Listen to the sound of silence. Focus on it to steady the attention. Let the mind be as silent and alert as possible, and then raise the question, “Who am I?”
First listen to the sound of silence. Then raise the question, and then attend; notice what happens when that question is sincerely asked, “Who am I?” We’re explicitly not looking for a verbal answer, a conceptual answer. But notice that there’s a gap, a brief gap after we pose the question and before any verbal answers, the conceptual answers, appear. When we really ask that question, “Who am I?”, or “What am I?”, there’s a gap, a space that opens up for a moment in which the heart intuits, in which it’s open to doubt about the presumptions that we’ve made about being a person: being a woman, a man, old, young.
There’s a moment of “Oh!” before all the personal details start wading in. There’s a gap, a hesitation. “Who am I?”
Let your attention rest in that gap after the end of the question and before the answers appear. Let your attention rest in that gap, in that spaciousness, because in the truest sense, the silence of the mind is the answer to the question. Allow and encourage the mind to rest in that open, attentive, unconstructed spaciousness, because in that moment self-view is interrupted. The normal self-creating habits are confused, confuted. The self-creating habit is caught in the act. Suddenly the camera is turned back on to the photographer before they can scurry away. It’s the unconstructed, unconditioned moment. There’s attention. The mind is alert, peaceful, bright. But there’s no sense of self. It’s extraordinarily simple, natural. Let the attention rest with that.
After a while, when other more habitual concerns have drifted in – an ache in the leg, the sound of a passing car, a tickle in the nose – when the self-views have re-coalesced, then focus the mind attentively, come back to the nada-sound, listen, and raise the question again, “Who am I?”, to open up that same window of curiosity, of reality, to puncture the bubble of self-view for just a moment. Notice what it’s like when that bubble no longer colours, distorts our vision of things, and self-view falls away. What’s here? What is life like when that habit is interrupted?
This practice can be simultaneously threatening and relieving, but if we can be undistracted by either of those feelings and simply remain alert and open to the present, what is realized is the presence of purity, radiance, peacefulness, a radical normality and blessed simplicity, all held in the embrace of the roaring silence.
This reflection by Ajahn Amaro is from the book, Inner Listening, pp. 36-38.