In 1994, Jon Kabat-Zinn published the book with the wonderful title of ‘Wherever You Go, There You are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life.’ A very important book that spearheaded a resurgence of the awareness movement inspired by Ram Dass’s 1971 classic, ‘Be Here Now.’
The whole point of both of these books is to pay attention to the present moment. To attend to whatever is happening. To be present to the present, so to speak. But because of our early conditioning – that we’re led to believe that we are a separate individual – it’s easy to slip into the thought, ‘I am doing something.’ That ‘I am attending to the present moment.’
There is no I. There is no individual self. Look carefully and you’ll see that this I that we claim as our identity is non-existent. It cannot be found except as a thought, an idea, its quality varying depending on the circumstances, but most obviously with no lasting quality.
The truth is revealed with a simple looking. We all know what it means when we are asked, or ask ourselves, to ‘pay attention to,’ or ‘put our attention on’ this or that. For example, right now, put your attention on the whiteness of this page. Bang! We go right there. Now place your attention on the weight of your body in the chair. Boom! We go right there. Now put your attention on the far side of the moon. BAM! There we are!
Thus, wherever you go, there you are. But ask yourself, did you really go anywhere? Did a little bubble of attention fly out of your body-mind and settle on the white page? Feel the weight of your body on the chair? Land on the far side of the moon?
In Vipassana meditation you spend hours meticulously scanning your body for sensations. Why? To notice their ephemeral nature? Yes, but there’s more—to notice that whenever, wherever, and whatever you sense, you are already there. You haven’t gone anywhere to find anything.
Attention, or attentiveness, also known as consciousness, awareness, mindfulness, watchfulness, alertness, is all-pervasive. In fact, that’s not quite right—it’s not pervading anything, it is all things—it simply is.
Thoughts, sensations, and perceptions arise in awareness. Awareness exists prior to all appearances. Have you ever experienced the disappearance of awareness? No. You would have to be present in order to know that it was not there. Ultimately, your true nature is prior to all things, including the concept of awareness.
In ‘wherever you go,’ you is the separate self, the imagined I. The you in ‘there you are,’ is prior to the lofty concept, the end-of-the-road idea of self as ever-present, non-conceptual awareness.
So ‘wherever you go’ must be taken lightly. It’s good, very, very good, but by looking at the actual experience, we find that we, I, you, awareness, never go anywhere. We are always wherever we go, because we are everywhere. Everything.
(Recommended viewing: Rupert Spira’s YouTube: I Never Go Anywhere.)