There seems to be a “realizing selflessness” continuum, with no obvious start or end.
Self-organization as early sense of self
At one end of the spectrum, there is the early awareness alive in simple organisms, maybe down to single-celled organisms. Here, there is a vague sense of self expressed through self-organization on a physical level.
Growing awareness of self
In more complex organisms, there is a more awake sense of self, as seen in for instance reptiles and mammals.
In even more complex organisms, such as some mammals, there is a self-aware sense of self. We know that we are a separate individual, and know that we know.
In our individual development as human beings, there is a similar process going on. We start as an organism where the biological self-organizing processes reflects a sense of self, although it is not self-aware. Then, during the first weeks and months after birth, we learn to more consciously distinguish ourselves, as an individual, from the surroundings. And as we grow up, we learn to develop as this particular individual, we individualize and mature into this individualization.
Glimpse of selflessness
Up to this point, the task is to develop and mature into a sense of self. To learn how to function as an individual in the world of form. To learn how to use this vehicle and instrument in the world.
Then, there may be a glimpse of selflessness. This could come out of the blue or it could be preceded by some spiritual practice.
Here, we realize that “I” am not this human self.
We may find ourselves as pure witness, as the seer of it all.
Or we may realize that there is no “I” anywhere in all of this, not as this human self, not as seeing, not anywhere. The content may be the same as before, but now with no “I” anywhere. No segment of all this has an inherent I in it. This is the divine mind waking up to its own nature, or God’s Mind, Buddha Mind, Big Mind, Brahman, Tao etc.
This human self is just the whole temporarily acting through and as a human self. There is only the doing, and no individual doer. Everything is just happening.
If this is a glimpse, which it seems to be in most cases, then it will be clouded over again by our habitual sense of separate I. And this seems to just be part of the process.
We need time to allow our human self to realign from a sense of separate I to a realization of selflessness. In some ways, it functions the same in both contexts, but in other ways it functions quite differently (less reactive). And our human self needs time to realign, which one or more glimpses allows it to do. It allows for a more gentle and organic process.
Clear if look
As we become more familiar with selflessness, thorough glimpses and/or inquiry, it gradually becomes more clear when we look. There may still be a habitual sense of separate I there, and it may at times take over. But selflessness is readily noticeable when we look for it. This gives a sense of transparency to our lives, and is a middle ground between unquestioned belief in a separate I and a popped realization of selflessness.
Popped realization of selflessness
At some point, there may be a shift where the realization of selflessness pops. It becomes completely clear, obvious, with no need to look for it.
Where the realization of selflessness was absent or in the background, it is now completely in the foreground. And this is at the same time an awakening to the ground which the whole world of phenomena arises from and as. It is the divine mind awakening to its own nature.
This popped realization of selflessness may also come first as a glimpse, or stay around for just some weeks or months. Then it may fade and the habitual sense of a separate self comes back. And this too seems to be part of the organic process of realization. Our human self still needs to realign more, and this allows for a more gradual process.
Eventually, this popped realization of selflessness may become stable and even continue to deepen.
Throughout all of these phases, there is a continuing reorientation of our human self. First, to consciousness of itself as separate from the rest of the world. Then, to the realization of selflessness.
And this realignment to selflessness may continue from the first glimpses of selflessness to long after it has popped. Residue from our previous sense of being a separate I continues to be worked on and realigned with this new context of selflessness.
There is a continuing maturing into it, and a continuing maturing of our human self within the realization of selflessness. The continuing exploration of how to live from this new context. The continuing development of skills in many areas of life.
It is an infinite process of exploration and unfoldment. Of God exploring itself.