Absent of I

A comment left some days ago made me explore in what ways there is an absence of I in awakening.

One, and the most obvious one, is that there is an absence of I in content.

When we look of content of awareness, we find sights, sounds, smells, tastes, sensations and thoughts. This human self and its surroundings is arising.

And we often take a portion of this content as who we are. I am this human being, or maybe even really some portions of this human being, the ones that correspond with an identity I have made for myself. I am this human being, and I am also smart more than stupid, nice more than obnoxious, right more than wrong, and so on.

In our own experience, there is an I in this content, placed on parts of this human self.

But at some point, we start to realize that all of this has really an inherent absence of I.

And we can discover that in maybe three general ways.

One way is to find ourselves as seeing itself, as pure awareness, the witness. I am the seeing and the seen is released from having an I in it. This can happen in meditation, as a result of yoga or shaktipat, or spontaneously… We find ourselves absorbed into pure seeing, realizing that the world of form is inherently absent of an I.

Another is to find ourselves as headless, as Big Mind, as awake emptiness and form, and again realize that there is no I in any parts of all of this. Anything arising is one field of seeing-seen, form as no other than awake emptiness itself, and this field has no center of an “I”. If there is an “I” here at all, it is equally distributed throughout the field.

And a third, closely related to the two other, is to inquire into the world of form itself. I notice sounds, sights, smells, tastes, sensations and thoughts all come and go, live their own life. Can I be any of these? I do not seem to come and go. Following this leads us into finding ourselves as seeing itself, and then as Big Mind.

This form of inquiry also helps us see more clearly how a sense of an I within this is created. How thoughts are taken as offering absolute truths, are associated with particular sensations, and together serve as an anchor for a sense of a separate I. When this is seen, and especially as there is more familiarity with this territory, the gestalt falls apart into its components. Where there used to be a definite sense of I, there are just thoughts and sensations arising in space.

If there is no I in the content of awareness, is there an I anywhere?

Well, for a while it may appear as if there is an I in awareness itself, as opposed to in content. I am seeing, not the seen. But then that falls away as well.

The content of awareness is not different from awareness itself. It is all awake emptiness and form, with form as no other than awake emptiness itself. There is just a field of awake emptiness and form, absent of a separate I in any of its parts. Just a field of seeing-seen, and even saying that gives an appearance of a split that is not there.

The field is absent of a separate I in any of its parts. If there is an I anywhere, it is the one I which is everywhere and nowhere in particular. The one I distributed equally throughout the field. The I without an Other.

The separate I, and the I without an Other

Here is a slightly different way of noticing the relationship between the sense of a separate I and the one I.

For all of us (I guess) there is a sense of I here. And this is real.

But we assume that this is a separate I, an I with an Other, and we place it on this individual.

This is how the whole human drama, as we know if from our own lives and the rest of the world, comes about.

And then, this I may discover that it is not a separate I. It is really just an I without an Other.

It is the field of all there is – of wakefulness, of emptiness, of form – absent of a separate I. It may happen to be functionally connected with a particular individual, but this individual is just one aspect of the field of form, and there is no separate I anywhere.

We are an I. There can be a temporary and convincing appearance of it is a separate I, one that is placed on a segment of the field and has an Other. And then it can awaken to itself as what it always and already is, the I absent of an Other anywhere.

Appearance of a chooser

It is pretty simple, but easily overlooked if we don’t explore it for ourselves:

There is a thought, a decision, and an action.

And when a belief in the idea of “I” is placed on top of it, it appears that “I think”, “I decided”, “I acted”. It all seems very logical and neat.

(Of course, if the identity built up around this idea of “I” does not fit with the thought, the decision or the action, then we say “it wasn’t me, it just happened”, or “I don’t know where that came from”.)

When this field of awake emptiness and form awakens to itself, it looks different. Now, there is just a thought, a decision, and an action, revealed as inherently absent of any I. There is doing, but no doer.

This is an immediate and very clear realization. No thinking or analysis is needed.

But it is also possible to taste this before such a clear awakening. For instance, for any thought, decision, or behavior, explore the many causes of it. You can always find one more, and one more. And then discover, bit by bit, how everything happening in the world of form, including anything associated with this particular human self, has literally infinite causes. It is the whole field acting locally.

It is the local manifestations of the whole field of form, always in flux, and the causes go all the way back to beginning of time, and all the way out to the extent of the universe.

The field first filtering itself through I and Other, then awakening to itself

There is always this field of awake emptiness and form, now reading this and also manifesting as the words themselves on the screen (and anything else).

First, it identifies with a segment of itself, for instance this human self, and there is a sense of I placed on this human self, a sense of I and Other, subject and object, of being finite in time and space, of a doer. And this sense of I is placed on anything this human self does, at least if it fits with the more elaborate identity made up for this human self.

Then, the field of awake emptiness and form awakens to itself, as this field, inherently absent of I anywhere, or as a whole as an I. And it realizes, immediately and very clearly, that there never was an I in this human self. There was the sense of an “I” placed on top of it, making the impression that “I think, decide and do”, but even then, there was never any inherent I in it. It was just a part of the field, just the local manifestations of the movements of the whole field of form. There was doing, but no doer.

Finding it here now

The nice thing is that we can taste this right now, just by looking. Just by exploring. Noticing what is happening, right here now.

There is a thought, but did “I” think it? It certainly arouse, but where is the “doer” in it? There is a decision, but did “I” decide? Didn’t it just happen on its own, just as the thought? There is an action, but did “I” act? Did that too just happen on its own? There is an apparent causality between all of these, a logical sequence, but is there an “I” there?

And we can also look for an “I” in the world of form in general. There are sensations, sounds, sights, tastes, smells, thoughts and so on, but is there an “I” there? They all come and go, while something does not seem to come and go. How can there be an I there, in the seen, when it all comes and goes?

What is it that does not change, that does not come and go? It is this awakeness that it all happens within and to. In this awakeness, there is a sense of timelessness. Of always presence. Yet, is this “I”?

If the awakeness is “I” then the changing forms must be “other”. But where is the boundary between the two? Where does the awakeness end and the forms begin?

Now, it appears as if the awakeness and the forms are made up of the same. It is as if the forms arise within, to and as this awakeness.

Now, the field of awake emptiness and form starts to get a sense of itself, without the overlay of a sense of I as only a segment of this field. It has a taste of itself as a field, without being filtered through the sense of I and Other. As a field with no center, with no I inherent anywhere.

A free fall

It can be dizzying at first, as a free fall. There is nothing to hold onto anymore. No fixed position. And also the realization that this is what allows all positions, what allows all forms, what allows anything and everything to be.

And that is what this field is, always and already.

It just didn’t notice before. It had temporary and partial amnesia. It was just a case of temporary and mistaken identity.

Embracing the polarity: engaged detachment

I am noticing some weariness coming up around what I am exploring in my daily life, writing about here, and also reading in books and blogs. There is a mix of it seeming so obvious, and yet not very clear (!)

I can just watch it, shift the center of gravity out of it, not be caught up in it, not fuel it, not push it away, just allowing it to be. Shifting into the seeing of it. Shifting out of form and into the emptiness and wakeful formless. Alone, that feels a little barren.

I can feel into it, allowing it to unfold and deepen within the felt richness of it. This is form engaging with form.

And then there is the embrace of both: feeling into it, deeply, richly, within the context of an absence of I (or even just the sense of it.)

And as there is a more full awakening of realized selflessness, form is (still) of course fully free to engage with itself as much as it want. There can be a full engagement with whatever comes up, a full engagement and exploration in terms of bringing attention to, feeling into, and following the unfolding of whatever comes up, and in terms of engaging in the world, in relationships, in politics, in discussions, in whatever comes up to be engaged in. And the engagement is maybe even fuller than when there is still a sense of I, since this tends to create a good deal of ambivalence. In the context of realized selflessness, there is an invitation for a more whole hearted participation.

Yet, in a different way, the degree of engagement is exactly the same before and after awakening to realized selflessness. The human self is living its own life before and after, an inherent part of the world of form, not able to extract itself from being influenced by infinite causes and itself being the cause of infinite effects. It is as fully engaged in the world of form as a water molecule is fully engaged in the ocean it is a part of. Any sense of fuller or less full engagement is at a different, more conventional, level.

Intermediate: not in charge

There is no “I” here, and this can be discovered in several different ways.

Ways of noticing

One is to notice that everything just happens: sights, sounds, smells, tastes, sensations, thoughts, decisions, behavior, it all just happens on its own. It lives its own life. There may be a sense of an I there, and that too just happens on its own.

Another is to explore the infinite causes to anything happening with this human self: it is all the activity of the whole of Existence, the whole beyond and including all polarities. How can it be any different? The more we inquire into this, the more alive this noticing becomes.

There is doing, but no doer.


In the beginning, there may be a sense of an I there, somewhere in or around the human self, and it is taken for granted.

Then, as it is examined more, it appears more illusive and may even be recognized – to some extent – as illusory, created by a belief in the idea of I.

And from here on, life helps in wearing out this sense of I.

Any time life shows up differently than how our beliefs tells us it should, it is an invitation for the “I” to wear out.

At some point there may be the intermediate sense that I am not in charge here. There is a vague sense of I, there is everything happening, and the realization that this “I” has nothing to do with what is happening. There are thoughts, decisions and behavior, but the “I” is not involved.

This is what is happening for me right now. “I” am so clearly not in charge, not even in the most mundane and everyday behaviors.

This human self is living its own life, as a local manifestation of the larger whole. Even if there is a vague sense of an “I”, it is so clearly not in charge.

In noticing this, there is also a slight sense of unease. The familiar identity of a “doer” is outdated and cannot be taken for granted anymore. Can this human self function without the sense of “I” added to it? How does it look if there is no doer and no I there anymore?

Watching the human self

When there is a disidentification with our human self, as a momentary taste or more stably, there is the watching of this human self living its own life.

There is a thought, followed by a behavior. Words come out of the mouth. Decisions happen.

There is doing, but no doer anywhere in it.

There never was. And it is OK.

Trusting the human self to do its thing

I see that one way of holding back from Ground awakening is a lack of trust in our human self.

This human self needs an identification with it to function

Or rather, an attachment to a thought that this human self needs identification with it, it needs a center of gravity in it to function and operate in the world.

Is that true?

Happening on its own

No. When there is a Ground awakening, there is also the realization that this human self – as anything else in the world of form, just happens. It lives its own life. There is no I inherent in any of it. There never was an I inherent in this human self, even while there appeared to be. It was just an illusion from the beginning, created from an overlay from a belief in an idea of I and of agency. And that belief made it seem very real.

This human self, as anything else in the world of form, is more than capable to function with no identification with it, with no overlay of a belief in the idea of I. There was never an I there in the first place.

Absent of a sense of I: freedom from confusion and drama

With an overlay of a sense of I, there is immediate confusion and drama. In the absence of this overlay, it functions more freely, in more clarity, from more unhindered wisdom and compassion.

So in realized selflessness, it all turns upside-down: While there is still a sense of I there, there is the fear that this human self will not function very well without a sense of I. It can’t do it on its own. When there is realized selflessness, there is the clear seeing of this human self functioning far better, even in relative terms, in this new context – absent of confusion and drama.


I notice this daily now as I do the seen/seeing inquiry. I notice the seen coming and going on its own living its own life, just happening. I notice the seeing of it, free from coming and going. And there is the noticing of both seen and seeing as being inherently free from any I.

Then, there is the noticing of the belief that this human self needs an identification with it to function. And some fear coming up around that.

I also notice how the idea of an I becomes like a cardboard cutout that is placed on one thing after another: the seen such as sensations or thoughts, or the seeing of it. It has no substance in itself, and moves around according to what is most plausible and convenient in the situation.

Sometimes, it is even placed on the seeing of absence of I anywhere. There is this cardboard cutout of “I” seeing that seen and seeing is inherently absent of I (!).

And that too is OK. That too is inherently absent of any I.

Teflon mind

Teflon mind happens when the sense of I falls away, either temporarily or more stably.

Free from stickiness

Everything arises as before – sounds, sights, sensations, thoughts, this personality, this human self, the rest of the world, yet nothing sticks. It all comes and goes on its own, leaving no traces. It all happens within and as crystal clear Ground. Free from stickiness.

No I to protect, to hold onto anything, to push anything away

It is all revealed as absent of any I, a field absent of center, free from any identification, so there is also an absence of holding onto it or pushing it away. The view is aligned with the Ground, which allows all to come and go on its own.

It gives a great sense of freedom, within everything exactly as it is. A great sense of liberation from contraction into a sense of I and into a sense of center and periphery. A great sense of liberation from the drama and struggle that comes from that contraction into a sense of I, and something to protect.

Glimpse and shift

We can glimpse it any time our beliefs are not triggered, when we are alert and relaxed, comfortable with ourselves and the world.

And there is a gradual shift into it as beliefs unravel through inquiry, and as the center of gravity shifts into seeing and then a realization of absence of I.

No drama, even within the appearance of drama

A snippet from the previous post…

The seen, the seeing, the identification with the seen or the seeing, it is all Ground, inherently absent of any I. Even the identification itself is absent of any I. There is no drama there, even in the midst of the appearance of much drama.

When Ground awakens to its own nature, as seeing and seen inherently absent of any I, there is a realization of the seeing and the seen also being inherently absent of perfection or imperfection. Or put another way, it is the Perfection beyond and including conventional perfection and imperfection.

And this is one flavor of this Perfection: There is no I even in the identification with seen or the seeing. There is no drama even in the midst of the appearance of drama.

So there is no I and no drama inherent in the appearance of an I and drama. Yet there is still very much the appearance and experience of it. Both are there, both are included.

A belief means identity with content

They decided to divide the stone into pieces.
Of course then the Priceless became lost.

Most everyone is lousy at math
And does that to God –

Dissects the Indivisible One,

By thinking, saying,
“This is my Beloved, he looks like this
And acts like that,

How could that moron over there

– from The Gift

In an earlier post, I mentioned the shifts from (a) a sense of I as seen, as content of awareness, as this human self, to (b) I as seeing, as pure awareness, as Witness, as that which content arises to and within, to (c) a realization of absence of I in seeing and seen, and Ground as seeing and seen.

Whenever there is a belief in a thought, in any thought, there is automatically an identification with content.

An idea is attached to, it is believed in, it is taken as true. Right there, the world is split.

It is split into I and Other. I is placed one segment of the world, leaving the rest to Other.

It is split into I as having a particular identity and Other as outside of this identity. I am those segments that fit into this network of ideas making up an identity, and whatever is left is Other.

Right away, there is an identification with content. I am this, not that.

Right there, the center of gravity is in content.

Right there, comes a sense of drama and struggle.

Right there, forgetfulness comes in.

Forgetting myself as the seeing, as pure awareness.

Forgetting myself as Ground, as seeing and seen, absent of I anywhere.


When there is no (belief in a) story, we become a fool.

All there is, is the eternal Present – always new, fresh.

The whole world – all there is – is what is right here. Anything else is a story.

There is no past and no future. They too are just stories happening now.

My only life is right here, that is all there is.

There is an absence of belief in any story, including that of “I”.

There is unknowing, yet access to whatever experience, knowledge, information, skills and so on that may happen. And there is a story of how they happen in response to the situation, although that too is just a story.

There is nothing to defend. There is an absence of any identity so no I and Other, and nothing to protect or defend.

I can find everything in me (this human self) that anyone comes up with.

Everything is – what we label rain, cat, table, lamp, body, sensations, thoughts, decisions, movements, focus, awareness and so on – with no I anywhere.

Everything just happens, with no doer anywhere.

In short, this human self – operating in this context – looks very much like a fool to anybody. It is too simple. Too childlike. Although it is a simplicity which includes complexity. Childlikeness which includes maturity. Foolishness which includes wisdom.


Situations that brings up intensity are often helpful to me for noticing what is – for just allowing it all to unfold within space, as it does anyway. At the dentist yesterday, I had a good opportunity to explore everything unfolding – the room, the dentist, the drill, this body, the reactions in this body, sensations coming and going, emotions coming and going, thoughts coming and going, attention moving around, and the awareness it all unfolds within – and see that there is really no “I” anywhere in all of this. It all unfolds, but none of it is really that personal.

Identification & Doer

When I look at the connection between identification and a sense of doer, it appears as incredibly beautiful and also quite comical.

Whenever there is an exclusive identification with anything, it appears as a doer.

When everything is revealed as empty of any inherent I, the sense of any doer also disappears.

There is still the doing, but no doer. Or we can say that the whole is acting through and as our human self, although this whole is not really a doer either – nor is it not a doer. It is all happening, apparently spontaneously. It is all happening, that is maybe the most accurate way to talk about it.

If there is identification with particular thoughts, these thoughts appear as a doer – they seem to initiate decisions, behavior and so on. If there is identification with particular emotions, these emotions appear as a doer – as initiating decisions and actions. If there is identification vaguely with my human self, then this human self appears as a doer.

If there is identification with the witness, pure awareness, this sense of doing begins to fade – although there is still an identification there and a subtle sense of being separate from what arises within this awareness. There is still a belief in the idea of I, now placed on pure awareness and creating the appearance of seer and seen. So while the actions of this human self may appear to just happen, there is still a subtle “doer” as the seer.

And when there is the realization that no aspect of what is has any inherent I in it, when this is clearly seen, then it all falls away. Any sense of being a doer falls away. Any sense of separation falls away. It is all the dance of the ground, emptiness dancing.