I’ve been meditating and seeking truth for over 20 years. Originally Theravadin Buddhist/Vipassana, but since 10 years more and more drawn to Advaita/Nondual traditions. I’ve read oh-so-many books, but feel I haven’t managed to see through the illusion of self in a transformative, lasting way. Today is a good day to die. Is there someone out there willing and able to help me?
Ilona: Welcome here :)
I'm up for helping you to die.
Tell me, what dies? And can something that is not real ever die?
Canute: "Tell me, what dies? And can something that is not real ever die?"
What I hope will die is my almost continuous belief in "I". The idea "I" doesn’t have to die, ideas aren’t really alive, and a real "I" I’ve never come across, so that doesn’t seem alive in the first place either. Please replace "I" with "self" if that makes me more understandable to you, Ilona.
Ilona: Ok, so tell me now, what comes up when you let this thought in-
There is no separate self at all, no entity behind word 'me', none as in zero.
Canute: What comes up? Moments of quiet relief, intermittent excitement, feel a giddiness, the intellect doesn’t know what to do with "zero entity". Part of me has been soooo hungry to feel and see this clearly, part of me feels resigned and defeated. Some optimism arising now, maybe I’m not a lost case after all! I could rephrase all the above in Advaita-speak and exclude the first-person pronouns, but you know what I mean Ilona.
Thoughts? I’m stumped. Have I been living with a ghost all my life, a ghost called me? Whatever this "me" was supposed to be, it’s never been able to control thoughts, emotions or the body in any sustainable way. What would life be like without the ghost?
Ilona: good question.
write up a story, what would life be like if there was no ghosts in humans? none at all.
paint a picture with words. lets see...
Canute: What if the ghost "me" wasn’t in me, or others? Everything wouldn’t just stop, that doesn’t seem to be how life is. I suspect we’d all be a lot less serious, laugh a lot more. "I’m not in control, you’re not in control, lets play!" We’d be feeling more, thinking less. We’d plan less, improvise more. The whole notion of intelligence would mutate, from emphasising smart to emphasising intuitive. We probably wouldn’t take individual ownership very seriously anymore, but focus more on who needs what. We wouldn’t worry much, because the futility of worrying would be so obvious. I like the sound of all that... What about me without the ghost of "me"? I suspect the anguish and sense of meaninglessness would lift, that all seems so tied up to "me". The sense of not-there-yet, there’s-something- fundamentally-false-and-wrong, that would evaporate. I now sense some of my utter exhaustion of living with a lie at the core. Would I still be able to function without "me"? Hell yes. I’m seriously reduced in my functionality by listening to the fearful insistent voice of "me". I’m fed up with being so easily upset, so embarrassingly easily threatened. I’m sure I would be able to feel life and all in it so much better without all the resistance the "me"-thought generates.
So yes, Ilona, no reservations about the theory of life without the lie of "me". Any further suggestions on how to pass through the gate?
Ilona: you are getting close.
everything already is as you described. and always was.
assuming that there is an entity that drives the body is also part of what is. Don't try to fight it.
notice, where do thoughts come from? can you control them? can you know what next thought gonna be?
what is there, when there are no thoughts?
Canute: I´m a radio. Thoughts come from somewhere else. I just receive. So no, no control over thoughts. I can’t know what the next one’s going to be. Except if I deliberately, and rather mechanically, think something. It then has to be simple, like "am I hungry?" or "my hands are cold". Having meditated for almost 25 years, I am familiar with "no thought"-moments too. There is still physical sensations, visuals, sounds, a ringing sound in my head, and what to me feels like just plain being. Not being this or that, just a vibrancy. It feels alive, but unformed. It seems mysterious, yet so intimate. My breathing lightens when I focus on that, a sigh of relief and fuller breathing.
Ilona: very good ..
ok, now look at the mind as if it is a labelling machine.
take a slow look around the room and notice how it labels things, brings memories up when you gaze at some items, how it automatically narrates what is going on. notice that.
then look at labels themselves.
there are labels to things that are here and you can touch, feel, see.. like table, chair, wall, lamp.
and then there are also labels that point to other thoughts, not physical things..
can you tell me, is there a batman in the room?
have you even looked?
Canute: Hmm, yeah, I get the sense of how the labels that refer to immaterial things also carry memories, feelings, judgements, images, associations. Like the label "history", or "love", or "spirituality". Don’t even think of asking me to go to the label "me" and see the sludge that arises with it!...
Don’t quite get the batman question. I haven’t looked exactly everywhere, he could be hiding in one or two places. But I’d be oh so surprised! And he’d have to be pretty darn small. Please give me another nudge Ilona!
Illuminating with the language pointer. Never reflected on how the "I" tends to lead each sentence!
And no, the body breathes, the body sits, no "one" is required or present for that. Thoughts are moving through, the idea of a "thinker" remains just that, a thought amongst others. What do I see? That the notion of "me in charge" is laughable. I also notice something relaxing inside, I don’t have to control.
Ilona, I’m not done with this part yet, but home just got a lot busier. I’ll sign off and get back to it tomorrow. Thanks for your time and guidance!
Canute:24 hours later, picking up where I left off.
Sitting in an armchair, breathing. Breathing happens, all by itself. When actively observed, will intermittently gets involved, wants to do breathing. Relaxing happens, looking for an I, a breather. No one there, but something seems to be there. It’s like trying to catch movement in darkness. As if a subject is hiding just outside the visual range. It is very still, but tangibly present.
Is there a sitter? Will seems cool about sitting, not much doing and controlling to be done there. Weight, gravity, a force of its own. The sitter? Let me turn attention towards that. The body sits, no I needed. There is a vague sense of "I", but it isn’t connected to sitting.
I think? Wish I could, in a way! But no, thinking bobs along on its own. A memory, an impulse, a worry, a secondary worry, a vagueness, silence, another thought, "should something be happening?", interest arises in the sense of "I", like trying to see my eyeball, something relaxes, silence, a brief worry about whether this is going anywhere, it just goes on and on and on. But no "I" required for all that. A thought that there’d be a lot less thinking happening if the idea of an "I" wasn’t believed in.
What do I see? I see processes going on, physical and mental, without any "I" owning or steering them. And there’s some peace in that, some relaxing. Please hit me again, Ilona.
Ilona: ok, there is noticing that there is no I need in thinking. good. is there any function for the entity I in any form or shape? if there was, what would that be? how would it work?
Canute: In trying to pursue this inquiry, for example? Intention arises, doubt about "my" ability arises, thinking about a me that has or doesn’t have the ability doesn’t require an actual "I", just the thought of one. The thought of an existent "I" does affect other thoughts much, but that process doesn’t require an actual "I" either. Like the thought of Santa Claus affects a lot of behaviour this time of year, without an actual Santa existing. As far as I know...
Survival needs? Collected or frantic planning and acting to provide for the needs of the body also happens. It consists of thoughts, fears and worries perhaps, other emotions and of course actions. None of that requires an "I" to happen.
Dreams? There’s certainly a sense of "I" when dreaming, but no actual "I" appears involved.
Keeping healthy? Concern, worry perhaps, sometimes even despair when ill, doing what seems supportive, or not. A sense of "me" being ill, but nothing beyond an ailing body and concerned thoughts and a spectrum of emotions can be detected. It all goes on fine without an actual "I"
Being in love? Works best when the focus is on what is loved. When focussing on the one who loves, something feels false, something is lost. Works fine, much better actually, without an "I".
Social life in general? Again and again, it’s seen how flow arrives when the sense of "I" fades, and is obstructed when "I" get big, vulnerable or seemingly real.
Getting things done? The play between resistance and willingness to get things done hums along without any need for an "I". Resistance grows when it’s "me" who has to get going.
Suffering? Yeah, when it comes to suffering arising from inner and outer drama, it really does seem to require an "I" to get going. A sense of "I", that is. But that’s all I ever could find, not a tangible "I" outside of thought.
Worrying about how others perceive "me"? Same thing, kicks off from the thought "I". No underlying reality ever encountered.
I see this Ilona. But I don’t feel different, and have no doubts the "I"-thought is just as enthralling when it decides to pounce next time. Something is not seen. Where do we go from here?
Ilona: look now at your direct experience, how does it work? notice how thoughts come, fingers type, what else is going on right now. is there any effort required for experience to happen? notice that all that IS happening by itself in the now. can there be a separate self in this picture? was there ever?
Canute: Hah, I’ve been more eager for experience not to happen for most of my adult life! But yeah, it all rolls along without a separate self apparent. With body stuff and thought stuff it’s easier to see the absence of a self. The sense of self is more convincing when it comes to intention, will, drive, initiative.
I still feel rather incompetent with this inquiry. It’s as if all the books I’ve read and the talks I’ve heard stand in the way of a direct investigation. Like I don’t trust my ability to directly inquire, a lack of traction. There’s a feeling of not being able to notice clearly, and coming up with answers from the head instead of from direct seeing.
But OK, let’s crash into the wall again! Perhaps a bit more flow-of-consciousness-writing might help the inquiry. Mouth chewing, fingers typing, eyes looking at a screen, a bit of a knot in the belly, shallow breathing, some restriction in the chest, thoughts, "I wont be able to do this", "I’m the one who’ll take my last breath never having seen truth", "am I exceptionally stupid or just unwilling to be honest?", what a barrage... Cheer up, Adyashanti says only the fakes don’t make it. I notice how the self disparaging thoughts strengthen the sense of me. But what the fuck is the underlying reality of that sense of me?! Have I ever, even once, come across anything more real and solid than a thought when looking for the me? I guess people believe in God, or angels, or the devil, for lifetimes without ever encountering any such thing beyond images and thoughts.
What about the sense of "I am", or "pure being", that I like to rest in when meditating? Ah, here’s some progress! Why make an entity of it, yes it feels like "I", but actually it’s a quality, a vibe, not an entity. It’s a resting place from thought, it feels more permanent than anything else, but why turn it into an entity? And if it’s so trustworthy, why do "I" keep forgetting about it when I most need it? Because no one is in charge, there’s no one home! Stuff happens, including the attempt to control experience, with varying but limited degrees of success. But "no one" is doing all that!
Still there’s a wish and an expectation to see this absence of an "I" much clearer and more unshakeably.
Let’s try your penultimate question
"Can there be a separate self in this picture?"
Wouldn’t there need to be some sort of dividing line for that separation to exist? Like, I’m here, as the subject, and experience is out/over there, as an object? Feeling around inside the body, looking around outside, I find no such dividing line. There’s a sense that I’m behind the eyes, but that really is just a habit, an assumption. What’s looking out? Seeing itself, not an entity, not an "I".
Deconstructing what never was is weird. Now I’ll try to find a self without going to a thought. Cold hands, but "my hands"? Really? A nervous, restless energy present, but "my energy"? On what basis do I take ownership, beyond an assumption, a habit? The "I-ing", "me-ing" and "my-ing" feels like a sad old jukebox, playing the same song over and over again. Is anyone listening anymore? Let’s get out of this sorry café, out into the fresh air!
I’m asking for some more directions now Ilona.
Ilona: yes, sense of being alive, beingness, amness is like a wave, we only assume that there is an entity behind because it has never been questioned.
look at an object, like a pen or something in front of you now. you see an object. now take it away and hide it from you. can you see an absence of it? what do you see?
Imagine you are holding a ball in between your hands. close your eyes, feel the weight, the shape the temperature. imagine it as vivid as you can. hold it there. now open your eyes. what happened to the ball? do you see an absence of the ball? was the ball destroyed?
can you see an absence? what can you see?
Canute: Yeah, thus it is. First, I see the object, from many angles. I take it away, and I see only empty space where the object was. Memory and thinking recollects the object, the image in my mind competes for my attention with the visuals, the absence and the space. An absence is just an absence, empty space. But thinking tries to reify, retain and solidify what isn’t present materially any longer. And no, I can’t see an absence!
Second exercise. Similar experience to the first. When I open my eyes, there’s still a ball in my mind. But in my hands, just space. Not an absence, not a shimmer, not a shadow of a ball. The ball was completely mental. Here again, I can’t see an absence. Speaking truth, an absence is nothing, outside of thinking. The physical ball wasn’t destroyed, because it never existed out there in the first place. Just like you can’t kill Santa, or the Easter bunny!
Ilona: Or the 'me'. It's not anywhere other than in the mind. And in the mind there are stories about me, but no me at all.
Now look again, is it true, that there is no entity behind word 'me' or not?
Tell please, what comes up.
Canute: Lots of vague and not-so-vague perceptions, memories and judgements around "me", but no entity anywhere. The whole notion of entity is looking less real. Where, anywhere, could an entity be found, that’s more than a concept? Can’t find one here, can’t find one anywhere else. Does experience actually have a subject, or is that term only valid in grammar?
Leaning into myself, like doing Douglas Hardings finger-pointing-experiment. The sense of being grows stronger, an aliveness, quiet, waiting, watching, not wanting anything. Feels like that is animating the body, that is the source of thought. But calling it an entity? Would be truer to call it energy, like electricity. It is aware. It feels intimate, close to home. But it doesn’t fit the word entity. Or me, or I or mine.
This is good. There’s also a half-experienced, half-imagined sense that something is hiding just out of sight. There's an absence I can’t perceive, but also a presence that can’t be made into an object. This is what comes up now. Getting closer...
Ilona: I can see it is working..
there wont be any fireworks and no angels are coming down, shift is very subtle. you may not even notice, so no need to wait for it.
notice breathing and the tingling sensations, and awareness in which all is felt, is any of this personal? is this feeling contained in a body, is there a line between inside and outside? what is behind that feeling?
what is here now? what is real, as in does not disappear once you stop believing in it?
Canute: The first paragraph is very helpful, Ilona. I do notice expecting reality to hit me pretty hard. Good to know it is more likely to creep up from behind. I’m starting to feel a bit like the only time I took magic mushrooms; "Anything happening yet? Anything different yet?" Until I later realised the buzz was there, without me seeing it coming.
First exercise. Tingling and breathing occurs in the body, thinking behind the eyes, seeing happens through the eyes, hearing happens through the ears. Does any of this require a me? No. Does a me influence any of that? No, only a sense of me influences that. Thoughts about seeing, hearing, breathing and tingling bounce at thoughts of me and mine. Is any of this personal? All of it feels like "my life", but familiarity doesn’t require a me either. Recognition without a subject.
Is this feeling contained in a body? It’s like different channels on the remote. Breathing and tingling and thinking seems to occur in the body, seeing and hearing more outside. The more I rest in all of it, the less true that outside/inside distinction feels. Behind the distinction there is a sense of a field, a whole, where all the impressions come and go. It’s like I have to loosen the grip of the visual version of reality. It is visual consciousness that creates and maintains the inside/outside duality. Now thought goes very, very quiet. It’s like what’s aware stops reaching out so much, leans back into itself. Breathing goes quieter. A sense of mystery. A sense of not knowing, but a relaxed not knowing.
Your next question Ilona; "what is here now? what is real, as in does not disappear once you stop believing in it?"
I’ve already described some of what’s here now above. More on this now. The body doesn’t require belief to be here. It’s less visual and more somatic now, the humming, the pulses, the breathing, the twitches draw attention more than how it’s shaped. Sounds and visible objects seem real, no belief required there. That’s all content, present because a container is there. What do all these things appear in? In that quietly aware space. At first it seems to have a location, in here, but more and more, it’s the whole, which doesn’t feel like a location. An all without an I. No belief needed. Going a bit giddy here, not knowing growing loud again. Want to rest in this, articulating feels cumbersome. Over to you, Ilona.
Ilona: Good going. Getting very close.
Not knowing is the best place to be.
Let the doubt in, doubt all you ever known, then ask for truth to come through.
It's already happening anyway, watch it unfold..
Is there a you?
Canute: Thanks Ilona. Sweet new piece of homework. I had a very short night last night, and will try to get some rest now. I’ll carry the koan to bed, and continue tomorrow. It’s working on me...
OK, another day. Had a good nights rest, highly unusual for me! Something’s gone quiet inside since last night. The tendency to lean into a future with restlessness and sometimes anxiety isn’t there today. I do notice avoidance. A million things to tinker with, rather than focussing on the inquiry. Postponing me dying...
Had a long walk, allowing the mind to roam a bit. Here are a few snippets. Was there ever an entity anywhere? Isn’t assigning entity to what isn’t one and hasn’t got one a favourite pastime of human ignorance since the beginning of humans? Like the Vikings assuming Thor and his hammer were thundering, when it was just an impersonal process.
Second strand of thought. What if there isn’t a "me"? Blame and guilt and shame wouldn’t have anywhere to stick, ahh, what an uplifting prospect! Then it would be so much easier to feel strong, so called negative, emotions. Like a storm in an empty field, there’s nothing there to get hurt!
As you can see, the weather is pretty wild here today.
Then I mused, no me here, no you in anyone else either. It’s like moving through a party full of drunk people who don’t know they’re drunk. Relax, but stay sharp and don’t take anyone too seriously. When we wake up, we’ll all be slightly or acutely embarrassed about some things we said and did while drunk...
Noticing how almost everything I thought I knew has a hollow, false ring to it. Yes, but.. But I’m only starting to see what the but is about. The underlying assumption of a me, a you, a we and a them.
Most of my firmly held beliefs have been fading away for years. Talking to others, some present clear beliefs and standpoints in very convincing ways. But something inside goes sceptical, true but not right, right but not true, as one of my teachers said. I feel clumsy and inept for not being able to convincingly take a stand of my own.
Allowing myself to muse on, it’s striking how so much of what I’ve picked up in life is second hand, other peoples opinions. First my parents, then friends and colleagues, then spiritual friends and teachers. And when I voice one of these second hand opinions, I never sound convincing to myself. Like I’m faking it. Playing the role of "me", trying to polish an identity that is hollow, without a core. How fruitless, what a sad waste, how tired I am of that! And if there is no true identity in others either, then I could speak my own truth without worrying so much about how it will be received. Who is receiving? Just dance my dance, a ghost amongst ghosts!
Please, please, truth. Fill me up, shatter my illusions, cure my blindness! I don’t expect to gain anything at all, just to be relieved of the burden that makes life so hard. The burden is a lie. A big fat lie right at the centre of life, it is the centre I take to be me. Look, look for yourself. How the fuck have I swallowed this lie, breath by breath, day by day. I grew out of Santa Claus, I grew out of the Tooth Fairy, I even grew out of educate yourself, get a job, do what you’re told, get married, have kids and all will be fine. Isn’t it time I dropped the most damaging lie of them all, the lie of "I"? OK, I’m ranting a bit here, but it feels good. Working up some steam. I’ll just sit here and look for what’s really where I take myself to be, until I hear from you, Ilona.
Ilona: Brilliant, some anger and frustration is welcome at this place, let it burn, see the lie that has been living in the system for years feeding on shame, guilt and feeling of not enough.
It's all a lie.
Look at how beliefs a formed- passed in from one human to another through 'repeat after me' principle and accepted because it fits other beliefs.
Can you see that none of beliefs are true? None of them. All lies. Investigate.
Tell me, what do you know for sure,100%, be completely honest here.
Canute: First were beliefs picked up from parents. Most succinctly summarized as "Obey, and all will be well". Bullshit of biblical proportions. Then school-age beliefs, most crucially "Be popular, and all will be well". I was never popular enough for long enough, and the ones that seemed to be, usually ended up in some pretty uninspired circumstances. Adolescence and the early twenties, "Be successful, and all will be well". I was, until 26, when I got so miserable in the midst of success I just abandoned the whole success-project. Then the Buddhist years, "Be enlightened, and all will be well". Meditating away, following rules of speech and conduct, investigating experience to the best of my ability. After 20 years of that, depressed and disappointed. And of course nourishing the belief that it’s my fault, I’m not doing it right. Which is true, but if Buddhism was worth its salt, there would have been plenty of folks to point me in the right direction.
One of the reasons beliefs are so powerful, and dangerous, is they affirm themselves. If I believe obeying is important and good for me, I feel terrible when disobeying. So obeying must be really important and good for me!
Some beliefs are more helpful than others. "Being kind and truthful is worthwhile" is a better belief than "All infidels deserve to suffer horribly and die". But no belief is unequivocally true. It’s like having a tiger-skin by your fireplace, thinking "tigers are like this". Tigers can be a lot of things, but once you meet a real one, you’re likely to discover your belief isn’t of much help! That’s a weird analogy...
Beliefs sit between me and reality. They filter reality, so less than reality arrives at my door. Ergo, beliefs make me stupid, ill informed, unable to see all of what’s really happening.
A thought or two on how beliefs are passed on. In lots of ways, of course. Parents, friends, media, authorities, teachers, a long list. I notice the more I respected and looked up to the person, the deeper the inherited beliefs dug in and sprouted roots. I remember posing as a literary connoisseur for a few years. I read some impressive viewpoint, assimilating it partially. Then when the opportunity arose to voice it, ahhh, how hollow and vain it sounded!
Are no beliefs true? I’m assuming here beliefs are perspectives on things I don’t know for sure. On earth, I know if I drop something, it falls to the ground. If I get drunk, I get a hangover. Not beliefs. Beliefs? It will work out OK in the end. As you sow, so you reap. I’m not very intelligent. I have psychological problems. It takes a lot of samadhi to see the absence of self. Ilona knows what she’s doing. I remember the past as it was. Life is a custom-designed experience to help me wake up. Waking up will eradicate all my personality flaws. Waking up is a rare thing, for specially gifted people, and people who suffer much more than I do. I could go on...
They’re all mental postures about things I don’t know. A posture is just a posture, some less harmful than others. Like a window from which I view life. But they share one flaw. They assume an I. Or a he or a she. They assume there’s a lasting, solid entity for whom they’re valid. And I have never ever come across such a thing. So how can any of them be true?
What do I know for sure? I’ve read all of Jed McKenna’s books over and over, so I have to be careful here to stay honest and true. Only present experience. I don’t know who or what I am. I don’t know who or what others are. Do I know if I am? I know something’s here. Seeing, hearing, sensing, feeling, thinking, those are just words, but they point to an underlying reality that is known. Are all those activities me? The activities are happening, but where’s the me they’re happening to? Is the me the activities? Is I a verb? That’s a nice title for a spiritual book, but no. Seeing, hearing, sensing, feeling and thinking happen, or stop happening. But no me, no entity is available to attention. The activities happen in something. What’s the something? Something is aware, conscious. Now things go very quiet again. The arrow of attention turns towards the subject of experience, like last night. What do I know for sure then? Something is here. That’s the truest I can phrase it. The something is aware, conscious. It feels like it just is, and knows. It is before, during and after formulating thoughts about it. It doesn’t move, everything moves within it, and through it.
OK, over to you, dear Ilona. Thanks for staying with me. Or with what’s here!
Ilona: Ok, now turn around 180 degrees and look at the other side: what is true?
What is real?
Canute: Sights, sounds, body sensations, thoughts on a screen. True? It’s all there, but is it true? The question stumps me. It all feels real, but that doesn’t mean it’s true or real. Like the exercise yesterday, I notice all four kinds of impressions elicit or come with memories, associations and evaluation, usually hingeing on the me/mine-thought. I notice I don’t know what anything is anymore. I have names and labels for stuff, but I don’t know what anything truly is.
The more I focus on what’s around me, the less I feel the distinction of sounds/sights/sensations/thoughts out there, and me in here. The stillness experienced doesn’t feel as internal anymore.
Something wants to give up spouting words about experience. Words don’t stick to experience much anymore. Experience is less affected by words now. That's restful.
But I shall blaze on, within stillness. What’s true, what’s real, what is? I don’t have a clue. Not knowing is. Not knowing is unassailably present and real and true. Not knowing what things are. But knowing that something is here. There is awareness of something. If someone said now; "There is nothing. Only an absence.", I’d have to disagree. Something is here.
Good. This exercise drew me out of internalising what’s present. It’s no more here than there. Back to you, Ilona. Where do we go from here?
Ilona: Great stuff, Canute. I see you are right at the not knowing bit, which is a signpost for entering the gate...
Is there a 'you' to cross?
Is there a gate?
Canute: Just read Ciaran’s latest post, felt sombre after that. Then I get the above from you, spirit lifts at the sound of the inbox. Appreciate the initial thumbs up, because, as my habit is, I felt inadequate. Second sentence, encouragement, reframing my confusion. Last two lines, neck hair on end, a few tears. Let’s get to it.
I’ve been looking for a me for three days now most of the day, for twenty odd years on and off. Never found one. Let me look again. Still nothing more solid than an idea and a sense there. Even if there was a me, where the hell would it go to enter the gate? What’s true and real is here, isn’t it? Isn’t that even a decent definition of what’s real and true? That which doesn’t come and go?
Is there a gate? Yeah, it’s got a sign on it saying; "No lies allowed beyond this point". The gate is too small to pass while carrying a lie about an I behind experience. I’m getting too philosophical.
Reboot. Is there a gate? No, it’s a different kind of movement. More liking putting down a burden. I’m carrying something heavy, I don’t need to do that. Almost all of the time, I don’t even notice/know I’m carrying it. "I" is the shortest word in the English alphabet, but also the heaviest. Maybe that’s why it’s capitalized?.. Gee, I’m chatty this evening.
Start over. There is aliveness here. Something is aware. The distinction between what’s aware and what it is aware of is vague. What in the present moment fits the label "me"? Nothing. Me sounds like something solid, something to be, something that has a history. Nothing that tangible is here now.
Is there a gate? Gate implies a here and a there. A this side and the other side. Here, now, those distinctions make no sense at all. A better simile would be those 3D-pictures. Once you’ve seen it, you can’t unsee it, you see it all the time. Except, here it’s the opposite, you unsee something for the first time, and then keep not seeing what was never there... I’m cooking Ilona, but I’m not done yet. Keep turning up the temperature, please!
Ilona: Does awareness need someone to be aware? it's all happening same time, now. Is there a witness?
How about a cat? Is there a witness in a cat?
And keep focus on the obvious. You can never find entity behind word I because it does not exist.
All there is is life happening by itself.
Is it true?
Yes or no?
Canute: If awareness needed a someone, like me, it would be stoppable by a me, wouldn’t it? Whereas in reality, any impulse to stop awareness, like shutting the eyes or ears or trying not to notice body sensations, is immediately recognized by awareness. Awareness is what comes first, it’s the given. Anything else shows up in awareness, so to speak. Even if I’ve discovered there really isn’t a dividing line between awareness and its objects.
Is it all happening at the same time, now, like I think you’re asking me above? Yeah, there is nothing but now. Thoughts about an imagined past and future can only appear now. Yesterdays thought is stone dead, until it’s recollected now. I notice this every time I miss an appointment, which has been often lately! Yesterdays "Tomorrow I must remember ..." is of no help the next day unless I remember it the next day.
Is there a witness? It is a popular and appealing idea. A quiet witness, the true subject of all "my" experiences. But as I point out above. I cannot find a separation between what’s experiencing and what’s experienced. "Hungry" is just "hungry". I could say the body is hungry, but that’s actually an abstraction. I could say I am hungry, but whereas the experience of "hungry" is obvious, the identity having that experience is not at all discernible here and now. Except as a thought, and not necessarily underpinned by more truth than the thought "centaur".
Is there a witness in a cat? Well, I’m not a cat. So I assume you’re giving me some slack to speculate here, Ilona. If I don’t need an entity for awareness to operate, why would a cat? If Christmas doesn’t need Santa to be real for Christmas to happen, why would Easter need the Easter Bunny to be more than a fairy tale for Easter to occur? That is one weird comparison...
I notice cats express much less hesitation and self-consciousness than humans. To me, a sense of "me" is what drives my hesitation and self-consciousness. I see a cat jump or pounce, and I wish I just once could experience every muscle and nerve in me cooperate and participate like they do in a cat.
This cat-question isn’t really taking off for me. Next question.
"You can never find entity behind word I because it does not exist.
All there is life happening by itself. Is it true? Yes or no?"
Just focussing on keeping the investigation alive. It’s increasingly clear seeing, hearing, sensing the body all happen happily without a me. Intention and impulse still feel a lot like "me". But again and again, especially this morning, while experiencing reluctance and resistance to continue investigating, the impulse to do just about anything else arose all on its own. Out of thin air, it seemed. Conditioned by habit and whatever, but no "I" was found as source of the unwillingness. Actually, the behaviour felt quite mechanical. Now, "I’m hungry" arises. Then "stay with this now" arises. The ghost taking ownership of the process and pretending to be a me. When looking, nothing more than an assumed "me" can be found.
Who would have thought Donald Rumsfeld had succinctly summarized reality? "Stuff happens." Life happening by itself. No I in me, no you in you. No one in control, which doesn’t preclude intentions to control, or enjoy or avoid. Or whatever.
It’s like I’ve been trying to dance all my life, but didn’t quite hear the music! No wonder I kept bumping into other people and stuff!
I feel light, relieved, bemused. No fireworks, but a grounded feeling. Like I’ve been drunk for a long time, and notice I’m beginning to sober up.
It’s time for some food. Awaiting your next cue, Ilona.
sobering up is fun, after all these years of feeling drunk. beware of hangover, lol. it takes some time for the system to rebalance.
can you answer these questions as you see now:
is there a you in any shape or form in reality? was there ever?
how does it feel to see the true nature of illusion?
Canute: There are memories of a me, a sense of me comes and goes, me as a thought arises regularly, and others refer to a me endlessly. And of course I continue to use "I" for convenient communication. But in reality? Beyond thinking and imagination? Like something continuous or tangible, like wind and joy are tangible, like space and breathing are continuous? No, I have never come across such a thing. Was there ever? No, not in the life lived here. I have no authority to speak for other times, people and places, but I am free to speculate. The innocent mistake we all start out doing, assuming the I is real, is the best explanation I’ve come across for so much, if not all, of historical and contemporary human misery. Selfishness, fear and worry, guilt and shame, greed and deception, abuse and addiction, jealousy and blame and on and on. All these painful human experiences, because of taking an illusion for reality! The price we pay for believing in ghosts! I see clearly how for me, my belief in "I" was a learnt behaviour. It’s what the world around me does and did, and taught me to do.
How does it feel to see the true nature of delusion? It feels a lot of things. I meander between melancholia and upset for having lived with a lie at the core for almost all my life. I notice I’m much more interested in little tings now. Like "I wonder how this glass of water will be drunk?" rather than "I’m drinking a glass of water, again. Done it a million times. Boring." "How does awareness decide exactly how to button up the fly after peeing?" I’ve become a curious bystander to my "own" life! I still have restless impulses and brief dread arose a few hours ago when having to respond to an proposal from someone. But the commenting and criticising my reactions has subsided. It still happened around the dread, but then I remembered that I isn’t! What a relief. It’s like things don’t stick the same way anymore. I’m looking forward to being hurt, offended. Just to see what happens! Will it happen, will the hurt last ridiculously long like before, will I beat myself up for being so oversensitive and neurotic?
Took a long walk at dusk, feeling light and content, not leaning in to the future, not swept away by much distracting thought. Uncharacteristically optimistic, "pretty dark grey sky, but I reckon there’ll be no rain", "getting dark, but I’ll find my way home", "the long northern winter isn’t so bad after all." That simply isn’t quite me! I’m Eeyore!
I could get philosophical. The staggering implications of the illusion. It’s like a world full of people with 3D-goggles on. Everyone is living in their own twisted tale, bumping up against each other, not finding what they need to thrive, not seeing what’s really here. If someone manages to take their goggles off, they better be careful! If you speak the truth, you might get dismissed, castigated or worse.
But no, no need to start converting the heathens just yet. This needs to integrate, infuse consciousness, replace delusion. I have a new car, shiny, slick, fast. I need to learn to maintain it, handle it, listen to it, understand it and love it. I’m beginning to see why the Zen masters of old asked monks who just had their first satoris to go shut up in a hut for a few years!
If you still want to play, Ilona, I’m game. And hey, thanks for giving this hopeless case some hope!
Ilona: Hihi, no case is hopeless. Hope is non issue.
I see you're coming out on another side, nice.
One question, what was it that pushed you over the edge? Can you describe what happened?
And another question is, how would you tell about absence of 'me' to somebody who never heard about it?
Canute: Hope is a non issue, true true. It’s what religions tend to offer, isn’t it. It’s just thoughts about a rosier future, usually without much useful guidance on how to get there.
What pushed me over the edge? This wasn't a completely new exercise for me, but I needed someone, you Ilona, to support me. Alone, I would have succumbed to the usual demons, resignation and perceived inadequacy. I also needed you to ask the right questions at the right time. I don’t have a great inner overview right now, but I sense the process had a definite sequencing. The first point at which truth came alive, was last night when you wrote (more or less) "not knowing is a signpost for the gate". Up to then, somehow I still expected discovery of truth would be discovering an idea, a thought. And so not knowing seemed like a failure. Stupid, isn’t it?
Then your subsequent question, "is there a you to cross?", hit me. It hit somewhere else than in the intellect. I was moved to tears before the intellect understood the question! Then relief, sighs, breath deepening, shoulders dropping, a sense of possibility and being in awe of how uncomplicated, but not necessarily easily seen, the truth of what we’re not is.
After that it was more a question of hammering it out. Coming to grips with the implications, noticing how experience of anything actually happens, finding that only thinking can separate experience into different bits, dismantling the notion of a witness, and seeing all the blessings that accrue when I take my stand in reality rather than delusion. For the last 4 days, I’ve focused on this inquiry, not only by responding to your questions. One approach that’s worked well was just doing all the normal things, like cooking, showering, eating, walking, feeling, even thinking, and notice how they happen so naturally without an I in sight.
How would I tell about the absence of 'me' to somebody who never heard about it? Hmm...
Hiya! Are you ready to find out why life is so hard ? Even if it turns your world upside down? Even if it removes any possibility to blame anyone else ever again? Even if the answer at first most likely will provoke you into defence and denial? Still in? OK, here we go.
Actually, Ilona, I got up at . The mind is mush. I’ll be back, tomorrow. It’s been a long, good day.
Ilona: How is it feeling today? :)
Canute: Hey Ilona. It’s feelin´groovy! Chilled, resting in itself, meeting the inner and outer world without resistance or hankering . It's light, almost transparent, everything moves through, nothing sticks. Where’s Eeyore?
I’m travelling today, everybody wants to talk to me, strangers on the bus, strangers at the train station. I’m happier listening, so it works out well. I’m unreasonably interested in everything. Had some time at the train station and got totally fascinated by extremely expensive magazines about rock climbing. Read the BBC news on my mobile as if it was a movie cliff-hanger moment. Where’s the old jaded me?
Just like yesterday, I got up at today. I was pretty woozy, but answered your last question as best I could. Internet hasn’t been working until now, on the train, so I’ll paste this early mornings writing below. And then I’ll sign off, for the time being. I wont be guiding others for now, it feels right to first map out the new landscape for a while. But I’m always available for your questions and comments.
Bowing to Rumsfeld, holding Lithuanians finest in my heart,
How would I tell about the absence of 'me' to somebody who never heard about it?
This mind is still mush. Four hours of sleep, and more interested in how life without believing in an entity works than telling anybody else about it.
But for you Ilona, being such a sweet nobody, I shall stretch and walk the extra mile;..
You ever notice how something doesn’t seem quite right about reality? How, despite the abundance of available advice, we end up creating repeated misery for ourselves and others? How life doesn’t seem to make sense? Maybe that’s why we enjoy movies like The Matrix and The Truman Show, affirming reality isn’t what it pretends to be? Well, it’s because it’s true! Reality isn’t what it pretends to be!
There’s a lie right at the centre of life. It’s like those spy thrillers, looking for the mole, the investigation leading closer and closer to the heart of the Secret Service itself. But in your, and my and everybody else’s case, the lie resides right at our own centre, at the place we call I, or me. Investigate; is the word/thought/sense of I or me pointing to an underlying reality? Just like the word rain points to the wet stuff in your face, or the words fear and joy point to a set of body sensations? Or is it the case that the words I and me are just words, underpinned by nothing more real and solid than the word Santa Claus? I found the latter to be true. I’m still trying to handle the implications of this. But let me tell you this much. As far as I can see, most of my psychological suffering has been because I believed in an I. And I’ve hung around with Buddhists for almost 25 years! They’re specialised in no I! But the idea is not enough.
You need to see this, clearly and directly for yourself.
Just like you see there is no Batman in this room now. Once you’ve seen it, no one will be able to convince you otherwise. Of course, we keep using the first person pronoun, it helps us communicate. Me, I’m still new in life without the lie. And I suspect I’ll occasionally fall into delusion again, habits die hard. But then I’ll just look for Batman, and notice he’s still not here!
Interested? There are some good people at http://www.liberationunleashed.com. Do you really want to postpone taking the red pill any longer?
Jamming with strangechord
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