Following back the "I" to its sourceThere is a fair amount written in nondual literature about following back the sense of "I" or "I Am" to its source. This is particularly prevalent in talks from both Nisargadatta and Ramana Maharshi.
The idea is that all experience and phenomena now happening (or appearing) on the screen of our waking consciousness, is occurring for an "observer" self, also known as "I". All that we experience happens through the five sense doors (or six senses if "mind" is included, as is done in Buddhism), and is perceived by conscious awareness or "I". The three states normally identified in Advaita- waking, dreaming sleep and deep sleep, also contain awareness, and therefore also "I", albeit the "I" has sunken into the Heart centre during deep sleep, and thus there is no conscious awareness during deep sleep.
This "I" or "I am"-ness, which is our basic nature and only true identity, and matches what others call awareness-only, is always present, and can be intuited during normal waking consciousness right now. Due to conditioning however, over countless years, we have zero knowledge of awareness-only, perceiving only the objects arising in awareness, rather than just the awareness. Much the same as how we take space totally for granted, seeing only objects, colours, people, and things in our world, rather than the space where they reside. Attachment and aversion arise, and thus suffering and delusion. The fictitious self (or "me") develops and permanently sits on awareness-only, ensuring suffering continues for the apparent individual until death.
Many pointers have been given to overcome this conditioning and sorrowful (though entirely imaginary) situation. The aim of such pointers being to reduce or nullify identification with the false 'self', and with constantly arising and ceasing external phenomena. The more this succeeds, the less suffering is experienced.
One pointer given, as mentioned above, is to follow the sense of "I" back to its source. This sounds a little cryptic at first. Does it mean the "I" thought? Or the sense of "I" when one thinks of "I"? Or just plain and basic waking awareness? Or a sense of one's presence?
A method or pathway that may be helpful is to use a combination of noting (or labelling) objects and sense door arisings (as done in vipassana meditation), and then trace the arising back to "I" in the following way:
< interesting object catches the attention >
- "Seeing.. am I"
< feeling of anger arises >
- "feeling anger .. am I" or "feeling.. am I"
< sound catches the attention >
- "hearing.. am I"
etc. etc. etc.
This serves two purposes:
1) The sense object is clearly noted, identified and defused with one's experience.
2) The experience and experiencer are seen through (and dis-identified) in place of awareness only (or what some teachers mean as "I" or "I am").
There are a few pre-requisites for this to work successfully:
1) Concentration or attention to what is happening right now. Some skill in focusing the attention is mandatory for any work. (Contrary to what the "there is nothing to do!" neo-guru types teach).
2) Ability to note/label an arising with mindfulness. Meditation techniques such as vipassana may help in this regard.
3) Some familiarity with the "observing self" and what this feels like. Experience with self-inquiry, or open awareness practices can help in this regard.