Given the many challenges this past year has bestowed upon us it is more important than ever to not loose sight of who we are at our core, our intrinsic nature, our essence. The word essence can be viewed as ones soul, our innate defining substance, as interchangeable with consciousness, the subjective experience of being aware, the sense of knowing and that which is known. So who are you essentially?
"The essence of who you are and who I am is consciousness, not the underlying thoughts but consciousness." - Eckhart Tolle
Essence is palpable in babies, as they breath full healthy belly breaths we witness their uninhibited, spontaneous openness to the moment. We all started out this way, but as we gradually learned to communicate with language we became conditioned to believe we are our personality, and began to over identify with viewpoints and opinions of the ego. As this necessary developmental step took us out of the present into the stories we tell ourselves, stories about what should or should not be or have been, our effortless connection with essence was lost.
The minds stories are necessary, we derive our identity from our history and the narrative our mind tells us over and over again about that history. We need to make meaning to survive and thrive. The challenge is that the narrative our mind reiterates is limiting, it is only one perspective of many possibilities, often an interpretation that unwittingly creates more suffering.
Much of the unhappiness we experience is not of the conditions of the moment, rather the minds evaluation of the moment, what should or should not be, that causes this unhappiness or suffering. Using the example of frustration many people experience while waiting in long lines at the airport, Eckhart Tolle suggested we ask, "what is it that causes me to be irritated, angry, or upset, what is it, is it this situation or is it my mind telling me this should not be happening? The ego is very good at misinterpreting reality, and it believes its stories. The ego comes up with stories, often not pleasant stories about the is-ness of things, and it’s a source of great suffering... be the observer of your mind so that the mind is not controlling you."
In The Book of Awakening Mark Nepo states, "the essence of our life is the intangible presence at the center of our soul." While difficult to define, we can make contact with our essence and allow that central presence, that pure internal quality to inform us.
Experiencing Qualities of Your Essential Self
This exercise is adapted from Undefended Love by Jett Psaris & Marlena Lyons. I suggest you read and experience fully one prompt at a time before moving onto the next, writing down or recording your responses.
Before you begin make yourself as comfortable as possible. Scan your body and notice if any tension is present. If so try giving the tension permission to soften, then ask yourself if anything is needed - directing breath to the area, soothing touch, movement, a pillow for support? Once you feel relaxed and present move onto question number one.
1. "Choose one of the most memorable positive life events that occurs to you." Take your time, if you have several pick the one that stands out to you most in this moment, any will do. If you're struggling to find one, it may help to know that it does not need to be a perfect memory, just a short period of time, even moments, when you felt really positive.
2. "As you recall the details of the experience, let the memory evoke the full power of the past, allowing it to fill your awareness. The more fully you bring the event into your consciousness, the more established will be the essential qualities you experienced at that time."
3. "Describe this experience as if you were trying to get someone else to understand and feel exactly what you felt at that time." Engage all of your senses, what details can you remember for each?
4. "What else is there? Let the memory overwhelm you, bringing the experience as fully into the present as your able to." Notice what you feel in your body, what sensations are present now as you recount this memory?
5. "How was your sense of the world and others different from usual?" What thoughts, emotions, and sensations stood out in relation to any being present, and/or the environment?
6. "How did you experience yourself differently?" Take your time, there is no right or wrong. After you answer this underline the qualities you listed in #5 and #6.
7. "Take these qualities into yourself again in this present moment. These are the qualities of your essential self. They are always there – you need only learn how to be receptive to them." You will embody these feelings and sensations each time you recount and fully connect with this memory.
Who You Are
"When you look without imposing mental labels on things and sense your own presence then you will "know that you are conscious directly, not as a conceptualization of knowledge but direct realization of that essence of who you are, and that's such a liberation from the prison of inhabiting a purely personalized sense of self." - Eckhart Tolle
Intellectually grasping this concept is much easier than actually putting it into practice, yet with practice we can learn to abide in our essence at will. When we wish to be present with our intrinsic nature quieting our thoughts, slowing our breath, relaxing our bodies, and opening our hearts will support us.
I'll leave you with one last quote by Mark Nepo:
"It helps to remember that despite all our struggles for identity, despite the weight of living, there is an irrepressible once of spirit in each of us, a wellspring we carry within, that can be blocked but not contained. It emanates through all beings as the longing for love and peace."