I recently had some encouragement to put all of my spiritual books away. I was surprised, and not surprised, at how eager I was to do so. For a long time, I’ve longed to find a unique voice and use it. Today, paradoxically, I read another encouragement to put everyone else’s voices away and find my own.
This is an odd experience, because the “I” that “I” thought “I” was, is disappearing steadily over time. Maybe it’s gone already but, I hesitate to make that claim in light of an occasional event or internal reaction that makes it seem as if a ‘self’ comes alive again. Especially something painful or unpleasant in the Present Moment that causes a thought reaction to arise, and sometimes an emotional feeling reaction too.
On a retreat last year with hundreds of others living in Silence for a week, it was clear that the self was disappearing and had disappeared for a while. Then, one day, I watched as the chimera we call a self, reconfigured itself around a problem, of all things. A problem! Not something wonderful, joyful, or awesome but, a problem! My body contracted, my awareness contracted, and I went all the way back to the point of being self-conscious. The ‘self’ even included a paranoia that everyone would be looking at me and knowing that I was ‘screwed up.’
Once I saw all of this occurring, I knew that the ego-self, or what I sometimes call the ‘little self’ can’t be real at all. That’s why I use the word chimera…which is something that appears to be real but, is found to be insubstantial. (I think of the smiling Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland that appears and disappears into thin air as an example of a chimera.)
In my psychological work with clients, I am often helping them deconstruct false ideas about who they really are. However, most people, myself included, are (or in my case were) reluctant to go all the way to the end of that progression and see that the idea of a self is just that, an idea. Upon examination, the ‘self’ disappears…there is no center that holds at all: perception, response/action, thought and emotion all spontaneously appear, stay for a moment or longer, and disappear.
The idea of a ‘self’ is formulated by memories we select and also by those we forget because they don’t fit our mind’s chosen idea of a ‘self.’ There is a vast trove of experiences that the brain simply forgets entirely; I’m nearly 63 and I can tell you that there’s so much that happened last week that I don’t even remember. If I want confirmation of this selective memory, all I need to do is compare my memories to those of my twin sister’s! Totally different versions of the ‘past’ arise if we compare them.
The self is composed of false thoughts about reality (all thoughts about reality are ‘false’ in that they are a representation, not the thing in itself), and false feelings that arise from the false thoughts. As in any lie detector test, if we lie (whether out loud or to ourselves), we physiologically contract, and then our contraction makes us feel more solid and separate, because our muscles are so damn tight that they hurt, and that muscle tension makes us feel like separate selves.
While true feelings occur, they appear to arise spontaneously based on actual events in the three-dimensional world and don’t appear to be caused by thoughts at all. True actions also arise spontaneously…at least as far as this brain is able to observe. Thoughts definitely arise spontaneously, too, and in rapid succession. (Mostly I don’t pay attention to them anymore, just getting caught once in a while.)
With the demise of a ‘self’ there is no cessation of perception, emotion, action or even thought. In the literature I used to read, it seemed as if when a ‘self’ was seen through, life somehow stopped or action stopped or it was impossible to ‘choose’ what to do next. That’s not the experience I’m having. (Okay, “I” is used as a reference point to make sense to others of this language within a three -dimensional world….don’t let’s get into an argument about using conventional language, I know I say that the ‘self’ doesn’t exist). The impulses still arise to action, emotion still occurs, the brain is still constantly adjusting the bodymind for physical/mental/emotional homeostasis, and thought is still useful in making ‘loosely held’ plans for a future which, however, never shows up the way the mind imagines.
It’s a new exercise to even dare to describe ‘no self’ to others. “I” am not supposed to be able to do this…no one is supposed to be able to become ‘no self’ in this lifetime…it’s supposed to take thousands of lifetimes. (Though, one new age intuitive once told me I’ve lived 250,000 lifetimes, I took that pronouncement with a box of salt.) Well, tough, the words are coming out anyway and maybe folks won’t like it but, there’s nothing to be done about that.
It is a bit peculiar to do psychological work on ego issues with clients, and to ‘relate’ to ‘others’ when this mind knows there isn’t a self over here or over there. However, at the moment, this isn’t even a problem. Speech arises, listening arises, and responses to those ‘others speaking’ arise.
I’ll get back to the readers (if there are any) on whether this changes over time. Perhaps it isn’t a problem because all of these other chimeras (objects, dogs, people, houses, chairs, etc.) are also, in my understanding, manifestations of the Absolute or God Itself too. So, it doesn’t seem to be a problem to relate to The Rest of It. I don’t know why my experience is different from some of the ‘masters’ that I’ve read. Oh no, maybe I’m wrong?! Maybe I’m lying?! Perish the thought! Since I no longer attempt to predict the future, and am no longer attempting to emulate some other spiritual ‘master’s’ experience, I don’t know how this little experiment will turn out. We’ll see!