A friend wrote to me recently asking, ‘Is there any way to ascertain whether the feeling of “I” is being attended to? Is it enough if the mind’s “power of attention” is brought to a standstill?’ He also quoted the following (inaccurate) translation of question 4 and Sri Ramana’s reply in the second chapter of Upadēśa Mañjari (‘A Bouquet of Teachings’, or ‘Spiritual Instructions’ as this English translation in The Collected Works of Sri Ramana Maharshi is called), and asked ‘How can remaining still be considered as intense activity? Is being still a state of effort or effortlessness? I am slightly confused’:
4. Is the state of ‘being still’ a state involving effort or effortlessness?
It is not an effortless state of indolence. All mundane activities which are ordinarily called effort are performed with the aid of a portion of the mind and with frequent breaks. But the act of communion with the Self (atma vyavahara) or remaining still inwardly is intense activity which is performed with the entire mind and without break.
Maya (delusion or ignorance) which cannot be destroyed by any other act is completely destroyed by this intense activity which is called ‘silence’ (mauna).
The following is adapted from the reply I wrote to him:
What you call the ‘feeling of I’ is only yourself, but now we each experience ourself mixed with adjuncts such as a body and mind, so we confuse ourself with these adjuncts. Therefore our aim when practising self-investigation (ātma-vicāra) is to experience ourself alone, in complete isolation from all adjuncts, and the only way to do this is to try to attend to ourself alone, thereby ignoring everything else.
To experience ourself alone should be very easy, and it would be if we were not so strongly attached to all the adjuncts we mistake to be ourself, and also to all the other things that we take to be ours. Because of our strong attachments to such things, we are reluctant to let go of them all in order to experience ourself alone. Therefore we need to repeatedly practise trying to experience ourself alone, and the more we do so, the weaker our attachments to other things will become.
If we once manage to experience ourself alone, we will experience what we actually are, and thus our ego will be destroyed forever. Therefore so long as we still need to practise self-investigation, we have not yet experienced ourself alone. Even though we have tried many times, whenever we do so our awareness of ourself is still mixed to a greater or lesser extent with awareness of other things, so we must continue trying until we succeed.