Have A Break – From What?

I have been interested in the ‘Who Am I’ meditation in various ways ever since reading about it in connection with Ramana Maharshi fifty years ago. Then in the early seventies Mike Tanner and I got hold of a booklet from America explaining how it was used in connection with a partner; the booklet called it ‘Enlightenment Intensive.’

It sounded as if it speeded up the process of enlightenment, and so we decided to try it ourselves, and ran a group with about twenty-five people in. We called it Who Are You? or some such name, and having no real idea of the format used in America, made up our own, which was to work for twenty minute periods each way. We both joined in – as was our way – not sitting out as administrators.

I remember that I went through all manner of states of mind and feelings. At one point I felt like I was wrapped in cotton wool and being pulled into sleep. At another I felt like an animal only able to make a noise to express all that I felt was within. Then on the second day my mind became really frustrated and struggling because it was confronted by the fact it didn’t have an answer to this question – amazing that I didn’t know who I was!

After that my mind gave up and I existed in a sort of mental collapse. Then something wonderful began to happen. Ashram at that time was a commune and we ran groups there, so the building was full of people on social security, babies running around the place, somebody playing the grand piano continuously. Outside dogs were barking. There were sounds of people and birds along with traffic noise. I began to hear all these sounds not as separate, but as different parts of one great and wonderful whole. And as I listened I began to hear what it was telling me. I realised it had always been speaking to me but I had never heard it before. But that was as far as I got. The weekend finished and I had not heard the message, only the voice.

At the second weekend, quite a long time later, I went through similar preparatory phases. Then at the very last suddenly broke through to directly knowing myself as a ‘wave on a shoreless sea’. It was the certain knowing that I had no beginnings and was moving to no goal.

I am a wave on a shoreless sea.

From no beginning

I travel to no goal,

Making my movements stillness.

Constantly I am arriving

And departing,

Being born and dying.

I am always with you

And yet have never been.


I am a feather blowing in the wind,

Reality my conception that I am.

The idea of self a mask

Of many pieces made,

Which at a touch disintegrates

Into specks moved and eddied

By the cosmic wind,

With no star a final backdrop

And no thought a finite wall.

This last weekend was quite different in a number of ways. For instance in the first two weekends I had not met any issues in my life, but had moved through various states to some degree of a direct experience. The other weekend workshops were run by me and Mike Tanner, but this one was run by a woman trained in the original method, started by Charles Berner along with his wife Ava Berner, with only six minute question periods. Berner combined “the 10,000 year old self inquiry meditation, ‘Who Am I,’ with a 20th Century western communication technique developed by Ava Berner.

The first of this day of this session was difficult. The non eye contact of the helpers didn’t make sense to me at first. I felt they looked deeply unhappy people, as they never smiled. This and the rules led to a strong feeling like I had in the RAF, as if there might be some plot to keep me there. Anyway I used the technique, which was to sit in the floor opposite to a partner – both sexes were involved. One of the partners asked the other, “Who are you?” This, was repeated every few seconds unless the partner was speaking. The person the question was aimed at was to be aware of their whole being, body, mind and intuitional feelings. It was not aiming to be an intellectual conversation but to report whatever the question provoked, whether feelings, memories, silence or even panic or anger. The instructions were to never express any of it physically on the other partner.

I enjoyed it, so it was not a battle or hardship in that sense. Usually with someone giving me attention I get very quick responses, but this was slow going. I kept coming back to what I call the empty cave; meaning that I had thought that our life journey would lead to a wonder experience. But all I found was an empty cave – all that was there was Myself. It is the sense I have been struggling with in different degrees for about two years now.

Quoting from my journal, January 1991 – I remembered the session of looking for something MORE. The ‘isn’t there anything else’ session in which having looked into the abyss I just sat. I remembered the time working on a dream in which I arrived at the goal of the pilgrimage; I reached the cave of the treasure after the incredible adventure and heroic confrontations of the journey. I was the warrior or brave who had dared the many demons, hardships, traps, conflicts and temptations, arriving at last to what had appeared to be something of inestimable spiritual value, only to find an empty cavern. And, having searched everywhere in the cavern found nothing. I had sat waiting in the cavern for something to reveal itself – but sat in vain. I finally realised that the only thing in the cavern was myself – I Am It! Is that possible? See The Mountain Path

After over thirty years of spiritual quest, twenty years of them intense, I had battled through all the psychotherapeutic shit of childhood traumas etc., to find this Holy Grail, this special cave – only to find it empty. It wasn’t that I doubted I was the centre of my search. That had come home to me again and again in the past. It was what I have come to call it, ‘this is my life’. In other words, although I have found the vital sense of myself as the creator, as an undivided part of the whole, I actually am alone in my cave. I do not have a vital sense of connection with the others who are also part of my whole. I exist in cosmic, but splendid, isolation and ‘dryness’.

So, here it was again – this is my life. With each partner I came to this sense of being, of clear existence, but empty, unrelieved. The All One was Al-one. But the first breakthrough occurred when I admitted, then deeply felt, how I had shut people out of my life because of the childhood experience of being an alien in my own village during the war because I had a father with an Italian name. The war was on and Italy was on the enemy list. I remember the experience of some years ago when, after struggling a whole year with my difficulty of taking groups, the Life Essence of Humanity had stood before me and told me that I knew in my heart why this was, and for me to tell It. I managed to squeeze out of myself the admittance that I wanted to be different; a tortured stumbling confession. But I had not cried then as I cried this time, asking for forgiveness. I feel very sure that it was telling this to a stranger, another ordinary human being like myself that made so much difference. In a sense I was telling the people I had rejected.

After this it quickly arose that there was a reverse side to my wanting to be different – it was wanting to be accepted, wanting approval, wanting to be told I was okay. I felt this quite intensely, wanting Jan or one of the helpers to tell me I was good, doing it well, etc. It was a very child level of feeling.

This didn’t emerge so much in any one period of working with a partner, as something that crept out through the cracks in between. Something that particularly struck me was that while doing a work contemplation in the kitchen cleaning copper, and feeling very bubbly, Dan came to me and asked how I was doing. As far as I am aware there was no warning this was going to happen, and I had not seen him asking other people. My inner reaction was quite enormous – I had been singled out for criticism. I wasn’t doing it right. I internally collapsed into panicky feelings and was very defensive and ready to be aggressive, yet not feeling at all strong. I couldn’t understand right away what was happening, but I see this as part and parcel of feeling alienated as a child, and fearing criticism. I actually gave up at school quite early on as a junior, and was expelled at fifteen. Also while still in junior school while with other boys of my age hanging on the back of a large horse and cart, grabbing and eating wheat grains there, suddenly the farm hand driving the cart turned and hit me full in the face with his horse whip, shouting at me, “Get off you little Mussolini”! I didn’t understand what the words meant, but I fully understood what the whip in the face meant.

So, these feelings make sense in that connection. I was back at that war time being picked on again. I explained a little of this to Dan the next day, as I could see he hadn’t expected that reaction, and didn’t deserve aggression and defensiveness.

The second day seemed eternal. Not difficult, but it was hard to remember that events in the morning were actually on the same day. I am not sure now of the sequence of things, but I think what came next was my gradually going into a very powerful state of existing in the moment. This first came as a fairly fleeting but clear sense of being naked, invisible space, consciousness, being. That first phase is quite difficult to recapture now, as it didn’t get deeply established. But it was a shift from being thought, or emotion, or body centered, to being centered on naked awareness. It was a wonderful experience, in that it brought great order into my being. It made sense of my structure. Thoughts, emotions, my body, all shift and change, but my naked being was always the same, changeless.

This led to a prolonged experience of just being. It was still the empty cave experience, but this didn’t matter. It was pleasurable because thinking and feeling had largely dropped, and there was a gentle blissfulness just in existing. It was wonderful just to be. This got stronger and stronger and lasted longer than I have experienced it before. I remember saying to my partner that my existence explained itself, and there was no need for me to say who I was. It is/was such a delicious state I want to come back to it again and again. There was no effort in it at all, neither physically or mentally from the question. Usually if I sit for long periods I have pain in my right leg, and in my hips, but I felt my body had no pain, the pain was gone wiped away by touching the bliss. Also, while in this state I sat opposite a large man with glasses. While he was talking, I felt I could see on his body all the pain and tension he was carrying yet not admitting. He was saying he was fine yet his whole body was tight, his face lined with tension, and even the words he was using were telling me of his condition, yet he was not aware/admitting it, even to himself. I felt I wanted to bathe him in the peace and joy I felt but somehow, he didn’t seem to notice.

At this point, Jan – the director – said it was time to have a break, and for me this was a wonderful joke; a break from what? From existing? From life? From oneself? Where was there to go? Why did one even need to move? It was such a pleasure to just be. Of course, there was no problem about moving, but one could do it out of this state of existing. Why did people need to move away from themselves?

Enlightenment Intensive Retreats around the world – Wikipedia EI

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