We are not separate beings?

In neo-Advaita circles, people sometimes say you are not a separate being

That’s true enough since our more final identity is as what it all happens within and as. 

And as with any pointers, it can be misleading if taken too literally. 

In my experience, I am both and more. 

I am a separate being as this human self in the world. I walk around. Do things. Am vulnerable. Was born and will die. I am dependent on the kindness of those close to me and society as a whole. I am dependent on a functioning ecosystem. I am dependent on this living planet. 

I am part of society, ecosystems, this living planet, and the universe as a whole. I am a local expression of all of this. 

And I am, in my immediate experience, that which all of this – the sensory inputs and my ideas about it – happens within and as. 

All of this is valid in its own way. All of it contributes to the richness of what I am and this local expression of life itself. 

And all of it is an overlay of ideas. Ideas that right now seem helpful. Ideas that serve as a pointer. Ideas that have temporary value at most.

The seed of this article came from how I ended the previous:

I wanted to say a few words about these parts of us operating from separation consciousness. They are formed at a time when we operated from separation consciousness, typically in our childhood. They reflect this idea that we are (only) a separate being and view and act as if that’s the case. And they are formed from, and form, a wound or trauma, even if this wound or trauma is very gentle. These parts of us can also be called beliefs (in the The Work sense) or identification (with and as the viewpoint of a thought).

It’s not wrong that we as human beings develop within the context of taking ourselves as a separate being. We are, in a conventional sense. We need to live partly as if we are, and the different parts of us need to develop within that recognition. But it’s not all of what we are. And when we notice what we are (as that which content of experience happens within and as), that serves as another context that can allow us to heal more deeply. 

We live within multiple contexts: As a separate human being. As parts of larger social and ecological wholes. As an expression of life and the universe. And as that which our sense fields – sensations, taste, smell, sound, sight, and thoughts – happen within and as. 

Can you find the separation?

Sometimes, we try to distance ourselves from a certain experience. It may be an emotion that a thought says is unpleasant. Or it may be discomfort, or physical pain, or even suffering. We may see it as “other” or separate from us, so a reasonable strategy is to try to keep it that way, and make use of the apparent separation to try to make it go away, or distract ourselves from it. It doesn’t really work, and it actually deepens the discomfort.

Another approach is to meet it, befriend it, make peace with, even find love for it. This too often comes from the appearance of separation. It still seems somewhat separate from us, but we realize that meeting it and getting closer feels better. It may seem scary at first, and thought will come up with any number of reasons why it’s a bad idea. And yet, we know it will feel better. It resolves the discomfort at a more deep and real level.

Here, there may still be a struggle between wanting to avoid the experience, and wanting to meet it and befriend it. And that struggle is created by the apparent separation, which still seems somewhat real.

Then, we may realize there is actually no real separation. Any sense of separation is created by the mind. Our experience – the whole field of it as it is here and now – is what I am. I don’t exist apart from it. It’s who and what I am. So why would I even try to struggle with it? (Even struggle and resistance and apparent separation happens within and as what I am.)

There may still be the appearance of separation, so I can explore that separation. How does the mind create it? Is it really as solid or real as it may seem?

I notice an uncomfortable experience in my body, a contraction and tension. It seems somewhat separate from me.

Look at the word “separation”. Is that word separation? Does it separate anything? No.

Where do you find separation between you and the uncomfortable sensation? I see a vague picture.

Look at the picture. Does that picture separation you from the sensation? No, it’s a picture. But there is a sensation that seems connected to it.

Feel the sensation. Is that sensation the separation? No.

And so on, until the separation cannot be found anywhere.

Other things to look for are: A boundary. Distance. (Between me and the sensation.) The one who is separate. (From the sensation.) Something I am separate from. (An uncomfortable experience.)

As I cannot find separation, or a boundary, or distance, or a separate me, or even what I appear separate from, the whole idea of struggle or pushing something away looses it’s meaning.

100% selfish

Being halfway selfish is painful.

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

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

It is much better to be 100% selfish.

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

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Love for the sense of self

I notice two shifts happening, mostly as glimpses and a slight change in orientation…

First, a noticing of what I am as that which awakening and mistaken identity happens within and as.

And as an expression of that first shift, a love for that sense of self, the images of a doer and observer.

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Tightening and loosening knots

Knots happen whenever a story is taken as true, and they include the effects of taking a story as true such as reactive emotions, and also whatever actions come out of both.

Knots tighten when I fuel stories as true, and also resist experience and take it as “other”.

And knots loosen when there is receptivity, curiosity and allowing experience as is. When there is a shift into don’t know. Curiosity about the stories and the truth in their reversals. And allowing experience as is, with heart and kindness.

Whenever any story is taken as true, it creates a sense of a separate I and creates this core knot. And at the same time, these stories flesh out the viewpoints and identities of this separate I.

So taking any story as true tightens the core knot of taking a separate I as true. Meeting it with an attitude of receptivity, curiosity and kindness makes it possible for it to loosen. And inquiring into it to find what is more true for me may untie the knot entirely, to the point where it cannot so easily form again.

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Disappearing self?

….yet attuned to the hidden logic available from non-rational sources including temporary states in which the personal self disappears.

Even a brief sentence like this is fertile ground for questions and inquiry. 

… the personal self disappears.

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Shadows of a sense of separate I

I have explored this before, but keep coming back to it:

Any belief has a shadow, and it is no different with the most basic belief, the one in a sense of a separate I, and I with an Other.

In this belief, we take ourselves to be content of awareness. As an object. As one of many. As a center.

So the reversals of this is then the shadow of the belief in being an I with an Other.
The reversal of taking ourselves to be content of awareness, is to find ourselves as awareness.

The reversal of taking ourselves as a thing, is to find ourselves as no thing.

The reversal of taking ourselves as one of many, is to find ourselves as the field it all arises within and as.

The reversal of taking ourselves as a center, is to find ourselves as no center.

And we relate to these the way we relate to projections in general. And we are attracted to awareness. We fear nothingness. We ignore the field with no center.

In each case, the reversals are already here. The awakeness. The no thing that allows all things. The field all arises within and as. The absence of a center anywhere.
And in each case, it doesn’t fit our identity. So we see it out there.

I have awareness, but it comes and goes, and it is not me. Nothingness is out there somewhere, or after death. The field with no center is the universe or God, not me.

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The benefits of following the chains

What are some of the benefits of following the chains back to their initial segments?

For myself, I notice that it helps me get more familiar with and befriend who I am, as a human being. It helps me discover what is going on at my human level.

Said another way, it helps me find and embrace my wholeness as a human being, to find peace with it, to work with rather than against what is there.

It helps me see that it is all pure innocence. No need to fight it, resist it, want it to go away. Just seeing it clearly is enough.

It helps me see what is already more true for me, in who and what I am.

I find that when there is a sense of being a separate I, there is fear behind just about any emotion, motivation, desire and action. I find that behind that fear is love, filtered through my circle of us. I find that behind the sense of a separate I, and everything that comes with it, is a belief in the story of a separate I, and stories that flesh this identity out.

Christianity and Buddhism

Many combine Christianity and Buddhism in different ways these days, and it is interesting to explore some of the ways this happens.

It is of course possible to combine the two in a superficial way, without looking too much at the clashes between the philosophy of Buddhism and the mainstream theology of Christianity. But if we take it more seriously, we need at some point to reconcile the two in a more thorough way, and this usually happens through giving priority to one or the other.

We can give priority to the mainstream theology of Christianity, with its assumptions of the reality of a separate self and soul, and use whatever is useful in Buddhism within this context. Often, this means using some of the Buddhist practices for clarity of mind or for opening the heart.

We can give priority to Buddhism, with its emphasis on the inherent absence of a separate self anywhere, and use Christianity within this context. For instance, we can use Christian forms of prayer and meditation emphasizing the heart and embodiment. (In my own experience, the quality of heart awakening through Christian practices have a flavor quite distinct from that of Buddhism.)

Or we can give priority to the mystic’s view of Christianity, which already is pretty much aligned with the philosophy of Buddhism. Some Christian mystics describe oneness, a separate self one with God and all there is, but there are certainly many others who describe realized selflessness, as in Buddhism. In this case, there is a nice alignment of the philosophy and descriptions in both traditions, and we are free to use practices from both as well.

Love filtered

One way to look at our lives is that it is all love filtered in different ways.

Mainly, it can be filtered through a sense of a separate self, in which case it takes the form of love for self with some glimpses of a more selfless love coming through now and then. The love for self is expressed as attraction & aversion and all their flavors such as possessive love, anger, sadness, grief, joy, happiness, and so on.

Also, it is filtered through widening circles of us, of the ones included in our circle of care, concern and compassion.

When these circles leave just about nothing out, there is a more clear expression of Big Heart, of a natural love for all there is, recognizing that it is not separate from this separate self, or that there is no separate self here in the first place.

So we can say that everything expressed through our human life is really Big Heart filtered in different ways. If there is a sense of a separate self, Big Heart is filtered through aversion and attraction. As our circle of us expands, more beings and situations are included in our circle of care even as there is still a sense of a separate self. And as this sense of a separate self thins, Big Heart notices itself more easily and is expressed in a more clear and direct way.



Narcissism has as its essence a belief in the “story of I”, which inevitably creates a fascination with this separate I.

There is a belief in stories, which creates a sense of I and Other, and we naturally wonder, and sometimes becomes obsessed with, what will happen to this separate self. Will I get what I want? Will I avoid what I don’t want? How can I improve myself? How do I appear to others? How do my actions, or this situation, compare to the identity I have made for myself? I am right, and I want it my way.

Said another way, there is an identification with this human self, and we don’t notice what we really are (awakeness and whatever happens), so everything is filtered as if we are this human self which typically means a certain absorption into and obsession with it.

From there, it can be filtered and expressed in many different ways. Mainly, it can be more or less obvious (usually to others!) and more or less mature.

It seems that in its more mature expressions, there is a recognition of it arising here now, which offer some perspective and disidentification with it. And here is a recognition of it as a universal pattern which makes it less personal and also helps release identification. There is more freedom from being in the grips of it. Our circle of care, concern and compassion is expanded which balances out our concern about ourselves. In general, there is less belief in stories and attachment to identities, so also less need for love, appreciation and approval.

So defined broadly, a sense of separate self naturally gives rise to narcissism, which can be expressed in more or less overt ways, and more or less mature ways. Defined more narrowly, we have the conventional definitions: the lose way it is used by most people in everyday language, and also the psychiatric diagnosis of narcissism.

And as with all of these things, when we see it out there in others, it is because we recognize it from right here, in our human selves. And if attention is glued to it in others through aversion or attraction, it means we don’t quite see it here. Obsession about it in others, one way or the other, is a pretty sure sign of blind projections.

Just a thought?

When we see for ourselves, even to some extent, that the sense of separate self, and also space and continuity, and much more, all comes from thoughts, it can be a little shocking at first. After all, we typically see thoughts as just the verbal type, the one that it seems “I” am thinking and producing, consciously. How can that thought create this sense of separate self, and space and continuity, which seems so substantial and real? It doesn’t make sense.

And it doesn’t make sense, because the thoughts producing all these core beliefs and experiences are of a different type. They are not verbal. They are rarely if ever consciously noticed. They are certainly not produced by me, consciously. And they underlie our whole experience of the world, throughout the day and even in our dreams at night.

For me, these thoughts are image thoughts, and they organize a whole elaborate system of other thoughts, which all filter perception in a certain way, making this filtered perception appear very real and substantial. So real, in fact, that it is rarely if ever questioned. And if it is, then usually only in an intellectual way, as a fun idea to play around with.

It is quite different to notice it as it happens, through for instance labeling practice or choiceless awareness, or any other practice that helps us differentiate pure perception and thoughts. (Thoughts themselves are also within the field of perception, but for this purpose it helps to differentiate that one into two.)

Now, we can see the thought image of space overlaid on perception, allowing perception to appear spread out and be localized in particular places in space. We can see how thoughts create the appearance of continuity and time through memories. And we can see how a sense of a separate self is created through image thoughts of a center in space, of an inside and outside, of a subject and object, and other similar ones all contributing to creating a sense of a separate self, and of a doer responsible to thoughts, choices, behaviors and so on.

Basic plots

When we look at stories, we find some recurrent basic plots. And this is true whether the stories take the form of film, novels, short stories, oral stories, history, our life stories, self-talk, dreams, and so on. And different people propose a different number and different types of such basic plots.

The essence of any plot is the drama of I and Other, revolving around the question what will happen to to this separate self? As soon as there is a sense of a separate self, there is drama and that question.

From there, we have innumerable plot types. And these are defined by a few different things…

Who is the Other? Is it one or more other people, nature, God, oneself?

What type of situation or challenge is there? What is the flavor of the drama? Is it discovery? Love? Revenge? Adventure? Pursuit? Maturation? Transformation? Escape? Sacrifice? Mistaken identity?

What role does the protagonist play? Hero? Villain? Fool? Perpetrator? Victim?

What is the trajectory or outcome of the drama? How does it unfold? Where does it go? Is there a climax? A silence before the storm? A segment of life? Happy ending? Sad ending? Unclear or unfinished ending? Is it really an ending? What happens afterwards?

When I look at my own stories, I can find each of these. When there is a sense of a separate self here, it plays all of the different roles, opposed to any of the various Others, in each of the different flavor of dramas, and with a wide range of trajectories and ways it unfolds.

The outer stories, the ones about others, the ones in movies, novels, fairy tales, the ones others tell about themselves, they all reflect stories right here, about this separate self.

Albert Ellis and the magic line


Albert Ellis, one of the early (western, mainstream) cognitive therapists, died last week.

In a Buddhist/Adveita/nondual perspective, he was right on in realizing that our “personal philosophy contains beliefs that lead to his [our] own emotional pain”.

It is also funny, and telling, how he drew a magic line for what to question. Anything that has to do with how our particular identity is made up and fleshed out is questioned, and rightly so. A lot of stress and suffering comes from these types of beliefs.

But the core beliefs, that of being a separate self, and taking ourselves to be this human self, were not questioned by him. These beliefs went unnoticed. They were taken as so obviously true that they were granted asylum from examination.

These too are personal, or rather cultural, beliefs that lead to our own emotional pain. In fact, they are at the core of our experience of stress, discomfort and suffering. Everything else, all the beliefs that has to do with our fleshed-out identity, are only flavors and enhancements of this one essential suffering.

Of course, all these secondary beliefs prop up the core belief in an I with an Other, so questioning the core beliefs directly does usually not have the immediate effect of all of them falling away. (Although it can, in some circumstances.) Usually, we have to question both types, over and over, for some time, unraveling one thread at a time in the tapestry of beliefs until the whole thing comes undone.

No way out

After some exploration, we realize that there is no way out, in the sense of escaping content, and escaping content living its own life, on its own schedule.

And yet, there is a way out, in the sense of allowing identification to be released from this content, which means a release from the belief in stories, including the one of a separate self.

The two goes hand in hand. When there is a clarifying realization of content living its own life, there is a corresponding release of identification with content. And when there is a release of identification with stories (and content), there is a corresponding realization that content lives its own life, absent of a doer.

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Ouroboros – the process eating itself


Ouroboros, the snake eating its own tail, is a fertile symbol (metaphor, analogy, projection object) that can be understood in many ways.

One is as an analogy for the process of self-inquiry.

In the beginning, it appears that there is a separate self here inquiring, investigating, exploring and so on. But the process itself includes the annihilation of this sense of a separate self. Eventually, even that is seen as just something on the inside of a story, something that appears real only because it is taken as real, a thought placed on top of pure perception, filtering it into what appears as an I here and Other there.

The process of inquiry, and any spiritual practice leading to Ground noticing itself, is a process eating itself up. The separate self, the doer, that appears to initiate and engage in it, is revealed as never having been there in the first place.

Fear as kernel

I notice that any belief tends to fuel a range of emotions, and these emotions seem to have fear as their kernel.

Whenever a story is taken as true, there is an identification with the story, and right there, a sense of I with an Other is created. And with a sense of a separate self, there is birth and death, and things that either further or creates problems for the life and well-being for this separate self.

In short, there is fear.

And this fear can take many forms, including the whole range of human emotions from frustration to anger to sadness to joy. I have a story of being a separate self, stories to flesh out the identity of this separate self, and then stories about how to support the life of this separate self and what to avoid to endanger it as well. If things get bumpy in getting what is wanted, there is frustration. If there is a block, anger. If something desirable is lost, sadness and grief. If it is gained, joy.

Again, it is very simple.

There is a belief in a story, which creates a sense of separate self, which creates fear, which in turn takes the form in the whole range of emotions.

When I am with whatever emotions is there, I may – usually for a short time – notice the fear within it (before it is revealed as something that cannot easily be labeled). And when I investigate beliefs, I may similarly notice the fear created by – and fueling – the belief.

Taking it a little further, I see that fear is created by the initial belief in any story – which creates a sense of separate self. And this fear in turn fuels that sense of a separate self, fleshed out and maintained by a belief in any story.

There is a belief that people should be good, creating and fueled by a fear of what may happen (to me and those close to me) if they are not. There is a belief that I am not like those rednecks, created/fueled by a fear of what may happen to me if I was. There is a belief that all is God and good, created/fueled by a fear of how life would be if that was not the case, and what would happen to me and those close to me.

For any belief, it seems that it creates and is fueled/maintained by fear of what would happen to me if life was not as the beliefs makes it appear to be. There is a fear of what would happen to this separate self.

Source: Todd at CSS talking about this briefly, prompting me to explore this further for myself.

Views on narcissism

Narcissus by Caravaggio

Narcissism depends on our view, and there are always truth in the reversals as well.

For instance, it is perfectly understandable when it is seen as narcissistic to reveal ones life online, often in intimate and detailed ways… with name, video, images, daily journal entries, and more. (Obviously far beyond what this blog reveals, which is not much.)

Yet, from the view of those comfortable with revealing their life in detail, of having nothing hidden, it is narcissistic to hold back, to hide, to not want to reveal everything. That need to hide is seen as coming from seeing oneself as special, of not realizing that everything personal is also universally human. To hide is the ultimate conceit.

Beyond this, we see that until Ground awakens to itself, narcissism is inevitable – and even beautiful.

There is a belief in the story of I, and this separate self then inevitably becomes the star in this production created by stories and beliefs. There is an inevitable fascination with this separate self. What will happen to it? Will everything go well? What should it do next? How will it deal with its past? What is its role, and how does it play it?

The belief in a separate self is a knot (as is any belief, temporarily hiding Ground from itself), and attention inevitably goes to this knot. And this is an invitation to explore it more fully, to see what is really going on. Often, this invitation is not noticed. The fascination becomes a way to refine and recast the separate self. But when the invitation is taken to explore a little further, it can ultimately lead to Ground awakening to itself.

Of course, within this larger picture there are all the conventional forms of narcissism. We can be self-absorbed in relatively harmless ways, in our daily life. In ways that harm others, if we leave out a consideration for the effects of our own actions on them. In ways that help others, if we act on beliefs and identities of being of service. Or… in ways that leads to Ground noticing itself, if we explore this sense of separate self in more detail.

So here too, it all depends on view.

For instance, from the view of someone caught up in certain beliefs and identities, it may appear narcissistic to take time to explore this sense of separate self in detail. Yet, from the view of someone taking the time to investigate in that way, not investigating can appear narcissistic, because it means a blind indulging in and continuation of unquestioned beliefs and identities, including the story of I.

Personally, I don’t use the word narcissism very much as it seems most useful either in service of projection or in the context of clinical psychology or psychiatry.

Images of self

Some thought-images of self I notice through choiceless awareness…

  • Images of a particular identity at human level, used to differentiate this human self from other ones (coming up in contrast to what I see in others)
  • Body image(s), placed on top of sensations, and used to interpret sensations and guide attention
  • An image of a separate self, which…
    • Is located in the same general area of space as this body
    • Creates a sense of center here and periphery out there
    • Creates a sense of a hearer, seer, senser, doer
    • Is split into a separate self as an seen and seer, object and subject, which are located in slightly separate areas of space (for me, as seen a little ahead of the body, and as seer in or a little behind the head)
    • Is anchored in certain sensations in the body, generally in the head area
      • The exact sensations may change, especially if attention is brought to the one currently used as an anchor (another sensation may then become an anchor)
      • If an appropriate sensation is not available, or needs to be intensified, muscles tense up to create a clearer or stronger sensation
      • These sensations are “projected” to the appropriate area of space. For instance, an image of self as seer, hearer, doer may be located in the center of the head, but in the absence of sensations there, the closest sensations – for instance in the neck and throat, are used as anchor and now appear to be located in an area of space corresponding to the center of the head. Another thought is placed on it saying it is in the center of the head.

Karma and infinite causes

Karma, as anything else, can be filtered through a sense of a separate self, or an absence of identification with stories, and so also a separate self.

When filtered through an unquestioned sense of separate self, it becomes what we see in popular culture: a focus on “my” or individual karma, or at most a group level karma (nations, humanity).

As usual, we can get a fuller picture if we include both the relative (the forms aspect overlaid with stories and boundaries) and the absolute (void, and form as awake void).

In the form aspect, we see that anything happening locally has infinite effects, so karma is really the karma of the whole, or rather, the processes, patterns and movements of the fluid seamless whole of form. Looking at it from the level of the holarchy as a whole, karma is the karma of the holarchy itself.

At the same time, karma is personal or individual in a very limited sense. We can discern local causes and effects related to the individual human self: a thought (appears to) trigger an action, patterns of thoughts and beliefs trigger patterns of actions, he smiles and someone smiles back, she learns something which changes how she lives his life, he gains an insight into a belief so the belief falls away and with it certain mind-body patterns, and so on.

(Although this too is really the karma of the whole, the local expressions of the movement of the whole, the local effects of patterns within the whole of the world of form.)

From the “view” of void, or rather the absence of views here (which allows any views, although now with an absence of beliefs in them), all form just happens. It is the awake void as form, happening on its own. Karma – causes and effects – only comes from an overlay of stories.

And if we use that overlay (which is another form aspect of void, happening on its own), we see that karma is the karma of the fluid seamless whole of form, and also that it can appear as the karma of an individual.

We may also see that using the stories of it as individual can be helpful, in a limited way, in terms of motivation for change and practice. But, if taken as real, solid, absolute and final, it  can hold that belief in a separate self in place, making it more difficult to see it as a belief and discover what is on the other side of it.

Dark nights and patterns

I am still reading Bernadette Robert’s Path to No Self. She writes about the path better than almost anyone I can think of, especially in a Christian context.

At the same time, although what she writes about are elements in many paths to awakening, the sequence is clearly a reflection of her own. As they say, if there are 7 billion awakenings, then there are 7 billion different awakenings. Not everyone go through each phase, and not in the same sequence, and there are elements in other paths to awakening that is outside what she describes. When she writes, she gives the impression that there is one main pattern in the awakening process, and she does not seem to fully acknowledge the variability in her writings. Which is fine. Something has to be left to the reader to wrestle with and clarify for themselves, beyond what the writer explicitly mentions.

I can also see that my initial take on the dark nights was, as I suspected, a little off in terms of the Christian tradition.

In general, a dark night is any time beliefs and identifications wear off. It is a letting go of who we thought we were. And this can be gentle and easy if we didn’t quite believe it in the first place, or we use a process that is effective and gentle such as The Work. Or it can be a struggle if the attachment is stronger, and we resist the wearing off. As usual, resistance=suffering (resistance to experience, that is).

Then there are the specific dark nights of the senses and the soul, as St. John of the Cross writes about.

As I understand it, the dark night of the senses puts us on the path. It is a disillusionment with the world as being able to provide us with what we are looking for (essentially, lasting happiness, and freedom from suffering). We realize that being dependent on circumstances for our happiness is a precarious situation, and look for something else. It is a wearing off of beliefs of the world being able to provide lasting happiness, and identities related to that. (Not a full wearing off, just enough to put us on the path, and the wearing off continues on the path.)

The dark night of the soul leads us into the unitive life. It is a wearing off of beliefs and identities of being separate. There is still a sense of a separate self here, an I with an Other, but now an I that is one with the larger whole and God. It is an awakening at the soul level, to the alive presence, to all as God and consciousness. It is a relatively stable awakening.

For Bernadette Roberts, the transition into realized selflessness from here was more of a slipping into it. She didn’t need another (dramatic) dark night for it to happen.

As she points out, it is the torments inherent in the unitive life that wears off the last beliefs in and identification as a separate self. In the unitive life, there can be a great deal of bliss and joy, yet also torments in terms of (a) not being able to fully share it with anyone, (b) others not being interested in it, and (c) seeing how every experience and insight is still filtered through, and tainted by, this sense of a separate self.

These torments are, in a sense, a dark night happening within the unitive life.

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Feeling not quite at home

Over the last few weeks, I have noticed (again) the sense of not quite belonging to any one group or place or role or position in life. And there are several good reasons for this.

First, it is that way, I assume, for all of us. As who we are, or take ourselves to be (this human self/soul), we are far too rich and diverse to fit nicely into any one group. Some parts of us fit and are nurtured and acknowledged, and other parts left out, or even apparently at odds with the orientation and culture of the group.

Then, for myself I see a belief in a story of being an outsider, and an attachment to that identity, which automatically comes up – at some point – when I am in any group, no matter how well the match is. With that belief and identity, I look for evidence to support it, and it also becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy with me acting as an outsider, which provides me with even more evidence for the initial story.

And finally, as long as there is a belief in the core story of a separate self, of an I with an Other, something will always feel off. No matter how good the situation is, how well it matches our beliefs and identities, there is a subtle sense of something being not quite right. There is a sense of not being quite at home. And when the situation is at odds with our beliefs and identities, it is obviously not right.

The sense of not quite being at home, of something being just slightly off, is only resolved when the story of a separate I is resolved, when the I with an Other falls away, revealing the utter simplicity of what is, arising as this awake void and form always and already absent of any I with an Other.

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Gain and loss

In my middle- and high-school classes, there was a running joke whenever we discussed a short story, novel or poem. The teacher would ask us what the story was about, and someone would inevitably respond “gain and loss”. It was funny because it was always true. Our human drama is always about gain and loss. If those elements are not present, we typically don’t find it worth writing about or reading.

It is of course the insight of Buddhism and many other traditions… when there is a sense of a separate self, everything is filtered through gain and loss, or more presisely, attraction, aversion and neutrality. Will it be of gain to me? Will it bring a loss? Is it neutral (for now)? Will it enhance my life? Is it something I need to protect myself against? Is it something I don’t need to bother with?

As I went about my business today, and especially on the bus and while walking around downtown, I noticed how whatever came up was filtered in this way, and to be more aware of it, I labeled whatever attention went to as either gain or loss (attention naturally goes to the things the personality sees as as gain or loss). By doing this, I saw more clearly how this labeling process goes on throughout the day, often outside of attention.

For instance, walking down a street, I see how the labels of gain and loss come up with only seconds apart. Something in a store window is a possible gain (something that would enhance this separate self). Another thing or person a reminder of a loss (a loss of what was or could have been).

Tweaked stories and gridlock

When there is a belief in a separate self, however subtle it may appear to be, any other story is filtered through this core story. Any other story, whether told to others or oneself, is tweaked just slightly to make this separate self look either a little better or worse than the rest of the world (as what it used to be, could have been, may be, what others are, and so on).

When there is a belief in the core story of a separate self, then every other story gets caught up in its gravity and is used to support and prop up that story of a separate self… as better or worse than the rest of the world.

And it is possible to see this in real time, as it happens, in a finely tuned and finely grained way…

It is easy to resist this, especially as we see more closely what the effects are of all of this (separation, alienation, being caught up in the rollercoaster), but that too is just another story used to prop up a sense of separate self. Resistance itself, or rather the identification with the resistance, comes from and supports a sense of a separate self… an “I” resisting something else.

Eventually, it brings a sense of a gridlock… everything grinds to a halt, with nowhere to go, no way out… with only grace as the only possibility, the grace of a release from a belief in this separate self, an I with an Other…. and no way to create or trigger this grace. It has to happen on its own, in its own time.

And, of course, wanting, looking forward to, expecting, hoping for, wishing for, even praying for this grace, is just another story propping up the sense of a separate self. A story about an I here that grace may happen to, one that is separate from grace and the results of the grace.

Which brings us back to the gridlock. And then the seeing of this gridlock, knowing it is what may invite grace to happen, so a looking forward to it, and then seeing that too as another story tweaked to support the sense of separate self.

And so it goes.

Stories creating a sense of separate self

I am back from the retreat, and what I am left with is seeing even clearer – in real time – how any story that is attached to creates a sense of a separate self.

The function of stories is to navigate the world, and they are great for that. But when attached to, it is as if the function of stories becomes to create and flesh out a sense of separate self. It goes for any story, even the most apparently innocent ones.

The Work is great for noticing this in a general way. But seeing it clearly, in real time, is different, and quite sobering…

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Resistance to Ground, etc.

Just a quick summary of what I am exploring these days, as it happens in immediate awareness. What came out below is not very well organized…

  • The Ground, here now, is the field of awakeness, of awake emptiness and whatever arises. It is inherently free from any center and any separate self. It is just one field, beyond and embracing seeing and seen, awareness and its content, this human self and the wider world of form.
  • This Ground is is what is here now, for each of us, only absent of a sense of I and Other. Imagine the content of your awareness, and the awareness itself, as it is, only with a sense of I and Other subtracted from it.
  • When there is resistance to Ground as this field, there is an appearance of I and Other.
  • This happens when there is a belief in a story, when thoughts are taken as anything more than innocent questions, when they are seen as absolutely true.
  • A story becomes a belief when another story is added to it, saying it is true.
  • A story becomes a belief, also when it combines with a sensation. Sensation+story=belief.
  • When a sensation is combined with a story, it gives a sense of a center located at a particular place in space, specifically at the sensation, somewhere within the physical boundary of this human self.
  • This center also allows for a split of space, and a sense of I here and Other out there.
  • This split allows for placing one end of any polarity here, somewhere in this physical body, and the other end somewhere out there in the wider world.
  • This placing of ends of a polarity here and out there, is also how projections work. If, according to how I place a polarity (which in turn is decided by beliefs and identities), one end of a polarity should be out there, then when it arises, it is interpreted as out there. For instance, if I believe I shouldn’t be angry, and have an identity as someone who is not angry, then when anger arises, I have now choice but to filter it so it appears out there in the wider world, placed on appropriate targets (the ones I place it on may indeed experience and act from anger, which only makes them better projection objects).
  • Any belief automatically creates resistance… to the truths in its reversals, and what doesn’t fit the identity that goes with it.
  • The split of space allows for resistance to what is. It filters the appearance of what is allowed and not allowed into different locations of space… what is allowed appears to be in the region where there is a sense of I, and what is not allowed appears as if in another region of space. (What is allowed/not allowed is determined by beliefs.)
  • The sensation a story is combined with serves as a base for a split of space into I and Other (providing a fixed point in space to define the boundary), and also for resistance to parts of what is arising.
  • The sense of density, substance and reality of a sensation provides a sense of the same, of density, substance and reality, to the story it is associated with.
  • If a belief needs to be amplified, it can be amplified in two ways. One is to amplify the sensation it is placed on, which in turn allows for a stronger belief, a sense of more substance to the belief, and a stronger sense of split between I here and Other out there. Another is to engage in and develop supporting beliefs.
  • If a story needs to be combined with a sensation (to create a belief and a split in space), and an appropriate sensation is not available, muscles tense up to create appropriate sensations.
  • A belief also amplifies tension, because it creates a sense of I and Other, and something to protect (a truth or an identity), which in turn creates mental and physical tension.
  • Any belief creates a split in space, of something that is true here and false somewhere else, so also a sense of I and Other.

Personal and God’s will

There is of course thoughts, choices and actions, and when a story of a separate I is placed on it, there is also the appearance of a doer.

What was just thoughts, choices and actions, happening on their own, now has become the appearance of a separate self, and someone thinking, choosing and doing. There is now the appearance of an individual, or personal, will. And this personal will appears to sometimes be at odds with life itself.

Thoughts are innocent questions about the word, but when believed in, and belief in a doer is placed on top of them, they appear to quite often be at odds with what is, with how life manifests. It even looks as if personal will is at odds with God’s will.

Of course, that too is just happening. That too is life manifesting. That too is doing without any inherent doer. That too, is God’s will.

The only way to surrender personal will, is to see that it is not there in the first place. To see, clearly, that any sense of a doer comes from a belief in stories… independent of their content. (Any belief creates a sense of a split, of an I here and Other there, which in turn creates the appearance of a doer.)

Trying to surrender personal will, while there is a sense of a separate self, only adds to the drama. It reinforces the original misidentification. But at the same time, although it comes from misidentification, it may also bring everything a little closer to how it is. If done skilfully, it may nudge the system a little closer to recognizing that there was no doer there in the first place. I surrender my personal will to God’s will, to what is, and then gradually come to see that that’s how it is anyway. It is all God’s will. That is all there is. And this (possibly) sets the stage for a more full shift to happen, where any sense of an I with an Other falls away.

The bhakti approach is to surrender personal will, gradually seeing that it wasn’t there in the first place. And the jnana approach is to inquire into the whole sense of a doer, also gradually seeing that it wasn’t there in the first place.

Meanwhile, it is good to follow any conventional guidelines on this… To align (what appears as) my will with what is good for the larger whole, as much as possible. Exploring and trying out goals and strategies that appear life-supporting and effective at all levels, for myself, those close to me, my community, the larger social and ecological systems, and future generations. (There are lots of them, from eating local and organic food, living close to work, buying used clothes, using bike and public transportation, vacationing locally, to working with beliefs and shadows so we are a little more easy to be around and we see ourselves in others.)

And if my will is at odds with what is, then reconsider goals or strategies, and also find more peace with what is (which happens through both the bhakti and jnana approach).

Of course, any of that too, in whatever form it takes, is also God’s will.

Sensations as anchor (revisited)

This continues to come up on its own (especially right after I wake up in the morning), and also to be an exploration I consciously engage in…

  • When I look for a sense of separate I, I find that it is anchored on specific sensations, usually in the upper throat area, but also sometimes in the belly area (with a sense of a “deeper” yet still separate self). There is a sensation, and then a story about how this is an anchor or platform for, and defines, a sense of a separate self. It makes it appear more real.
  • When I explore emotions, I see that they are really sensations + a story (sadness, anger, frustration, etc.)
  • When I explore moods, I find them to be sensations + a story (often a memory or images the future)
  • Exploring each of these, I see that all of them really define and create a sense of a separate self. In each case, very specific sensations in different areas of the body serve as anchors for a story, making it appear more real and substantial, and defines a separate self in a particular location in space (here, in this human self).
  • When attention is brought directly to sensations as anchor for emotions, moods or a sense of a separate self, what appeared as emotion, mood or a sense of separate self falls into its components… a story placed on sensations.
  • When attention is brought to a sense of a separate self, the sense falls apart, but may then materialize again… using a different sensation as an anchor, or even going back to the initial sensation when attention softens or goes somewhere else.

And further…

  • If the system needs to create the appearance of an emotion, mood or sense of separate self (when there is a belief, an attachment to a story), it seems to tense up muscles in certain areas to create a noticeable and more stable sensation there, which the story is then placed on.
  • A sensation + story creates a sense of a separate self, located in a particular region of space, a sense of a center in space (with the appearance of a separate self, placed on this human self, as the center), and a sense of I at this center and Other in the periphery, as the wider world. This serves as a ground for a sense of a split between I and Other, which is needed to engage more fully in the initial belief, and the appearance of emotions, moods and a separate self.

It’s a weird thing, but also very clear when explored… where others see a body I experience space, with some sensations coming up here and there… and stories are placed on appropriate sensations, creating the appearance of emotions, moods and a separate self.

Reversals and the Middle Way

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aspects of emptiness

Integral Options Cafe’s speedlinking for yesterday linked to a post on emptiness. Before I read it, here is what comes up for me on the topic.

Emptiness (shunyata) can be used in several different, although relatively closely related, ways…

  • As the Ground, the void everything arises from, within, and as.
  • As awake emptiness and form, Big Mind… which is emptiness dancing as form
  • As what is being inherently empty of any separate self, anywhere. It is just one field of awake emptiness and form, absent of any separate self… there is doing, but no doer.
    1. It is empty of separate self because it is emptiness dancing. (The void is just the void, no separate self there, not even when form is included).
    2. And it is empty of any separate self even within form. The world of form is a seamless whole. Everything happening has infinite causes and infinite effects. It is the local manifestations of the movements of the whole.
  • And finally, as absent of beliefs. Empty of believing in the stories of I and a particular identity. Empty of taking relative truths (stories, thoughts, maps, frameworks) as absolute.

I am sure there are other forms of emptiness here, but these seem to be the main ones.

And the funny thing is that these are not intellectual fabrications. It is not something thought out (although it can be thought out, and it can make sense, to some extent, within the realm of thought).

It not only comes from what is alive in immediate experience, but what is alive in immediate experience for all of us… right here now. If we look, investigate for ourselves… using pointers from the Big Mind process, headless experiments, or other forms of inquiry.

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Separate self

Some of the ways there is, and is not, a separate self…

Finding ourselves as emptiness, there is an absence of a separate self… and anything else for that matter. The void is void.

Finding ourselves as awake emptiness and form, and form as no other than awake emptiness itself, there is also an absence of a separate self. There is just one field of awake emptiness and form, with no more or less identification with any part of it. This human self senses, thinks, acts in the world, but there is only the doing and no doer there. It all happens on its own, as part of the field.

Within form, there is also no separate self. There is just a seamless field of form, with infinite causes and infinite effects to anything happening locally… including anything happening to, within and as this particular human self.

And finally, within form, there is a separate self. This human self exists within the world of form. It is a whole as well as a part of a much larger whole. It is a holon in a holarchy. And in that sense, there is a separate self, or rather a separate individual living, relating and behaving in the world.

It is just that this separate self is not really separate from the wider world of form, nor is there a local doer there, nor is it anything else than emptiness itself.

All together, there is emptiness awake to itself and the inherent absence of a separate self in anything. There is the seamless whole of the world of form, with everything local having infinite causes and effects. And there is also the differentiation of this human individual from the wider world, allowing it to function in the world with a particular identity (an identity used for differentiation only, seen as only a relative, utilitarian, limited and temporary, truth.)