Realizing selflessness does not necessarily change the content of what is happening, but it does change the context.
Belief in I
First, there is the belief in the idea of “I” as a segment of what is – typically a collection of aspects of our human self, or maybe just pure awareness.
And this seems very real.
It seems real partly because the segments which the idea of “I” is placed upon are real – they are there. And partly because this sense of “I” as a segment tends to reinforce itself. Actions are made as if there is an absolute I-Other separation, the world responds in ways that makes this appear correct, and – most importantly – there is an interpretation of anything that happens through this lens.
There may be a tapestry of phenomena within our human self, and a tapestry of phenomena outside of our human self, but the two are only tenuously connected at best. This in here is “I” and/or “mine” and that out there is “other”.
When there is a realization of selflessness, this context changes. Now, there is just the seeing and no seer. The choices and no choice maker. Doing and no doer.
The content may stay the same, but now it is just happening. The inner and outer tapestries of phenomena are revealed as one and the same. There is no I and Other in any absolute or real sense.
At the same time, we are free to use the overlay of abstractions to differentiate within this tapestry and place the label I and Other onto various segments, just as a practical way of communicating and navigating in the world. But it is recognized as just an overlay of abstractions. At most, it differentiates between that which there is an immediate functional connection with (our human self) and the rest of the world of phenomena.
Reasons for liberation
The realization of selflessness is often described as liberation, or more specifically liberation from suffering. There may be several reasons for – or aspects of – this sense of liberation.
:: Liberated from the finite ::
The most obvious reason is that we used to believe in “I” and place it on something finite, something limted. And now, there is just what is – beyond and including all polarities. We “escaped” the prison of the finite, although that is still present within the infinite and there is still very much a functional connection with our human self.
:: One thread in the tapestry ::
When the tapestry is recognized as a seamless whole (or as separate phenomena arising within the same space), there is a sense of infinity. And our human self becomes just a tiny part of this infinite tapestry. This is one of the reasons there is a sense of liberation. Whatever is going on with our human self is such a small part of the whole, and does no longer fill the whole space of what we used to take as “I”.
:: Ground ::
Another thing that happens in the realization of selflessness is the awakening to the groundless ground, that from and as which all phenomena happen. This is the One Taste.
One way of talking about it is to say that we awaken to and as that which does not change with the always changing content. And there is an awakening to this as the fluid world of phenomena as well. It is the same, yet is open to be differentiated as well.
Another is to say that everything – all phenomena – are recognized as the masks and play of God, Buddha Mind, Allah, Brahman, Spirit, Dao and so on.
There is no reason to attach to some phenomena and run away from others, because it is all God. At the same time, our human self definitely has preferences, and that is OK too. That is God as well. So on the one hand, everything is OK as it is. And on the other hand, there is room for improvement and change. We can live from detachment and full engagement at the same time.
I am sure there are other aspects of this sense of liberation, but these are the ones that come to mind right now.