When I was a Buddhist monk doing my studies there was a lot of emphasis placed upon the study of the self, and the study of the no-self. What it all basically boils down to on a practical level is this: we are deeply attached to our idea of what we think of as “I.” This attachment to our idea of who we think we are acts as the foundational basis of almost every thought, emotion and action that we have and do, and it gives rise to a huge amount of stress, anxiety, pain and confusion.
So, one of the quickest ways of finding a freedom, or liberation from this confusion, is simply to spend periods of time where we simply stop thinking about ourself, or “drop the I.” You can do this as a mindfulness meditation by choosing a fixed period of time, say 5-15 minutes, to sit quietly. During this time there are basically two rules:
• You can think about anything you like except your I or self
• You drop all the labels that you usually associate with your idea of who you are — job title, gender, pretty/ugly, strong/weak, position in society, married or single, successful or loser. Drop any concept, idea or habitual way you have of thinking or describing yourself or I.
Your job for the time you have set aside is simply to drop the self and be aware; put it down and do not pick it up.
When we drop the self in this way, one of the things that we discover is an open spacious experience of self that we were previously unaware of. It is a self that is free from labels and preconceptions — a self that is open to the moment, to learning and to being genuinely creative and spontaneous. Because it resists all labels, we might describe it as a “no-self,” but it might also be described as a deeper self or truer self.
In Buddhism one of the terms used to describe it was our “Buddha Nature,” our deeper nature — and everyone without exception has it.
Once you become familiar with dropping your everyday I, you can then pick it back up again and use it in your daily life, but you always know that you are free to pick it up or put it down; you have a choice, and you are free to choose. You are not a slave to your I.
Dropping your I is a simple, but profound, practice that we can use to deal with our everyday stress and challenges more effectively, building our concentration, and awakening to a new, deeper awareness of who we are and what we might be. It can be done on the train or even while walking. If you have a few moments after reading this article, you might like to try it straight away!