On looking inside and seeing nothing

I recently attended a workshop with Hamish Hendry, and during the lecture/discussion portion he included some stories about Guruji. Guruji apparently would tell students that when he looked at the wall, he would see God, whereas other might see only the wall. When he looked inside himself, he would also only see God. Hamish told him, Guruji, but when I look inside, I don’t see anything. “Very good,” was the response.

Of course we laughed, but it’s quite a riddle, isn’t it, that response. How it is very good to look inside yourself and not see anything there. Yoga does ask that we maintain an interesting balance between knowing the self and detaching from the self; of course, as I understand it, we are meant to detach from what is purely ego and learn to see (or feel, or in some other way apprehend) atman. There is quite a lot to sift through in that process, though. I sometimes envision myself going through my mental belongings as I go through my clothes when packing for a trip, or through an old box of photographs found somewhere in storage, and making piles. To pack, or not to pack; to save, or to bin; egoistic delusion or true self. I am sure the idea is that your gaze gets sharper with repetition of this exercise, and you are better able to anticipate what will ultimately prove itself unnecessary, but for now it’s quite hard to tell. Surrender plays a role there, I guess, appearing as the willingness to wait for the superfluous and the essential to identify themselves over time.

I also find that I can be confused with comparisons. When I hear that Sharath wakes up at one in the morning each day to practice yoga, for example, my first thought is always that I should not regard my own tiredness as ever being relevant if there is a human being in the world that can rise at that time every day without fail. Then the excuses come – he does nothing but teach yoga; he has no PhD work to attend to; and so on. Finally, there is the acknowledgement that I am not Sharath and will never be Sharath and thus the comparisons are unproductive. However, that still feels something like a failure, as if I’ve set my goals lower down the ladder than whatever the highest rung is. And of course, the notion that there is a ladder is egoistic delusion par excellence.

So, it would not quite be accurate to say that when I look inside, I see nothing; I could say, though, that when I look inside, I see that much of what I have going on there could be left to go on without my direct attention until its utility reveals itself.


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