Void awakening to itself, and absence of identification


From the previous post:

There is an absence of identification with any stories, and so with any particular content, since the void is absence, and also since thoughts and everything else are recognized as nothing other than the void itself taking temporary forms.

It is interesting to explore how identifications falls away when the void awakens to, or rather just notices, itself.

First, as void there is absence of any content, including identifications. When void awakens to itself, it realizes that it is absence so no identifications.

Then, when void awakens to itself it recognizes all forms as itself, as void itself. So when thoughts and stories, they are recognized as void, as insubstantial. They are recognized as just thoughts, of only temporary, limited and practical value for this human self to navigate in the world.

Centaur experiences



When I happen to mention the centaur way of experiencing oneself to people, I notice that not everyone can match it with what is alive in their own experience. Which in turn makes me interested in exploring it further for myself.

Some things that comes up…

  • It is an alive experience of the wholeness of the human self, beyond and embracing body & psyche. It is its own gestalt, which happens to filter into body and mind if there is that story added onto it.
  • The experience of my human self as a whole, beyond and embracing body-mind, has different flavors and can be in the foreground or background. Most of the time, it is more of a background experience, and sometimes, for instance in nature or when I do both body-oriented practices and meditation for a few days, it comes more into the foreground.
  • It comes from, and deepens, an alignment within the whole of the human self. Over time, and when present, it seems to resolve into a deepening alignment within this whole, which brings a sense of less internal struggle, and also less struggle with the wider world.
  • There is a parallel noticing of an already existing whole and a reorganization of this whole. I notice that this human self already and always is a whole, along with the wider world. And before this noticing there may be a reorganization and alignment within the whole of my human self which allows me to notice this, and this reorganization and alignment continues and deepens within that noticing.
  • This all goes along with a change in identifications and beliefs. Before and after, there is a shift in identification with narrow identities that separate me from others, to more wider and inclusive identities where I see myself as in the same boat as others. I find myself as more deeply and universally human.
  • There is a change in projections in general, and the shadow in particular, where I more easily see in others what I know from myself, and recognize in myself what I see in others.
  • The immediate experience of the human self as a whole allows for a noticing of the wider whole in the same way. This human self is already and always a whole, and the wider world is the same. And this in turn allows for a sense of less or no separation, and of belonging to the larger whole.
  • This gives me glimpses of the larger whole beyond and including this human self and the wider world. And this sets the stage for shifts into the witness, into pure seeing, where all form is revealed as one seamless whole. And of shifts into nature and deity-mysticism experiences, of all there is as made of one fabric, as divine, consciousness, God itself. Which in turn can lead to a shift into realized selflessness. Into the Ground – the void – awakening to itself, and then to itself as awake void and form, including as inherently absent of any I with an Other. (Although it certainly does not have to be a nicely organized progression as described here.)

Talking about this human self in third person, and release


A recent New York Times article, This is Your Life (and How You Tell It) on narrative psychology, which, in its essence, says the stories we tell about ourselves, others and the world, influence how we see these (in past, future, present) and our actions.

Psychologists have shown just how interpretations of memories can alter future behavior. In an experiment published in 2005, researchers had college students who described themselves as socially awkward in high school recall one of their most embarrassing moments. Half of the students reimagined the humiliation in the first person, and the other half pictured it in the third person.

Two clear differences emerged. Those who replayed the scene in the third person rated themselves as having changed significantly since high school — much more so than the first-person group did. The third-person perspective allowed people to reflect on the meaning of their social miscues, the authors suggest, and thus to perceive more psychological growth.

And their behavior changed, too. […]

The recordings showed that members of the third-person group were much more sociable than the others. “They were more likely to initiate a conversation, after having perceived themselves as more changed,” said Lisa Libby, the lead author and a psychologist at Ohio State University. She added, “We think that feeling you have changed frees you up to behave as if you have; you think, ‘Wow, I’ve really made some progress’ and it gives you some real momentum.”

Several things come to mind here:

  • We filter the world through our stories, which in turn color (determine, to a large extent) how we experience and act in the world.
  • By changing these stories, we experience and act in the world differently.
  • Yet, as long as we believe in these stories, at any level, we are trapped by them. We experience and act as if they were true.
  • So when there is a disengagement from these stories, seeing them as relative truths with truths in each of their turnarounds, a whole new landscape opens up. One that is less filtered through believed-in stories, one that is more nakedly perceived, and one that allows us to play with any story, and use any story as a temporary and practical tool for this human self to navigate and orient in the world.
  • Talking about this human self in third person allows for a disidentification with it, which in turn allows for (a) an easier rewrite of our stories about ourselves and the world, and (b) an easier disengagement with these stories in general. From seeing this human self, and our stories about it, as a subject and an “I”, it becomes an object and an he/she/it.

In terms of research, it seems that it would be good to explore the effects of (a) the type of stories used, and (b) the degree of belief in these stories. Are they taken as gospel truth, at all levels, included supported by society? Are they consciously not believed in, but believed in at deeper levels? Is there a release from them at more levels of being (emotional, behavioral)? What happens then?

In terms of therapy and practice, it is probably a good thing to include both the rewrite and disengagement aspects, especially as they mutually influence each other.

When there is a rewriting of our stories about ourselves and the world, for instance through finding the genuine, and relative, truths in each of their turnarounds, there is also an easier disengagement from them.

(The rewrite can happen in many ways, but the easiest, for me at least, is to fully acknowledge the limited truth in the initial story, and even the gifts in it, and also the limited truth in each of its turnarounds. Instead of denying the truth in one story and trying to hold onto another as true, there is more of a wide embrace and a wide open field this way. Denial brings a sense of struggle and precariousness, and a wide embrace a sense of ease and no truths or identities to protect.)

And conversely, when there is a disengagement from these stories, even temporarily, it is easier to rewrite them.

The New York Times Story is also a reminder of modern academic psychology still being in its infancy, which means that a large portion of it still is an examination, refinement or rediscovery of what is already known, even by regular laypeople. It is a necessary phase, and valuable in itself as it helps refine and clarify processes and mechanisms… and also sift out what is valid and what is not among what laypeople assume is so!

When this initial phase is more fleshed out, and the insights from many contemplative and body-oriented traditions are explored in a more modern (post modern, post-post modern) context, there is a great potential for a far more finely-tuned and practical insights into the mind, as the aqal map is only the initial – and very general – taste of.

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.

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The depth of the shallow


I used to be identified with an identity as cultured, which lead me to read a good amount of literature classics, philosophy and art history, watch obscure and sophisticated movies, listen to music such as Arvo Part, Palestrina, Bach, Philip Glass, and so on, and although I genuinely enjoyed it and got a lot out of it, it was also a one-sided life and identification.

During the dark night this identification, as so many others, wore down, and there is now more of an open space for anything… deep and shallow, artsy and popular… it matters less now.

The irony in this shift is that now, finding more fluidity within the wide landscapes of literature, movies and music, I am also more easily able to find the depth in the shallow, and the same dynamics and patterns in all of it. Popular or sophisticated… it is all reflections of the same basic dynamics and patterns of the mind.

There is a depth in the shallow that, although I was aware of it all the time, I held at arm-lengths distance. Now, that it is right here in my life with no distance, I can appreciate it much more.

Conversely, I guess I can say that there is a shallowness in the deep as well, often an identification with a particular identity which sets up boundaries where there really are none, and a self-congratulatory attitude about things that are really not that sophisticated, and sometimes not even that important.

Tweaked stories and gridlock


When there is a belief in a separate self, however subtle it may appear to be, any other story is filtered through this core story. Any other story, whether told to others or oneself, is tweaked just slightly to make this separate self look either a little better or worse than the rest of the world (as what it used to be, could have been, may be, what others are, and so on).

When there is a belief in the core story of a separate self, then every other story gets caught up in its gravity and is used to support and prop up that story of a separate self… as better or worse than the rest of the world.

And it is possible to see this in real time, as it happens, in a finely tuned and finely grained way…

It is easy to resist this, especially as we see more closely what the effects are of all of this (separation, alienation, being caught up in the rollercoaster), but that too is just another story used to prop up a sense of separate self. Resistance itself, or rather the identification with the resistance, comes from and supports a sense of a separate self… an “I” resisting something else.

Eventually, it brings a sense of a gridlock… everything grinds to a halt, with nowhere to go, no way out… with only grace as the only possibility, the grace of a release from a belief in this separate self, an I with an Other…. and no way to create or trigger this grace. It has to happen on its own, in its own time.

And, of course, wanting, looking forward to, expecting, hoping for, wishing for, even praying for this grace, is just another story propping up the sense of a separate self. A story about an I here that grace may happen to, one that is separate from grace and the results of the grace.

Which brings us back to the gridlock. And then the seeing of this gridlock, knowing it is what may invite grace to happen, so a looking forward to it, and then seeing that too as another story tweaked to support the sense of separate self.

And so it goes.

Personal and impersonal


There are many ways to explore the personal and impersonal, and one is in terms of how we experience what we take to be ourselves… in short, it seems that when there is a belief, the belief itself and what it relates to tends to be taken as personal, and when the belief is seen through, they are both revealed as impersonal… as universally human, as the inevitable appearance when there is a belief in the particular story, as nothing other than void itself taking a temporary appearance.

If there is the belief in the story people shouldn’t lie, and an identity as someone who doesn’t lie, then any lies here (which there are bound to be) will be experienced as intensely personal and private… the fact that I lie, and what I lie about, will both seem very personal and something to hide from others and maybe even myself. I would be mortified if they were revealed.

But if the belief in that story is investigated, revealing the limited and relative truth to that statement, the truths in each of its turnarounds, and even the gifts of lying (sometimes), the attachment to the story may fall away. And now, the story, the identity it creates (as someone not lying), and what it refers to (what is lied about), is not taken as so personal anymore. It is easier to see how it is universally human to (sometimes) lie, how a belief in the story creates the dynamics I just experienced, how the story itself is impersonal in the sense that it is shared in our culture (and many others), how it is just a thought which has no substance, and even how the story, the belief, the consequences of that belief, and what it refers to, all are temporary appearances of the void itself.

This all sounds quite complicated and convoluted, but the experience itself is simple. First, when there is a belief in a story, an identification with it, it seems personal and private, something to hide and protect. And when that identification falls away, for whatever reason, it is all revealed as impersonal… as universal, universally human, an appearance created from a belief, as anything else arising without identification with it (clouds, mountains), as a temporary face of void itself.

In practical (and relative) terms, as long as there is an identification with the story, and so also what it points to, it is difficult to own it and take responsibility for it. We try to push it away and deny it, and it shows up in our life in ways that only amplifies the sense of drama and struggle. But when there is an disidentification with it, it is actually easier to own it, take responsibility for it, be honest about it, which also changes how it shows up in our life. There is more integrity and a more conscious relationship with it, which makes it easier for ourselves and others.

This disidentification helps who we take ourselves to be (this human self), and it also helps in creating some space for recognizing what we are… an opening in the cloud cover created by beliefs.

Basics and elaboration


It seems that when void awakens to itself, allowing identifications to fall away, some things are obvious. First, that all content of awareness is this awake void itself. Then, that any identifications, any beliefs in thoughts, any absorption into the content of thoughts, clouds over this recognition of being awake void and form (and conversely, that void awakening to itself does away with those identifications).

And inherent in both of those, that there is no inherent center anywhere, no inherent I with an Other. It is just this awake void and any forms as the awake void itself… a field with no center, with no I and Other, and still, somehow, temporarily and functionally connected with this human self, who is able to work with any story appropriate to the situation… without taking it as anything more than a tool of temporary and purely practical function, without believing in it, taking it as more than a relative, limited and pragmatic truth, without being absorbed into its content.

This seems to be the basics of a Ground awakening, and from here, the possibilities of elaboration and differentiation in how it is reflected in stories is endless…

And this elaboration can be explored both before and after Ground awakening through different processes of inquiry, such as The Work and the Big Mind process… both of which allows for a much more finely tuned and differentiated expression of the basics insights. After the awakening, this differentiation can be done with great clarity and precision, to the (limited) benefit of others. And before, in a more approximate way, allowing mistaken identities (which they all are) to more easily fall away.

Rollercoasters and path into void



Our deepening into what we are, is a path into the void.

And what prevents us from noticing ourselves as the void, is exactly that which propels us to notice ourselves as void: an identification with content. It is the identification with content (any content of awareness) that clouds over a recognition of ourselves as awake void, and it is the same identification which creates a sense of something being off (in whatever form… unease, restlessness, dissatisfaction, suffering) which invites us onto the path of finding ourselves as (already and always) awake void… and the content of this awake void as the awake void itself.

The content of awareness is always in flux… so if there is identification there, there is also preferences, and life clashing against those preferences, so then also suffering. When life shows up according to the preferences, there is joy and satisfaction. When it does not, disappointment, frustration, anger, sadness, grief, suffering. In this sense, the world of form is a wave with peaks and valleys, and one follows the other.

It is a rollercoaster ride, and when there is identification there, it is as if we are sitting inside of the rollercoaster. We are along for the ride, at the mercy of wherever the tracks take us. When the track goes up, what we take ourselves to be goes up, and when it goes down, what we take ourselves to be goes down. For a while, it can be fun and even fascinating, and there are enough peak moments to make it worthwhile. But then there are the lows as well, which are equally tormenting as the peaks are enjoyable.

(I know this is not a perfect analogy… Many folks enjoy rollercoasters, but I don’t so much so this works for me…!)

We may try to redesign the track to have more or bigger peaks and to design out the lows, but we see that the peaks are still followed by the lows, no matter what.

After a while, after having gone around the track for several times, a question comes up. Isn’t there something else to life? Is it always going to be this way? I have tried all sorts of techniques and tricks to change content, but peaks are still followed by lows. We start to explore other options.

This may lead us to first find ourselves as an outside observer, as the witness of it all. But there is still separation here, so still some dissatisfaction. And since there is an identification with an aspect of what is, in this case the seeing, it is also inherently unstable. Identifications too are in flux.

Then, we may find ourselves as the space it all happens within, but this too is not quite satisfactory for the same reasons as mentioned above.

To stretch the analogy a little, we can also identify with the alive presence that everything happens within and as (the soul level), but this too is unsatisfactory in the long run and for the same reasons.

And then, finally, as the void it all happens within and as. The awake timeless void that time and space, the amusement park and the rollercoaster and the observer and anything else happens within, and which is nothing other than the awake void itself.

Looking back, we may see that not having much of a stomach for the rollercoaster ride was actually a good thing, propelling us to explore alternatives and finally to happen upon ourselves as the awake void, doing away with any identifications, any sense of inner and outer, any sense of center, any sense of an I with an Other.

A felt-sense of all as God


The belly center has to do with a felt-sense of all as God… a sense of deep full nurturing, of all as safe, a trust in life and existence, and the emotional level reorganizing in this context.

At the relative level, all is of course not OK for the body… it can be temporarily OK, but disease, accidents, and old age are just around the corner. The body is doomed. So to say that it is all OK in this context does not make sense, other than as a temporary state.

But at the absolute level, all is OK… we find ourselves as awake void and whatever arises, free from an exclusive identification with anything arising in content, including the body. And within this context, freed from being identified with and taken as a separate self, an I with an Other, the body can deeply relax, find a deeply nurturing fullness, find a felt-sense of trust in life and all as OK, God’s will, and Spirit itself.

There are several ways into this…

One is through inquiry, allowing identifications with identities fall away including with the body. As long as the body is taken as I, there will be a sense of unease and tension in the body, it is guarded. The emotions and behaviors are, at least in some areas, reactive. As this identification falls away, there is a deepening sense of comfort, relaxation and alertness, and of a stable nurturing fullness from the emotional level.

Another is through body inclusive practices, such as Breema, where we drop into this sense of deep nurturing fullness and support from the hara (belly area) and the emotional level. We have a taste of it, and as we continuing practice, it deepens and becomes more and more stably available. Through this process, the identifications with body etc. gradually seems to wear off.

So we can allow beliefs to fall away, revealing the inherent nurturing fullness of the body to surface. Or we can drop right into it, allowing identifications to wear off over time.

As we explore this, we see an apparent paradox: no matter what happens with the body at a physical level, there can be a deep felt-sense of all as OK, a nurturing fullness, an absence of emotional/behavioral reactiveness, a stable support from the emotional level, a felt trust in life and existence, and a felt-sense of all as God’s will and Spirit itself.

Of course, we still do what we can to take care of the body, with less drama and probably more effectively than when it is identified with. But even if it is going through disease, pain, old age, dying, there is still the felt-sense of all as OK, of a trust in life as it is, of all as God.

And this is far beyond what we can make any conscious decision about, or what our conscious thinking-mind and beliefs can even touch. It has to come from genuinely seeing through the identifications, or certain body-inclusive practices, or both.

The path of sobering up


Especially recently, the path of deepening into who and what I am feels very sobering… Which is not surprising. We go from having a lot of ideas about who and what we are and how the world is, which include a lot of fantasies and wishful thinking, to seeing more clearly what is already there, what is already more true for us.

The two main aspects to this sobering up may be working with projections (at the who level, leading into what), and also discovering the void, and ourselves as the void (at the what level).

I thought I was worse and better than everyone else, but the more I work with projections, and maybe especially the shadow, the more I see that is not the case. Whatever I see out there, I also find in here, and the other way around. The more I work with projections, the more the world is a mirror for myself, at the level of my individual self.

And as I find myself to be the void, nothingness, as the void awakens to itself, it is even more sobering. Here, all identifications fall away… as this human self, this personality, finite, separate, and I with an Other, and anything else, it all falls away. There is only the void, which is no thing… nothing… nothing there… awake void and form arising as this awake void itself. Everything is stripped off. It is beyond and includes any and all polarities. It cannot be touch by words, as words split the world up. This is the real sobering up, having all identifications stripped off with not a trace left. Anything I ever took myself to be is stripped away.

At a more finely grained level, both of these include a stripping away of beliefs as well.

At the who level, it involves partly exchanging beliefs with other beliefs. But as the process goes on, the level of attachment to beliefs themselves fades (although some strong attachments usually remain). The whole system of beliefs and identities becomes more inclusive, more transparent, more fluid. We deepen into the evolving whole of who we are, which in developmental terms looks as maturing and developing along the different lines and levels outlined in many different models.

At the what level, it involves examining and questioning even our most core beliefs, those that seems so obviously true that most of the time it wouldn’t even cross our mind to question them in a sincere, thorough and experiential way. I am a human being. I am this personality. I am an object in the world. I am finite in space and time. I am an I with an Other. I am.

So at the who level, we find the wider world mirroring us in a very precise way. What I see out there is also in here, and the other way around. We deepen into the evolving wholeness of who we are, healing, maturing and developing.

And at the what level, the void awakens to itself, allowing all identifications to fall away. The Ground of who and all form awakens to itself.

Additional note: the third part here, in addition to projections and void, is of course to see this human self more accurately, including where it is in terms of lines and levels of developments. Working with projections does just that, allowing for a clearer view of what is, and the void also helps in seeing this human self clearer, as void itself.

From I to me, mine and it: a gentle disidentification


As Ken Wilber explains so clearly (and others do as well), a natural part of our development process is a shift in identity… that used to be an I, first person, perceived as the subject, becomes me, it and an object, and then something else is an I and a subject… generally moving through the bodies as described in different traditions… physical, emotional, mental, soul, causal (witness) and then finally nondual when the perceived I -Other falls away.

One way of working more consciously with this is to explore what happens when what we habitually take as an I is labeled me or it. So at the different levels, we can talk about what is happening as me, mine or it:

  • The physical, our body: This is sometimes a little bit of a stretch, depending on what is going on, but not too much. My body is in pain. My body is hungry. My arm itches. It is breathing. My brain doesn’t remember so well right now.
  • The emotional: There is often more identification here, so a little more of a stretch. There is anger. Sadness is coming up. There is joy and excitement.
  • The mental, our thoughts and stories: Even more identification here, so sometimes also a stretch. There is thinking. A story is coming up saying that people shouldn’t lie. My story is telling me that I need to protect people from feeling hurt.
  • The soul level: This is an area many are not so familiar with, so it is often more easy to see as it: There is alive presence, luminous blackness, empty luminosity, a smooth full velvety blackness.
  • The causal level, the witness: Again, often even more identification here. There is awareness. There is awareness of music, a sense of chill on the toes.
  • Nondual: There is a field of awake void and form, and form as the awake void itself.

We can also lump some of these together: My personality doesn’t like noisy people. My belief system is telling me that people in power should be transparent. That situation triggered a contraction in me.

A formal labeling practice can be very helpful with this, seeing whatever rising as an it, allowing for a gentle disidentification with whatever arises, so also allowing more space around it. The final disidentification is with awareness itself, seeing that too as an it.

We can also do it in our daily life, in how we talk with ourself, our self-talk. And we can even find ways to bring it out in how we talk with others, in ways that creates some distance to it and space around it, while also not sounding too weird (although that would be fine too).

Here are some examples of ways to talk about what arises that, for the most part, does not sound too unusual: My brain doesn’t remember so well right now. My arm hurts. There is a lot of anger coming up right now. My personality doesn’t like him very much. What she said triggered a contraction in me. There is awareness of this room and body. I have a big story about how she should be more respectful. My belief system tells me that corporations should be held more accountable.

Talking about what arises in third person creates a gentle disidentification with it, some space around it, and also creates a familiarity with the terrain of seeing whatever arises in third person. It also helps bring more awareness to our habitual patterns of talking about situations, seeing how we tend to place an I on some things that arises and not other things, and that the boundary is somewhat arbitrary. Why is it that my arm hurts, but I am angry? Why is it a story telling me that this body should be healthy, while I am aware of sensations arising?

Exploring and deepening into who and what we are is of course not all about disidentification, that is just one aspect of it. It is equally important and helpful to explore whatever comes up in other ways. For instance, by fully allowing whatever experiences come up, seeing and feeling into it, allowing any sense of I and Other to become more transparent or fall away. And also to explore what comes up through first and second person relationships using for instance Voice Dialogue or the Big Mind process.

Existence allows for it all… first, second and third person relationships, and even zero person “relationship”… it is what we are, so it is helpful to explore all of these and become more familiar with how the terrain appears through each of them.

Biology and beliefs



Another exploratory and less organized post…

From the previous post:

How are beliefs ties up with biology? From a conventional view, we don’t quite see the connection. Biology is biology, with its drives and impulses and neurotransmitters and whatever else. But if we look a little closer, we find that beliefs are essential also here. Mainly, biology is destiny only as far as there is an identification with this human self. If there is a belief in a separate self, and it is placed on this human self, there is a sense of I in this human self, including its biological aspect. I am caught up in it, have little or no distance form it, I am at the mercy of it. So when there is a biological drive or impulse, it is experienced as an I, which means it is acted on without much thought or sense of choice. (It goes the other way as well, beliefs create what is conventionally interpreted as only biological impulses.)

I want to explore this a little further, to clarify it for myself.

Biology taken as an I

Biological impulses are taken as an I only when there is a belief in a separate self, and this is placed on our human self. When they arise, they appear as I, so there is little or no distance from them. Sometimes, we act blindly one them. And at best, there is a sense of a struggle. I (body) wants this, but I (mind) shouldn’t or can’t.

The most dramatic example of this for me happened in one of my first sesshins. There was excruciating pain in the legs, so the biological impulse (or so it seemed) was to get up or at least change position. But since it was a sesshin, my mind said “sit still”. What I took myself to be was (a) in pain and (b) opposed to change the circumstances so it would go away. So there was also a sense of drama and conflict. I was at war with myself.

At some point, when the pain got so intense I felt I couldn’t take it anymore, there was a dramatic shift. The pain was still there, but there was also complete freedom from it. The pain just happened as anything else happened… the sounds from the streets, the sight of my own body and others in the room. It was there but without identification, without seeing it as an I with an Other.

Effects of beliefs interpreted as biology

Looking a little further, I see that the effects of beliefs are often interpreted as biology. In particular, a lot of it comes from the belief in a separate self. This belief in a separate self, placed on this human self, automatically creates fear, desire, longing, a desire for self-preservation, and so on. And all of this is typically interpreted as coming from evolution and biology.

If there is a belief in a separate self, and it is placed on the napkin on the table (unlikely, but it could happen), there would still be fears, desires, a sense of a need for self-preservation and so on, only now, it would obviously not be coming from evolution or biology. Maybe we instead would think that is is inherent in the particular fabric the napkin is made out of.


Together, we get a fuller picture.

Evolution does select for organisms that know how to take care of itself and produce offspring. This is embedded in the biology of individuals, showing up as what we call drives, impulses, traits and whatever other terms we have for it. Drives are real, in that sense.

When there is a sense of a separate self, and it is placed on this human self, then these drives are taken as “I”, which sometimes creates a sense of tension and drama. I (as body) want this, but I (as mind) want something else. I want to be free from pain, but I shouldn’t move. I want to eat, but I have taken a vow to fast.

And also, from that same sense of a separate self comes lots of things conventionally interpreted as having to do with biology: fears, desires, impulse for self-preservation, wanting to eat when hungry, sleep when tired, wanting to avoid pain, wanting pleasure, wanting release from tension, and much more.

With a belief in a separate self, placed on this human self, there is (a) a caught-upness in whatever biological impulses arise, and (b) an active production of impulses that may appear as coming from biology.

Absent of a sense of a separate self, there is (a) freedom from whatever biological impulses arise, and (b) an absence of a production of impulses that may appear as coming from biology.

Being on the inside of stories and this human self


When I believe a story, taking it as an absolute truth, my world is narrowed in as defined by the story. In a sense, I find myself on the inside of the story. Similarly, any belief creates an identity which defines who I take myself to be. And any belief also creates a sense of a separate self, which needs to be anchored somewhere – usually in this human self. So I also find myself on the inside of this human self. So there is a sense of a separate I, existing on the inside of this human self, inside of a particular identity, and inside of a belief in a particular belief about life.

As soon as I start exploring this, I find myself also outside of all of this. I am outside, looking in. So right there is some distance, some release.

And if there is a thorough and sincere exploration of what is already more true for me than the belief, it falls away… The belief in the story falls away. The identification with the identity it creates falls away. And the sense of a separate I defined by and existing on the inside of the story, identity and this human self falls away.

There is a taste of spaciousness, and even of Big Mind.

Now, I am that which all of this… stories, identities, this human self… arises within, to and as. This awakeness it arises within, to and as. This awake nothingness all things happen within, to and as.

The human self not trusting it can function well without being identified with


When the Ground of emptiness awakens to itself, it can be very odd for our human self. It is used to being identified with, and no it is suddenly not identified with anymore.

It realizes that it is just happening, just as everything else is just happening.

There are still sights, sounds, smells, tastes, sensations, thoughts, choices, actions, relationships and everything else, but it is just happening on its own. It is all living its own life. There is lots of doing, but no doer anywhere. There is just a field of what is happening… this room, the sound of the dehumidifier, the cat walking up to connect, the chill on the fingers, tapping of the keys, thoughts arising reflected in words on the screen, getting up to get a glass of water… one field, with no part being more or less identified than anything else.

It can be disconcerting for the human self at first. Will it get by without being identified with? Isn’t being identified with, taken as an I, necessary for it to function in the world?

The rug is pulled out from under its feet, the bottom fell out, it is suspended in thin air…

But if it stays with this, it sees that not only can the human self function well without being identified with, it can even function better in relative terms. There is an absence of drama, so just clarity and simplicity… even the most engaged activities happens within a context of utter clarity and simplicity.

In a way, it is a matter of trust. Of the human self trusting it can function OK without being taken as a separate I. Sometimes, emptiness awakens to itself so clearly that all questions are blown away and the awakening is stable. Other times, and maybe more commonly, emptiness awakens to itself many times, each time followed by the human self not quite trusting the shift and going back into safe and familiar ground, and each time becoming a little more familiar with living without being identified with. Each time trusting a little more, until the shift happens in a more stable way.

There never was a separate self in the first place… only awakeness, emptiness and whatever is happening in form… the only difference is that now, this awake emptiness notices itself… and when it does, any exclusive identification with any part of this field goes out the window.

It is seen as simply a belief in the idea of a separate self, as placing a sense of I within a segment of this field and making the rest into Other. Emptiness awakening to itself cleans it all out.

What it comes down to: seeing what is already more true


So when we start letting go of some of the identities that I described in previous posts, what is left? What, if anything, is revealed?

For me, it has to with simply seeing what is already more true for me, in immediate experience, without knowing in advance what I will find or am looking for, and doing it for its own sake.

If I think I know what I’ll find, I am creating another box for myself. I have an agenda. Receptivity to what is really there goes out the window.

If I do it for some other motive, to find release, to get rid of discomfort, to get somewhere, then I am creating yet another box. Again, there is an agenda there. And again, receptivity – or even interest – in what is really there, goes out.

Thinking I know what to find, and doing it for a particular result, is just another way for me to limit myself, to box myself, life, existence, and even God, into a far smaller space than where it already is. It may look safe for a while, but is in the long run nothing but a dead end.

I think I’ll get something or somewhere by doing it, but all I am doing is boxing myself in. Staying put.

What it all comes back to, and down to, is doing it for its own sake. I engage in inquiry, for the sake of doing inquiry. I engage in headlessness, for the sake of headlessness. I am with experiences, for the sake of being with experiences.

And seeing all the parts of me that is not doing it just for its own sake, is part of it as well. Allowing even that. Being with even that. Seeing even that, as what is, right here and now. For its own sake.

A tough one II


In a previous post, I wrote about what we all probably go through in periods: a sense that all our work has had no effect. Old patterns come up, as before, as if nothing had happened. And this is another invitation to see our beliefs and identities… My work should pay off. My life should be getting easier. I should see progress. I should get somewhere. It is an invitation to see all of these, how one-sided, limited and – yes, even limiting they are, and loosen the grip on these beliefs. These too are boxes i try to put life and myself inside of, and life is far more than what can go inside of any box.

Not only do the old patterns come up as before, but my tools don’t work anymore either

Another part of this, which I forgot in the initial post, is that my tools don’t seem to work anymore. For instance, last night as I was falling asleep, there was a lot coming through, and a slight sense of uneasiness about it. I thought, well – I know how to deal with these things, and tried to be with it, allow it all including resistance, finding myself as headless, doing a journey (ala active imagination and process work) and other things. But nothing worked. Nothing had any effect. Tools that had been trusted companions for so long were useless. And here too, there is an invitation to recognize beliefs and identities… I know how to work with these things. I have skills that allows me do deal with what comes up. I know some of the secrets of the mind. I am familiar enough with the terrain so I can navigate it with more ease.

Boxes and what is outside

All of these are narrow beliefs and identities. Boxes limiting, in my own view, what life, and my life, is and can be. They create a boundary, allowing some things inside and putting other things outside, and then life brings up what is outside and it keeps knocking on our door. Reminders of the boundary, that it is false, and an invitation to see this and find ourselves as big enough to allow what is outside as well. It is an invitation for a wider embrace, partly in our conscious view, but far more importantly in the depth of our life, and in how we live our daily life.

Pure simplicity

Eventually, what is revealed is very simple… it is just what already and always is… life as it is. Revealed as inherently neutral, as simply the dance of life, of existence, of God, Brahman, Tao.

Absent of beliefs, of taking relative truths as absolute, and absent of identification with identities, it is revealed in its utter simplicity, simpler than what words have any chance of describing.

A tough one: an identity of wanting to get somewhere


As the process of exploring who and what we are moves along, we get to more and more core identities… We come face to face with them, how they are all too narrow, their (mostly unpleasant) effects on our life and the lives of those around us, and the necessity of surrendering them.

Last weekend was one of those times when core identities came to the surface. I found myself in the midst of a judgment and irritability attack, where everything was a trigger for both to come up. Not only was I helpless in doing anything about it, it also seemed that all my work in the past was for nothing… that its effect was zero. I was back in the grips of old patterns just as before, maybe even worse than before. (This weekend, my partner went into something very similar.)

And this too can be seen as a deepening of the process.

It is a wearing off of core identities and beliefs… of an identity of wanting to get somewhere… wanting my practice to pay off… wanting my life to be good… wanting a sense of ease…

All of these identities and beliefs came up against reality, and lost, as beliefs always do. Reality always wins, hands down. Even if we try to hold onto identities, the inevitable friction between identity and reality makes them erode… it may be a painful process, and it may take a while, but they do erode… And we can make it a little easier by seeing what is going on, bringing the identities into awareness, seeing how they are too limiting, and consciously allowing them the freedom to fall away.

Hierarchy of no-thing and things


This is another thing that keeps coming up for me, especially as I am exploring the soul level more actively these days…

  • Ultimately, there is void. Emptiness. Nothingness. And awakeness and form all show up from, within, and as this emptiness. For a while, it sounds abstract, but then becomes a living reality (even obvious).
  • Then, there is awakeness, as nothing other than emptiness itself. It is awake emptiness. In itself, this awakeness takes the form of pure seeing, pure awareness, pure witness.
  • Then, the soul level, alive presence, which can be filtered in innumerable ways… as alive luminosity, alive presence in the heart area (indwelling god), fertile darkness, luminous blackness, and so on. All of these too arise as emptiness, void, as emptiness dancing. The void is right there in it, and they can exist only because of and as this void.
  • Finally, the world of form as we typically think of it. All the contents of awareness, from physical objects to energies to sensations to thoughts. These come and go and live their own life, and these too are no other than emptiness. Their ground and essence is the void.

More about each

So we have the void, which is the ground of all there is. It is the one thing that does not come and go, because it is no thing. It is just pure emptiness. It is what allows anything else to be, to come and go.

Then, awakeness… timeless, spaceless. This too, a no-thing.

Then, the soul level… also timeless and spaceless… Sometimes as a field without center and any particular location, but also sometimes with a particular location, as the indwelling god. The soul level comes and goes in different ways, and especially in our awareness. We may notice it, or not. It is present, or not, to us. And it seems that it can be present or not, in different ways, beyond that as well.

Finally, the form level… obviously in time and space, and actually that which creates any experience of time and space. Very much coming and going, as a stream of form.

And all of it arises as emptiness, as insubstantial, transparent, as awake emptiness itself.


Needless to say, what we take ourselves to be within all of this hugely influences our experience.

  • If my center of identification is in the world of form, I am at the mercy of the world of form.
  • If my center of gravity is in the soul level, I find myself as the fullness here, deeply nurtured, guided, and at home. (Breema)
  • If my center of gravity is in the awakeness, I am the witness, the seeing of it all, detached yet also (apparently) free from the comings and goings of everything else. (Sitting practice)
  • If the center of gravity is in emptiness, then there is only the Ground allowing all of it to exist and come and go on its own… allowing awakeness, the infinite realms of soul, and the infinite richness of the world of form. (Headless experiments)

As form, I am at a particular location and the rest of the world is out there. As soul, I am formless, timeless, spaceless. Something, yet nothing. As awakeness, I am seeing itself, with the seen as slightly Other.

As Ground, it is all revealed as, always and already, absent of any separate self. The seeing and the seen has one ground, one nature, they are not two… only a field of seeing-seen.

Relationships with the ultimate, and identities


There are many ways to relate to and explore Existence as a whole, as God, Big Mind, Brahman, Tao.

One is with a second person relationship, as a you, through prayer, gratitude, meditation, contemplation, noticing an influx of grace and energy, and so on.

Another is through a third person relationship, as an it, something to explore, inquire into, study and talk about.

Yet another is through a zero person relationship, through headlessness experiments, finding ourselves as awake emptiness and form absent of a separate I, and so on.

And finally through a first person relationship, as the one transcendent I without an Other.

And through all of them together, fluidly shifting from one to another, there is a far richer exploration going on.

Center of gravity shifting

Another way of talking about this is that our center of gravity, who or what we temporarily take ourselves to be, shifts.

In the second person relationship, we explore ourselves as an object in the world and God as the whole. This one is most readily available to anyone.

In the third person relationship, we set a part of ourselves as if outside of the whole, exploring God as an it.

In the zero person relationship, we see that there is no separate I anywhere, not even in this human self. When I am not, God is, as Meister Eckhart said.

And the flip side of a zero person relationship is a first person relationship, seeing that there is only the one transcendent I without an Other.

Freedom to explore

All these relationships happen on their own, over time, but we can also consciously give ourselves the freedom to actively explore any and all of them, when they arise on their own, or through various practices.

If we make up an identity for ourselves which leaves one or more relationship out, there is less freedom in the exploration, and there is also stress. Life will inevitably bring up what is left outside of the box we put ourselves or existence in, and when it comes knocking, we try to hold it at bay, which brings stress and discomfort.

I tell myself that the only ultimately real relationship is the zero person one (which is true), and that I shouldn’t go into any other relationships (which is not true), so there is a constant fight holding them at a distance.

I tell myself that I am an object in the world (true) but not the ground of it all (not true), so I put down any mentioning of a zero or first person relationship, and get very confused if they happen on their own.

I emphasize a third person relationship, knowing a lot about it, but don’t actively explore it in my own life. The wisdom, love and freedom inherent in it does not work on my life, so continuing in old patterns there is stress.

Views and their shadows


As soon as their is a belief in an idea… a thought, image, identity, perspective, view, framework… there is automatically a shadow. I want this to be true, not that. I want to be identified with this, not that.

My mind closes down, not interested in, or willing or able to, see the grain of truth in the other perspectives, or the limits to the truth and validity of my own. And my heart closes down, seeing them as Other, not able to recognize myself in them, not able to find our shared humanity, not seeing how we are in the same boat.

As ugly as it can get, there is also a beauty in it.

Existence is inherently neutral. Awake emptiness and form, allowing any and all perspectives, views, thoughts, ideas, identities, frameworks, theories, and yet not being touched by any of them. They all have a grain of truth to them, yet they are all incomplete, all missing out of something, all of only temporary, limited and purely functional value.

So when we take any of these relative truths as an absolute, we are at odds with what is. We are automatically up against the world, as it is, and this brings stress, dissatisfaction, suffering, a sense of something being off (we often think it is the world!), of something being incomplete.

And it is true. When we take a limited perspective as all there is, something is off, and something is incomplete. We are right in being dissatisfied.

The stress, dissatisfaction, suffering and everything else is not only a reminder that something is off, but an invitation to correct ourselves. To investigate. To see that what we took as an absolute truth is only a relative one, and that all of its reversals have a grain of truth in them as well.

And it runs through our lives all different directions and levels, from our conscious and apparently chosen views such as grand philosophical frameworks and religion, to our conscious identities, to the often more invisible worldviews of our culture, to views we wouldn’t be caught dead having but still do somewhere in a corner of who we are.

Derrida and others may see this in the grand scheme of things, in terms of philosophical and political and religious ideas. But do they see it in all the details of their daily life? Do they see it when their kids make a mess and don’t clean up after themselves. When their partner cheat on them. When someone… a friend, their kids, their parents, their academical opponent… says they are wrong, can they join with the person saying it and find it in themselves?

For many of us, it is easy when it comes to the big ideas such as religions, spiritual approaches and political ideologies. I can see how they are all relative truths. But it is far more difficult in my daily life. It gets far more gnarly and unpleasant when someone rubs up against deeply seated beliefs in me, especially those I didn’t even know I had, or don’t want to admit to being there.

Identities as either/or, both/and, and none


Here is another way of talking about what I explored in the previous post:

Our three forms of identities are either/or, both/and, and none.

Our either/or identity: as we appear in the world to others

Our 3rd person daily identity, as we appear in the world to others, is generally an either/or identity. We are either male or female, 25 years old or not, Asian or not, Japanese or not, have black hair or not, is a computer programmer or not, and so on.

This is the identity which allows us to function in the world as a human being, differentiated from and identifiable among others.

Our both/and identity: our experience of our own wholeness

Our third person identity as we appear to ourselves, is an both/and identity, embracing the wholeness of who we are as a human being, recognizing any quality I see in the wider world also in myself. I am kind and cruel, honest and dishonest, masculine and feminine, industrious and lazy, and so on. No human quality is foreign to me. I contain multitudes.

This is the identity which gives us a sense of wholeness, richness, fullness, and connection, intimacy and recognition in relationship with others. There is no identity to defend here, because nothing is left out.

Our absence of identity: in our 1st (or zero) person immediate experience

In our immediate experience of ourselves, differentiated (and sorted out) from our 3rd person identity, we are a void… an awake void… an awake void full of content – and where the content itself is this awake emptiness. And this awake emptiness has no identity, it is free from any identity, and it allows any and all identities to arise as nothing other than awake emptiness itself.

This is the identity which gives a freedom from any identity, and also allows a fluidity among any of the 3rd person identities.

Together: either/or, both/and, and none

So together, there is our 3rd person either/or identity, which allows us to function as an identifiable individual in the world. There is the both/and identity, which allows us to find any quality we see in the world also in ourselves as an individual. And there is the absence of identity, which allows us to find ourselves as awake emptiness and form, inherently absent of any separate self.

Our either/or identity is given, or developed early on in life. Our both/and identity is discovered and explored as we mature into who we are, as an individual human being. And our absence of identity is discovered and noticed as we separate out our 3rd person identity (as a he/she/it) from our 1st (zero) person identity – what we are in immediate awareness.

What I take myself as, is how I experience Existence in general


It seems that whatever I take myself to be, is how I experience Existence as a whole as well.

If I take myself as a thing, everything else also appears as things. Specifically, if I take myself as this solid object called my human self, then all other form also appears as solid, real, substantial.

Similarly, if I find myself as awake void full of the world, then this world appears as nothing other than this awake void. Forms appear as less solid, less substantial, as emptiness itself, or maybe even (for me now) as a thin insubstantial surface of form on the vast awake emptiness.

Aspects of identity


It is interesting to notice, in myself and others, the core identities we hold onto. The ones that seem so real, so obviously true, that we don’t even think of questioning them. And if the thought comes up to question them, or someone else questions them for us, our first reaction is to laugh and want to dismiss it. It seems too outrageous to even suggest that who we take ourselves to be, at a core level, is not who we are.

Beliefs and identities

Any identity is a belief or set of beliefs. We take an image, an idea, a thought, a story, as defining who or what I am, and more importantly what I am not, and then take it as real, as an absolute Truth, and living as if it is the Truth.

And any belief creates an identity. At the very least, it creates an identity as someone who beliefs that particular idea or story.

Any belief creates a split, and so tension and stress

Any belief also creates a sense of a split, it defines a particular area as true and anything outside of itself as false or not real (it boxes Existence in, and since all beliefs also are identities, we box ourselves as individuals in as well.) And a split creates a sense of tension, and of stress.

Even such an apparently innocent belief as “God is good” can be a source of stress. If God is good, why is that not my living experience at all times? What is wrong with me? How can I change it? Am I a lost cause?

Identities and shadow

An aspect of this split is the shadow. If a particular story or idea is true, then anything that falls outside of it threatens my belief in it.

I believe people should be considerate of others, so my own lack of consideration falls into the shadow. I am this and not that, so “that” goes into the shadow.

Identities and allowing some things as only second person

In other areas, the “that” may be perceived as good and desirable, so it doesn’t exactly go into the shadow, but is rather experiences exclusively as second or third person (we can say that the first person experience of it goes into the shadow.)

I believe I am (exclusively) a human being, so the experience of space is kept as third person.

I believe I am physical, so alive luminosity is second or third person.

I believe I am finite in time and space, so timelessness and spacelessness goes into third person.

I believe I am this personality, so awareness is seen as second or third person.

I believe I am form, so the void and formlessness is third person.

First person experience in the shadow, as a safeguard

For all of these, the first person experience of it goes into the shadow. And maybe for good reasons. It serves as a safeguard against inflation, adding the transcendent onto a personal identity.

If I take myself primarily as this personality (or this human self), and then add some of these qualities, such as luminosity, alive presence, of even infinite love, wisdom and compassion, then it may not look pretty. It is a bad case of inflation, of seeing myself as special, better than others, a chosen one, and all the rest that we may know from ourselves and also out there in the world.

As long as there is a strong (and unquestioned) identification with our human self, then it is healthy to keep a first person experience of these transcendent things in the shadow. We can still become familiar with it, even dip into a first person experience of it (or at least of no separation), and then return to a more safe second or third person relationship with it.

As the identification with our human self, or form in general, relaxes, softens, become more transparent, weakens, becomes more porous, then the first person experiences of it naturally comes more into the foreground.

Until eventually, usually after much work, the beliefs in any identity falls away, and whatever arises, independent of content, is just an aspect of the field of what is, absent of I and Other.

Selfless or Self

This is also why it may be safer to use a terminology of selflessness, rather than the Self, to describe Big Mind (Brahman, Tao, Spirit) awakening to itself.

As long as there is a sense of a separate I, we’ll take whatever can be seen as an “accomplishment” and add it to the identity of this separate self. We’ll do this whether we use the world selfless or Self.

But with “selflessness” there is at least a reminder built in.


Theistic traditions in particular emphasize humility to guard against this inflation. It is beautiful, especially in reading the writings of Christian mystics such as St. Theresa of Avila. There is a real sense of the differentiation between the personal identity and God, and then finally the falling away of any sense of separate self so there is only God.

A drawback here is that the apparent reality of the separate self may be emphasized in the process, and also that there is a strong identification with an identity as “humble”. In this path, those two are among the last identifications to be burnt through.

The game of the little guy


I think Douglas Harding (and probably others) mentioned the game of the little guy. The game of being caught up in the identities of our individual selves, propping it up, making it into something.

I know I am, and some times more than others. It is good to notice and be aware of. And the tell-tale signs is when something feels really important and real, when there are certain ideas and identities that appears to need to be defended, any sense of contraction, any sense of a substantial I and Other (whether the Other is a situation, a person, an idea, a sensation, or anything else.)

And it may also be good to notice this in those we set up in the role as a teacher. Is the teacher caught up in the game of the little guy? If so, how, and how does it affect the teachings?

This is obviously quite subjective, just my impressions from their writings and sometimes audio/video, and probably says far more about me than anyone else, but some teachers I detect a “caught upness” in the game of the little guy are… Ken Wilber (macho, hip identity that needs to be propped up and defended), Andrew Cohen, Adi Da, Surya Das.

And the ones where I do not detect it include… Douglas Harding, Byron Katie, Joel Morwood (Center for Sacred Sciences), Adyashanti, Pema Chodron, most Tibetan teachers, Almaas (?).

What I see in each of these says more about me than anyone else. And at the same time, when it comes to choosing a teacher, there are some signs in the world to keep an eye out for as well: which teachers are surrounded by scandals and drama? If they are, they may be caught up in the game of the little guy (or something else may be going on), and in my case, it means that I usually choose to keep my distance. I can still appreciate and learn from them, but when it comes to choose someone as a guide and a more intimate influence for myself, I choose those where I detect less or none of the caught-upness in the game of little guy, and where there are fewer, milder or no external scandals.

It is of course just a general guideline. I am not surprised by some caught-upness in the game and some external (at least mild) scandals, and that is OK. We are all just humans, even if that particular human is a vehicle for reality having awakened to itself. We have to give ourselves and others, including our teachers, some slack.

And at the same time, when the game and scandals are there, we can look at the degree of the game and the scandals, and especially how the teacher deals with it. Do they defend, justify and deny (bad signs…!). Are they receptive, transparent, appearing genuinely repentive and willing to change (approach, organizational structure)? If so, and the degree is relatively mild, then why not give them a second chance (but maybe not a third or a fourth.)