The big ME

After the talk, it’s time for a bit of walking meditation. This is a different style of walking meditation than the more militaristic type I experienced at the Zen center. Today, our instructor explains, we should make our way slowly around the garden, each according to our own whim, pausing every few steps. She tells us to look around, and try to gaze upon everything as if we have never seen it before. “Each time,” she tells us, “create a never-heard story for how that vision came to be.” I’m not entirely certain what she means by this, but I get the gist: we should practice moving through the world like she appears to.

My classmates and I set off in all directions like dazed sleepwalkers. I begin my trek toward the coy pond, stopping along the way to take in the golden curves of the stupa and a flag with squiggly script. “What is this amazing new sight?” I ask myself. It’s not so hard, I find these items fascinating. I try objects that are more familiar: an open rose and, then, a stone from the path. “Wow, look at that,” I tell myself.

I try to feel all the wonder of seeing something like the Grand Canyon for the first time. A flower, a chunk of rock—these things truly are remarkable if you look at them like that. It’s good to remember. But what would happen if I tried this with mundane things from my everyday existence like a piece of junk mail or an empty skillet? For a moment, the spell is broken. I think how nuts this group would look to an outsider who saw us meandering the yard like overly-medicated patients of a funny farm. Then even that gets lenses through which nothing has a set explanation, and I slip back into my hallucinatory dream.

When the class reconvenes, it’s time for seated meditation. I get comfortable in a plastic deck chair. I lower my eyelids to half-mast and focus on the sensations playing all around: the breeze against my skin, the gurgle of water, the rustle of leaves. I don’t know if it’s sitting outside or if the teacher’s example has nudged me forward, but today I see more clearly the essential dichotomy of being human. Each of us has a “little me,” what we conceive of as a distinct self, hungry for us to believe that’s all we are. The contours of its identity strengthen when we are caught up in ideas; memories of the past, worries about the future: the highway of thoughts is its domain. When we step away from the thinking and plant our feet in the present moment, we become a part of something immeasurable: the “big me.”

Suddenly what I feel is more expansive than the view to the ocean out front. I see that I can choose to let the “little me” have the power, or I can challenge its authority. I breathe in a beautiful state of bliss. All around is space and I am a part of it. I am nowhere and everywhere. “Here it is!” a voice shouts. I feel like a runner who has been struggling for miles and then, miraculously, hits her stride. I could go and go and go. Has it always been this easy? I want to hold this feeling forever. What if I can’t hold it forever? A thunderbolt of panic rips through me. My chest constricts and my heart beats wildly. I had been falling with no end in sight and now the ground has risen up to smack me. It’s awful to have the bliss slapped out of me and, yet, a part of me is relieved.

9 thoughts on “The big ME

  1. ……and remains within to be turned to whenever you’re ready. It makes your life more content in some ways. To me it’s the very real feeling in consciousness that Walt conveys when he speaks about talking with “Father”. It’s a unification with the Whole. Call it what we will it is not something “special” to be given to people of a particular religious experience. It is in all of us waiting to be recognized and so well shared by you in the expression, “I am nowhere and everywhere” and by the wonderful Zen koan, “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.” Doesn’t have to be a literal person though it could. It might be the experience you had. In some way your life changes.

  2. Wonderful description of that unity/duality, as well as a recognition that we have a choice in every moment, well almost every moment. We’re still human! Thank you.

  3. Well put, Frank. I think that we (sentient beings) are the universe (God) experiencing the universe. If we don’t let the “little me” run the show, we can always see the face of God in every moment.

  4. Oh, I so relate to this! “I want to hold this feeling forever. What if I can’t hold it forever?” In between those two sentences is a lifetime of striving to be ok, to be safe, to be free. I’ve had this experience a jillion times. Just when you think THIS IS IT! THIS IS WHAT I’VE LOOKED FOR MY WHOLE LIFE! the fear or whatever it is rears up.

    It doesn’t matter what religious or non-religious bent we have — we experience this. Like Frank says, “it is not something “special” to be given to people of a particular religious experience”. And I think you’ve hit on it, with the little me and the big me, as to why we don’t live in that connected sort of consciousness all the time. Sam put it PERFECTLY: the big me is experiencing, while the little me thinks about having an experience. The little me is like, “Look at me looking at me!”

    I don’t have anything profound to say (as usual) I just wanted to say I GET IT!

    • If I may expand on Walt’s quote of Thoreau: It’s not what you see it’s how you see.

      Are you simply experiencing or are you creating a separation with a veil of ego-based thinking?

      Are you experiencing or are you having an experience?

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