Neti neti meditation and Internal Family Systems therapy

I am neither this, nor that

By Anna Jos

Photo by Simone Dasgon

Neti neti meditation is a practice of identifying that which is not you. It involves acknowledging and letting go of the aspects of you that are not your essence. A commonly used and easily relatable metaphor is the exercise of distinguishing the sky from the clouds - seeing each cloud for itself and gently letting it pass by, until one can begin to see the sky that holds space for the clouds. The centre of our being, our consciousness is akin to the sky. Our thoughts, our transient actions and even our long held beliefs are clouds floating by, some passing by quicker than others. 

A literal translation of the Sanskrit term neti neti is 'not this, not that’. I am not this thought, this sensation, this idea, or this desire. I am not the emotions that sometimes weigh heavy on me. I am not my history, my job, my roles in life or even my to-do list. I am not the mind. I am not this body. I leave behind everything that is not me. As this unburdening evolves and deepens, one begins to sense that I am that which always exists, always abides. I am the observer behind the passing phenomena. I simply am.

Among existing therapeutic models, a long term practice of Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy leads to a similar spaciousness to just be. IFS helps to identify beliefs, feelings or sensations that take us away from enjoying the safety of the present moment. Parts that carry these feelings and beliefs yearn to be witnessed by us. As we witness each of these parts and hear their stories, they begin to loosen their hold on us, little at a time. They begin to trust that we, in our calm presence, can navigate the moment. Parts slowly relax around situations that were previously triggering for them, in a journey of deepening trust in our ability to just be. Over time, this trust creates more and more space. A pause before we react, a knowing that a part is more activated in the moment. A reassurance in the ability of the observer to navigate this moment. Witnessing the part, reassuring it of your presence, we slowly untangle from past loops of reactivity. We breathe. We arrive. We act from our awareness, our Self, our presence. Neti neti. I am neither this part nor the other. I'm the presence behind them.