Living in the “I Am:” The Intersection of Self-Inquiry and Karma Yoga

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By   Luna Cabasés Corral    

All of us generally function under the fundamental assumption that “I am the body.” From this premise comes all the rest: I am a man or a woman, I am from the USA or Holland, I have blue eyes or short hair, I am outgoing or shy, I aspire to Love, etc. Whatever it is, saying “I am” or “I do something” always reports back to this “I”.

Everything that you can perceive comes and goes. The short hair will grow, you’re young now and will soon enough be old. Whatever thing that you think about this “I” is passing and impermanent.

Still, before you say anything about yourself or your experiences, there is always a common element underlying them all: this “I” that all of them refer to. Then, very simply, the question is: “What is this ‘I’? To what does this ‘I’ refer?”

You may already know a way in which you can investigate the nature of this “I”—Self- Inquiry, asking the question “Who Am I?” with fascination and curiosity, and plunging into this vast mystery. What I will explore here also aims at that same final discovery but through a slightly different approach. In particular, we’ll see how an awareness of this fundamental “I” applies in Karma Yoga, the path of conscious action.

An Undeniable Knowing of One’s Existence

This sense of “I” is a very powerful anchor to the Present Moment, an anchor to a deeper dimension of Being. This becomes very relevant in the practice of Karma Yoga, in which you endeavor to remain present and in full surrender during all activities.

You can experience the pure sense of “I” by letting go of anything that this “I” might attach itself to. Any thoughts, any emotions, any physical sensations—simply drop them all at once, right now. As you let go of them, you might notice that some of them tend to come back, maybe immediately. That’s ok; just keep at it, letting go as soon as you are aware of them.

You will find that something always remains present. No matter how many things we drop, still there is a sense of Presence. That sense of Presence is the “I am.”

This “I am” refers to this undeniable knowing of one’s existence. “Am” means ‘to be’ or ‘to exist,’ so “I am” means “I exist.”

In Sanskrit, this is called aham vritti. Vritti means “movement, fluctuation, whirl.” Aham (“I”) contains the first and the last letters of the Sanskrit alphabet, signifying that it contains the whole universe. So this aham vritti is the first movement, or (literally) the first whirl.

Imagine Pure Awareness—the unmanifested domain—as a vast ocean, and this aham vritti is the first wave, the first whirl that appears in the Pure Ocean of Consciousness.

It’s simply a movement. You could say that this “I am” is the way in which Pure Consciousness, God, announces itself in the manifested plane. So “I am” is the Godly principle, and it is also the bridge between the unmanifested and the manifested domains.

According to the yogic tradition and Ramana Maharshi’s teachings, this aham vritti, “I am”, arises from the Heart Center, in the middle of the chest and a little to the right. That’s why the Heart Center is such a powerful portal to our true essence. And that’s why in Hridaya Meditation, we focus on the Heart Center as a way to have an intuition, a taste, a glimpse of the infiniteness of Being.

Naturally Resting in Presence

Unlike any other techniques, we don’t have to create this “I Am” or build it up. It is ever-present, undeniable, and unshakable. So, instead of creating something, it’s more about an inclination of our attention.

Before starting a sincere practice of Self-Inquiry, you would have been more interested in the various things that the “I” identifies itself with. Regardless of the content of the identification, it is still an identification, even ones that seem spiritual (“I am a spiritual seeker,” “I am a lover of the Heart,” etc.).

If you simply let go of the interest, your involvement in those various identifications, what arises is a natural resting into this “I am,” “I exist.” It’s more a resting, a being-ness, than a doing.

Initially, it’ll require your vigilance and a conscious choice to rest as this pure “I am,” instead of feeding the mind and emotions as you were accustomed to. But as you become more and more stabilized in it, a natural sense of fascination develops towards it and you’ll find yourself effortlessly choosing to rest in this “I Am.”

Karma Yoga and the “I Am”

Practically, in terms of Karma Yoga, how do you connect to the “I am” during everyday activities? It is very simple, and similar to the practice of anchoring in the Heart Center that was described in an earlier article.

As you are engaged in any task, you will maintain a simultaneous awareness of the action and of this “I am.” The “I am” brings an immediate sense of spaciousness, openness, and intimacy with Beingness.

At the very same time, you are also offering yourself fully to whatever task you are performing. There is a complete surrendering of yourself in the action, letting go of any attachment to the results of that action, and a complete Presence in the action itself. You experience in that moment that it is all happening against a background of Beingness, resting in this “I am” feeling.

If at any point you feel lost in thoughts or caught in thinking, “What’s next?” or simply realizing that you are not fully present, you can recognize that right now, you are more identified with the ego and personality than with that deeper dimension of Being.

And in that moment, simply take a pause. You can even physically pause, slow down, let go of any physical action, maybe take a few deep breaths, and come back to your determination to rest and honor this deeper dimension of your being—to rest in the “I am.”

Maybe at that moment, you were saying, “I have to do this,” “I am late for this appointment,” “I don’t know if this is the right thing to do,” etc. And yet all of that is happening because first, before anything else, there is an “I”—“I am Here,” regardless of what comes after.

And as you recognize that, simply rest back into this “I Am.” Most likely, you will experience a recollection of yourself, coming back to a sense of wholeness. You will feel complete in yourself and in tune with Life, with the Present Moment.

When you know that you’re back in Presence, then resume whatever task you were involved in.

Nurturing the Domain of the Heart

You can do the same throughout the day, not only when you are lost in the mind but as a way to remember and honor this depth of Being.

Not just when you are in a challenging situation or lost in the mind, but also in moments of celebration, moments of contemplating beauty, moments of being at complete ease with What Is. In those moments as well, you can acknowledge this “I Am.”

But especially in moments of turbulence, when you feel troubled, when you think that you’ve lost “it” and there’s no way that you can come back to “it” because there’s so much confusion, so much mental dynamism—at that point, try this contemplation: “But wait a second! All of that is happening, and I am aware of it. I am aware that I feel so confused; I am aware that there’s so much doubt. And yet, that doesn’t deny my existence. In the midst of all these doubts, questions, and frictions, I still exist. I don’t cease to exist. Therefore, I am here. I am.

And gradually, you start distilling that which pertains to the domain of the mind and that which is of the domain of the Heart, of Being. You have a chance at all times to choose what you want to feed and nurture.

And make it experiential; it’s not about words, even though we’re using them. The words are just pointers. You can remain silent, and still, you’d experience the “I Am.”

The Door to Freedom

As you start resting more and more in the “I am,” you begin to empty yourself of all that you are not, coming into a sense of lightness, spaciousness, and transparency. In this space, there is much more availability to actually deal with whatever Life is presenting you because you know that you don’t depend on any outcome to be who you truly are. You already are, and you cannot not be.

Some words of inspiration on this subject by Mooji:

“The password in this game of Existence is ‘I am the body.’ All beings purchased this idea first and the intuitive sense of ‘I’ became flesh, blood, and conditioning. This belief ‘I am the body, the doer of actions, and the thinker of thoughts’, is the most costly concept in Existence, because it exchanges freedom for bondage. The concept and feeling of being bound was then introduced through the mind, and we bought it. But you can come out of this. A quick and direct way out of this game is through the path of Self-Inquiry. Who or what arises here in this body as the feeling ‘I Am’? Really try to identify what this ‘I’ is so that you become very clear about this. The sense ‘I’, which is natural to you, can it really be an object? And if so, what is perceiving it? Can this be also perceived? Ponder deeply over this. This is the door that all sages went through into freedom”.

So whatever tasks are ahead of you today, try every so often to come back to this anchor of the “I am,” perhaps combined with awareness of the Heart Center, which is in itself an excellent pointer to the “I am.”

And remember that beyond any techniques or added elements, you are simply using these as pointers to bring you back to Presence.

Luna is a Hridaya Yoga teacher and contributor to our blog.

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