Inquiry into no-self

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gerhard_pret
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Inquiry into no-self

Postby gerhard_pret » Tue Dec 13, 2016 4:07 am

What brings you to Liberation Unleashed?
- A desire to experience life without an individual 'self.'
- A desire for the end of suffering.
- A desire to experience the world in a non-dual way.
- I often feel like I am not far away from this experience, yet I feel like I never quite fully pass the threshold. I suspect that there may be places the 'self' clings to that might not be as easily visible to me, and that another perspective might help.

What are you looking for? What do you expect from this?

I am looking for a continuous experience of no-self. Maybe another way to state this is a continuous experience of passing beyond an experience of self and 'no-self'?
- I think I might have had various glimpses before, but I keep falling back into my 'old way of experiencing the world.
- I also experience some doubt sometimes about how close my experiences might or might not be to an experience beyond self. I often doubt my experiences. I am hoping to gain more clarity about my experiences and whether they reflect a true experience of no-self.

What is your background in terms of seeking and inquiry?
was born and raised in a Christian family and community. Church and faith was a central part of my life growing up. This formed the basis of my spiritual life. I often explored faith in depth and questioned beliefs. I later studied theology and was attracted to the Christian Mystics from a young age. I engaged in silent retreats and very regular meditation using the 'Cloud and Unknowing' and other resources for most of my 20's. I also explored Theosophy and Rosicrucianism during this period. I had some meaningful mystical / nondual experiences at this time.
- I also returned to more Orthodox Intensive Christian Practice in my early 30's using 'Jesus Prayer' constantly on a daily basis for months. I made a lot of use during this time of Orthodox Mystical literature, including the Philokalia.
During the past 3 years I felt an increasing urge and need to 'achieve' enlightenment again. I redoubled my efforts in past years. This was triggered by walking home one day from work and (triggered by an audiobook I listened to) starting to enquire into 'self', and who the 'self' was that was feeling anxious or sad etc. At times I would be unable to find it, and sink into a peace. This triggered memories of having read Buddhist literature when I was younger. I then pursued Tibetan Kagyu Buddhism, including Shamatha meditation. I spent a full 2 years just trying to get to grips with Shamatha meditation. This progressed into some insight practices where I analysed my breath (where does it come from, where does it go etc.) Doing this led me to see my sole experience of breath as being the physical sensations of 'breathing' in my body. I gradually questioned every concept and experience related to my breath, and the concept of 'breath' disintegrated, leaving me to sit in peace. This caused a very significant shift in my spiritual practice. I realised that I could do this with any aspect of my world or experience. If analysed enough, they would dissolve.
More recently I felt drawn to the books and teachings of Greg Goode, and Rupert Spira. I have now spent about a year working with their various teachings. My sense of self has 'thinned' significantly, but is not gone. Ramesh Balsekar's writings have also made a significant impact on me. At times just reading them has caused shifts for me. Most days I have no other interest except self-inquiry.
I am married, and have two lovely young children. I also work full time. I try to spend every free moment I have either reading, or listening or pondering these teachings. My mind is mostly calm. My 'mind' no longer feels like it has 'depth' in the way it used to. I mostly only experience thoughts that come and go, some of which hook me in, but most do not. I see most experiences (thoughts, visual, felt and sound) as having their common roots in consciousness / awareness. I often experience how all things in my visual field (including those colours and shapes I identify as body) are an integral whole. The shapes that I call body now mostly feel no more important than any other shape or colour or object in my visual field. I can experience much the same when looking at other experiences (i.e like sounds or sensations in my body). It's easier when I take each one of these categories or experiences by themselves. Together they sometimes still create some reality effect. These days I recognise 'emotions' as being 'physical sensations' arising in awareness. I don't distinguish between physical sensations and emotions much any more. They feel like the same thing. Despite this I sometimes experience some kind of 'existential' anxiety, as if I have to protect myself. It is a sensation around my stomach and central core of my body.

How ready are you to question your beliefs about who you are and see the truth no matter what?
11

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Re: Inquiry into no-self

Postby Jack'n'theBox » Thu Dec 15, 2016 4:22 am

Gerhard, this is Mark here and I'd be happy to dialogue with you. If possible please try to reply once a day and let me know in advance if you need to take a break at any time.

Below you say you have
A desire to experience life without an individual 'self.'
Well there is no individual self -- so that is already your experience. It's like saying "I'd like to experience Christmas without Santa!" Well (sorry to disappoint you but there is no Santa!) -- Santa is just a story, a myth, a misinterpreted reality. Can you have an experience of "no Santa?"

So please sit still and look at what is showing up in experience now. What is "sense of self"? Can you describe it to me as forensically as possible? What is it made of, what does it feel like? Is it "always on" or does it come and go? Is it here now? If so can you grab a hold of it?

cheers,

Mark
People see it far away. What a pity! They are like a man who, standing in water, complains of thirst -- Hakuin

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Re: Inquiry into no-self

Postby gerhard_pret » Thu Dec 15, 2016 12:32 pm

Hi Mark,

Thank you so much for taking the time to help me with this. I know it’s a busy time of year for many people, so I am very grateful for your time. I will post daily and let you know if I cannot.

You asked the following:

What is a “sense of self?” Can you describe it as forensically as possible?

1) While sitting here it seems a vague sense of ‘something’ seemingly connecting or holding together the various experiences (thoughts, sensations etc) that arise all the time.
2) It’s also a slight experience of watching from inside my body (behind the eyes), and looking at an ‘outside’ world.
3) It is also a feeling of anxiety, a bit like a tension around my stomach around which ‘I’ seems to coalesce or ‘reform’, especially when live gets busy or when there is stress.

(Yet, now that I am looking at each of the experiences I noted above I noticed something. The first might be some kind of story of ‘self’, which I guess is nothing but thoughts, binding together different experiences. If I just ‘rest’ with the experience of ‘looking’ from behind the eyes then all I can really find is the looking. If I try and ‘see’ or ‘notice’ the ‘I’ there is just a ‘blank’ experience. There is nothing except the ‘looking.’ The same with the anxious feeling around my stomach. If I really watch it, in all honesty, when I look for an ‘I’ or ‘self’ then all I can actually find is the raw sensation.)

What is it made of, what does it feel like?

Initially when I notice it feels vague, a bit like a mist, hanging around whatever experience (sensation etc) that arises. To be honest that is often how thoughts or images in my mind present themselves. They have the same ‘vague’ or slightly transparent quality. So, based on this I would guess that it is made of ‘thought’, or is a thought?

Is it "always on" or does it come and go? Is it here now? If so can you grab a hold of it?

It is not always there. It comes and goes. I guess this makes it an experience (like thoughts and feelings, that come and go. If it does not stay around all of the time how then can it be ‘self’ or ‘I’? It must therefore be just a thought or temporary experience.

(The last couple of days, while waiting, I was reading through ‘Gateless Gatecrashers’ again. This prompted me to sometimes ‘look’ for the ‘self’ or I whenever I experienced a strong sensation etc. I would then be unable to find it, would experience a sense of freedom, but then it would come back again. I would look again and tit would happen again. Sometimes it just feels like that sense comes back and its suddenly harder to see through the fact that it might only be a thought.)

Right at this moment, it still feels like it is here, despite the fact that I have at times ‘seen’ it to be a thought. (It feels a bit like when I see it’s absence in once area, then the feeling jumps somewhere else. Right now it again seems to coalesce in the slightly anxious feeling around my stomach.)

No, I cannot grab hold of it.

Best Wishes

Gerhard

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Re: Inquiry into no-self

Postby Jack'n'theBox » Thu Dec 15, 2016 7:28 pm

Thanks Gerhard, some great looking going on here. Apologies in advance if I don’t always respond to every point you bring up. This method works best if we keep a fine focus on key issues. I am mindful of all you say, however, and we can return to points when appropriate.

So here are some key things you’ve already seen:
initially when I notice it feels vague, a bit like a mist, hanging around whatever experience (sensation etc) that arises. To be honest that is often how thoughts or images in my mind present themselves. They have the same ‘vague’ or slightly transparent quality. So, based on this I would guess that it is made of ‘thought’, or is a thought?
Yep, you are on track here. “Self” or “I” or “me” – however you want to label it -- is an interpretation of a series of sensations/feelings that shows up in thoughts such as “I am X” or “I did X” or “this is me” etc. But if you check back to see what the label “I” or “me” refers to – can you find anything other than a series of sensations and thoughts labelling them?
It is not always there. It comes and goes. I guess this makes it an experience (like thoughts and feelings, that come and go. If it does not stay around all of the time how then can it be ‘self’ or ‘I’? It must therefore be just a thought or temporary experience.
Right. If “I” were the ground of experience you’d expect it to be always there. Keep on noticing how the sensations that you are labelling “I” come and go with different intensity. Also note the feeling tone associated with the “I” – do you feel better (i.e. more free, less anxious, more spontaneous) with or without the “I” sensations?
It’s also a slight experience of watching from inside my body (behind the eyes), and looking at an ‘outside’ world.
Right. A lot of people say that. This is a nice, concrete thing we can work with. Sight is the most polarized of the senses so before working with that, let’s get a better sense of what our actual experience of “the body” is. Please try this:

Sit in a chair and bring awareness to all the contact points your body has with the chair and the floor. Feel the sense of pressure in your feet, move up to the pressure in the backside and the back. Close your eyes and focus just on the raw experience – ignore the ‘inner picture’ that has constructed the experience as ‘my body sitting in a chair’. Can you feel where the body ends and floor/chair begins or is the experience itself seamless? Without using thought – before thought intervenes – what is the nature of the experience? Where is the experience taking place? What are its qualities? Is there a ‘centre’ to this experience? Is there a ‘thing’ separate from the sensations that the experience is ‘happening to’? When thought tries to intervene, don’t follow it, allow awareness to remain in the raw experience. Do this several times for at least ten minutes. Report back what you find.
People see it far away. What a pity! They are like a man who, standing in water, complains of thirst -- Hakuin

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Re: Inquiry into no-self

Postby gerhard_pret » Fri Dec 16, 2016 3:36 pm

Hi Mark,

You asked:
“But if you check back to see what the label “I” or “me” refers to – can you find anything other than a series of sensations and thoughts labelling them?”


I cannot find anything other than a series of sensations and thoughts labelling them. These thoughts sometimes contain the words / thoughts “I” or “we” or “me”, but this is just a part of the thought. This is quite clear. (Yesterday, at one point in the afternoon I looked at sensations and could not find ‘I’, and also looked at ‘awareness’, seeing it was ‘impersonal’ or without an ‘I’ – My whole mind suddenly relaxed, my forehead felt as if it was warm and relaxed and my mind went incredibly quiet. This lasted for a couple of hours.) Throughout the day and this morning I kept ‘looking’ in the way I did yesterday, but it felt harder, almost as If I could not look. Almost as if I wanted to look away and I could not see 'clearly’. I kept trying to notice this through the day. It feels a bit like there is a fear or anxiety of losing something that comes up at times, that then tries to pull me from ‘looking’.)

You asked / said:
Keep on noticing how the sensations that you are labelling “I” come and go with different intensity. Also note the feeling tone associated with the “I” – do you feel better (i.e. more free, less anxious, more spontaneous) with or without the “I” sensations?


This kind of relates to the previous point above. Looking clearly highlights that “I” is a thought. I have had times yesterday where this kind of looking seemed to ‘loosen’ a knot and I can just experience life without thought. It even felt quite hard to think about anything not immediately relevant to what was happening in the moment. The “I” thought came and went and was sometimes gone, sometimes strong, and sometimes weak. When it is not there I feel better (more free, less anxious.), but then at other times it seems to come back with anxiety attached / possibly even a bit of sadness.
You suggested / asked:

Sit in a chair and bring awareness to all the contact points your body has with the chair and the floor.
(I did this during the day. I have previously done similar meditations with Rupert Spira etc.)

Can you feel where the body ends and floor/chair begins or is the experience itself seamless?

The experience is seamless. There is no chair or body to notice, only more or less ‘dense’ sensations of pressure / warmth/ etc.

Without using thought – before thought intervenes – what is the nature of the experience? Where is the experience taking place? What are its qualities? Is there a ‘centre’ to this experience?


The experience before thought is of a range of sensations (little moving pinpoints of sensation) spread around in more or less dense areas in a field of awareness. Initially it was quite hard to not perceive these as being spatially related to each other (some being above, and some below). I tried to put aside some of the spatial concepts I was imposing. I did this by just trying to see whether there was any direct evidence that one experience was ‘above’ another spatially. I could not find any. I guess the same can be said for ‘inside’ or ‘outside.’ In a sense it feels like it takes place in a ‘field’ of awareness, but it kind of feels like that field of awareness noticed in a mind that is roughly where my head is located. It feels like I am watching a 2 dimensional field located spatially in front of me (even with eye closed.) (I think I am imposing visual / spatial concepts on top of my sensory experience.)

Is there a ‘thing’ separate from the sensations that the experience is ‘happening to’?

Looking directly there is nothing other than the experience / sensation. I can find no “I” there. Feeling some anxiety in my stomach area again, but also a sudden pleasant tingling sensation spreading throughout the left leg and body. I feel slightly more free, but experience is much the same as before when I return to doing other things. (Might try this a few more times.)

Best Wishes

Gerhard

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Re: Inquiry into no-self

Postby Jack'n'theBox » Fri Dec 16, 2016 7:26 pm

Hi Gerhard thanks for this.
I cannot find anything other than a series of sensations and thoughts labelling them.
OK great. Can you take a look at what constitutes “experience” and check what kinds of things appear there? Can you find anything in experience other than sensations and thoughts? (I think you’ve already seen that emotions are also just sensations that we label differently)?
Throughout the day and this morning I kept ‘looking’ in the way I did yesterday, but it felt harder, almost as If I could not look. Almost as if I wanted to look away and I could not see 'clearly’. I kept trying to notice this through the day. It feels a bit like there is a fear or anxiety of losing something that comes up at times, that then tries to pull me from ‘looking’.)
Right. A couple of things here. Don’t get caught in seeking for a particular “state” or “experience”. The wilfull seeking of anything is what intensifies the “I” sensations because it presupposes an “I” agent that can do things. The open, empty, relaxed, receptive “space” in which experience arises is always already right “here” – it is the wilfulness that gets in the way.

Also you’ve mentioned anxiety a few times. That’s fine – it’s often an indication that the mind-induced “sense of self” knows that you are on to it and that it is not going to come out of this process intact! When anxiety arises simply notice and accept that it is just another sensation.
In a sense it feels like it takes place in a ‘field’ of awareness, but it kind of feels like that field of awareness noticed in a mind that is roughly where my head is located. It feels like I am watching a 2 dimensional field located spatially in front of me (even with eye closed.)
Right. You’ve got a bad case of observer-itis. We just need to do a couple of exercises to question whether this “observer” model is an accurate description of what’s going on. Please carry on checking in with the body exercise I already suggested. And below is an exercise to work with sense of sound.

Here's what’s needed - A place to sit quietly and some sounds. Any sound will do, music, birds singing, traffic, rain etc.

Sit for a few moments, take a few relaxed breath and let the dust settle. Close your eyes and listen to the sound. And from the direct experience of hearing, answer these questions:

Going by the sounds themselves and not by thought, inference or imagination, do you actually experience a separate hearer or observer?
Can you find two “things” – a hear-er that is “here” and a sound-making object that is “there”?
Do you experience the birds (assuming you are listening to birds singing), to be independent of the sound?
Don’t go by what you think must be true in order to explain perception. Instead, go by your direct experience.
Do you experience a sound to be independent of the activity of hearing? (i.e. does the sound exist independent of the activity of hearing?)
Do you directly experience a sound already present which you then proceed to hear?
Do you experience the sound as separate from you?
Do you experience it to be at any distance from you? If so can you locate a specific point in experience at which hearing takes place?
Do you experience hearing as an activity undertaken by the ‘observer’?
When a sound appears – can you (the supposed observer) -- choose either to hear or not to hear it?
People see it far away. What a pity! They are like a man who, standing in water, complains of thirst -- Hakuin

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Re: Inquiry into no-self

Postby gerhard_pret » Sun Dec 18, 2016 12:04 am

Hi Mark,

Observer-itis! I love that.

Sorry for taking so long to write back today. It’s weekend and I had to wait till the wife and kids were in bed before being able to find some quiet time to ‘look’.

You asked:

Can you take a look at what constitutes “experience” and check what kinds of things appear there? Can you find anything in experience other than sensations and thoughts?


Nothing else appears there. Both sensations (hot,cold, pressure, etc) all appear in ‘space’ or awareness. Awareness / space is common to the dense and less dense areas of sensation.

Close your eyes and listen to the sound. And from the direct experience of hearing, answer these questions:

Going by the sounds themselves and not by thought, inference or imagination, do you actually experience a separate hearer or observer? Can you find two “things” – a hear-er that is “here” and a sound-making object that is “there”?


No, there is just the sound. I can only infer the sound of (in the case a clock) by memory, which is a thought. In my direct experience there is only the sound. My instinct is to attribute the ‘hearing to the location near my ear, and to assign a position in space to the sound (far or near, based on volume.) But I have no real direct evidence for doing this other than memory / learned knowledge, which is guess is really only thought. Again, all aspects are bound together by awareness (space?).

Do you experience the birds (assuming you are listening to birds singing), to be independent of the sound?

That is my instinct or habit, but I can see that this is only drawing on memory / learned knowledge, which are both thoughts. Just as the ‘I’ thought is just a thought, the attribution of the existence of the clock or its separate existence is just a thought habit.

Do you experience a sound to be independent of the activity of hearing? (i.e. does the sound exist independent of the activity of hearing?)

Initially yes. It feels this way, but I can also, based on past exercises, see that it is not.

Do you directly experience a sound already present which you then proceed to hear?

There is no evidence for a pre-existing sound separate from the hearing. The only common factor between hearing and and -not hearing, sound and no-sound is the awarness / space within which both arise.

Do you experience the sound as separate from you? Do you experience it to be at any distance from you?

I do not experience sound as separate from hearing. I do however seem to be attributing some separateness to it. This is not based on direct experience arising in ‘hearing’, but rather through making reference to it not being close in space to my body (using visual information). Feels like Im am drawing on visual information to create this separation.

If so can you locate a specific point in experience at which hearing takes place?

If my eyes are open ‘somewhat’. If my eyes are closed ‘no’.

Do you experience hearing as an activity undertaken by the ‘observer’?

Initially, yes. This feels like ‘me’ as awareness / space hearing. However, looking for ‘me’ (armed with the knowledge that ‘me’ and ‘I’ are labels / thoughts) I have to admit that this awareness / space cannot be ‘personal’ / a me. I can then just rest in the hearing., especially if eyes are closed.

When a sound appears – can you (the supposed observer) -- choose either to hear or not to hear it?

It cannot. It does however feel like ‘I’ can choose to focus on it more or less. The sound then becomes more or less ‘loud’.

Best Wishes

Gerhard

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Re: Inquiry into no-self

Postby Jack'n'theBox » Sun Dec 18, 2016 1:01 am

OK some great looking going on again here.
No, there is just the sound. I can only infer the sound of (in the case a clock) by memory, which is a thought. In my direct experience there is only the sound. My instinct is to attribute the ‘hearing to the location near my ear, and to assign a position in space to the sound (far or near, based on volume.) But I have no real direct evidence for doing this other than memory / learned knowledge, which is guess is really only thought.
Right. One way of describing “self” is really to look at it as an activity rather than a thing – “selfing” is just a mental habit – we constantly refer our experience in the present back to memory. We learned long ago to split the world into “me” and “not me” (self/other) and “mine” and “not mine.” However this is an activity that takes place in thought. It is NOT a part of the direct experience in the moment.

You can check to see if this is true in experience by sitting and noticing WHEN is anything happening?

Right now, what is your direct experience of the past?

Ditto the future?

Regarding the present moment: can you find it?

Does it have a duration? (How long is ‘now’?)

I do not experience sound as separate from hearing. I do however seem to be attributing some separateness to it. This is not based on direct experience arising in ‘hearing’, but rather through making reference to it not being close in space to my body (using visual information). Feels like Im am drawing on visual information to create this separation.
When I ask if you can locate a spot where the hearing takes place you say:
If my eyes are open ‘somewhat’. If my eyes are closed ‘no’.
One thing I found helpful here was to consider the “science” of sound – there is no such thing as sound – only vibrations in the air which hit receptors in the ear that are relayed into the brain and which are then assembled into distinct “sounds” and labelled accordingly. Even from a scientific point of view the sound is not “out there” fixed at some point of origin. (I’m not suggesting the science is true or explains everything – just noting that even on the level of a materialist explanation sound – or indeed sight – isn’t happening “there” but “here” wherever/whatever that “here” may turn out to be). In direct experience is the sound of the clock really happening “over there” on the mantle?

Again notice how time is involved here. You may have the experience of being drawn out of sleep by a persistent sound (say a car outside your window) – at first there is simply an amorphous sound in awareness – notice how it takes a while for the waking mind to get its act together, to assemble the sound into a ‘thing’ and for you to react to that ‘thing’ (i.e. with a feeling of irritation or whatever). The mind searches through its database to position both “you” and the sound in some sort of relation. This is a learned reaction – but can you find a “you” that is doing it?

Let’s come back to the “I can choose to focus” issue later as this is a biggie. Please have a look at the above questions first. Thanks.
People see it far away. What a pity! They are like a man who, standing in water, complains of thirst -- Hakuin

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Re: Inquiry into no-self

Postby gerhard_pret » Mon Dec 19, 2016 12:27 am

Hi Mark,

You said / asked:

“...“selfing” is just a mental habit – we constantly refer our experience in the present back to memory. We learned long ago to split the world into “me” and “not me” (self/other) and “mine” and “not mine.” However this is an activity that takes place in thought. It is NOT a part of the direct experience in the moment.”

You can check to see if this is true in experience by sitting and noticing WHEN is anything happening?  Right now, what is your direct experience of the past? Ditto the future? 


My direct experience of the past right now is that it is just a story / thought about the past. In no way can I step out of the present into the past or future. There can only be thoughts about the past or future.

Regarding the present moment: can you find it? 

It feels like I can rest in a ‘present moment’, but if I give t serious thought thought then it becomes unlikely. The moment I grab hold of an experience I would be immediately transitioning into the realm of thought / memory. I would be holding on to a memory / thought, not my experience.

Does it have a duration? (How long is ‘now’?)

Unlikely, I cannot know ‘now’s’ duration. Something with a duration (a beginning and end) cannot be the ‘real’ now. “Now” only exists in relation to ‘past’ and ‘present’. If there is no past or future other than in memory / thought, then ‘now’ can also not exist as anything other than a concept / thought.

In direct experience is the sound of the clock really happening “over there” on the mantle?

I understand this. Most of what you explained about sound and sight makes sense. I have done similar experiments looking in this way in the past. I realise that it makes no sense to claim that the sound or the hearer have independent existence. I know that this is the case, yet the mind is still in the habit of experiencing it in this way. I can see that the sound, and the hearer do not exist separately from awareness / space. I can see they are in essence ‘one’, but ‘awareness’ itself sometimes feels like one very large space, in which both occupy positions. (I hope I am being clear about this.) It feels a bit like I have ‘expanded‘ awareness to include the experience of my body, sound, sight etc. Everything is in this ‘awareness,’ but I still experience this ‘awareness’ in spatial terms. (I hope this makes any sense.)

The mind searches through its database to position both “you” and the sound in some sort of relation. This is a learned reaction – but can you find a “you” that is doing it?

I think I clearly understand that it is my mind doing the ‘splitting’ and ‘positioning’ of sound and hearer. I agree that it feels like a learned reaction. Despite this understanding the mind keeps doing this out of habit. There are however small moments, during the ‘looking’ where this sense briefly disappears, and there is only resting in the hearing of things. It’s just usually temporary at the moment. In those short moments I can clearly see that there is only the hearing, and that I cannot find a true ‘I’ or ‘me’ in that experience. I think what I was trying to describe earlier was the fact that my mind seems to concieve of ‘awareness’ in spatial terms. Thus I can see both sound and hearer are constructions in ‘hearing’, which is itself but an arising in ‘awareness.’ I can also see that hearing is ‘impersonal’ and without an ‘I’. I can see this as an impersonal arising in awareness. I wonder whether I have imposed an overarching concept / metaphor such as “awareness is like a physical space” on top of my experience of awareness, which then colours my other experiences? Or maybe I have latched onto the idea of awareness as my “self”, made it really large, seeing it in spatial terms? Not sure.

Hope I’m not going off track.

Best Wishes

Gerhard

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Re: Inquiry into no-self

Postby Jack'n'theBox » Mon Dec 19, 2016 1:55 am

I wonder whether I have imposed an overarching concept / metaphor such as “awareness is like a physical space” on top of my experience of awareness, which then colours my other experiences? Or maybe I have latched onto the idea of awareness as my “self”, made it really large, seeing it in spatial terms?
Possibly. It’s not unusual for long-term seekers who have been around to “figure it out” conceptually and I see you have been following Rupert Spira and what you are saying does fit the conceptual framework that he uses. What we are looking for here is a direct, intuitive, non-conceptual understanding. So when I say “look” I certainly don’t mean “think about” much less “ponder”. You can't work this out conceptually -- even the "right" concepts won't do the job!
I think I clearly understand that it is my mind doing the ‘splitting’ and ‘positioning’ of sound and hearer.
Right. Connected with my above point it’s probably worth looking at “mind”. We’ve already seen that there is no direct experience of “body” (just disparate sensations) – what is your direct experience of “mind” – can you sit now and look for “mind” – what comes up?

Language is part of the problem here since the way we talk assigns agency to non-existent entities, Language doesn’t really capture what is going on. For example “It’s raining” – where is this “it” that is supposedly doing something? Or “The wind is blowing” – where is this “wind” that is doing the blowing?

Similarly “my mind is doing the splitting” – where is this “mind” that is engaging in some kind of activity.
Same with “I think, I feel, I want, I like . . . “ – where is this “I” that is supposedly doing these things?

Let’s try to loosen the conceptual grasp that you may have developed of these things. Let’s look at thought. Does thought know what it’s on about? Can we trust its diagnoses? This inner narrative about "what's going on" -- is it reliable? Please look and answer these questions:

1) Where do thoughts come from and where do they go to? Look very carefully. Is there an obvious cause or reason for their appearance or their sequence OR are they just appearing out of nowhere?

2) Can you predict the next thought that appears?

3) Observe thought closely. Try to determine what your next thought is going to be before it appears. Can you do this?

4) It seems that thought has some logical ordered appearance, but look carefully. Is there an organised sequence OR is that just another thought that says ‘these thoughts are in sequence’ and that ‘one thought follows another thought’?

5) Observe a thought. Did you do anything to make that thought appear. When a thought appears, are you ever given an option to avoid that thought or is every thought appearing spontaneously without anyone’s permission?

6) Where is the starting point and ending point of thoughts?

7) Is the 'I'-thought a special thought? For example, can it think other thoughts?

8) Is there a thinker of thoughts?
People see it far away. What a pity! They are like a man who, standing in water, complains of thirst -- Hakuin

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Re: Inquiry into no-self

Postby gerhard_pret » Mon Dec 19, 2016 5:12 pm

Hi Mark,

You said:
“What we are looking for here is a direct, intuitive, non-conceptual understanding. So when I say “look” I certainly don’t mean “think about” much less “ponder”. You can't work this out conceptually -- even the "right" concepts won't do the job!”


I think I understand what you mean when you say ‘look’. When you ask me to ‘look’ I just observe what is there. I don’t take you to mean ‘think about or ‘ponder’. If I do think or ponder I usually try to do this on the basis of what I saw when I looked. I will then return to looking in order to try and verify or challenge what I was thinking about. That said, I probably do have a tendency to rely too much on reasoning in this process. Thanks for keeping things on track! I think I sometimes still lose sight of the fact that concepts won’t help in this task, yet it feels like one cannot do without them either at times.

You mentioned concepts and language being part of problem. That’s true. I find that I constantly have to stand back from thoughts and language I use to ‘look’ and compare this to my experience. Part of the difficulty for me is that I make my living from manipulating and relating concepts to each other, and also talking to people, and listening and deconstructing language all of the time. I think that part of my story (about childhood) is also strongly built around ‘being good’ at utilizing, applying and working with concepts (academically) and ‘seeing’ patterns. I think there is some fear that if I ‘see through’ all these concepts, If I undermine the ‘self’ and everything that goes with this I will lose this ability, lose my ability to do what I am good at effectively at work and academically. Having devoted much of my life, and career to ‘the mind’ I am apprehensive that if I look and find no ‘mind’ then I won’t be able to be effective at work anymore. (I mention this because I noticed some anxiety when you asked that I look at the ‘mind’ and ‘thought’ In some ways this feel like a harder task for me than previous ones.)

Anyway…..here goes:
You asked:
“…where is this “mind” that is engaging in some kind of activity.
Same with “I think, I feel, I want, I like . . . “ – where is this “I” that is supposedly doing these things?”


When looking I can only find sensations, visual information, sound, and thought. I used to see emotion as part of mind (with thought). I no longer see it that way. All that remains of ‘mind’ that I can observe are thoughts (including concepts as a type of thought?). I guess if my idea of ‘mind’ can change in this way then it can be nothing but a concept. It is a concept (thought) that connects together other thoughts. In truth, when I look, this is all I can find when I search for mind. Thoughts arising and going.
When I look directly at “I think..”, “ I feel…, I want.. I like…” these are just labels / thoughts. There is still however a sense of volition or choice in the ‘looking’ itself.


You asked me to do the following:
1) Where do thoughts come from and where do they go to? Look very carefully. Is there an obvious cause or reason for their appearance or their sequence OR are they just appearing out of nowhere?


I don’t know where thoughts come from or go. They are just there. They arise. I can see no evidence that they were ‘anywhere’ prior to arising. If I’m honest I have to say that sometimes these thoughts seem related to something seen / heard or another thought. Some thoughts that follow one another seem to have themes in common. This does not change the fact that they arise or depart seemingly from nowhere.

2) Can you predict the next thought that appears?

No, I have looked several times over the last day. I can infer that a thought had something in common with something seen or heard or another thought after the fact, but nor before. But I guess this is a third thought linking together two memories (thoughts).

3) Observe thought closely. Try to determine what your next thought is going to be before it appears. Can you do this?

No. (As stated above.)

4) It seems that thought has some logical ordered appearance, but look carefully. Is there an organised sequence OR is that just another thought that says ‘these thoughts are in sequence’ and that ‘one thought follows another thought’?

As stated above, I can infer that a thought had something in common with something seen or heard or another thought after the fact, but nor before. But I guess this is a third thought linking together two memories (thoughts). All I can find is this third thought linking together the memories.

5) Observe a thought. Did you do anything to make that thought appear. When a thought appears, are you ever given an option to avoid that thought or is every thought appearing spontaneously without anyone’s permission?

No, the thought is only noticed when it is already there. I cannot see it ‘coming’ and since I cannot notice it until it’s there, I cannot truly avoid it. So, yes, thoughts appear without my permission.

6) Where is the starting point and ending point of thoughts?

This is a difficult one. Not sure really. By the time I try to hold a thought long enough to see where it started it’s a memory (another completely different thought). When I look straight at them they seem to disappear (unless I attempt to hold onto them, in which case they become a new thought). Only when I am aware of them are they there. They start with awareness disappear from awareness. There is only awareness there thinking or not thinking. (Mind is being blown slightly by looking at thoughts in this way. – Took a break from writing at this point. There was a feeling of disorientation, and of being quiet. There is still thinking here at times. And at other times there is no thinking. There is awareness hearing, and then awareness not hearing. There is typing and internal dialoguing while typing this. There is seeing all the time. )

7) Is the 'I'-thought a special thought? For example, can it think other thoughts?


No, in some ways it’s quite odd. Most thoughts seem to refer to other thoughts or at least experiences arising in awareness. Looking directly at the ‘I’ thought, it refers to nothing. No, thoughts cannot think other thoughts.

8) Is there a thinker of thoughts?


No, there is only thinking. (In between there is rest, silence, seeing, hearing etc). “I wonder whether there is still the merest sense of “I”, yet, I know this cannot be. It is a ‘ghost’ that has no real form. As the thinking of the thought ends and the typing stops the ghost will evaporate again.

Best Wishes

Gerhard

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Re: Inquiry into no-self

Postby Jack'n'theBox » Mon Dec 19, 2016 8:45 pm

I think there is some fear that if I ‘see through’ all these concepts, If I undermine the ‘self’ and everything that goes with this I will lose this ability, lose my ability to do what I am good at effectively at work and academically. Having devoted much of my life, and career to ‘the mind’ I am apprehensive that if I look and find no ‘mind’ then I won’t be able to be effective at work anymore.
I have to be honest with you here – your relationship to the world of concepts may shift. My day job is a Professor of Sociology and once the penny dropped for me there was certainly a lessening in energy levels around some aspects of academia. It became clear that a lot of the energy needed to be “successful” in that game came from ego-investment, wanting to be seen as a “leader” in the field, someone with “impact” whose views were to be taken seriously. All that went away. However I also became much kinder, more patient, more interested in understanding other people’s positions, less judgemental and adversarial, and more interested in supporting other people’s research and intellectual development than in banging on about my own.

Have I become less “effective”? That’s hard to say – perhaps more effective in different areas. I now spend more time in a research management role helping junior scholars navigate things like the grants system and less time on my own work (which interests me less these days).

So I wouldn’t be honest if I said that your anxieties were unfounded – but let me ask you this question “On whose behalf are these anxieties arising?” – If your current modus operandi is built on a false premise (i.e. there is a separate “I” in charge of your life and career) – then of what value is a life lived, or work produced, on that basis? I can’t predict how things will change for you – but change they will. You don't enter this territory on your own terms and you can't control the result.

So . . . if on the above basis you still want to continue!

Some great looking at thoughts. Notice how slippery they are. How ephemeral. We have no idea where they come from or where they go. We cannot control them and when looked at directly they disappear. And yet we build such castles on them.

So, can “you” direct thoughts or do they run on their own independent circuit?
There is still thinking here at times. And at other times there is no thinking
Right. During the period when there is “no thinking” what remains?
There is still however a sense of volition or choice in the ‘looking’ itself.
OK this related to a point you raised the other day that it feels like you can “direct” attention. This suggests a model of awareness that it is a bit like a flashlight – it can be wielded by some entity so that its light moves around and shines here, now there.

Let’s look to see if this is true. What is “attention” in direct experience? Does it really move around. Is it a thing/activity that “you” can direct? If I say “Hey look over here” – is there a “you” that turns attention? How does looking happen?
People see it far away. What a pity! They are like a man who, standing in water, complains of thirst -- Hakuin

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Re: Inquiry into no-self

Postby gerhard_pret » Tue Dec 20, 2016 6:28 pm

Hi Mark,

You said: “I have to be honest with you here – your relationship to the world of concepts may shift….”

Thank you for being honest about this. My day job is psychotherapy with severely ill people in inpatient facilities. In some ways my work is based on the premise of ‘mind’, and the idea that people are able to make choices and change behaviors. I am already noticing the adjustments I have to make. You mentioned certain motivations disappearing. I have already noticed that in my experience. Some things have just completely gone in the past few days.

You asked: “So . . . if on the above basis you still want to continue!”.

Yes, I am still willing to continue on this basis!

Just wanted to mention that there was a marked shift in experience for me since yesterday. Not sure it’s complete yet, but something shifted for me yesterday, and that shift has remained and was still with me this morning. It is slightly uncomfortable but interesting, and there is a slow relaxing into the experience that leads to changes in the discomfort bordering on joy of some kind for moments. Experiences are more ‘immediate’, especially in thinking. Knowing of thinking arises with thinking, and ends when it is gone. It is similar with seeing, hearing, sensing, but more clear with ‘thinking’.

“So, can “you” direct thoughts or do they run on their own independent circuit?”

No, there is no real direction of when thinking happens. Thinking is known when it happens.
“Right. During the period when there is “no thinking” what remains?”
In terms of thinking nothing remains until thinking arises again. When there is no thinking there is usually:

- Hearing
- Seeing
- Sensing

There were times yesterday where the thinking had been absent, and it was as if I could sit and just ‘be’ like that forever, unless I was spurred to action by someone or something in the context. I could just rest in the hearing of running water for as long as something else did not require my attention (like my children or wife.)

There is still a mild sense of the hands and feet and body parts I notice being part of ‘my body’. Sometimes when there was no thought. I just watched ‘my body’, voice etc doing what it usually does, playing with my children, eating, etc, just without thought. Occasionally thinking might arise briefly commenting on hearing, or seeing or sensing, but then it goes again.

At first I had thoughts arising that labelled the quiet times between ‘the mind being lethargic’. Now this matters less. There is only knowing thinking when there is thinking. Some thinking arises when needed in relation to carrying out specific tasks.

If I have to be literal about what remains in between the knowing of thoughts, I would say the knowing of seeing, hearing, sensing. In some ways one could say what is left and ever present is the ‘knowing’.

“What is “attention” in direct experience?"

Not sure, never thought about this before (except maybe in academic psychology contexts a long time ago.) If I go by direct experience right now then it’s rather hard to pin down. Initially it appears to be just a variant of awareness. Some experiences are more clearly apparent in awareness compared to others. (I guess at this point my description does not seem that different from the flashlight analogy you mentioned, or possibly a camera lens analogy where the picture includes many different elements, but some appear more in focus than others.) Currently, in direct experience the word ‘attention’ seems to describe the experience of awareness / knowing shifting from seeing, to hearing, to thought, to looking etc. Looking at it this way, might it just be another way for ‘thinking’ to try to label the experience of movement between the different ways of knowing (seeing, hearing, sensing tasting etc.) Seen in this way it may just be a concept, that gives a false sense of control over changing experiences in awareness. Wow, could it be!? It’s just another coping mechanism to deal with the anxiety of change! It’s a servant of the “I”!

“Does it really move around. Is it a thing/activity that “you” can direct?”

(I may need a moment to come to terms in experience with what I just realized when looking and thinking about the above question.) Given some of the insights above it is not ‘attention’ that moves. Awareness or ‘knowing’ is always there, but experiences (seeing, hearing, tasting etc.) arise. These experiences or ‘arisings' cannot be predicted. There is also no stopping them. There is just the changing between and within hearing, seeing, thinking etc. So “I” am not directing anything. It’s all just happening.
“If I say “Hey look over here” – is there a “you” that turns attention?
No, there is only the hearing arising, possibly in conjunction with the arising of seeing, sensing etc.

How does looking happen?”

It just happens, if at arises in awareness it arises. When it goes it goes. If it appears I cannot stop it from appearing.
(I have some minor doubts that feel tied to the fact that some experiences seems to differ in degree, like loud versus soft sounds etc, but I suspect I could deal with these along similar lines as above.)

Best Wishes

Gerhard

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Re: Inquiry into no-self

Postby Jack'n'theBox » Tue Dec 20, 2016 10:13 pm

Right, there’s a lot going on here so let’s pick out a few key points.
Just wanted to mention that there was a marked shift in experience for me since yesterday. Not sure it’s complete yet, but something shifted for me yesterday, and that shift has remained and was still with me this morning. It is slightly uncomfortable but interesting, and there is a slow relaxing into the experience that leads to changes in the discomfort bordering on joy of some kind for moments.
Great. You can expect shifts in experience like this but don’t identify with them. You can get trapped in a “I’ve got it – Oh no! I’ve lost it” circuit. We aren’t looking for a new experience but for a knowledge or understanding (a shift in perspective) – the knowledge is primary and the experiences are secondary.
the idea that people are able to make choices and change behaviors
Right. We’ve already looked at the way language supports (even creates) a sense of an “I” agent – this belief is fundamental to a raft of assumptions we hold – including that people are separate, self-governing entities responsible for their own fate. Choices do get made and behaviours do change – the question we are looking at here, though, is “Is there a separate self-entity that makes these choices?”

Many people assume that a decision is a mental act: “I decided not to go to the party”. But what is it, exactly, that “decides?” You may find it helpful to look in your experience today around the whole area of “decision making”.

If you look closely – it is clear that there are many (most?) thoughts that don’t result in action. I can lie in bed for a long time and thought suggests all sorts of things that I should be doing and repeatedly says ‘get up get up’ – but nothing happens – then suddenly, while thinking about something else, I get up. What made the getting up happen? It certainly wasn’t a thought – if thoughts could make things happen, I’d have a very clean and tidy house (I don’t).

Look at all the thoughts that pop up suggesting courses of action that don’t eventuate. If there is a ‘you’ thinking the thoughts – why doesn’t every thought result in the suggested action? We have seen that you don’t choose which thoughts pop up – but can you choose which thoughts are acted upon? Look at what happens, energetically, in the body during the decision-making process and let me know what you find.

Some great looking around “awareness” and “attention” – the key points here are the questions “Is ‘awareness’ an attribute of something else, i.e. a ‘self’?” and “Is ‘attention’ a faculty that can be directed by something else, i.e. a ‘self’?” Note again how language is complicit here in playing into a sense of self – I might say “place awareness on the breath” for example, as if there were three things involved – awareness, the breath and an (implicit) you that is doing the placing. Please continue to simply observe the rise and fall of experience in awareness – I like your camera analogy. Imagine you are a super video camera – watch experiences – sights, sounds, tastes, sensations, thoughts -- arise and pass away on the screen. Is the camera itself ever affected by any arising? Does it own or have agency over any arising?
People see it far away. What a pity! They are like a man who, standing in water, complains of thirst -- Hakuin

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Re: Inquiry into no-self

Postby gerhard_pret » Wed Dec 21, 2016 6:38 pm

Hi Mark,

You wrote: “Great. You can expect shifts in experience like this but don’t identify with them. You can get trapped in a “I’ve got it – Oh no! I’ve lost it” circuit. We aren’t looking for a new experience but for a knowledge or understanding (a shift in perspective) – the knowledge is primary and the experiences are secondary.”

Thank you for the reminder. I do have a tendency to look to experiences and altered perceptions as being evidence or progress. This partly due to the fact that that is what I Imagine goes with realizing ‘no-self’ or non-duality.

You asked me to consider the following: “Is there a separate self-entity that makes these choices?...Many people assume that a decision is a mental act:… But what is it, exactly, that “decides? You may find it helpful to look in your experience today around the whole area of “decision making”.

On the surface it appears that there is a self-entity that makes these choices. A thought might arise that I want some coffee and soon after I walk over to the kitchen and make a cup of coffee. If I look deeper I see the following different scenarios:

1) There is thinking about coffee. There may be sensations that arise (pleasure etc) or not. Then there is walking followed by making coffee (taking a cup, pouring coffee etc.)
2) There is the sensation of a dry throat, then there is walking followed by making coffee (taking a cup, pouring coffee etc.). I may or may not think about coffee during this scenario.
3) Sometimes there is just walking to the kitchen followed by making coffee (taking a cup, pouring coffee etc.). I may or may not think about coffee during this scenario.

Two points I noticed in the above situation:

a) As established in previous sections of our conversation, there is no “I” or self that can be found in any sensations, thoughts, or actions in any of these scenarios.
b) The only element that was common to each scenario was that coffee was made.
c) Although thoughts about coffee or sensations arose around these times one cannot make any clear correlation between those experiences and the making of the coffee, as non are common to a majority of coffee making episodes.
(One could attribute some of what happened to habit, but when looked at habit is another thought / concept used to tie together the fact that making coffee happened multiple times in similar contexts. When I look at this idea I can find no evidence in direct experience that there is a ‘habit’ stored away anywhere. All I can say is that making coffee and various sensations and thoughts arose, and that there is a memory (a thought) that arose that said “this happens often”, and then another thought that says “this is because of ‘habit’.”)

[In behavior therapy (and acceptance and commitment therapy) its commonly accepted that choice is pre-verbal, and often unrelated to reasons and justifications.]

You pointed out: “If you look closely – it is clear that there are many (most?) thoughts that don’t result in action.”
Agreed. (Many past unused gym memberships and a growing waistline shows this!)


You asked: We have seen that you don’t choose which thoughts pop up – but can you choose which thoughts are acted upon?

This is a tough one. “….can you choose which thoughts are acted upon?” There’s an instinct to say “some of the time.” This answer assumes that there is a self-entity outside of thought that can do something in relation to the thought. As discussed previously in our e-mails, “I” is a label or kind of thought. (Thinking stopped at this point, I struggled to continue this looking.) If I look for it in ‘thinking’, sensing, seeing or anywhere it disappears or evaporates. It cannot be found. It is a label pointing at ‘nothing. I cannot locate any ‘self-entity) or “I” anywhere. There is only sensing, hearing, looking, thinking. (Thinking stopped again – Maybe it’s because in the context of not being able to find a ‘self-entity when looking at ‘thinking’ this question of choosing a thought no longer makes any sense.)

Look at what happens, energetically, in the body during the decision-making process and let me know what you find.

With some decisions feelings of anxiety (sensations in around the stomach) arise. With others like my decision to get a cup of coffee, I just noticed the sensations of the various movements while making coffee. As previously established I cannot find a ‘self-entity’ in or separated from any ‘sensing’. Therefore the sensations do not ‘decide’. They just arise. There is just the sensing.

You asked: “Some great looking around “awareness” and “attention” – the key points here are the questions “Is ‘awareness’ an attribute of something else, i.e. a ‘self’?” and “Is ‘attention’ a faculty that can be directed by something else, i.e. a ‘self’?”

I have increasingly found the work ‘awareness’ unhelpful. There is just the knowing of thinking, sensing, hearing, seeing tasting etc. when they are there. There is the knowing. The knowing is always ‘on'. It’s never ‘off’. Maybe another word could be ‘being’. It’s always there. If there is just being or knowing there is no self-entity to be found. All is as it is. ‘I’ is only a thought that is known, a thought that refers to no-thing. Just as there is no ‘self’ in seeing, hearing, sensing, tasting, there is no ‘self’ in the knowing, which is the root of them. The knowing encompasses all. In all there is no “I”. (I apologise for the language – words start to fail me at this point.)

As in my previous post. ‘Attention’ seems to be a concept used to describe / make sense of other processes that make distinctions that appear to hearing, seeing, tasting, sensing. In my last post it felt like it was a description of something happening, rather than something to be directed. As a concept it is only a thought. There is no ‘I’ in thinking.

Is the camera itself ever affected by any arising? Does it own or have agency over any arising?

There is no camera and no arising. There is only the knowing. In the camera analogy there is only the seeing. The camera and the arising images are both known. They are part of the same process. (Sorry, but language fails me here.) There is only the knowing of or as seeing.
To directly answer the question. No, the camera is not affected. No, it is just itself, which the arisings are part of. It cannot stop them in any way.

Best Wishes

Gerhard


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