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 & 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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Ego vs self

Adyashanti sometimes talks about the difference between the ego and the self, and I am not sure if I completely understand what he refers to.

Here is my best guess:

The ego, in this context, is the me, the human self, all the different hopes, fears, drives, desires, wounds and trauma of the human self. When this is seen through, and seen as what it is, there is a relaxation and sense of unification of the me. Traditionally, the dark night of the senses is what helps wear off identification with the me, although some may be left even after a dark night of the senses. I assume that seeing through the me is what leads to liberation. All is recognized as consciousness, but there is still a sense of identification as a center, as an I, which brings us to the self…..

The self is the loop, consciousness turning back and looking at itself. I assume this is the I, identification as an observer and doer. The human self may be seen through, and there may still be identification as an I, an observer and doer. When the I seen through, center of gravity goes to the whole field of consciousness.

For me, it’s easier to see this in terms of which images and words are identified with. Is it something part of the me, the human self? Or is it the I, the observer and doer?

It’s all about seeing through the appearances of a me and I. Seeing how these appearances are created. Seeing images as images. Seeing words as words. Feeling sensations as sensations. And for a while, until it’s seen through, there is the appearance of an interplay here between what “I” can do, such as inquiry, prayer and meditation. And grace, the way life works behind the scenes, the way life set situations up. And it’s all really grace, including the apparent doing. That too is life’s activity.

100% selfish

Being halfway selfish is painful.

I eat something my tongue says is good, and my body feels bad. I keep something for myself, and others notice and keep things to themselves. I try to protect myself through a white lie, and experience stress and tension.

In short, I act on a very limited notion of what is good for me and who I am in the world.

It is much better to be 100% selfish.

When I am completely selfish, I take the bigger picture into account. I think longer term, and in terms of my relationships with others and the wider world. I ask myself, what is really good for me? What will meet my most essential needs? I act in ways that meet my own needs, and also the needs of those around me, and even for the larger social and ecological whole, because I know there is no separation there.

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True self

A reminder…

In my own experience, what appears as my true self is layered…

  • It can be my personality, my likes and dislikes and habitual patterns. When these are accepted (for instance by others, which allows me to find the acceptance in myself) or allowed their way in the world, I feel that my true self is present and alive. This one is dependent either on my own heartfelt acceptance of it, or on circumstances allowing it to have its way.
  • It can be centaur self, the whole of my human self, the Jungian Self, the whole in immediate experience that is clearly beyond and includes body and psyche. The whole human self which is mirrored by everything in the outer world. Whatever qualities and characteristics I see out there in the wider world, in other people, in stories, in landscapes, in the universe, is something I can find in and recognize from this human self.
  • It can be the soul level, in its many flavors from alive presence to luminosity to velvety luminous blackness and much more. There is a sense of being an alive presence which is timeless and spaceless, and yet here and now, and in, around and living through this human self.
  • It can be a oneness self, a self one with the larger whole… the universe, God, all form as consciousness. There is an I here, one and aligned with the larger whole.
  • And it can be Ground, this awakeness absent of any inherent characteristics, allowing all form, and recognizing all form as itself. This is the true self that is absent of an I with an Other.

All the ones up to Ground are transient, happening within time and space, and Ground is not since it is that which time and space happens within.

And all the ones up to Ground have an I with an Other, and Ground is inherently absent of this I with an Other, although it certainly allows for a sense of I and Other.

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.

Describing the Self (with Capital S) **

When what is awakens to its own nature of an absence of I anywhere, there are many ways to talk about it.

One is to say that I am not this human self, nor anything else in the content. I am this eternal now within which all of this is happening. At our human level, this is similar to saying that I am not this ear, I am a human being. I am not the part, I am the whole.

Another is to say that I am all of it, I am anything and everything arising. At our human level, this is similar to saying that I am everything that makes up this human self – body, energies, sensations, emotions, thoughts and behaviors.

And yet another, that I am none of it. There is no I anywhere – not as any content, nor as all of the content, nor as this eternal now within which everything is happening. It is all absent of an I. This points to the absence of any Other, so there cannot really be any I either.

And of course, we can also negate each of these, including the negation of each and all of them, just to make it abundantly clear that thoughts cannot touch this.

Each of these seem as good as any other. They are each a particular way to overlay abstractions on top of that which abstractions cannot describe, simply because… (a) What is is distinct from – or beyond and including – any and all polarities, and words work within polarities. (b) Words split, and what is is not split. (c) Abstractions is a small aspect of what is, and cannot adequately describe larger holons.