I Am AIways I – Children’s Book by Rupert Spira
Rupert's first handwritten draft of his children's book, 'I Am Always I,' in his diary.
Cultivating the Essence of Self: I Am Always I
When I was seven years old, I apparently said to my mother that I thought this world was God’s dream, and that our purpose in this life was to make the dream as beautiful and pleasant as possible. Today, more than half a century later, I find that I have not evolved all that much.
Although I express myself in more sophisticated terms, I still fundamentally uphold the conviction that reality is a single, infinite and indivisible whole, which cannot be accurately named or described but which we might refer to as consciousness, or spirit, or love.
Over time, I forgot this early childhood intuition, and it wasn’t until my late teens that it was reawakened in me. Embarking on a journey to explore reality, I delved into the teachings of Vedantic and Sufi traditions and later explored the wisdom of Kashmir Shaivism.
Illuminating Truths Through a Child’s Perspective
About fifteen years ago, I started speaking and writing about these profound topics. A couple of years ago, it dawned on me: Why am I only speaking to and writing for adults? After all, I’d had this simple intuition – that reality was one and infinite and whole, and that we are essentially that – as a seven-year-old boy.
From that question, an idea sprouted: Why not articulate this understanding so that even children could comprehend it? Shortly after this, I was working at my desk in Oxford, a pile of unopened letters next to me, and this first line (and title) of a poem came to me, ‘I am always I’.
If properly understood, this phrase is really the essence of all the great religious and spiritual traditions. A prominent case in point being that the Old Testament has God reply to Moses’s question about His identity with, “I am that I am.”
The Timeless Message: The Unchanging ‘I’ in All
And so this phrase took hold: “I am always I.” I started writing on the back of an envelope from the pile of unopened mail.
While some poems come to us and need constant revision, this poem arose in just one go without much thought and with almost no revision.
I’m not always happy
I don’t always feel free
I’m not always lonely
But I am always me
This is the first verse of the poem. The idea is that underlying everything that happens to us throughout our lives, the thoughts, the feelings, the sensations, perceptions, activities, relationships . . . underlying all our experience and indeed pervading all our experience, our essential self or being to which we give the name ‘I’ remains constant.
Transcending Experiences: Our Essential Self
This constant presence that we call ‘I’, before it has been mixed with or qualified by the content of experience – thoughts, feelings, sensations, perceptions and so on – is what we essentially are. This poem, then, really came to me to draw attention to this ever-present unqualified ‘I’.
Bringing Words to Life: The Creation of a Children’s Book
So I wrote the poem in just a brief afternoon, and sometime later it occurred to me that this would make a perfect children’s book. I put it to my small team that helps me organize my events and so on, and Rob, Ruthie and I discussed it. Both Rob and Ruthie have young children, so they are very familiar with current children’s books and their writers and illustrators.
The Desire for Artistic Freedom
After looking at many different children’s publications, we settled on a children’s book illustrator from Poland, Zuzanna Celej. This was during Covid, so Rob and I met on Zoom, and we drew up a long set of specifications for Zuzanna to work from, instructing her all about our very particular aesthetic, how we wanted it.
But after speaking for a couple of hours, we both arrived at the same idea at the same time: Artists don’t like to be told what to do; they like freedom, and that enables them to be truly creative.
The Power of Art: Zuzanna Celej’s Vision
So having spent two hours discussing the specifications for Zuzanna, we decided to trash it all, and Rob just wrote to her, saying, “This is the poem. We love your work. Please illustrate it however you feel appropriate.”
And she came up with these utterly exquisite illustrations, as you can see with her image to accompany the passage:
Sometimes I’m lazy
But I don’t ever lie
I’m not always cheerful
But I am always I
This marvellous and yet simple drawing of this girl feeling very lazy, packed as it is with so much sensitivity and character, perfectly evokes in imagery the meaning of the poem. And Zuzanna’s lovely work resounds throughout what is now this beautiful hardback book, I Am Always I.
Everlasting Impact: A Book for Children and Adults Alike
While I call it a children’s book, it’s really a book for children between the ages of, say, three and ninety-five. It’s dedicated to the child in us all. And it is the essence of self-inquiry, an investigation into the nature of our essential self.
My hope is that parents will read this book regularly to their children – it’s very short and only takes a few minutes to read. If the children are three, four, five years old they may not rationally understand it, but it’s likely that something of the meaning of the poem will go into their minds subliminally. And, as poems do, it will work inside them without their even realizing it.
Planting Seeds of Wisdom in Young Minds
Sometime later in life, in their teens, or twenties, or thirties, when they have perhaps become more conscious of their interest in the nature of their self, something may happen in their life, a conversation, a video clip, reading a book, and this might trigger a memory in them, “Ah, I remember when I was five, mom or dad used to read this to me, and they read it so often that in the end I learned it by heart . . .”
Once I was two
For a while I was three
I’m not always four
But I am always me
And in this moment, they may suddenly realize the meaning of this poem, that it had somehow been working in them all these years and was only later formulated or expressed in their rational mind.
An Awakening for Those Who Read to Children
Of course, I also hope that those reading this book to the children will themselves understand its deep meaning and be taken again and again to the ‘I am that I always am’. That reading it will take them to that aspect of our self, the presence of awareness, that is prior to and independent of the arising of all experience – thoughts, feelings, sensations and perceptions.
Although this aspect largely seems hidden, numerous times throughout the day the fact of simply being, or being aware, becomes available to us in the gaps amid the constant stream of our thinking, feeling, sensing, perceiving and so on. And as we become more and more aware of this presence in the background, it pervades the foreground as well, and its innate peace and quiet joy impress themselves upon us.
Returning to Our True Nature
So I hope that the book of this poem, I Am Always I, and Zuzanna Celej’s magnificent illustrations will take people again and again to their true nature, to the peace and quiet joy that are inherent in it.
This article is based on the transcript from the video on Rupert’s YouTube channel. See video below.