At the heart of realization is the knowing that all is One. An important step is apparently taken in exactly the other direction, to recognizing everything that you aren’t. This disidentification, done step by step, loosens your closest held attachments and identifications. With that, the way is opened to deconstruct the identity of that which held these attachments, the I. With that deconstruction, the house of cards falls down, and all identification and attachment ceases, and all is seen clearly as One. Much easier said than done, but it works, and has for millennia.
To begin this disidentification, you systematically investigate every belief, relationship, emotion, sensation, body part, functioning, thought, etc. you have to see if you are that or if you are something different from it. As you investigate each of these elements, you will see that there is a subject that sees it as well as an object that is seen. A fundamental principle is that if you see or sense something, you can’t be that. You clearly cannot be both subject and object, so you can reject that object as not being you.
Too often, this “not this, not this” (neti, neti) approach is treated as a blind, rote recitation. To bring energy, depth and immediacy to the approach, it is important to feel the question within the statement, the inquiry buried within the assertion. It can be helpful to end your negations with the parallel question such as “Am I really not this body?” to make the inquiry explicit and more penetrating.
As you work with a negation such as “I am not these ears or hearing”, see if that is true. As you hear something, are you what you hear or are you a subject that hears something? If you are the subject that hears something, you must not be those ears or hearing which you sense as objects. While this is intellectually simple, do you feel it as your reality? If it doesn’t feel true for you, if something is uncertain about that statement, even a subtle doubt, then it isn’t yet a reality for you no matter how many times it is repeated.
Carry “I am not these ears or hearing” a step further by assuming that if that were true for you, how would that feel? What would it mean if it was true?
Investigate it with a parallel question, such as “Who hears?” See if there is someone doing the hearing. Watch sounds being processed, see an identification being formed, an image being created and perhaps a story forming. Are you the one hearing? Is it necessary for you to be there for hearing to happen?
Focus first on sounds that are neutral and unlikely to engage the emotions, like the ticking of a clock or the hum of a computer drive or fan. Then try more emotionally-charged sounds like a favorite song, words from a close friend or loved one, or your least favorite politician. Who is hearing this? Who is having these emotions and judgments? Where do these thoughts originate?
As you work your way through this “neti, neti” process of negating this, this and this, it may be helpful to consider, conceptually, just how your “I” might have been assembled. A model that many students have found useful is the way you might assemble a ball of “Post-It” notes.
As our lives progress, there are millions of experiences that occur. Some of these were captured and recorded, but the vast majority simply passed by and didn’t “stick”. If the ones that stuck were actually written on Post-It notes that would help you remember them clearly. It would also be useful to have them in different colors showing their category for easy sorting. There would be yellow Post-It notes dealing with school such as “good in math”, “not good in history”, “don’t need to work on English”, etc. There would be blue “Post-It” notes dealing with athletics such as “basketball is fun but not tall enough”, “no good at soccer”, “not fast enough for field hockey”, etc. There would be other categories and colors of notes for things like dating, popularity, friends, work, appearance, intelligence, partners, etc. These would then be assembled as they arrived over the years in an accidental, serendipitous humble-jumble fashion into a ball of colored notes. Somehow, someone (who knows who) decided that all of these single experiences over all these years on all of these different colored Post-It notes made a coherent thing called an “I”. That is just impossible. It’s just a ball of ad-hoc, randomly selected Post-It notes assembled in a haphazard fashion from the millions of experiences that were available. There is just no rationale behind assuming that it is all one single color, one single entity with a single identity.
This “neti, neti” exercise gives us the vehicle to take that ball of Post-It notes apart, note by note, and see if there is really an “I” there. Many resist negations as they feel they are depressing and nihilistic and fear that they will be left in a void, in nothingness and oblivion. In my experience, it is just the opposite. It is a liberating, affirming, and empowering process that results in a state that is full and complete beyond measure.