddhists call it consciousness. It is the fundamental you below your learned behaviors, thoughts and preferences. Look at the things that bring you joy: a beautiful sunset, an inspiring piece of music, a laughing child. Nobody taught you to love those things, because the appreciation you feel is inborn. It's part of your essence. At the deepest level, you are pure essence, and none of the things you use to identify yourself are truly you.
You can't think your way to that realization because anything you can think is happening in your mind, which is a limited form of consciousness. You need to reach this place in a distinctly different way. It requires courage and discipline to extricate yourself from the mistaken belief that you are your mind and, by extension, that every thought you have is vitally important. It is, however, vital if you're to break free of your limitations and experience what the Buddha called "liberation," what Jesus called "salvation," and what has been termed by spiritual leaders throughout the eons as "self-knowledge."
Eckart Tolle, the brilliant author of The Power of Now, begins his book with a fable. He tells the story of a beggar, sitting on a box, asking passersby to give him some money for food. One day, a man comes along and says, "I have nothing to give you, but what's in that box you're sitting on?" The beggar says, "This old box? Nothing. It's just a box I sit on." "Have you ever looked inside?" asks the man. 'No, I haven't." "Take a look!" The beggar pries the lid off the box and to his astonishment finds it filled with diamonds and precious jewels.
Tolle goes on to say that the beggar represents each of us. We spend our lives begging for scraps of approval, attention, status, financial well-being, sex, sensory pleasures, power, and a host of other things, when our true wealth lies closer to us than the riches in the beggar's box. Jesus said, "Seek first the kingdom of heaven and all else will be given unto you." (Matthew 6:33)
He also said, "The kingdom of heaven is within." (Luke 17:20-21)
A simple logical deduction, therefore, is that if we seek within, our outer needs will be met as well. The path towards self-realization is one of the most important paths upon which we can embark. Nothing will provide contentment until we learn to touch our own essence. In a subsequent article, we'll explore the attributes of a path to connecting with that thing we call essence, but for now, let us leave this subject having made the commitment to the pursuit of our deeper truth. If you do no more now than to recognize the importance of this aspect of growth, you're certain to be met with opportunities to discover the methods that suit you for attainment of that truth.