I started studying kung fu in 2001 which lead on to tai chi around 2004 and eventually to meditation in 2015. That time was peppered with odd bits of Buddhism, Taoism and Zen.
A phrase that stuck in my mind was ‘There is no self’. I guess it stuck in my mind because it was obviously bollox right? I know who I am, some religion telling me that I don’t really exist was nonsense.
Ever since I stood on a hilltop at dawn in 1991 and just for a second or two my sense of self wasn’t there I’ve been on a personal quest ever since. For that tiny moment I was not only free of me, but also free from anxiety, free from depression and free from fear.
I always assumed that my quest was about curing myself of the effects of trauma but it would turn out that there was more to it than that.
When I started martial arts my heart started glowing, as if to say ‘ping!” correct decision. When I started Meditation my chest expanded and my heart went “Ping!, ping!, Ping!” Yeah you got it, keep going.
When I first got involved in Buddhism my heart went “ping!” yeah, sort of, but not quite.
I felt like there was a hook in my solar plexus pulling me somewhere. I didn’t feel like I had a choice. I was being pulled forward whether I liked it or not, I just had to steer.
My meditation journey started with an 8 week mindfulness course, then three years with the triratna Buddhists. I also went on a number of Theravada retreats and of course the bonkers Vipassana retreat. Right now I’m making a foray into Zen self-Inquiry.
But I’m still me right? Not exactly.
During Body scan meditation you become aware of the observer and the observed. The ‘I’ of the self identifies with the observer. The observer observes the body and so knows that I am not my body. The observer observes pain and so knows that I am not my pain. The observer observes emotions and so knows that I am not my emotions.
Ah right got it. So I am not my body, my pain or my emotions, so I must be my mind?
And then the question comes “who is thinking?”, “who asked the question?”
Do I have multiple minds acting independently of each other that can watch each other?
So the observer is higher than the mind that watches all but what is it? Who am I?
And then one night after a Zen retreat. Something wakes up in the middle of the night, but it is not me. There is no sense of a self at all. There is no light, no vision, no thoughts, no emotions, no perception of time. There is nothing, just expansive blackness. Awareness of nothingness.
Imagine being in a completely dark sound proof room, floating and a body temperature saline solution of a sensory deprivation chamber, with a completely calm mind with no thoughts or emotions, and you are still nowhere near.
I’ve never really been able to get my head around the concept of infinity but I guess ‘nothing’ has to be infinite since there is nothing available to measure it by.
So is that me? Is that the observer? Empty awareness? Consciousness?
Coming back to the self. If the sense of self is something that can so readily be deactivated by a beautiful dawn or hours of kung fu, or meditation.
Then no. There is no self. No real self. No fixed permanent self. The self is simply a mental process, a construct of the mind. Its impossible to not identify with the self until the self starts disappearing. At that point it gets easier and easier.
So if I’m not my self what am I? Consciousness?
No. Consciousness is just a concept. A finger pointing at the moon.
It is impossible to know intellectually what the self is.
It is only possible to know intellectually what the self is not.
Right now all of the organs in my chest feel like they have been magnetised and a huge magnet is pulling me somewhere. My heart feels like it is in perpetual free fall after jumping over and infinite humpbacked bridge. The air makes me giddy to breathe it filling my lungs with expansiveness.
What is the hook that pulls? What is the magnet that sucks at my chest? Why did the self blip out of existence 27 years ago?
That is the unknown ‘I’Google+