The “Muddy I” Inquiry

who's this under the mud?

Was hiking in the hills (through the mud) with some friends a day or so ago, and as friends and hikers are want to do, ended up talking about the bigger picture.  One thread led to another and, as we were heading back down the hill, I found myself asking my buddy on the muddy path in front of me,

“So do you think we can know ourselves?”

“No,” was his immediate response, as if he’d pondered this question previously.

I confess I was surprised, even taken-aback.  I mean, was Socrates just playing with our heads when he encouraged us to know ourselves?  Leading us down a blind alley?

But one of the things I like and respect about this particular hiking buddy  —  he doesn’t blindly accept the common cultural assumptions. He’s a retired lawyer, with an undergraduate degree in physics and a confessed atheist. (“I don’t believe in the God you don’t believe in either,” I like to remind him.)

I had been suggesting (as others have suggested before me) that inquiry was a method by which we might come to know ourselves. His argument was that even the questions—the form of inquiry—that we used to inquire about ourselves were culturally biased. I countered that inquiry was a means by which we might get around our cultural biases, or at least see through them.

For many of us, the Indian sage, Ramana Maharshi,  is the father, or least the Grand Uncle, the Revitalizer, re-introducer  of the technique of self-inquiry for the modern times. From him, and his teachings, a whole raft of “realizers” has been loosed upon the world, some of whom are so close we can shake their hands.

Ramana  encouraged all those who came to him to constantly inquire, who am I, who is it that is present, what is it that thinks, what is the root of this I sense?  He encouraged us to turn attention inward to look at the root of this feeling of “I”.

Are these questions—inquiries into the self—culturally biased? Perhaps.

Nevertheless,  when we do earnestly inquire in this way,  the  ”I” tends to melt, or disappear, while the sense of peaceable presence, or being remains.  Maybe my question to my buddy  might have more accurately  been stated, “Can we know ourselves as presence, as being?”

Or maybe the question could have been,  after he suggested that we can’t know ourselves,  “Can we know our false selves?”

Or, do some people experience (and thus express) from their authentic , natural selves, while  others experience (and thus express) from less authentic, less fluid structures?  And might the first be able to deal with the mud, within and without,  in perhaps more practical, un-emotional ways?

Can we know ourselves? Can we know our false selves? Such questions, I would posit, are worthy of pursuing, culturally biased, or  mud laden  though they may be.

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