Two levels: Gestalt and seeing through it

I see that I can meet what’s here at two levels, and in two different – and complementary – ways.

I can meet it at the gestalt level, as what it appears at in a conventional sense. For instance, when something comes up in me that’s experienced as difficult or challenging, I can meet it with love. Hold satsang with it. Do ho’oponopono or tonglen. Have a dialog with it. And so on. And when something comes up in my life, I will relate to it in a conventional way, through conversations, plans, seeking information, and engaging in any other activity.

I can also see through it. I can examine how my overlay of meaning is constructed. Examine the words, images and sensations making up my experience of it. Recognize words as words, images as images, sensations as sensations. Feel the sensations as sensations, free of the images or words associated with it.

One is not inherently “better” than the other. The first takes seriously how I experience the world in a conventional – and, of course, learned – way. The second is seeing through how my world is created. And both invites my human self to reorganize and live a bit differently in the world.

Another way to say it is that the first is at the level of who I am, this human being in the world. The second is seeing through this, revealing what I am. And both are valid and important in their own way.

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The eyeball that cannot see itself


[The Residents]

As soon as I take myself as the image of a separate I, it is not recognized as an image. 

It is one of the many tricks of the mind.

The separate self gestalt takes different forms, such as a doer and an observer, always made up of sensations and images and other sense fields as appropriate. As any other gestalt it happens as content of experience, living its own life. It is not more what I am than any other content of experience. 

Yet, as soon as this gestalt is taken as what I am, it becomes invisible as gestalt and content of experience. It becomes the eyeball that cannot see itself. 

Even when attention is brought to it, it may shift to another location in space so it can take a look at where it used to be, continuining to be the eyeball that cannot see itself.

(There is a lot going on here: A story of a separate I located in particular area of space, usually in/around the head. A story of something observed. A story saying the separate I is observing. A story bringing attention to it. A story making it appear in a slightly different location in space.)

A simple way to explore this is through the headless experiments, as that which all experience – including the separate I gestalt – happens within. 

Another is to explore the separate I gestalt – the doer, observer and so on – through the sense fields. How does it appear in each sense field? What are the sensation components? What is the image? Where is it in space? Is it content of experience? Does it come and go? Is it different from any other content of experience? Is it what I really am? 

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Disappearing self?

….yet attuned to the hidden logic available from non-rational sources including temporary states in which the personal self disappears.

Even a brief sentence like this is fertile ground for questions and inquiry. 

… the personal self disappears.

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Last footholds

I notice a series of shifts for myself…

First, there is a noticing of what I am and what everything is. All is awakeness, no thing appearing as something, the play of Ground, and so on.

But something is left out. The sense of a separate I – as a doer and/or observer – is left out of this, and is still taken as what I am.

There is a oneness state here. A separate I one with everything, and all as awakeness itself.

And also a sense that something is missing. It is not quite complete yet.

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I keep coming back to the same topics here…

Anything can be an analogy to some aspects of the awakening process, and so also magic.

In magic, there is an illusion. Something appears to happen that doesn’t really.

There is misdirection. Attention goes elsewhere, not to the mechanics of what is happening.

The trick may be revealed. There is insight into what is really happening.

And we still enjoy the trick. The appearances, and the skills and showmanship that goes into it.

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Whatever the “I” is doing…

At some point on the process, quite late, we paint ourselves into a corner.

There is a sense that whatever this “I” is doing is not going to do it. It can’t touch what I am and everything is.

And there is also an acute sense of the irony of this “I” trying to get rid of itself.

In both cases, this “I” is only spinning its wheels. And gradually wearing itself out.

This “I” as a doer/observer is a gestalt, a fabrication, and it is wearing itself out. (Or more accurately, wearing identification with it out.)

And it is completely innocent. A part of the play of God.

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Being present

What does it mean to be present? Or more accurately, to notice that you are present? When is it a useful pointer, and when not?

It is a pointer to bring attention to what is here now. To what happens in any sense field, including the mental field when it is noticed as happening here now.

And it is helpful in just that way. It is an invitation to notice that it is all happening here now, including mental field creations of past and future. It is an invitation to notice what happens when I get lost in ideas of past and future and take them as real and substantial (stress), and what happens when I notice them as ideas only (recognized as memories and scenarios, and as tools only).

As any pointer, it may be helpful and functional in some situations – in this case when someone is in the habit of getting lost in mental field creations without noticing what is happening.

But the pointer can also have drawbacks.

The witness/observer gestalt tends to come up, and it may easily be taken as what we are. I recognize that I am not most of what is happening in the sense fields, and the gestalts that come from a mental field overlay. Instead, I take the witness gestalt as what I am, and don’t recognize that one as a gestalt as well.

The idea of present also implies past and future, the three come in one package. So if the idea of present is taken as substantial and real, the idea of past and future tend to be taken as substantial and real as well.

A practical approach here is to use notice you are present as a pointer to bring attention to what is happening in the sense fields, and notice them as content of experience.

Then notice the idea of “present” overlaid on the sense fields, how it implies past and future, and how all of those ideas happen here now in the mental field.

And also investigate the sense of witness or observer created, see how it appears in the sense fields, and notice that too as a gestalt and content of experience.

Am I content of experience? Am I any of the gestalts? Content of experience comes and goes, what is it that does not come and go?

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Witness and Ground

I have been curious about the sense of a witness or observer lately.

What are the sensation components of the sense of a witness?

What images is it made up of?

Is it content of awareness? Does it come and go? Is it different from other gestalts, such as the gestalts of me (as this human self), pain, emotions and so on?

What happens when there is identification with it, when I take it as what I am?

What happens when that identification is released? (Even if I just imagine it.)

What happens when I notice the sense of observer or witness as a gestalt, as any other gestalt?

When I explore the identification with it, I see that identification with a sense of an observer is another foothold for that sense of a separate I. It gives it ground to stand on, another ledge within content of experience, facing the (apparent) abyss of releasing identification out of any gestalts and stories.

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Exploring the gestalt of a doer…

Where is the sense of a doer located? Head area? Somewhere else?

Can I find sensations as part of that gestalt? If so, which sensations? Do muscles contract to create more stable and noticeable sensations?

What images are part of that gestalt? A center? A small person?

Form the intention of lifting the arm. Then lift the arm.

How is the gestalt of a doer related to this intention and movement?

Is there a series of stories? Of intention leading to lifting the arm? Of a doer responsible for the intention and then the lifting of the arm? Of those stories being true?

Can I really find a connection there? Is there a connection between intention and lifting the arm? Can I see the causality? Is there just correlation, and then a story of causality?

Is there a connection between intention/lifting the arm and the doer? Is that too a story?

What happens when I explore this? What happens to that sense of a doer?

What happens when I explore this innocently, over and over? What happens in daily life?

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It can be very interesting to explore the different gestalts… emotions, pain, joy, bliss, me as this human self, and the different flavors of I as a doer or observer.

First, where is the sense of an observer? A witness? Where in space is it? In or around the head? Above the head? Behind the head? Somewhere else?

Then, what sensations go with that sense of an observer? Sensations in the head area? The scalp? Throat? Neck? Inside of the mouth?

And what images go with that sense of an observer? An image of a center? Of a view as a cone with starting point,  aperture and direction, and sometimes open in all directions?

Is the gestalt of an observer any different from any other gestalt? Is it content of experience, as any other gestalt? Does it come and go? Is it made up of sensations and images?

If it is different, then when and how? Is it different when there is a shift into witnessing? And how is it different? Is it different in that it is identified with, taken as what I am, while other gestalts are recognized as content of awareness and not what I am? Or not?

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Exploring that sense of I

I enjoy exploring that sense of I… in both its versions. 

First, when there is a sense of a separate I, where is it? Where is it located? What is it made up of? 

Looking here now, I find it located in the head area. I find it as a “center” located on sensations in several places on the neck/head area. It seems to be especially located on the more prominent sensations created by more tense muscles. And on top of this is an image of a separate I centered in that same area, and also the image of an observer located outside of/behind/above the head. This image of an observer is also “anchored” on sensations in the head area, but displaced a little in space. 

The details around this is not so important. What is more important is to notice the gestalt of a separate I and how it is made up of simple sensations and images. 

I can then ask myself, is this content of experience? Is it different from any other content of experience? How is it different from the gestalt of my right leg, also made up of sensations and mental field images? Is the only difference in identification? A story telling me that one is more “I” than the other? 

What happens when I see – and feel – how it is all content of experience? Is there a softening of identification out of the gestalt of a separate I? 

These gestalts come and go, and they are content of experience as any other content of experience…

What am I really if I am not that gestalt of a separate I, or any gestalt? 

What am I if I am not any particular content of experience? 

What is the real “I”? 

The first version of that sense of “I” is the sense of separate I located in/around this human self, including in its flavors of a doer or an observer. 

And when I am curious about this sense of a separate I, when I welcome it, explore it, notice where and what it is here now, there is a noticing of this as just a gestalt, just another content of experience, and identification with it is invited to soften and release. Leaving what I really am to notice itself a little more easily.

Basic gestalts


When mental field imaginations and other sense fields (sensations, sight, sound, smell, taste, mental field) combine, there is a gestalt. And this gestalt can be taken as real, substantial and solid. Or it can be recognized as a gestalt, created from a mental field overlay, and appear ephemeral, insubstantial and a temporary and practical tool only. 

Some of the basic gestalts are those of space, time, me and I. 

The mental field creates an image of space and extent, and map the other sense fields onto this image. 

The mental field creates memories of what is happening in the sense fields, and string them together into memories of the past, images of the present, and scenarios of the future. All adding up to the appearance of time

The mental field creates images of a me as a human being in the world, and these are located in space when overlaid on sensations. 

And the mental field creates images of a separate I in its different forms of a doer, observer, center and so on. These images of a separate I are also located in space through sensations, often sensations in the head area. (At least in our culture.) 

As before, when these gestalts are taken as real and substantial, they appear real and substantial and we act and react as if they are. When they are recognized as gestalts, as they happen, they appear emphemeral and insubstantial, and as temporary and practical tools only. 

So it is also with the gestalt of a separate I. When it is taken as real and substantial, there is an identification with it. We take ourselves to be this gestalt, this image of a separate I. We act as if it is true, with everything that comes with it, sometimes at the mercy of fear, attractions, reactiveness. And when it is recognized as a gestalt, there is a release of identification with it. It is recognized as a gestalt as any other gestalt. As images. As content of experience, just like any other content of experience. Here, what we are is more free to recognize itself… as that which all content of experience happens within and as. 

And all of this can be explored here and now, as it happens, through the sense fields. (See other places, including below, for some ways to do that.) 

From the previous post

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Some things about stories

Here are a few things about stories, which can be explored through the sense fields…

Any story…

Is a projection of a story and a quality. Imagination is taken as saying something about the world, out there and in the past, present or future. And what that imagination is about is taken as being out there as well. When it is recognized as imagination, it can be a very useful and practical tool for our human self to orient and function in the world. When it is taken as truth, it becomes a blind projection. We are blind for it as an imagination. 

Is imagination, and the world we relate to is quite literally imaginary. It is an overlay of images relating to each other, and those images include images of me. Any drama happens among those images, mostly in the way other images relate to the images of me. 

Is a question, an innocent question about the world. It is sometimes taken as something more, as a statement, fact or truth, which itself is just a story about a story. 

Is a tool. It is a tool for our human self to orient and function in the world. And as any tool, it is sometimes useful and sometimes not. It has only practical value. 

Is no thing appearing as something. Any mental field creation is insubstantial and ephemeral. Like a hologram, it has form but no substance. When it is recognized as a mental field creation, it is noticed as insubstantial and ephemeral. As no-thing appearing as something. When it is taken as true, it appears real, solid and substantial. (Sensations combine with the story to lend it a sense of substantiality, and muscles often tense up to make those sensations stronger.)

Is a mental field overlay. It is a mental field overlay on top of the other sense fields. And separating it out in sense fields (sensation, sight, sound, smell, taste, mental) is itself from a mental field overlay.

For instance, there is a sensation, a story of “pain”, and additional stories of pain as undesireable. All of these create the gestalt of “pain”, and this appears substantial and real when the gestalt is not noticed as a gestalt, and quite differently when it is noticed as a gestalt. 

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Sleepiness in the sense fields

Any experience can be explored through the sense fields.

How does it appear in each field? How do these field combine – with the help of the mental field – to create gestalts? What happens if these gestalts are taken as substantial and real? What happens if they are recognized, as they happen, as a gestalt?

I was curious about sleepiness again this weekend, partly due to sleep deprivation, so explored it again. What I find – here now – is a set of sensations located in different areas from the chest up. A set of images – often of dark and flat/blank sheet – that are slowly and steadily sinking. And those sensations and images combines as a gestalt. When these sink with little distraction, there is a movement into sleep.

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Cue to take as more substantial

Whether I work with allowing experience, inquire into beliefs, noticing whatever happening as awareness itself, or something similar, I can notice a tendency to take certain gestalts as more real than other.

Some gestalts serve as cues to take them as more substantial, more real, more true, and to act accordingly: to resist experience, take a story as true, take them as more solid than awareness itself.

At some point, it is helpful to become more familiar with these dynamics for ourselves. 

Which gestalts do I tend to take as more substantial? What are the cues? What happens when I shift into take them as more substantial? What happens when I shift out of taking them as substantial? What do I fear could happen if I don’t take them as substantial? 

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Constructing reality

It is popular these days to talk about the ways language construct reality, slicing it up in a particular way and creating objects, relationships, characteristics of both, and more.

When I explore the sense fields, I see that language is doing this, but I also find another layer which is equally important: the wordless activities of the mental field. And these do the same.

I find images, and these are an overlay of boundaries on each of the sense fields, they serve as a source and fuel for language and discursive thought, they combine with activities in each sense field to create the appearances of gestalts, and much more.

It seems that language informs these images, including where boundaries go. But these images certainly inform language as well. There is an activity in the sense fields, an image of a singing bird overlaid on the sound field, and this can inform discursive thought about a bird singing, and also other activities of our human self such as walking over to the window to take a look.

Seeing this overlay, it is pretty clear that it is arbitrary. Boundaries can go anywhere. What happens in the sense fields can be sliced in innumerable ways. Yet since its only function is to help our human self live in the world, we tend to do it in the ways that are most functional, and this is determined in part by our particular culture and individual circumstances.

Of course, we can also go into stories about all of this. We can tell ourselves that language early on in our life helped informed where the boundaries go, including the wordless image ones. And that these images then helps support language, and serve as a guide and material for discursive thoughts. And that where the boundaries tend to habitually go, the relationships of the objects that emerge, and the characteristics of both, have infinite causes, stretching out to the extent of the universe and back to the beginning of the universe – going through the habits of this universe, the characteristics of this solar system and this living planet, the evolutionary history of this species, culture, individual experiences, and more.

All of that may be quite helpful and functional, but it is also good to see that those are just stories. Just other activities of the same mental field, constructing a partly imagined reality.

Paying attention to what’s behind the curtain


When I explore how a sense of I and Other is formed, I find three general zones:

First, a sense of subject, of an I as subject, experiencer, doer, and so on. This one is usually located in or around the head area, but can also be extended to other areas of this human self.

Then, a sense of self as object, as experienced. This is usually the rest of my human self and whatever thoughts filter as belonging to this human self, such as thoughts.

And finally, the rest of the world as object, which is made up of whatever is not a self as subject or object.

I also notice how the sense of subject and object are located in different areas of space so they can be differentiated from each other, which also means that when I bring attention to where the sense of subject seems to be located, it shifts to another location in space. Only the sensations it was placed on remains, but now as an object, as content of awareness, just like anything else, and free from a sense of subject.

For this sense of subject to appear real and substantial, it seems that it needs to be kept away from attention and awareness. Like the man behind in the curtain in the Wizard of Oz, it is kept hidden from view, and that is how its manifestations gets their appearance of reality and mystery.

But it is certainly possible to bring this sense of subject into attention and the field of awareness.

I can bring attention to the sensations the sense of subject is placed upon, and recognize them as just sensations. I can notice the thoughts placed on top of these sensations to create a sense of subject. I can notice how it shifts around when I bring attention to where it just was.

And I can also shift into Big Mind or headlessness, and immediately and directly see that what I previously took as subject – these sensations and this idea of a subject – itself is part of the content of awareness, just like anything else, and that a sense of identification with it can be released.

(There is a release of a identification with the with the sensations and thoughts making up the gestalt of a subject – even as they are still there, which is an interesting experience. The “I” goes out of the subject, the doer goes out of the doing, and so on.)

In each of these cases, I am looking directly at the man behind the curtain, and the reality of its manifestations falls apart. What initially seemed so real and substantial is now revealed as just appearances.

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Knitted wolf


I dreamt about a wolf which looked very real, but turned out to be a knitted wolf, made of yarn. This is another analogy similar to the traditional one of a snake being revealed as a rope.

In the beginning, it appears very real, as a vicious and dangerous animal of flesh and blood. Then, it is revealed as just a knitted animal, or a rope.

Some ways to explore the vicious animal…

  • Being with whatever we are experiencing, in a wholehearted and heartfelt way. By doing this, which in my experience feels like a gentle and soft docking, the content of experience changes. When resisted, emotions for instance seem very real, solid, substantial, and clearly definable as fear, anger, grief, and so on. But when there is a soft docking and a heartfelt being with whatever is there, it changes, often into a sense of fullness and sweetness that is not easily definable. The bloodthirsty wolf is revealed as a cute knitted wolf.
  • Labeling the sense fields, and differentiating them clearly in our own experience. In this way, we see what is there in each of them, and how they combine to create appearances of gestalts which are solid and real in themselves. For instance, when the components of fear are not differentiated, fear appears very much solid and real. But when it is clearly seen as just sensations and a story about these sensations, the gestalt becomes transparent, ephemeral and may even dissolve.
  • Inquiry into beliefs is another way to get to know the vicious animal. When there is a friction between our stories about what is and what should be, it inevitably gives rise to various emotions such as fear, anger and so on, and if we try to squash (awareness of) it, then maybe depression. Again, the gestalt of beliefs and emotions seem very real, very substantial, in the beginning. But when we investigate the story, we see how attaching to it as true creates the gestalt, we see the clarity and spaciousness when there is no attachment to it, and also find the grain of truth in its reversals. All of this invites the attachment to the belief to release, revealing the wolf as only a knitted animal.

This dream image may have come up since I delved into some new layers of beliefs and fears before falling asleep last night, again seeing how they appear as real and dangerous when resisted, but are revealed as something quite different when there is a heartfelt being with of whatever is there.

The filter of resistance

In exploring resistance, a few things stand out:

First, that whatever arises, and in particular emotions and strong sensations, are filtered by resistance. They appear in an often entirely different way when there is resistance and when there is not. With resistance, there are clearly recognizable emotions such as sadness and anger, and clearly recognizable sensations such as pain. When there is a heartfelt being-with of whatever arises, each of those are revealed as something else… for me, often as a sweet fullness which cannot easily be labeled even if I wanted to.

Then, that resistance is not what it appears to be. When I explore the anatomy of resistance, there is really not much there. That too, is a gestalt formed by a variety of components, and when these components and the ways they form a gestalt is clearly seen, resistance – as I knew it – falls away. As with a sense of a separate self, it falls into its components.

And finally, resistance is only resistance when it is identified with. Resistance without identification is only part of what arises, as anything else. But with identification, it becomes something that appears very real, solid, substantial, creating a clear sense of I and Other, and separation. In this way, it is no different from anything else identified with. (And all I can ever really identify with is a story, which makes it appear as if I am identified with something else such as resistance.)

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Changing content or not?

This is a topic that has come up in conversation a few times recently… usually when I describe a pattern I notice in own experience, and the other saying something along the lines of “don’t try to change the content of experience”. It is good advice, but also a little too general and simplistic.

When I notice what is already more true for me about what is experienced, the content of experience does change… almost as an unintended side-effect.

An emotion of sadness comes up. I bring attention to it in an heartfelt way, and the character of the experience changes to a tender sweetness. (I see that the initial experience of sadness came from resistance to the experience, when when there was a more wholehearted allowing of it, the content of the experience reveals itself as different flavors of bliss.)

An emotion of irritability comes up. I bring attention to what is really there, and see that all there is is a sensation and a story about the sensation, which together make up the gestalt of irritability. By seeing this, in real time, the gestalt falls into its components, and there is simply a sensation recognized as sensation, and a story recognized as just a story. Again, the content of experience inevitably changes due to a more clear and differentiated seeing of what was already there.

An emotion of anger comes up. I identify the story behind it (she should be more careful), inquire into it (is it true, what happens when I believe it?, what happens without the story?, what are the truths in its turnarounds?), and again see in a more clear and differentiated way what is already more true for me. This invites the attachment to the story to fall away, and along with it the pattern of reactivity giving rise to the emotion. Again, the content inevitably changes simply from seeing what is already more true.

Of course, it does matter what the motivation behind it is… Do I explore experiences to see what is more true for me, or to change it? If I do it out of curiosity, to see what is revealed when I explore it, then a change of content is just a side-effect, and not really that important apart from something else to notice. If I do it to change content, I have an image of the outcome, and possibly also of how the process itself should look, which makes it a less sincere, genuine and open-ended investigation.

In that sense, the advice is a good one. But it is also important to allow the content itself to change on its own, as a consequence of whatever investigation we engage in.

Exploring labeling-images

Just before falling asleep, and after waking up, I have take some time to explore labeling-images. It is an interesting phenomenon, although maybe not exactly earth shattering.

The job of the mind is to produce thoughts, and one category of thoughts are these labels that take the form of images.

Labels of sounds are usually quite clear cut. There is a sound, and then an image of an appropriate airplane surfaces. Another sound, and an image of a section of road and a car. Another sound, and the image of a person (as a shadowy outline) walking on gravel. The image labels surface with a suggestion of what the sound most likely represent, and there is an appropriate response (which usually is no response) to the image (not the sound itself). Most of the time the image surfaces outside of conscious attention. It is there, has effects, but is not necessarily noticed itself.

Where the labels of sounds typically represent the most likely physical source of the sound, labels of sensations are a little more complex.

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