By Lissa (Yogyananda) Fountain
Life offers me many opportunities to test my inner equanimity. It’s like my mind sits on a perch, ready to swoop down and rattle my cage with the littlest irritation. Yoga rightfully calls these “opportunities” nothing more than “experiences.” The more experiences you have, the more opportunities you get to work on your enlightenment.
In her October 2019 Teachings: The Experience and Experiencer, Swami Nirmalananda offers a profound, yet obvious, quick fix to settle back into Self. In the midst of activity, or even in the middle of a thought stream, ask yourself, “Who is the one having the experience?” Well, that would be me, of course!
But who’s “Me”? The experience can be so captivating, I can get lost in it. Continually pondering this question leaves me very little wiggle room: am I my mind or the Self? Would I rather be trapped in identifying with my experience, good or bad? Or would I rather recognize that I am the Self while having the experience? I decided to stay in the question, as often as possible, for a couple of days.
While making supper, I asked myself, “Who’s the one experiencing this?” Immediately, my field of awareness expanded beyond what I was doing, into who I’m being: Shiva, while chopping vegetables. I know in theory that the Self, Shiva, is closer than my own breath, but asking the question opened me to the experience. My breathing shifted inside and I felt more grounded, more embodied.
Recently, I looked at my son’s face while he was talking with me. In the past, I would have had my story, featuring an identity for me to “become” — “concerned Mom.” Instead, I questioned, “Who’s the one looking through my eyes, and his, while having this experience of being together?” I settled into a sweet spaciousness. There was only the One: Shiva, manifesting in a multiplicity of forms, in order to have the experience of Self while being each and both of us. What a divine play! I know who I am, while having the experience. In this way, the outcome of any experience hardly matters.
Swamiji describes, “This practice makes you able to distinguish between mind and Self. Your mind is the servant of the Self.” It’s not the other way around. Of course, it can feel that way when my mind is bothering me. My mind gets distracted, or easily bored, and tries to figure stuff out. I suppose my mind is trying to help me. Instead, it sure makes things harder, especially in meditation.
In meditation this week, I was able to question my mind: “Who’s the one having the experience of meditation?” I clarified, “Not the one who is trying, but the one Being, while in the meditation?” Shiva. Immediately, I deepened inward. I became the experiencer, and my mind receded into the background of my awareness. Om Namah Shivaaya reverberated as if on its own. Instead of “doing my meditation,” I experienced That which is always being me.
As Swamiji describes, “This practice makes you able to distinguish between mind and Self. Your mind is the servant of the Self.” Whatever the experience, when my mind is serving my Own Self, it feels neutral, open to possibilities. I am less caught up in good, bad or even challenging. It just is, because I just am. I am the One Self, being all, even when I forget! Swamiji has often given the guidance to “experience the experience you’re experiencing while you’re experiencing it.” Now I add, “Who’s the one having the experience?” Then I know myself as embodied divinity. I become present in my own Presence. I get that much closer to enlightenment.