Understanding and working with self can’t get out of self
I imagine you believe you are reading this. Perhaps, but the odds are that reading is happening, but the “you” is questionable.
The “you” in question most likely feels very familiar, like it’s always been part of what “you” experience. Well, that’s mostly true but not totally true as that “you” didn’t really exist in a ubiquitous sense until “your” body was about six years old. I’ll refer to this “you” mostly as “the self” for the remainder of this article.
The self we’re talking about is the self that most spiritual teachings refer to as the false self. Personally, I think one of the greatest barriers to awakening has been the introduction of the concept of a “true” or “real” self to the comparative mind. The self loves this as it can spend the entire life of the body working toward or carrying around a “real self” which is little more than an idealization – a pig with lipstick, if you will, of the same old self that is obscuring awareness of what is real.
The self can claim a hundred, a thousand, a million experiences of essence and remain intact while functioning under the guise of “being real based on past experience.” But being real, being conscious of essence as what we are has nothing to do with the past and very little to do with “some -‘one'” experiencing it.
In the Diamond Approach, we study and inquire into the self a great deal. We use terms like self-representation, self-image, mental image, constructed self, and others, Here is, I think, a simpler, less psychologically oriented way of understanding what the self is, or more accurately what it isn’t since it doesn’t exist as a thing (noun) – it’s a result of mental process.
The self can most easily be understood as a “familiar sense” which points to the roles memory and mental process play in the sense of self. In this very moment, your mind is comparing what is happening right now with the past. This happens consciously and unconsciously. At the level of creating the sense of self, the process is so extremely fast, it is for all intents and purposes instantaneous.
Some estimates say 1/20th of a second is the smallest duration of time the conscious brain can register an event. Imagine the length of time it takes to ask “Who Am I?” According to most mystics and now quantum physics, the universe is winking in and out of existence at intervals of time infinitesimally small. For our example, let’s divide the time it takes to ask “Who Am I?” into a thousand frames – a very fast and detailed roll of film.
If we examine one frame, what do we find? The audio portion is so small, it’s silence. If you looked at 10 frames in a row, it’s stillness. Here’s the point for the sense of self: In any given moment, the sense of your body (object) and the sense of your interiority (subject) are included in a single frame, which is recognized by the unconciousness mental process and connected to the “familiar” sense in all previous frames – this is the self, a memory process, not a thing (noun), not an entity, not a being – a mental process.
Here is the challenging part – the sense of continuity of a self is after what’s happening, not before. What’s happening creates the sense of a self by recognizing the familiar sense of body and subjectivity and projecting the sense of self in the present as a presupposed existent entity into the past and asserting “I” (the self) have always been involved in what’s happened. I made choices, I thought, I did, etc., etc., etc.
Events happened but the self had nothing to do with them.
What is real in what’s happening?
There are three fundamental elements in experience that are not of the self, the mind, or the body.
Sometimes referred to as Being or Presence.
These three ontological factors function through the mind and body which means that awareness of the self is not happening from the self, but comes from deeper ground.
It is this fact that points to how to work with self can’t get out of self. This is the basis for the basic methodology of the Diamond Approach, inquiry.
The self cannot see beyond the walls of itself. It can neither see, nor imagine reality.
BUT – awareness can “see” self. Consciousness can recognize what it’s not, so to speak, and this is why inquiry is so powerful.
In general, the process of eliminating falsehood is spontaneous; the mind generally lets go of an impression when it recognizes it to be false. Since it can no longer be used for purposes of identification, and cannot be absorbed, the false impression simply dissolves. An exception to this pattern is when a clearly false belief is part of a larger system, most likely unconscious, which the mind still takes to be true; then the mind will hold on to the falsehood until the larger belief system is revealed. – A. H. Almaas, The Pearl Beyond Price, ch. 14
This is how inquiry works – we seemingly use the sense of the self to examine the self. It is in the examination of what we’re not that allows what we are to emerge into the foreground – and – what we are is the “seeing” (awareness, awaring), not the seer (subject) and not the seen (object).
Think about the simple logic in this: what we’re not can’t see what we are, but what we are is the seeing that operates through what we’re not. And, since what we’re not is capable of self-reflection, what we are can observe what we’re not and its process of inquiry. This is an open secret of reality.
The individual conscious, the human soul contains an extraordinary endowment from God, or reality, which is curiosity. Curiosity is like the Swiss army-knife of the soul when it comes to inquiry. Curiosity engages our immediate experience without judgment. Curiosity opens up what’s here right now to reveal its secrets. Curiosity takes us deeper, beyond beliefs, beyond assumptions, beyond the barriers and fears into what is behind the veils.
Curiosity can pick the lock of any door between what we’re not and reality.
What we are does not wake up. It’s always totally what it is. What we’re not dissolves or more accurately our recognition of what we are becomes a stronger gravity field, so to speak, than our identification with what we’re not. Mental process continues but is experienced in a radically different way – without the sense of self.