The subtle sense of ‘I am’ or ‘I exist’ is the first step in developing the ‘Ego’ or the sense of ‘ME.’ It is created after a frantic search for something safe to stand on, something that is reliably there, something to hold onto. It had to be able to make sure that we’d always feel happy.
Since absolutely nothing could be found, the subtle sense of ‘I am’ was simply imagined.
The Creation of the Subtle Sense of ‘I am’
It was created out of pure desperation. After the desperate search for something substantial, permanent, and something that makes sure we’re always happy failed, our thoughts came to the rescue.
The sense of an ‘I am’ was created, the first bud of an imagined separate being. It provided the seemingly firm ground to stand on that was missed so badly. Finally, there was something to hold onto, something that was reliably there. The sense of ‘I exist’ calmed the anxiety. Now we felt some stability and security.
The First Separation Appears
With the subtle sense of ‘I am’, the first sense of separation appears. Now the world falls apart into ‘me’ and ‘other’. A sense of inside and outside appears, and the inside is separated from the outside.
The subtle sense of ‘I am’ is not connected to sensations like the self-illusion of the first fetter that often feels like sensations in the head or behind the eyes. It is rather intangible. For me, it was a taste I had known consciously since my childhood. It was what I withdrew into when everything was getting too much, my refuge, my homestead. And when I’d done something really bad, it felt like a bad taste in my mouth.
On the journey to awakening, this subtle sense of ‘I am’ is still felt after the first fetter is gone, the sense of a solid I that thinks and experiences and decides.
It can be rather confusing. I remember how I often thought, ‘It is so weird, I saw so clearly that there is no ‘ME’, yet I still feel something like that.’
In the end, knowing that this sense would persist, I simply shrugged my shoulders and let it be there.
The Inquiry into the 8th Fetter
Since this subtle sense of ‘I am’ isn’t really tangible, you have to find out first how this feeling of ‘I exist’ plays out for you individually.
As I said, for me, it was a taste.
What is it for you?
How do you know the sense of ‘I am’ is there?
Is it like a wisp of cloud, a familiar feeling, a scent?
When you find out how this subtle sense of ‘I am’ shows up for you, you can explore it. The bright light of direct experience won’t help you here because it is too subtle and, of course, in direct experience nothing can be found.
You’ll work more with feeling into it.
How far does the ‘I am’ seem to reach?
Where does it end and where does the ‘other’ start?
What does the border of the ‘I’ seem to be made of?
Can something pass this border, from the inside to the outside or vice versa?
When you find the sense of the border, have a close look. Is this border really there?
The Shift in The 8th Fetter
When the subtle sense of ‘I am’ falls away, it will be very clear. A noticeable change in experience happens. There is no identity left whatsoever.
One of the signs that the last sense of ‘I exist’ fell away is that the experience of ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ is gone.
I remember when that happened for me. It was quite a shock for me because the inside had been my refuge, I felt I needed it to survive. How could I live with having no safe shelter anywhere?
Feeling into the desperate need to be safe (the restlessness of the next fetter already setting in), the muscles of my chest and abdomen contracted for hours like building a shield against the imagined threat.
The next morning while eating my porridge, all of a sudden the penny dropped. There had never been an inside!
It was such a relief, I hadn’t lost anything.
When the 8th Fetter is Gone, All Fetters Below Are Gone As Well
When this last sense of ‘I am’ has fallen away, when there is no longer any ‘ME-Deeming’, you can be sure that all the other fetters below are gone as well. The fetters 1-7 were the support structure for the subtle sense of ‘I am’, and when the ‘I am’ is gone, any support structure that might have been left collapses.
Most likely, you will soon experience something that will feel like a revival of wanting and not wanting something. It is the restlessness of the 9thfetter, trying to re-establish what was lost.
Now, it’s not about having the love of your life or a nice boss. It is about having something that isn’t available at all. I’ll talk more about the 9thfetter in the next week.
Did the last sense of ‘I am’ already fall away for you? How did it feel?
If you’re beyond the self-illusion but not beyond the 8th fetter, how is it for you that this sense of ‘I exist’ is still present?
Let me know in the comments.