Self & No-Self

Yesterday, I went to a Buddhist center in Oslo for meditation. The teacher mentioned something along the lines of there is no fixed thing that can be an I.

I thought I would look briefly at self and no-self again and what those words may point to.

HUMAN SELF

For me, I would say there is a self here. There is a human self here.

And yet, that’s not what I most fundamentally am. I find I am what this human self happens within and as. I am what a thought may call consciousness, and this human self and any other content of experience happens within and as what I am.

That’s something I can notice in immediacy and without mental representations.

There are also a couple of related things I can notice using mental representations.

All content of experience comes and goes, including anything I can take as an I, me, or self. It’s always changing. There is nothing fixed there, as the teacher mentioned. I can notice this by comparing mental representations of what’s here (what just passed) with what was a little longer ago. I compare mental representations of something placed on two or more locations on an imaginary timeline.

Also, this human self is a seamless part of a larger whole. He is the local and temporary eyes, ears, thoughts, and feelings of the universe. (To paraphrase Carl Sagan.) Each choice and action of this human self has infinite causes, stretching back to the beginning of time (if there is any) and the widest extent of existence (if there is any). Existence is a seamless system.

NO-SELF

I find I fundamentally am what this human self, and anything else, happens within and as. I am what forms itself into the experience of this human self and anything else.

I find I even more fundamentally am capacity for all of this. What I am is capacity for consciousness and all of what it forms itself into to create an experience for itself.

SELF WITH CAPITAL S

If I want, I can also call what I am – consciousness, Big Mind, or whatever – Self with capital S.

I don’t find it so useful and it can easily be misunderstood (it can be taken to be a self within the content of experience, a self with an other), but it is possible to use language this way.

SELF AND NO-SELF

This all comes from direct noticing and it’s far less complicated than words make it sound.

For all practical purposes, there is a self here. It’s a human self with a passport, identities, hopes and fears, hangups, a life in the world, and so on.

That’s not what I more fundamentally am. I am what any content of experience – including anything making up the experience of this human self – happens within and as. I am the consciousness that forms itself into any and all experience it has.

Even more fundamentally, I am capacity for all of that – consciousness and what it forms itself into.

So yes, there is a self. There is also no self in that that self is not what I more fundamentally am. And what I more fundamentally am can be called, if you want, Self with capital S.

DIRECT NOTICING PUT INTO WORDS

When this is alive in direct noticing, it’s more simple than simple.

Putting it into words can be challenging, and there are many ways to do it. These words reflect direct noticing, and they may point to a direct noticing if we use it that way1.

NOTES

(1) If we come mainly from mental representations more than direct noticing, it’s easy to overly complicate it, and we may even go into simplistic and somewhat absurd either-or views. For instance, we may insist there is no self, and ignore that there is a human self here. When I see that, I see someone who is scared, uncomfortable with that fear, and tries to find safety by holding onto certain mental ideas as truth.

Image by me and Midjourney

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When no-self comes into the foreground

About twenty years ago, there was a shift1 where no-self2 came very strongly into the foreground.

The noticing of no-self has been here since the shift in my teens, and this new shift turned the volume way up on that aspect of what I am. It was so strongly in the foreground that it was inevitable and noticed all the time.

While it happened, this human psyche didn’t know if it was a new deepening into reality which would stay, or if it was a state that would come and go.

It turned out to be kind of both.

The noticing is there, although the volume is not turned up so high. In that way, it wasn’t a state. The notice seems more inevitable and effortless than before.

At the same time, having it so strongly in the foreground was a state which lasted about six months.

Why do these shifts happen? I see it as life showing itself aspects of itself. It’s so clear and so strongly in the foreground that it cannot be missed or overlooked. We get used to it, and it’s easier to notice even after the state goes away.

NOTES

(1) It followed a period of deepening in meditation. There was a deepening that “I” didn’t do but happened by itself. This particular shift was triggered by doing one of the Headless experiments. (The “invisible crash helmet” experiment if I remember the name correctly. It’s where you cut out a circular hole in a piece of paper, notice the hole is full of the world – that you can see through the hole – and also empty. It’s nothing full of the world. Then, you bring the hole up to your face and eyes, and notice you are that nothing full of the world.)

(2) What does “no-self” mean? It’s a label like anything else, and I use it because I cannot think of another label that’s better right now. It just means that what I more fundamentally am is what any and all experience happens within and as. To me, the wider world and anything related to this human self happens within and as what I am. I am not most fundamentally this human self or any other kind of self. (Victim, doer, observer, etc.)

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Is the self an illusion?

I saw this question yesterday and thought I would see what comes up for me.

As usual, it depends and it has different layers.

WHAT DO WE MEAN BY A SELF?

First, what do we mean by a self?

It can mean this human self1 or any other kind of self. A doer or observer can be seen as a self.

More to the point, any thought that’s held as true creates a sense of self. There is identification with and as the viewpoint of the story and the identification that comes with it. To us, that becomes a self with anything else as Other.

SELF AND NO SELF

In a conventional sense, there is a human self here with a passport, biography, identities, and so on.

That’s not wrong. It works reasonably well and it helps this human self function in the world.

The illusion is that it’s what we fundamentally are.

When I look, I find I am more fundamentally something else. I am the field of experience as a whole. I am what any and all experience happens within and as.

I am what a thought may call consciousness, and this consciousness that I am forms itself into any and all experiences, including of a self.

Even more essentially, I find I am capacity for all of it. I am capacity for consciousness and what it forms itself into.

HOW IS THE EXPERIENCE OF A SELF CREATED?

How is the experience of a self created?

In a sense, it’s a useful fiction.

It happens within and as what I am like any other experience. It’s the consciousness I am temporarily forming itself into that experience.

More specifically, it’s created through a combination of what happens in different sense fields. In the mental field, there are images and stories of a self, and the mind associates these with what happens in other sense fields (sight, sound, smell, taste, physical sensations).

There are also physical sensations that lend a sense of solidity and reality to the mental representations, and the mental representations give a sense of meaning to the same sensations.

HOW IS THE EXPERIENCE OF BEING A SELF CREATED?

How is the experience of being a self created?

This experience is created any time a thought is held as true. When that happens, there is identification with the viewpoint of the thought and anything else becomes other.

We perceive ourselves as the viewpoint of the story. It becomes what we, to ourselves, are. It becomes an identity to prop up, remember, reinforce, and defend. Anything else becomes other.

Another way to talk about this is to say that there is a shift into identification with something within the field of experience.

DOES IT MATTER?

Does it matter? That too depends.

It obviously doesn’t matter hugely. Most consciousnesses function fine even if they are caught up in the illusion of fundamentally being a self. There is some inherent stress, but most can function OK anyway.

In some cases, it matters. It matters if it matters to the consciousness. If there is curiosity, a draw to explore it, a glimpse, or something similar.

It also matters in that it can have real-life consequences. If the consciousness we are recognizes itself, stays with that noticing, and allows it’s human self to reorganize within that noticing, there is a kind of unwinding and reorganization that happens.

SO IS THE SELF AN ILLUSION?

Is the self an illusion?

As so often, the answer for me is yes and no and it depends.

It makes sense to assume there is a human self here functioning in the world. (The other options tend to create weirdness in a practical sense.)

This human self is not what I more fundamentally am in my own first-person experience. Here, I find I am more fundamentally what the whole field of experience happens within and as. Even more fundamentally, I am capacity for all of it. The illusion here is about identity, it happens if I take myself as fundamentally this human self – or a doer, or observer, or similar. I can explore this through the Big Mind process or the Headless experiments, and also basic meditation2 and a range of other approaches.

It also makes sense to acknowledge that my experience of this human self and the wider world is created by the mind. The consciousness I am forms itself into all of it. It’s a kind of virtual world. This human self and the wider world are not inherently as I experience it. With different sensory inputs (a different body and sense organs) and different stories, it would all appear very different. I can explore this by examining my sense fields and how they come together to create an experience, for instance by using traditional Buddhist sense-field exploration or modern versions like the Kiloby inquiries. I can also notice that night dreams and waking life both happen within and as the consciousness I am.

MY STORY WITH THIS

I was a very curious kid, but this wasn’t really on my radar until two shifts happened in my teens.

First, there was a shift into being an observer. I found myself as observer and anything else – this human self, thoughts, emotions, the wider world – as distant and far away. To this psyche, it felt like something had gone terribly wrong. This happened when I was fifteen and it lasted for about a year.

Then, there was another shift. This time into oneness, into the consciousness all experience happens within and as. My psyche interpreted this as: All without exception is God. All is God exploring itself as all of it, including locally and temporarily taking itself to be a human self.

That fundamental shift stayed with an overlay of a psyche3 with its conditioning and hangups, and deepenings and additional shifts of many different kinds.

Consciousness showed itself itself, and that it’s not fundamentally this human self or a doer or observer or anything else. So this psyche naturally got interested in it. It was curious and wanted to explore and learn more about how to navigate and live from and as this.

NOTES

(1) A physical self can be seen as a kind of eddy of matter and energy (in a physical sense) in the world of matter. It’s a subsystem within a larger social and ecological seamless whole. It’s a holon in a holarchy.

(2) Basic meditation is to notice and allow what’s here, and notice it’s already noticed and allowed, and rest in and as that noticing and what’s here.

(3) I thought I would add a brief note on the words I use here. Consciousness refers to what we are to ourselves, what forms itself into the content of experience, and it’s all we have ever known whether we notice or not. Some call it “awareness” although I prefer to use that word for being consciously aware of something. The psyche is more our human operating system and it consists of evolutionary predispositions, conditioning, biases, hangups, and so on. To us, the consciousness we are forms itself into the psyche and everything else.

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Om å finne flytsonen, og det vi egentlig er (oppvåkning på fint)

Man glemmer seg sjøl, man er bare.

– Lars Monsen: Mitt liv, s. 169 i uinbundet utgave

Lars Monsen beskriver en ganske vanlig opplevelse for mange. Vi glemmer oss selv. Vi bare er. Vi er fullstendig tilstede, fungerer bra og gjør det vi skal, er en i slags flytsone, og vi glemmer oss selv. Vi fungerer bra kanskje nettopp fordi vi glemmer oss selv.

Vi søker denne opplevelsen på ulike måter. Gjennom natur, fysisk trening, sport, dans, musikk, sex, meditasjon, yoga, fjellklatring, tegning og maling, og mer.

Vi ser at det meste har å gjøre med kroppen, og å ta oppmerksomheten ut av innholdet til tankene. Selv meditasjon er overraskende fysisk, og dreier seg å legge merke til tankene istedet for å gå (for mye) inn i det de forteller oss.

HVORFOR SØKER VI Å GLEMME OSS SELV?

Hvorfor søker vi denne opplevelsen?

Det er et par ulike grunner.

På den ene siden er det behagelig. Vi glemmer oss selv. Vi glemmer vårt liv og våre identiteter. Vi bare er. Vi er som en del av naturen og alt annet som er.

På den andre siden er dette det vi allerede er. Vi allerede er rom for verden som vi opplever den. Vi er den våkenheten som allerede er her, og som vi allerede kjenner svært godt. Vi er det som rommet dette mennesket og resten av verden. Vi er det våkne rommet alt dette skjer innen og som tar form som alt dette. Og alt lever sitt eget liv. Dette mennesket og resten av verden lever sitt eget liv.

Uten at vi kanskje gjenkjenner flytopplevelsen som dette, og uten at vi helt vet hvordan vi kan gjenskape det eller finne det mer permanent, så merker vi hva vi er. Vi kommer hjem. Vi oppdager at her hvor vi allerede er, er hjemmet vårt.

Vi glemmer oss selv som et spesielt individ med spesielle identiteter, ønsker, håp, og problemer. Og vi finner oss selv som det vi allerede er, som det våkne som rommer verden og dette mennesket.

Eller, ihvertfall, det våkne som rommer vår opplevelse av dette mennesket og resten av verden.

HVORDAN KAN VI FINNE DETTE PÅ EN MER FORUTSIGBAR MÅTE?

Vi kan sette oss selv i en situasjon hvor vi kan komme i flytsonen, men det er uforutsigbart og varer ofte ikke så lenge. Så hvordan kan vi finne dette på en mer forutsigbar måte?

Det dreier seg om å legge merke til det vi allerede er. Det som allerede er svært kjent for oss, men som vi kanskje overser, ikke ser på som så viktig, som er i bakgrunnen i vår opplevelse, og som vi kanskje ser på som ikke oss selv.

Og det er nettop det vi opplever i flytsonen: et våkent rom som vår opplevelse av dette mennesket og resten av verden skjer innen og som tar form av disse opplevelsene.

Når vi finner oss selv som dette, så merker vi at dette mennesket og resten av verden lever sitt eget liv. Ingenting innen var opplevelse – dette mennesket, resten av verden, den som gjør eller observerer – er det vi dypest sett er. Vi er dypest sett kapasitet for vår opplevelse av alt dette.

Det finnes metoder og pekepinner som kan hjelpe oss til å finne hva vi allerede er.

Grunnleggende meditasjon er å legge merke til og å tillate opplevelsene våre som de er, inkludert de sidene av oss som vil noe annet, og å se at alle våre opplevelser allerede er tillatt (siden de er her) og allerede er lagt merke til (siden de skjer innen bevisstheten). Vi legger merke til tankene istedet for å gå inn i de og de historiene de forteller oss. Dette hjelper oss til å finne oss selv som det som rommer alt, og som tar form av alle disse opplevelsene.

Vi kan også utforske hva vi er gjennom å følge pekepinner fra, for eksempel, Big Mind prosessen og Headless eksperimenter. Dette er ofte den mest direkte or raskeste veien til a få en smak av det, og finne det igjen når vi ønsker det eller husker på det.

Og vi kan utforske det gjennom Buddhistisk gransking av sanseområdene våre og hvordan de kombineres for å danne våre opplevelser, eller moderne varianter av dette som Living Inquiries.

DETTE ER BEGYNNELSEN

Selv om ryktene sier dette er vanskelig, er det ofte ikke så veldig vanskelig å oppdage hva vi er, særlig om vi bruker metoder som de jeg nevnte ovenfor, og om vi blir veiledet av en som er kjent med terrenget og som har erfaring og riktig lynne for å veilede andre på den måten.

Hovedprosessen er å finne ut av hvordan vi lever utifra fra dette. Om jeg finner meg selv som kapasitet for min verden, hva betyr det for hvordan jeg lever livet mitt og forholder meg til den situasjonen jeg finner meg i her og nå?

Når vi finner oss selv som kapasitet på denne maten, så oppdager vi også at verden – alt som er i vare sanser og tanker – skjer innen hva vi er og at det vi er tar form av alt dette, og at enhver adskillelse kommer kun fra vare mentale forestillinger. For oss er alt ett, og vi er den enheten. (Dette er en direkte og klar opplevelse og ikke bare en ide eller floskler.) Så hvordan lever vi fra dette? Hvordan forholder vi oss til livet og den situasjonen vi funnet oss i utifra enhet?

Dette er stort sett ikke bevisste tanker eller spørsmål, men det er underliggende spørsmål vi lever med og utforsker i hverdagen og livet vårt. Og om vi tar det alvorlig kan det føre til en dyp omgjøring av hvordan vi ser verden, hvordan vi lever i hverdagen, og hvordan vi er som menneske.

LITT OM ORDBRUK

Alt dette kalles ofte oppvåkning og, på engelsk, embodiment (vet ikke helt hva det kalles på norsk). Jeg bruker innimellom de ordene siden de er korte og greie og folk har en viss forståelse for hva det dreier seg om.

Men jeg liker helst å unngå de, siden vi alle har en del assosiasjoner som ikke er gunstige og som kan være misvisende.

Dette dreier seg om noe som er mye mer vanlig, nært, og hverdagslig enn det oppvåkning og lignende ord kan få det til å virke som.

The experience of no-self

In non-dual circles, some talk about no-self.

What does this refer to?

THE CONVENTIONAL EXPERIENCE

Most of us take ourselves to be this human self, which is not wrong. It’s an assumption that works pretty well in daily life.

Beyond that, we may also take ourselves to most fundamentally be this human self.

When we look more closely, we may find that the reality is different. We may find that, in our own direct experience, we are fundamentally something else.

We may also find that taking ourselves as fundamentally this human being creates stress and is out of alignment with what we already are although may not notice.

THE EXPERIENCE OF NO-SELF

What do we find when we look more closely?

We may find that we are capacity for the world, and that our field of experience happens within and as what we are.

We may notice that what we most fundamentally are, is what all our sense fields – sight, sound, smell, taste, sensations, and mental representations – happen within and as.

We are not fundamentally anything within our content of experience. It’s all happening within and as what we are, and it all lives its own life.

We may also notice that this field of experience is one. Any distinctions and differentiations come from an overlay of mental images and ideas.

This field of experience is the same whether we notice what we are or not. This human self is here, the wider world is here. It’s just that it all happens within and as what we are, and it all happens within and as oneness.

We know that others will still take us as this human self, and that’s completely fine. We can still live our life as if that’s how it is. And we also notice that our true nature is capacity for all of this, and what it all happens within and as.

WHAT IT DOESN’T MEAN

It doesn’t mean that there isn’t a human self here. And it doesn’t mean that there isn’t a lot of beings in the world and a lot of selves in that sense.

It just means that what we most fundamentally are, when we look and notice, is capacity for all of this, and what it all happens within and as.

Similarly, it doesn’t mean not taking care of our life. We still need to be a good steward of our own life.

It also doesn’t mean we abandon all conventional views and guidelines. We’ll still strive to live an ordinary good human life.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE PRACTICAL IMPLICATIONS?

Some notice what they are without consciously recognizing it as their true nature.

Some notice what they are, recognize what it is, and for whatever reason don’t pursue it.

And some notice what they are, recognize what it is, and are drawn to continuing exploring it.

So what happens if we keep noticing what we are, and explore how it is to live from it?

Mainly, we explore and learn how to live from and as oneness.

And this shift comes with a profound transformation of our human self and our life in the world.

The parts of our human self still operating from separation consciousness come to the surface, sometimes in drips and sometimes in larger chunks, and want to join with the conscious noticing of oneness.

This is a lifelong and ongoing process, and can be both immensely fascinating and rewarding and at times immensely challenging.

I have written about this in other articles so won’t go into more detail here.

NOT TERRIBLY MYSTERIOUS

When we try to put this into words, it can sound mysterious. Words differentiate and what we try to point to is what all experience happens within and as. So words naturally fall short and are inevitably misleading.

It can also sound mysterious since we may not have a reference for it. We may not have noticed it yet, and we may not have a memory of having noticed it in the past.

Fortunately, it is something we can explore and find for ourselves.

And when we do, we may find it’s not mysterious at all. It’s what’s always been here. It’s what we always have been. It doesn’t require anything special to notice it, apart from perhaps a bit of initial help in noticing it. It’s already very familiar to us, although we may not have consciously recognized it as our true nature.

HOW CAN WE FIND IT FOR OURSELVES?

I have written about this too in other articles, so will only mention it briefly here.

The easiest way may be simple and structured inquiry under guidance by someone familiar with the terrain. The Headless experiments and the Big Mind process are the two that works best for me.

Over time, basic meditation will also help us notice what we are. Here, we notice and allow whatever is here in our experience, and notice that when we intentionally notice and allow, we are one step behind since it’s already noticed and allowed. We may find that all our experiences – including our thoughts – come and go and live their own life. Our identification with any particular content of experience – and really thoughts telling us we are something in particular within this content of experience – soften. We may find that we are not fundamentally any of it.

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Our fundamental identity

What does it mean when we say there is “no separate self”?

Obviously, there is a human self here. A human being walking around talking, thinking, feeling and so on. That doesn’t change. (At least not until we die.)

Our surface identity may be with or as this human self with its labels and roles in the world. That identity is accurate and helpful. But it’s not our final or fundamental identity.

Our more fundamental identity is as what this human self, and any experience, happens within or as. Some call it awakeness or consciousness since that’s what it can be experienced as.

Since this is what all our experience happens within and as – including this human self, others, and the world as we experience it – there is a sense of oneness here. It all happens within and as what we are. And that’s how it is for others as well, whether they notice or not.

And since there is oneness, we can call it love. What we are, and what everything is, is love. It’s not necessarily a felt love, in a conventional sense, although that could happen. It’s more the love of the left hand removing a splinter from the right. It’s the love that’s reflected in views and actions because it’s all one.

Also, since there is oneness, we can call it bliss. Although I hesitate a bit to use that word. Again, it’s not bliss in a conventional sense, although that can happen too. It’s a quiet bliss inherent in existence. It’s the quiet bliss that comes from all as one, all as consciousness, all as love. It’s a quiet bliss underlying any of our usual varied human experiences and states.

And although we can say that all is consciousness, or love, or even this quiet bliss, that’s not quite accurate either. All of this happens within and as what we are. Some call this void, or even the Godhead (Christian mystics). But words don’t quite reach it.

So, in a sense, it’s not very mystical or magical. It’s quite simple, direct, and here and now. And yet, it can be difficult to notice. The mind is trained to focus on its own content – thoughts and sensory experiences – so it easily misses what it all happens within and as.

That’s one of the tricks life uses to be able to temporarily experience itself as an apparently separate being, and not just one but many of them…! That’s part of the play of existence. That’s the infinite experiencing itself as finite. That’s existence exploring, expressing, and experiencing itself in a myriad of different ways. That’s lila as some call it.

There has to be a ripeness to notice it, whether it’s subtle or a spiritual opening or awakening. And when there is interest, that usually reflect a ripeness.

Note: When I say “obviously there is a human self here”, that’s meant to show that our human self continues much as before when what I write about here is noticed. Our lives don’t neccesarily change that much. It’s more the context we are consciously aware of that changes. We could also say that what we call this human self also happens within and as what we are, and doesn’t exist as anything separate or inherently substantial. (Although in a conventional sense, we could say it is both separate and substantial, and that’s true as well.)

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No self, self, and Self

Some in the non-dual world talk about no self, conventionally we say we have or are a self, and some even talk about Self with capital S.

What if there is some validity to each of these?

Human self. There is certainly a human self in a conventional sense. A self made up of this body, sensations, thoughts, senses, behavior and so on.

No self. There is “no self” in a few different ways. All is a seamless whole, all is the divine, all is consciousness, and we are that, so there is no separate self within this. There is no independently existing separate self. Although there certainly seems to be when there is identification with and as that self. The self from above appears as a separate self, and what we are, when there is identification with and as it.

Self. And there is a Self with capital S. A Self that’s the divine, consciousness, love, Big Mind, what everything happens within and as.

The no self view can be understood from a systems view. Or as Carl Sagan said, “we who embody the local eyes and ears and thoughts and feelings of the cosmos….”, pointing to the wholeness of existence as our real or deeper identity.

And how do we taste it? We can taste it through various forms of inquiry such as the Big Mind process, Headless experiments, and sometimes Living Inquiries.

How do we invite identification to shift out of the self and into the Self? That’s perhaps most reliably done by examining the different identifications the mind has, allowing each one to soften and eventually release. We can do this from the consciousness side through inquiry (Living Inquiries, The Work), and it can also invite these to release from the energy side (Vortex Healing).

From a conventional view, we can see that a systems view is accurate. It’s all the universe or life exploring and expressing itself in all of these ways, including as selves taking themselves as separate selves. But it may seem a bit far-fetched for center of gravity to shift into this larger perspective. And yet, mystics from all traditions describe just that, sometimes as glimpses, and in other cases as a more stable shift in (or out of) identity.

When that happens, our human self is still here and it continues to operate more or less as before. But what we experience as our “real” self is all of existence, including the void it all happens within and as. A thought can describe it as consciousness, love, wisdom, appearing as all of existence, and that’s what we actually are.

So each of the three views has validity to them. There is a human self here. That’s not what we ultimately are. And what we are can be called Self with a capital S, as some traditions do.

And all of that are words with their inherent limitations. It will be misinterpreted, and that’s OK. Until this shift happens, and there is little or no need to talk about it. (Although we try anyway.)

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No self or other?

It’s common – in some circles – to hear people talk about “no self and no other”.

It can sound very cryptic and mysterious if it’s not our immediate experience. And it’s very simple and obvious when it is.

This human self, others, and the world is still here. And yet, it’s all happening within and as awakeness.

When awakeness is identified with or as the human self, it’s really identified with certain thoughts and mental images saying (a) there is a human self and (b) that’s what “I” am.

And that identification happens through thoughts being associated with certain sensations. The sensations lend a sense of solidity, substance, and reality to the thoughts, and the thoughts lend a sense of meaning to the sensations (they mean “I am this human self”).

That makes it appear as if there is an “I” that’s this human self, and there are others who also are “I”s in their own experience, and a world full of objects and things. It seems very real and true. And it is, in a certain sense.

When awakeness is not identified with or as this human self, it’s all revealed as happening within and as awakeness. This human self, other beings, the whole world, happens within and as awakeness. There is no “I” in any of it. It’s all life happening as life.

This release of identification can happen temporarily as a transcendent experience (which will then turn into a memory), or it can happen more stably and thoroughly through a clear seeing through the mental dynamics holding the identification in place, and through a corresponding release of the energetic “veils” holding identification in place. When we explore this, we can work on it from either side – for instance through forms of inquiry (e.g. Living Inquiries, The Work) and energy work (e.g. Vortex Healing).

This is very simple, and it’s also an infinitely rich topic.

Realignment. For instance, as long as there is identification as this human self, it will align itself with the experience of separation, and that can be quite traumatic. So when there is a softening or release of identification, this human self is invited to realign with this “new” context of all as awakeness. And that realignment includes healing, maturing, and embodiment.

Whatever is unhealed is invited to heal (which can be quite challenging when unprocessed psychological material surfaces). Whatever is unloved is invited to be loved. Whatever is unseen is invited to be seen. Whatever is unfelt is invited to be felt.

There is also an invitation for this human self to life from this “new” context more consciously, stably, and in more and more situations. And there is an invitation for it to mature in a very ordinary and human sense, and the healing and embodiment is part of that maturing.

Localized. Awakening is, in a sense, localized. Everything is happening within and as awakeness. And yet, that “everything” is (mostly) sensory information received through this human self. In that sense, the awakening is localized.

Independent of traditions. This is independent of traditions. Spiritual traditions may talk about and offer insights and practices to help us explore this, and perhaps have a taste of it or invite a more thorough and stable awakening. But this is about reality and traditions are human made. They can offer pointers, at most. This is more than and different from any tradition, or anything we can put into words.

Ripening. Any opening or more stable awakening happens through ripening. That ripening can be invited through conscious explorations – through various forms of prayer, inquiry, meditation, body-oriented practices, relationships, social engagement, and more. And it seems that most, and really almost all, of the ripening happens outside of conscious awareness.

The ripening happens for innumerable reasons and with innumerable influences, and we are aware of only a tiny part. We could say that our conscious practices is only a small part of the influences on this ripening. We could also say that our conscious practices is an expression of this ripening that’s already happening.

And this ripening is living its own life and happens on its own schedule. How it looks and how fast it happens is independent of how our minds tells us it should be, and it’s often very different. It can be faster or slower, and is almost always very different in character.

Ongoing. Awareness of and releases of identifications is ongoing. Identifications may be released out of what’s more individual, and shift into something more universal. And that keeps happening. Reality keeps revealing itself to itself.

Different labels. There are different labels for what I here called “awakeness”. We can also call it Spirit, Big Mind, Buddha Mind, Brahman, Life, the Universe, or whatever else resonates with us. None of the labels are very accurate. They are all just pointers.

Lila. Is there a goal of “us” awakening? Is life a “school”? Not really, as far as I can tell. To me, this all seems more like the play of the divine. It’s life expressing, exploring, and experiencing itself in always new ways. Identifications is part of it. As is a desire to awaken. And awakening itself. It’s all part of the play. Any other “reasons” for all of it happens within and as this play.

And any thoughts or ideas we have about it, including anything and everything written here, are all human notions. Reality doesn’t conform to our ideas. It’s more than and different from any of our ideas, however smart or intuitive or traditional or innovative or resonating they may seem.

Very ordinary. What happens to our human life in the world in all of this? There can be disruptions for different reasons (dark nights etc.). But mostly, and in the longer run, our human self continues to live it’s life in the world. And it tends to look very ordinary. It looks like an ordinary life, and ordinary healing, maturing, and whatever measure of clarity and wisdom is there. It’s all very ordinary and human. That may initially seem disappointing. And then, it may seem deeply fascinating, rich, and awe inspiring.

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No Self as an escape

One of the dynamics in the nondual and Advaita world is to use the idea of no self as an escape. As a way to not have to feel what’s here.

This can happen in a few different ways:

The idea and wish for no self can be an escape.

The idea of how it will be to realize no self can be an escape.

The idea that no self is realized can be an escape.

The idea that no self is already here can be an escape.

Resting as awareness, as opposed to its content, can be an escape.

We may think that if there is no self, and we realize it, then there is no painful self. We are free from this painful self, and free from having to feel what’s here. Free from having to feel the pain.

I am not saying that there is or isn’t no self. Either is true in it’s own way.

I am just saying that clinging to any idea – including ideas about no self – is a way for the mind to try to find safety, and avoid feeling what’s here – the discomfort, the unease, perhaps pain.

There is nothing wrong here. It comes from deep caring. It’s innocent. We all do it, at least sometimes and to some extent. And it’s good to be aware of.

Here are some way to explore or soften this:

What would I have to feel if….? (If there isn’t no self. If there is no escape.)

Rest with it. Rest with the fear of feeling what’s here.

Inquire into the beliefs. What do I fear would happen if there isn’t “no self”? If I can’t realize it?

Inquire into the velcro. Look at the images, words, sensations. Ask simple questions to see more clearly what’s there. See if you can find “no self”, or realization, or a threat if there isn’t either, or a command to not suffer, or not feel discomfort, or escape.

Find kindness for it. Hold it in kind presence.

Note: I just overheard a conversation on a similar topic where two people identified with stories about awakening, and defended that position. As soon as that’s happening – and I do that sometimes too, at least in my own mind – it’s a sign that the mind is trying to find safety in an idea, a conclusion about how things are. Again, nothing wrong here. It comes from deep caring. And it’s good to notice, and perhaps rest with it, find kindness to it, and explore what’s there through inquiry.

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No-self & self

I read Nondualism: A Brief History of a Timeless Concept by Michael Taft, and thought it was very good.

One of the topics was self vs non-self, and I see that both have validity for me, in their own way. Reality seems to embrace both ends of any (imagined) polarity, and is also more than either, and less than either.

No-self. When I look, I cannot find a self. I look at images and words, and feel sensations, and cannot find a self here. I cannot find a self outside of what’s made up by words, images, and sensations. I cannot find a general self, and I cannot find specific selves – such as the body, deficient selves, or inflated selves. I also cannot find a “Self” as what I am, as awareness, or Spirit. It’s unfindable. (Which doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, only that it’s unfindable when I look systematically and thoroughly.)

Self #1. There is also a “self” here as what I am. As that which all experience happens within and as. As that which my world – my field of experience, the outer and inner world – happens within and as. That which a thought may call awareness, or presence, or Spirit, or even Brahman (if it wants to be more grandiose). This is the “ground of being”, the “ground” of any experience which also makes up any experience. It’s a “self” without an “other”, or which includes any ideas of a me and other, an outer and inner world, and any other content of experience. (I don’t like calling it a “self” since that word is often understood differently, as something separate and with an “other”.)

Self #2. This is the conventional self, our human self. The self that is a whole that includes (what we call) mind and body. The self that has an “other” in the wider world and other beings. The self that can be more or less healed, mature, and aligned with reality. (A reality that keeps revealing itself to us.)

So there is a self here, in two ways, and there is also no self to be found. Reality is more than either or all of these descriptions, it’s richer and fuller. And reality is also less than either or all of them, it’s simpler and more immediate than these ideas.

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No self?

I have familiarized myself somewhat with neo-advaita approaches, and see what many point out: it’s easy to get hung up on ideas and concepts, and invest these with a sense of reality – perhaps in an attempt to find a sense of safety and security. (And avoiding feelings that appear uncomfortable.)

For instance, some folks – both teachers and students – talk about no self and emptiness as if these are real and somehow inherent in life. There is identification with these ideas. Sensations are velcroed to words and images, giving them a sense of reality, solidity, meaning, and a charge.

If I look for no self, or emptiness, or awareness, what do I find? Can I find it outside of words, images and associated sensations? (And what do I find if I look for their companion ideas…. Can I find a self outside of words, images and sensations? What about reality? Solidity? Matter?)

Also…. can I find a self that sees through this? A self that “gets” it? Someone else who don’t?

Where do I “land” to find a sense of solidity or security?

Whatever I “land” on, can I find it? What do I find in words, images and sensations? Can I find it outside of these?

Living our history

We live our history, before and even within awakening. We can’t help it since that is all our human self has to go by.

And when others live from a conditioning that is quite different from my own, it is easy to notice that we all live from our own history.

Here is a good example for me:

Two spiritual teachers appear to sometimes live from the story they should have told me. In one case, they should have told me about no-self. (That it can be recognized.) In the other case, they should have told me about the dark night. (How stark it can be.)

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No Self in several ways

There is no self in several ways….

First, in the sense that there may be a me + I here – a human self with identities and roles, and gestalts of a doer and observer – but is that what I am? Through investigation, I may find that all of it happens within content of experience, as any other content of experience. It comes and goes. It is not what I am, independent of whether there is identification with it or not. So there is a self here, as a me + I, in a conventional sense, but it is not what I really am.

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Reversals and the Middle Way

When I read Ordinary Extraordinary’s excellent post on emptiness, I was reminded of how well reversals fit in with the Buddhist Middle Way. They both reflect the same insight, so it is not surprising: any story is only a relative truth, and each of its reversals have truths to it as well. And, when they all cancel each other out, we can taste the inherent neutrality of any situation… emptiness dancing, God’s will, God expressing, exploring and experiencing itself.

There is a self: Yes. (a) There is indeed the appearance of an individual human self and soul, as a holon in a much larger holarcy. Through an overlay of stories, we can differentiate within the world of form, split it up freely in any size and shape, and individuals are one of the things we can differentiate out. And (b) there is a Self… as Big Mind, Brahman, Tao… The Self absent of an Other, not any more or less identified with any aspect of the field of awake emptiness and form.

There is no self: Yes. (a1) Within the seamless world of form, there is no separate self. We can differentiate out an individual human self and soul within this seamless world, but there are no absolute boundaries there. Any boundaries come from stories alone. And (a2) all forms are no other than the brilliantly clear and awake emptiness itself, which is inherently absent of any separate self… no boundaries, no beginning, no end, timeless, spaceless, allowing any and all forms… And finally, (b) there is no Self. Any self requires an Other, an in the absence of an Other there is no Self either.

There is an I: Yes. (a) When there is an identification with one region of form, the sense of I is placed there, making the rest of the world of form (and the rest of Existence) appear as Other. This creates the appearance of a separate I. (b) There is an I, as the awake emptiness and form itself, as Big Mind, Brahman, Tao… This is the I without an Other. It is the same I as under (a), but now clearly realized to have no Other, and not more or less identified with any aspect of the field (of awake emptiness and form) than any other.

There is no I: Yes. (a) There is no separate I anywhere, no I with an Other. Only the appearance of it, when there is a belief in the story of a separate I (self), and the field is split into the appearance of I and Other. (b) There is no I even as the I without an Other, because without an Other, no I either. There is only what is… the field of awake emptiness and form, already and inherently absent of any center and any separate self or I.

None of these stories are absolutely true, yet they are all relative truths… each with a grain of truth in them. Together, they fill out the picture within the realm of stories, and they also point to that which is inherently free from (and prior to) stories.

Union, dissolution and no self

When we take ourselves to be a separate self, an I with an Other, then any talk of selflessness sounds mysterious, or even deluded, and maybe as a reference to some sort of annihilation or dissolution. (The best we can hope for is a union with the absolute, an I here in union with God as Other.)

But even a mild taste of selflessness, for instance through the Big Mind process or the headless experiments, shows this to not be the case. The only thing that is different is that the sense of a separate self, placed on this human self, is gone. What is left is what is always there… this wide open field of what is happening right now, as awake emptiness and form, yet with absolutely no center and no separate self anywhere.

As Meister Eckhart said (paraphrased): when I am gone, God is.

Apart from tasting it on our own, maybe the simplest way to look at it is that God is all there is. God is awake emptiness and form, an I with no Other anywhere.

This awake emptiness temporarily takes itself to be a small segment of form, most typically this individual at the human level, and sometimes even at the soul level. There is a belief in ideas, including the idea of a separate self and various identities defining who and what this separate self is. The seamless and centerless field is now split into an I here, located in the region of the perceptual center of this human self, and Other out there, as the rest of the world.

When it awakens to itself as this field of awake emptiness and form, absent of I and Other, then it sees that the whole sense of a separate self only came from taking an idea as true. It temporarily took a relative truth, the existence of a somewhat separate individual at human and soul levels, and tried to make it into an absolute truth, and in the process gave birth to a great deal of drama and excitement. The whole human drama, as we know it from our own lives, societies and cultures, all came from this temporary misidentification.

Nothing is annihilated or dissolved, apart from the taking of a relative truth as an absolute. This individual is certainly still around, at human and soul levels, with all its sensations, thoughts, relationships, actions in the world, and everything else. The content of all of this does not need to change. The only thing that changes is the sense of a separate self placed on this perceptual center, which, when released, reveals the wide open field of all of it.

The bottom drops out of it all, revealing only a field of awake emptiness and form, without a center, absent of an I with an Other.