Analysing Yourself through your own experience
In psychological/therapy circles there are a number of assumptions which limit the extent of the analysis. The analysis or therapy is confined to the mind or circumstances, to mending the mind mainly by altering the content of the mind or the circumstances in which the patient finds themselves. This is certainly beneficial in terms of creating a more functional life. This is what I refer to as becoming psychologically mature.
This is what my teachers teacher Richard Rose referred to as “getting your house in order.”
The assumption here is that you are the body/mind complex. This of course includes emotions since emotions are closely associated with thoughts.
From the point of view of the spiritual seeker this assumption is limited. We speak of spirit and soul. We intuitively know there is something more to us than what is obvious.
The spiritual teachings tell us that we are something other that body and mind. We want to know what we are as well as or other than body and mind. We want to know what happens after death or what is death about. We wonder how our own life makes sense in relation to the bigger picture. Most people, if not everyone at sometime wonders what is life all about with all its inequality and traumas, as a stand alone experience.
We intuit that there must be something more to it all, and there is.
But, to get to this understanding we need to analyse our own assumptions, beliefs and expectations and perhaps see that they are founded on shaky ground. All our beliefs and assumptions come from what is called “our conditioning.”
Our conditioning is the beliefs, assumptions, values, understanding we get from our parents, culture, education, the media and so on. It is the sum total of our understanding of life as absorbed by us from all around us.
It all comes from an external source, something outside of ourselves. We have taken it on as our own.
If you look at any characteristic you believe yourself to have you will soon find that this characteristic was given to you by the world around you. Where did you get the idea that you are beautiful or smart or cranky or whatever? You didn’t invent these characteristics for youself. If you did I’m sure you would have given yourself all the “good” ones.
This level of analysis is at the psychological level. Having examined this aspect of yourself you begin to wonder, well what am I if I am not the the body or the mind.
This is where the spiritual teachings become valuable to you. You have started to look for an alternative vision of who you really are.
In our normal way of looking at things we expect to find an alternative view to what has been debunked. This is not how spiritual development happens. What happens is that we find ourselves debunking one alternative after the other, until Nothing is left.
Now this Nothing of which I speak in not nothing, it is alive, conscious, awareness. It is what is reading these words. It is what is behind everything but usually we are unaware of it and hence feel empty or dissatisfied.
So the path of spiritual development is one of “backing away from untruth” as Richard Rose put it.
So, the self analysis I am writing about here is one of analysing the various layers of your experience with a view to seeing how they hold up under scrutiny.
In order to do this type of analysis it is necessary to learn a method. The method below comes from the Hindu Vedanta teachings of India and it involves looking at your own experience through the lens of “The Five Sheaths.” This teaching is known as The Panchadasi.
This is a template of the human as consisting of five layers surrounding your core being, The Self.
The five layers are the body, the breath, the mind, the ego, the intellect.
The grossest layer is the body.
The way to proceed is to ask yourself questions about the body. Here are a few such questions.
If I am the body do changes in the body change me? As a child I had a childs body and as an adult I have a different body, am I still me despite the changes?
If I lost a limb, would I still be me? Would I be diminished by the loss?
You come to an understanding based on your own inquiry, not what somebody has told you. This is important.
The next layer is the prana or breathing body.
Without breath the body dies. Breath is the fuel that drives the body. It is a chemical reaction that takes place in every cell of your body.
Are you a chemical reaction? Chemical reactions take place at the gross level and can be observed.
It’s not that you can see this reaction taking place in your cells, but you know the results of it as in maintaining your body temperature and digesting food.
You know you have energy, which is produced by this chemical reaction. But, are you less yourself when your energy is low?
The next layer is the mind. The mind in this case includes thoughts and emotions. Thoughts generate the energy, the drive to act. The word emotions means energy in motion. These thoughts are mainly associated with survival of the organism and they are an automatic response to your environment, fuelled by memory.
These thoughts and emotions are in constant flow, depending of the circumstances. They can be classified as thoughts and emotions about desires and fears.
Most thoughts in this layer are about getting what we want, our likes and avoiding what we do not want.
This is the layer where beliefs and assumptions are built up, based on past experience. It is where our reactions, emotional reactions are generated.
One day you feel happy and the next day you are insecure about some aspect of your life. Which one are you, the happy one or the insecure one?
Does any one emotion and thought pattern define who you are? Since these thoughts and feelings are always changing, how can you be any of them?
You must know that at your core there is something unchanging, something that is always present with you.
Despite how addictive and intense these feelings can be, they always pass or abate.
The next layer is the doer, the one who acts. Are you your behaviours? You have many behaviours.
You cannot stop behaving. How much control have you over your actions? Can you prevent accidents? Can you stop eating? Can you make yourself rich or famous, if that is what you would like?
The final layer is the intellect. The intellect is different from the mind in that it is the discriminating aspect of thoughts. It is not automatic. It requires judgement and discernment.
It is not intellectual in the sense that it is abstract but that it discriminates between different thoughts. It is where you decide what is most true or real between different competing thoughts. It is where you develop values. What you value has resulted in you selecting what is most likely to bring you happiness or fulfillment. This is based on observing the lower layers and being open to new ideas, spiritual teachings.
Spiritual teachings offer a new set of ideas to what you usually get from the worldly interests.
It is by testing these ideas against your own experience that you become more discriminating about who you really are.
What remains present regardless of all changes is what you are, the subject, and what changes are the objects appearing to the subject (you). What is always present is awareness because without awareness there would be no objects.
Awareness is not anyones personal possession. Awareness is universal and each of us are in it. It’s not that awareness is an aspect of the body, being alive as we often think. It’s the other way around.
Awareness is aware of itself as well as being aware of everything else, in the same way that a light bulb lighting up all the objects in a room also lights itself up. Awareness is the light of consciousness, the light that we are.
Practising being aware that we are aware is a great way to shift our attention towards what is real in us.
Here’s a link to a video made by my friend Bob Fergeson which gives some hints on how to become aware of awareness.