(This is the first chapter of Unmani’s book “I am Life Itself”. Purchase it in our shop.)
Are you sitting comfortably…?
Once upon a time there was a little girl called ‘me’ (well, everybody else called her Liza). This is simply a story of what seemed to happen in time with a beginning, middle and an end.
When I was a child there was only this. Life happening. Nothing. Not-knowing. Innocence. I always knew this. Nothing ever happened. I saw the joke. I saw others pretending. Then fear arose and with it a sense of ‘me in here’ and ‘them out there’. “What is expected of me?” “Must I play their game?” “I don’t want to. I don’t know how. What is this crazy world where everyone is pretending to be someones?”. Confusion. Trying to fit in. Trying to survive. As I got to be a teenager confusion became confusion and rage. I was burning with rage against the pretence. Angry with the world. There was a feeling of something terribly, terribly wrong, something missing. All the time there was a subtle knowing of all that was happening, but at the same time this knowing was overlooked in the desperate trying to fit in.
I grew up in London in a semi-traditional Jewish South African family. I went to Jewish religious classes as a child where we learnt about how to follow the laws and how to pray to God. As a young child, I innocently enjoyed all of this and encouraged my family to be more religious. As I grew older I noticed the hypocrisy of religion. For example, on the Sabbath when God apparently says you must rest and not drive, my mother (and others) would drive to the synagogue and park around the corner, so that no one would see us and would think we had walked there! There were many lovely qualities about being part of a religion like spending a lot of time with all the family together and singing songs, but there also seemed to be many double standards. People talked about God, or being good, or having strong principles and morals, and at the same time this seemed to be just a show. In reality, I could feel confusion around me. Everyone seemed to be desperately hanging on to their belief in God and the Jewish traditions, as a last thread of hope that they would be saved. They felt safe in what was known. Generations have believed in God and followed these traditions, so who are we, to know any different? I noticed this fear and rigidness almost everywhere. People seemed terrified to stand alone in Life. They seemed to rely on old beliefs and concepts because of the illusion of safety. As a child, I saw through all of this and felt very lost and confused.
I have a younger sister who is absolutely lovely. I always knew she knew the true nature of the innocence of Life. I never felt any separation from her. She is what I am. I just assumed that she recognised this as well and was so often amazed when she seemed to pretend to be a separate individual who seemed to need to prove and maintain her independence. She would push me away with a story based in fear and idea of separation. As a teenager and young adult, I tried to reassure her in different ways, that I am what she is, but she often could not really hear or trust that. This meant that I often felt saddened and confused by this.
I felt so at home in the appearance of Life. When I was with my parents in a garden, my Mum or Dad would often say “Look, Liza, isn’t that tree beautiful?” I would often answer with a kind of “Mmph” because I felt so angry. The trees, flowers and everything in the play of Life is my home. They are not special or beautiful. They are simply what they are – ordinary trees. Of course they are amazingly beautiful but this has nothing to do with a concept of beauty. I was angry at the concept of beauty being imposed on that which is so ordinary and absolutely nothing to do with concepts.
My parents used to say things like “Wasn’t that great, yesterday?” and again I would feel cheated and confused. The past had never happened. I knew that it only exists as a memory. In fact all words seemed to be such a pretence. I didn’t feel like talking much as I was growing up because I didn’t know what to trust: the knowing that my nature is absolute innocence – which was sinking fast into the background, or the words that other people were saying. I innocently tried to play the game of words in order to survive in the world. I felt more and more confused and heartbroken. The feeling of an empty hole was felt as a physical sensation and emotional story. I was waiting for a time when I would be able to trust what I know and maybe even find it reflected in the play of Life.
As a teenager, I exploded in rage at the world. My sweet parents felt the real brunt of this. I felt so heart-broken and empty. I felt that everything was meaningless and flat. I didn’t care if I lived or died and would walk in front of cars in the middle of the road. My parents tried to help but they couldn’t do anything right in my eyes. I could see through all the words and I felt they meant nothing. Although I acted very tough, actually I felt so lost.
I thought that I would be able to fill that empty hole or feeling of loss, with something in the play. I tried to find the ideal relationship, or career or I even thought that by analysing and working out the patterns of the thoughts with a psychologist, that I would ‘work it all out’. I was searching for the missing link. That piece of the puzzle that would fill the emptiness and make the pain go away.
When I was 17 I left England and went to live in Israel on my own. This seemed like an attempt to rebel against authority and step into the unknown. In Israel, I went to University, enjoyed the beach, had a little black dog, felt very sad and angry very often, milked cows in a Kibbutz, had a few romantic affairs with soldiers, and some other experiences…
After seven years, I left Israel in a hurry to get away from a traumatically emotional end to a long relationship with an Israeli man, and flew to Japan. There I worked as a hostess in a nightclub and where I entertained Japanese men by singing Karaoke with them and laughing at their jokes! After half a year there, I went off to Thailand for what I thought would be 3 months. But when I got there I met someone who said to me “ Go to India now.” I took this to mean something very significant and so promptly left Thailand for India. I arrived in India on my own, not knowing anything about India or where to go. Somehow I ended up living in India for the majority of 3 years. During this time I searched high and low on my so-called ‘spiritual journey’ as I lived and moved around India. The whole of India seemed to support my spiritual search. Everyone I met and everything that happened seemed to be so significant to me.
After several months of travelling around like this, I met a Nepalese/Indian man and fell hopelessly in love. At the time it felt like I was deciding between what seemed to be the mind and the heart. The mind seemed to be telling me that he was not the right kind of man for me (he was illiterate, ex-drug addict and generally seemed to be a dodgy character) but the heart was in love and asked no questions! The heart seemed to win and we ended up travelling and living together for over 2 years. We were such an unlikely couple, he was a Nepalese man pretending to be a ‘cool’ westerner and I was a Western woman playing the role of an Indian wife. I wore saris and did puja (prayers and offerings) to the Hindu goddess Kali. As much as I enjoyed playing this role, after some time I had had enough. Around this time we happened to be travelling through Pune where the Osho Ashram is. My Nepalese boyfriend thought of Osho as like the devil and begged me not to go inside the ashram. But once again I had fallen in love.
I loved hearing Osho speak (although it was only on video because he had been dead for 10 years). In lots of ways I remember thinking “This is my voice speaking” when I heard him speaking. Meditation was new for me and I loved it. I loved the interaction with people in Pune and the ‘juiciness’ and almost open sexuality about the place. I loved the dancing and danced for hours everyday. I received a new name from the women who Osho had left in charge. I was given the name Unmani that in Sanskrit means ‘no mind’ or ‘beyond the mind’. At the time I recognised that there is no significance to this name or any other name. I already knew that I am not a name. Having two names meant that I felt even less identified with the character that I had never really believed in. Even now, some friends call me Unmani and some, Liza. I don’t have a preference because I am neither.
At the time, I still felt that I needed to improve something that was not quite right. I felt I needed to meditate and go deeper into myself even though at the same time I fought with feeling lazy and bored with meditation. I went up to the Himalayas and did a 10-day Vipassana silent retreat. There we sat in meditation for 10 hours everyday. Although it seemed like a challenge, by the end of it I never wanted to speak again! However, I realised that the Vipassana technique was not for me when I heard that you need to continue to meditate diligently and persistently at least twice every day. I kept it up for about a month after leaving the retreat! It seemed to be such hard work which required much discipline. As much as it was lovely, I knew that this was not it. What I was looking for had to be much simpler.
After that I went back to Pune and did a therapy group where we all regressed back to childhood to relive our pain for 5 days! This was basically a week of crying (not that my childhood was particularly traumatic at all). On the last day during a heavy catharsis session, I broke my ankle by attempting to kill my Mother as I punched and kicked the mattresses and padded walls. This compounded my emotional state. As I sat in a wheelchair on the last day of the group, and listened to the therapist say “ This has been just a taste of the work that you need to do on yourselves”, my world went black. I felt so angry. It can’t be this way. It can’t be an endless digging into the past. It can’t just be an endless search. I know it’s not.
Because of my broken foot, I spent most of the next month lying in bed staring up at the ceiling. I felt so lost and so at the end of my strength. The pain was physically and emotionally unbearable. It can not be like this! I cannot go on like this. This cannot be all there is!
About a year before this, I had heard someone mention a woman called Dolano who was talking about Awakening. When I first heard this term ‘Awakening’, I had no idea what it meant and I was not really interested in finding out. It seemed to be yet another spiritual experience or goal to be chased after. I already knew that these spiritual goals have nothing to do with actual fulfilment. But when I had heard more about what she was talking about, I felt terrified of going to see her because I realised that somehow this was the end.
As I lay in bed with my broken foot, I started to consider this. At the same time as being terrified, I knew that I couldn’t go on like this. I was feeling pretty suicidal. Life was not worth living. All I wanted to do was numb the pain, sleep or die. So I went to see her.
Dolano is a German Zen Master who lives in India giving Satsang. Dolano had been with Osho for years but ‘woke up’ after seeing Papaji in Lucknow.
As she spoke, I wrestled with what she was saying. I tried to work it all out. I tried to understand and relate what she said with what I thought I knew. Thoughts were looping and trying so hard to work out the answer.
During this time, at some point was the recognition which is now seen to be what people call ‘Awakening’. Time stopped. Seeing myself as someone with ‘my life’ and ‘my history’disintergrated. Identifying myself as someone located in a body ended. There was simply life happening. After this, the mind tried to report back and explain what had happened and that it happened because of this or that. But actually it simply happened. Or in fact nothing happened. It was actually the recognition of the absolute ordinariness of not-knowing, but with it there was a relaxation and so much relief in contrast to the desperation of seeking. It was seen that what was being pointed to is what I am. I have always known this but simply pretended that I don’t know. I had become so used to overlooking it because it is always the background to all the pretence in this play of life. I had been so used to people pretending and talking about things that appear in the play and I had never realised that the play could be used to express that which knows the pretence. Once this was seen, there was only laughter. “Look, we are only pretending, Ha! Ha!” There was a melting into what was already and always known but only overlooked. There were tears of gratitude – to Life. Finally, finally found. Finally reflected in the appearance. Finally the veil could fall away and there was only resting in not-knowing.
After this, a great relief was felt but there was sometimes doubt and still the questions of how to integrate this into my life, what do I do with this now? I spent some time up in the Himalayas and then went to Australia and New Zealand. I lived in Australia for about 2 years and had a fantastic time of practically no seeking. I lived in a tent for a while, I lived in a van for a while, I lived in a field for a while, and I lived on a beach for a while. At times this new recognition seemed to be slowly integrating itself, but then there were other times of confusion and doubt, when I felt drawn to other spiritual paths again. I went to New Zealand and again dabbled in various spiritual techniques because it seemed as if I could still improve something. Something still seemed to be slightly missing.
Soon after this I went back to London. One day, I went out for dinner with some friends and ended up having an argument with a male friend who accused me of being arrogant because I talked about ‘Awakening’. I went home that night with my head spinning with thoughts. I doubted everything and almost agreed with him that I was being arrogant. Then as all the doubt built up into a mountain of doubt, it was recognised that all the doubt, confusion, arrogance, accusation, and everything, is what is, as well. There is no separation. There is not part of it that is, and part of it that isn’t. There has never been a separate someone to be arrogant or not. I can say ‘I am’ or ‘I know’ and it is not arrogant, it is the way it is. I am the appearance of the separate character, and that which knows the character. There is no separation.
With this, there was a final relaxation. It was seen that actually, there is only arrogance at the same time as absolute humility. But the belief in a someone who owns this, had fallen away. With this, fell away all confusion and trying to become – a melting away of belief and assumptions. A resting in and as Life itself.
When described in words, it can sound like something special happened but this is the way of words and thoughts. They dramatise. Actually nothing ever happened. I am all that is, and has ever been.
This is what some people call Enlightenment or Liberation. But I cannot say that “I am Liberated” because it has nothing to do with ‘me’. In fact, there is no longer any idea of a separate ‘me’ who could do anything, especially not achieve any state of ‘Liberation’. ‘Liberation’ is simply a word which points to the recognition of nothing but Liberation. There is nothing to achieve and no one to achieve it. I don’t know anything. But out of not knowing, is complete knowing. I am completely lost, and out of that there is a delight in whatever happens. I am forever falling and never land. This is absolute freedom. There is only ‘Liberation’. I wouldn’t choose such a fancy word, though. It is much too simple for that. It is simply Life. I am simply Life.
I am Life itself
Life is. There is no one living it. It is not ‘my life’. There is no ‘me’ that lives. But I am Life. This ‘I’ is not a personalised ‘me’. It is not an assumed separate person. This ‘I’ is all that is. It is Life itself.
That I am Life itself, is known. This knowing goes beyond knowledge and intellect. This knowing is a knowing beyond experience, beyond thought or emotion. Knowing in not knowing. I don’t know how I know, except that, I am. As this knowing of what I am, the character goes on playing the game of being a character in a play. The play is no longer taken seriously, but still everything can and does happen. It is simply known that whatever happens does not happen ‘to me’. It simply happens.
These words are not pointing to anything new. In fact what is being expressed here is timeless. It has always been known. It is known. It is most familiar and ordinary. It is what I am.