First person and death

 

When I do impermanence practices, visualizing everything and everyone in my life – including this human self and any state and experience – as already gone, it seems strangely familiar. And it is not only because I have done it before.

When I explore, I see that it is because it reflects my daily first person experience of the world.

Deepening into what we are is a process of differentiating 1st and 3rd person identities of ourselves.

My third person identity is the identity of this human self in the world, and it has a purely practical function. It is the identity of this he, she or it.

My first person identity is very different. When the third person identity is seen as third person identity, seen as he/it and not I, then my first person identity reveals itself more clearly. Now, I find myself as awake void and form, and that is it. There is no center there, no I with an Other, no exclusive identification with any content of awareness.

Together, there is freedom from identification, yet also the ability for this human self to function in the world. In first person experience, I am awake void and form, released from identification with any particular content. Yet, this human self has a third person identity (as an he) which helps it function in the world.

This also helps me see that in my first person experience, the world steadily comes and goes, it dies and is reborn here/now and always. People vanish, places vanish, thoughts vanish, perceptions vanish, states vanish, content of awareness as a whole vanish.

When this human self leaves a room, the room vanishes. When someone is no longer around, they vanish. When it closes its eyes, the visual world vanishes. When it dreams, any familiar content sometimes vanish and a whole different world appears. When it goes into dreamless sleep, any content of awareness vanishes.

So death is intimately familiar to us, in our first person experience. It is what happens here now, always. The world dies, and is reborn, in innumerable shapes and combinations.

It is only in my third person identity that something appears to stay around, and then dies with a death certificate. In my first person experience, it is only in the realm of thoughts that someone is still alive, or something is still around, even if it is no longer here in perceptions.

And it is only in the realm of thoughts that there is a difference between someone or something gone in perception but most likely coming back (“alive”), or gone forever (“dead”).

In first person experience, it is really only in the realm of thoughts and stories that someone or something is alive or dead.

So death is intimately familiar. In my immediate experience, the world dies, and is reborn, here now and always.

And as usual, if this is taken as a belief, it looks weird… it can become a defense against grief, a denial of death, a resistance to fully experiencing and being with what comes up when someone close to us dies.

But if it is a living experience, a living realization, what we notice in immediate experience, it is a freedom… a freedom from identification, a freedom to experience grief fully when someone or something dies, and a freedom for gratitude to surface more easily… gratitude for it having lived and been in our life.


Sections from the first draft:

Deepening into what we are is a process of differentiating 1st and 3rd person identities of ourselves. My 3rd person identity is anything that has to do with who I am, and content of awareness. It is what my passport tells me I am. It is how the world sees and describes me (species, age, gender, etc.). It is who I see in the mirror. It is also who I tell myself I am, including as whatever characteristics surface and states passing through. In general, it is what thoughts and stories say I am. It is the relative truth of who I am as an individual.

My first person identity is very different. When the third person identity is seen as third person identity, no longer confused with and taken as a first person identity, then my first person identity reveals itself more clearly. Now, I find myself as awake void and form, and that is it. There is no center there, no I with an Other, no identification with any content of awareness (more than any other).

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