Thinking for ourselves?

I sometimes see people talking about the importance of thinking for ourselves.

What does it mean?

CONVENTIONAL SENSE

I was into it too in my mid-teens, as most teenagers are. (It was a big topic in my middle and high school to the point where it became an ongoing joke.)

It’s natural for us to branch out and explore ideas, information, and worldviews outside of what we grew up with. It’s part of growing up. And it’s good to examine and re-examine our own ideas, assumptions, worldview, and the information we operate on.

What’s typically happening is that we exchange one set of ideas, orientations and sometimes worldviews for another, and one that better matches us and our situation. We adopt views, orientations, and worldviews from other subcultures and sometimes other cultures.

In this sense, it’s not possible to completely “think for ourselves”. It’s always influenced by others and our wider culture and civilization.

EXAMINING THOUGHTS THEMSELVES

We can also examine our thoughts themselves, for instance, through inquiry.

We can learn to identify and examine our thoughts and beliefs and find what’s more true for us. The Work of Byron Katie is excellent for this.

We can also examine how our mental field creates an overlay on the world which helps us orient and navigate, and how our mind associates certain mental field representations with certain sensations. The thoughts give meaning to the sensations, and the sensations lend a sense of solidity, reality, and truth to the thoughts. We can use traditional Buddhist sense-field inquiry to explore this, or modern versions like the Kiloby Inquiries.

Through these kinds of explorations, we can find the nature, gifts, and limits of thoughts, and that can be very helpful. We recognize that thoughts – including our most basic assumptions about ourselves, others, and the world – are questions about the world. They are here to help us navigate and function in the world. They can be more or less accurate in a limited and conventional sense. The world is always more than and different from our assumptions about it, and also less. And thoughts cannot hold any final, full, or absolute truth. That’s not their function.

BIASES

In general, it’s good to be aware of our biases.

Our personal experiences, subcultures, culture, biology, evolutionary history, and so on all color our perceptions, views, values, worldviews, and life.

We cannot escape it, and why would we? It’s part of the richness of the world. But we can be aware of it. We can be aware that everything about us and our history shapes our perception and orientation. We can also be aware of how our biases color some specific views and orientations, especially when we compare ours with those of others.

THOUGHTS LIVE THEIR OWN LIFE

We may find that we are never “thinking for ourselves”.

Thoughts happen. They live their own life as anything else.

We can notice a thought appearing. Where did it come from? Then it goes away. Where is it going? They just seem to happen and live their own life.

This is easiest to notice when identification releases out of content of experience and we notice what we more fundamentally are. (That which any content of experience happens within and as.) When identification releases out of thoughts, we notice they happen on their own and live their own life.

We can explore and get a taste of this through inquiries like the Headless experiments and the Big Mind process.

INFINITE CAUSES

We may find that anything appears to have infinite causes. We can always find one more, and one more, stretching back to the beginning of time and out to the widest extent of space.

In that sense, “we” are not thinking. It’s all of existence thinking locally here in and as this mind.

ALL TOGETHER AND MORE

This all comes to mind when I hear people talk about “thinking for ourselves”.

In a conventional sense, it means to explore and examine and variety of ideas, assumptions, information, and worldviews, and find the one(s) that makes the most sense to me now. This is all always up for revision, of course. It’s good to notice that it’s all coming from somewhere else, we are not really “thinking for ourselves”.

It means to be aware that we have innumerable biases and be on outlook to identify some of them and how they color our perception and life.

It means to examine thoughts themselves. What’s their function? Their gifts? Their limits? What do I find when I examine specific thoughts and assumptions? What do I find when I explore the mental field and how it interacts with the other sense fields, and especially body sensations?

How is it to notice that thoughts live their own life? That they happen on their own?

How is it to notice that they, like anything else, have infinite causes? That it’s really all of existence thinking here, locally?

Image created by me and Midjourney

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Thoughts and feelings belong to the world

I was on a Headless Way Zoom meeting for the first time this Sunday, and Richard Lang mentioned what someone else had said: Thoughts and feelings belong to the world.

That’s one of the things I love about finding my nature as well.

Thoughts, feelings, sensations, moods, and anything connected with this human self, belong to the world. It’s out there in the world. It’s part of what comes and goes.

It’s part of the field of experience.

What I more fundamentally am is not touched by any of it. I am what allows it all to come and go. I am what momentarily forms itself into all of it. It’s all happening within and as what I am.

MY HISTORY WITH THIS

I noticed this first when I was fifteen and the world suddenly (around noon on January 1st) seemed to become very distant. Thoughts, feelings, sensations, and the wider world all seemed very far away.

My mind responded by thinking something was very wrong. Later, I saw it more as a basic observer-observed split. There was identification with the mental representation of an observer and a release of identification with any content of experience.

In any case, it made it very clear that thoughts, sensations, and so on belong to the world. It belongs to the content of experience. It comes and goes and lives its own life just like any other content of experience and anything else in the world.

This shifted into oneness about a year later, and it never went away. (Although it goes more in the background or foreground of attention depending on where my attention goes…!)

I have since explored this more thoroughly through different forms of inquiry – the Big Mind process, Headless experiments, traditional sense field inquiry, and modern versions of sense field explorations like the Kiloby Inquiries.

Does this mean I don’t have hangups, traumas, wounds, and so on? Does it mean my center of gravity never goes into these traumas and wounds?

Not at all. I have a lot of traumas and wounds, these parts of me operate from separation consciousness, they color my perception and life, and they sometimes come to the surface and take over for a while.

That’s OK. It’s very human. It’s part of the process.

Image is created by me and Midjourney

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Headless experiments only give a temporary glimpse?

I recently mentioned the Headless experiments to someone, and he said that they are fun but they only give a temporary glimpse of our nature.

BRINGING THE NOTICING INTO THE FOREGROUND

That’s not my experience. For me, the experiments bring my more fundamental nature more into the foreground of attention.

My nature recognizing itself is always there. Sometimes it’s in the background of attention, when attention is on more daily life tasks. And sometimes in the foreground of attention, sometimes helped by the Headless experiments.

BRINGING ABOUT SHIFTS

Also, I have experienced Headless experiments shifting my system more fundamentally. About fifteen years ago, it brought the no-self aspect of my nature strongly and clearly into the foreground for about six months, and that has made it much easier to find since then. It’s more available to notice.

GLIMPSES BECOME A NEW HABIT

And I also suspect that a habit of glimpsing our nature – through Headless experiments or anything else – brings about a shift over time. It becomes easier and easier to notice our more fundamental nature. Our nature more easily recognizes itself through daily life situations. And our metaphorical center of gravity shifts more and more into our nature recognizing itself.

WHAT WORKS IS DIFFERENT FOR EACH OF US AND DIFFERENT AT DIFFERENT TIMES

I understand why he said what he did. It’s likely his experience, and he may not be drawn to exploring the Headless experiments regularly or over time. It may not be for him. And that’s more than fine.

And it’s different for others. For others, it shifts our nature recognizing itself into the foreground. Or repeated explorations and glimpses shift into a more stable recognition and living from and as that recognition.

Taking the role of a spiritual teacher: Upsides, downsides, and pitfalls

I admire people who take on the role of spiritual coach or teacher.

It’s a role that comes with many challenges and downsides.

THE UPSIDES

The upsides are well known:

You get to share something that’s important to you with others.

Others get to benefit from it. (Hopefully!)

You get to learn from it. You learn from exploring it more thoroughly on your own. You learn from students. You learn from situations. You inevitably learn about yourself and your own blind spots.

You pass on what may have been passed on to you. You get to be a part of the chain.

You may follow a genuine calling. That, in itself, gives a sense of rightness and satisfaction.

There may also be some more mundane benefits, and some questionable benefits.

Depending on the circumstances, you may get lodging, food, and expenses covered, either for a while or in the long run. You may make money on it. You may be able to make it a living. You may be admired. You may get the apparent (!) benefits that come with being in a respected and admired position.

THE DOWNSIDES

There are also many possible downsides, and some are intrinsically part of the apparent benefits.

You have to deal with the many misconceptions people have about awakening and what it means and does. Many of these are ingrained in the culture and in individuals.

You have to deal with the many projections people will put on you. They will have an image of how a spiritual teacher should be, and compare you with it. They may imagine you as a savior. They may swing to the other side and see you as a villain. And so on.

You have to deal with what the role may bring up in you. Your mind may be tempted to tell you that you know and that you are right. (Overlook that we don’t know anything for certain.) You may be tempted to use the role to tell you that you are important. (Compensate for a sense of lack.) You may buy into the projections from others. (They mirror your own and you may reinforce them for yourself.) You may be tempted to take advantage of your position. (Go overboard with money. Get into relationships with your students. Have affairs. Shut down people who criticize you and how you use your position. And so on.)

I see this in many or most spiritual teachers, in one form or another, and it can lead to people going down in flames.

AVOIDING PITFALLS

We cannot really avoid pitfalls. If we are predisposed to get into them, we most likely will, with an invitation to notice one or more of our blind spots.

But we can be aware of some of them, and we can do some things to reduce the risk and minimize the fallout.

If we are part of a tradition, there are often things in place to prevent the worst excesses. Our own teacher will continue to mentor us. Our peers will hopefully give us feedback. And so on.

How do we relate to the role? If we take on the role as an identity, we set the stage for psychological inflation and abuse of power. We may use the role as a shield to protect against our own sense of lack and criticism from others. If we instead recognize it as a role, we can have a more healthy relationship with it. We recognize it’s a role we take on in a limited situation and that it otherwise doesn’t apply. We also recognize that it’s a superficial role. Even while in the role, we are more importantly a human being like anyone else with flaws and warts and all.

How do we label ourselves? If we see ourselves as a teacher, and if we take it on as an identity, we set the stage for psychological inflation and abuse of power. If we see ourselves as a coach, similar to a sports coach, we’ll tend to take a more pragmatic approach, and it’s easier to see that it’s a role we play in only some situations and leave it behind otherwise. Even better, we may see ourselves as primarily a fellow explorer and student, one that shares as the others share, and where the learning goes both ways.

How do we see ourselves in relation to the students? Do we put ourselves on a pedestal? As the one who knows while the others don’t? (If so, it’s likely a defense mechanism.) Or do we see it as a shared exploration?

Do we actively seek to learn from the others? Do we actively seek to listen to and learn from the students and our fellow explorers? Do we recognize that many of them inevitably have more experience and insights into some parts of the terrain and some phases of the process?

How real and transparent are we? Do we try to present and live up to a certain image? Or are we real and transparent about what’s going on with us?

Are we conscious of our priorities? Have we examined our priorities? What are our conscious priorities? Is it to help people find their nature? (If so, are we actively seeking out, learning, and sharing the most effective methods?) Is it to pass on our tradition? Is it to help people befriend themselves and their experiences? Are we explicit about our priorities? Also, what are the priorities we are less conscious of? What are our priorities connected with our hangups, wounds, and sense of lack?

What’s our motivation? Does it come from a genuine calling? Something we cannot help? Something we are asked to do by our own teacher? Or does it come from a desire to deal with our sense of lack? Or a combination? How is it to be honest about this? One way to explore this is to ask: What do I wish to get out of being in the role? And what do I wish to get out of that? What do I find when I follow that chain to its essence?

Are we trying to give guidance on everything? Or do we limit our guidance to practicalities relating to practices and ways to navigate certain phases in the process? In the first case, we may be buying into the stereotype of a spiritual teacher who has answers to everything, and we are likely doing ourselves and our students a disservice. (There will be a great deal others know more about and are more qualified to say something about. We are all our own final authority and it may be more helpful to invite the students to find their own answers. And we set ourselves up for inflation and the students up for projecting something superhuman onto us.) In the second case, we set the stage for a more sober and grounded approach. 

Do we actively work on our own beliefs, hangups, and projections? Do we use effective methods to work on our own wounds and projections? Are we guided and facilitated by others (preferably outside of our own community) in this?

Do we give the power to the students? Do we emphasize that we are all our own final authority? That we cannot blame anyone else for our own choices and actions? And that we cannot take anyone’s word for anything? That we need to check it out for ourselves?

Do we point out the typical misconceptions about awakening and spiritual teachers? Are we pointing out the downsides of buying into those ideas?

Do we give the students effective tools for finding their nature? Do we use approaches like the headless experiments and the Big Mind process? If not, why are we withholding it? Why are we not democratizing that part of the process?

Do we give the students pointers to recognize typical projections? Do we address the typical projections from students to teachers? Do we point out the typical pitfalls for students and teachers? Do we address how psychological inflation looks? Do we focus on shadow work?

Do we give them the tools to deal with it? Do we give them effective tools to work on projections? Do we explore these tools together? Do we create safe containers for applying them to ourselves?

Do we have a genuine system in place for checks against abuse of power? If we are part of an organization, is there an independent organ to deal with concerns, complaints, and abuse of power? Are they genuinely independent? (They should not be our students.) Do they have real power?

Of course, many of these reflect my own culture and times.

MY RELATIONSHIP WITH THIS

What’s my relationship with all of this?

I share here, and I sometimes share informally with a few friends, and that’s all.

I have not gone into the role as a guide or a teacher, for a few different reasons:

(a) I have not followed any one teacher or tradition long enough to become a teacher in a particular tradition.

(b) I am very aware of my own shortcomings and the downsides and pitfalls inherent in the role.

(c) I am not sure if I am called to it. I seem to be called to share here (it just comes out of me), but I have not noticed a calling to share formally in a group. (Apart from as a Breema instructor, TRE provider, and inquiry facilitator, but that’s a sharing that’s more specific to the modality.)

(d) I have some personal hangups and wounds that make it difficult for me. A part of me strongly dislikes to be seen and be the center of attention. This is likely a family pattern combined with personal experiences in elementary and middle school.

If I did share more in groups, it would likely be as a coach for a specific approach, and as a fellow explorer. That’s something I would be more comfortable with.

A CAVEAT: I DON’T HAVE THE INSIDE EXPERIENCE

One obvious caveat here is that I haven’t lived this experience of being a teacher or guide. I don’t know it from the inside.

The lived experience is always meatier than, and different from, imagining it.

It has unexpected wrinkles.

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Byron Katie: If the voice in your head is you, who is the one listening to it?

If the voice in your head is you, who is the one listening to it?

— Byron Katie

This is a very good question, and it can be difficult to explore without some guidance.

Most people would answer “me” without examining very closely what that actually means.

If we explore it, we may find that we refer to an image of ourselves, and often a set of different images, and often images connected with certain words and sentences and that these images and words are associated with sensations in the body.

What the question points to is what all of this is already happening within and as. It refers to what the world to us – any content of experience – happens within and as. To ourselves, that’s what we more fundamentally are. That’s our nature.

And to find that, we typically need more guided pointers and explorations.

Byron Katie, of course, gives people these pointers in the form of The Work.

We can also do other forms of guided and structured inquiry like the Kiloby (Living) Inquiries, based on traditional Buddhist inquiry.

We can use Headless experiments or the Big Mind process.

We can explore Basic Meditation regularly over time, and find that any content of experience – including the images, words, and sensations we may take ourselves to be – come and go. And we may eventually find ourselves as what it all happens within and as.

And so on.

And here, when it’s noticed, there is an invitation to keep noticing and explore how it is to live from this noticing. And also keep exploring any hints of our mind continuing taking itself as images, words, and sensations in new and more “spiritual” or “awake” ways. (As “emptiness”, “consciousness”, “love”, “oneness” and so on.)

I don’t know the context for Byron Katie’s words, but they were probably said to someone ready to hear them and make use of them. Someone ripe for noticing.

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Finca Milagros - view

Befriend & Awaken: The essence of many healing and awakening traditions

The befriend and awaken process is what I use the most these days as a practice.

It’s simple, direct, and effective. It includes essential elements from traditional psychological and spiritual approaches.

And it goes straight to the heart of emotional healing, awakening, and embodiment.

It allows for healing and relaxation of parts of me caught up in painful separation consciousness. It allows more part of me to align with a conscious noticing of my nature. And it makes it easier for me to live from this noticing in more areas of my life and situations in my life.

Here is a very brief outline.

NOTICE THE CONTRACTION

I notice a contraction.

I recognize it through one or more of the telltale signs: reactivity, defensiveness, one-sided views, feeling like a victim, being paralyzed, and so on.

I notice the contraction in the body. I notice the sensations. Feel the sensations. Recognize them as physical bodily sensations.

I rest with this noticing.

A PART OF ME

I recognize the contraction as a part of me.

It’s a part caught up in painful separation consciousness. It’s caught up in and operates from painful beliefs, identifications. It’s wounded.

Although it may seem big and overwhelming when I am caught up in it or a struggle with it, it’s not even close to all of who and what I am.

THANK YOU FOR PROTECTING ME

I thank the contraction for protecting me.

Thank you for protecting me.

Thank you for your love for me.

I repeat this and rest in this noticing.

WHAT DO YOU NEED?

I explore what the essential need of this part of me may be.

Is it being seen and understood? Love? Safety? Support?

I give it these in turn and notice which ones allow it to relax and rest, and I rest with the ones that resonate.

WHAT’S THE PAINFUL STORY YOU OPERATE FROM?

What’s the painful story this part of me is operating from?

What’s the essence of it?

What are some of the underlying and more essential stories?

Is it true? What’s more true?

What happens when you believe it’s true? Is there validity in the reversals? Can I find specific examples of how they are as or more true?

WHAT’S YOUR NATURE?

I notice the contraction as a flavor of the divine.

And in more detail:

I recognize my nature as capacity for the world as it appears to me.

I am capacity for this contraction. It happens within and as what I am.

I notice that my nature is the same as its nature, and rest in and as that noticing.

IN PRACTICE

In daily life, I may not go through all of these steps in one go.

If I have time, I typically notice the contraction, thank it, notice what it needs and give that to it, get a sense of the painful story, and rest in noticing the nature of the contraction. Later, I may investigate the painful story more thoroughly, although I have done a lot of inquiry so it tends to happen more automatically.

And if I don’t have so much time, or am in the middle of an activity, I may just notice the physical sensations and thank it for protecting me. And then explore it more thoroughly later (or not).

The sequence is not set in stone, and the particular steps are not set in stone. I use whatever works.

ADVANCED PRACTICE?

Is this an advanced practice? Yes and no.

Anyone can benefit from exploring several of these steps.

And for me, I notice they rest on a lot of practice that I have done in the past.

Noticing the contractions come mostly from Living Inquiries / Kiloby inquiry.

Noticing it as a part comes from parts work.

Thanking it for protecting me comes from parts work and dialogue explorations, and it has elements of ho’oponopono.

Giving it what it needs comes from… I am not sure. It seems a part of a lot of other explorations, including Non-Violent Communication.

Identifying and exploring the painful story comes from The Work of Byron KAtie.

Recognizing its nature and resting in this noticing comes from any exploration of my own nature, including the Big Mind process and Headless experiments, along with basic meditation.

For me, this, simple befriend & awaken process rests on decades of other explorations. So I am honestly not sure how suited it is for people who are not so familiar with these other approaches. I would tend to recommend these more basic ones first, and then this one as people get more familiar with the terrain.

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The dizzyness of no ground

When I find myself as capacity for the world (as it appears to me), there is a slight suction in my belly as if going over the top on a rollercoaster. It’s almost imperceptible and lasts only a fraction of a second, but it’s there.

This tells me that during daily life activities, my center of gravity tends to be a bit towards this human self. That’s not wrong or bad at all. I assume it’s relatively normal, even when we generally notice our more fundamental nature.

In my experience, my center of gravity shifts slightly towards who I am (this human self in the world) or what I am (capacity, Big Mind) depending on where my attention is and what’s required in the situation. I assume this is quite common and something others find as well.

So why is there a slight suction in the belly, as if going down a rollercoaster?

When my center of gravity is slightly over on the human side, there is a slight sense of foundation and ground. This is obviously created by the mind, does not reflect reality, and is part of the play of the mind.

When I find myself as capacity and what the world, as it appears to me, happens within and as, this foundation and ground go away.

And that gives that slight sense of falling and the suction in the belly.

Photo: Midsummer at Nesoddtangen.

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Using Near-Death Experiences (NDEs) as a pointer for what’s here

I listened to an interview with Dr. Jeffrey Long, a Near-Death Experience (NDE) researcher. And although the topic is familiar to me, it was a reminder that the NDEs are all pointing to what’s already here.

Any story, and any cosmology, is pointing to what’s already here in our experience.

What are some common features of NDEs? And what do I find if I use them as pointers for what’s here?

ALL AS THE DIVINE

A common experience in NDEs is of all as the divine, and beyond what we can easily put words on.

It may seem very different from our daily life experience, but we can find the essence of it here and now and bring the noticing to life and allow it to transform us.

In a conventional sense, we are this human self. That’s not wrong.

And yet, is it what we most fundamentally are in our own first-person experience? What do we find when we look a little closer?

We may find we are capacity for the world as it appears to us, and what all our experiences happen within and as. We can make this noticing into a habit and explore how to live from it. And we can allow this to transform our perception, life, and human self in the world.

The easiest approach to finding this may be through some simple structured inquiries, guided by someone familiar with the terrain and guiding others. Personally, I find the Big Mind process and Headless experiments most effective here.

LOVE, PEACE, HOME, ACCEPTANCE

Most report a sense of infinite love, of profoundly coming home, a deep peace, and a deep acceptance.

When we find ourselves as capacity for the world as it appears to us, and what all our experiences happen within and as, we find these as characteristics of what we are and this noticing.

All our experiences happen within our sense fields, and they are part of a seamless whole. Noticing this oneness invites a love independent of feelings and states. Since this is what we more fundamentally are and always have been, there is a profound sense of finding home. And there is also an inherent acceptance in this since it already allows and takes the form of whatever is here.

NO BODY / SINGLE EYE

People with NDEs often report panoramic vision, a vision free from depending on the two eyeballs, and generally sensing free from physical sense organs.

When we find that all our experiences are happening within our sense fields, we may also find that it’s all happening within and as what we are. Here, we notice that all our experiences are happening within our seamless field of experience. In a conventional sense, we still see with eyes, hear with ears, and so on. But in our direct experience, it’s all much more immediate.

The thought that we see through the eyes, hear through the ears, sense with the skin, and so on, is still correct in a conventional sense. But it becomes peripheral and the more immediate experience and noticing of what’s here in the sense fields take center stage.

LIFE REVIEW

Some report a kind of life review. They get to see a series of instances from their life and the impact their actions had on themselves and others.

Our mind always seeks to process unprocessed material and experiences. It brings it up in daily life and dreams. Often not as explicit memory, but in the form of contractions and reactivity. We may not even notice it, or we notice just a feeling or discomfort without recognizing what’s behind it. And often, the resolution and healing process doesn’t go further unless we actively engage with it and allow and invite deeper and more thorough processing.

In this sense, the life review is ongoing. And we can engage with it more intentionally through therapy, inquiry, and so on.

HELLISH EXPERIENCES

A few who experience NDEs report a kind of hellish experience. It may be turmoil, despair, confusion, anger, struggle, and so on.

This too is part of our daily life experience. If we look for it, most of us can even find it here and now even if it’s at a very low level.

It’s what happens anytime we identify with a struggle with what’s here in our experience.

TRANSFORMATION

Following an NDE, many say their life is transformed.

It leads to changing our priorities and putting what’s most important – typically connections, love, service – at the center, and the rest more in the periphery.

It leads to appreciating life in a fresh way. They find a deeper appreciation of life as it is.

It leads to a realization that we are not, most fundamentally, this human self.

If we explore what’s on this list and make it into a part of our daily life, that too leads to this type of transformation. It transforms our perception, orientation, and life in the world.

UNIVERSALITY

These types of NDEs are found across cultures. There is a universality to them.

And the same universality is here when it comes to finding what we most fundamentally are in our own experience, and the rest on this list.

HOW CLOSE IS THE MATCH?

I imagine it’s easy to look at this list and think: Yeah, this is contrived and an intellectual exercise. The two – NDEs and what’s here now – are obviously very different.

So how close is the match between the two?

On the surface, it can certainly seem like an intellectual exercise – until we engage with it ourselves, examine it, and actually find it all here and now. Then, we see that the essence is the same. What’s in an NDE is no different from what’s already here, and what we can find when we look.

And finding this in daily life can be as transformative as any NDE experience.

MY OWN STORY

I have been fascinated by NDEs since I first heard about it when I was eight or ten years old. I read anything I could find about it, even back then.

Why? At the time, I didn’t really know. I was just fascinated by it.

Later, I have seen some connections.

When I was little, before school age, I had flashbacks to an earlier time. There was a profound sense of being home, infinite love, all as consciousness, profound understanding, and so on. I was without body, and there were other beings there – infinitely loving and wise – I communicated with now and then. It was all golden light and consciousness. These flashbacks would often happen when I sat outside and saw the light filtered through the leaves of birch trees.

Later, when I was in my teens, I realized that this seemed like flashbacks to a time before this incarnation. I realized that this was very similar to what people describe in NDEs.

And when the initial awakening shift happened in my mid-teens (age sixteen), I also realized that the essence of these flashbacks pointed to what’s already here, and what was revealed in the awakening shift.

What is consciousness?

In a social media group for mainstream science, someone asked “what is consciousness” and there were a wide variety of answers.

This is partly because people define it differently. Some see it as attention or self awareness, and some a byproduct of evolution”.

Some also see it as something we have, as we have a leg or lungs. It’s attached to us, somehow. This may be the most common view.

TWO GENERAL APPROACHES TO STUDYING CONSCIOUSNESS

Few topics are as central to us as consciousness, so why not study it and see what we find?

Around the world, academics study consciousness. They study different aspects of consciousness and what different definitions refer to, they study it as an object, and they do so through numbers and qualitative data. This is all valuable and important research.

We can also explore how consciousness looks from the “inside”. What do I find when I explore my first-person experience of consciousness? What is consciousness to me?

THE ESSENTIAL QUESTION

There is an even more essential question: What am I in my first-person experience? What do I find, if I set aside what thoughts, memories, and my culture tells me?

(As I wrote that sentence, Kings of Convenience sang “don’t let them tell you who you are” in the song Rumors from the album Peace Or Love.)

A LOGICAL EXAMINATION OF WHAT WE ARE TO OURSELVES

What do I find when I look at it logically?

If we see ourselves from a third-person view, as an object, and as primarily this human self and this body, then – yes – we can have consciousness as we have a leg or lungs. It can be seen as a component of what we are.

If we look at what we are to ourselves, we may find something else.

Our experiences happen within consciousness. To us, they happen within and *as* consciousness. Our experience of anything, including this human self and the wider world, happens within and as consciousness. Even any sense or thoughts about what we are happen within and as consciousness. To ourselves, we are consciousness and our field of experience happens within and as what we are.

We can also find this when we look at our memories of our experiences. During waking life, this human self is in my experience. But during dreams, it’s not always here. Sometimes I am what’s observing a scene, and sometimes I am another person. If I took psychoactive drugs, I imagine there could be even more variations on this. In my own experience, I must be what all of this happens within and as.

This is all a logical or conceptual exploration of what we are, or must be, to ourselves. It can be interesting, although it is still an exploration of what we are as an object and as “other”. In itself, it’s not very transforming. There is another way to explore this that can be profoundly transforming.

WHAT DO WE FIND IN OUR FIRST-PERSON EXPERIENCE?

What do I find I am in my own first-person experience?

In a sense, I am this human being in the world, but I know that can’t be what I most fundamentally am to myself.

So what am I, more fundamentally, to myself?

I find that I am capacity for the world as it appears to me. I am what my field of experience happens within and as.

I notice that any sense of boundaries comes from an overlay of mental representations. My field of experience is one, and what I am is this oneness.

And this noticing and oneness can be the context for how I live my life in the world.

WHAT ARE SOME WAYS TO EXPLORE THIS?

Since this exploration can go against our habitual ways of exploring things, and also against how we are used to seeing and perceiving ourselves, we may need some support and guidance in this exploration.

Basic mediation – notice & allow what’s here – can help us find what our always changing experiences happen within and as.

Headless experiments can help us find what we are and explore how to live from it, and it can do so relatively easily and quickly.

The Big Mind process is another form of inquiry that helps us find ourselves as Big Mind / Big Heart, as what we already are, and it can also happen relatively quickly and without any particular preparation.

Traditional Buddhist inquiry can help us examine how our sense fields combine to create our experience, and we can also use Living Inquiries which is a modern version of this type of inquiry.

The Work of Byron Katie helps us identify and examine thoughts we identify with and hold as true, and this brings clarity and, over time, can help us notice what we are.

Heart-centered practices help us shift how we relate to our experiences. It shifts us from struggle to befriending, and it’s easier to notice what we are in more situations in life without getting caught in the struggle. (This can also make our life more enjoyable, and we may be less of nuisance to others.)

These are training wheels, and it’s helpful to be guided by someone familiar with the terrain and how to guide others.

WHAT ARE THE IMPLICATIONS?

To some, this can seem as vaguely interesting information and something to mentally store away as one of many curiosities. It can also seem as philosophizing without any real practical usefulness or application.

If we take an outside view on it, it can certainly seem that way.

And if we go into it, we find something very different.

If we explore this sincerely for ourselves, and take what we find seriously, it can be profoundly transforming to our perception and life in the world. It can be profoundly transforming for our human self.

Most of us are used to function from separation consciousness, our habits are formed within separation consciousness, and many parts of us – and perhaps especially our wounds, hangups, emotional issues, and traumas – were created and operate from separation consciousness.

What happens when all of this transforms and aligns with oneness? What happens when our life in the world, and our human self, transforms within oneness and love?

This is possibly the most profound transformation imaginable.

IT’S ALREADY WHAT WE ARE – TO OURSELVES

The good news here is that we are just exploring what we already are to ourselves.

We don’t need to look for anything outside of us or anything that’s “other” to us.

What we need is some interest, sincerity, intimacy with our experience, and perhaps a few pointers and some guidance.

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Looking for what we are

If we set out to look for what we are, a couple of things may happen.

We look for something. We may look within content of experience, and what we are is not a thing.

Also, we may look for something apart from us, and what we are is not apart from us.

So how can we go about it?

One answer is to notice what all our experiences are to us. We are capacity for the world, and all our experiences happen within and as what we are.

Here, we don’t directly look for what we are, because that often leads us to get stuck in looking for something within the content of our experience. We instead look at what all our experiences are to us.

That may be a good pointer, but we still need to explore it for ourselves. How can we practically go about exploring it? As I often mention, the two most effective approaches I have found are the Headless experiments and the Big Mind process.

Headless experiment: Finding ourselves as empty & full of the world (the card)

I mention the Headless Way often here, so I thought I would share one of the experiments.

This one is called the card experiment. The full description is on the Headless Way website, so I’ll just give a brief version of it here.

The experiment

Get a letter-sized piece of paper or a similarly sized piece of cardboard, and cut a relatively large hole in the middle (large enough for your face).

Hold it up in front of you and look through it. Notice all the things you can see inside of the hole – a chair, table, other people, trees, or whatever it may be. Notice these are all objects with shape, color, and so on.

Then bring your attention to the hole itself. Notice it’s empty. Empty space.

Notice that the hole is both. It’s full of the world. And it’s empty space.

It’s empty space full of the world.

Then bring the paper closer to where you are looking from. As you bring it closer, the hole becomes larger and the edges eventually disappear.

What are YOU now?

Are YOU this empty space full of the world?

The headless experiments

I love this experiment. For me, it’s an immediate and clear reminder of what I am.

At the same time, I know it’s not that way for everyone.

It may take a little time and several tries before we “get” it.

There are several experiments, and some may resonate more with you than others.

And if we are looking for a “big” experience, we may be disappointed. When we get it through these experiments, it’s often a small aha experience, and although it shifts what we find ourselves as it can also be experienced as quite ordinary.

Even if we get it, we may not immediately resonate with it or get what it does.

In any case, it’s something we can come back to again and again. It’s not something we get once and for all. It’s an ongoing exploration and discovery, as is exploring how to live from it.

An even simpler version

I thought I would add an even simpler version of this card experiment, which I sometimes use when I want to show it to someone and we don’t have a piece of paper nearby.

Make a hole with your hands, as large as you can. I bring the first two fingers of each of my hands together and my thumbs together so my hands form a kind of diamond shape. This is then the hole for the experiment.