If investigated, ordinary insights can lead us to notice what we are

There are some ordinary and essential insights that can lead us to notice what we are.


In some situations, we all recognize some essential things about life and our perception.

Words are created by humans. Someone makes up a new word, and then others start using it as well, and all words are like that.

Our ideas about something is different from what they are about. We may have an idea about someone, and then realize it was wrong.

Things change. We can most easily notice this when we look at change over time. The world is not the same as ten years ago. We are not the same person as ten years ago.

I experience myself differently from how others experience me. They may have ideas about me that don’t fit how I see myself. And they see me as an object in the world, and my immediate experience of myself is different.

If we don’t explore this further, it can seem casually interesting. It may be limited to some situations and areas of life, and it doesn’t mean that much to us.

And if we take these glimmers of insights more seriously and explore them further, it can lead us to notice what we are.


Someone makes up a new word, and it reminds me that all words are created. Someone made each of them up at some point, and others re-created them in slightly different forms. They are not fixed. They are not what they point to.

I have an idea about someone or something and realize it was wrong. This reminds me that my mental images and words are created by my own mind. They are, literally, imaginations and fantasies. They are not inherent in what they appear to be about.

I hear about someone from another culture seeing things differently from me. In Japan, being gay was unremarkable until they encountered western views of homosexuality. This reminds me that our opinions and views are cultural. They are created by humans. They are not inherent in reality.

This can help me notice and investigate any mental representations, recognize them as questions, and hold them more lightly.


Everything is always changing. The world is different from ten years ago. I am different from how I was ten years ago. Earth changes over decades, centuries, and millennia. Even the universe changes over time.

What I experience always changes. I was in the kitchen, and now I am here in front of the computer. The candle is lit and it wasn’t just a few minutes ago. My back feels warm, and it was cold before I put on something warm. Right now, the birds outside are chirping and I didn’t notice earlier.

If this is always changing, what am I? I can hold onto an idea of what I am, which creates a sense of permanence, but it’s a kind of fake permanence. It’s imposed by me and my ideas.


The way I experience myself is different from how others see me.

On one level, they have ideas about me I don’t recognize or don’t match how I see myself.

More fundamentally, they see me as an object in the world, and I experience myself very differently.

I experience myself as the one I see in the mirror. As these arms and hands and legs disappearing closer to center into empty space. As mental images and memories of who I am. As the one referred to in my passport and birth certificate. As the one people know by my name.

When I look closer, I see that I experience myself as this field of experience – which contains this body, these ideas about myself, and parts of the room I am in right now.


All of this can lead me to notice what I am.

If I take these seriously, investigate them thoroughly, allow myself to go outside of ideas about what I am, and do all of it with sincerity and honesty, I may notice what I am. I may find my true nature.

I may find myself as capacity for the world, and what my field of experience happens within and as.

When put into words, that too is an idea. That too happens within and as what I am.

So what do I find here and now?

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What insights come with awakening?

Awakening means to notice what we are.

We find ourselves as capacity for the world, and what our field of experience happens within and as. So for us, our field of experience – this human self and the wider world and any experience at all – happens within and as us, and as oneness. Any distinctions are recognized as coming from an overlay of thought.

That’s the one essential insight in awakening. And whatever words we use to point to it varies, obviously, with culture, spiritual traditions, and personal inclinations.

From this, there is no end to possible insights. It all depends on whether we keep noticing what we are, whether we keep exploring how to live from it, whatever our culture and spiritual tradition encourages us to explore, and perhaps our general orientation, receptivity, and curiosity.


Here are some insights that may come from an awakening, and from keeping noticing it and exploring how to live from it. I’ll start with insights that require awakening, and then include some that don’t necessarily require awakening but tend to become more clear when we notice what we are.

To us, all phenomena have the same true nature as our own. They all happen within and as what we are, so they have the same true nature as us. This includes the experiences we find most uncomfortable and difficult. And noticing this helps us meet these experiences and find more peace with them.

Conventional love is not only dependent on a feeling or state but is a feeling or state. The love that comes from noticing what we are is different. It comes from noticing oneness, it’s the love of the left hand removing a splinter from the right, and it’s not dependent on a state or feeling. (Although it can certainly be covered up by remaining hangups, beliefs, identifications, emotional issues, and trauma.)

The world is like a dream. A night dream happens within and as consciousness, and so do all our experiences. To us, all our experiences – this human self and the wider world – happen within and as consciousness.

Any pointer or spiritual practice is medicine for a particular condition. There is no final or absolute truth in any pointer, and spiritual practices are more or less universally helpful. Some practices may be helpful for most people through most of the awakening process, and some may be useful in very specific situations and phases of the process.

There is a fluidity in who and what we are. As who we are, as this human self, we are as rich and varied as what we see in the world. We are aware of just some of these, we relate to all these parts in different ways, and different parts come out depending on what the situation calls for and what’s activated in us. The same goes for what we are. Here too, we have innumerable aspects and facets, and these come to the surface and are more easily noticed at different times and at different phases of the process.

Any differentiation comes from an overlay of thought. When we recognize this, we tend to hold these differentiations – and any story we have about something – more lightly. It comes from an overlay, not anything inherent in the world.

We can identify with or as something within the content of our experience – usually this human self – and that means we are less available to notice what we are. We already assume we know what we are, so why even look? What’s happening here is that we hold a thought as true, and identify with the viewpoint of the thought, and that creates a sense of a separate I, an I with an other.

Thoughts are questions about the world. They help us orient and navigate. That’s their function. They cannot hold any final or absolute truth. That’s not their function.

Moving away from my experience is inherently uncomfortable. When I move away from an experience that’s here, I move away from what I already am, and that’s uncomfortable.

At a human level, the world is my mirror. Whatever stories I have about others or anything in the world or my imagination reflects something in me. I can turn the story around to myself, and find concrete examples of how and when it was or is true.


The examples above are the ones that came to mind as I wrote it, partly because I recently have written about them here. They reflect my own biases and limitations, the culture I live in, and – to some extent – what the spiritual traditions I am familiar with tend to emphasize.

Any set of examples will be more or less universal and dependent on our culture and whatever traditions we are familiar with. The possibility to discover them are here, but whether we do and how we talk about it will differ. That also means that there will be many – infinitely many – potential insights that I haven’t discovered since my background, orientation, culture, and traditions may not have emphasized them.

This is in addition to the innumerable potential insights I haven’t discovered yet because of where I am in the process, and my own personal biases and limitations.

The limits of culture and traditions create a richness in our collective exploration, and the possibility of learning a great deal from each other. And our personal limitations allow for an ongoing adventure and exploration process. These temporary and moving limits create an endlessly fascinating richness.

What insights come in an awakening?

Awakening refers to noticing what we are, or what we are noticing itself as all there is.

What insights come with this?

In reality, only one: The insight inherent in noticing what we are, in finding ourselves as capacity for the world, as that which all our experiences happen within and as.

Related to this, we may notice that life sometimes takes itself as separate and as a separate being, and how this is life exploring this possibility within itself even if it’s not the ultimate reality or the true nature of reality.

Over time, we can also have a lot of other insights. Most importantly, we can get insights into how our mind creates a sense of separation – through identifying with the viewpoint of thoughts and taking itself as that viewpoint. We can learn something about how to invite the parts of us still operating from separation consciousness to join in with the awakening and oneness. And, in some cases, we may also learn something about how to help others explore these things for themselves.

We can also have some insight into the nature of insights. We notice something and it’s reflected in thought, and we may call that an insight. In reality, these thoughts are questions about the world. They are interpretations. Sometimes, they are pointers for noticing. There is no final or absolute truth in them. They are something to hold lightly. And it’s good to examine and question them all, and especially the ones we may inadvertently take as a given.

Storror: Be accepting of going in


Be accepting of going in, and then you’ll stick it.

– Storror parkour team in Parkour Water Challenge, 18 minutes in

This is an example of how dedication to excellence in any area of life tends to lead us to similar insights. In this case, the insight is that if you accept failure, you are more likely to succeed. The fear of failure is often what leads to failure, so when we accept the possibility of failure and find some peace with it, we are more able to focus on the task and do our job well.

The Storror guys continue to push the boundaries of what they are able to do in parkeour, and in the process discover universal insights that people through history have discovered.

Standing on a ledge, about to jump onto a beam in the water, it’s easier to focus on the task and do the job well if we accept and find peace with falling into the water. If we are afraid of falling into the water, the fear will distract us and make hesitation and a mistake more likely.

This is what any good psychologist or coach will help us with. And this is also a common thread in Asian philosophy. For instance, the samurai practices finding peace and coming to terms with death (they practiced imagining already being dead) so they wouldn’t be distracted by fear of death at a crucial moment.

Amplify / Release II

I have written about the amplify / release experiment before.

Notice something stressful, uncomfortable or painful.

Amplify it. Make it as strong as you can. Do this for 10 seconds.

Release. Relax. Hum a song. Do this for about as long.

Repeat a few times.

Among other things, this helps me notice how I try to make it stronger.

Bring attention to the sensations. Amplify images (clarity, size, content). Amplify words (tone of voice, volume, content). These are the sensations, images, and words already making up the initial stressful or uncomfortable experience.

Feel contractions. Tighten certain muscles. Hold the breath. Create a face that goes with the feelings. Look at an image of me feeling a certain way. Exaggerate that image.

This is very helpful in educating my mind about how it creates its own stressful and uncomfortable experiences. I get to see how velcro is crated (velcro = belief = identification = hangups = mind knots).

For instance, I had a feeling of being unloved come up.

I notice and feel the sensations in the heart and throat area. I notice and look at an image of me looking unloved, sad, lonely. I hear myself say the word UNLOVED and the words I AM UNLOVED and listen to the sound.

I notice I hold my breath back, and amplify that by tensing muscles in the chest and belly area.

I see an image of me alone, with people in the periphery having fun and feeling connected. I make the picture stronger, clearer.

And so on. All of this helps me see how my mind creates the initial experience of being unloved and alone.

The amplify / release experiment does a lot more than this. See the initial post for more.

From states, to insights, to recognizing it through changing states

Some states of consciousness highlight an aspect of reality. For instance, a state may turn the volume of bliss, love, oneness or selflessness up so it’s unmissable. States can also highlight and turn the volume up on aspects of delusion, such as suffering, or even how suffering is created.

Combined with curiosity, this turned up volume of an aspect of reality can give insights.

And the invitation is to take these insights as a question and starting point for inquiry in any state, and through changing states.

Here are some examples:

There is a state of bliss. An insight that consciousness is bliss, it’s inherent in reality. And an invitation to find this in any state of consciousness, including those that at first look anything but blissful.

There is a state of love. An insight that consciousness is love too. And an invitation to find love through other states, including those that do not appear particularly love-filled from a conventional view.

There is a state of oneness. An insight that reality is one, always. And an invitation to notice this oneness, perhaps especially when mind makes reality not appear one.

There is a state of selflessness. An insight that there is no I here. And again an invitation to notice this through changing states and experiences.

There is a state where the dynamics of identification, delusion and suffering is particularly clear. There is an insight into these dynamics. And an invitation to recognize this as it happens through the changing states and experiences.

 These states of consciousness are a gift in that they highlight aspects of reality. They offer insight. And this insight is then an invitation for inquiry through the changing states and content of experience. It’s a starting point for inquiry, and this inquiry may lead to further insights.

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Insight as protection

Insight can be used as protection against experiencing what’s here.

I tell myself I know what’s going on, I have a map, I have an understanding, I have clarity. Mind identifies with these positions. And this creates a protection against confusion, pain and sensations and images a thought says are unpleasant or dangerous.

Mind takes refuge in a belief in clarity (insight), telling itself it’s a way to not experience what’s here.

One sign of this happening is that mind becomes very fascinated with its own insights and understanding, instead of wordlessly experiencing what’s here. And there may be a slight sense of fear or dread in considering wordlessly experiencing what’s here.

How would it be right now if there wasn’t this belief in clarity?

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Any pointer, practice or insight is medicine.

It’s medicine for a stuck view, for what’s covering up innate wisdom, love and guidance.

And as with any medicine, it’s helpful for a certain person in a certain situation, and that’s it.

For others, it may not be helpful. And it may not be helpful before or after.

What’s insight?

What’s insight?

I find it’s often wordless, and then reflected in images and sometimes thoughts and words.

It’s seeing and recognizing something that’s more true for me than what I initially thought.

It’s an invitation to reorient, to allow the insight to sink in an reorient view, feelings and how I am in the world.

It’s a guest. After the reorientation, it may serve as a question and invitation to look at what’s here, and what I find is fresh and different.

The value of the memory or idea of an insight is as a question and invitation for inquiry. What do I find when I explore this here now in immediacy?

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From realization to being

Here is Adyashanti talking about the shift from insight to dissolution of identity, or from realization to being it.

It’s something that’s very much alive for me these days. I knew that realization and insights were just stepping stones, and now they seem to belong more to the past – at least in terms of interest. What it’s about now is being it, allowing and – as Adya says – aligning myself with the shift into being it.

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Dream: Insight

I am led by a guide into a secret Buddhist city, ancient and new at the same time. It contains all the wisdom of Buddhism and beyond, and research is being conducted into every subject under the sun. A man greets me in a small central office. He tells me, cheerily, that I am to learn all the knowledge in the city, not only once but ten times over. I say that it is not only hopeless but futile, and he says “yes, that is exactly what you will learn. It can’t be done, insight is endless, and it won’t get you what you desire the most.”

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Awakening and insight

Only one insight is required and sufficient for awakening, and that is the – alive and direct – insight into what we really are. That which content of awareness happens within and as.

All other insights are independent of awakening. They can happen before or after awakening, and there is also no end to them.

And if we are lucky, they have a practical – although temporary and limited – value.

Some insights can sometimes help our human self function in the world – including help with its healing, maturing and development of skillful means. This is the worldly wisdom.

And some insights can sometimes serve as a pointer for noticing what we really are, or rather – for what we are to notice itself. These are the insights into the dynamics of samsara, into how and when to apply certain pointers to notice what we are, and the insight into what we are that comes from directly noticing what we are – even if it is not yet a full blown awakening.

So insights can have an immense value in these practical and limited ways, and it may be helpful to notice that their value is practical and limited. Especially if we get caught up in unfolding insights for their own sake, since that too can become a trap.

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Gaining insight from the content of accusations

I read a great post from Vince on how to relate to accusations.

One thing I would like to add to the list is gaining insight from the content of the accusations. In this way, we benefit from the content, and the other person benefits from feeling heard and acknowledged.

(Few things are as annoying as being caught up in reactivity and sharing it with someone who just goes into equanimity without relating to the content of what we have to say.)

Anything anyone has to say about us has, inevitably, some grain of truth in it.

How can I find it in myself? Can I find three or more examples in my own life where it is genuinely true for me, maybe even in how I relate to this person right now?

Why is it better that this person said this in exactly this way? Can I find three genuine examples of why it is better?

Mutuality of stability and insight

There are several ways stability and insight work together.

Stability practice itself, such as counting the breath, inevitably gives some insights. The first one is usually how active the mind is, and how easily attention is distracted and lives its own life outside of conscious control. Then other things, such as how distractions has to do with attention getting absorbed into stories, and how beliefs related to these stories makes it more likely for attention to be absorbed into them. (They seem more real, more important, and they are also identified with so not recognized as just thoughts very easily, until maybe afterwards.)

Stability of attention also helps more explicit insight practices, first by allowing attention to stay wherever it is put for longer, and also by generally calming the activity of the mind so there are fewer hooks for distraction.

And insights allow for more stability of attention. We learn to see through how beliefs are created, as it happens, and recognize thoughts more easily as just thoughts. And this lessens the tendency for attention to get absorbed on the inside of thoughts, which in turn allows attention to more easily stay where it is put.

Awakened, and expert in only one thing

Among the many misconceptions about awakening is that it somehow gives omnipotent powers, or omniscient knowledge, or even some wisdom in worldly matters.

The reality of it is that an awakened one is an expert on only one thing: knowing what he/she really is.

Or said another way: the unmanifest knows itself as awake void, and all form as awake void, and that is the extent of its special knowledge. There is not necessarily any profound or unusual knowledge about the operations of the manifest world itself.

And that is because that knowledge, about the operations of the manifest world, comes through experience with the manifest world. It comes through a lived human life.

Any knowledge about the manifest world is worldly knowledge, and not really any different from what we can have even if the unmanifest has not awakened to itself.

This is of course why an awakened one is not necessarily a good teacher, or has a lot of experience with different practices, or is especially wise in worldly and practical matters. It is also why he or she is not necessarily able to give good advice in any area of life, including, shockingly enough, how to prepare the ground for awakening.

All of that comes from experience, and must be gained in the ordinary way, through learning, exploring, trying things out, making mistakes. In short, through living a human life.

And this is also why some folks, who have a great deal of experience with certain explorations and practices, know more about (some of) the mechanisms of samsara than even those who have awakened. The Work and the Big Mind process are good examples of this, offering very differentiated and detailed insights into the mechanisms of the mind to people where there is not yet a full awakening.

So even if we meet an awakened one, we don’t need to expect them to have all – or any – of the answers, or even being able to point the way for us in any particular area. They may, of course, but that comes through their experiences with the world of form, their human explorations and experiences.

And it also means they are fallible, as much as anyone else. They may or may not know how to point the way for anyone else, in any particular area, including awakening. Their insights may be limited. Their strategies flawed. Their judgment poor.

Just as for anyone else of us.

Basics and elaboration

It seems that when void awakens to itself, allowing identifications to fall away, some things are obvious. First, that all content of awareness is this awake void itself. Then, that any identifications, any beliefs in thoughts, any absorption into the content of thoughts, clouds over this recognition of being awake void and form (and conversely, that void awakening to itself does away with those identifications).

And inherent in both of those, that there is no inherent center anywhere, no inherent I with an Other. It is just this awake void and any forms as the awake void itself… a field with no center, with no I and Other, and still, somehow, temporarily and functionally connected with this human self, who is able to work with any story appropriate to the situation… without taking it as anything more than a tool of temporary and purely practical function, without believing in it, taking it as more than a relative, limited and pragmatic truth, without being absorbed into its content.

This seems to be the basics of a Ground awakening, and from here, the possibilities of elaboration and differentiation in how it is reflected in stories is endless…

And this elaboration can be explored both before and after Ground awakening through different processes of inquiry, such as The Work and the Big Mind process… both of which allows for a much more finely tuned and differentiated expression of the basics insights. After the awakening, this differentiation can be done with great clarity and precision, to the (limited) benefit of others. And before, in a more approximate way, allowing mistaken identities (which they all are) to more easily fall away.

The gifts of shared inquiry

There are some great gifts in public, or shared, inquiry, as is often done with The Work and the Big Mind process.

We learn about the process itself from watching, and then doing it on our own.

We get to see that whatever comes up in someone else is also right here in me. I can find what comes up over there also right here. It is a perfect mirror.

And we see, over and over, the pure gold available to any and all of us… the profound wisdom available in each of us, surfacing when attention is skilfully brought to it through simple questions.

Through The Work and the Big Mind process, I have seen people with little or no background in any spiritual practice find a clarity and wisdom in themselves, expressed clearly and simply, that matches that of any master psychologist or spiritual teacher. It is available right here, in any of us.

As Byron Katie says, there is no more or less wisdom in any of us.

It may not be noticed right away, but simple questions invites it to surface.

Byron Katie working with a group in prison… more at YouTube

Genpo Roshi facilitating One-Heart-Mind & Integrated Free Functioning Self… more at YouTube