"I think therefore I am" - Descartes
True or false? Many contemporary spiritual teachers will tell us that this classic statement by Descartes is the root of our spiritual difficulty. When we equate the self with thought, we limit the self. In my meditations on The Five Gifts, however, I've come to a new understanding. While I believe it is not helpful to be trapped in a mind-based identity (the ego), it is also unhealthy to deny the existence of such an identity. Each of us exists as "I" on many levels. To deny any of it is to deny our existence, at least in part, and to deny the divine source from which we all come.
As we explore the five gifts, we find the self in each of the gifts. The amorphous physical world, for example, coalesces into a unique physical identity as the gift of the physical body. The body is an expression of consciousness. The body has awareness, a sense of self, an I. The body's I is unique to the identity of the person who has received the body, distinct from all other physical forms. What's more, for each of us, our awareness is anchored in this physical body, as long as we exist in this form. We could say, "I have a body, therefore I am." Such a statement would be as true as Descartes'.
Similarly, the gift of life has identity. For each of us, life is a node in the vast living energy field that permeates and animates all living things. This living I is with us, part of us, as long as we are in this form. And each of us identifies with, and experiences life in a unique, personal way. "I live, therefore I am," is also true.
Identity with the gift of thought is our most familiar I, and is the source of Descartes' famous quotation. When we identify only with thought, we get trapped in this identity. This is unhealthy ego. Yet, each of us experiences thought in a unique way, and the mind's I has its place within our awareness. To deny this identity is to deny the gift of thought we've been given.
It is within the gift of pure awareness that a unique sense of I emerges. We each experience our unique self, as a wave rising up on the vast ocean of consciousness. "I am" becomes our statement of truth, without qualification or need for proof. In awareness, we each experience our whole, unique self. And in pure awareness, we know our non-separation from each other or from the wholeness of infinity.
When we open our awareness to the gift of divine consciousness, we experience self as the the divine source. All separations fall away; even the "I am" of pure awareness is known as limited. The I of identity and the I of infinity become one, and we know the self to be one with all that is.
Our spiritual practice is about awakening, an ever-expanding growth in awareness of the self. As we grow, we don't dis-identify with the physical body, or with life, or with thought. Rather, we understand each of these gifts, each of these identities, as essential to the whole. Ultimately, we experience oneness with the infinite. Identity becomes sat-chit-ananda (sanskrit) which translates as "I am (sat) consciousness (chit) eternal bliss (ananda).