24. Being Quiet Internally

Q: Can you please explain what you mean by being quiet internally, or perhaps kindly redirect me to anything you’ve written? I am very interested in the concepts of wu wei and meditation as a way of life.

I really enjoy reading, and I feel that it allows me to sit in stillness through the understanding of myself other than as an ego. Which book would you recommend to read, Robert? I believe I need some challenging of my fixed ideas, and reading works well for me as long as I can understand it to a certain extent. I feel I’m ready to read I Am That. Would you say that’s a good choice? Please let me know your thoughts. I’d be ever so grateful. Thank you.

A: There’s nothing wrong with reading. If you want to dip into Nisargadatta, why not? Some people—I am not one of them—consider him an authority on what “myself” is. Their credulity is not his fault, as he did encourage his listeners to make their own investigations of the self, beginning with the undeniable fact that, as he put it, “I am”.

Unfortunately, most, if not all, of the attendees at Nisargadatta’s talks failed to follow that advice, but simply assumed that the results of his investigations were “Truth” spoken by a “realized being.” And so, rather than engaging in unbiased investigations, these imitators attempted to “confirm” Nisargadatta’s results.

In matters like these, beginning with a goal of corroboration, which can only be imaginary anyway, is a recipe for closed-minded, delusional self-hypnosis. A real investigation begins from scratch with the only fact one really knows: in this moment, I, as an apparent focus of awareness, seem to exist.

If you really mean to challenge your “fixed ideas,” as you call them, finding out first what those fixed ideas are and then questioning yourself about why you believe them—on what evidence, I mean—might be more useful than reading what someone else says. That’s what “being quiet internally” is all about—coming to see what you are, not by believing what some famous guru says you are, but by direct perception of thoughts and feelings as they arise in real time.

I Am That contains a profusion of ideas about “the self,” not all of them in agreement. Nisargadatta’s insights, the ones he spoke about anyway, kept changing as far as I could tell when I read that book. When you read I Am That, please challenge those ideas just as if they were the fixed ideas you already have. If you read a book without examining its ideas skeptically as you read, then those ideas will become your new fixed ideas. If you really mean to see things clearly, open-minded skepticism is, I say, the default attitude, the baseline, the sine qua non.

Those who view another human being—the guru—as an authority on the question of who or what “myself” is, make that judgment from ignorance. If you don’t know what “myself” is, how will you know whether the guru’s explanation is truth or nonsense? After all, different gurus say different things, and those debates never end.

For one reason or another—perhaps charisma, perhaps because the guru’s name attracts many followers, perhaps because the guru seems to be promising something “spiritual,” and thus “desirable”—some listeners will consider a guru’s words to be indubitable “Truth.” But regarding another human being as a conclusive expert in these matters is foolish on the face of it—a judgment from ignorance, as I said.

The guru may appear authoritative, but ultimately, your opinions about these matters must rely only upon your own authority, not the guru’s, for if you find someone to treat as an expert, it is upon your discernment such a person appears to be worthy of belief. That bestowal of authority upon the guru can only be a projection of your own level of understanding. It is your judgment after all that has deemed that person an authority. It is your opinion, your reckoning, your sanction — do you see that? At root level this all comes down to you and what you perceive, feel, and think.

In the world of technical information, experts do exist, but there are no experts in the art of living, which is an improvisational art. Another person may serve temporary duty as a transitional figure onto whom you project your own powers of discernment and understanding, but when that projection is seen for what it is, the “guru” disappears, and in his or her place stands an ordinary, standard-issue human being—perhaps wise, perhaps kind, but not all-knowing. That is a bright moment.

In each instant, things are as they are and cannot be any different. Whatever one perceives, thinks, and feels in each moment is “myself.” Except in memory or a fantasized future, there is no other myself.

No “myself” stands apart from events and phenomena as the “experiencer” of those occurrences. That myself is an illusion. One is not having experiences. One is identical to the totality of experience, conscious and unconscious. That’s what “I” am: experience, and experience is only this aliveness, right now, in this very moment.

The foregoing is not a “truth” to be believed on my authority, nor a goal to be attained through effort. Observe, and you may see it for yourself.

When I say being quiet internally, I do not mean trying to halt the natural flow of thoughts and feelings. That is not possible anyway. I mean relaxing sufficiently so as to be able to notice that flow — not the content or meaning of thoughts and feelings, but the ceaselessness of the flow itself.

Focus attention on the center of your chest. There are feelings there that cannot be named. Notice them. Notice your breathing. Become aware of thoughts as they arise and pass away again, an ever-changing stream of ideas, images, and feelings.

The “materials” comprising that stream—perceptions, feelings, and thoughts—are ephemeral, entirely momentary, flowing and changing endlessly. There is no permanency in any of this. Each instant appears, and before it can be grasped at all, disappears. Let it go.

A large part of that flow consists of habitual thoughts about me and “my life”—a kind of picture show starring oneself in every scene. Let it go. That movie, “The Story Of Me,” all about past and future, loss and gain, attraction and repulsion, praise and blame, may continue playing, but seeing its ephemerality, you will view it in a different light.

If there is any peace and joy, one finds it here and now, not after reading the next book. Myself won’t be here forever, so if not now, when?