Realizing your true nature as awareness would be incredibly simple except for one thing: This awareness that you are can be shaped. Just like water takes on the shape of the container you pour it into, this awareness that you are is shaped by your thoughts, feelings, desires, hopes, dreams, worries, sensations, and experiences. It is shaped by everything that happens. Sometimes this shaping is so strong that it seems the awareness has gotten very small and that you have gotten very small. This is not really a problem as the awareness itself is not harmed and it can always expand again.
This awareness is not only temporarily shaped by experience, but can become imprinted onto an experience or an object in awareness. You may have heard of how baby ducks become imprinted in the first few hours of their lives: They will follow whatever or whomever they are first aware of, usually the mother duck. However, they can also be imprinted on anything, including a scientist who is studying them, in which case, they will follow the scientist around.
There is nothing wrong with this; it helps baby ducks survive in the wild to follow their mother wherever she goes. It is an inherent capacity of all awareness to become imprinted, or conditioned, in this way. Every time an experience leaves a lasting impression in your awareness, you have been imprinted or conditioned by that experience...
However for humans, this imprinting is more complicated than for ducks. You can be imprinted onto many different things. One of the things you are most imprinted on is your body. You are so strongly imprinted onto your body that most of the time, your awareness follows your body wherever it goes-just like a baby duck follows its mother. Check it out. Get up and walk into another room. Does your awareness stay in the room you just left or follow your body into the other room? We are all baby ducks when it comes to our bodies.
Another thing you are profoundly imprinted on is your own mind or thoughts (from here on when thoughts are mentioned, it will refer to the entire range of internal experience: thoughts, beliefs, feelings, desires, hopes, fantasies, etc.). So, when a thought, a fear, or a longing arises, your awareness flows to that. Check it out. When you stop thinking one thought and begin thinking another, does your awareness stay on the original thought? Or does it follow your thoughts wherever they go? Isn't it kind of like a baby duck following its momma across the pond and out onto the meadow and then into a creek?
You have been imprinted onto your physical body and your mind. This isn't bad. Just as with baby ducks, it does have some benefits for your survival, although not always: Just as a baby duck will follow its mother onto a busy freeway, your awareness will follow your thoughts into all kinds of silly and sometimes dangerous places.
Since you are almost always aware of your body and your mind (because awareness follows your body and mind around), you come to the mistaken conclusion that you are your body and your mind. You fail to recognize that what you are is the empty, spacious awareness that the body and mind appear in. You assume, since they are almost always here, I am the body and the mind.
This is a simple and completely understandable mistake. Unfortunately, it is also a colossal mistake and the source of all your suffering. It's as if you had a fly on your nose that stuck around so long that you decided you were the fly. Imagine how confused you would feel and act if you believed you were a fly. You would spend all day eating rotten food and trying to mate with other flies! -excerpted from Nirmala's latest book, Living from the Heart.