Healing my images

What happens when I do tonglen, ho’oponopno, or something similar?

I can notice all sorts of shifts in me, of course.

HEALING MY IMAGES AND RELATIONSHIP WITH THE IMAGES

One of the things that happens is that I am healing my images. I suspect this is what leads to or supports the other changes.

I am not only healing my images of others, myself, parts of myself, and so on. I am healing my relationship with these images, and that’s as or more important.

The shift is a shift from a painful relationship to one with a little more ease and compassion.

I RELATE TO IMAGES – OF SOMEONE, THE WORLD, AND WHATEVER IT MAY BE

The world, to me, happens within and as my sense fields. It happens within sight, sound, smell, taste, sensations, the mental field, and so on. This mental field creates an overlay – of mental images and words – that makes sense of the world for me, and to a large extent creates it.

A big part of the world, as it appears to me, is created by my own mental images and words.

The world, as it appears to me, happens within and as what I am.

That means that when I see someone – whether that’s me/I or someone else – I see my own mental representations of the person, and these come with stories, interpretations, and much more.

When I relate to someone in a certain way, something else is really happening. It’s all happening within and between images. There are images of me and the other, and stories about what all that means, and that brings up a certain way for the me to relate to the other.

TONGLEN AND HO’OPONOPONO

If I have a challenging relationship with someone or something, that’s where it’s found.

So it makes sense that explorations like tonglen and ho’oponopno can heal my images and my relationship with those images.

There are, of course, many similar practices: Metta, sincere prayer for the wellbeing of another, and much more.

WHAT I AM FORMS ITSELF INTO MY WORLD

In an even more immediate and essential sense, what I am forms itself into my world.

The consciousness I am forms itself into all of it.

Noticing that helps it shift too.

Image by me and Midjourney

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Is the self an illusion?

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

As usual, it depends and it has different layers.

WHAT DO WE MEAN BY A SELF?

First, what do we mean by a self?

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

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

SELF AND NO SELF

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

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

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

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

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

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

HOW IS THE EXPERIENCE OF A SELF CREATED?

How is the experience of a self created?

In a sense, it’s a useful fiction.

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

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

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

HOW IS THE EXPERIENCE OF BEING A SELF CREATED?

How is the experience of being a self created?

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

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

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

DOES IT MATTER?

Does it matter? That too depends.

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

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

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

SO IS THE SELF AN ILLUSION?

Is the self an illusion?

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

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

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

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

MY STORY WITH THIS

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

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

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

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

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

NOTES

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

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

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

Image by me and Midjourney

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Free will?

I have seen articles about a neurobiologist (Robert Sapolsky from Stanford University) who spent decades arriving at the conclusion that we have no free will.

With these types of things, the process of exploration is often more interesting and rewarding than what we arrive at.

And yet, to arrive at that conclusion doesn’t need to take decades.

INFINITE CAUSES

Everything that happens has infinite causes. We can always find one more, and one more, going back to the apparent beginning of time and stretching out to the widest extent of existence.

So where is there room for free will?

OUR NATURE RECOGNIZING ITSELF

Also, the experience of free will only seem to happen when there is identification with and as the mental representations of an I, doer, free will, and so on. When this identification is softened or released, and our nature recognizes itself more clearly, our human self happens within the content of experience as anything else. Our human self lives its own life. It’s happening on its own. There is no experience of free will. Similarly to above, there is no room for free will. The idea of free will or not seems irrelevant.

THE EXPERIENCE OF FREE WILL

We may have the experience of free will. Our mind uses mental representations to create a sense of I and free will and a me that operates according to that free will. That requires a lot of mental gymnastics, but it can appear convincing. This human self does something, and there is a thought saying: “I did that”. There is the experience of free will, but that doesn’t mean there is free will.

The experience of free will can only seem valid to the extent there is identification with these mental representations. It happens as long as our nature doesn’t recognize itself very clearly and doesn’t recognize the nature of thoughts. And it’s reinforced by a worldview telling us we are separate from the larger whole.

ASSUMING WE HAVE FREE WILL

On the other hand, it seems good for us to think and experience that we have free will. I imagine that helps many of us to be slightly better stewards of our lives.

And, of course, whether we experience that we have free will or not is not really up to us. It happens or it doesn’t. Each one has innumerable causes.

IN MY CASE

I don’t want to leave this too abstract so I’ll include a few words about my own experience.

When I was fifteen, it was as if the world became very distant. This human self, thoughts, emotions, sensations, and the wider world all became infinitely distant. It seemed to happen far away. This human self obviously got scared by this and went to a number of doctors and specialists who couldn’t find anything.

In hindsight, I realized what happened. There was a release of identification with the content of experience. There was no “I” within (most of) the field of experience. The only sense of “I” that was left was as an observer. There was a simple observer-observed duality.

Of course, at the time, there was no conscious reflection of it like that. It just seemed like something had gone very wrong.

Just about a year later, there was another shift, equally sudden as the first one. From one moment to the next, there was a shift into oneness. There was no “I” anymore, only (what this mental field interpreted as) God. This was simultaneously immensely familiar and obvious, and also a great shock to this human self who was a die-hard atheist at the time with absolutely no interest in spirituality. Any idea of I, me, observer, observed, and anything else was recognized as created by the mental field and not inherent in reality.

Although this mind didn’t recognize it at the time, the first shift showed me that this human self happens on its own. He lives his own life. And the second shift showed that while putting it in a larger context. All is God (Spirit, the divine, Brahman). The question of free will was revealed as the creation of the mental field, just like the experience of free will is.

Note: We can also take a more limited psychological approach to arriving at the conclusion that we have little or no free will. Our perceptions, thoughts, emotions, choices, and behavior are influenced by a huge amount of things outside of our conscious awareness. We are not aware of how our brain takes sensory stimuli and creates an experience. Many are not so aware of how the different sense fields combine to create an experience. Many are not very aware of how our biology, evolution, culture, and personal experiences color our perception and behavior. And so on. Most of what influences us happens outside of our conscious awareness, so how can there be much free will?

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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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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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 relationship between who and what we are (our human self & consciousness)

What are some of the relationships between who and what we are? Between our human self and consciousness (AKA Buddha mind, Big Mind, Spirit).

It’s obviously a big topic so I’ll mention just a few things here, based on my own experience.

PARTS OF THE SAME

The first answer is that they are part of the same.

It’s thoughts that differentiate the two. I can’t find any diving line outside of my mental representations.

I can also say that to me, my human self happens within and as what I am.

Who I am happens within and as what I am. They are not two.

A SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP

To me, everything happens within and as my field of experience.

That includes any human self, they all happen within my field of experience. To me, they all happen within and as the oneness I am, as does anything else.

And there is also a special relationship with this particular human self.

It’s around a lot more than any other humans and most or all other content of experience.

And this consciousness perceives through and as this human self. What I am experiences the sense fields of this human self – sight, sound, smell, taste, sensations, thoughts, movement, acceleration, and so on.

OUR HUMAN SELF WHEN OUR NATURE DOES NOT RECOGNIZE ITSELF

When our nature does not recognize itself, our human psyche tends to operate from separation consciousness. It tends to assume that what we most fundamentally are is an object within the field of consciousness. It perceives, lives, and acts as if this is how it is.

That’s how it was for me too. In my childhood, my psyche was formed within separation consciousness and many parts of me learned to function from separation consciousness.

That’s also how hangups, identifications, emotional issues, traumas, and so on are formed. They are expressions of and operate from separation consciousness. If they didn’t, they would align with reality and find healing.

OUR HUMAN SELF WHEN OUR NATURE NOTICES ITSELF

When our nature notices itself, there is an invitation to keep noticing, explore how it is to live from this noticing, and for our human self to transform within this new context.

All of this is ongoing. The noticing, exploration of how to live from it, and the transformation is ongoing.

It’s all happening within and as the oneness we are, just like anything else.

COLORING OUR PERCEPTION AND LIFE

Even when the oneness we are notices itself, many parts of our human self and psyche still operate from separation consciousness. These parts of us will inevitably color our perception, choices, and life in the world. And they will get triggered more strongly in some situations.

THE TRANSFORMATION PROCESS

The transformation process can also be difficult and messy at times, especially as deep issues surface to be seen, felt, befriended, loved, and recognized as love and part of the oneness we are.

When this happens, our habitual responses to our deep and painful issues tend to come up as well, with an invitation for us to see, feel, and befriend these too.

In periods, what’s unprocessed in us may be mostly under the surface, although they will color our life and some issues tend to come up. This can happen during a kind of honeymoon period after an initial noticing or oneness shift.

In periods, they may come up in mostly smaller portions and now and then. This allows us to explore and befriend painful parts of us without feeling too overwhelmed.

And in periods, the metaphorical lid may be taken off and a huge amount of them come up at once. When this happens, it can feel overwhelming, confusing, scary, painful, and even unbearable. This happened for me some years ago, and I am still in this phase although it has quieted down a bit.

In general, the more trauma we have, the more this process can feel difficult, overwhelming, and messy. And the less trauma we have, the more manageable it may feel although still with its challenges.

WHY IS THE TRANSFORMATION PROCESS HAPPENING?

There are a couple of answers:

When our general system recognizes itself as oneness, what’s out of alignment surfaces so it can heal, transform, and align with oneness noticing itself.

When our general system recognizes itself as oneness, anything in our human self still operating from separation consciousness distorts the expression of oneness. They are out of alignment. They need to transform and realign so the oneness we are can express itself more clearly in more situations and more areas of life.

To me, this seems a natural and perhaps even inevitable process.

And it’s certainly not always comfortable. For me, it’s been the most difficult, messy, and humbling phase in my life by far, and I have not always dealt with it gracefully.

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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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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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“It’s so easy to be tricked by our senses”

I just heard someone say this, and it is true enough in a rough conventional sense.

We may perceive something that’s not accurate and often do. Most of the time, we may not even notice. And sometimes, life shows us the error in our perception.

A MORE CLOSE LOOK

And yet, it’s not exactly what’s happening.

Our senses don’t trick us, they are innocent.

It’s our stories – about what we sense and anything else – that tricks us.

And it’s not even our stories that trick us. They too are innocent.

We trick ourselves when we naively hold these stories as true.

And we don’t really trick ourselves because, somewhere, we know what’s going on.

EXPLORING WHAT’S GOING ON

We have the wisdom in us, and we can find it by looking a little closer at what’s going on.

We can idenitify the stories we hold as true and find what’s more true for us.

We can explore our sense fields and how our mental representations combine with the other sense fields to create our experience of the world.

We can learn to differentiate our mental representation and what’s here in immediate noticing.

We can notice that our mental representations may be more or less accurate in a conventional sense. That they are different in kind to what they point to. That they help us orient and function in the world. That they cannot hold any full, final, or absolute truth. And that reality is always different from and more than our ideas about it.

DIFFERENTIATING OUR STORIES ABOUT WHAT WE ARE AND DIRECT NOTICING

We can also explore the difference between our ideas about who and what we are, and what we notice directly. In a conventional sense, we are this human self in the world, and that’s not entierly wrong. And when we look more closely, we may find what we more fundamentally are what the world to us happens within and as.

We are the field all our sense experiences, including our mental representations, happen within and as.

We are the field the world, to us, happens within and as.

How is it to live from that noticing, and as that?

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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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What is memory?

I have been unusually exhausted the last few days (after travels), and yesterday forgot to bring a book to return to the library. I had a vivid image of putting the book in my mochila (bag) so it was surprising to not see it there.

I realized that my apparent memory was actually an image I had created when intending to put the book in my bag. It wasn’t an image created from actually placing the book in the bag.

And that says something about what our memory is. It’s a set of thoughts (mental images and words) often associated with bodily sensations.

Just because we have an apparent memory doesn’t necessarily mean it’s accurate.

These images, which our thoughts call memory, are created and recreated in numerous ways.

In my case, they were created from having the intention to put the book in the bag. My mind created an image to support that intention and later took it as a memory.

Even when something actually happens, our memory is always a story. It’s an interpretation. It reflects our psychology as much or more than the actual event. It reflects our biases, viewpoints, access to and lack of information, hangups, issues, traumas, and much more.

And they are always recreated here and now. Just like with Chinese whispers (the telephone game), the story as it is now may be quite different from the original story.

Memories are stories. Sometimes, they reflect something that happened in a conventional sense, and sometimes they don’t. And when they do, they are always recreations and colored by our psychology.

That’s why healing often includes healing our stories about the past. Healing comes from finding a more accurate, kind, honest, and peaceful story about what happened.

And no matter what, it can be fascinating to explore our memories. What do they consist of? What mental images are there? What words? What sensations in the body are they associated with? How do these sensations influence how I perceive the images and words? (They tend to give them a charge and sense of reality and even truth.) How do my images and words influence the sensations? (They tend to give them a sense of meaning.)

Examining the stories we call memories allow us hold them more lightly, and that gives us more peace of mind and more receptivity, curiosity, and kindness in how we relate to ourselves and the world.

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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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.)

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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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.

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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The past is like a dream

Do you remember how it was before? It’s almost like a dream, isn’t it?

I heard someone say this in reference to the time before the pandemic.

Why does the past seem like a dream? Because, just like a dream, we can only find it as mental images and stories. And, just like a dream, it happens within and as consciousness.

The future is also like a dream, for the same reason. We can only find it in mental images and stories, and it happens within and as consciousness.

And really, the present is very similar. Our mental images and stories about the present, including about what’s physically present with us, are the mental images and stories we find in a dream. And it all, including what’s appearing within all the sense fields, happens within and as consciousness.

If we don’t notice what we are, we tend to take all of this as more solid than it is. The past seems real to us, even if we can only find it as mental images and stories happening within and as consciousness. The future can seem relatively real to us, especially if we attach fears and hopes to it, even if that too only consists of mental images and words happening within and as consciousness. And the present seems real, even if our mental images and stories about it are just that, and what’s happening in all of the sense fields – sight, sound, taste, smell, sensations, thoughts – happen within and as consciousness.

And that’s why, when we notice what we are, it can feel like the world is a dream. It’s because it is, to us. It always was and is and cannot be anything else, we just didn’t notice. This can be disorienting and perhaps disconcerting at first, but we get used to it as anything else. We are just noticing what’s always here and what we already are more familiar with than just about anything else.

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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What’s inside? Inside & outside in a conventional sense and when I look more closely

When we say “look inside”, what do we mean? What’s inside, and what’s outside? And what do I find if I look at this more closely in my own experience?

INSIDE & OUTSIDE IN DAILY LANGUAGE

In our daily language, inside refers to what only we have direct access to – our sensations, emotions, thoughts, and so on. Outside refers to our shared reality that we all can access.

This is obviously a useful and accurate enough differentiation.

WHAT INSIDE & OUTSIDE HAPPENS WITHIN AND AS

If I look more closely, and am more intimate with my experience, I find something else as well.

I find that all my experiences happen within my sense fields. What’s inside happens within my sense fields. And what’s outside happens within my sense fields.

It’s all happening within and as what I am.

THE MENTAL FIELD CREATES THE DIFFERENTIATIONS

The differentiation between inside and outside in a conventional sense comes from an overlay of mental images, labels, and stories.

It’s conveniently created by the mental field to help me function and orient in my daily life and in the world with others.

BOTH TOGETHER

These two go beautifully together.

In my own first-person experience, I cannot find any real inside and outside. I still use the inside and outside differentiation in a conventional sense, and I know it’s a convention and doesn’t reflect any reality beyond that – at least not in my first-person experience.

As who I am, as this human self in the world, inside and outside point to different things. And when I look more closely, I find that the conventional inside and outside both point to what’s happening within my sense fields. What they each point to is happening within and as what I am.

CHILDLIKE EXPLORATIONS

Does any of this matter? After all, the question itself seems childlike and naive, bordering on the ridiculous.

And what we find may seem like an interesting concept, and not more. We may even notice for ourselves that inside & outside happens within and as what we are, and see it as interesting but of little or no practical use. It remains a minor curiosity.

In reality, this type of sincere exploration of simple and childlike questions can be profoundly transforming.

From starting with a simple question (what’s inside?), we may discover what we are in our own first-person experience.

And if we keep noticing what we are, and keep exploring the implications and how to live from it, it can be profoundly transforming. It can transform our perception, our life in the world, and our human self beyond what we could have imagined.

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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?

More pervasive emotional issues tend to be felt all over the body

I notice how my mind associates certain sensations with certain thoughts, in order to give these thoughts a sense of substance, reality, and truth, and this also gives a sense of meaning to the sensations.

The more we recognize this pattern and learn to differentiate the sensations with the thoughts, the less charge these thoughts tend to have. The sense of substance and truth in them tends to go out.

I also notice that the mind creates physical contractions in the body, and these – in turn – allows for a stable access to sensations that lend a sense of solidity and reality to certain thoughts. In order to believe and have emotional issues, we need sensations, and in order to have reliable access to these sensations, the body contracts.

If the issue comes and goes, the contractions tend to come and go. If it’s a more stable issue, the contractions tend to be more stable as well.

This is how identifications, beliefs, hangups, emotional issues, and traumas are created. This is how our mind creates all of these, and they are really just different name on the same dynamic.

There is one pattern here I have noticed for a long time: The more pervasive and central the emotional issue, the more I feel those sensations all over the body.

A more limited and peripheral issue may be connected with contractions in a certain part of the body – solar plexus, center of belly, throat, face, and so on.

And a more pervasive issue is often associated with stable sensations all over the body.

When I work on something, and I notice it’s connected with all-over sensations, it’s a good hint that this is a more central issue, that it’s from early in life (sometimes infancy), and that there is a strong and familiar identification with this issue. It has become the water we swim in.

We can still work on it as we do with any other emotional issue. It just means it’s worth focusing on and prioritizing since it may be pervasive. There may be a good deal of branches to explore. And when we find some resolution for it, we’ll likely see the effects in most or all areas of our 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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Do we live in a simulation? We already do, and it doesn’t matter so much when we discover our true nature

In the most recent episode of Judge John Hodgman, he rules on a case where a woman wants her husband to stop talking about how we all live in a simulation. It brings up existential angst in her. 

We already live in a kind of simulation, in a couple of different ways. 

We know from science that our physical sense organs only receive a very limited type and amount of information, this is organized and put together in the brain, and we add a large number of labels, interpretations, and stories to it. Our senses, brain, and consciousness work together to create a kind of simulation of the world that helps us navigate and function in it. It’s not absolutely real and it doesn’t reflect reality accurately, which is OK since it works well enough.

Many take themselves to most fundamentally be this human being in the world. But when we look, we may find that to ourselves, we are capacity for the world. We are what the world – the world as it appears to us, the world of phenomena – happens within and as. In that way, our waking experience is very similar to a dream. A dream happens within and as consciousness. And the world as it appears to us happens within and as consciousness. Here too, we find that the world to us appears a kind of simulation.

And ultimately, our true nature is what all our experiences happen within and as. If we take our most fundamental identity to be this human self, then it matters a lot whether we live in a simulation or not. It’s a question of our fundamental identity. If we find ourselves as capacity for it all, it matters less and it’s something we hold more lightly. It may be an interesting question, but it’s not a matter of what we fundamentally are to ourselves.

Magic tricks & Awakening

I have written about this a few times before, but wanted to revisit it briefly.

Magic tricks take advantage of the mind’s ability to take shortcuts. We don’t process everything from scratch, and it wouldn’t even be possible. We operate from our biology and assumptions based on experience and what we learn from others.

Most of the time, this works very well. We see a head sticking out from behind a tree and legs poking out on the other side, assume there is a person behind the tree that the head and legs belong to, and it’s usually correct. We drop something, assume it will fall, and it almost always does.

And it’s what magicians take advantage of. They set up a situation that’s familiar to us, our mind automatically makes assumptions and takes shortcuts, and that’s how we are tricked. We imagine something happening that isn’t. We experience the dissonance between what we think happened, based on our assumptions, and knowing it couldn’t have possibly happened that way.

We see a woman in a box with the head and feet sticking out. The box is sawed in two. And we imagine there is half of a woman in each part of the box while knowing that’s impossible. (In reality, there is either one real woman in one section and artificial feet in the other, or one real woman in each part and half of their bodies hidden from view.)

Assumptions & shortcuts

How does this relate to awakening?

The same principles are what prevent us from noticing what we are. Life is the magician and tricks us into thinking that what we fundamentally are is this human being, and the way it happens is the same. Our mind operates from assumptions and shortcuts.

A central assumption is that we most fundamentally are this human being, so that’s how we perceive and live. We make it come true for ourselves, in our own experience. And we have many other assumptions that branch out from and support this assumption and make it seem even more solid and real.

Misdirection

Another central principle of magic tricks is misdirection. Our attention is led away from where the magic is happening. A magician holds a ball in one hand, appears to put it in the other, holds up the closed hand we now think is holding the ball to bring our attention there, while the first hand – which is still holding the ball – drops it in the pocket.

How does misdirection play a role in the context of awakening?

Our mind is fascinated by stories it holds as true. That’s the misdirection. This distracts us from the actual magic, which is how our mind creates its perception of reality. And it distracts us from what we really are, which is capacity for our world.

Learning how the magic tricks are done

For me, there is a double enjoyment of good magic tricks. First, from the initial and often baffling performance, and then from learning how it’s done.

Sometimes, the effect may be good while the method – if based in gimmicks more than skill – is a bit disappointing. Other times, the method makes me appreciate, admire, and enjoy the trick even more.

When we examine and see how our mind performs its magic tricks, both apply. In one sense, it’s almost laughably simple and it seems baffling that we are able to trick ourselves that way. In another sense, it’s very impressive.

How can we see through the main magic trick of the mind?

The main magic trick of the mind is to create a sense of us, most fundamentally, as this human being.

So how can we see through it?

To notice what we are, our assumptions need to be set aside for a moment.

This can happen through a long practice and investigation process. We can do basic meditation and notice and allow what’s here, which allows our identification with our thoughts to soften so it’s easier to notice what we are. We can also chip away at one assumption and belief at a time, through inquiry. (The Work of Byron Katie, Living Inquiry.)

And we can notice what we are relatively quickly through guided inquiry. (Headless experiments and the Big Mind process.) We can find ourselves as Big Mind, or as capacity for our world.

In most cases, these slow and fast approaches work very well together. The slow can create a more solid basis, and the fast gives us an immediate taste of what it’s about.

The real magician & lila

So who is really the magician? We can say it’s life, Spirit, or our mind.

And who is the audience that’s temporarily tricked? Again, it’s life, Spirit, or our mind.

Another word for these magic tricks is lila – the play of Spirit, existence, or our mind. It’s how this awake capacity can experience time, space, multitudes, taking itself as ultimately a being, and everything that comes from all of this.

It’s how…. the timeless can take itself as time and being within time, the spaceless as space and happening within space, the no-thing can appear as a thing, the one as many, the seamless whole as separate, the void as substantial, and so on.

A few more details

I’ll add a few things for clarification.

When I say “capacity for our world”, it means capacity for all the content of our experiences – thoughts, feelings, sensations, sights, sounds, smell, and so on. We are capacity for this human self and the wider world. It’s all happening within and as what we are. To ourselves, this is our fundamental nature.

When our mental field (mental images and words) combines with sensations, it’s because our mind associated certain thoughts with certain bodily sensations, and these thoughts give meaning to the sensations and the sensations give a sense of solidity and substance (reality, truth) to the thoughts. This is how a thought or assumption appears true to us. And when we explore this, the “glue” or associations tend to weaken and we may even recognize what’s happening as it’s happening.

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.

Are we in a simulation?

Some ask this question. As so often, the answer for me is yes, no, and don’t know.

In a conventional sense, the answer is: I don’t know. And that’s fine, I don’t really need to know.

When I look more closely, I also find that I can know something about it, and the answer is yes and no.

The world as it appears to me, happens within and as what I am. I am capacity for it. It happens within and as what a thought may label consciousness. And I perceive it through an overlay of thoughts that labels, interprets, and creates stories and generally makes sense of it. In that sense, it’s a kind of simulation. It’s like a dream to me since it happens within and as consciousness, and it’s filtered and interpreted by my mental images and stories.

At the same time, there is consensus reality. It seems that I perceive the world more or less as others, at least in a basic and everyday sense. I see a blue sky, walk on the ground, open doors, eat, talk, and so on. In the consensus reality and pragmatic sense, I live and function as if it’s not a simulation. For all practical purposes, it’s not a simulation.

So I cannot know if we are in a simulation, in the way most people talk about it. It’s a kind of simulation since my world happens within and as what I am and is interpreted and made sense of by a mental field overlay. And for all practical purposes, in consensus reality, it’s not a simulation.

Projections and the larger context

I have written about this before, starting from my old paper journals in my teens. And, for whatever reason, I am drawn to revisit it.

There are several layers to projections.

The world is my mirror

The world is my mirror. What I see out there is something I know from myself, whether I acknowledge it or not.

Whatever story I have about someone or something, I can turn it around to myself and find concrete examples of how it’s true.

Through working on this, I get to see something in myself wherever I look in the world. The fundamental separation of “you are that and I am not” or “I am this and you are not” goes away.

This reduces the reactivity that comes from the “you are that, I am not” perception, and we are more free to act from whatever clarity and kindness is here.

It helps me discover a far richer sense of myself, less constrained by ideas of what I am not.

It makes it more difficult to dehumanize others, no matter the species.

The world becomes a rich mirror and it’s an endless adventure to explore and actively make use of this mirror.

We can have blind or conscious projections. If they are blind, it means I see something out there and not in myself or the reverse. If it’s conscious, I am still projecting – I am seeing something out there that I know from myself – but I recognize it’s a projection.

That also means that I hold my projections more lightly since I am more aware of it as a projection. I know it’s here, and I know it may or may not be out there as I see it.

Mental field overlay

Another kind of projection is our mental field overlay.

Our mental images and words create an overlay on the other sense fields and make sense of these. They provide labels, interpretations, stories, interpretations, and so, and this helps us function in the world. I see a candle, and instantly have associations to flickering light, winter evenings, past experiences here and other places, the label “candle”, the thought that it will burn out within a few hours, images of more candles in the corner closet, and so on. My senses take in their impressions, and my mental field makes sense of it and helps me orient and navigate.

This mental field maintains our world even in the absence of the other senses. Right now, I can easily imagine the rest of the house I am in, the other people here, the outside, town, country, world, and so on. This is the exact same mental field as the one I described in the previous paragraph, it’s just that now it functions in the absence of other sense impressions. We can notice this mental field activity by closing our eyes and imagine what’s around us, this body, and so on.

Why do I include this in this description of projections?

Because we can say this mental field is an overlay on the world. We project it out onto the world to make sense of the world.

Here too, it can be blind or conscious. We can project out this mental field overlay and take what it tells us as true and how the world “in itself” is. Or we can be conscious of what’s happening as it happens, which allows us to hold what this mental field tells much more lightly.

The first tends to create struggle and discomfort. The second gives us more flexibility and receptivity, and can help us navigate the world with a little more ease.

While the “overlay” description works well and isn’t completely wrong, it may be more accurate to say that this mental field is what creates our world in the sense of anything we imagine and have thoughts and stories about. Without it, we wouldn’t be able to make any sense of the impressions from our senses, and we wouldn’t have any notion of a world beyond what’s here in immediacy.

All happening within and as what I am

These types of projections, and all my other experiences, happen within and as what I am.

I am capacity for my world. I am what my world happens within and as.

And this is the context for both of the previous types of projections.

To the extent I notice what I am, it’s easier to notice the two types of projections and hold it all more lightly.

How can we explore this for ourselves?

This can sound abstract and esoteric until we start exploring it for ourselves, in our immediate experience.

So how can we explore this for ourselves?

For the first type of projections, The Work of Byron Katie is excellent.

For the second type of projections, traditional Buddhist sense-field exploration is helpful, as is the modern version of Living Inquiries.

For discovering what we are, Headless experiments and the Big Mind process often work well.

Why would we explore this?

For me, this is fascinating, it enriches my life immensely, and to the extent I live from it I find it brings a bit of ease into my life.

We can say it’s up to each one of us if we want to explore this, although, in reality, it’s not really up to us. It’s something we are drawn to or not.

And although it can be helpful to share some experiences of what happens when we explore these things, these descriptions can also become a kind of goal and a distraction. It’s more interesting if we discover it for ourselves and allow ourselves to be surprised.

Not knowing which part of the field I am

Right now, as I am sitting here, I see two arms and hands, the screen on a phone, a table, a cup, flowers, a lake, and a few other things. And I notice a low-grade effort telling me that, for practical purposes, “I” am this body sitting here writing on the phone. (I am not all the other things in the sense fields.) It’s something that’s added to what’s happening and it helps me function in the world.

At times, this effort is even more obvious. For instance earlier today, there was a moment where “I” didn’t know which part of the sender fields I was supposed to be. The bucket of water? The cup? The arms moving? It lasted only a fraction of a second, but I could clearly see the mind working to place a pragmatic sense of I or me on something in the sense fields.

This is a common experience for me. There are things in my sense fields, it all happens within and as consciousness, and often there is no need to put the I or me labels on anything. It’s all just happening and functioning on its own.

“I” can pay attention to what this happens within and as, and notice that this never goes away. In that sense, it seems to be what “I” am. And for practical purposes, “I” sometimes places the I or me on this body and the one others see me as. In both cases. It’s clear that the I or me is just a label put on top of what’s here, in all the sense fields, which is living its own life.

I assume this is common in an awakening process. The mind has to work actively, for all of us, to create and assign and remember the I and me labels. And when there is more awakeness here, that process may become more transparent and visible. And sometimes, “we” notice the mind scrambling for å fraction of a second to assign the labels.

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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Memories

When I look at my own memories, here is what I find…..

They are mental representations of the senses – sight (images), sound, taste, smell, touch.

They are mentally inserted on a mental representation of a timeline, and among other mental representations taken as memories.

A thought says they are true, or not. It really happened, or not.

This is why memories are notoriously unreliable. Since they are mental representations they are, quite literally, imagined. And it’s very easy (read: inevitable) for them to change over time, for pure imagination to be inserted into the timeline and be taken as true, and even for “accurate” representations to be taken as something that didn’t happen. It’s also very easy for these mental representations, these imaginations, to be influenced by what we hear and see, or even the questions someone is asking us. (Questions will inevitably reflect the assumptions of the person asking the questions, and this influences the form the mental representations takes of the one asked the questions).

And that’s why memories “recovered” through hypnosis are unreliable at best, created at worst, and can also be (unnecessarily) distressing to the client.

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.)

Meeting dullness

Sometimes, a belief creates obvious emotions such as anger, fear, sadness or joy, and there is an apparent intensification of experience.

Other times, it may go the other direction. A belief may create a sense of dullness, stagnation or numbness, and there is an apparent reduction of experience.

In either case, the sensations are something I can meet with curiosity.

I can stay with the sensations and breathe, and notice any shifts or changes, any images or thoughts behind the sensations.

I can meet it in satsang: You are welcome here. Thank you for protecting me. Thank you for your love for me. How would you like me to be with you? What would satisfy you forever? What are you really?

I can do a simple inquiry. What’s here in sensations? What’s here as a label? What’s here as an image, a thought (about what it is, what is means etc.) What happens when these come together, and are taken as true? What happens when I stay with the sensations alone? How is it to question the labels and thoughts? Is it really pain, fear, anger, dullness? Does it really mean something terrible has happened?

Sometimes, I invite my relationship to it to shift through ho’oponopono: I am sorry. Please forgive me. I love you.

For me, it’s easier to remember to meet a sensation intentionally when it’s an intensified sensation or experience such as anger, sadness, or pain. And it’s easier to “forget”, at least for a while, if it’s a reduction in experience, such as a sense of dullness, stagnation or numbness.

Meeting it is an invitation to see what’s really here. Is it really what it appears to be? Does it mean what my thoughts says it means? Is it true it’s not already allowed?

And it’s an invitation to explore how it is to shift how it’s met. What happens when mind tries to run away from it, or get rid of it, or put a lid on it? What are the fears/beliefs behind this impulse? How is it to meet it more intentionally, with curiosity and respect?