Excerpt From Relationships That Work: The Power Of Conscious Living
– By David B. Wolf

Expressions such as awakening, enlightenment, self-improvement and personal development have become household words. But what do they really mean? What is it that awakens or enlightens? What is the self that improves? Who is the one that develops?

Through science we know that the body continuously changes and transforms itself. Not one cell in your body now was part of your five-year-old body. Yet when you look at a childhood photo you think, “That is me when I was five,” although the body is completely different. So how do we recognize ourselves? Clearly there is something that remains the same, apart from bodily and even mental changes. This something indicates an identity separate from the body and mind, an unchanging spiritual essence. It is to this spiritual essence that the world’s wisdom traditions point.

The focal point for spiritual principles of personal growth is our true identity beyond the physical body and subtle mind. To be satisfying and complete, our self-help endeavors must recognize this non-physical self. It is common to lose connection with this essential self, even without awareness that we have done so. Soren Kierkegaard once stated, “The greatest danger, that of losing one’s own self, may pass off quietly as if it were nothing; every other loss, that of an arm, a leg, five dollars, a wife, is sure to be noticed.”

Athato brahma jijnasa. This well-known Sanskrit aphorism helps me to remember my spiritual identity and purpose in life. The meaning of the adage is “Now is the time to inquire into the nature of Ultimate reality.” It signifies that now that we possess a human form of life, we have a responsibility to deliberate about spiritual matters. There is some obvious importance in fulfilling the needs of the body, such as eating, sleeping and shelter; However, if our inquiries and endeavors do not extend beyond that, then we are not realizing the capacity of our spirit. If I buy an expensive computer and use it as a doorstop, it will not fulfill its actual potential. Just as the computer can accomplish much more than stopping a door, so we too can use our bodies, mind and intelligence for elevating our consciousness for the purpose of spiritual progress.

Since the word “spiritual” is used in a variety of ways, it is important to define my understanding of the term. By spiritual I mean beyond, or not limited by, materially based identifications—such as  “I am thin,” “I am the mother of this child,” “I look great in a suit,” “I am a member of this religion” or “I am a very disciplined person.” These appellations apply to the covering of the spirit self, but not to the actual self.

I drive a Toyota. Naturally I care for the car, keeping it tuned up and filled with the right fluids. But if I think that my own thirst is quenched when I fill the car with gasoline, I am under an illusion and will not be satisfied. I do not believe that I am Japanese just because the car was made in Japan, any more than I would believe myself to be German if I were driving a Mercedes Benz. Clearly this is a foolish idea. Yet if we identify with designations that apply to the temporary body (the vehicle) rather than the spiritual self, we are making the same mistake. Just as the owner of the car changes to another car when the old one is finished, our spirit changes to another body at the time of death. Recognizing and attending to material designations or roles may serve the spiritual journey, just as an automobile can facilitate travel to the destination. But misidentification of the self with these designations is a diversion from our pursuit of spiritual understanding. It often leads to many unhealthy isms, such as nationalism, sexism and racism.

Bodies change, spiritual identity remains. Thoughts also change. Some bring a smile to our face, others are embarrassing. Some are practical, some are outlandish. But we are not our thoughts. So what is the nature of this thing that thinks, that uses fingers to write with a keyboard, that peers through eyes that read, “So what is the nature of this thing that thinks…”?

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