Looking at photos of relatives from the early 20th century, I’m struck by how incredibly normal they look, how I could walk down any street and see the same faces. Such an insight comes easily since I live near the locus of my ancestral lines, but I think it’s a realization one could have anywhere. Stare into the faces of passers by and you will see many physical and psychological reflections of yourself, as if the genetic mirror were shattered, replicating the same fate, the same consequences, the same inner struggles across continents and generations.
Someone once said that all wars are the same war, that all short stories are just one long story, and that all people—no matter how diverse or alien they may seem on the surface—are actually one life and one humanity engaged in one struggle playing out simultaneously in every heart and mind. Being a gifted dancer, Michael Jackson once put it like this: “Consciousness expresses itself through creation. This world we live in is the dance of the Creator. Dancers come and go in the twinkling of an eye but the dance lives on.”
This is the 2000-year-old concept of Nataraja, the image of Shiva as the cosmic dancer who dispels illusion and reveals a higher truth. As part of the dance of time and space, forms rise and fall—in the microcosm of the individual mind and in the macrocosm of all creation—but the dance itself, the maelstrom of change, remains constant as an expression of something else, something beyond the perception of transient things. The ancient sages and priests of the Madhya Pradesh and Kashmir regions first portrayed Shiva this way around 6 C.E. in temple statues and paintings, depicting a true, eternal, changeless Self that is simultaneously immanent in every person and transcendent in the ubiquitous I AM.
Ram Dass, in Polishing the Mirror, expresses this when he writes, “The only thing you really ever have to offer another person is your own state of being.” Or whatever you offer to others, you are also confirming and offering as part of yourself. This posits an equals sign between people, not an arrow, a plus, or a minus. Is there anything new under the sun? Ecclesiastes says no. Read enough literature and I think most people will be inclined to agree: we find meaning in another because that meaning resonates in ourselves. Yeats wrote that ultimately it is not possible to distinguish the dancer from the dance. Repair the shattered mirror, the broken and limited perception of others that sees them as irreparably isolated from us, and a higher octave of meaning is revealed. We are isolate. We are also one. And, in our ultimate oneness, “we” and “are” and “one” cease to have any meaning and the truth of existence becomes evident.
Pay attention to your ancestors, to their lives, to the things they did and said. See yourself in them as one being. Then see yourself in others, in everything. Look past the superficial trivia that limits your understanding and obscures the truth of the matter: assumptions about linear progress (originally post-Enlightenment / Victorian but now, with our current STEM fetishism, solidly reductive materialist and technocratic) depend on an unexamined and distracted mind. There is no new thing under the sun in any meaningful sense. The are only forms, rising and falling, being born and dying.
Start paying attention to this. Start asking, Who am I? Start asking, Who is it that asks, “Who am I?” Go deep, beyond the forms. You are not those things. Get to the point where you can perceive the dance always taking place, the energy of creation itself, which is expressed as movement, as change. This is also synonymous with the highest, emptiest, most profound form of awareness. That is what we are.
“After negating all of the above-mentioned as ‘not this’, ‘not this’, Awareness alone remains – that I am.” – Ramana Maharshi