I AM : The ultimate experience

I used to think that death was the greatest mystery of our existence. But I have learned that death can be explained easier than life. Death is mostly understood by the fact that it is the experience of transferring to another state of existence . Although what happens to our consciousness after death remains a huge mystery , the experience of death itself is as far as we can possibly go in our empirical and tangible world.  We can all understand that death is the end of our current existence as we know it.  Our bodies decompose and our minds , if they actually exist, enter the unknown.  We cannot begin to understand the unknown.
But what remains a huge mystery to me is not the end of existence , but existence itself.   The mere state of being aware.  And not only aware, but aware of ourselves.  Aware of the “I.”  The “self.”  How can we know what or who we really are?  How can each of us differentiate from other “I’s” or “selves.”? How can we even use the phrase “I am?
Religious scholars and teachers interpret the bible’s use of the phrase “I am” by referring it to God, or higher power.  It is used mostly to describe the eternal and “present” God.  It was written in the book of Exodus that when Moses asked God whom should he say sent him to liberate the Israelites from Egypt, God told him to tell Pharaoh that “I am” sent him (Exodus 3).  In the Gospel of John , Jesus also referred to himself as the “I am”.  Because of these references , scholars decided to associate the “I am” with the divine being or God . It is also agreed by most religions that God is omnipresent. He is everywhere. He is the eternal present.

In Buddhism , being in the present moment, or mindfulness, is one of its teachings to help avoid suffering.  To be aware of the present moment.  The here and now.  Is experiencing the here and now the same as experiencing God?  The “I am.” ?

Was God trying to teach Moses that He is the Eternal Present (“I am that I am”)?  Was Jesus teaching us that the resurrection (a new life) is in the eternal present, as opposed to in the future (“‘I am’ the resurrection”)?

But what exactly is the “I” or the “self.” Could it simply mean the “eternal presence” that we all ignore by focusing on the past and the future?
The present moment, or the here and now, is all we really have.   Everything else is a fabrication of our minds. We fool ourselves with the notion of reliving the past (remembering stories of past heroes and events) and anticipating the future ( maintaining hope and having goals ).  These mind created phenomena is what keeps us living an illusion, which then can turn into depression, anxiety, regrets, and fear.  We create our own heaven and hell in our own personal minds.  All of this while missing the here and now.

Is the “I” , the self, an illusion?  Are we truly individual beings?  Or are we connected as one big entity, while believing that we are separate beings?  And what about the phrase “I am?”  .

When I use the phrase “I am”, what can I use after it to accurately describe the self?  I am human?  I am a person?  I am a body?  What is being human, person, or body?  I am a parent.  I am a patriot.  I am a writer.  Which one of these are true?

None of the above.   Since they are all fabrications of the mind.  They are all identities that I use to attempt to create the nature of the self.  And while I write this post in this blog, I still keep using the word “I” as if it means something.  Or someone.  What is it?

Furthermore, saying ” We are ” or “They are ” can be questionable.  Not everybody will agree with whatever characteristic you give to a group of individuals.  But when it comes to identifying with the “I”, how can you question your individual present?

In its purest form , I am is simply I am . Nothing else… No other addition can make it more true . It is simply identifying myself with the present moment.  With the eternal present.

I am is the ultimate mystery.
The ultimate experience .

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About Noel

I am a person who has realized that the teachings of Jesus are centralized in the genuine care and service of others. I have evolved from fundamentalism to a moderate spiritual approach. I am a reflecting person who has grown to not fear doubt but to embrace it as a means to growth and increasing closeness to God. View all posts by Noel

11 responses to “I AM : The ultimate experience

  • S.C. Tanner

    “Me” is simply another form of “I.” To me, this is a particularly deep and sophisticated post. I endeavor to be technically specific here because others may disagree with me, so it is important to recognize the egocentric perspective or point-of-view (P.O.V.) of one individual. Who or how many may agree or disagree with this POV is irrelevant to the truth of my opinion. The relevant point being that this self-centered perspective is probably the most common association with the word “I” held by humankind (which some have argued that we would be better off without.)

    Descartes used, “Cogito ergo sum” (“I think, therefore I am”) as evidence of existence. In past contemplation of the conversation with Moses at the burning bush, I have been inclined to view “I am” as a simple statement concerning the existence of God to a human being. If we try to move out of our self-centered POV and imagine God’s perspective during this exchange, “I am that I am” could be a simple way of telling Moses not to question God’s existence (reality,) and/or that God is not concerned with the opinions or doubts of Pharaoh (or any other human creature for that matter) concerning the reality of His existence. Would Moses, you or anyone else find a Supreme Being who started to provide credentials at that point believable? While people are generally gullible (look at modern consumerism if you think otherwise), I doubt the Abrahamic religions would have lasted as long as they have if their God did not act like a god.

    Like yourself, I find the statement “I am that I am” to be the most significant aspect of this passage. Like the many facets of a jewel, there is much to be gleaned here by looking at this from different angles, but that would be a digression. I believe the focus of this post concerns “awareness” and the words “I am,” so I will try to stay on track.

    As a matter of awareness, humankind is aware of their own existence and frequently use the pronouns “I, me, and mine.” The depth of their awareness varies in many degrees from superficial to deep. I believe the point of spiritual pursuits is to garner greater (deeper) awareness. For this reason, I perceive a great difference between God’s use of “I” and the average person’s use of the word… God has a much greater perspective! I do believe that God was trying to raise Moses’ awareness in that passage from the common, self-centered perspective.

    If we agree that the purpose of spiritual pursuits is to raise human awareness, then religion might be defined as an awareness that spiritual pursuits can be profitable (which could lead to a discussion about Jesus, the Temple, and “money changers”), but that would also be a digression. It should be needless, but I will express my own acknowledgement of my own perspective here. I simply find the hidden mysteries of “I am that I am” fascinating and I am expressing my willingness to engage in a discussion about it.

    • Noel

      S.C. Thanks for commenting and providing such a profound perspective. The notion of being aware to me is the greatest mystery because everything else depends on it, and yet I dont even start to comprehend what it really is. How do I know that my awareness is real? How do I differentiate it from other people’s awareness? Is a rock or a plant aware like I am or aware in a different way? And when it comes to the concept of God, the “I am that I am” may signify the purity of the presence. In other words, in trying to define presence, nothing else could be said about it because it is composed of itself (emptiness) . So God could simply be the eternal present moment (self aware?) and not a fabricated “god” with human characteristics. It is a matter of emptiness, like when Jesus “emptied” himself to do God’s will and allowed others to crucify him without resistance (“why dont you defend yourself?) .

      • S.C. Tanner

        A self-centered (egocentric) POV (perspective) seems essential to the “instinct for survival” inherent in many living creatures, including humankind. While this appears to be a fundamental requirement for self-preservation, it also seems to be a primal form of awareness. By virtue of how plants can adapt to certain environs, some might argue that even they have some instinct for survival, and therefore some level of awareness. Regardless of whether this is true, it seems reasonable to accept that there are various levels of awareness.

        When people recognized that their chances of survival could be enhanced by banding together for mutual protection, their awareness was obviously elevated above the basic egocentric awareness. However, we should recognize that this is simply the same awareness of many pack animals. This heightened level of awareness does not really suggest any sophistication on the part of humankind, and the drama of many of our stories and experiences strongly indicate that many of our kind have not even attained this level of awareness. However, our most memorable stories are invariably centered on individuals who have demonstrated extremely heightened levels of awareness and sophisticated values that cause most to attribute wisdom and courage to those individuals.

        I think it is a mistake to describe Jesus as one who “emptied” himself. This may be due to a method used to advance oriental meditation that does have some merit. The Buddha taught that the cause of human suffering was “attachment” to impermanent things… what Christians call “lust.” The purpose of clearing (or emptying) the mind in meditation might lead to enlightenment if the practitioner successfully detaches from those impermanent things. The later development of Zen Buddhism refutes this path to enlightenment, though. It should also be noted that the Buddha did not achieve enlightenment until after he abandoned asceticism. Nevertheless, I think it is a serious misconception to think that Jesus or Buddha “emptied” themselves.

        I suspect enlightenment to be such a high level of awareness that it overwhelms and supplants the more simplistic and primitive awareness possessed by most human beings. Trying to empty ourselves of our primitive attachments (or lusts) might create a sufficient “vacuum” to draw in enlightenment, or at least make room for it, but there appears to be no guarantee this will work (hence the development of Zen.) Nevertheless, I do not believe Jesus “emptied” himself, but rather was filled with a much greater understanding that (in the traditions of Judaism, Buddhism, Taoism, and Zen) cannot be transmitted with words… it is “unnameable.”

        Moses stood before a burning bush that was not consumed and it spoke to him. This surely must have rivaled any modern special effects from Hollywood, but those very same special effects may be why we do not fully appreciate the impact this spectacle should have had on Moses. He should have been in such a state of awe as to respond simply, “Yes.” However, still not fully enlightened, Moses was concerned with how he would accomplish his given task, so he asked God for a (point of) reference… a name. While it is not scriptural, I am sure Moses felt silly and embarrassed later for his reaction.
        To “empty” oneself may provide some advantage in attaining the enlightenment presented to Moses, but we should never mistake this “tool” as a “goal.” Our goal should be to become “filled” with understanding that defies expression through mere words… the unnameable, or God. Remember that Jesus said he was one with the Father, and Paul advises us to emulate Christ. Clearly, this is the true goal that is missed by most religious institutions and their followers.

      • Noel

        And how can I be “one with the Father” if I don’t first “empty” myself from lust, worries, greed, hatred, etc? How can I become “filled” with understanding if I do not get rid of the preconceived notion that religious institutions try to convince me of?

  • Eric Tonningsen

    This was/is a mouthful… a lot to ingest/digest, Noel. I could go a couple of different ways with your thought-provoking perspectives. For brevity and simplicity’s sake, I’ll simply share that this and other ‘deep’ issues are ones I now leave to scientists, academics, philosophers and others who choose to engage in mental, physical and spiritual gymnastics.

    Everyone is going to have a different take on this. And none of us know who may be ‘right.’ Rather than attempt to seek answers, absolutes or even hypotheticals, I choose to embrace what I believe; what I feel and what I have grown comfortable with. After all, it’s my vision, my interpretation, and my opinion(s). 🙂

    I was once an accomplished debater. I enjoyed engaging others in mental analysis and verbal sparring. I have since found it to be exhausting and sadly, divisive. With all of the different lenses out there, many today argue ideas rather than try to understand and appreciate a plethora of possibilities. And in my humble view, yours is certainly a plausible possibility.

    It is a fascinating matter to explore. And I sense your serious interest and intrigue in/with it. So onward, thoughtful one. Because you are. Or can be. Or perhaps aren’t.

    Appreciated the read.

    • Noel

      Eric, thanks for commenting. I also ised to engage in debate, but it was based on my selfish desire to prove my point. Now I try to simply share my opinion and learn from others. The concept of the “i am” has intrigued me tremendously, since i have not been able to disect it like other concepts. To me, it is the purest form of identification ( as opposed to Identifying with a race, culture, profession, religion, etc).

  • kenajos

    Yes man. I couldn’t help but read this post with a big smile on my face. The inquiry into the “I” or the “I Am” is significant across belief systems. I look forward to seeing where this leads for you…some questions you can’t answer, you just have to ‘live into the answers.”

  • Howie

    Hi Noel – have you read “God’s Debris” by Scott Adams? Your question of whether or not we are all connected reminded me of that. You can get the pdf of the book for free on the internet and it’s a quick and enjoyable read (that’s coming from a very slow reader). The author meant it more to be thought provoking as opposed to a statement of belief, and I know you enjoy thought provoking.

  • S.C. Tanner

    WordPress did not provide the ability to reply to your last response:

    “And how can I be “one with the Father” if I don’t first “empty” myself from lust, worries, greed, hatred, etc? How can I become “filled” with understanding if I do not get rid of the preconceived notion that religious institutions try to convince me of?”

    This thread is created to continue that conversation.

    I do not suggest that you should or shouldn’t empty yourself, but rather that you should recognize the difference between a “tool” and a “goal.” I wrote “I suspect enlightenment to be…” because I have no reason to think I am enlightened, but rather that I am simply a seeker like yourself. For this reason, I am willing to share what I have learned with a fellow seeker, but I cannot tell you what you should or should not do.

    As individuals, our paths to enlightenment (God) are not likely to be identical; this is a flaw in the doctrines of some religions. Can we establish a personal relationship with God by acting as another? Wouldn’t this be a relationship with a false foundation? Can a supreme, omnipotent being be so easily fooled?

    “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:13-14 NASB). Do you understand the significance of these words?

    This discussion started with Moses’ revelation at the burning bush. Do you recall Elijah’s significant revelation of God? Was it the same as Moses’ revelation?

    Also consider: “Does not wisdom call out? Does not understanding raise her voice? At the highest point along the way, where the paths meet, she takes her stand…” (Proverbs 8:1-2 NIV). How many paths meet where wisdom and understanding has taken Her stand?

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