To experience this lesson you need to forget your name for a while. Let’s say that “Who am I?” is a real question now. Escaping name and form means finding out who you really are. Most of the time we experience ourselves through limitation. Playing a role is a limitation, yet every person slips in and out of roles all the time.
Remember when you were a child and your mother was all-important? It did not occur to you that she had a life other than being Mommy; her identity was fixed in your mind. Only after you grew up did you see that she played other rolesówife, sister, daughter, career woman, and so on. Over time we learn to slip into our own roles by following the examples of our parents.
Taking on more roles seems like a way of expanding our experience. A woman who was only a mother would find her life suffocating. Being “complete” in our society means wearing as many hats as possible. But the wizard (wise self) does not see the situation that way at all. To him being complete means being free from all roles. “I am a free spirit reduced to the appearance of this little body,” the wise self would say. “You can circle the sun with your thumb and forefinger, but doesn’t its light still fill the sky?”
Stepping out of role playing is a tricky business, yet you cannot enter the wizard’s world if you define yourself through the roles you play. So what is the experience of being entirely free from roles? It is actually quite simple. When you wake up in the morning, there is an instant before you start thinking about your day, a moment of just feeling awake without any particular thought in your mind. You are just yourself, in a simple state of awareness. This experience of simplicity repeats itself off and on during the day, but few people notice it, because our habit is to identify with the thinking process. In reality, you are not what you are thinking.
If you are a woman thinking about her child, how he is doing in school, what to make him for dinner, and so on, you are not having these thoughts. Mother is. If in my medical practice I go around thinking about diagnoses, prescriptions, and so on, Doctor is having those thoughts. Mother and Doctor are useful roles, of course, but they come to an end, and one day each of us is faced with the riddle “Who am I?” This question never got answered, no matter how well we played our roles.
You can slip beyond the roles in a split second if you want to. As you read this, who is doing the reading? Or while listening to music, turn to the one who is hearing. Or if you see a rainbow, catch sight of the one who is seeing.
In all these cases you will immediately sense an awareness that is alert, awake, uninvolved, silent, yet intensely alive.
What have you actually done? You have interrupted the act of observation to catch a glimpse of the observer. This seer is the timeless factor in every time-bound experience, and this seer is you.
This still, silent, nameless state is very satisfying. It cannot be touched by thinking, talking, or doing. It’s the castle whose walls no army will ever scale, guarding the treasure house where the real riches of life are stored.
Adapted from The Way of the Wizard, by Deepak Chopra (Harmony Books 1995).