Living our history

We live our history, before and even within awakening. We can’t help it since that is all our human self has to go by.

And when others live from a conditioning that is quite different from my own, it is easy to notice that we all live from our own history.

Here is a good example for me:

Two spiritual teachers appear to sometimes live from the story they should have told me. In one case, they should have told me about no-self. (That it can be recognized.) In the other case, they should have told me about the dark night. (How stark it can be.)

When those stories are taken as true, it is natural to emphasize no-self and the dark night as if others are not familiar with them, and also to emphasize how teachers and traditions often don’t acknowledge respectively no-self and the dark night. And even within an awakening, when those stories are recognized as not true, our human self may still continue to live from those stories as if they were. Either because they are judged to be skillful teaching tools, or because they have not (yet) been examined thoroughly.

They are living their history, in a very innocent way, as we all do. In this case, they may not have encountered many references to no-self and the dark night, or – more likely – may not have recognized or noticed when it was mentioned.

My own history is quite different. I keep seeing both acknowledged by teachers and mystics from all the main traditions, repeatedly and often very explicitly, including in stories we all know and are familiar with.

My Zen teachers would often emphasize if you can help it, don’t start on this path. (Because it will kill you and the process will not be comfortable.) It is common to hear awakened ones refer to their process as something I wouldn’t want for my worst enemy. Jesus said  for whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me … will save it. (You won’t find a more direct and clear reference to no-self and the dark night.) The Jesus story is an analogy to the awakening process in general, and makes it clear that it involves a crucifixion, a death of what we take ourselves to be. Rumi said I will come to myself the moment I am obliterated and made selfless. Evelyn Underhill in her classic Mysticism devoted a chapter to the dark night and included a number of examples and quotes from different mystics, and the final chapter makes it clear that the process goes into selflessness. The philosopher Heidegger said to live authentically is to live in the full awareness of the nothingness of one’s self. And there are innumerable other references to no-self and the dark night from mystics of all the great traditions. (Some nice quotes on no-self here.)

So in my history, references to no-self and the dark night are encountered frequently. And the contrast between my history and that of those to teachers makes it easy for me to recognize that all of this depends on our own individual history. This contrast also makes it appear lopsided to me when someone makes a point out of how teachers and traditions don’t mention no-self or the dark night. It doesn’t fit my experience.

There is nothing wrong here, but it is good to notice. At the very least, I can keep an eye out for when I do the same. I can modify and course-correct when I recognize ways I am living from my own history without acknowledging that it may be quite different for others. (Which I often do.)

In this specific case, it is a reminder for myself  to not assume that everyone will have encountered references to no-self and the dark night, or have recognized it when they did.


  • living our history
    • they should have told me
      • about no-self
      • about dark night/starkness
    • may be a belief before awakening, and may be lived as if a belief even within awakening – if is a strong pattern and remains unquestioned
    • nothing wrong but good to notice, may modify/course-adjust when I notice it in myself

Our human self is conditioned in innumerable ways. Most of it is very functional, even if it can always be modified to be more so. And some conditioning is what creates a sense of drama: the conditioning of identifying as a doer and observer.

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