• January 24, 2018

    A group member writes:

    I remember: Early in life I adopted specific postures, gestures and ways of speaking to express and interpret my world. These came about through mimicry and necessity, shaped by my nature and predispositions.  Mostly I am so inside of these habits that I cannot see how I appear from the outside. They are me and I am them. There is no separation.  It is all part of my identity. Different roles that I have taken on have perhaps altered these slightly to suit societal expectations but I would say that my identity was determined at a very young age.

    I watch my new born granddaughter look out from eyes which cannot see as we see, where nothing is familiar, nothing is recognizable except the warmth and compassion that she is held. Yet her being is overwhelmingly present. Watching her over the last several months discover herself, the possibility of movement, the slow and steady occupation of her body, fingers, toes, arms, legs and torso. Her struggle with gravity.  And then taking that body out into the world. Where everything is a wonder. Somewhere in this journey, surprisingly quickly, a personality takes shape. Underlying this personality is the being who first arrived, naked and without the imprint of all of us who claim her as our own.

    Does that being continue to live in us throughout our life? Can we return to our being?

    It seems to me that if I could describe the essence of being it would be all perception and sensation. There would be a newness to everything, a wonder.  Of course we cannot eliminate our experience, but perhaps it could cease to be a blindfold to what is here now.

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  • September 19, 2015

    I have trouble deciding to work on self and I find that I often cannot remember to work.

    You are describing the functioning of the head brain. You assume that thinking, the little voice in your head, is you…who you are…and that it is the thinker that actually remembers and decides to do things because thinking appears to precede the doing. This is a false assumption.

    Almost everything we decide to do in our daily life begins in the body, with sensations and impulses to move and speak. Once these impulses are underway, the thinker comes along to take credit for deciding the actions that are already proceeding. It will take many years of observing self to see this clearly. Impartial attention can know this immediately but your early efforts to observe will likely use head brain attention, which is attention intermediated and interpreted by thought. Head brain attention is too slow and limited to enter real time; it lags behind the occurrences of ordinary reality, so much so that it can falsely think it is the one who decides.

    If you want to remember to work, you must be able to plant the impulse to do so in the body. For example, impartially observing the momentum of sleep in your machine for many years, certain gestures become clear indicators of mechanical sleep functioning. When observed, these gestures spontaneously provoke the immediate recognition of sleep and activate the impulse to invoke attention and presence. Related thinking may then arise. This process can be described as making ‘conscious habits’. By nature, habits are the foundation of sleeping behaviour but they can be made otherwise.

    If the thinking ‘I’ is an illusion, who am I?

    A good question. In the sleep state, no one is home. There are various rotating identities…haphazard assemblages of self-images, loops of self-talk, personal history and past conditioning…which take their turn on the stage. When an identity is operational, it provides a semblance of predictable behaviour and thinking until it is displaced by another. Observing self makes clear that there are no real decisions in the sleep state because there is no one there to make them. Everything is already programmed.

    The illusion of ‘I’ is one of the most difficult to break. Surely I can be taken seriously as someone who thinks and decides. Seeing through this illusion may initially be somewhat frightening but it opens the possibility of knowing another ‘I’, the ‘I’ of presence, which is conscious and unboundaried.

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  • May 28, 2015

    What does it mean to be present?

    It means not being identified.

    What does it mean to be identified?

    It means behaving and thinking as if you are someone. It does not matter who that someone is. It could be a friend or a celebrity, you as a child, parent or sibling, a boss or victim, a writer or athlete, anything at all…factual or entirely imaginary. Of course, these identities may describe things you actually do and roles you have taken on. But if you fall into these roles and act from them unconsciously, you are identified, which is what sufis call sleep.

    Each of us has more than one identity. At the deepest level, we identify with our bodies, or more particularly, a body image that we call ‘me’, and we self-identify as the thinker, repeating with Descartes that “Cogito ergo sum”…I am the little voice in my head. All identities have a psychological structure which separates or sets apart me from other, making smallness. Perhaps we could call it ‘subtraction by division’.

    Every identity is false because it is a limitation, it is less than who you are. At the same time, each identity probably contains an element of the truth in that its characteristics reflect deeper qualities of being or perhaps their opposites. Our personalities are counterfeits, imitations of who we would be if we were conscious and living in being.

    Can these roles be voluntarized? If we are aware of them, are we still identified?

    Being aware of your identification is likely not enough to shift it. To voluntarize it is quite another matter. That is a topic for another day. First, see your identities as they manifest in real time. They will have recognizable patterns of behaviour—set postures and gestures, speech patterns, voice intonations and so on.

    Try writing down a description of yourself. Do you have anything to say about yourself that is not a feature of one of your identities? What function does identification perform in your life? This is what is meant by the classical Greek admonition: Know Thyself. When you know these constructions, you may begin to know the being that lies beneath them.

    Can any of us function in ordinary life without identification?

    As presence learns to recognize itself in the state of being present, the momentum of sleep is lessened and identification doesn’t reassert itself so quickly. This opens up the possibility of subtle doings and perceivings that are not available in sleep. On the other hand, you may find that presence is eerily sober and you are not able to participate in customary roles and social exchanges. What was formerly intoxicating is sobering and what was formerly boring is now intensely satisfying.

    Essentially, you have three alternatives: confine states of presence to the safer confines of the school, learn to act ‘normally’ in the ordinary world, which is challenging but immensely educational, or risk painful episodes and abrupt endings with old friends and family members.

    It isn’t necessary to be present all the time, as if that’s even possible. Can you be present when it is called for, when the opportunity to respond presents itself?

    If everything in creation has a function, what is the function of identification?

    Identification is the gravity of the psychological realm. Identification is the basis for individuation by which the one becomes many—a brilliant creative act, it seems to me. Humans have an innate need to say ‘I’. If there is nothing to identify with, there is great insecurity, anxiety, instability. Most identities provide only temporary and partial relief at best. Is it possible to transfer the experience of ‘I’ to conscious being, to presence and attention? Can I say ‘I’ and mean a reflection of an inner formless world rather than the outer one of form? First relinquish, then attain.

    There is more to being present than non-identification. There is always more than one way of seeing and there is always another essential feature to weigh. Do not put things in a box. As the opposite of presence, identification is the basis for a fruitful inquiry into presence…what can be called ‘going by way of the negative’.

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