Part 3 -The Experience of ‘I’
When the mind has attached to meanings of sensations it will keep seeking it, getting it, keep seeking it and getting it, and seeking it without end. Essentially craving the ultimate idea of a life that is always happy and never unhappy.
When cravings (for food, love, attention, music, ideas, concepts, success, cars, being healthy, gym, drugs etc) are reinforced over and over again it leads to clinging – the mind literally tries to hold on to the source of this sensation, it wants to hold onto this experience of happiness to the extent that it believes there is someone that is holding onto that experience, that can hold onto that experience, that can actually experience that experience. This is the idea of an ‘ego’ that we have constructed.
This sense of someone arises because ‘cravings’ are not seen as ‘cravings’ by the mind. The mind only experiences it’s belief of the idea’s meaning.
So you [body-mind] wants the idea of [a pleasurable sensation] which it believes is found in something like chocolate [natural substance that has been modified and can now be defined by certain characteristics] that is believed to contain the concepts of [good, delicious, sexy, decadent] – then you are no longer consuming a substance because you are stimulating the mind with ideas.
This world of constructs and meanings is what gives rise to an ‘I, me, mine’ that is experiencing every sense contact. Of course there is no such thing as good or chocolate is only a concept we have chosen to define.
And if you try and understand this then the mind will experience confusion and will keep fighting it. The mind will assume you are just trying to introduce a new concept or a new idea to it. The mind only wants the experience; it is only interested in the meaning and not the reality. If the mind lets go of the experience then there is no ‘I’ to have the experience. Mind cannot understand that there is no self that experiences all of these things.
Now intellectually you might think you understand this, and yes intellectually the mind can create another concept to understand it. But then this is just another concept or idea. And the words used here are not trying to introduce another idea. I am trying to explain that there is no idea to begin with. It is only an idea that there is something like an ‘idea’ or what we have come to understand as an idea. So this is not an intellectual philosophy or some theory, unless you turn it into one.
Then how should this be approached you might ask. If I suppose that there is only an idea of ‘I’ of ‘self’ then how do I let go of this idea?
Just sit still. Literally do not move, do nothing.
You can define the practice to a word like sitting, meditation, practice, mindfulness or being in the present moment, but describing it like this is beside the point.
When you sit still you are forced to be. Initially it might seem like just another practice. And probably a very frustrating one because all you will do is sit and think or try not to think. You will try to calm and train the mind, and you will try and concentrate in order to have some insight.
When I initially sat down I thought that I must be crazy. I could sit for a few minutes and then had to move again. Even if it was just a twitch, I just had to move, again and again. At some stage I could keep myself still for some length of time but then I experienced intense unbearable (or so I thought) pain. Eventually I thought that there had to be something about the pain, there had to be a point to sitting and experiencing the pain. It is not an easy thing to force the mind to sit still and endure the pain it was experiencing.
Eventually I endured pain I thought was humanly impossible. This pain became a permanent thing and I started limping around. I came to a conclusion that I could not ‘handle the pain’ for long because it is so intense to the mind. I tried to understand it, and thought that it had to be due to the nature of the mind that it had to focus on the most significant (intense) sense input. Even if the mind got distracted for a moment, it would always come back to the pain. This happens so fast that initially I could not experience anything else except this constant feeling of pain.
I got to a point where I thought that if I sat for one more second I would pass out – but the idea of determination can be extended. So I started to notice how the pain was never really the same. There were some moments where the pain disappeared, or it moved from one place to the next, or the sensation was a little different. The more time I spent observing the sensations I realized that the mind focused only on the sensation of the part it was focusing on, no matter which part or how big the part was. And then I started noticing that if I focused on another sense input like sight or taste, then the experience of pain would not be there, even if it were for just a split second.
What I initially experienced as seconds became longer. I would start filling the mind up with any other sense input so that I had to pay attention to in order to avoid the feeling of pain.
I understood this experience as the ‘nature of the mind’ that was inclined to focus on that sense input that was the ‘most meaningful’, positive or negative.
Eventually I experienced everything slowing down. These inputs (thoughts, feelings, sensation, images, sounds) became moment-by-moment inputs. Initially they were only seen as ‘something other than the pain’. Every time I tried to think about the experience (whether I thought I was thinking or not) I would be back experiencing the pain. The mind starts to see moments, how each moment is made up inputs – and nothing else – because there exists one moment with the sensation of pain, then a moment of the sounds of a motorbike rushing past, then a moment of a bird sound, and then maybe a moment of the sensation of pain again. I could only see this because there was this one constant sense of pain in my legs.
Now conceptually I was trying to think about what I was experiencing. This is a taught behavior even though it feels so natural. So all I started thinking about was the changing nature of everything. Initially I looked at the ‘things’ we find around us. Trees, grass, animals, me, thoughts, clouds, ants, the idea of everything, the idea of societies, the idea of worlds, the idea of the universe – thus the mind starts to realize that there is no such thing as a permanent anything. My mind has made them into permanent things. Nothing outside myself ever stands still. This made me wonder about the permanence of myself, of my being. I tried to theorize it and tried to understand it. I tried to take this experience I was having and put it into words or thoughts.
The frightening experience was when I started wondering about that which I thought was the idea of I. I started thinking about where my memories of me where. And if ‘I’ was not permanent, where would they go? Where would Nathalie go? How could I loose this sense of me, where will I go? What will happen to my parents, my sister, my life? It wasn’t bad, I liked it, was I going to disappear into thin air? In-between these thoughts I would experience the anxiety associated with these thoughts. And to top it all, I was trying to do all of this while experiencing inhumane levels of pain in my legs.
All I could come back to was my breath. It literally felt like I could not handle where I was going. I do not remember exactly how long I sat there or at what point I opened my eyes. But there I was, I did not disappear. Everything was still there, it did not feel like I was really there but the tree was still there, I still had legs, and a hand and… well I got up and walked away. Not sure and sure at the same time. It was very confusing. I was not sure what had happened. I could feel my body but then I wasn’t sure anymore. For the next few hours I just walked around and went about the daily activities. I did not feel happy, and I wasn’t sad either.
I started giving more attention to each of these moments of experiences. It felt like I was caught it a world of feeling something and then not feeling it because I was feeling it. I would eat for example or drink something. I can hear the sounds that let me know I am drinking something, and then there is a feeling that comes with it, and then because I am focusing on it then the feeling disappears. Then I would go onto something else. Even thoughts started having the same experience. I would think about getting tired, but as soon as I started focusing on the experience or the thought, then it would disappear.
It is like showing your self that your ‘experience of your mind’ is made up of thousands of experiences. And when it sees that none of these experiences are permanent it can come to the realization that these experiences do not exist in nature as part of the human body-mind and it somehow lets go a little bit. I started forcing the mind to not-think in every experience. To slow everything down to sensation of touch, hearing, seeing, smelling, taste and thought. So essentially the meaning of these experienced started to change. Initially the sensations were there but there was no ‘I’, ‘Nathalie’ experiencing them. The information comes in but I do not allow myself to attach meaning to it. I just left it be.
Various philosophical realizations were made in this time. They were not understood as ideas as before, but I started to know these realizations. I started to know that we are part of nature; and that it is not there for us. We are not the center of all of this. Our civilizations have come and gone and they will again. Life is an illusion not because we make it up, but because the idea of ‘life’ is a concept. A mental illusion (formed by the mind) that does exist physically anywhere.
When the mind can see this it realizes it there is nothing (no idea) to hold onto – nothing to cling to. So the experiences of what he just said, what you do, what you didn’t do, where you are going or where not, what you had or didn’t, what just happened and what might happen become just experiences. So the experience of desire is just an experience. The experience cannot be fulfilled. The experience of happiness cannot be found and you cannot seek it. The experience of pain or bad things are just experiences, it is not really pain, or a bad things.
And then the mind becomes very happy and satisfied. It will think that this is the real happiness and really being content, because now there is nothing to worry about.
If you now shaking your head and going ‘huh’ then know that you have been reading this book as a book, as a collection of words with meanings, adding your ideas and incorporating or rejecting them as part of you – instead of a practice which is understood as experience, your own experience, not somebody else’s that can be understood or studied.
Many people will read this to understand it as ideas never realizing that by understanding it you are making another concept out of it, making it into another idea, just like pain, fear, love or happiness. By seeing it you cannot see it.
Yes there is a nature of things. Nature just is, consciousness is part of nature. The mind thinks it is made to have thoughts, to process the information around it. And because it believes this it mentally takes a hold everything. The mind clings to ideas like food, love, anger and anything. It creates meaning for these ideas and then clings to these meanings. Most significantly it clings to the meaning of meaningful and the meaning of self-existence. Thus clinging to its own meaning of its meaningful existence. This world of meanings creates the illusion of a stable experience of a self. In the minds reality it then realizes that the ideas of future, past and present are just made up of a sense of self + self + self +self + self. That there is no 1 continues self. Only the idea of a continues self exists.
So then I thought but how do I know I am not just fooling myself with these thoughts. I could find lots of scientific theories out there that could compliment what I am thinking and I could find others that would reject this.
In the same manner your ‘I’ will question what it is reading here. It will try and find ways to accept it, change it or reject it. This is a useless exercise because I am not trying to prove or disprove anything. Attempting to do this or thinking that it is possible to do this a concept in itself. Trying to find meanings and adding meaning to meaning for more meaning so that there is meaning to this meaning is rather complicated and would be useless here. Look around you, it is all just a world of meanings. You can change the meaning of any experience to a thousand different things, and at the end of the day you just have another meaning. It sounds very simplified but this is the way it is. There are even tools like Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) that teach you how you can change meanings around and thus change your experiences.
What is the meaning of life? Take the meaning out of it and you have… life! Initially when I thought about this it felt unreasonable to do this with life. There had to be a meaning, even if it was no-meaning it would still be a meaning right?
We have so much to live for. We have achieved so much. We are capable of so much. We have desires, and drives, we create empires and gods. Watch as your mind will fight the idea of [meaning of existence] and [no meaning of existence]. It is like we are driving towards something. We cannot go back or stop. The mind is compelled to go on and on. We are flying to the moon. We want to take over the universe. We want to pick the stars… but have you ever wondered why it is that the mind trembles at a mere thought. We can come of with a million theories of why but never know.
The mind hungers for permanent stability in concepts. Going from one to the next. I found stability in ‘happiness’ and did everything possible directly or indirectly to nurture this experience. But, we are part of nature, our nature is consciousness, stability does not exist in this nature, it is always uncertain, always changing, never the same, it is impermanent. When the mind literally sees this, it can start to let go. If there is no existing, stable ‘self’ – then you cannot be thrown around by experiences, the mind stops the search for that ultimate everlasting happiness.
When the mind is only filled with the idea of observing itself, physically and mentally it realizes that it can let go of experiences. Everything becomes a sensation in the body. Pain, even thought it is very persistent, is just a sensation. We have added the meaning and we have given it a name, we have created our ‘experience’ of it. So as you sit still, and if you can get over the impulse to move and the mind slows down its thinking to finally stopping, to be there where it is, and it is concentrating on this experience of pain, and it notices how it is changing, and then how it is no longer a ‘painful experience’ the mind thinks it has been ignorant of itself all along. And it has been and it is.
There is an infinite amount of ways that reality can be seen. I had to physically and mentally slow down the experience of everything. So when my eye made contact with an object, a color or anything I had to notice how I started adding information about it. I did this with every sensation. Emotional experiences were then brought back to their foundations. I could see how every experience I had was to avoid pain (uncomfortable, bad, awkward) in order to seek the less painful (comfortable, happy, better, good situations, feelings).
Take a look for yourself. Consider the mosquito for example. Notice how you will slap it away, try to kill it, even wear long pants and use mosquito repellant just because you have this idea about a mosquito and want to avoid the possible uncomfortable situation of an itching experience.
You might not have made your bed up this morning before leaving or you switched the television on instead of sitting down with your child or cleaning the room – why? – Because it is your nature to avoid that which you consider to be uncomfortable and seek the ‘better’ situation like watching television, or sitting down for a few minutes, or washing the dishes instead of cleaning that room. And this might seem normal, and it is, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this. When the idea of meaning is created, and meaning is given to all ideas then all other ideas have to be based on meaning. This is the nature of the reality we have constructed.
So in essence nothing (even depression, happiness, sadness, pain, loneliness and anger) is really a ‘issue’ or ‘problem’ right. If you are unhappy because your boyfriend left you or someone took the last cookie you wanted it is only a problem because you insist that the experience is that.
All of these things, everything, is just made up of ideas and concepts. These moments of sense contact are generated by thought, ideas and language. So feelings only become ‘emotional problems’ because we insists that there is someone continually experiencing a continues stream of these ideas. The only thing keeping these experiences together is ‘me’, or the idea of an ‘I’ or ‘me’.
To use another concept to explain this think of it this way. The human body is the hardware (so the brain is the memory storage etc) and the operating system and software is the mind. The operating system (and software) doesn’t exist anywhere outside of the computer in the same form, and it ‘runs’ the hardware. Nature (consciousness) is the power source. Now the illusion is that we insist that the machine actually needs an ‘operator’ for it to work. Which it doesn’t, this machine will run just fine without an ‘operator’. Now you might say, well what is the purpose or meaning of the computer then – well this is exactly what we have done with life! We have confined it to meaning. We have limited our experiences by trying to confine it. Not theoretically but in reality. When you can step outside of this you can see it for what it is.
Natural existence (system idling) is turned into a mess when it tries to define or limit its data by trying to understand it. There is no software to uninstall and reinstall, it has a limited life, and no reset button, no guarantee and when it gets older it will be thrown out with the rest of them.
In your own mind now, imagine and step back from this ‘organic machine’ – you, and see it functioning. See how the operating system/software has made a mistake in thinking that it is an ‘operator’ (‘I’) that allows the power source to work that runs the chip to run the machine. Know that the machine is peaceful and just fine without an ‘operator’ (‘I). The machine will have a ‘life’ during which it will continue to run. And one day the machine will stop working because that is just the way it is, its makeup, its nature, just like everything else.
And now I can tell you that even that is still trying to add meaning or understanding to existence. It might seem a little basic for some but in order to literally see this you have to stop running the hundred programs you are trying to run at the same time. Only then can you see that you are not really running any of these. The illusion of this continues experience is created because the processing power is so fast.
You are in the now when no programs are running, when it is quiet, in the neutral state, living, being – not in a fantasy world of illusions, meanings or processes.
Now I am not saying go and sit and idle for the rest of what you think is your life. No, but what I am saying is that by thinking it is so is limiting our existence and ‘experience’ of ‘consciousness’.
First see everything you think you see for what it is. Become aware of your hardware and software, see it clearly, understand it for what it is, and know its abilities and uses. Know that ‘things’ only become a ‘problem’ when the operating system thinks there is an operator actually experiencing all of this.
The mind does not know that it is functioning in the world it has created. It tries and understands itself with its own limited ideas of itself. It will think that ‘nature’ allows for the mind to think the way it does. That it is made to attach meaning to sensations so that it can remember and survive. It thinks it has to create an ‘I’. And it does have to if it wants to experience this world of ideas and meanings. But it is this same attachment to this world it created that creates the ‘I’ that experiences exactly that which it is trying to get out of or relieve itself from.
When you start spending time with your body-mind, see its not-knowing. Almost like treating it like a little child, see it as a child, doing only what is naturally does. When it wonders around in thoughts, gently bring it back to the empty now. Reading this book is not the point, your mind has to physically ‘experience this’.
First focus on your breathing like it is the only thing that exists. Then start to notice how feelings arise. Come to understand what gives rise to your thinking, your distractions, your mental restlessness and so on. Examine what the mind calls experience. Then concentrate only on a specific feeling, like being happy. Force the mind to be happy, then to be sad, and then to be still. As you experience thoughts and ideas, emotions and feelings, free the mind from anything that comes along, and free anything that comes along from the mind. Make sure that no feeling or emotion is held. See how everything then comes and goes. At first this might make you feel very unsatisfied with the ‘world’ and then slowly the mind will start letting go of the idea of itself, of an ‘I’.
As I said before, this is not something to be intellectually understood, it is an experience, something you literally show yourself.
As my mind started releasing all of these things I noticed how major factors like fear slowly started fading away. In the beginning some of the emotions would come up but then they would just fade away. Fear would initially turn into awareness of that fear, but without the sweating, panic or anxiousness.
Later I started noticing how everything starter changing. Nothing, not even drinking, eating, smoking, talking, laughing, standing, sitting, making, doing or anything could be done without the awareness of the attached experience or meaning.
Now and again the mind wants to think about concepts like future or past, and some thoughts will arise but then they just fade away. When I am in a environment where there is allot of activity the mind can literally sees itself getting stressed out. The mind sees thoughts that it usually would hold onto and then the stressing fades into a bit of unsteadiness before fading away completely.
I started doing everything without prejudice or judgment. Decisions were made about the tasks at hand, when it is time to make decisions about the tasks (big or small), they are then done with clarity, objectively without seeking the better situation or avoiding the not-better – knowing that they are all just situations, just moments.
But the mind realized that it was still living some form of this reality, even if it felt completely different, it was still feeling and experiencing.
So does that leave me where I started? We all know this reality, or different versions of it, there are even un-created versions of it that can be created. And then we believe that this is the nature of mankind. That you cannot live outside of this reality, that you cannot escape it, not matter if you wanted to or not. Why? Because fundamentally I still held onto some form of a belief there was someone experiencing a reality.
This is a very serious matter. When you sit and think about it, when you consider the idea of no ‘I’ the mind wants to freak out. Because it thinks that death is on the other side of that fence. But once you can step through this, it is clear on the other side. And that is only the first step.
Imagine the mind is a sky. Clouds come, and it will rain, it will snow, the sun comes, or the moon and the stars, but the sky remains itself. The sky never holds onto the clouds that bring the rain, it just flows, it just comes and goes. And as a concept this works well. Mentally you can talk yourself through any experience and change the meaning so that you can have the experience you desire. When you mentally no longer have the attachments to the ideas it can no longer make an ‘issue’ out of something unless it wants to. But the idea of the experience of the issues are still there, thus the mind is not really free of the issues, it is merely attached to the no-issue idea of issues. When the mind is aware of sense contact ‘your mind will’ still give any sense contact attention. For example when you look at a [picture of a flower] you will see a ‘flower’ + “oh what a beautiful color” + “oh I like getting flowers on my birthday” + “I bet they smell really good”, and you would want it and possibly go and pick it up. You have thus seen it as a meaningful object instead of just an object in nature that has a few round elements, different colors, an aroma and a soft texture. Even when I thought I did not, I realized that I did, just by having the thought or non-thought.
There are no things as we see them. Even your sense of ‘me’, ‘I’, ‘my’, ‘mine’,’you’ is an idea and it is the meaning of this idea that the mind is clinging to. It is the ideas that the mind has attached its life to. It has used ideas to give life its ‘meaning’. The only thing you ‘really’ ‘have’ in your life is meaning. Take everything ‘you’ have, and what ‘you’ do, and why ‘you’ do it, and when ‘you’ do it and for what reasons etc – it is all based on the meaning of those ideas. But this meaning is very important so it seems practically impossible to let go of it. That is why the mind holds on for ‘dear’ life. Because it thinks that it is all there is – the meaning you have given “I”, your ‘personality’, everything about ‘you’ that makes you ‘you’. You spend every second of your life on meaning. Look closely. And that is why the mind thinks it will disappear into nothing if there is no ‘I’, this personality you have been cultivating forever. The only thing that does disappear is meaning, and what is left, life, free to live, moment by moment.
As you are going about your daily life be especially aware of desires that arise. When you see, hear, feel, think, taste and smell and you think it is pretty, delicious, good or nice then know that you have some attraction to an object. Force your mind to see every object as it is; do not see the ‘value’ of it. For example see a gold ring as a round shaped object made from a mental, not something worth money, that makes you look good and means that you are rich. Do this with everything around you, especially those things that ‘mean’ something to you. Try it now, with the table, with the TV, with your drink, your hands etc. If you experience desire for someone think of a skeleton, muscles, blood and that which the body is made up of. I do not mean get disgusted by it, only seeing it for what is really is.
The same experience of desire goes for aversion, repulsion and dislikes. Notice it when you see, hear, feel, think, taste and smell, and especially towards ideas and thoughts. Replace these desires with the practice of kindness and compassion. See each human as they are, see each mind-body, and see that each one is living their own world of meanings and ideas. You can do this with yourself too.
Restlessness is probably one of the most common hindrances for people who want to stay in the present moment. So when you try and sit completely still for 2 minutes, but you need to move your legs here, and then change it again, then scratch your arm, and then you play with that pimple you remember you had, and mentally your mind is thinking “what am I reading” or “what are we having for dinner tonight” and “I have to remember to pickup my laundry – you might think this is normal (condition of the mind) but the mind is just restless.
Remember that the emotions that come up with each thought completely distract you because immediately you attach yourself to the emotion and all of a sudden you are ‘unhappy’ because this book is taking up your time or you get ‘worried’ about getting this done – the list is endless. It is here where you gently focus your eyes, breath in and out, watch your breath going in and out, and sit completely still, so that your mind is forced to focus on the breath. When it runs off to go and play, just gently bring it back to the here and now.
When I initially started practicing this it did not feel like a mother-child relationship. The initial feeling was terrifying. It was as if the mind had ‘become’ something. That it physically existed. It was frightening to explore the mind. Almost like it was this huge closet full of stuff, this deep dark space, with no end and no beginning. The mind truly thought it was this undefined, untrained wild beast that could never be calmed, or understood by anyone or anything.
This feeling however passes.
As you read this book you will also become filled with doubt, but these too will come to pass. If there is something you want to check out, make sure you get a satisfied answer for yourself.
Be careful not to replace one idea of ‘self’ with another ‘self’. The mind does not exist as a concrete object; it is a sensory and information processing system that’s ability has been mistaken for that which you now refer to as ‘I’. This ‘I’ is what is thought of as the personality, navigated to such an extend that it believes in itself and any concept that originates from it to such and extent that it is experienced as ultimate reality.