An example is when we look in the mirror we notice that we are aging. But the weird thing is that we don’t necessarily feel older. That’s because only the body that ages, the body exists in time, it grows from infant to teenager to an adult and it changes over the arc of a physical existence. But the consciousness that is looking says – hmm… loosing its fur or wrinkling – it’s aging. The consciousness is outside of time.
The training of awareness becomes liberating because it allows us to become the conscious witnessing of experience rather than entangled or lost in it. There are moments when we are stuck in a conflict or fear or loss or anger and then there is a moment we realize, “I am really caught in this aren’t I?” And that is the moment as if the stage expands we step back and we see the whole drama and we say – oh yeah here we are. Because witnessing allows us to recognise our experience and then respond to it rather than be caught up in it or react no matter what the circumstance.
The Nobel laureate Aung San Su Kyi who was kept under house arrest by the Burmese military for 17 years and many of the people around her were imprisoned or killed. But she carries herself with great dignity and tremendous vision, said: “they never really had me captive because in my heart I never let myself hate them.” She expressed the freedom of spirit that is possible no matter what the circumstances.
One wonderful doctor who teaches mindfulness practice in her work with people who have bodies damaged from diseases such as MS, cerebral palsy, serious strokes etc., many of whom still have a clear mind, the teachings or messages she offers are liberating ones. “You are not your body.” When she says it they say hallelujah – it is such a relief. We can use, love, inhabit and care for this body but if we become overly identified with it, how it looks, the aging process that is inevitable is happening, the kind of distortions that lead to eating disorders and attachment to body image, there is enormous suffering. So identification with the body can cause suffering or when seen wisely, we can hold and inhabit and love the body but from a place of ease.
“Waking up this morning, I smile. Twenty-four brand new hours are before me. I vow to live fully in each moment and to look at all beings with eyes of compassion.”
― Thích Nhất Hạnh
(In addition to not being our bodies, we are not even the role we play in life. )