Meditation is a very effective relaxation technique, and for many people this is the goal of their practice, and a worthy one. It can also be a technique for realising something more radical: waking up from the dream of exclusive identification with your personality (often called ‘the self’ or ‘ego’ in meditation literature). This sounds quite odd, disorientating and even scary. I am going to demonstrate that this is actually everyone’s experience all the time whether they know it or not, and is the most natural and easy way to be. We will discover that we actually have a greater capacity than we usually assume. What I am about to describe is not a philosophy. It’s a direct, living experience that is there for you to find for yourself. You don’t have to obliterate your personality through austere and cruel practices, it’s more a case of looking carefully and honestly at what is actually happening in your moment to moment experience. Once, you have woken up to what lies within, beyond and behind your personality, you have more freedom to be creative, and be more open to what other people and life have to offer. This process is a story with two parts, don’t be tempted to stop at part 1 otherwise you will be left divided rather than whole. We are ultimately aiming for an experience of oneness, of unification (part 2), but before we do that we need to make a fundamental separation within ourselves (part 1) in order to have two parts that can be made into a whole that is greater than what was there before.
Part 1: If you take up a meditation practice you will begin to look very closely at your direct experience. The first thing you will notice is that bodily sensations, sounds, tastes, smells, visuals, emotions and daydreaming thoughts come, stay for a while and then disappear in an ever changing kaleidoscopic display. If your identity, your sense of self, were exclusively bound up with any of these things, for example your thoughts, then you would come and go too. But, you don’t. We all feel that there is a permanent, continuous and unchanging part of our self that is always there, watching our life unfold and you would be right about that. This is not really a part of ourselves, in fact we have no decent word for it. The closest we have in English is the word ‘Awareness’. The trouble with this word is that it’s a word in the 3rd person and objective perspective: an ‘it’, or some ‘thing’ out there. But awareness is also a subjective experience in the 1st person perspective: you feel and know that “I have the direct experience that I exist and am present right now in this moment”. You don’t have awareness, at this level you are awareness. If you bring to mind an early childhood memory, you can actually feel what it was like to be there, present at that moment in time. But, in what way does it make sense to say you were there? Your body was that of a child, as were your emotions and ideas about life. In other words, in this sense you were entirely different to who you are now. But we can still say that you were there. The same feeling of ‘I am’ that is here now, was there too. This is what we call awareness in English. What does awareness feel like? It feels like the lights are on, you are here, you are present. It is also effortlessly awake, always open and un-contracted. Your awareness won’t reject anything, because it has no contents, nothing solid or vulnerable to defend. You can test this: clap your hands and try not to hear the sound, or open your eyes and try not see the scenery. You can even pinch your skin until it hurts and as awareness you will be as receptive to that as smelling a rose despite the negative sensations and emotions that arise. But, the tricky thing about it is that as awareness you have no shape, colour, flavour or odour. In fact you are formless, and contrary to what we are used to, as awareness you won’t see yourself. At this level of your identity, as awareness, you are the one doing the seeing, and therefore can’t look back on yourself to see yourself. But what you can do is directly experience your identity at this level. I’m going to use some different terms and words for awareness, in an attempt to include some 1st person perspectives such as ‘formless I’. As formless I you are not a nothing though. This is a common error, to think your formlessness is nothing. What would be beneficial about realising you are absolutely nothing? This error can lead to people trying to be nothing then finding they are still there and giving up meditation practice because it seems crazy and pointless. Someone is home, but not the someone we normally think we are. Formless I is awake, and is the light when we say “the lights are on”. Clear light is an excellent analogy because it is the clear, transparent light that lights up the daytime. But we don’t see the light itself as it simply illuminates the scenery. In the same way, as formless I, you illuminate your internal scenery when meditating. One of the aspects of your internal scenery that you can see when meditating is your personality, what we might call your small I, the one who likes music, talking and food. You are seeing your small I, with your big, formless I. Once this recognition takes place through meditation practice, you realise that at the deepest level of your identity, your formless I, you have no quarrel with life. This is the level where all your questions and answers go to die. There is a huge existential relaxation in this. You will find that, as formless I you seek nothing. In a ceaseless act of utter simplicity, you are shining the light on this moment, and nothing else. This is your release from the burden of life. Your small I, the one who loves chocolate and hates having the flue, can find this recognition terrifying. It can feel like the bottom has dropped away from your sense of self, and you are now this sort of crazy person who has no preference over having a soothing soak in a warm bath or being eaten alive by piranhas. But, the antidote to this fear is the realisation, if you look close enough, that actually nothing has changed as you have always been this way your whole life and you managed to live day to day just fine.
Part 2: Once you have recognised your formless I, you could feel like you may as well let your life just drift off into oblivion. Some people actually do this. They may stop at this place on the path for days, months, years, or even for the rest of their lives. There are plenty of books, photos, videos and stories of people like this, and you can look them up on the internet. You have woken up as formless consciousness, a bright and shining ‘I am’ with no urge to do anything other than drink in this moment with all it’s beauty, horror and boredom without any effort. But, if you are lucky, or simply persistent, you will notice that something else is happening too: Life, the world, nature, people, desires and creative urges still arise. They keep happening. Your small I loves to feel the sun at the beach because it is beautiful and pleasing. Your small I, your personality, hates cruelty because it is disgusting and wrong. You begin to pick your life up again. But what has changed is that your personality is now part of the scenery, just like a tree, or another person. You have become far less attached to your personality, and have set it free to adapt and change to the currents of life as it needs. Rather than being a person looking out at nature, you now feel that you are nature looking at, experiencing and feeling itself. The following statement is very difficult to put into words: your emptiness that you woke up to in part 1 is now simultaneous with every event in your life. By event I mean for example a moment of anger, the sound of a dog eating its supper or watching a child carefully drawing a picture. This is called Non Duality in the meditation literature, meaning that you are both empty and full at the same time. Your empty awareness is filled with the world. What’s the benefit of this way of being? The more empty your are, there’s more space in which you can be filled with the fullness of your life. The stifling power of fear drops away dramatically. It’s now far less scary to change career, to have the difficult conversation you need to have with a loved one, or to die. The fear doesn’t disappear but just bothers you less when it comes. It’s not game over when you feel afraid, as you don’t become identified with your fear, it is merely another object arising within your spacious and radically free awareness. The thrilling and often beautiful storms of life can rage. You can get involved with intensity while all the time feeling the stability and deep keel of your formless aware I. Like the Yin Yang symbol you are very black and very white, not a mushy grey circle. You are free from everything yet also free to be anything. This is the point where all the paradoxical and often cliched statements that appear in the world’s meditation traditions make perfect sense, not just on a conceptual level but as your felt experience moment to moment: you are everything and nothing, effortless effort, the one and the many. What was once out there has become your experience here and now. 3rd person perspective (the Buddha) has become 1st person perspective (I am the Buddha) enjoy!
p and c owned Ralph Cree 2019