Monday, 7 October 2013

Werner: Thoughts Are Not What Knows

Werner wrote to me in February, we talked a bit, there was a break and then we talked some more. Here is the beginning and the end of our conversation. 

Dear Ilona,

I read on your blog that you are not taking new people for guiding, but I still feel drawn to get in touch with you directly. You have been my main guide in my experiences with LU. After I discovered LU for real at the end of last December, it was your “Start Here” blog post that I worked with primarily. It turned out to be a highly reliable guide and built a lot of trust.

Now I feel it would be helpful to confirm where I am at, and get in touch with others who went through the process or are interested in it.

A bit about me:
I was a spiritual seeker for about 40 years. When searching for answers to teenage problems I first looked in psychology. After reading "Autobiography of a Yogi" the search started to become spiritual. This lead to a long involvement with serious spiritual path. At some point that came to a dead end, and the focus shifted to other spiritual teachings and teachers.

I downloaded the Gateless Gatecrashers pdf in the middle of last year, but at that time was more drawn to Nisargadatta, some of whose books I found at the same time.
At the end of December I was looking for a book to read on a trip and remembered the GG book. I looked at it again and checked out the LU website, and suddenly felt very drawn to it. It felt like the logical next step. Nisargadatta’s “Whatever you think yourself to be, you are not” resonated with me, and LU looked like an approach to clarify exactly that in my own experience.

Now the LU approach made so much sense. Highly specialized, a laser-like focus on just this one aspect of being, without trying to sell a whole life philosophy (or anything at all), without the need to quiet the mind or fight it – all of this resonated so deeply and made me feel: yes, I want to try that. Just the simplicity of it already felt liberating.

I came across your blog post "Start Here". The steps you gave made sense and I liked that I could go through them by myself, as I find it challenging to post personal matters on public forums.  So I worked with your instructions for several weeks, doing the steps as fully and honestly as I could, writing down whatever came up for myself. In parallel I read the Gateless Gatecrashers book and some additional blog posts of you and others.

I found it especially helpful to look at expectations about liberation, enlightenment, waking up. In 40 years of spiritual search I had collected a lot of them. Separating the seeing of the exclusionary nature of the me-thought from all expectations of effects that would have was very very important. It is brilliant that you address this so clearly.

Going through the steps has led to some significant realizations and shifts.

I came to clearly see that everything mind considers to be "me" really is just thoughts, feelings, and sensations. I could clearly observe how an experience happens and then a thought arises and attaches an "I" or "me" to the experience. I could also see that there is awareness and a sense of being, but it can't be grasped by the mind, can't be described by any labels. It is rather that thoughts and labels get their life from being seen by it.

I also came to realize that seeing this illusion of me does not magically resolve  personality, mind, coping mechanisms, survival strategies, habits, fears, etc. Some people seem to experience bigger shifts in these areas than others, but these effects don't mean anything about the seeing of the me-illusion itself.

There is much more to say, but I will try to put some of it in my answers to the questions you usually ask people at the end of your guiding.

1) Is there a separate 'me' 'I' 'self' , at all, anywhere, in any way, shape or form? Was there ever?
I got to see that what is habitually taken as "me" is really a bundle of thoughts, feelings, and sensations. When inspected closely, there is no real entity in any of them.
There also is an aliveness, awareness, sense of being, that is not graspable by thoughts and cannot adequately be described by any labels.

2) in the experience, is there an experiencer? Is it body that experiences or is the body the experienced?
There is an experiencing, without being able to pinpoint this experiencing to a tangible entity. The body is the source of certain sensations, probably also thoughts and emotions, but it is not the body that is aware of them, it's something intangible beyond the body.

3) Explain in detail what the illusion of separate self is, when it starts and how it works.
Somehow most of us humans seem to be in some kind of trance, mass hypnosis. We take thoughts, feelings, and sensations to be ourselves, even though it can be clearly and easily seen that it is not true. I guess it is a cultural thing, some kind of conditioning that is passed on from generation to generation. And I guess, not being anything tangible at all, there is a temptation and social pressure to identify with something tangible.

4) How does it feel to see this?
It feels different at different times. Sometimes it moves a lot of energy. Sometimes there are doubts. Sometimes it feels like there is some kind of emptiness, space underneath a layer of thought, feelings, sensations.
Even though it is a (more or less) subtle shift of perception, sometimes the implications feel breathtaking, mindboggling, immense.
Mind is still trying to control, holding on, resisting; and also unwinding, adjusting, opening. It is still strong, a lot of attention focused on it. There used to be the conviction that that is a problem (also nurtured by diverse spiritual teachings), now it means less.

There is a lack of interest in the next spiritual idea or concept, but there is an interest in what's going on with me, in my experience and in the experience of others going through a similar process.
There is still avoiding, something my mind has been doing for most of my life, but it is less personal.
There is still fear, insecurity, avoidance, withdrawal, all these unwanted traits of this personality. Sometimes this leads to doubt that seeing actually happened. But there is some kind of empty space underneath them, they can't cling to any kind of core. There used to be convictions that these unwanted experiences meant something about "me". Now these convictions are seen as thoughts, just like the "me" they are referring to.

There is a sense that there are more feelings to feel, more life changes to happen, more previously avoided experiences to have, and that it takes time for them to take place.
There is less pressure to have life a certain way, more openness and curiosity towards what is happening.
There are times of feeling relief, loads falling off, things becoming simpler.
And a lot more.

5)How would you describe it to somebody who has never heard about this illusion but is curious about it.
That would very much depend on the person I am talking with, and the situation.
A somewhat generic description could be like this:

It seems that we humans tend to be in some kind of trance. We were raised with some assumptions about who we are, and all of our actions in life are based on these assumptions. These assumptions include that we are a separate person, who is a body or is in a body, and that we have some degree of control over our life (if we try hard enough).
Even though all of our actions are based on these assumptions, somehow we never examine them to see whether they are actually true.

Well, this is about taking a very close look at the basic assumptions about who we are. There are no special prerequisites except being willing to take this look, to question beliefs, and to be open to discover what is actually going on.
You don't need the grace of a guru to do this - the grace of life is already happening by you being at this place and willing to look.

You don't need to do some special spiritual practices for it, you don't need to become a better person for it, you just need to look.
Everything can be as it is.

You can go about this in different ways.
There is this group of specialists who have come up with different ways to help you look at this.
You can explore by yourself by following the steps described in this blog post:
You can go to a forum on the website and get the help of someone in looking at this.
You can read the book The Gateless Gatecrashers.
Or you can do all of this - whatever you feel drawn to.

It may sound too simple, too good to be true. I can only encourage you to give it a try. Skepticism is not a problem. You do not need to leave your critical thinking at the door.

Just look for yourself.

6) What was the last bit that pushed you over, made you look? Can you describe the moment when seeing happened?
I can't pinpoint a particular moment, but there were a number of seeings that felt really important.

First of all, the whole approach by itself was already liberating, by bringing so much clarity into a topic where there is so much confusion going on, so many opposing views, so many complexities. The complete focus on one basic, foundational illusion made so much sense.

Then at some point there came an understanding about something that had been going on in my life.
About ten years ago there had been a period of a lot of opening, the first time where there was actually inner joy and peace in my life some of the time. A lot of major life changes took place as a consequence, and one of them was that I became involved in a spiritual group. While I was attracted to some things in this group, there also was the feeling that something was wrong, but I couldn't get to the root of it. Peace and joy disappeared, and there was some kind of inner conflict. Even though I had left the group several years ago, this inner conflict still existed.

Suddenly I was able to see that at the core of this was the idea of doership.
Peace and joy had gone hand in hand with an opening without a special agenda. There had been more of a curiosity, and a willingness to look at things how they were, feel what was there to feel, without an agenda about a particular outcome.

The spiritual group stressed the idea that you had to do certain things and be certain ways and follow certain teachings to achieve liberation. They assumed that there is a doer who can do all this, if he tries hard enough.

Now I could see that this was the basic conflict that somehow was still in place, there was more understanding about what had happened, and some kind of energetic knot dissolved.

Another important seeing was related to some mental pressure that was often there in my mind and to some degree still is. There had been the idea that "I couldn't get it" as long as this pressure was there or showed up so regularly.
At some point I could see that this pressure has nothing to do with the reality of who I am. There are impulses, feelings, thoughts that come up, and there are other thoughts and feelings that try to control them. Energies opposing energies, creating pressure. But it doesn't say anything about who I am.

It was very important to look at expectations about liberation. At some point it became real that seeing the exclusionary nature of "me" doesn't necessarily mean that all challenges in life are magically resolved. Life circumstances are still there, personality structures are still there, conflicts are still there, avoided feelings are still there, other people are still there.
It became clear that the effects of seeing are different for different people, and that it is misleading to judge your own seeing because you might not experience the same effects as someone else. 

There had been times of seeing truth before this. In hindsight it seems most important that LU cleared up a lot of confusion and misconceptions around the topic, so that seeing could happen more clearly, and so that some kind of shift could happen in the mind.

7) Anything to add?
I strongly find that the "Start Here" blog post on MarkedEternal should become part of the main LU website, or at least be pointed to from the main site as one possible approach for people who are looking. It turned out to be so effective for me, and not everyone might find it by themselves on the MarkedEternal blog.

I find it so so great beyond words what you guys are doing.

Thank you,

Feb 28
Hi Werner,

Thank you so much for writing to me. It's really great to hear that by following steps, shift has happened. I see from your answers that there is seeing, clarity, and that puts a big smile on my face.

Are there any doubts? Is there any place that still cloudy or all is clear?
What does the word I refer to? In your experience, how is it seen that there is no doer? And what do you see when you look at other, has the view changed?
Was there ever a gate to cross? :)

Sending lots of love.

Mar 2
Dear Ilona,

Thank you very much for taking the time to read my email and respond so fast.

Here is what has come up for me in response to your questions.

There are still times of doubt, and there is still some cloudiness. There has been seeing, but there also has been an avoidance of feelings related to what was seen. When feelings are triggered and/or mind gets compulsive in an avoidance of feeling, “I” feels more real.
This also happens in interactions with my wife and other people, where both avoided feelings and compulsive thinking are there quite a lot.
It has just been a way of being for so long. It is not as sticky as it was, but old mechanisms are still in place.
Additionally mind has the tendency to conceptualize what was seen, on top of avoided feelings.

So I feel more seeing has to happen. Not to discover that “I” is not real, but to give attention to what is essential in the core of being, so that feelings and thoughts can relax.

As to your other questions, there are no answers at this time. Mind could come up with some “right” answers, but in truth they feel irrelevant right now.


Thanks and love,
Hi Ilona,

I want to make one correction to my last email.
“Interesting” at the end is not the right word at all.
All the steps so far have brought me to a place where it has become increasingly clear that there is no other direction to look but right to the core, no matter what.
I don’t have adequate words for that. Despite all the challenges connected with it, it is the right place to be in.

Thank you.

………………A few months and many words later we arrived at this point……………

Yes, fear is thoughts about future that trigger sense of insecurity, danger, possible harm. Even thought about the last mistake is subtly about the future, take a look. Give me an example of thought about the past that brings up sensations of fear in the body (not in theory, but in exp)

And take a good look, is there future? What is future made of? When is it? Where? How does it appear in experience? Do images about the future know what is going to happen?

Imagine tomorrow, same time as now. Is that image telling what will definitely happen or it's assuming a possibility? Is there certainty in the images of future? How about security, do these images keep you safe? Does mind still need to look into the future and create possible scenarios in order to protect an image of me?

Have fun with this

Much love.

There is not really a future. Future is all in thoughts, which are also arising now. Thoughts about future are usually projecting a future from past experiences. They are always assuming a possibility. Sometimes they are close to the actual events, sometimes they are completely wrong.

There is no certainty or security in these images about the future. Sometimes they are useful, e.g. thinking “it could rain” and taking an umbrella on the walk. Often they are unnecessary and not useful at all.

These thoughts and fears are also very engrained, a habitual way of operating for this mind for most of its life.

Yes, there is practical planing and what-if scenarios that only create fear. Thinking about future is fine, it's only when fearful thoughts are believed they become suffering. 

Yes, I can see that thoughts about past mistakes are subtly about the future. They are about possible consequences of past actions = future.

Right now I don’t find any thoughts that are purely about the past that bring up sensations of fear. If something is completely over and has no chance of impacting the future, there is no fear.

Trying to get rid of them doesn't feel appropriate and creates pressure. I guess the best approach is to just focus back on reality of no me again and again and let the thoughts and fears run their course until they don’t need to be that obstinate any more.

Yes, noticing what is here right now. Noticing what hands are doing, what sensations are present. 
Also investigating beliefs help. Like this one- is there future? How is it experienced? What is there that feels insecure and needs to be protected from life?

It looks to me that you are through. Are you? Is search still on?

Sending love.

When looking strictly now, there is no search.

Search anyway only seems to originate in thought.
On one level it is very clear that I is only a thought.

That's it. It takes time to settle. Mind keeps checking till it doesn't. The line is crossed and there is no way back to believe in I entity anymore.  Of course conditioning did not happen in a day so deconstruction does take time too. It's normal.

Everywhere you look there is confirmation and mind acknowledges that. It's part of process of clean up. All beliefs show up sooner or later to be cleaned up.

The shift may be subtle and unnoticeable, but when you look back, it's clear that something is different, some patterns are no longer there, like searching for "who am I?"

Would you like to have a go at final questions?

If not, what is not clear yet?

It hasn’t sunk in through all layers of thinking and feeling yet, but that’s something that takes time and experience.

It still feels important to acknowledge the reality of no-I.  
Yes, send me questions.


Sweet! Here they are:

1) Is there a separate entity 'self', 'me' 'I', at all, anywhere, in any way, shape or form? Was there ever?
No. I is only a thought, an empty thought, that does not refer to a real entity. That is true now and was true in the past. It is not that at one point there was a real entity behind I and then it suddenly disappeared without anyone noticing J

2) Explain in detail what the illusion of separate self is, when it starts and how it works from your own experience. Describe it fully as you see it now.
When we grow up, we learn to attach concepts to raw sensations. Even now, when focusing on raw touch, sight, or sound, there is no boundary, no person, no place where “I” end and “other” begins. Part of our socialization is attaching concepts to the raw sensations as a way of navigating life.
Certain sensations get the label “arm”, “head”, “foot”, “parent”, etc.  Some labels refer to something that can be experienced in reality, such as “wall”. Other labels refer to thoughts, ideas. “I” is such a label, and it is instilled thoroughly during socialization, with a lot of related concepts that are all based on it. There is nothing real behind the label “I”, and everything based on it is just built on an empty idea.

3) How does it feel to see this? What is the difference from before you started this dialogue? Please report from the past few days.
It feels freeing to see this. In the last few days there is less conflict, less struggle, more moments of spaciousness, more simplicity. It is not that all the unwanted feelings and thoughts are gone, but they don’t have the same meaning attached as they had before.
The difference from before I started the process is enormous. The spiritual search has basically stopped. I’m not looking for another teaching. There is more clarity, less holding on, more acceptances. And a lot more that doesn't come to mind easily. Oh, the relationship with my wife improved (which is not a small thing).

4) What was the last bit that pushed you over, made you look?
In hindsight the realization of no-I already happened when working with the seven questions on your blog. What kept me struggling was the question whether there were any doubts about this, which caused me to start the inquiry process with you. The process was very helpful and clarifying. I can’t pinpoint a particular moment that did it. There were numerous insights and experiences that were all part of the puzzle.

One important experience was the looking at perception without labeling them, and the realization that there is no boundary between an “I” and the others, there is just a sensation. It only becomes “I sit on the couch” through labeling, a mental process, and part of this process is attaching the labels “I” and “other”. These are helpful concepts for practical purposes, but cause problems when taken for real.

Another important clarification was that thoughts are not what knows. Something else (which cannot be labeled, pointed to, or identified) is aware of thoughts, and may identify with them or not. It is what gives life to thoughts; they don’t have a life or reality on their own. That was a really important distinction, as there was the idea that thoughts have power on their own, and I have a very active mind.

Another important realization was that whatever thoughts or feelings there may be, they don’t change the reality of no-I. With your help I looked a lot, and all kinds of different thoughts and feelings came up. But when looking honestly, there never was an “I” to be found behind any of them.
My mind has the tendency to be very thorough and tries to figure things out. But in some way no-I is beyond the mind, and mind could go on endlessly looking and might not get the certainty it looks for, because it is just not on that level.

At some point it just became clear that nothing more could be gained by looking for “I” or no-I, and that it was due to acknowledge the fact of no-I, no matter what else thoughts might have to say.

5) Do you decide, intend, choose, control events in Life? Do you make anything happen? Give examples from your experience.
Who? “You” is an empty word. There is no separate entity “I” that controls life.

6) Anything to add?
Lots of gratitude. It is so true and real on a very deep level what you do. Essential. Beyond words.

Much love,

Hi Werner,

Thank you very much for answers. I knew it, you are clear and for a while now. It's good to see it all written down, I see that you see and I'm very happy for you!

Could just expand a little on number 5, just with a couple examples from ordinary daily life, that'd be great.

Much love!

Hi Ilona,

Thank you! Yes, it’s good to write it down!
Some examples regarding question 5:

When “I” walk, there is walking happening, body is moving, but there is no separate entity that is doing the walking. Usually thoughts arise that claim ownership of the action, “I am walking”, or “I just went to the fridge”, but the “I” these thoughts refer to cannot be found in reality, it is a thought concept.

Same for other activities.

Some actions may occur spontaneously, others may be preceded by a lot of thinking.

But even when “I” make a decision, thoughts may arise before decision, looking at options may occur, at some point decision happens (or not), action follows (or not), and thought of ownership arises, “I decided to do/not do this”, but this “I” is not there if looked for in reality, the only reality of it is the thought “I”. The I-thought actually happens; the content of the thought does not point to something real. There is just emptiness when looking for it.

That’s what it boils down to. When looking honestly and openly for the “me” that controls and lives life, it cannot be found. Life just lives without anyone owning it.



Hi Werner,

Days seem to flow fast..

Thank you for expanding one this, it's a pleasure to read.

I guess you know what happens next, I am going to ask you if it's ok to make a blogpost out of our long conversation and use some parts of it. And then I can invite you to LU Facebook groups to meet others :) there may be people that are even in you area. It is great to meet others that see that same.

Can I use your name or any different one? People often write to me these conversations are helpful in their own journeys.

It has been a pleasure, Werner. And I'm delighted that gate was crashed!

Hi Ilona, 

So good to hear from you.

Yes, it is ok to make a blog post out of our conversation, and you can use my name.

I look forward to meeting others who have seen this – I will even join Facebook for this.

What a journey! So fortunate to have stumbled across this, and so much deepest appreciation and thanks for what you do, and the impact you have had on this facet of life.

Much love,


Lots of greatitude to Werner for making LU quote app available for PC and Mac. 

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