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.)