Its total presence was my total absence, body and soul. Lighter than air, clearer than glass, altogether released from myself, I was nowhere around.
~ Douglas Harding, On Having No Head
Without egotism, the mind is as large as the universe.
~ Helen Keller, The world I live in
No eyes, ear, nose, tongue, body, mind: no color, sound, taste, touch or what the mind takes hold of.
~ The Heart Sutra
Where am I, the locus of my mind, where the ego arises in consciousness? When I am awake and close my eyes, it feels like I am hovering vaguely behind them in the darkness, still peeking out at the world through the mind’s aperture. But what if I were blind? Would “I” be more likely to be found spiraling along the dark and noiseless maze of the inner ear waiting for sound? And if I were both deaf and blind? Maybe “I” would have completely migrated from my head into the palm of my hand that “binds me to the world” anticipating touch (Helen Keller)? And if sense deprivation completely divested me of “I”, would this plunge me into an autistic hell where I’d be furiously groping for a way out of confusion, or would I be released from the illusion of exile altogether and finally be one with the world?
Helen Keller describes life before the dawn of self-awareness as a state of non-knowing/being, a kind of birthlessness. She says:
I did not know that I am. I lived in a world that was a no-world. I cannot hope to describe adequately that unconscious yet conscious time of nothingness. My inner life, then, was a blank without past, present, or future, without hope or anticipation.
Her undifferentiated awareness was haunted by a soul she called “Phantom” that never quite inhabited the centerless dark of a mind uninformed by “I”:
Phantom did not seek a solution for her chaos because she knew not what it was. Nor did she seek death because she had no conception of it. All she touched was a blur without wonder or anticipation, curiosity or conscience. Nothing was part of anything and there blazed up in her frequent, fierce anger which I remember not by the emotion but by a tactual memory of the kick or blow she dealt to the object of that anger. In the same way I remember tears rolling down her cheeks but not the grief…
She was unmoved by the world until language shaped her experience and she became aware of herself as “something”. Then only could she know, and rejoice in, being:
When I learned the meaning of "I" and "me" and found that I was something, I began to think. Then consciousness first existed for me. Thus it was not the sense of touch that brought me knowledge. It was the awakening of my soul that first rendered my senses their value, their cognizance of objects, names, qualities, and properties. Thought made me conscious of love, joy, and all the emotions.
For Helen Keller, self-realization occurred when she transcended egolessness, going the opposite direction one would expect transcendence to go. Perhaps because-- without an “I” to anchor liberation, a self to give meaning to selflessness-- sights, sounds and feelings cannot shape the emptiness and silence from which they arise. Or perhaps every transcendence arrives at a place beyond polarity where, from whichever direction you approach it, "there's a sound so fine, nothing lives 'twixt it and silence", and more meant in things than meets the eye."