After reading The Untethered Soul and The Power of Now – both books which spoke to me and my experience at a level I had never experienced before, I began devouring the works of both authors. Particularly, the encyclopaedia of videos that Eckhart Tolle has on his YouTube channel about almost any subject relating to the matters of awareness, identity, suffering, meditation, the ego, self-enquiry, God, life and death.

It was intensely clear to me that Singer and Tolle knew what they were talking about. They had the courage to question everything they thought to be true, and what they were taught to be true, and to rigorously dive into experience itself to get the answers for themselves. We are often told to question authority, told to question mainstream trends, told to question culture and people. But we are never told to question our very sense of identity outside of what thoughts think – the very foundations of beliefs that are held so dearly that we forget that are just that: beliefs.

We are never told to question thought itself, what it is, the identity it creates and the reality behind it. I found out later that this line of questioning and investigating has a name and has been practised for thousands of years across various cultures and traditions. It is called “self-enquiry”.

The premise of self-enquiry – extremely simplified – is this:

I see thoughts come and go, I see projections of the past and future come and go, I see sensations come and go, I see perceptions come and go, I see emotions come and go. None of these phenomena are constant, but the “I” that I am, the “I” that sees them is constant. It does not appear with them as they come and does not disappear as they go. What then, is this “I”? Who or what am “I”?

For a more detailed walkthrough of this line of questioning, HERE is a great video.

With that, came the glaring question: why had I never been exposed to this line of questioning before? Why had no-one ever told me to question the thoughts in my head, and how to do it? Why was no-one talking about the “persona” that thought creates – the likes, dislikes, the desiring, the resisting, the images of the future, memories of the past – and whether it was actually me? And if it wasn’t me, given I see these things coming and going, always changing, then who am I really?

I had been to primary school, high school, university. I had taken courses in psychology. I had listened to countless hours of podcasts from people that I believed to be some of the smartest intellectuals and individuals on the planet, on topics ranging from mindset, philosophy, politics, personality, motivation, discipline, psychedelics and most things in between. Many of them talked about the voice in your head; about quietening it, about disciplining it, about making it think smarter, faster, making it more confident, making it unbreakable. Yet not one of them talked about what it actually was. What its reality was. What it appears in. Where it disappears to. And crucially, the awareness behind thinking and its self-creating and self-absorbed narratives.

It dawned on me that it was never mentioned by these people because like me up until that point, they had either never been exposed to this line of questioning. Or, they had heard it, but dismissed it as esoteric or not useful or practical. These books and videos had come out of the blue for me, at a particular time in my life where I had no choice but to question everything – even my own thought-created identity. There was no solid ground at all for me anymore, and the only way forward was to keep looking and to keep questioning.

If these circumstances hadn’t arrived, it is likely something I would never have questioned or been motivated to look further or deeper into. I would have spent a life trying to better this “me”, and likely continuing to write, talk and listen to topics surrounding this “me”. I assumed it was the same for these people. It is in no way a slight to them, but I realised that they had not yet questioned their own fundamental identity behind their active, thinking minds. They were thinkers and lecturers and authors and speakers that spoke from a place of misplaced identity – from their thought-created identity. The ego or separate self as it is referred to in many traditions. They were speaking from their ego to other egos. From an idea of themselves to someone else’s idea of oneself.

After all, there may be a thought which appears in awareness that says: “I need to be more likeable”. And someone could take it very seriously, and end up writing an entire book about “How You Can Be More Likeable” and it could be bought by millions of people. But if you were to look for the “I” that thought is referring to that needs to be more likeable, how would it be described? Would it be an image of your body? Or an image of your body interacting in a social situation? You may see more images, but is that the “I” that needs to be more likeable? Are you a fleeting image? There is only a thought, and maybe an image that comes and goes, which is just another thought. A thought doesn’t need to be more likeable. An image doesn’t need to be more likeable. So where is this “I” that needs to be more likeable? We assume it is there but when we look for it, can it actually be found? It is like a mirage in a desert. This mirage, created by “I” thoughts, is the very ego identity. The “I” that seems to exist according to thought, but can never be found. With that one “I need to be more likeable” thought, which is imbued with reality and belief, someone can spend months and years pursuing it, on behalf of an “I” that isn’t actually there…

This is something I will elaborate on more in future posts, but the point being I realised there was no real substance to my own internal narrative. The person that I thought I was, was entirely created by products of thinking: narratives, fears, images of future desires, images of future worries, memories, mixed in with feelings that were associated with them. It became frighteningly clear to me that “Daniel Riley” was just a surface-level persona, a bundle of thoughts and images and sensations, a persona that thankfully caused me so much trouble that I started to question its reality. Who “I” was lay behind this persona.

It was around the same time that a quote from the actor Jim Carrey came out that described almost exactly how I felt about myself, and also reflected what I was beginning to uncover:

I realized that I could lose myself in a character. I could live in a character. It was a choice. And when I finished with that, I took a month to remember who I was. What do I believe? What are my politics? What do I like and dislike?’ It took me a while, and I was depressed going back into my concerns and my politics. But there was a shift that had already happened. And the shift was, Wait a second. If I can put Jim Carrey aside for four months, who is Jim Carrey? Who the hell is that?’ … I know now he does not really exist. He’s ideas. … Jim Carrey was an idea my parents gave me. Irish-Scottish-French was an idea I was given. Canadian was an idea that I was given. I had a hockey team and a religion and all of these things that cobble together into this kind of Frankenstein monster, this representation. It’s like an avatar. These are all the things I am. You are not an actor, or a lawyer. No one is a lawyer. There are lawyers, law is practiced, but no one is a lawyer. There is no one, in fact, there.

He was right that there was no “one” there, as in an individual doer or thinker or worrier or persona, only this presence of awareness or consciousness that witnesses everything that goes on, including the mind’s creations of thoughts and images.

It was clear to me that these intellectuals or people who I held in extremely high regard in terms of “knowing stuff about life” also perceived themselves as being the persona “Insert Name Here”, and hadn’t investigated the matter any more deeply than that. As I had been for all of my life, they were also wrapped up in the persona that mind creates – as I had seen myself within my own mind – and had never questioned the fundamental identity beyond whatever their thoughts said or imagined.

It was almost overnight that I realised these people – and the associated topics I was formerly interested in – didn’t have answers to the bigger questions I now sought, because no matter how sophisticated and sound their line of reasoning would appear to be, its very origin would be “I am this persona”. Because where they started was incorrect, their subsequent lines of reasoning or thinking would be only relatively useful at best, and completely redundant at worst.

Kind of like how deep, intellectual discussions about what the Loch Ness monster eats or how the Loch Ness can be protected in a changing world first presumes the existence of the Loch Ness monster, which makes the subsequent discussions about its diet or conservation moot, despite the discussers not necessarily realising it. The same would be true of how to make this persona more confident or resilient or likeable or smart, or discussing its relationship to God or similar. Before tackling these questions, it makes sense to investigate the reality of this persona in the first place in order to have any meaningful and valid discussion – which is almost always overlooked.

This wasn’t a particularly pleasant revelation. My own thought-based identity and narrative of who I thought I was was exposed and came crashing down. I realised at best, most of what I understood about myself and the world was true only at a relative level, but not a fundamental level, and at worst, it was just outright untrue. It also meant that I abandoned almost everything else I previously held an interest in – including much of what I previously wrote about on this blog, particularly “Philosophy and Mindset”. I had even built an entire business around the philosophy of Stoicism and merchandise relating to its philosophers and famous quotes. I could still see its great value for those who had never been exposed to practical philosophy before; it was and still continues to be a useful framework. But I realised it was just that – a framework – and I wanted to go further.

I am grateful for all of these topics and people and experiences and philosophies. My interest in these came from a yearning to understand more about what this life is really all about. However, although certainly useful at the right stage in life, I realised they were just a stepping stone, not somewhere to finish. Instead, there was an immediate shift to wanting to learn everything I could from these individuals who had come to realise and teach about the facade of thought, and the corresponding exploration of the true nature of oneself and the nature of reality.

This path, almost four years later, has led me to the teachings of non-duality or non-dualism. Literally meaning “not two”, it is the recognition of the absence of separation in existence. In other words, despite the appearance of millions of individuals and things, there is only one reality to them. Despite sounding fanciful, this recognition is actually at the heart of all great spiritual traditions and religions including Christianity, Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism and Sufism. However, it is almost always lost due to the cultural packaging and dogma that surrounds many religions and traditions today and their envelopment with the human ego and its own agendas.

Scientists and mathematicians are also beginning to catch up to these ideas that have been at the core of traditions for thousands of years – through computer science and modelling, mathematical theory, quantum mechanics, fields and entanglement which are creating mounting evidence that there is only one seamless, separation-less reality. But I hesitate to comment too much on those topics as I am not remotely qualified to do so.

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The reason I wrote this 3-part series wasn’t just to give a vain update about the past 4 years, but to give a bit of background about the future of this blog, and everything that led up to this change. As I wrote in the first part, for four years my life has been changing constantly and significantly, and that did not foster a desire or an environment to write.

Even in the past year, I had no real desire to write again or to discuss my changing viewpoint in any way. However, in the last few months, becoming increasingly exposed to the suffering in the world – both internally amongst friends and externally in national and global conflicts – I felt compelled to start writing again. Because what has become glaringly clear to me in the past four years is that all suffering inflicted on both the inside and the outside comes from this fundamental mistaken identity. Namely, identifying with the narratives, stories, ego and concepts that the mind creates – not with our true identity which lies behind all of these things.

Our actual identity of formless awareness or Being is independent of race, age, gender, religion, nationality, political leaning or any other idea or set of ideas. This isn’t some esoteric or hopeful belief of who we are – it is the actual experience of all 8 billion of us, if we look closely, honestly and rigorously enough like a true scientist or contemplative. It is our overlooking of this reality that is at the root of all psychological suffering internally, and the conflict it results in externally.

To know and recognise the nature of one’s self fundamentally, is to know the nature of others fundamentally. That is the bridge and recognition which is required in the 21st century as we move into very uncertain times.

There are far more clear, concise and well-spoken individuals in the non-dual tradition than myself which I will likely reference often going forward, but all future posts will be an exploration of life’s bigger questions, with a focus on exposing the false identity of the ego and thought, and investigations and contemplations into the nature of ourself and the world.

Hopefully, as has been the case in my own life, a better understanding of oneself and life results in ever-increasing peace and clarity on the inside, and the increasing expression of love and selflessness on the outside. These are the inevitable fruits of being aligned with what is true of life, the universe and ourselves, rather than being lost in the world of imagination created by our own minds.

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If you missed them, here are:

Part 1

Part 2