The Yoga Sutras state that all of our suffering comes from false identification. What does this mean? We take the untrue to be true. We identify with our thoughts, our emotions, and our body, and we presume this is who we are, but is this who we are? Are we not the one aware of the thoughts, the emotions, and the body? Is our awareness bound to our thoughts, our emotions, or our body?
In the spiritual traditions, self-inquiry is said to be the direct route to Liberation. Self-inquiry is a form of yoga called Jnana yoga. The sage Ramana Maharshi used this form of yoga and taught everyone who came to him to inquire “Who am I?” as the means to end their suffering. Through this self-inquiry the “I” dissolves in awareness and the identification with “I” is seen to be untrue. The false identification is released.
In his book, the Book of Listening, Jean Klein applies self-inquiry to the experience of fear.
“The first step is to face, become aware of, the mass of agitation, contraction, which you call fear. The name that you immediately give to the sensation you feel is not the actual fear. The word fear is memory, the word fear does not belong to the actual sensation, so free yourself from the concept fear and face only the perception. Then automatically you will know how to observe it, how to look at it with love and compassion. In this looking you don’t give any food to the concept fear and an energy wakes up and integrates in your wholeness. So begin by asking, “Who has fear?”, and then you will come more and more to know the mechanism. There are people who wake up every morning with fear, afraid of facing work, facing the boss, facing the news from the bank and so on. It is constant anticipation. But who has fear? It is absolutely indispensable, absolutely necessary to seriously ask this question. And live with the question.”
It is through self-inquiry that we can discover the secret of existence, which Swami Vivekananda said, is to have no fear. How? By understanding the mechanism of mind. Fear is a self protective mechanism. What are we trying to protect? In self-inquiry we discover that there is no separate “I” that exists and needs protecting. The “I” like fear is a fabrication of the mind to keep the illusion of separation alive. As the Course of Miracle says, “What is Real can never be threatened, what is unreal does not exist.”