By Adam J. Pearson
All this time we’ve been trying to figure out who “I as an individual am” or create a separate identity for ourselves, we’ve basically been sandcastling.
We’ve been trying to build a castle of self, a concept of “who I am,” out of very shifting and volatile materials: thoughts, feelings, body states, states of consciousness, realizations, experiences, and so on.
Our hope was that eventually, with just the right combination of materials, we would build a self castle that is so solid we’d be able to rely on it to be stable, to be free from the swings of doubt, insecurity, fear, anxiety, and shame, to be securely “me.” An impenetrable fortress made of the shifting fabric of daily life.
The whole process is very amusing when we really see it for what it is. It tends to play out something like this.
The mind says: “Okay, I know the last ten million castles I’ve built have fallen apart and changed, but that’s because I used the wrong kind of sand.
This next one is going to be made of some really solid kinds of sand: financial success sand, the ideal relationship sand, secure career sand, and beautiful spiritual experience sand. Just watch, this castle of “me” is going to stand for millions of years!”
And then what happens?
The waves of time and change wash this one away like all the others before it.
What?! How did this happen?! we wonder, in total bafflement, as if this hadn’t happened a hundred thousand times before.
Our amazement at the painfully familiar is funny enough, but the most hilarious thing of all happens next:
Instead of realizing that any self castle built out of changing, volatile materials is going to be just as changing and volatile, the mind makes excuses for why this particular castle failed.
“Oh, I guess that relationship wasn’t the “one,” after all, but the next one will be!
Maybe I didn’t use enough money sand; I just need to get more.
Maybe this job sand wasn’t good enough.
Maybe the sand of a bigger and better state of consciousness will do it.
Perhaps a better thought system will keep the walls from caving in..
Maybe resolving these volatile emotions once and for all will do the trick…”
Can you see how absurd the whole process is?
Instead of seeing that any castle built of the sand of changing, impermanent forms is sure to be washed away, we make excuses for the particular combination of sand we used and keep on building!
The whole situation might seem pretty tragicomedically hopeless if it weren’t for one thing:
Something remains constant despite all the sandcastling and selfing the mind has been doing all these years.
Something is aware of and witnesses all the building and collapses of the castles; while they rise up and after they collapse, it remains unmoved.
It was here prior to the castles, it remained after the castles were washed away, and it remains regardless of which castle is present at any given time.
It is timelessly constant and always here regardless of how the sands or castles change based on the undulations of the waves of time.
Something remains constant, not in the castles that are seen, but where we’re seeing them from.
What if instead of trying to build yet another doomed castle out of volatile materials, we began to notice the one constant in all experiences that is not volatile and subject to building and collapse?
What if we became very curious about this one and only unchanging factor of all experience that remains unaffected by the rise and fall of all of our self-image and all of our identifications with this or that impermanent thing?
Who am I beyond, regardless of, and prior to the sandcastling?
What am I beyond my ideas of what I am?
What is unaffected by everything I have ever taken myself to be and more truly me than any “story about me” the mind has ever concocted?
What is it that is awake to these words?
Who are you beyond all of the sandcastle stories about you that the mind has created out of the shifting materials of experience?
Isn’t that worth finding out?
Part of a series on Nonduality: