Hello, Oh John of the Guide Guild,
Sorry I've been slow in responding. Thank you for the fruitful
It's possible to have thoughts about fruit. How real is that imagined fruit? What if the self that is imagined is no more real than this?
I just ate scrambled eggs. Now as I imagine the eggs, no longer in physical evidence, I can evoke some of their qualities, but much of the richness of lived experience is lost. Most importantly, if I was still hungry, I doubt that any amount of imagining eating eggs would result in my feeling full. In that sense, I appreciate the difference between embodied experience and mental representation of that experience. The representation is, I think, what you mean by ABOUT-ness.
On the other hand, I am aware that even when the eggs are in front of me, or, for that matter, inside me, I'm still only ever representing the real thing. If we want to take the "I" out of the equation, sensory apparati and cognitive processes transform raw data into a simplified and synthesized phenomenal experience. So, not only do I never actually experience the eggs (or whatever they are before they get labeled), but even when
I'm in the midst of experiencing, there's some oscillation between sense experience and the mental echoes of the experiences. Any in-the-moment experience is always made of both.
So for this reason, I don't trust my supposed raw experience to be accurate, and fantasies, dreams, and imaginings often seem more real than what's in the supposed world-out-there.
What does this have to do with the imagined self? I get that it's a higher order representation (where sense data and mental imagery are the lower order constituents), but that which is ABOUT doesn't necessarily seem less vivid or relevant or or immediate than the stuff that is supposedly prior to ABOUT-ness. So that brings me to your question (which seems to be the key question in various forms) . . .
Where is the one doing the organising.? You say 'I organize'. What evidence it there for a one that does organizing?
I'm clearly overusing my mind in this pursuit, but to make matters worse, I happen to have a Ph.D. in research psychology, so when you ask what evidence there is, I don't just look to my personal experience, but to all the research on this topic. It's not my area of expertise, and I know this is just a tangent, but there is a lot of research on "executive function" or the manager that LU tries to help debunk the existence of. For instance, when people become cognitively stressed or exhausted in various ways, they tend to make more errors on deliberative tasks, or resort to relatively poor automatic pilot functioning as a result of compromised attention.
I'm sure you'll tell me to stick to my own experience, but I wanted to spend a moment on that tangent because I think there's a lot of evidence for the one doing the organizing. It just can't be found by looking to immediate, one-moment-at-a-time "raw" sense data.
But this question keeps coming back around. Where is this hypothesized "I" who is imagined to manage or organize experience and behavior? I can get some distance from my culturally conditioned belief in the self by noticing how much happens on its own (which you've been pointing me towards) without anyone needing to step in and manage. There very well may be something
doing the organizing. That something is just not "me".
Sometimes there's a sort of witnessing that happens. Thoughts are churning. Behavior is flowing out from the voice or the body in a stream. And something in thought watches it and remarks, "wow - look at what that thing is doing - how wild!" The bodymind thing is just doing what it does.
So there's a subsiding or quieting of the habit of identifying with or owning thoughts and behaviors, but it's only ever for a brief period. Don't get me wrong. That shift in awareness makes all kinds of differences in how life occurs and what's possible. But it seems to me like a practice that will still require years of strengthening before it's predominant. "I", or my habitual sense of/belief in myself keeps bouncing back.
I get similar results with your other practice.
Now look for a line or edge within this whole experience behind which it's all 'me' and beyond which it's 'everything else'.. This should not be intellectualised but noticed, experienced. Look for a line. Look into this and see if there is separation.
This is a beautiful practice. I think I've long been a sort of nature mystic, so it's somewhat familiar, though not in exactly the form you suggested.
If I try to sense where there seems to be separation, initially it seems like the border is between inside and outside. There's the light reflecting off the ocean down below, the sun on my skin, the smell of the grass, the feel of the sharp volcanic rock under my shoe - the richness of the landscape. Then there's inside the body (proprioception, interoception, auditory echoes of language in mind that occur as thought). That seems like a natural boundary, like the skin is the border.
But then it's not hard to recognize that the feel of the sun on my skin and the feel of mild hunger or internal spaciousness aren't really different. It's all just experience with no qualitative distinction between the different kinds of stimuli in awareness. If I imagine an axis with self on the left and world on the right and a point of separation somewhere halfway down the line, it doesn't seem so much like the point moves left until there's all world and no self. It's more like it moves all the way right so there's all self and no world. Like the whole scene is in me.
What really intensifies this experience for me is if I attend to action that seems willed - each step forward, turning to look at something of interest, etc. I could imagine another axis where free will was on the left and cause-and-effect or automaticity is on the right. Again, it doesn't seem like the point of separation between the two moves left until there's no will. It seems like it moves the other way such that everything in experience becomes an act of will. The breeze, the radiating sun, the foot moving forward and touching down, the crashing of the wave into the cliff, the next inbreath, the mosquito landing. It's not that "I'm" willing it, but as if the entire universe is will in action. Everything in experience is in motion and all of it is animated by something dynamically dancing with itself.
This is all powerful and beautiful to immerse into. Like other such practices, however, it seems momentary. There's nothing wrong with that, and I suspect practicing over time will make that form of awareness more predominant. But the change in awareness is a temporary state.
With much love and gratitude,