exploring self-realization, sacred personhood, and full humanity
How To Sit Quietly
In A Room Alone
The Consciousness That Says 'I Am'
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Rene Descartes, one of the brilliant thinkers of the seventeenth century, would often lie in bed until late morning. He was like Mark Twain who, as a thinker and writer, said he had trouble convincing his family that he was working, with his chair set back and his feet propped up on a desk.
However, we should all be as indolent and unproductive as Rene. One morning, he spotted a fly making its way across his bedroom ceiling. This set the French philosopher to musing: how could he describe to a third party the exact position of the fly on the wall? This question led to the invention of the Cartesian “x – y” coordinates, so common in algebra.
But, Rene was just getting warmed up. As we discussed in the “prologue,” the rubric for which he’s most famous is “cogito ergo sum” – “I think, therefore I am.”
While Jean-Paul Sartre would later take him to task for this, Descartes, in principle, gets nearly full marks for his insight. Rene was correct in the sense that, if you can find yourself, the true self – the wellspring of consciousness, the "soul," if you will – you’ve hit the bedrock of reality. There’s nothing more elemental than this to build your life on.
“Thinking,” the “voice in the head,” takes us somewhat close to the core substrate of personhood, but Descartes needed to go deeper. “Thinking” is an aspect of human intelligence, but not the majority interest with voting rights. There is a silent, wordless, subsuming intelligence behind “thinking,” constituting the essential, most basic, part of ourselves, which can monitor and witness the fact that we are thinking! This supervising presence is the “true self.” This is the seat of consciousness. This is our link to God. This is undiluted “being,” itself.
With a little guidance, it’s not so difficult to experience this; that is, the difference between thinking and the witnessing presence that knows we are thinking. And, once you do, you’ll be able to access this realization of the deeper strata of self, at will; this bedrock of “being,” a sense of “I am,” a sense of “this is my true self”; or, as Jean-Paul Sartre contended, "The consciousness that says 'I am' is not the consciousness that thinks."
Acknowledging this nuance, instead of “I think, therefore I am,” the better view becomes, “I experience a sense of ‘I am,’ therefore I am.” This happens without thinking; it's a wordless perception.
It is most interesting that, in the Hebrew scriptures, the one who reportedly spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai offered identification as, “I am that I am”; which, I take to mean, "I am the self-existent one." We all share in this mystical perception of self-existence, as we are all linked to God at the core of being. The "true self," this sense of "I am," is indestructible, and this is why "there is no death."
We’re talking about the architectonic underpinnings of reality here. This realization of persistent inner life can be accessed anywhere - while you're on the freeway or in the grocery store, but the best place is in a quiet room, alone.
Editor's note: There are functional “quiet rooms” that will suffice. On the home page, I speak of one of my favorites:
Some might contend that this forlorn North Dakota cow-path, adorned in muted earth-tones preceding winter, bisects the middle of nowhere; actually, it's downtown on a Saturday night, the main drag of the universe, where [historian] Clark said it's all happening... a place of exhilarating personal freedom and solitude... where the mind, in communion with the prairie, unhampered by the madding clatter of an ephemeral world, far from its meretricious and vulgar petition, can experience an intoxicating sense of privacy and aloneness, good company with one's own person. This, and places like it, I shall often visit for the next million years and beyond. However, there is something missing here for me... Simkan, my noble Arabian-Palomino... two horses, really; and mainly, a friend to share all this.