Free & not free

As long as we believe that we’re our bodies, we don’t have to know that we are infinite, our cells without limit, like music itself, free.

— Byron Katie

There are two sides to this.

FREEDOM THROUGH RECOGNIZING OUR NATURE

Yes, as what I am, as my more fundamental nature, I am – in a sense – free. I am what any experience happens within and as. I am what forms itself into any experience.

It’s a kind of freedom.

It’s a freedom from taking myself as fundamentally something within the content of experience, as a thing in a world of things.

When this recognition is more thorough and lived, there is a freedom to more fully and consciously allow what’s already allowed, which is the experience that’s already here no matter what it is, how it looks, and how my personality likes it.

That also opens for the freedom to be more honest about all of this, as it is.

FREEDOM THROUGH RECOGNIZING THE NATURE OF THOUGHTS

There is another freedom.

That’s the freedom that comes from recognizing the nature (and limitations) of thoughts in general, and especially through examining specific thoughts.

Here, there is freedom from holding the thought as true, there is freedom to recognize the limited validity in the thought, and there is freedom to more fluidly use a range of thoughts as pointers.

We are more free in our relationship with thoughts.

BOUND

We are also bound, in a sense.

This human self in the world has all kinds of limitations, although I don’t know exactly what those are or where any imagined boundary goes.

In my case, this human self lives with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). That puts a limit on my activity levels and what I can do. (I lived very differently when it was less strong.) I don’t know exactly the limits, they are to some extent stretchable, and all of it can change at any moment.

There are also the limits of physics and biology. I can’t fly unless I go in a machine that can fly. I can breathe underwater. I need air, water, food, and shelter to survive.

Society and culture also have limits, which again often are a bit fuzzy. I need money to survive unless I happen to find a situation where that’s less of an issue. If I break a law, I have to be ready to face the consequences.

There are also other kinds of limits, which all are a bit fuzzy. There is a kind of limit to the profound interconnectedness of all life. All of life supports me. Society and humanity support me. I wouldn’t be alive without it. I can’t thrive without it.

BOUND BY WHAT I FIND WHEN MY NATURE NOTICES ITSELF

As usual, there are a lot more wrinkles to it. Here is one:

The more I find and live from my nature, the less free I am, in a sense.

In my experience, I am more bound to living from what’s wise, kind, and sane. Of course, that doesn’t always happen. Sometimes, unresolved issues in me hijack my life and I act and live from reactivity. But, in general, that’s the tendency and movement.

The same goes for living from my inner guidance. The more my nature notices itself and lives from that context, the more I find I need to live from my inner guidance.

I also have a responsibility to life and the larger whole. That too limits my life to a great extent.

These are all limits that feel profoundly right and I love and seek to be more bound by. (There is still a long way to go.)

FREE & NOT FREE

So yes, there is a limited freedom in my nature noticing itself.

It’s a freedom from certain types of identifications, or at least a freedom from blindly believing them.

There is a freedom to allow the experience that’s here as it is, which includes my human self’s reactivity to it. At least, there is a freedom to notice that my nature allows it all freely..!

There are also many ways there is no or not much freedom, and that includes living from integrity, authenticity, inner guidance, responsibility to the larger whole, and so on. I don’t always live from it, and when I don’t, I notice the consequences in me and in my life.

Image by me and Midjourney

Sting: You could be me in another life, in another set of circumstances

Don’t judge me
You could be me
In another life In another set of circumstances

– Sting in Tomorrow we’ll see

This refrain from Sting frequently comes to mind when I see people in different situations and with other values and orientations from me.

I could be them, in another life, in another set of circumstances.

We are both the product of a slightly different set of infinite causes going back to the beginning of time and out to the widest extent of existence.

Their life, my life, are both expressions of existence, of this universe. We are expressions of this living planet. We are expressions of the same seamless whole.

I can find them in me. I could be them.

In a very real sense, I am them. Whatever story I have about them, I can turn around to myself and find genuine and specific examples of where it’s true. To me, they happen within and as the consciousness I am. The consciousness I am forms itself into my experience of them and all I see in them. It’s me.

nasa earth

The overview effect & Big Mind

There is an interesting parallel between the overview effect as it’s described by astronauts, and what’s described by those among us exploring our more fundamental nature.

THE OVERVIEW EFFECT I: SEEING EARTH FROM SPACE

Astronauts describe a shift that happens when they see the Earth from space. They see Earth as one seamless whole, without any visible borders. They are struck by the fragility and immense beauty of this living planet. And they experience a sense of awe and a wish to protect life.

This effect seems to be stronger the further out the astronauts were, it seems to bring lasting changes, and happens for many although not all astronauts.

THE OVERVIEW EFFECT II: SEEING THE CONTENT OF EXPERIENCE FROM BIG MIND

Something similar seems to happen among those who explore their more fundamental nature.

To ourselves, we are consciousness. We are this field of consciousness that any and all experiences happen within and as. And when we find ourselves as that, we view any content of experience more from the “outside”. Identification is released out of any particular content of experience.

Here too, we notice the world as a seamless whole, without any inherent boundaries. We are struck by the immense beauty of it all. And we experience a sense of awe and a wish to protect life.

And as with astronauts, there are some individual differences in how we experience and respond to it.

A DISTINCTION

There is also an important difference between the two.

Astronauts literally leave Earth and see it from a point in space.

When we find our more fundamental nature, we find ourselves as the field that any and all experience happens within and as. It’s more as if space itself notices itself as all and as forming itself into whatever content of experience is here.

MY EXPERIENCE

When the shift happened for me, in my mid-teens, it was much as I describe it here.

It happened suddenly and “out of the blue”. I found myself as the consciousness everything, to me, happened within and as. (This human self, the wider world, my human responses to this shift, and so on.)

I was struck by the immense beauty of it all. All was a seamless whole without any boundaries. And it brought up deep awe.

In my childhood and teens, I loved space, astronomy, and space exploration, and one reason was for the perspective it gives us on Earth and our life here. I also got into systems theories since they show the seamless whole we are all part of. And I loved Frank White‘s book The Overview Effect when I found it in my early twenties.

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CG Jung: Among those in the second half of life… there has not been one whose problem in the last resort was not that of finding a religious outlook on life

I have treated many hundreds of patients. Among those in the second half of life – that is to say, over 35 – there has not been one whose problem in the last resort was not that of finding a religious outlook on life. It is safe to say that every one of them fell ill because he had lost that which the living religions of every age have given their followers, and none of them has really been healed who did not regain his religious outlook.

– CG Jung

I don’t know exactly how Jung understands the term “religious outlook” and I won’t speak for him.

For me, I understand it in the widest sense possible. I would perhaps say “meaning, purpose, and connection with the larger whole”.

We all seem to have a deep need for meaning, purpose, and a sense of connection.

Why? Because existence is already a seamless whole. If we don’t consciously notice that, we will have a sense that something is missing. What’s missing is our conscious recognition of the connections that are already here, and perhaps the conscious cultivation of connections that are especially meaningful and important to us.

That connection is with ourselves as who we are, as a human being with a body and psyche. The connections here are with our body, subpersonalities, deepest needs and wishes (which tend to be simple and universal), and so on.

The connection is with our nature, with what we are. With our fundamental nature as consciousness, and noticing that the word to us happens within and as this consciousness. (And oneness.)

The connection is also with others, social systems, ecosystems, Earth as a living and evolving whole, the universe as an evolving seamless system, and existence as a whole. (I would call existence as a whole God.)

All of this is already a seamless whole. We are already in a relationship with it all. And as what we are, it’s all already happening within and as what we are. And if we are not consciously noticing these connections – and how it’s happening within and as what we are, we’ll feel we are missing something.

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Why is (what we discover through) awakening difficult to put into words?

What we find through awakening – our more fundamental nature – is notoriously difficult to put into words.

It’s not because it’s far removed. (Our nature is what’s most familiar to us and what we already are.) Or that it’s so amazing that words don’t do it justice. (It’s becomes very ordinary as we get more familiar with noticing it and living from it, although it’s also extraordinary.)

It’s because words have another function.

WHAT ARE WORDS?

Words are mental representations.

They are questions about the world. They are maps of the world.

They are made up of mental images and sounds. And when we hear or read the words of others, we have our own mental images and words that helps us make sense of them.

Words helps us communicate with ourselves and others. They even allow us to communicate with people we will never meet or people who live long after we are gone.

THE FUNCTION OF WORDS

Our experience is, whether we notice or not, as seamless whole. To us, the world – this human self, others, the wider world – is a seamless whole that happens within our sense fields.

To orient and function as human beings in the world, we need mental representations that splits this whole into parts. We mentally differentiate within this seamless whole in order to make sense of the world.

This helps us orient and function in the world, and also communicate with ourselves and others.

That’s the magic and amazing gift of words and mental representations in general.

THE LIMITS OF WORDS

At the same time, words and mental representations have their limits.

They cannot hold any final, full or fundamental truth for several reasons.

They are different in kind from what they point to. They are maps, and maps are not the terrain.

They are simplified representations. Reality is always more than and different from our ideas about it. And it’s also simpler.

And they are also guesses about the world. Sometimes educated guesses, and still guesses.

These are some of the limitations inherent in mental representations, including words.

There is another limitation of mental representations that is more to the point here. And that is that they differentiate within oneness. 

To ourselves, we are oneness, whether we notice or not. And the function of words is to split the world, not to represent oneness. 

That means they are not very good at describing what we are. They can point to it. They can orient us to notice it for ourselves. And they cannot describe oneness itself very successfully.

THE BEST WAY TO USE WORDS

The best way to use words is to recognize their function and limits. 

We can recognize they are questions about the world. They are provisional maps. 

They help us orient and function in the world. 

They cannot capture any final, full, or absolute truth. 

And when it comes to awakening, they can guide us to notice what we are. Either indirectly through various practices, or more directly through different forms of inquiry. 

UNDERSTANDING THE STORY VS NOTICING FOR OURSELVES

We can use words to – very inadequately – describe our nature

For instance, here is how I sometimes describe it:

My nature is capacity for the world as it appears to me. And the world as it appears to me – this human self, the wider world, and anything else – happens within and as what I am.

That’s the best I can do. These types of inadequate descriptions can be one of several pointers for others to find it for themselves, although more structured guided inquiry is far more effective and to the point.

There is also a drawback inherent in these types of descriptions. We can understand the words, at a conceptual level, and that’s different from finding it for ourselves.

A conceptual understanding doesn’t, in itself, lead to any transformation. And finding it for ourselves, and keeping noticing and exploring how to live from it, can be profoundly transforming – for our sense of fundamental identity, perception, how we live our life, and our human self and psyche.

At most, these types of descriptions are a good first step. They can wet the appetite for exploring it for ourselves.

And when we notice our nature for ourselves, we see that – or whether – the words fit.

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An elegant order in the way everything fits and unfolds

There is something about the universe — an elegant order in the way everything fits and unfolds

– Tom Atlee in his recent newsletter

I agree. Seen from the view of parts, this is how it appears.

There is also the view from the whole, and we can look at it in two different ways.

One is that existence is one. The universe is one seamless system. Everything happens within and as this one system. If we want, we can say that it’s all lila. It’s all the play of the universe, life, or the divine.

Another is that the world as it appears to us happens within and as what we are. If we want to put a label on it, we can say that it all happens within and as this consciousness that we are. To us, it all fits in an elegant way because it all happens within us and this oneness. And also because it’s all interpreted by our own mental field.

So it’s all oneness and dynamics and movements within the whole. The parts fit because they are part of a whole. An animal or plant or geological element fits into an ecosystem precisely because it’s a system, it’s a seamless whole. An eddy in a stream fits into the stream because the stream is a seamless whole. Any part of Earth fits because it’s a part of the living system of Earth.

And it all fits because, to us, it’s all happening within and as what we are. We are the oneness it’s all happening within and as. And we provide the mental overlay that makes sense of it all. This mental overlay makes the parts fit because of the stories we have about it.

Outside of any labels and categories

Words divide the world, and the world is a seamless whole. So naturally, words leave a lot out and are also often a bit misleading.

That means that any real exploration or who and what we are will, invariably, happen somewhat free of any labels, categories, and what fits into any particular tradition or orientation.

Life is more than and different form any maps or ideas about it.

I am not ultimately a separate being: What does it mean?

When I sometimes write that what I am is not ultimately a separate being, what do I mean?

As who I am, this human self, I am a being that’s not separate from anything. I am both a somewhat autonomous whole in myself and an intrinsic part of a larger whole. I am a part of the seamless living system called Earth and the even larger seamless system of the universe.

As what I am, I am ultimately not a being and not separate. What I am is what the content of my experience – here and now – happen within and as. (We can call this all sorts of things, and those labels also happen within and as what we are.) This human self happens within and as what I am. Any ideas of separation happen within and as what I am.

So it can be understood in at least two different ways.

As who I am, as this human being, I am a being that is not separate from anything. And as what I am, I am ultimately not a being nor separate… although both of those happen within and as what I am.

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What is wholeness?

What is wholeness?

There are several forms of wholeness, all part of the main form of wholeness.

There is the wholeness of what we are. We are that which the content of our experience happens within and as, whether we call this awakeness, consciousness, or something else. This makes our experience into a seamless whole, whether we notice or not.

As soon as the mind believes its thoughts and latches onto the viewpoints of some of these thoughts, there is an experience of fragmentation and it’s more difficult to notice what we are.

The process of what we are noticing itself is called awakening. And the process of living from this in more situations in our life is called embodiment.

There is also a wholeness of who we are, as this human self. Again, the wholeness is already here. And yet, there is also a sense of fragmentation since we tend to identify with some of who we are and disown or ignore other parts of who we are. The process of finding our wholeness as who we are is what Jung called individuation.

There is also the wholeness of the world and the universe. The Earth is one seamless living and evolving system. The universe is also one seamless evolving system. And we – as human individuals and species with our culture – are an intrinsic part of those systems.

Finally, there is the wholeness of all of existence. Whether we use a small (psychological) or big (spiritual) interpretation of awakening, we can say that all of existence is one. We can also say that everything is existence exploring, expressing, and experiencing itself.

How do we explore these forms of wholeness? I have written many articles on each of them but I’ll say a few words here.

To explore the wholeness of what we are, we can use inquiry (Headless experiments, Big Mind Process, Living Inquiries, etc.), often combined with meditation (basic meditation, quiet prayer, training stable attention), and perhaps mindful movement (yoga, taichi, Breema, etc.).

To explore the wholeness of who we are, we can use psychology (parts work, shadow work, projection work), bodywork, relationship work, and more.

When we explore the wholeness of Earth and the universe, we can use systems views and integral (aqal) maps.

And what about the wholeness of all of existence? It includes all of the above, although we can most directly explore it as we explore what we are.

Note: The examples of approaches above are just the ones I have found useful. What works for you may be different, and what I use in the future will probably also change as I discover other approaches.

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We are what we experience

It may appear that there is (a) a me here, (b) experiencing certain things, and (c) living in the world. These may appear as three somewhat different things.

That’s how it seems when we filter our experience through beliefs, or….. identifications with images and words, or….. when there is velcro and some images and words seem attached to feelings (which lend them a sense of solidity and reality, as if they reflected a reality “out there”). These are all different ways of saying more or less the same.

And yet, what’s more real is that it’s all a seamless whole. There is only this field of experience as it is right now, with sounds, smells, tastes, images, words, sensations. That’s all. That’s my world. That’s who and what I am.

Any images of past, future, present are images happening in immediacy, and those are who and what I am as well.

If I reject a part of what’s here now, I am – in a very real way – rejecting a part of myself. That’s why it hurts. That’s why it hurts to wrestle with what is, here and now. And that’s why it’s such a huge relief to notice, allow, and find love for it.  To feel sensations, and find curiosity about words, images, and sensations making up my experience.