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Identity Switch: Switching from the Concept of self to the Unknowable Self as the one who is
Here living this life.

(Written in 2003.)

Chapter 6 from the upcoming book: Life Beyond Belief, Everyday Living as Spiritual Practice is now being given away with your new subscription to the monthly Wide Awake Living Newsletter to the left.

There have been many teachers and writers who, after experiencing awakening, write books and give talks that express the experience in general and even conclusive terms. Wonderful examples of such books are Eckhart Tolle's books, or less well known, "Nobody Home" by Jan Kersschot. They, and many others do such a wonderful job at this, that I feel no need to try to do so myself. What more could one say? There is also the fact that this personal self doesn't have a clue if it is qualified to write anything conclusive. So, instead I will write here from a personal perspective about my own experience. This feels right to do, not because the personal is essentially "Real", but as a way of honoring the journeys that we all have made through this experience of the personal self. I wish to honor that journey as a beautiful and necessary part of our humanity. I also know that I have yearned and currently yearn to hear/read more of these kind of stories myself.

I will use the first person as I write, but because the content of the story is about who that is or is not, it needs to be read with an openness about who that first person speaker is. To assist with this openness, I (?) will insert question marks as the process unfolds which are simply meant as reminders to stay open to the inquiry into who is telling the story.

Since about the age of 15 I have been a seeker. The "I" that was operative at that time grasped the idea of inner heavenly realms as the only escape, besides dying, from the painful childhood maladjustments and teenage discomforts which plagued me. Spiritual development then was at first seen as a primary type of personal development; the ultimate self-enhancement. If one enhanced one's personal self in sufficiently deep and profound ways then spiritual benefits would be bestowed on that personal self. It may sound silly verbalized that way, but this idea, when looked into truthfully, lurks, sometimes quite subtely, at the heart of a lot of spiritual thinking. This is not because we are inherently bad or screwed up; it is because the one who wants to be spiritual is, at first, the one who must be left behind in order to reveal the spiritual being in us. And that "me" naturally measures, discriminates, improves, judges, exerts effort, etc - its just the way it is.

But this is the only place to begin, or so it still seems to me now, and back then I was totally identified with what Tolle calls the "mind-made self". This seems to me a very good term for the collection of ideas and concepts that we have about ourselves; about who we are and what we are like. As a young child, like everyone else I know, I became completely convinced that my ideas about me were who I truly was, and that there was nothing beyond that. The fact that the thoughts and feelings were so changable didn't cause me to doubt this logic, but it certainly did give me extremely shifting sands on which to base my self-esteem, acceptability, etc.

So this limited idea of I began being a spiritual seeker, and I began seeking out personality experiences that had promise of taking "me" towards enlightenment. I practiced kundalini yoga with a passion. I mediated. I checked out gurus. I seriously considered the ministry. Throughout this time however, the intensity of my seeking would come in waves, tempered by periods in which knowing that one couldn't progress towards enlightenment by trying to get there would frustrate and confuse me so thoroughly that I would turn away from the whole effort for a while..

By 1977 my seeking brought me to the Findhorn Foundation in Scotland for what would turn out to be seven years, during which time my children were born. Soon after arriving, I opened up to being able to "get guidance" from what they would have called my "higher self". Any question I could frame would be answered from within me by a wonderful source of wisdom and enlightened perspective. Sort of like having your own personal holy book that you could always open up to the perfect page for what you needed to know. This was a tremendous education for this small, mind-made self! And it gave it a model for understanding it's own limitations, or rather it's own lack of substance.

Then, some time in the late 1980s, my guidance began telling "me" that it was time for me to outgrow the outmoded and somewhat schitzophrenic guidance model, and step into the realization that I was not the ignorant one who was asking the questions but that I was the one who knew the answers. It was asking me to BE my "higher self". The small "I", still very much in charge, choked on this idea thoroughly. It was fine as a lofty idea in a book that we might some far-distant day in the future have the potentiality to be enlightened beings, but it's not OK to tell me that the person I've been living as all these years can bow out right now. That person was/is invested in being small, full of faults, humble, self-conscious and no better than anybody else, and was into keeping her head down and staying safe that way. "I" obediently stopped asking for guidance, but then turned away from spiritual matters, and sunk myself into a difficult marriage and an overly busy lifestyle for a while.

In 2002, after recovering from my second marriage, and after my parenting duties were starting to be less overwhelming, I started purposely crossing paths with some "enlightened" people. The most significant of those was Eckhart Tolle, whom I had discovered by searching "living in the present" on Amazon.com. His writing spoke to me with the voice of my own 'guidance' and very much caught and held my attention. After spending five days with Eckhart at a retreat at the Omega Institute in the fall of 2002, something about me(?) was totally different. It was hard to put my finger on what it was. Things seemed inside out, but that didn't make sense. What ensued from that time, was a long process of acclimation to this newness, and repeated attempts by the small self to place this experience within it's own structures, to make it understandable in that self's own limited terms, to reduce it to being something that happened once to the same old self. The small self desperately wanted ownership of the experience, as it had had ownership of all the life experiences previous to it. The trouble was, it's efforts were visible now; were able to be seen now for what they were, a diminishment of something larger that was now also experiencable. This something was beyond the mind's capacity to grasp it, so it couldn't be understood in the "normal" way. "It" was experienced as a process that had come to life in me, something with a life of it's own outside of my old systems of goal setting and planning etc. A process seemed to have come to life, although it is probable that it was always here, and the small self simply became able to see it. After months of living in a blissful existence simply because of being able to see more fully what is here, (and that view is very incredible and awe inspiring), then the process took "me"(?) step by step through awareness of some pretty humbling content in the life of the mind and small self, which was still very much alive. Habitual patterns visibly rise to the surface; things that for whatever reason had never been visible before.

So here we have the small self that has called itself by the first person for nearly 50 years, co-existing side by side with a newly visible process. The small self desperately wants to understand what is going on. It understands that this process is the awakening that it has looked for. It has, after all, been educated. But the non-locatableness and transparency of what is generating this process confounds it entirely. It is the perfect impossible task for the small self, reminding one of famous Zen koans. It is a task that the small self cannot even understand, let alone accomplish.

The intensity of the discomfort increases. The small "I" is increasingly frightened and threatened and is busy creating endless and hopeless scenarios about itself. . Hunger, need, lack and insecurity are triggered. Horror and humiliation. This at least temporarily keeps its attention on itself. This "I" has a long track record of holding it's own attention through having things wrong with itself and unsuccessfully and endlessly problem solving around that (and never could see it before this). It is trying harder than ever, but it's efforts have never before been visible like this, so out in the open.

All this is occuring in a field/process of awareness that sees it happening and sees that it is good that it is happening. This field/process embraces and includes all the ideas about this small "me" with the fullness, the holiness, the wholeness of itself. The larger process with a life of it's own has called up all that needs to come to light, all that serves to obscure Truth.

There are habitual patterns of thought at work which repeatedly are returning awareness to identification with the concepts around self, with the limited mind-made, insecure version of self. Patterns that amplify around fear. But in whom are these habitual patterns embedded? In whom is the fear trigger occurring? This is where the attention needs to remain. This is the Real, not the ever changing patterns of thought and circumstance. Circumstance has been following thought all along. Both are simply a play of pictures. Whether the thoughts try to imply that I am either better than or worse than others, none of it has the least substance of reality to it. Keeping the attention more and more on the unchanging nature of what these pictures rise up from and fall back into. Chasing down, pursuing with the attention, what is unmoving. Ignoring what changes. Saying "so what" to whatever changes. Viewing with increasing eqanimity those things that had previously been seen as good or bad; higher or lower; wanted or not wanted; enlightened or not enlightened.

Out of the muck is rising an awareness of awareness! This sounds like nothing, but THIS is what is not changing. This is what is here when all mental physical and emotional objects are subtracted/seen to be passing. This is the bedrock out of which my world rises, and into which it disappears. To know this, all that was ever needed was to stop running away from anything. All my resistances to what is here in each moment, have the power in each moment to veil this reality from my seeing of the world and of my own experience. Being loyal and true to this in many moments, in life's most challenging moments, will, I suppose, be a challenge to savor lifelong.

***

Mega-thanks to Eckhart Tolle, Adyashanti, Gangaji, Katie Davis, Stephen Tainer, my brother Hartley, Caitlin & Peter, Fritha & Ram and untold others for the behind-the-scenes roles that they have been willing to play in this story, and continue to play, as inspiration, confirmation, and troublemaking as needed.

***


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