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.

Image by me and Midjourney

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What is trauma?

A common definition of trauma is that it’s what happens when our system cannot process what’s happening with us. It becomes overwhelmed and deals with it by creating trauma.

TRAUMA AS A COPING MECHANISM

That makes sense to me. Trauma is clearly a coping mechanism, as is any hangup or emotional issue. In the situation, it’s the best way our system knows how to survive and manage.

HOLDING A THOUGHT AS TRUE TO FIND A SENSE OF SAFETY

We can look at it through the lens of beliefs. Our system creates painful beliefs in order to find a sense of safety. A situation is overwhelming and scary, it creates some beliefs for iself to find a sense of safety, and those beliefs are often painful.

Why do beliefs seem safe? I assume it’s because they give us a sense of certainty. Our mind can tell itself it knows. It knows how something is. That may seem preferable to not knowing and being at the mercy of life.

THE REALITY OF IT

It seems a little silly when it’s laid out like this.

Holding a thought as true doesn’t provide any safety at all. If anything, it makes us less receptive and flexible. It creates a fixed view and identity which makes us rigid and less able to respond well to life and situations. In many ways, that’s less safe than knowing that we don’t know for certain.

Holding a thought as true is also inevitably uncomfortable. It creates friction, stress, and distress. Life will inevitably rub up against any belief and identity we have, and that’s stressful. Also, our mind needs to spend a lot of energy to maintain it. It needs to remind itself about it. It needs to prop it up. It needs to defend it. It often elaborates on it. It needs to look for evidence for its truth. And so on.

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN WE TAKE A THOUGHT AS TRUE?

What happens when our mind holds a thought as true? It identifies with the viewpoint of the thought. It creates an identity for itself out of the thought. In a sense, it becomes the thought. It perceives and lives as if it is the thought.

EXAMINING WHAT’S GOING ON

All of this is hidden from the mind unless it takes a closer look and examines what’s really going on. We live it without realizing what’s going on. When we take a closer look, we can relate to all of this a little more intentionally. A thorough examination may even lead to some of these identifications to fall away. The thought is still here, and recognized as a thought and not true in the way our mind initially saw it.

DIFFERENT SUBPERSONALITIES OPERATE ON DIFFERENT BELIEFS

I should also mention that it’s not that straightforward. Different parts of our psyche tend to hold onto different thoughts as true. Several parts of me believe thoughts that I – as a whole – do not subscribe to, and they inevitably color my perception and life. That’s why a practice to identify these beliefs can be helpful. If I notice something triggered in me, it’s helpful to identify the thought or thoughts behind it, see if I can find related and underlying thoughts, and then investigate these.

EXPLORING THROUGH THE SENSE FIELDS

Of course, there are many other aspects to trauma and many other lenses we can use to understand it.

For instance, we can still explore beliefs and identifications, but we can examine it through our sense fields. We can look at how our mind associates certain thoughts with certain sensations, and how the sensations give a sense of solidity, reality, and truth to the thoughts, and the thoughts give a sense of meaning to the sensations. As we keep peeking behind the metaphorical wizard’s curtain, the illusion tends to lose it’s reality.

BODY TENSION

Exploring the sense fields in this way also gives us some hints about how traumas – and emotional issues in general – tend to create body tension. Our mind needs sensations to lend a sense of solidity and truth to thoughts, so to have those sensations available it seems to tense up certain muscles to create tension and sensations that go with certain thoughts. Each thought has its own tension pattern, and these seem to have a mix of universality and individuality. If a belief or set of beliefs is regularly activated and perceived from and lived on, it’s likely that it’s associated with a chronic tension pattern in the body.

RIGHT CONTAINER

If we are to explore this, and we have trauma in our system (as most of us do), it’s important to do it in a good setting: Guided by someone experienced, and someone we like and trust. Having enough time to explore, process, and settle after. Knowing we can stop it ourselves at any moment, and be encouraged to do so. Doing it in very small portions at a time. Doing it in an atmosphere of safety, understanding, and support. Avoid overwhelming our system again.

EXPLORE FOR OURSELVES

If we are drawn to it, this is something we can explore in different ways.

I find The Work of Byron Katie to be very helpful in identifying and examining stressful beliefs. The Kiloby Inquiries (KI) is excellent for exploring how it all unfolds in the sense fields. Tension and Trauma Release Exercises (TRE) is an excellent way to release chronic tension from the body. I also know that many love Somatic Experiencing (I have less experience with that approach although have found the books useful).

Personally, I have mostly used the three first approaches. I started with The Work of Byron Katie almost twenty years ago and did it daily for many years. I have been the client and facilitator for many KI sessions over the years, including with many clients. And I have used TRE regularly for several years, and still use it off and on.

Image by me and Midjourney

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Thinking for ourselves?

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

What does it mean?

CONVENTIONAL SENSE

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

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

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

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

EXAMINING THOUGHTS THEMSELVES

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

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

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

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

BIASES

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

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

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

THOUGHTS LIVE THEIR OWN LIFE

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

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

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

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

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

INFINITE CAUSES

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

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

ALL TOGETHER AND MORE

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image created by me and Midjourney

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How we notice change and impermanence: Comparing images

It’s tempting to say that we can notice two types of change and that we notice it in two different ways.

IMMEDIACY AND STORIES

We can notice change and impermanence in immediacy. What’s here now is fresh and different from what just passed.

And we can notice change and impermanence in stories. I have a mental representation of a timeline and how things are different at different points in that timeline.

When I look more closely at what’s happening, I find that those two are not that different. They are essentially the same.

IT’S ALL HAPPENING WITHIN MENTAL REPRESENTATIONS

Even when I notice change in immediacy, I do it by comparing images of what’s here and now with what just passed. (The images of “here and now” is also, in reality, about what just passed.)

So how do I notice change and impermanence? My mind creates a timeline and compares two or more points on that timeline, even when one of those points is what thoughts call “here and now”.

HELPS ME SEE IT (MORE) FOR WHAT IT IS

Is this useful to notice? I don’t know. But I do find it fascinating to notice as it happens.

It helps me recognize that my mental representations of time, a timeline, points on a timeline, and even the ideas of change, all happen as and within my mental representations. It’s an overlay over the world as the world appears to me.

The image – a polyptychis with different scenes – is created by me and Midjourney.

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A cat looks male and then female: mental field overlays

A neighbor cat has been visiting for the last few weeks, and I assumed he was a male at first. It now looks more likely that she is a female.

I notice very clearly the mental field overlays here. When I thought he was a male, he looked male. My mind created a male overlay on the cat, and that made him look male to me. My mind interpreted his features as male. And now that I think she is a female, she looks female. My mental field overlay makes her look female to me. My mind interprets her features as female.

This is, of course, in addition to all the other mental field overlays my mind creates: Cat, boundary between cat and what’s not-cat, ideas about this particular cat, ideas about me and my relationship with cats, and so on.

Update: I learned that he is actually male and is called, very appropriately, Simba. So now he looks male again, through some of the cultural associations I have with being a male and a male cat.

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Marina Bajszár: Thoughts, just because you hear them, does it make them yours?

When I look, I find that words are imagined sounds. They are something I hear. Just like I hear the sound of birds, cars, and the wind, I imagine hearing words. They are all sounds.

I also find that words can be mental images. They are something I see. Just like I see a tree, the sky, and houses, I imagine seeing words. They are all images.

When I notice this – when I notice words as sounds and images – it’s easier to recognize them for what they are. They are imagined sounds. They are imagined images.

And this also helps me notice that they are imagined. They are imagination. This is often a useful imagination. It helps me orient and function in the world. And they are imagination. They are fantasies.

What happens when I notice this? What happens when I notice that thoughts that have a charge for me are sounds, images, and imagination? What happens when I rest in and as that noticing? There is a softening of the charge. There is less identification with their viewpoint. There is a curiosity that comes in. Maybe they are not as true as my mind, in its innocent confusion, took them as?

It can be helpful to use a structured exploration here, especially when it comes to thoughts with a strong charge. I have found the Kiloby Inquiries – a modern version of traditional Buddhist sense field explorations – to be the most effective for this. (Marina and I are both trained in that approach.)

And as usual, there is a lot more to explore here.

Why does my mind assume that some imaged sounds and images are actively created by me? It’s usually because they align with my conscious view. The sounds of cars, birds, and waves are obviously not created by me. Some random thoughts without much charge may also not appear to be created by me. But some familiar thoughts with a charge seem to be created by me. It feels like “I” am actively thinking them. And that feeling and assumption is created by the mind. When I explore it, I find it comes from another thought. It comes from mental sounds and images that tell me “I am actively creating those thoughts”. In reality, they are sounds and images like anything else.

I can also notice this more directly. I can notice thoughts – imagined sounds and images – as they appear. They come out of nothing and dissipate into nothing. (And are even made up of what a thought can label nothing.) They live their own life.

Who is that “I” thinking these thoughts? When I explore it, I find the same. I find a collection of mental images associated with certain physical sensations. I cannot find an “I” or “me” outside of this. It’s all happening within the sense fields. It only takes on the meaning of “I’ and “me” through thoughts telling me that’s how it is.

Even if I generally and “globally” get this, there will still be certain thoughts with a charge, and the charge means there is some identification there. A part of me hold those thoughts as true. So it’s worth exploring and investigating them and see what I find.

Coming to my senses

Why do we say “coming to our senses”?

Likely because there is a sanity we can find by literally coming to our senses, and people throughout time have noticed it and found the expression useful and insightful.

GOING OUT OF OUR SENSES

We inflict suffering and discomfort on ourselves by going into fantasies and taking them as true. We imagine a painful past, a scary future, something uncomfortable happening somewhere else. We even put a layer of interpretation on what’s right here.

Right now, I am sitting in a quiet room with sunlight through the window, a candle on the table, and a cup of warm tea. And I can imagine painful past experiences and childhood. I can imagine something terrible happening in the future. I imagine others living a better and more happy and fulfilling life. And I can imagine that all of those imaginations are real and true and define who I am, and I can get lost in all of it.

COMING TO MY SENSES

Instead, I can come to my senses. I can notice the room I am in. The textures, colors, flickering light, smells, the sensation of my legs on the seat and my feet on the floor.

I can notice what’s here in my senses. I can notice what’s here in my imagination. And I can notice the difference between the two. I can notice that what’s here in my mental field is literally imagination. It’s a collection of labels, interpretations, stories, and so on. It’s full of questions about the world. It’s not reality itself. (Although it can become a reality for me if I get lost in it.) None of it is a final, full, or absolute truth. Reality is always different from and more than my imaginations.

That brings a kind of sanity. It helps me ground in what’s here. It helps release charge out of the imaginations.

EXPLORING IT MORE THOROUGHLY

And it may help to investigate this more thoroughly. I can explore what’s in each of my sense fields and how my mental field creates an overlay of labels, stories, and so on, and how those are all questions about the world to help me orient and navigate. They are not anything more. I can also investigate specific stories more thoroughly and find what’s already more true for me (and more peaceful).

THE WISDOM IN COMMON SAYINGS

There is something a lot of wisdom in common expressions.

In this case, “coming to our senses” is a direct pointer to how we can ground, find more sanity, and be more kind to ourselves and others.

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Impermanence – good to remember, the great cleanser, happening here and now & pointing to our nature

To the extinct, the lost and the forgotten. Everything that comes together is destined to fall apart.

– Yuval Noah Harari in the foreword to Spaiens, the Spanish graphic novel version

Everything that comes together falls apart.

REMEMBERING IMPERMANENCE

It’s good to remember.

It helps us appreciate what’s here even more. Anything in my life now, and anything in my direct experience, is a guest. It all comes and goes. And it will never be here in the same way again.

It can also help us find more peace with all that inevitably falls apart, which is everything. Everything and everyone we know will fall apart. All of what we know will be forgotten.

THE GREAT CLEANSER

Impermanence is the great cleanser.

Existence takes a certain form, and then another, and everything that went before is gone.

At most, it exists for a while in our imagination, but that will eventually be gone too. Impermanence wipes the slate clean to allow itself to take new forms.

Without death, there cannot be new life. Without the death of individuals, there would not be room for new individuals. Without the death of species, there would not be room for new species. Without the death of stars, none of what we know would be here. (Apart from stars and space.) Without the death of this moment, there would be no new moment.

HAPPENING HERE AND NOW

We can find impermanence in stories, as described above. We know from our life, history, and science that everything changes.

And we can also find impermanence in our immediate noticing, or at least in a combination of our immediate noticing and our mental representations.

What’s here is here. I can find the previous moment in my mental images and stories. And I notice that what’s here is different from what happened previously.

What’s here is here. What’s here is always fresh and new. It’s never been here before. It will never be here again. It’s different in kind from any idea about past or future since those are ideas. (1)

POINTING TO MY NATURE

Impermanence points to my more fundamental nature.

I assume that’s why impermanence is such a focus in Buddhism. It’s not just to help us appreciate what’s here or psychologically prepare for all falling apart, which is valuable in itself. It helps us find what we more fundamentally are.

Apart from some types of inquiry, basic meditation may be the most direct and effective way to explore impermanence.

We notice and allow what’s here. (We fail. And notice that what’s here in our field of experience is already noticed and allowed.)

Over time, we notice that any and all content of experience comes and goes, including whatever we assume we are. Everything related to this human self comes and goes in experience. Everything related to anything we can take ourselves to be – a doer, an observer, etc. – comes and goes in experience.

I cannot most fundamentally be any of that since all of it comes and goes in experience. Anything within the content of experience comes and goes.

We have discovered what we are not, and out of habit we may still look for what we are within the content of experience. Finding what we more fundamentally are requires a figure-ground shift. And this can be guided by some forms of inquiry. (Headless experiments, the Big Mind process, and so on.)

I find I more fundamentally am (what a thought may call) capacity. I am capacity for the whole field of experience. I am what the field of experience happens within and as.

And any ideas of that happens within the content of experience, come and go, and is not what I more fundamentally am.

Notes

(1) Really… What’s here is here. Anything else is a mental image. I cannot find the past or future outside of my mental representations. I cannot even find the idea of “present” outside of my mental representations.

I cannot find impermanence in my immediate noticing. I can only find when I compare my mental representations of what’s here with my mental images of what was just here. And that’s often very helpful. It gives us a more visceral sense of impermanence and that it’s ongoing.

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The world doesn’t fit categories

It seems pretty obvious. The world doesn’t fit neat little categories.

So why do I even mention it?

Because it points to something important about how our minds work.

MENTAL FIELD OVERLAY

Our experience can be distinguished into sense fields. We can say that these sense fields are physical sensations, sight, sound, taste, smell, the mental field, and so on. (That distinction itself is made up of categories and we can imagine other ways to make that differentiation. It’s made up for convenience.)

Our mental field functions as a kind of overlay on the world. We make sense of the world through an overlay of mental images and words. And we can say that this overlay consists of labels, imaginary boundaries, stories, and so on. (That too is a somewhat arbitrary distinction made for convenience.)

These mental field overlays are created by our minds. None of it is inherent in the world.

That seems obvious too.

WE IMAGINE THE REST OF THE WORLD

And yet, there is another layer here.

Our immediate experience of the world is filtered through this mental overlay.

And what’s not here in our immediate experience – the whole rest of the world – only exists to us in our mental field.

There is a whole lot of imagination going on here.

We imagine boundaries, distinctions, labels, categories, stories, and so on. And we imagine anything that’s not here in immediate experience. We imagine the whole rest of the world.

ANY THOUGHT IS CATEGORIZATION

In a sense, all this mental field overlay is doing is categorizing. It creates imaginary divisions, labels, stories, and so on. And it’s all a way to categorize the world.

What’s the function of this?

It’s all to help us orient and function in the world.

Without it, we wouldn’t be able to function. It’s all essential for our life in the world.

THE CHARACTERISTICS OF THOUGHT

Thoughts have some characteristics.

They function as a map of the world, to help us orient and navigate.

They help us explore possibilities before we act in the world.

They are questions about the world. They are always provisional and up for revision. (Even what may seem the most solid to us is that way, including what comes from what we see as the most authoritative source. And the idea of authority is another question about the world.)

They cannot hold any final, full, or absolute truth. That’s not their function.

THE WORLD IS MORE THAN AND DIFFERENT FROM OUR MAPS

And the world is always more than and different from our maps.

Our mental field overlay is an overlay created by our mind. The distinctions, labels, and stories are not inherent in the world. It’s ours.

IF SO OBVIOUS, WHY EVEN MENTION IT?

Again, all of this may seem obvious. So why even mention it?

It’s because it may be obvious to us in a general sense and intellectually, but is it obvious to us at a more visceral level?

Often not. Our mind and system tend to hold onto some stories as true, often without even realizing it.

And that’s what creates hangups, closed minds, a closed heart, rigidity, contraction, tension, and stress. Taken to the extreme, it’s what creates fundamentalism, bigotry, and intentionally harmful behavior.

EXPLORING HOLDING ONTO STORIES AS TRUE

How can we explore the parts of us holding onto stories as true?

Inquiry is one way, and especially structured inquiry guided by someone familiar with that terrain.

What I have found most effective is The Work of Byron Katie, Kiloby Inquiries, and perhaps also the Big Mind process.

Another approach is any form of therapy we are drawn to and that works for us. That too can help us identify and find some freedom from taking stories as true.

WHY DO WE HOLD ONTO STORIES AS TRUE?

Why do we have such an apparently unhealthy relationship with our mental field?

Why do we hold onto some stories as true even if they are obviously painful and not as true as we pretend they are?

The simple answer may be that we do as others do. As we grow up, we do what we see others do.

Another answer is that we try to find safety in holding certain thoughts as true. It seems to give us an advantage. We can pretend we know how things are. We don’t need to stay open and receptive, at least not in the area of life covered by that particular story.

The reality is quite different. Holding onto these stories is out of alignment with reality. We pretend something that’s not true. And somewhere in us, we know what’s going on. We cannot trick ourselves. And that creates stress.

Holding onto stories as true creates stress in other ways as well. It is created by our mental field so we need to remember, rehearse, and prop up the story. We need to defend it when life or others inevitably show us something out of alignment with the story. We create rigidity in our perception and life. We miss out on options in life. We may get into conflicts with others just because we hold different and apparently incompatible stories as true.

WHEN TAKEN FURTHER

We can take these explorations further.

We may realize that even our ideas about who or what we are are ideas. They do not reflect reality in an accurate or complete way. We can even examine each of these stories and find what’s more true for us.

So what are we more fundamentally?

When I look, I find I am more fundamentally capacity. I am capacity for the world as it appears to me. I am capacity for the sense fields and anything happening within content of experience.

I am the field all of it happens within and as, including any sense impressions that my mental field says is this human self, any ideas of what I am or am not, and any tendency to hold any one of those ideas as true or not.

Does all time happen now? Yes, to us it does

I remember having this experience in my teens, following the oneness shift. It was as if I could see, for my inner eye, all of time happening now, and I imagined that’s how time is to God. This was one of the early side effects of the shift, and it changed as I found more clarity about what was going on.

Since then, I occasionally talk with people who share a similar experience, often relatively early in the awakening process.

Is this topic important? Why do people experience it this way? And how can we explore it for ourselves?

IS IT IMPORTANT?

At a philosophical level, it’s about as important as other abstract philosophical topics. For most of us, it’s not very important in our daily life.

If it’s an experience – or a sense or intuition, then it’s often important for the ones having it.

And as a topic to explore in our own direct noticing, it can lead us to notice our nature. It can lead us home, to the home we already are whether we notice it or not. And for us, nothing may be more important than that.

WHY DO SOME HAVE THIS EXPERIENCE?

Where does the “all time is happening now” experience come from?

It comes from noticing reality. Not necessarily some absolute reality out there but the reality of our own experience.

To us, any content of experience happens within our sense fields. Any experience happens within one or more sense field – sight, sound, smell, taste, sensation, mental representations, and so on.

And that includes our experience of time. Any ideas of past, present, and future, and any ideas of what’s in each of these, happen within our mental field. It all happens here and now.

Any sense of all time happening now also happens within our sense fields. It happens as a combination of certain mental representations (of a timeline and past, future, and present) and certain sensations in the body. Our mind associates the two so the sensations seem to lend a sense of solidity and reality to the mental representations, and the mental representations give a sense of meaning to the sensations.

That means that to us, all time happens now. It’s inevitable. It’s always been that way.

So if we experience that all time happens now, it’s because it does – to us. It was always that way. It cannot be any other way. It’s just that we don’t always notice.

And that doesn’t mean that this is how reality itself is. It’s just our inevitable experience because of how our mind works.

DIFFERENTIATING OUR OWN EXPERIENCE FROM REALITY “OUT THERE”

It’s important to differentiate the two.

To me, all time happens now. I cannot find the past or future, or even the idea of the present, outside of my mental representations. And they all happen here and now.

And that doesn’t say anything about reality itself. It doesn’t tell me how existence in itself is. What we call “time” is a mental overlay on (our mental overlays of) existence.

It says something about my own experience.

A POINTER TO MY OWN NATURE

More importantly, it says something about my own nature.

It’s a pointer to what I more fundamentally am, in my own first-person experience.

If I notice a sense of all time happening now, it’s an invitation for me to take a closer look. How does my mind create this experience?

This can be an invitation to explore our sense fields. To explore what’s happening in each, and how the mental field combines with physical sensations to create a sense of solidity and reality out of imaginations and sensations. (These imaginations are essential for us to orient and function in the world so there is nothing wrong with them, it’s just good to notice what’s happening.)

And this may lead me to find what I more fundamentally am. I may find that I more fundamentally am capacity for anything appearing in the sense fields. I am what the world, to me, happens within and as.

HOW CAN WE EXPLORE THIS FOR OURSELVES?

How can we investigate this for ourselves?

There are many approaches out there and what works depends on the person and situation. Here are a few I have found helpful.

Traditional Buddhist sense field explorations. For instance, pay attention to one sense field at a time and what happens there. Notice what happens in the mental field. Notice how the mental field interprets what happens in the other sense fields, how it interprets what’s not here in any other sense field, and perhaps even how certain sensations lend a sense of solidity and reality to some mental representations (give them a charge) and how certain mental representations give a sense of meaning to certain sensations.

The Kiloby Inquiries is a modern take on this traditional Buddhist inquiry. This inquiry usually requires a facilitator, at least unless we are trained and have some experience with it for ourselves.

The Work of Byron Katie can be helpful, especially if we explore this specifically.

Apart from sense field explorations, the most direct ways to explore this may be the Big Mind process and the Headless experiments. Here, we get a direct taste of any ideas of past, future, and present as happening here now, and happening within and as what we are.

Basic Meditation can do the same, although it tends to be a slightly slower process. Notice and allow what’s here. Notice that it’s already noticed and allowed. Notice how any content of experience comes and goes, including any ideas of past, future, and present. So what am I more fundamentally?

ALL OF TIME DOES HAPPEN NOW

So yes, all of time does happen simultaneously. To us, it does. It’s inevitable since time can only be found in our mental representations, and these happen here and now. I cannot find time outside of my present experience.

That doesn’t tell me how reality itself is.

And it’s an invitation for me to take a closer look, which may lead me to find my own nature.

Although much is important in life, we may find there is no greater treasure than that.

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Alejandro Jodorowsky: I am the others, the others are me

I am the others, the others are me

– Alejandro Jodorowsky in Jodorowsky’s Dune

I can find several ways it’s true.

The first two are more loose and poetic. The next three are something we can check out for ourselves in our direct noticing. And the last one either depends on our definition or is an assumption – at least for me now.

POETIC & SENSE OF US

We can mean it in a loose and poetic way.

I have a sense of fellowship and a sense of us.

So I am you and you are me in the sense that we are all in it together.

SYSTEMS VIEW

We are all part of and expressions of larger social and ecological systems.

We are expressions and parts of a larger whole, just like cells are part of a larger organism.

We are the local eyes, ears, thoughts, and feelings of the universe.

In this sense too, I am you and you are me.

MIRROR

I see in others what I know from myself, whether I know I know it from myself or not.

I can take any story I have about someone else (or anything in the world), turn it to myself, and find genuine and specific examples of where it’s true.

You are my mirror. You are me.

I am your mirror. I am you.

This is something I can find for myself by exploring projections. One of my favorite ways is through inquiry and especially The Work of Byron Katie.

SENSE FIELDS

To me, the world happens within and as my sense fields.

To me, any experience is found within sight, sound, smell, taste, sensations, thoughts, and so on.

To me, you happen within and as my sense fields.

Here too, you are me. And to you, I am you.

This is something I can explore and find for myself, by noticing my sense fields and how any experience happens within them. Traditional Buddhist sense field explorations are especially good for this.

WHAT I AM

In one sense, I am this human self in the world. That’s an assumption that’s not wrong and it works pretty well.

And when I look closer at what I am in my own experience, I find something else.

I find I more fundamentally am capacity for the world and anything that happens in my sense fields. I am what allows any and all experience, including what I think of as you.

I am what the world, to me, happens within and as. I am what you, to me, happen within and as.

If I want to put labels on it, I can say that to me, I am consciousness and the world happens within and as this consciousness I am.

In a very literal sense, you are me. And to you, I am you, whether you notice or not.

This is also something I can check out and find for myself, perhaps most effectively through forms of inquiry like the Big Mind process and Headless experiments, and also Basic Meditation.

SPIRIT

We can take this one step further.

If we call all of existence Spirit, the divine, or God, we can say that we are all aspects and expressions of Spirit.

I am you and you are me.

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The world in me

There are – at least – two ways the world is in me.

And I can find both here and now in my own direct experience.

FINDING A PART OF ME THAT MIRRORS WHAT I SEE IN THE WORLD

If someone asks me if I feel or experience something, I almost always can find it and say “yes”. (And in the past, before I learned to not assume that everyone understands this, that has gotten me in trouble.)

Why is that?

It’s because I find that my psychology has innumerable parts. Whatever I see in the world, I can find in myself here and now.

There is always one part of me that has the characteristics I see out there. There is always one part that right now is experiencing what I see out there. It may not be very strong but it’s there, and it’s there at the very least as a potential.

I discovered this first in my teens, and since then daily and over and over.

And it also makes sense. If I imagine a characteristic or experience in someone else, it’s because I can connect with it in myself here and now. I am already connecting with it as soon as I imagine it in others.

Sometimes, what I see out in the world may be somewhat unfamiliar to me. I am not used to finding it in myself, and then the exploration may have to be a bit more thorough and detailed. Sometimes supported by a form of structured inquiry like The Work of Byron Katie or the Kiloby Inquiries.

So the world mirrors me. I can find what I can see in the world in me here and now.

THE WORLD IN ME

There is also another way I can find the world in me. And that is to see that the world is literally in me.

In one sense, I am a human being in the world. That’s not wrong. And when I look more closely, I find I more fundamentally – in my own first-person experience – am something else. I find I am what the world, to me, happens within and as.

I can also find this by examining my sense fields. I notice what’s in each sense field. (E.g. sound, smell, taste, sensation, thought.) I notice that any experience happens within one or more sense fields. (And that the sense fields are all one, the distinction between them happens only in my mental field.) I find that the world, to me, happens within and as the sense fields. I find that the world, to me, happens within and as what I am.

Said another way, and a little more from the logic side, to myself I am consciousness. If I think “I have consciousness” it means that to myself, I am consciousness. And that also means that the world, to me, happens within and as consciousness. It happens within and as what I am. It happens within and as the oneness I am.

When someone says “I am not in the world, the world is in me” or talks about “oneness”, then that’s something I don’t need to take anyone’s word for. I can find it here and now in my own direct noticing.

THE EFFECTS OF NOTICING THIS

This is about noticing what’s already here. Nothing needs to be fabricated. We don’t need to tell ourselves any stories about it, or rely on or trust those stories. We can find it here and now.

Our imagination may tell us we are separate. We may have images of ourselves as separate, and those images are inherited from our parents, teachers, and ultimately the culture we live within. We are told we are separate, and that we most fundamentally are this human self, so in our innocence and from our kind heart, we take it on. We do as others do. We learn to pretend that’s how it is.

And that has consequences. We naturally feel somewhat isolated, alone, separate from others, perhaps separate from our body and nature, we learn to be defensive, and so on.

Noticing that the world is in me, in the two ways mentioned above, and noticing it here and now, also has consequences.

Using the world as a mirror helps me get in touch with more of the natural richness I am. It opens up for recognizing in myself what I see in others in more situations, and that opens for a natural empathy.

Finding the world in me helps me see I am not most fundamentally this human self. It helps me relate to any content of experience a little more consciously. It helps me live a little more from this noticing and from the oneness I am.

Mostly, this noticing is a kind of seed and who knows what comes out of it. There are no formulas here. It’s an adventure. It’s something parts of us already and naturally are curious about and even fascinated by.

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Spiritual stories vs what’s here in immediacy

Anyone into spirituality has all sorts of spiritual stories floating around in their minds. And most who are not into spirituality have these kinds of stories as well, they may just dismiss them.

For instance, if we are into mysticism or non-duality, we may have stories about the afterlife, karma, what awakening refers to, what awakening would mean for us and our future, the role of masters, the existence of non-physical entities and deities, and so on.

It’s helpful to differentiate mental representations and our immediate noticing.

MENTAL REPRESENTATIONS

For me, all of these stories are mental representations. I cannot find them anywhere else.

Someone created those stories, told them to someone else, and then they reached me.

I may have stories about the source and whether it’s reliable or not. There may be research matching the stories to a certain degree. Some of the stories may even match my own experiences.

And yet, to me, they remain mental representations and stories. I cannot find them outside of that. I cannot find it in my immediate noticing.

DIFFERENTIATING MENTAL REPRESENTATIONS AND IMMEDIATE NOTICING

For all I know, reality may not be anything like what the stories describe.

That’s a sobering realization and an important one.

In life, it helps us stay grounded and it’s a kind of vaccination against going too far into spiritual fantasies.

And more importantly, it’s a part of learning to differentiate mental representations from direct noticing. It’s a part of learning to recognize mental representations for what they are, holding them more lightly, and also differentiate all that from a direct noticing of what’s here – which is our own nature.

The only thing I can notice directly is actually my own nature. Everything else is a noticing plus a story, a mental representation.

WHAT I AM LEFT WITH

Any story about who or what I am is a story. Any story about the content of experience is a story. Any story about reality is a story.

And what I am left with is a direct noticing of my nature and that any and all experience happens within and as what I find myself as.

IT’S ALL I KNOW

When I learn to differentiate the two, I also notice more clearly that all I know is my own nature. Any content of experience happens within and as what I am, within and as my nature. Even the nature of mental representations is my nature.

To me, the nature of everything is my nature, whether I notice or not.

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From seeing to visceral

For some years, inquiry was the center of my focus and something I did daily, whether it was The Work of Byron Katie, the Kiloby (Living) Inquiries, the Big Mind process, or just old-fashioned Buddhist sense field exploration inquiry. (This was mostly from around 2000 to 2018.)

I’ll still do more formal inquiry when I am drawn to it, but my focus these days is more on direct noticing and energy healing.

And I also notice a shift. For instance, when I did The Work on a topic in the past, it was sometimes a seeing of what was more true for me a certain topic, and my visceral experience hadn’t quite caught up. These days, I more often notice the visceral experience.

I imagine it may be more of my system catching up to the seeing, and it happens and deepens over time.

For instance, I saw the “I know everyone loves me, I just don’t expect them to realize it” quote from Byron Katie this morning, and I notice it resonates viscerally with me. Not with all of me since there are still psychological parts that don’t realize it, but more of me get it viscerally. The overall experience is of getting it more viscerally. When I first saw that quote many years ago, I remember seeing the truth of it but not getting it so viscerally.

And, of course, there is always further to go. There is a lot I haven’t examined yet, and there are many parts of me that have not caught up with the seeing.

The universality of my experience

Whatever I experience, I can be certain that it’s shared with innumerable humans. Innumerable humans now, in the past, and in the future will share this experience in a very similar way.

It may also be that innumerable beings of many different species have experienced something very similar, are experiencing it, and will experience it.

We are in it together.

SINGLED OUT VS FELLOWSHIP

If I tell myself this is only happening to me, it’s easy to go into “poor me” and “why me” thoughts. I feel isolated and alone. I feel singled out. I feel especially unlucky. I feel that others have it better than me, and I can find any number of examples. (Based on comparing imaginations of me and them.)

If I remind myself of the universality of my experience, I realize that this experience is shared by a vast number of beings. Perhaps most experience something like that at some point in their life if they are lucky to live long enough. We are in it together.

It gives me a sense of fellowship. It gives me a sense of connection. It removes the feeling of being singled out, whether my personality sees that as good or bad.

Reminding me of this naturally deepens my empathy with myself and others. They are like me. And this empathy especially deepens when this noticing becomes a habit, a part of daily life.

EXPERIENCES MY PERSONALITY LIKES AND DOESN’T LIKE

This applies to the experiences my personality doesn’t like – physical or emotional pain, overwhelm, struggle, confusion, illness, discomfort, and so on.

It also applies to the experiences my personality does like – pleasure, joy, excitement, calm, comfort, contentment, peace, and so on. This too is experienced by innumerable humans and likely innumerable beings of many different species.

This too ties us together. This too is a reminder of our fellowship. This too deepens my empathy when I notice.

WHAT IS AN EXPERIENCE?

It’s important to clarify for ourselves what we mean by “an experience”.

Our initial response may be that we know. And when we look a little closer, we may surprise ourselves.

When I explore this for myself, I find that my experience is whatever is happening in my sense fields – sight, sound, smell, taste, movement, physical sensations, and an overlay of mental representations making sense of it all. (Sometimes in painful ways.)

It’s especially the combination of physical sensations and mental representations that creates my experience.

And in this context, it’s mainly the physical sensations with most of the conscious stories stripped away.

These are what my personality responds to with likes and dislikes. (And, of course, the likes and dislikes have stories behind them, many not conscious and learned early in life.)

For me, the focus is mainly on my physical sensations and how my system responds to these. How is it to remind myself that this experience – these physical sensations and the way my system responds to them – is universal? Is shared by innumerable humans and beings?

This is the essence of this exploration, and honing in on the physical sensations simplifies and gives a more clear focus.

A SIMPLE EXPLORATION

This can be a simple exploration in daily life.

What happens when I remind myself of the universality of what I am experiencing now?

What happens when this becomes a new habit? When I do it whenever I remember through the day?

What happens if I use difficult experiences as a reminder of this? And enjoyable experiences? And more neutral experiences?

How does my relationship with myself and others shift?

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The outer is (also) inner

This is one of the Life 101 topics many talk about.

The outer is (also) the inner.

A CONVENTIONAL VIEW: THE WORLD IS A MIRROR

The outer world – and the dynamics we experience with others – reflect something in us.

We have the dynamic in ourselves, and we have what we see in others in ourselves.

For instance, we may have an identity as a victim. We see ourselves as a victim of others, situations, life, or even God. That’s one side of it. And the other side is that we also have a victimizer in us. We have a part of ourselves that play the role of the victimizer. Otherwise, we wouldn’t and couldn’t feel like a victim. We couldn’t maintain that identity over time and through various situations, including when the outer victimizer is not present.

In a practical sense, that means that if I work on finding healing for (my relationship with) the victim in me, I also need to work on finding healing for (my relationship with) my inner victimizer. I need to notice and get to know each, find healing for my relationship with each and their dynamic, and possibly also invite healing for both of these parts of me.

This is the conventional view: The world is a mirror. Whatever we see in the outer world is also in us. Whatever story I have about others or the world, I can turn that story to myself and find genuine and specific examples of how it’s valid.

A MORE REAL VIEW: IT’S ALL HAPPENING WITHIN AND AS WHAT I AM

There is another layer to this, and that is that it’s all happening within and as what I am.

My mental field creates an overlay of mental images and words that makes sense of the world for me. This overlay is where any and all labels and stories happens. All my interpretations happens here. And it’s all happening within my mental field. Any ideas of victimizer and victim, and any ideas of inner and outer, you and me, and so on, happens within my mental field. And I can notice this in real time as it happens.

Also, in one sense, I am this human self in the world. That’s an assumption that works reasonably well. And when I examine what I am in my own first-person experience, I find something else. I find I more fundamentally am capacity for the world and any content of experience. And I find that the world, to me, happens within and as what I am. Any content of experience happens within and as what I am.

THE LAYERS

So there are several layers to this.

The world is a mirror. Whatever I see out there is also within me, including all the roles and identities I try to exclude. Those too are here. I have an inner victimizer as much as I have an inner victim. And that goes for any and all of the polarities I see in the world.

My interpretation of the world – labels, stories, and so on – happen within my own mental field. It’s all created by my mental images and words to make sense of the world. It helps me orient and function in the world. So any stories about victimizer and victim, and anything else, happens within my mental field. (That doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen “out there” in the world as well, just that my stories about it are mine.)

To me, the world – and any content of experience including of this human self – happens within and as what I am.

All of this are things I can explore for myself in my own immediate noticing. It’s all something I can notice here and now, in real time since that’s the only place it happens.

THE EXPLORATION

How can we explore these layers?

Personally, I explore the mirror dynamics through projection work, including The Work of Byron Katie.

I get to know the mental field through examining my sense fields and how they interact, for instance through traditional Buddhist inquiry or modern versions like the Kiloby Inquiries.

And I find myself as what it all happens within and as through inquiries like the Headless experiments and the Big Mind process.

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The field

How do I experience myself?

Mainly, as a field. The field my experiences – right now of this room, this body, the computer, the sounds of the keys, and so on – happen within and as.

Sometimes, the focus goes more into the human self. I am the field, and there is a kind of focus on the human self. It stands out a little more.

And I am also very aware that many parts of my psychology still operate from separation consciousness. They too happen within and as the field, and they seem to assume they are separate.

All of that is part of the richness of what’s here.

SEEING VS VISCERAL EXPERIENCE

This is also where the difference between seeing and a visceral experience comes in.

For me, it’s inevitable to find myself as this field in terms of seeing. That is the visceral experience most of the time. And sometimes, when parts of me operating from separation consciousness are triggered, the visceral experience shifts into a sense of being separate.

That too is part of the richness that is here. The field takes that form too, sometimes.

COLORING

And when I look more closely, I find that these parts of my psychology experiencing and operating from separation consciousness color everything even when they are not triggered. It may appear to not be very obvious, but it’s here.

Until all parts are liberated, the whole is not fully liberated.

And that’s OK and more than OK. It’s all how the field and the whole expresses, explores, and experiences itself. It’s part of the richness.

THE FIELD

What is this field?

It’s what I most fundamentally am. It’s what takes the form of all content of experience – the whole world as it appears to me. It’s more familiar to me than any particular content of experience. In reality, it’s all I have ever known since it’s what takes the form of all content of experience.

Thoughts can label it consciousness, or oneness, or love, or Big Mind / Big Heart, or – if we want to be more fanciful – Spirit, the divine, Brahman, and so on. And as with anything else, labels can only point to it.

How can we find it for ourselves?

In one sense, we are this human self in the world. It’s how most others see us, it’s what our passport tells us, it’s what our own thoughts may tell us since we have learned it from others. It’s not wrong and it’s an assumption that works reasonably well. Although it does have some inevitable drawbacks since it’s partially out of alignment with reality. (It tends to create an underlying sense of something being off, and – to the extent our system pretends it’s true – it tends to create discomfort.)

And yet, is that what we more fundamentally are in our own first-person experience? And how can we explore this for ourselves?

We can explore it through basic meditation. Notice and allow what’s here in this field of experience, and notice it’s already noticed and allowed. Through this, we may get a visceral sense of how any and all content of experience comes and goes. And yet, something doesn’t come and go. What is that? Is that what I more fundamentally am? How is it to find myself as that?

We can explore it by investigating our sense fields, and especially how our mental field combines with the other fields to make sense of the world and help us function in the world. (And how it also can create a sense of fundamentally being something within our field of experience, this human self, even if that’s not the full picture.)

We can perhaps most easily and directly explore it through guided noticing. The most effective approaches I have found are Headless experiments (from Douglas Harding) and the Big Mind process (Genpo Roshi).

Noticing our nature vs our nature noticing itself

Sometimes I write “noticing our nature” and sometimes, “our nature notices itself”.

The difference may seem small but it’s crucial and significant.

So what’s the difference?

NOTICING OUR NATURE

When I write about “noticing my nature” I am intentionally using a language closer to conventional ways of talking about it. It’s a language that assumes a separate self noticing something.

The upside of this is that the language is more familiar to most people. And the downside is that it’s not all that accurate.

OUR NATURE NOTICES ITSELF

When I write “our nature notices itself”, it may sound less familiar and it’s also more accurate.

This is what’s happening. Our nature notices itself. Our nature notices itself as all there is. It notices the world as itself. Our nature notices the world as happening within and as what it is. Our nature notices this human self happening within and as itself, like anything else.

We can also say that love notices itself as all there is. Truth notices itself. Oneness notices itself as all there is.

CAN SEEM LIKE ONE, THEN THE OTHER

Initially, it may seem to us as if we notice our nature. There is still an idea here of a separate self noticing its nature. In reality, it’s our nature noticing itself and assuming there is a separate self here doing the noticing.

After a while, and especially if we keep exploring, there may be a shift. Here, it’s clear that it’s our nature noticing itself. Our nature is noticing itself as all there is, even if there is still (what a thought may call) a human self here in our sense fields. Any idea of a separate self is recognized as an idea, as something happening as a mental representation.

If there is still a sense of a separate self doing the noticing, how can we explore it?

We can notice that our nature is capacity for it as it is capacity for anything else. Our more fundamental nature is capacity. It’s what allows any experience, including of this human self and any sense of someone doing or observing.

We can notice that any content of experience happens within and as what we are, including this human self and any sense of someone who is a doer or observer. Our more fundamental nature is what it’s all happening within and as.

We can also explore how the sense of someone doing the noticing is created in our sense fields. We can notice how certain sensations and mental representations combine to create ths experience. We can rest in noticing the physical sensations making up the experience. We can then rest in noticing the mental representations. And this, in itself, tends to soften the mental “glue” holding the two together. It allows us to see through the illusion, even as it may still partially be here.

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The body as capacity, space, and consciousness

I just had a conversation with someone who is taking a Vortex Healing class and said she experienced only space in her chest area.

It made me realize that the way I experience my physical body may not be how it is for everyone. At some level, I know that. And at another level, it’s not something I am aware of or think about.

HOW I EXPERIENCE MY PHYSICAL BODY

So how do I experience my physical body?

For me, it’s mainly capacity. Everything is capacity and this capacity forms itself into the content of experience, the world as it appears to me, and this includes how this body appears in my sense fields – the shapes and colors, the sensations, the movement, and so on.

I can also say that this body is space. It’s space and this space sometimes takes the form of sensations. The sensations happen within and as awake space.

And I can say this body is consciousness. It’s happening within and as consciousness, just like the rest of the world appears to me.

HOW CAN WE EXPLORE THIS FOR OURSELVES?

This experience of my body and anything physical came with the initial awakening shift when I was fifteen and sixteen.

And I keep exploring it.

I explore what I most fundamentally am in my own experience, and find what I can call capacity for the world as it appears to me, and what the world to me happens within and as. (Headless experiments.)

I do inquiry on my experience of this body and any sense of being this body. I notice the sensations. Visual impressions. I notice the mental representations associated with these. I notice the sensations are sensations. I notice the mental representations are mental representations. And what’s left is this capacity and awake space taking all these forms. (Traditional Buddhist inquiry and modern versions like the Living Inquiries / Kiloby Inquiries.)

Through this, I also notice how any sense of solidity is created. It’s created in the same way as much else, through associating physical sensations with certain mental representations. The sensations lend a sense of solidity and reality to the thoughts, and the thoughts lend a sense of meaning to the sensations. And, in this case, this meaning is physical solidity. Here too, when this is seen and explored and we get familiar with this terrain, the “glue” that holds the sensations and thoughts together softens. We see through how the mind creates its own experience of the world. And what’s left is capacity and awake space taking all of these forms.

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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Two of us – perceiving ourselves as observer and observed

You can talk about ‘myself’ as if there’s two of you: one that is doing or has done something, and the other one who’s watched it and is talking about it. Strange, isn’t it?

– Adyashanti, Silent Retreat Vol. 80, Q&A Sessions, Day 4

In daily life, we tend to take this for granted. We talk about ourselves as something we observe. And we talk about ourselves as someone who observes. And we may not give it a second thought.

It seems a given, and most of us may not even point this out or question it. And if we do, it may just seem like an interesting curiosity.

TAKING A CLOSER LOOK

When we take a closer look, we may find something else.

And it helps to do this exploration with guidance from more structured inquiry, for instance, sense field explorations (traditional Buddist inquiry, Living Inquiries), the Big Mind process, and even The Work of Byron Katie. We can explore it through the Headless experiments. We can explore it through basic meditation, through noticing and allowing any content of experience, and noticing it’s already noticed and allowed before the mind comes in and does something about it. And many other approaches.

Each of these gives us a slightly different view of what’s happening.

What do we find through these forms of explorations?

We may find that any sense of observer and observed happens within the content of our experience. They come and go. Our nature is capacity for both. And they happen within and as what we are.

And when we take another look, we may find that both are mental representations. We have an image of ourselves as observed, as an object in the world. And we have an image of ourselves as observer, as an I. The mind associates each one with a lot of other mental representations, and it also tends to associate each one with certain sensations in the body. These sensations lend a sense of solidity and reality to the mental representations, and the mental representations lend a sense of meaning to the sensations. And it’s all happening within and as what we are, which a thought may (unsuccessfully) label consciousness.

THE CREATIVITY OF THE MIND

This shows the creativity of the mind.

To ourselves, we are capacity for all our experiences. And we are oneness. We are the oneness our experiences of anything – this human self, the wider world, anything else – happen within and as.

And that goes for any sense of observer and observed as well.

Our nature temporarily forms itself into a sense of observer and observed.

WHY DOES ADYA POINT THIS OUT?

Why does Adya point our this apparent oddity?

Because it shows that we often take something for granted – in this case perceiving ourselves as both observer and observed – and on investigation, it may reveal itself as something we didn’t expect.

If we look more closely, we may discover something about our nature. We may discover what we are, in our own first-person experience.

THE MAGIC HAPPENS IN THE EXPLORATION

We can read about this and understand it, to some extent, within the realm of stories. That may be a good initial step, but it doesn’t lead to any real transformation.

The real transformation comes when we engage in an exploration of our own immediate experience and see what we find for ourselves, and when we keep noticing and exploring this.

Image: John William Waterhouse’s Echo and Narcissus 1903

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Travel as an eagle

In dreams, shamanic experiences, or through psychedelics, we sometimes find ourselves as someone or something else.

In my daily life, I tell myself I am this human self. And in these other experiences, I may find I have a different body. I am a different being. I travel as an eagle.

And this says something important about my nature. It tells me something about what I am in my own first-person experience.

In my daily life, I may take myself to be this human self. I have inside information about this human self and outside information about anyone else. This human self seems to be here most of the time, apart from in dreams or when I lose myself in an experience. And others and my passport tell me I am this human self.

When I examine this more closely, I may find that my experience of this human self is made up of mental images, words, visual impressions, sensations, taste and smell, a sense of movement, and so on. My mind takes impressions from different sense fields and makes them into an apparently coherent self – largely with the help of mental images and words that gives it a sense of coherence and stability over time.

I may also find that all of this happens within the content of my experience. It’s always changing. And it could – and can – be something else. In a dream, I may be a butterfly. Or a different gender from my waking identity. Or something or someone else entirely.

And that can also happen through psychedelics or in a shamanic experience.

So what am I more fundamentally? What am I to myself, in my own first-person experience?

Here, I may find that my more fundamental nature is capacity for the world as it appears to me. Capacity for all the content of our experience, whether it’s this human self, the wide world, or anything else. I may also find that the world to me happens within and as my sense fields. And I may find that the world to me, and all content of experience, happens within and as what I am.

Painting: Lin Liang, China, the 1400s.

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Investing energy into certain images short term

I usually write about my own more intentional explorations here, and not so much about what’s happening spontaneously. So I thought I would make an exception.

THE PAST AND FUTURE AS IMAGES

For a few weeks now, if I talk about the past or future, it’s even more clear that I am talking about mental images and stories. I am reporting on my own mental images and words, and not anything else.

Sometimes, a slight sensation accompanies these stories, and they are recognized as sensations, although I also know what emotion label I can put on them and that these sometimes reflect unresolved issues in me.

INVESTING ENERGY INTO TEMPORARY STORIES

I don’t know if it’s directly related, but over the last few weeks, I notice something else very clearly.

When I need to do something, I intentionally invest energy into that story so I can remember it, and when it’s no longer needed, it lingers for a few minutes. It creates an odd experience of parallel worlds for a little while.

For instance, we have a cat that’s been an indoor city cat for most of her life. Now that we are in the countryside, she is more outside but often under a bit of supervision. If she is gone, I create a mental image of her somewhere outside and me finding her, and my mind invests some energy into this image since it’s relatively important to me.

After she returns or I find her, I see her in front of me, and I also see my mental images of her roaming somewhere. She is here. And my images of her not being here is here. As I mentioned, the images fade after a few minutes, but for a little while, there is a clear and odd experience of parallel worlds.

This happens any time I create mental images of needing to do something or go somewhere, and that’s no longer necessary. The images retain some energy for a few minutes and then it fades, and there is that experience of parallel worlds.

FAMILIAR AND NEW

None of this is really new to me. It’s very familiar. It’s something I have explored and noticed for a long time.

And yet, something is different. I am more acutely aware of it, and it happens without any intention.

This may mean it’s more in my bones and more of a habit. And it likely also reflects another shift in me I am not completely aware of.

INTENTIONAL EXPLORATION VS SPONTANEOUS SHIFTS

I mentioned these two in the introduction and wanted to say a little bit more about their dynamic.

In a conventional sense, these two go hand in hand. Intentional explorations may lead to apparently spontaneous shifts, and spontaneous shifts may lead to further and intentional explorations.

And in a more real sense, this is all happening within and as what we are. We are capacity for both, and intentional explorations and spontaneous shifts happen within and as what we are. They are part of the creativity of the mind.

In a bigger sense, this is life taking these forms. Life engages in intentional explorations and produces spontaneous shifts.

And we can also say it’s all part of the play of the divine.

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Our daily life hallucinations

I have often thought of how strange this may seem to another species incapable of doing it.

Also, when it comes to fictional stories, we willingly and often enjoyably get absorbed into our own hallucinations.

And when it comes to what we call real life, we sometimes unwillingly and painfully get absorbed into our own hallucinations.

HALLUCINATING LIFE

Our experience of life is a hallucination. Our mind puts together sensory input to a more or less unified experience for us. And our experience of life is largely created by our mental images and stories.

It’s often a functional hallucination. Our mental field, combined with the other sense fields, helps us orient and navigate in the world.

And sometimes, when we take our hallucinations to be true and reality itself, we can mislead and create stress and suffering for ourselves.

GETTING TO KNOW OUR HALLUCINATIONS

Fortunately, there is a way out, and that is to examine our hallucinations.

What stories do I tell myself? What happens if I take them as true? How would I function in the same situation without that stressful story? What do I find when I explore the validity in the reversals of the story, finding genuine examples in each case? (The Work of Byron Katie.)

What’s happening in each sense field? What happens when I tell myself specific stories about myself, others, or the world? What’s in my mental field? (Mental images and words.) What’s in my sensation field? How does my mind associate the stories with the sensations? How is it to “take a “peek behind the curtain” and see how my mind creates its own experience? (Living Inquiries.)

When I look at what I more fundamentally am in my first-person experience, what do I find? How is it to keep noticing this? How is it to live from it, in the situation I am in? (Headless experiments, Big Mind process.)

The spiritual path & comparing ourselves with others

Comparing ourselves with others seems relatively universal although I am sure it plays out differently in different cultures. It’s also part of what fuels our current consumer culture, and advertisers know how to make use of it.

TWO WAYS TO COMPARE

There are two ways to compare ourselves with others.

One is for pragmatic reasons. It can give us useful information.

The other, which is often overlaid on the first one, is to make ourselves feel better or worse than others. This is not so useful. It can feel good to compare ourselves with someone and make up a story that we are somehow better than the other. But it’s a temporary victory since it means we inevitably are worse than someone else in the world, on the same scale, and we’ll inevitably be reminded of it. And it’s hollow since we know – somewhere in us – that it’s just a mind game.

In terms of spirituality, we can tell ourselves we are more advanced, sophisticated, or mature than someone else and it may feel good for a while. At the same time, we know we are less advanced, sophisticated, and mature compared with some other people. And we know, whether we acknowledge it or not, that it’s a mind game.

We cannot know for certain where people are in their process. We know we are comparing to make ourselves feel a bit better about ourselves. And we know it’s a losing game in the long run.

OUTSIDE VS INNER VIEW

When we compare ourselves with others, we often compare the public image of someone with our inside knowledge about ourselves.

We all have a public persona, which is more or less polished and inclusive. We present a certain image to the world and often leave out a lot of the confusion, pain, and unsavory attitudes and behavior. At the same time, we are often very aware of all the confusion, pain, and unsavoriness in our own life.

So it’s inherently an unfair comparison, and it tends to make us feel not so good about ourselves.

Often, it looks like the spiritual path and insights of others is clean, easy, and perhaps even joyful. And we know that our own spiritual path is windy, confused, didn’t go as planned, and so on.

HOW WE TALK ABOUT OUR SPIRITUAL PATH

The pain of comparison is greatly enhanced or diminished depending on the culture (or subculture) we are in.

If we are in a culture where spiritual practitioners and teachers like to present a glossy image of their own path, and of the spiritual path in general, it can lead to a more unfavorable impression of our own path.

If we are in a culture where spiritual practitioners and teachers are open about the messiness of their own path, and the spiritual path in general, it can help us see that we are all in the same boat. My own messiness is less painful since I know it’s similar for others.

And if we are in a culture that encourages us to work with projections, then…

MAKING USE OF THE TENDENCY TO COMPARE

…we can make good use of the tendency to compare. We can use it as material for our own exploration, and to invite in healing and maturing, and even awakening and living from the awakening.

We can make a practice of finding in ourselves what we see in others. (And in others what we know from ourselves.)

We can identify and examine our painful comparing-thoughts and find what’s more true for us. (Often, that the story is not absolutely true, and that the reversals have validity as well.)

We can explore how the comparing appears in our sense fields. What are the sensation components? The mental image and word component? What happens when I differentiate the two and rest with each? What do I find when I follow the associations, for instance back in time to my earliest memory of having that feeling or thought?

Instead of indulging in thoughts and feelings relating to the messiness of our own path, we can take a pragmatic approach and make use of whatever comes up.

THESE DAYS

I am grateful that these days, in our culture, there is more transparency and openness about the messiness of the spiritual path. People seem to feel more free to share all aspects of their experience. And many work intentionally with projections and inquiry, which also helps.

A glossy image of the path may serve as an initial carrot. But in the longer run, it seems far more helpful to be open about everything that can – and often will – happen on a spiritual path, warts and all.

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I am the mountain?

When mystics (or wannabe mystics!) say “I am the mountain”, “I am you”, “be the river”, and so on, what do they mean?

I don’t really know, and I assume it will vary with the person.

When I explore it for myself, I find a few different possibilities.

ONENESS IN THE PHYSICAL WORLD

Some may use those phrases to acknowledge the oneness in the physical world. We are all parts of the same living seamless systems, so – in a metaphorical or poetic sense – I am you and you are me.

I would phrase it differently, but I understand where it is coming from. We are all part of the oneness of the world. We are the local eyes, ears, thoughts, and feelings of the universe.

THE WORLD IS MY MIRROR

The world is my mirror.

I can imagine being a mountain, a river, and so on. I can find the part in me that corresponds to it and notice how it feels, how it views the world, and so on. I can have a dialog with that part of me and get to know it.

Similarly, what I see out there reflects something in me.The stories I have about anything in the wider world also apply to me, and I can find specific examples in each case. I can use how I see the world to get to know myself.

TO ME, IT HAPPENS WITHIN AND AS WHAT I AM

To me, any experience – of this human self, the wider world, and anything else – happens within my sense fields. It happens within sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, mental representations, and so on. In that sense, what I experience is what I am at that moment.

To me, all experiences happen within and as what I am. In a very immediate and literal sense, I am the content of my experience. I am what I am experiencing, as I am experiencing it. I am the mountain, the river, you, and anything else. This is the oneness that’s already here in my experience if I notice.

CONVENTIONAL SENSE

In a conventional sense, I am of course this human self in the world. That co-exists easily with all the other ones, and which one is in the foreground depends on the situation and where the attention is.

FIND FOR OURSELVES

These ways of looking at it are all pragmatic and relatively down-to-earth, and it’s even mundane in a good way We can explore it for ourselves. It doesn’t require anything very mystical or removed from our immediate experience as it already is – if we just notice.

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Aspects of oneness

We can find oneness in several places.

I’ll make this short since I have gone into it in more detail in other articles.

ONENESS IN IMMEDIATE NOTICING

One general form of oneness is what we notice in our own first-person experience.

Here, I find my nature as capacity for all my experiences – for the world, this human self, and anything else as it appears to me. One place I find oneness is my nature as capacity for the world as it appears here.

Another place I find oneness is within my sense fields. All my experiences – of the world, this human self, and anything else – happen within my sense fields. Within sight, sound, taste, smell, sensations, thought, and so on. These sense fields are a seamless whole. Any sense of boundaries and any labels come from my mental field overlay. This is another oneness.

I find that all my experiences – of the world, etc. – happen within and as what I am. This is yet another aspect of oneness.

These are all aspects of the same, and all ways to explore and find oneness for ourselves.

ONENESS IN A CONVENTIONAL SENSE

We also find oneness in the world, in a conventional sense. And many of these stories of oneness come from science.

The universe is a seamless evolving whole.

All we know and see and know about is a part of this evolving seamless system.

We are the local eyes, ears, thoughts, and feelings of the universe.

All Earth life share ancestors. We are all intimately related. We share huge amounts of DNA with a large number of species – whether we call them animals or plants.

And so on, and so on. There are always more examples of oneness in the universe and the natural world.

ANTIDOTE TO A SENSE OF SEPARATION

Why is this important?

Because it’s an antidote to a one-sided sense of separation. Especially in our western culture, it’s easy for people to feel disconnected and separate from just about anything – themselves, others, society, nature, existence.

Exploring the connections, and also exploring these forms of oneness, is an antidote to that sense of separation and isolation.

We can find the oneness already here, in our immediate experience. And we can find it in the universe and nature – which we are an intrinsic part of.

We can engage in all sorts of practices to explore this for ourselves.

We can explore the first general form of oneness through inquiry, basic meditation, heart-centered practices, body-centered practices, and so on.

And we can explore the second through deep ecology, ecopsychology, ecospirituality, epic of evolution, the universe story, big history, shamanic work, rituals, and Practices to Reconnect.

We can find these two forms of oneness for ourselves, and allow it to transform us and our life in the world.

Photo: NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, spiral galaxy NGC 4651

Transcendent state of oneness?

I saw someone use this phrase, partly as a joke.

Recognizing oneness can happen here and now, it doesn’t require any particular state (apart from the state of noticing) and it doesn’t require transcendence.

As I often write about, certain simple and structured inquiries can help us notice oneness here and now. For instance, Headless experiments and the Big Mind process.

And, over time, exploring sense fields is another effective approach.

I notice that all my experiences happen within my sense fields – sight, sound, taste, smell, touch, thoughts, and whatever else we want to label and look at.

I notice that my sense fields are a seamless whole, and any “outside” and “inside” are both parts of this seamless whole and only come from an overlay of mental representations (mental images, words).

I notice that my nature is what allows all of this and takes the form of all of this. I am what all of it – this human self, the wider world, and anything else – happen within and as.

And here, it’s oneness. It’s all a seamless whole.

To me, the world and all of existence happen within and as what I am. It’s all one.

It’s already this way. It’s already my nature and here. All that’s required is to notice it, and that’s independent of any particular states (although strong states can be distracting) and it’s independent of any transcendence. It’s also independent of any spirituality or religion, and any dogma or even worldview.

All of this – states, transcendence, ideas – happen within and as what we are.

There is a slight irony here. Some who seek awakening assume it’s a state or connected with a state, so they seek certain states. In reality, their nature is already here and is what already allows any and all states. And it’s in some ways easier to notice in a more mundane and ordinary state since we are not distracted by the fireworks of unusual states.

In many cases, we may have some strong states which help us recognize certain things. These then fade, and we are invited to notice our nature here and now, in this more ordinary and mundane state. And then to keep noticing as states come and go.

Gospel of Thomas (22): When you make the two one

When you make the two one, and when you make the inside like the outside and the outside like the inside, and the above like the below and the below like the above, and when you make the male like the female and the female like the male, then you will enter the Kingdom.

– Gospel of Thomas, verse 22

This is a quite direct description of what we find when we notice what we are.

It’s not wrong that we are this human self. But in our own immediate experience, we are more fundamentally something else.

All my experiences – of this human self, the wider world, and anything else – happens within my sense fields. They happen within sight, sensations, sound, taste, smell, and thoughts, and we can include additional sense fields if we want.

In my sense field, there is no inherent inside or outside, or me or other. It’s all experiences within the sense fields, and any differentiation – including those – come from my mental field overlay.

It comes from mental representations of inside and outside, me and other, above and below, female and female, and so on.

These are very useful, and they are essential for us to be able to orient and function in the world. They don’t hold any final or absolute truth. They have practical value only. And they are really questions about the world.

If we hold these mental representations as more than that – if we mistake them for what they refer to, or hold them as telling us something true – then they will appear true to us. We perceive and live as if they are true.

That’s when all these ideas – including of any polarities like inside and outside, me and other, and so on – appear real and true to us.

The quote points to what happens when we notice more clearly what’s going on. There are a few different ways into noticing.

We can notice what I described above: All our experiences, of this human self and the wider world and anything else, happen within our sense fields. There are no inherent distinctions within these sense fields, and any distinctions come from an overlay of mental representations.

The more we explore this, the more we may find what we more fundamentally are. We find that our nature is capacity for the world as it appears to us, and we are what our experiences – of anything –happens within and as.

To ourselves, we are capacity for it all, and we are what forms itself into all these appearances.

And this is the metaphorical kingdom. It’s what’s essentially unchanging even as it takes on all the forms of our experiences.

It’s what’s inherently one and yet takes on innumerable forms. It’s what’s inherently stillness and silence, and yet takes the form of all movements and sounds. It’s what’s inherently love, and a love independent of any feelings, and sometimes in us takes on a form that temporarily obscures this love.

It’s what takes on forms that temporarily obscures itself from itself. It temporarily and here takes itself as particular forms within itself, as a separate self, as a human self with all sorts of identities.

And that’s part of the play and creativity of what we are.

Dissolving into the field

This is one of my more common explorations, and also something I don’t write much about.

I notice myself as this field of experience, this field that has no end in space, that time happens within, and so on.

I notice what “sticks out” of this field. What seems more dense. What’s seems a bit like “other”. What’s perhaps not so easily recognized as having the same nature as the rest of the field.

I notice it’s nature, the same as the rest of the field. I rest in that noticing. I invite it, the contraction, to find itself as that, and rest and sink into that noticing.

This allows the contractions to, in a sense, “dissolve” into the field. They are more easily seen as having the same nature as anything else, and they relax and reorganize in that noticing.

As usual, there is more to say about it.

For instance, if it’s a strong contraction and one my system is used to struggling with, some earlier steps may be needed. I may need to befriend it before I can notice it’s nature and rest in that noticing. I may need to intentionally welcome it, allow it, see what it’s needs and wants are, notice the lack it’s coming from, give it what it needs and wants, see it’s innocence and is here to protect this separat self, find genuine love and appreciation for it, and so on.

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As what I am, all is subject and object

In one sense, I am this human self in the world.

And when I look more closely, I find I am capacity for the world as it appears to me. I am what all my experiences – including of this human self and the wider world – happens within and as.

And here, I find that all of my experiences are both subject and object.

Anything happening within my sense fields – of this human self and the wider world – is an object. It’s all happening within me. It’s not what I more fundamentally am.

And anything happening within my sense fields is a subject. It’s what I am. What I am takes all these forms.

THE PRACTICAL USE OF THIS

Why is this important? In some ways, it isn’t. It’s just something to notice, and it can be a bit fun to notice.

At the same time, it is helpful to notice all the content of my sense fields as objects. That helps me find myself as capacity for it all, and as what it all happens within and as.

And it is helpful to notice all of it as subject since that’s helps me find myself as oneness. As what takes the form of all of it, as it appears to me.

THOUGHTS CREATING A SENSE OF SUBJECT AND OBJECT

There is one thing here to clarify.

When we normally experience something as subject (what we are) or object (other), it’s really a thought telling us this, and a thought we hold as true.

The conventional sense of subject (me as this human self with all these identities and roles) and other (the rest of the world, and the parts of me that don’t fit my desired image) comes from holding a thought as true. It comes from identifying with a thought.

A thought says: I am this human self with these identities. My mind holds that thought as true and identifies with the viewpoint of this thought. In my own experience, I become the viewpoint of this thought.

Another thought says: I am not this table, or phone, or this room, or what’s outside the window, or these other people. And my mind identifies with the viewpoint of that thought, and that becomes my experience. All of this then is “other” to me.

This is our conventional experience of ourselves and the world. We take ourselves as this human self (roughly since we exclude some things we don’t like), and we are not the rest of the world.

That’s not wrong. But it’s not what we more fundamentally are, in our own first-person experience. To ourselves, we more fundamentally are capacity for it all, and what it all happens within and as.

This human self and the wider world happens within my sense fields, and I am what these sense fields – what this human self and the wider world – happens within and as.

And we can find this for ourselves. We can notice it, and it can become something we live from – and as.

And here, all my experiences – including my thoughts – become objects. They happen within me. They are not what I more fundamentally are.

And they all become subject. They are all what I am. What I am takes all these forms.

NOT QUITE AS CLEAR CUT

There are some wrinkles here. It’s not quite as clear-cut in practice.

Yes, I may notice what I am. And at the same time, I may still be partially identified with certain thoughts – mental images and words.

Both can co-exist. The task here is to notice where there is identification, and find that too as what I am capacity for, and what happens within and as what I am.

I can find it as having the same nature as myself – capacity for itself, stillness & silence, and so on, and invite it to find itself as that and relax in that noticing.

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Triggers and what’s triggered in me, and how I relate to it all

There are several ways of looking at the interactions between our life situations and what’s triggered in us.

THE SITUATION TRIGGERS SOMETHING IN ME

The most common one is to see a situation as triggering something in me.

My neighbor is using his noisy lawn mover, and it’s triggering an issue in me around noise.

If we look more closely here, we’ll see that the situation in itself is not triggering anything. It’s my thoughts about it that triggers the issue in me.

My perception of the situation triggers someting in me, and that perception is part of what’s unhealed and unresolved in me.

This is a very useful way to look at it, especially if we look at it more closely. It means that I can use ordinary life situations, and how I respond to them, to identify and explore something unhealed and unresolved in myself.

MY PERCEPTION CREATES MY WORLD

My perception creates my world, in a couple of different ways.

The stories I have about a situation, shapes how I perceive it and respond to it. These stories are the difference between stress and peace.

My stories also influence and, to a large extent, determine the choices I make and how I live my life. It shapes my life and the situations I find myself in.

Said another way, my mental field – with its labels, mental images, and interpretations – shape how I perceive and respond to a situation. And my mental field determine, to a large extent, how I live my life and the situations I find myself in.

ALL HAPPENING WITHIN MY SENSE FIELDS

To me, this human self and the wider world happens within my sense fields. More specifically, anything triggering (in the wider world) and triggered (in this human self) happens within my sense fields. It’s all happening within and as what I am.

I get to see that the whole trigger-triggered dynamic is happening within my sense fields, and within and as what I am. And my mental field and it’s labels and interpretations is what creates the whole dynamic.

To the extent we take this in, from direct noticing, it transforms how we relate to triggers and what’s triggered. We cannot any longer wholeheartedly blame anything outside ourselves.

We know it’s all an inside job, and that the solution – apart from sometimes taking care of things in our life situation, is to take care of it in ourselves. Perhaps through working with projections, inquiring into stressful stories, dialog with parts of ourselves, and so on.

ASSUMING THAT OUR SITUATION MIRROR US CLOSELY

Beyond all of these interactions, some seem to assume that our life situations mirror us closely. Whatever is unresolved in ourselves is reflected in our life situation, and whatever clarity and kindness is here is also reflected.

To me, this seems a bit naive and it’s something I can’t really check or verify. At most, I could possibly say that it looks like it, without knowing for certain. (And I personally can’t even say that.) If I take it literally, I would either have to take someone’s word for it (which I won’t), or I’ll have to leave it in the “don’t know but that person says so” category.

There is a more pragmatic way of taking this:

Take it as an what if thought experiment.

What if my current life situation is reflecting something in me, what would it be? What issue in me could create this situation? What happens when I identify and explore that issue?

There is nothing to lose here, apart from perhaps some time and a stressful belief or emotional issue.

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I am in you and you in me?

When you call me European, I say yes. When you call me Arab, I say yes. When you call me black, I say yes. When you call me white, I say yes. Because I am in you and you are in me. We have to inter-be with everything in the cosmos.

– Thich Nhat Hanh

This can sound like a poetic expression or well-intentioned wishful thinking.

And if we look more closely, we may find something else. We may find it’s an accurate description of how it already is.

BIOLOGY

We share ancestry not just going back to the first cells but to the beginning of this universe. We share 99.9% of our genetic material.

We are basically the same, in all the essentials. We have the same basic needs, wants, fears, and so on.

PROJECTIONS

If I have a story about you, and turn it around to myself, I can specific examples of how it’s true for me as well. I can find how it’s as or more true for me.

You are my mirror. You help me see myself. (If I allow it and notice.)

In this sense, you are me. What I see in you is what I know from myself, whether I notice or not.

WHAT I AM

My experience of you happens within my sense fields. If you are here, or I see a movie or picture of you, you happen within my sight and possibly touch, smell, and so on.

Whether you are here or not, you also happen within my mental field. You happen through my mental representations of you – my mental images, labels, memories, and stories.

I find I am capacity for you. You happen within and as my sense fields. You happen within and as what I am.

In this sense, you are me. You happen within and as what I am. And I am you. What I am takes the form of my experience of you.

I AM IN YOU AND YOU IN ME

In several ways, it’s true that you are in me and I am in you.

It’s true in a biological sense.

It’s true since you are my mirror. What I see in you is what I have in myself.

It’s true since my experience of you happens within and as what I am.

The question is: if I keep noticing this, and keep exploring it and seeing it’s undeniably so, what does it do to me? If I take this seriously, how do I live my life?

Our mental activity is a kind of dream

I mentioned this briefly in a previous article, and thought I would expand on it a bit here.

THE CONVENTIONAL VIEW ON DREAMS AND WAKING LIFE

Many think of dreams and waking life as categorically different.

A dream is a fantasy and product of the mind. It may say something about our internal life, and that’s about it.

Waking life is real, as it appears to us. It has nothing to do with dreams, with the possible exception of daydreams and fantasies.

THE GENERAL DREAMING FUNCTION OF THE MIND

The reality is quite different.

When we look, we may find that all our mental activity is a kind of dream.

We put mental representations on top of what’s in our sense fields – sights, sounds, sensations, smells, taste – to make sense of them. We label and have stories about what’s here. Similarly, we have mental representations of what isn’t here – the wider world, the past and future, and so on.

In a very real sense, all our mental activity is imagination and a fantasy. It’s a kind of dreaming activity.

It can be very useful in helping us make sense of the world and in helping us orient and navigate in the world. It can be more or less accurate, in a conventional sense. And this dreaming activity doesn’t hold any absolute or final truth.

THE DREAMING ACTIVITY OF THE MIND – IN NIGHT DREAMS AND WAKING LIFE

This general dreaming activity of the mind plays itself out while awake and also in our sleeping dreams.

Both are an expression of the creativity of our mind.

Both create a world for us. Sleeping dreams happen in the absence of sensory inputs. And these waking dreams happen partly as an overlay over sensory inputs (what we see, hear, feel, smell, taste etc.) and partly in the absence of these sensory inputs (imaginations of a wider world, past, future, and so on).

Both can seem real if we take them that way, and we can learn to see through both. We can recognize a sleeping dream as a dream while we dream (lucid dreaming) and we can recognize our waking dreams as they happen (through inquiry). It takes time, but recognizing dreams as they happen can become a new habit.

What we are is capacity for both types of dreams, they both happen within and as what we are. When we notice this, identification with them tends to soften. It’s easier to recognize them as dreams.

Our sleeping dreams are one expression of the general dreaming activity of the mind.

NOTICING THIS HELPS RELEASE IDENTIFICATION OUT OF THE DREAMING ACTIVITY

Recognizing this general dreaming activity of the mind can help us take it a little less seriously. It is immensely valuable in helping us navigate the world. And it doesn’t hold any final or absolute truth.

When we notice that all mental activity is a kind of dream, it helps release identification out of this dreaming activity.

HOW CAN WE EXPLORE THIS FOR OURSELVES?

If we just read or hear about this, it becomes part of the dream. It may be interesting, but it doesn’t really do anything for us.

So how can we explore this for ourselves?

The simple answer is by noticing the dreaming activity directly. By noticing this dreaming activity as an overlay on the other senses for what’s in our immediate environment. And for anything else – the wider world, past, future, and so on – it functions on its own.

And to do this, structured inquiry can be very helpful. We may not be used to noticing this, and may not even know how to go about it, so a structured inquiry will function as training wheels and helps us explore it more systematically and in depth.

The best approach I have found is the Living Inquiries, which is a modern version of traditional Buddhist Inquiry. Here, we get to explore the different sense fields, and how the mental field combines with other sense fields to create our experience of ourselves and the world.

As we get more familiar with this, we learn to notice and recognize the dreaming activity of the mind – the mental field activity – as it happens. And that makes a big difference. It helps us hold this dreaming activity more lightly, recognize it as a kind of dreaming activity, and not something that holds any final or absolute truth.

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Thoughts as an evolutionary experiment

We can see our human ability for elaborate abstract thought as an evolutionary experiment.

Thoughts as tools

Thoughts are tools. They help us orient and navigate in the world.

They provide us with mental maps of the world. They give us images of the past, present, and possible futures. They provide us with the opportunity to mentally test out actions before we make them.

All of this makes it possible for us to function in the world.

Thoughts mimic senses & language

Thoughts seem to mimic our physical senses and, in our case, language.

In our case, we have thoughts mimicking sight, sounds, sensations, movement, and words (mental images and sounds).

Other species may have thoughts mimicking their own senses, whatever these are.

A helpful way of using this tool

What’s the optimal way to use this tool of thought?

It seems that the best way to use this particular tool is to recognize thoughts as thoughts. They are questions about the world. They help us orient and navigate. They provide maps about the world. They have a very important practical function. They are provisional. They are not what they appear to refer to. And none of them hold any final or absolute truth.

When we recognize this, we can hold them more lightly. We can find the validity in them, question them, find the validity in their reversals and other views, and use them more consciously as a tool. We recognize their value and their inherent limitations.

Misuse of the tool of thoughts

How can this tool be misused?

The easiest is to hold a thought as true. When we do, we identify with the viewpoint with the thought. We take ourselves as the viewpoint of the thought, make it into an identity for ourselves, create a sense of I and other, and feel a need to prop it up, elaborate on it, and defend it if it’s threatened.

When we hold a thought as true – either consciously or a part of us holds it as true – we perceive and live as if it’s true. We get out of alignment with reality since no thought can hold any final or absolute truth, and a thought and its reversals all hold some validity.

This is how a huge amount of human suffering is created, and it’s also how we create a good deal of problems for ourselves and others.

Thoughts as an evolutionary experiment

I assume many types of animals have some form of thought.

Specifically, they may have thoughts mimicking their senses. They may have mental maps of their surroundings. Mental representations of friends and foes. Mental representations of however they communicate. And so on. In most cases, these may not be conscious thoughts.

Human thought has gone a couple of steps further into abstraction. We have developed complex language and mental representations of this language, and that allows us to imagine and explore a wide range of things in our minds. Our minds are immensely creative.

This form of more abstract and elaborate thought is, in a sense, an evolutionary experiment. It’s as if nature said to itself: let’s see what happens with this species if they have this ability. Let’s see how they use it, and whether it aids their survival or becomes their undoing.

We can see how it has indeed aided our survival and made us into a powerful species. And we can also see how it has brought about conflicts, war, and immense suffering, and brought the ecosystems we are dependent on for our own survival to the brink of ecological collapse.

Abstract and complex thought as a new evolutionary experiment

This more elaborate form of abstract thought is a relatively new evolutionary experiment. It may have evolved over just a few hundred thousand years.

In an evolutionary sense, this is a very new tool for us. We are still learning how to use it.

We are systematically misusing it by assuming thoughts can do more for us than they can. They are powerful, and they have helped us create this civilization, technology, culture and so on. At the same time, they have their limits. They can’t hold any final or absolute truth, and we often perceive and live as if they can.

I assume that if we survive long enough, we may also learn to relate to thoughts more consciously. We may learn to recognize what they can and cannot do for us, and their inherent limitations. If this ever happens on a collective scale, it will mean a revolution in human evolution and history.

How we can explore this for ourselves

We can explore many aspects of this for ourselves.

We can explore our sense fields – sight, sound, smell, taste, sensations, and mental representations – and see how mental representations combine with the other sense fields to create our experience of the world.

We may recognize how our mind associates certain thoughts with certain sensations, so the sensations lend a sense of substance and reality to the thoughts, and the thoughts give a sense of meaning to the sensations. (Traditional Buddhist inquiry, Living Inquiries.)

We can examine any thought we hold as true and find what’s more true for us. (The Work of Byron Katie.)

We can use basic meditation to notice and allow our experience as it is. This helps us notice and allow thoughts, recognize that they live their own life, and perhaps soften identification with them and hold them a bit more lightly.

In a sense, through examining our thoughts and our relationship with thoughts, and learning to relate to them more consciously, we take the next evolutionary step in our own life. We find a more sane and healthy relationship with thoughts, and that is one of the things that can most help humanity today.

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I never remember anything

I never remember anything. I have images and tell myself they are from the past and call them memories.

Memories are created here and now.

When I see this, I hold them lighter and more as questions.

I have images, tell myself they reflect something from the past, and I am aware they are images and different from what actually happened. Someone else may and will have different images about the same situations. I may adjust and change these images if I explore them further, and if I am reminded of something through what others say, photos, written notes, or something else.

If I am not aware of this, I may tell myself that my images about a past situation are the real thing. They accurately reflect what happened. They are like a kind of camera faithfully recording the past situation. (Not that cameras record something accurately in its entirety.) I may get upset by any suggestion that my memories are not accurate.

I imagine the past, as I imagine the future.

When I look, I also find I imagine the present. I imagine a world beyond what’s here in my immediate sense perception, and I also put an overlay of mental images and stories on top of what’s here in my sight, hearing, sensations, smell, taste, and so on.

Senseless, sensible, coming to our senses

Senseless: Lacking common sense, wildly foolish.

Oxford Dictionary

Sensible: Done or chosen in accordance with wisdom or prudence, likely to be of benefit.

Oxford Dictionary

Come to your senses: to start to understand that you have been behaving stupidly.

Cambridge Dictionary

There is often wisdom in traditional sayings and expressions and even embedded in everyday words.

What does it mean to come to our senses? In an everyday use, it means to perceive and act in a more grounded and sensible way. There is a literal truth in that expression. When we are caught in thoughts, we can get a bit loopy and insane. We live in abstractions. We take our own imaginations, our own mental images and words, as reality. We make ourselves crazy that way.

Coming to our senses means to bring attention to our senses, to sensations, sights, sounds, smell, and taste. And also to our imaginations as what they are, recognizing them as mental images and words (imagined sounds and mental images). When we bring attention to our senses, the mind is incapable of simultaneously be caught up in stories and content of thought. It’s either one or the other. (Unless we do both half way, in which case we are still caught in stories and imagination.)

The more we bring attention to our senses, the more we make it into a new habit, and the more we have an actual freedom in shifting attention between our senses and occasionally into stories. Now and then, we do need to bring attention into stories to function in the world. Using stories in this practical sense is natural and kind. And we can do it as needed and while recognizing these stories as imaginations.

There is some effort here in terms of intentionally bringing attention to our senses. And over time, it becomes more and more effortless. Even the recognition of imagination as imagined becomes more effortless more often.

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Sensory input and imagination

In the Living Inquiries, they often talk about sensations, words, and images. I understand why since these are the main component of most inquiry sessions.

Still, something else is more precise and makes more sense to me.

I tend to think about it as sensory input and imagination.

Our experience consists of sensory input and imagination. Sensory input is sight, sound, smell, taste, sensations, movement and a few other things. Imagination is basically imagined sensory input. Imagined sight, sound, smell, taste, movement etc. Even words are imagined sound and/or images (of letters, words). Imagination can also be called thought in this context.

In the Living Inquiries, we tend to focus on sensations, images, and words, although the rest comes in now and then. Sometimes, we explore actual or imagined sound, smell, taste, movement, or something else.

It’s a slight difference but it’s an important one for me because it seems a bit more accurate. And since it’s more accurate, it feels more simple.

In previous posts, most from several years ago, I wrote about this as sense field explorations. We have the sense fields which includes sight, sound, smell, taste, sensations, movement, and also the mental field (imagination).

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From subject to object

Our conventional experience is that there are objects – out there in the world – and a subject somewhere here.

When I look for myself, I see that the boundary is fuzzy and changing. For instance, my body is – in some instances – an object for me, and other times more of a subject, something I am. Fear may be an object to me, and it may also be a subject, what I am. I am afraid.

I also see how everything that appears as a subject is really an object. It’s all happening within content of experience. And when I notice that it’s happening within content of experience, it becomes an object to me. For instance, I may take certain sensations in my throat, inner mouth and head area as me, as a subject. And when I look, I see they are sensations – combined with words and images. These sensations goes from appearing as a subject, to being recognized as objects.

Through this process of looking, more and more of what appeared as subjects are revealed as objects. I took myself to be certain words, images and sensations, and when I look, I see they are words, images and sensations, and there is a softening or release of identification with – or as – them.

Said another way, something appears as a subject as long as it’s unexamined. When it’s examined, it’s revealed as – typically – a collection of words, images and sensations. It’s revealed as a collection of objects.

It’s not what I am, in the sense of taking some collections of words, images and sensations as a subject in contrast to other words, images and sensations that are taken as an object. And at the same time, the whole field of experience – including any words, images and sensations, are revealed as what “I” am.

So as there is an exploration of this, there is a shift from some collections of words, images and sensations appearing as objects and some as subjects (identified with or as) to more and more of the collections appearing as subjects being revealed as objects. Eventually, all is revealed as objects – happening within and as experience, and all is revealed as subjects – as what I am.

Another thing I see is that this is what many mystics and teachers from a wide range of spiritual traditions talks about, and since it’s difficult to put into words, it often appears as mystical or airy fairy. It can also be very practical and down to earth, and we have tools to explore this in a very pragmatic and practical way, for instance through the Living Inquiries. Perhaps that is a gift of this age, making what may appear mystical and elusive very practical and pragmatic. (I know that many traditions do have very pragmatic ways of exploring this, and yet, now, it’s at least more widely available. And it’s in a language and form that fits better the modern western mentality and mind.)

Conglomerates

In exploring the Living Inquiries (Scott Kiloby) I am reminded of conglomerates.

When words, images and sensations appear as one whole, one conglomerate, and is taken as real, it appears very real, and it has real consequences in my life. I perceive, feel, think, act and live as if it’s real.

When this conglomerate is examined and seen for what it is – as words, images and sensations – and each of these are recognized as words, images and sensations, the sense of reality goes out of it. It’s recognized as not reflecting reality. It’s not as, or not at all, sticky anymore.

It’s quite amazing.

It’s amazing how real a combination of words, images and sensations may seem when it’s taken as real and not examined. It’s amazing how we can perceive and live as if it’s real.

It’s amazing how simple it often is to see what’s really here. It’s already here, just waiting to be more consciously noticed.

It’s amazing how the stickiness goes out of it after it’s examined.

For instance, I dread the future.

At first, it appears as just a feeling of dread. Then I notice it’s fear.

Then I notice the words associated with it. Something terrible will happen. My life will be terrible. My life will go down hill. I will be alone. I will be miserable. I won’t have enough money. I won’t be able to function well. I will live on government support in a small apartment in Norway without any friends. I will live a sad life. 

Then I notice the images. Me alone in a small apartment in Norway. Me in misery. 

Then I notice the sensations associated with these fears.

And for each of these, I look for the threat. Is there a threat in each of the words? Each of the images? The sensations? In each of these, is there a me there that something terrible will happen to?