I am not sure when it started, but when I learned a simple Buddhist technique, I became aware of some “thing” I had known all my life but couldn’t put my finger on.
When I realized I was not the first to be aware of this “thing” I knew I wanted to pursue it.
This technique took me from the fear that I was nuts, to the confidence that the question was valid.
The technique was based on a moment of reflection. A pause in my mental movements. A break in my thoughts. It was there that I found a separation of sorts. The gap between me and my mental processes.
It was the simple act of observing my thoughts and emotions. The technique is simple. If you try, you can pause between your experience, and your response or reaction to it. Like being in a theatre and watching the movie rather than experiencing the movie.
It worked best with my kids because I loved them so much I was motivated to try to be different.
Rather than “get mad,” I would stop and observe myself. Rather than letting the emotion become me, I would observe it in myself. “There is anger.”
That, of course, caused me to see the depth and breadth of any emotion. It was not only anger, it was hurt, sadness, frustration, fear, insult. It was big or small or slight or imagined.
I could observe it and it was no longer me. Or even part of me. Or even necessary. It was only a “thing” I was experiencing.
Like a movie. I could break away from the movie and see a film playing on a screen and a group of people watching it. I could detach it from myself and choose not to act as if that emotional mass was me.
The more I did it, the bigger the gap could be. I could make it a distinctly separate thing from me.
I was engaged in a practice of stepping back from emotions and seeing them and their cause. Then I would consider them. Then I would decide if I wanted to continue with them. By observing my thoughts and emotions I could be free of them.
It is not easy, but I could do it. Anyone could if they tried. Buddhists had been teaching it for centuries.
But it was more than a simple way to calm myself down.
It was a discovery.
I was observing my emotions. I was observing my thoughts.
I – whatever “I” is – is distinct from my thoughts.
I learned right then, by observation and awareness, that I am not my thoughts.
By extension, I am not my actions. I am not my knowledge. I am not the sum of my experience.
I am distinct from these things.
Whatever I mean by “I” is distinct from thought, word or deed.
So, what, or where, is this vantage point for this observation? What, or where, is the thing that says, “I.”
Who, or what, or where, is this I?
That was my burning question.
That’s where it began.