This shy, bookish teenager, was haunted by a yearning for
Looking for something to bridge the imagined divide between everyday life and the Absolute – an indescribable experience.
Voraciously consumed the book “Autobiography of a Yogi” by Paramahansa Yogananda and felt strongly that “it” lie in the direction of the spiritual.
Reading Plato solidified the view of spirituality as the pursuit of the ideal.
Thus the seeker was born, and the game of seeking was afoot.
Nineteen years later, at 37, I had more or less tried everything.
Still hadn’t found “it”.
One day I dropped in on a talk given by a knowledgeable sounding Buddhist teacher. Intrigued, I returned to hear more. Captivated, I pledged lay vows and started daily meditation. Heard about liberation, enlightenment and the concept of emptiness, or no-self.
That was “it”.
That’s what I was looking for !
The Tibetan Buddhist group I practiced with was strangely unfocussed on no-self – the most important element of the Buddha’s teaching .
Seriously, if you cracked that, wouldn’t the rest all fall in line ?
A meditator friend of mine planned a trip to Thailand to practice with a group in Chang Mai for a few weeks and generously allowed me to accompany him.
We traveled to Thailand for 3 silent retreats of about 2 weeks each over the course of the next 3 years.
In Thailand, practice focused on breath, and we frequently discussed impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, and no-self with our teacher.
Silence also waited for exploring on this side of the Pacific.
In 2007, I began doing as many silent retreats as I could, some with groups and some on my own, camping in the mountains.
On a week long silent retreat in March of 2010, I read a few lines from the book ” Nothing Personal ” by Nirmala. In the first 12 pages, Nirmala clearly points out that thoughts are objects known by awareness.
Thoughts cannot have any sensory experience at all.
Somehow, in almost 10 years of meditation and Buddhist practice,
I had missed this very obvious and fundamental point.
What I had believed that I was – a stream of thoughts – couldn’t possibly be so.
At first, the enormity of this fact escaped notice.
Moments later, gazing placidly at the half-moon hanging high in the cloudless sky, a disturbing thought appeared:
“If no thought ever had a sensory experience,
then no thought had ever seen anything.”
So… what was watching the moon ?
I have never seen it!
No one has ever seen it!
No one has ever seen anything else !
Somehow, this developed into the most frightening contemplation,
fear quickly growing, expanding, building upon itself.
The disturbance spread across consciousness like a hurricane,
cold terror gripped the body, vise-like, heart pounding, thoughts racing wildly.
What to do ? Nowhere to go ! What to do ? What to do !!?
At that moment, the thing to do was to sit with the fear.
Peer directly into it, take it apart, see it’s qualities of impermanence, unsatisfactoriness and not-self.
Then look behind the fear – directly at the empty origins of the rouse.
But that’s not what happened.
Instead, I ran like a scared dog.
Ran to every calming technique I ever heard of (and there are many) to restore some equanimity.
Years of practice had failed to bring presence of mind in the face of a sudden, unprecedented panic attack.
Hours later, after it was over, I realized a golden opportunity was lost.
Seeing into the empty nature of the “I” had nearly occurred, and if that had happened, the “I” would have dissolved like a mirage.
Thought had to trigger an immediate diversion to continue its mental dominance a bit longer. Fear was the biggest diversion in the egoic arsenal of distraction.
The impact of the resulting panic felt way too powerful to forget.
A glimpse at the empty nature of the ” I ” left a permanent crack in the edifice of the thought constructed self.
Practice focused on this crack.
The classic Advaita “Who am I ?” / “What am I ?” technique adapted easily to exploit the weakness that had appeared.
” What sees this ? ” burned brightly as an unanswered and potentially unanswerable question.
Inquiry acted as a chisel applied to the edifice of thought
throughout the day, every day.
Every activity provided an opportunity to inquire.
“What sees this?” “What hears this ?” ” What feels this ?” ” What ?! “
Sometimes with furious exasperation,
always relentlessly inquiring with a keen interest and burning curiosity.
What sees this ?!
So practice continued for almost 16 months…
One morning, like many other mornings, consciousness came awake slowly.
Noticing pressure, texture, light.
Lying in place for a while, turning over, getting up.
What just happened ?
Getting up happened.
With no conscious decision to do so.
No thought involved nor required.
Just the body.
On its own.
How could that happen ?
Perhaps something was missed ?
Will look more carefully tomorrow.
Next day, it happened again. And the next day. And the next.
Never again did the “I” ever take credit for getting up in the morning.
The domain of the little “me” shrank by a little bit.
So…if the “me” did not get the body up in the morning, what other activities did it falsely take credit for ?
If the body acted without direction from discursive thought,
what other false claims did the self imagine ?
Driving a car.
All those little wheel adjustments to keep the car between the white lines,
done without a single thought.
With each noticing, the self retreated further and further.
The remaining question was “What, if anything, does the self still seem to do? “
The domain of the self shrank severely.
The last bastion of the “I” remained hidden in thoughts alone,
the only place it ever really existed.
One unremembered day, late May or June 2011, came across the blog
The author, Elena Nezhinsky, used a technique she described as “direct pointing” to help people see through the illusion of the self.
Utterly fascinated, I wolfed down her posts enthusiastically.
People would chat back and forth with this woman
and then declare that they had seen that there was no self !
Hard to believe, but there it was, one after another.
linked to another site with similar dialogs,
THE RUTHLESS TRUTH, by Ciaran Healy.
(ed. note – no longer exists)
On July 24th, 2011, sometime before noon, wandered over to check out Ciaran’s site,and started to read the archived dialogs. Ciaran had chatted with someone using direct pointing. Here is the dialog:
CIARAN: the core process revolves around
between cause and effect
and life as such
this is where the unenlightened state
between these two things
does that make sense?
i explain it in the blog
CIARAN: ok cool
the way to become enlightened
is just to see
exactly how they really fit together
GUEST: my mind is looking for a tool
CIARAN: that’s fine
don’t worry about that
i’ll give you a monkey wrench if you want it
think about how we layer cause and effect over the full experience of life
in the present moment
what you’ll find
if you focus
and be disciplined with yourself
is that we assume
are watching a video
that is life
and the video affects ‘us’
this is endemic
everyone does it
and that’s because
you don’t need to teach this
cause and effect
is the lens through which
we see the world
so the idea
of this video ‘we’ are watching
that’s having an effect on ‘us’
just kind of arises
the thing to realize
and if you can see this
that is you enlightened
is that the video
IS the totality of all things
such as you are
exist within the video
there is no audience
there is just the film
and you are
how to put this
within the present moment
an assumption exists
that there is someone experiencing it
is part of the present
as all things are,
Had been reading with keen intensity up until the mention of causality and the metaphor of the video.
Right then, something abruptly shifted.
The imagined distance between “outside” and “inside” collided violently and vanished forever as the last bastion of the self collapsed.
“Me” disappeared…and the world turned inside out.
Shouting in the empty house !
F R E E D O M !