Origin stories and a sense of distance


Although I don’t write about it much here, I often use an evolutionary view to explore dynamics in daily life. It is fun to imagine what evolutionary function something has, and it can even be helpful at times.

For instance, I noticed nervousness before giving a presentation to a group, and realized that it seems to make perfect sense in an evolutionary perspective. If I am careless about what I say or do in front of a large group of people, it can have serious consequences for me. In extreme cases, I could get killed. I could get thrown out of my community. I could get stigmatized and have to live with the consequences for the rest of my life. Of course, in the culture I live in, none of these are likely to happen, or if some of the less serious consequences did happen, I could just find another group or move another place. But my system still responds as if I lived in a small tribe in Africa and my life depended on that one small community.

Just having that explanation makes it a little easier. The nervousness seems a little less personal. It is not so much about me, but a shared human – probably mammalian – experience.

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Flavors of disidentification

A few different flavors of disidentification from own (as always quite limited) experience…

The object of identification falls away, and with it – over time – the identification with it. It wears off.

I may see myself as an athlete, have a serious injury, and the identification with that identity falls away. (Usually replaced with something else.)

Or I may have a oneness experience, maybe for a long time, which then falls away and with it the identification with that state. (Here is the opportunity to recognize what I am independent of any states.)

The object stays, but the identification with it falls away. The identification with a story, an identity, falls away. This can happen – maybe most easily – through different forms of inquiry, such as exploring the sense fields and The Work. It tends to be a gentler process than the previous one.

Also, the object may come and go, so there is a recognition that I am not that. For instance, the sense of a center/I-other may come and go, and I recognize it in either case as awakeness itself.

In all cases, the disidentification is really with a story. And the amount of drama/struggle/suffering is proportional to the resistance to the process of disidentification. When the object falls away, there may be a good deal of drama. And it may be a little gentler if the object stays and we explore identification through inquiry. And even more gentle if the object comes and goes, and there is a natural recognition – over time – that I am not that.

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Identification with stories

A slightly different take on attachments…

Attachment to anything – situations, people, things, roles – is what causes suffering. Our stories about what should be and what is clash. Which is fine. It is just part of the human condition. But after a while, and if we act from kindness towards ourselves, we may want to explore this further. What is really going on? Is there another way?

One of the first things we may notice is that any attachment is really an attachment to a story. The story of I with an Other, and then all the other stories that flesh out the identity of this separate I.

I am an object in the world, so want what supports this object and do not want what does not support it. I am alive, so don’t want to be dead. I believe in fairness, so want to see fairness in how I and others are treated.

We may also notice that an attachment to a story is really an identification with this story. We have a story of an I with an Other, and take ourselves to be this separate I. We have a story of being a particular gender, age, of a particular ethnicity, having certain values, and take ourselves to be all of that.

Another thing we may notice is that it is all completely innocent. We are all dealing with this life as best as we can, and often from lack of clarity.

And then, that behind all of it is fear. Fear for what may happen to this human self. We attach to stories to deal with this fear, and try to avoid what we are afraid may happen to it.

And that behind this fear is love. A love for this human self and whatever is within its circle of concern. All attachments to stories come from love. From wanting the best for what we take as I and us.

So how do we explore attachments, or identifications with stories?

A simple and direct way is to investigate the beliefs themselves, and find what is already more true for us. I can use a sense of discomfort as a guide to discover when my stories of what is and should be clash, and then investigate one or both of these. Is it true? What happens when I believe that thought? Who would I be without it? What is the truth in its turnarounds?

Another is to investigate impermanence in the five sense fields, to see impermanence directly here and now. This helps us reorganize and find stories more aligned with this impermanence. And it also helps us see that no story is absolutely true, which invites a release of identification with these stories.

We can also include each of the three centers: head, heart and belly.

We can find ourselves as that which is already free from identification with stories, for instance through the headless experiments, the Big Mind process, and finding ourselves as what does not change in the midst of the constantly changing content of awareness.

We can invite our heart to open through various heart centered practices, or just a focus on the heart and its qualities.

And we can invite in a deep body sense of trust and nurturing fullness through various body and hara centered practices, such as Breema.

Each of these tends to invite in an opening in the two other centers, especially if we bring attention to it. An open heart invites in an open mind and a nurturing fullness. An open mind invites in an open heart and a felt-sense of trust. A body feeling of trust and nurturing fullness invites in an open heart and mind.

We may also discover that resisting experience tends to close each of the centers. That this happens only when there is an identification with this resistance.

And that fully allowing experience, independent of what it is, tends to invite in a receptivity and opening of each center. And that this is also an allowing of the resistance, which is a release of identification with it and the content of experience in general.

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Buddhism often talk about attachments to things in the world, and how this creates suffering.

But is that really what is going on? What is it an attachment really to? And what is an attachment?

When I explore this for myself, I find that what appears as an attachment to things in the world is something a little different.

Any attachment is to a story only. And this attachment is really an identification with a story.

The core story is that of an I with and Other, which is then fleshed out with other stories.

And I am identified with these, I take myself as these stories. I am this I with an Other, I am a living being, an object in the world, has a certain gender, age, from a specific ethnic background, has certain interests, skills, values, and so on.

I believe I am this human self, so am naturally attached to its well-being and aliveness. (Nothing wrong with that, although the added drama around it may be uncomfortable.) I believe people shouldn’t lie, so am attached to people speaking the truth. I believe a certain type of food will give me comfort, and that I need comfort, so appear attached to that food. I believe an intimate relationship will give me nurturing I cannot find any other way, and that I need that nurturing, so I am attached to having intimate relationships.

Our stories about what is and what should be often do not align, so attachments to stories create a sense of drama and discomfort. This is of course fine. But eventually, there may be an impulse to take a closer look at what is going on, and explore working with attachments.

One way of working with attachments is to explore impermanence.

Exploring impermanence has two effects. It invites in a disidentification with stories. And also a realignment of the stories we use in daily life, whether we are identified with them or not, to more closely reflect impermanence. In both cases, there is a release of attachment to having things a particular way. There is less of a war with what is, as Byron Katie says. (Although she uses a direct inquiry into the beliefs themselves, not this particular approach.)

We can explore it outside of stories, through directly see impermanence in the different sense fields. By getting familiar with impermanence in this way, we see that our stories are not true so there is a disidentification with them, and the stories we use realign as well. (This one is important for the disidentification part, less so for the realignment.)

We can also explore impermanence within stories, the impermanence of the universe, earth, humanity, civilizations, individuals, relationships and so on. This helps us realign our stories, and the larger perspective can also give a certain disidentification with stories. (This one is important for the realignment part, but maybe less effective for the disidentification.)

And we can investigate stories directly. We find a should which clashes with our stories of what is, and take it to inquiry. Is it true? What happens when I believe it? Who would I be without it? Can I find the truth in its turnarounds? This invites identification to be released out of the story.

A third way of releasing identification out of stories is to notice what we already are. We can use the sense fields to explore impermanence, see how all content of awareness comes and goes. But something does not come and go. What we really are does not seem to come and go. What is it? What is it that does not come and go? Or we can use the headless experiments to find ourselves as a no-thing full of whatever happens, or the Big Mind process to find ourselves as Big Mind.

There are of course lots of ways to explore attachments. These are just the ones I happen to be most familiar with right now.

So a quick summary:

  • Attachments to situations or things in the world creates drama and suffering, because everything is living its own life and is in flux. We get what we don’t want. We don’t get what we want. We don’t lose what we have but don’t want. We can’t hold onto what we want to keep.
  • This attachment is really an attachment to stories about what is and should be. And this attachment to stories is really an identification with them.
  • We can work with this in two ways. First, by realigning the stories we use, whether we are identified with them or not, with everything living its own life, on its own schedule, and being in flux. Then, by inviting identification to release out of these stories altogether. Realignment without disidentification only works up to a point since the world always will show up differently from our stories about it. There will be a certain amount of drama and discomfort left. Disidentification without realignment will release the drama out of it, but the stories our human self uses in its daily life will not be as closely aligned with the world as they can be. Both are important.
  • And there are several tools for working with attachments in these ways. One is The Work which directly addresses the beliefs, broadens the scope of stores we have available to us through the turnarounds, and invites in a release of identification with the stories. Another is exploring impermanence through the sense fields, which invites in a release of identification with stories, and some realignment of these stories. And we can also find ourselves as that which is already free from identification with stories, through headless experiments, the Big Mind process, or finding ourselves as that which does not come and go in the midst of all content of awareness coming and going.

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Psychology & spirituality intertwined

Looking at knots is one way to show how psychology and spirituality are intertwined.

A knot is any hangup we have, and is a belief and its corresponding emotions and behavioral patterns.

It is usually experienced as stressful, as something being off, and gives a sense of separation. And it gives a sense of I and Other (which is what gives rise to the stress and a sense of something being off and separation), and distracts us from seeing what we really are.

So from the context of taking ourselves as this human self, it is uncomfortable and disatisfactory. And from the context of Big Mind, it distracts Big Mind from noticing itself.

A knot comes from an identification with a story, so we can work with it through releasing identification.

For instance, we can be with the experience of it, allowing it fully, in a wholehearted way. We allow whatever content of awareness, including the resistance to whatever comes up, so there is a release from identification with content in general.

We can explore the different voices or subpersonalities involved, and see that there is no “I” in any of them.

Or we can inquire into the belief itself and find the truth in each of its reversals, which released exclusive identification with any of them – the initial story and its reversals.

Disidentification with the knot complex allows us to find more peace with it at our human level, through seeing it more clearly – finding what is more true for us than our initial belief, and fully feeling whatever comes up in our experiences without getting caught up in resistance. And it also makes it easier for Big Mind to notice itself.

We can also work more actively with owning, at our human level, what is left out from the initial belief and identity.

Through Voice Dialog, or the Big Mind process, we can shift into whatever voices are disowned by the initial belief and identity. We can try it on, see how the world looks from that perspective, explore what the voice offers to our human self, how it would be to bring it into our life more, and so on. We can also explore our human self’s relationship to the voice, and how that relationship can shift to allow the voice in more.

And the same can happen through Process Work, and by bringing the turnarounds of The Work into our daily life.

Owning disowned parts of our human self makes it easier, and more fun, to be who we take ourselves to be. And when what we are awakens to itself, it allows this awakening to be expressed through our human self in a richer and more fluid way. In either case, there is a new richness and fluidity there, a wider terrain that is expressed fluidly in the daily life of this human self. It is more fully and richly human.

Actively owning disowned parts also allows for a shift of identification out of our human self. On the one hand, we are more free to shift into the different voices and actively use them in our daily life. And on the other hand, it releases identification out of our human self in general. Which, as before, makes it easier for Big Mind to notice itself.

These are just a couple of ways working on who and what we are are intertwined, and one invites and encourages the other, using just a few approaches as examples.

We can also bring in the soul level, this alive presence which is timeless yet also within time, spaceless yet also within space, impersonal yet also personal, rich and substantial yet also simple and emptiness itself. When we shift into, become more familiar with, and find ourselves as this alive presence, it allows our human self to reorganize within itself. Our human self heals, matures, finds itself more in the fullness of itself. And it shifts identification out of our human self, which makes it easier for Big Mind to notice itself.

Shifting into our soul level brings a sense of richness, fullness, nurturing, trust, and of being home, which helps our human self to relax, and again shift identification out of it. We are less caught up in the usual beliefs, identities, fears, hopes and so on of our human self.

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Disidentification from beliefs, fully allowing it all, and actively embrace the fullness of our human self

Whenever I use the word disidentification there is a part of me that cringe, because I know it can sound very different from how it is meant.

It can easily sound aloof, distant, transcendent, and all the other words that -rightly so – have associations of escape.

But the reality of it is very different.

The reality of it is that identification – with beliefs, identities, this human self and anything else – automatically creates resistance and ambivalence. We identify with certain beliefs and identities, and anything that does not fit this, whether it happens in this human self or the wider world, is resisted. We cannot help it. There is a great deal of ambivalence about our human self and the wider world, which creates drama, stress, escape, clinging, and resistance. We are part of it, yet also don’t want to be. We appreciate some of it, and want something else to go away. We disown parts of our self and what it means to be a human, and we build cases for how life should be different.

And a disidentification with this – with beliefs and identities and all that comes with it – is an allowing of it all. It is a wide embrace of who we are as a human being, and this life, and the world as it shows up. This is what automatically happens through disidentification.

Beyond this full allowing of it all, there is also an invitation for our human self to actively embrace all of what it is, to actively explore and own all its different parts and voices and subpersonalities. To actively live and become familiar with itself as it is mirrored in everyone else and everything in the wider world. To find a fluidity among a wide range of identities without getting caught up in blind identification with any of them. To engage with a much wider repertoire of ways of being in the world.

Far from being aloof, distant, unengaged, one-dimensional, or living up to any shoulds or identities, a disidentification with beliefs and identities allows and invites for an active embrace and living of all of what this human self is and matures into.

This does not automatically happen, but the invitation is there. And whether or not this invitation is taken depends on the interest and impulses of this human self, and it is really OK either way.

Although I have to say, emphasizing the active embrace of our human self is a juicy addition. Without it, there is just the automatic and passive allowing of whatever happens to manifest. With it, there is an active engagement, exploration and living of always more of the wholeness of this human self, and its unfolding development.

It is more fun. And just in terms of skillful means, it also makes sense. In our culture, the juicy engagement and embrace of all of what we are is more attractive to many of us than the traditional emphasis on transcending and escape. Why escape? This life may be messy, but it is what is here so why not actively embrace it beyond a passive allowing?

Fully human, fully void

There is a an inseparable intimacy between void awake to itself, and a deepening into our humanity.

In both cases, we invite void to notice itself as void, and when it does, to express itself more fully through our human life. And in both cases, we allow our human self to know and express itself more fully as universally human, and also in its uniqueness.

A widening embrace of our humanity involves an untying of knots and release of identification, which in turn invites void to notice itself, and our human self to more fully and freely express the fullness of what it is.

And void noticing itself involves a release of (exclusive) identification with the manifest, which allows void awake to itself to more fully and freely express itself through our human life, and also gives the freedom for our human self to embrace and express itself more fully and freely.

A deepening into one is a deepening into the other, and disidentification is the key in both cases.

Disidentification with the manifest invites our human self to heal, mature and develop, and allows it to embrace and express itself more fully. And the same disidentification allows void to notice itself, and express itself more consciously and freely through our human life.

And disidentification can happen in many ways.

It can happen through exploring beliefs, which is an identification with an exclusive view, and see what is already more true for us, which releases the identification and allows us to find the grain of truth in each of the turnarounds of the initial story.

Simply being with our experiences, in a wholehearted and heartfelt way, also invites a disidentification with the content of our experiences.

We can also explore the different aspects of our human self and see that there is no “I” anywhere there, find ourselves as void awake to itself, and explore how void awake to itself can be expressed through this human life, through the Big Mind process.

Or we can just find ourselves as the unmanifest, and the manifest as the unmanifest, through headless experiments.

In each case, the release of blind identification opens for a healing, maturing and development of our human self, and also for void noticing itself more easily.

As so often, it tends to sound very abstract when described in general terms like this, but it can be very much alive and juicy when explored through our own life.

Movie analogy and disidentification

I wrote a post about movies as analogy for Big Mind, and movies can also be an analogy for the process of disidentification.

Imagine watching a movie over and over. If it is good, it may capture our interest for the first few times. But after a while, it gets less and less interesting. We know it already. There may be slight differences in how we perceive it, maybe some new details we didn’t see before, but overall, it gets less interesting. Eventually, it may still be playing, but our attention doesn’t go there much anymore, and even if it does, it does not get absorbed into it as in the beginning. It is just recognized as the same movie, the same story unfolding, the same drama. The charge goes out of it for us.

And the same is the case for our own stories, the ones we play over and over in our own life. The only difference is that if attention continues being absorbed into it, taking it as real, then that pattern most likely continues. But if we pay attention to what is happening, for instance through mindfulness in daily life, or meditation practice (watching “channel me” for hours!), or inquiry, or even just being with the experiences, then the interest in it fades, just as when we watch the same movie over and over. We recognize it as the same movie, the same story, the same pattern, and it becomes less fascinating over time. Eventually, it still plays, but attention does not go there so much, and when it does, it does not become absorbed into it. It is just recognized as the same story as before. In other words, there is a disidentification from it. My identity is not wrapped up in it so much anymore.

Mutuality of being with and inquiry

I keep noticing a mutuality between the practices of being with whatever arises (especially emotions) and of inquiry into beliefs.

Being with allows for reduced resistance to what arises, which in turn leads to a disidentification with the belief that created the resistance in the first place. And this makes it easier, and more inviting, to inquire into that story.

Being with ==> (reduced identification with resistance + belief in story) + easier inquiry into story.

And inquiry into beliefs leads to reduced identification with the story creating the resistance and reduced identification with the resistance itself, which in turn leads to an easier being with of whatever arises.

Inquiry ==> (reduced identification with resistance + story that created it) + easier being with of whatever arises.

Both allows the stories involved to be there as before, and also its effects of resistance, emotions, and so on. And both allows for a disidentification with all of that. The story and its effects becomes a third person he/she/it, arising as anything else, rather than a first person I, taken as a life and death matter. Identification goes out of it, so we are not so caught up in the content of the story anymore, or of fighting the Other created by the story including the effects of the story.

And since there is less drama and less being caught up in stories, this makes it easier to be who we take ourselves to be (a separate self), and also easier for Ground to notice itself.

Engagement and (dis)identification

A rambling post…

At our human level, there is the conventional forms of engagement and identification. We are engaged in the world, to various degrees and in various ways, and we are also identified with our human self, identities, and beings and things in the wider world.

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A gentle dark night

If we see a dark night as a wearing off of beliefs and identifications, then The Work is a voluntary and gentle dark night. It has that same essence of the dark night, without the torment. Usually, it is even fun and a relief.

It is something our personality wants to do even if it involves disidentification with this personality and its beliefs and identities.

But that doesn’t mean that the nigredo quality isn’t there. Life is different than our beliefs tells us it should be, there is a sense of something being off (nigredo), which then, if we are in the habit of doing The Work, nudges us to identify the belief behind it and inquire into it, exploring what is already more true for us than that surface belief.

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.

Three centers and nothing to protect

As there is an disidentification with our human self, and then finally with the belief in an I with an Other, there is also less and less sense of any beliefs or identities to protect. Ultimately, it leads to an absence of even needing to protect this human self, because that too is something that is just happening as anything else… as the clouds, sounds, trees… with no I placed on it.

At the same time, there is no stupidity here. In the space between awake void awake to itself, and this human self that this awakeness is expressed through, a natural love and wisdom comes up, and this wisdom and love is expressed as a care for any life including that of this particular human self.

As there is a falling away of identification with stories, there is less need to protect particular beliefs or identities. But there is still a protection of life, of living systems at any level from beings and up to ecosystems and planets, even while seeing that there is no separate I anywhere in all of it, that it is all fluid form expressions of the awake void.

This is expressed at each of the three centers. At the head center as an disidentification with any particular stories and objects of these stories, a seeing of stories as just stories and a fluidity among them, a recognition of all as awake void and form absent of any I with an Other, and a seeing of how there is temporary identification with stories and forms which creates a very real sense of suffering. At the heart center as love for all that arises, as the form aspect of this awake void, as the temporary form manifestations of God. And at the belly center, as a deeply felt-sense of trust in life independent of how it shows up, a felt-sense of all as the form aspect of God (and the emotional level as a steady nurturing fullness instead of reactivity).

So on the one hand, disidentification and a seeing/loving/felt-sense of all as God. And on the other hand, a recognition of the suffering that happens through temporary misidentification, and a natural impulse to alleviate the suffering… even if that too is just one of the temporary form aspects of the awake void, God’s play.

And the alleviation can be temporary, in helping changing circumstances for someone, or go more to the core, in guiding them to find what is already more true for them – helping the awake void wake up to itself through them.


Any disidentification is only to a story, and it can happen in many ways… and as usual from the form and emptiness sides of the story.

From the emptiness side, we see the thought as the awake void itself, or as insubstantial and transparent to the void.

From the form side, we can…

  • Recognize the story as just a thought, without getting caught up in its content (through for instance labeling practice).
  • Investigate its content, and see how it is only a relative and temporary truth (with truths in each of its turnarounds).
  • Investigate its origins, seeing that it comes from culture, biology and a belief in a separate self, and beyond that has infinite causes, so there is not much personal to find in it.
  • Recognize the story as fleeting, as a guest coming and going on its own time (the story comes and goes, but I do not come and go, so I am not the story).
  • Witness it in different ways, including being with it while including the head (seeing), belly (felt-sense) and/or heart (love) centers (which, among other things, allows the story to become like a movie we have seen many times and are so familiar with that our interest doesn’t go there anymore).

And when the story is no longer taken as an I, identified with, taken as a subject, believed in, the appearance of identifying with and attaching to the referents of the story falls away as well.

Emptying out

I notice that there is more emptying out going on… and it is all an emptying out of identifications with thoughts. And in the process, for a while, there is very little engagement with those thoughts, which is reflected here in very little references to what other writes about, the aqal framework, Buddhist philosophy and so on. What is left is only what is alive here now, and the thoughts needed to reflect them.

It is just one phase, and in general, if it all empties out, then it fills up again, and where there was an attachment to and identification with thought, there is now a free play with and explorations of these thoughts. There is a freedom to explore them without identification. (But what happens in this case is of course still in the future, and itself only a thought.)

It is a funny thing, how the process of disidentification with a story sometimes goes along with a temporary reduced engagement with the story itself and maybe even the object of the story. I guess stepping away from the story, and sometimes its object, allows for an easier disidentification with it. And when it has been released, there is the freedom of engagement again.

For me, one of the stories that is being let go of is exactly this: that a process of letting go of identifications with stories does not need to involve letting go of the stories or the object of the stories. That too is just a belief, a temporary preference of this personality. Sometimes, that letting go of the stories themselves, and even the objects of them, seems to happen whether my personality wants it or not.

Guest practice: gratitude, impermanence and disidentification

During our solo practice day, I spent an hour or so (in between the choiceless awareness practice) on a guest practice that has surfaced for me… one of those practices that arises and do themselves, or in this case wants to be done more actively by me.

There is a seeing of any phenomena, of all content, as guests. Living their own life, coming and going on their own, following their own schedule.

First, as a parade of things in my life, past and present. Friends, family, relationships, situations, this human self, this body, this personality with its particular likes and dislikes. They are all temporary guests, living their own life, coming and going on their own schedule. So I thank each one for visiting my life, and send them on.

Then, the larger whole… the culture, civilization, humanity, animal life, ecosystem, the earth, this solar system, this galaxy, this universe, the whole world of form… all temporary guests, living their own life, coming and going on their own. Thanking each one, and sending them on.

Then, experiences and states… the initial awakening, bliss, joy, energy, clarity, memories of happiness in childhood, memories of dread from childhood, dullness, times of fear, times of sadness, times of feeling on and off track, insights, clarifications, confusion… specific times and experiences… all guests, living their own life, coming and going on their own, following their own schedule. Thanks to each one, and sending it on.

(Exactly how this is done can be polished up… maybe first past and present people, relationships, things, and situations… then thoughts, insights, stories, personality, the likes and dislikes of the personality, this body, and this human self… then the larger world of art, music, buildings, places, culture, civilization, ecosystems, earth, solar system, galaxy, universe… all the time keeping it specific, bringing attention to specific people, relationships, and so on.)

And then, as I go about my daily life, noticing particular situations and experiences… seeing how they are all guests, living their own life. Thanking them, and sending them on.

I find it to be a very helpful practice in several different ways…

Gratitude, for anything and everything in my life, including those things the personality is not particularly fond of.

Impermanence, seeing how all content comes and goes, as temporary guests. The leaving is inherent in the arriving.

Disidentification, seeing how all content… all situations, experiences, thoughts, personality, even this human self… live their own life, coming and going on their own, following their own schedule. They do not belong to “me”, and there is not even any “me” left that they can belong to. It all gets swallowed up as what comes and goes, living its own life.

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.