Methods and Means

Part 1: Who we really are

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The Crux of the Matter: 

  1. Discovering the Self (simple presence or awareness)

  2. Discriminating between the Self and the personal identity/ego

  3. Recognising the Self as oneself and abiding there always

In order to progress we will need to dedicate ourselves to understanding our interior mechanisms in a deeper and more exacting way than we may have done in the past. We will have to direct our time and attention to self-examination and fine tuning our ability to discriminate and make subtle distinctions about our experience.

This is the most important and vital information to absorb and understand. Everything depends on this.

'We may already be Buddhas, but the delusions that keep us from fully recognising our true nature are deeply rooted and still require concerted effort to eliminate.'

- B.Alan Wallace

'At the end of the way is freedom. Until then, patience.'

- Gautama Buddha

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Who we think we are:

personal identity/ego

We think we are a person with a name and identity and history. We never question the validity or credibility of this personal identity. Why would we? It is me. It’s our sense of who we are. Our family and society relate to us as this particular identity. Our entire ‘story’ and our struggles and hopes and fears are intrinsic to this identity. It seems to be the one unquestionable reality: 'I am this person'.

 

It is this identity that we have taken ourselves to be that will now be put under focused scrutiny and examination. Our attachment to the personal identity, whether we are aware of it or not, is intense and foundational as if our very survival depends on maintaining it.

 

Although each ‘person’ is obviously very different and has a different background, makeup and history, the experience for everyone of being a ‘person’ has many qualities in common:

 

  • An underlying sense of unease, fear or anxiety

  • A sense of lack, or there being something missing or insufficient

  • Unending stream of thoughts almost always concerned with the past or future

  • Only temporary experiences of fulfilment

  • A feeling of contraction, limitation and separation

  • Always wanting and needing more

Those of us who have become frustrated with these ongoing conditions and who sense or know there is something greater and more profound available to us may eventually seek answers in the spiritual domain.

 

What happens though when we enter spiritual life and begin to experience peace and joy in meditation or temporary states of bliss and freedom from thought? How do we interpret these experiences? Do we understand them to be doorways to a deeper reality beyond the personal identity? No. Immediately in almost every case these experiences seamlessly become part of our 'story’. They are automatically absorbed into the personal identity/ego structure which now has a new and elevated component to it called ‘my spiritual self’. The further along the path we go and the more spiritual experiences we have, the more solidified and entrenched this process of appropriation becomes.

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Spiritual experiences are not perceived by us as the Self or True Nature being revealed: a doorway to a deeper reality beyond the personal identity/ego but as an experience for and adornment of  the personal identity/ego.

 

This is spiritual materialism, where the ego claims the insights and revelations of spiritual experience for itself.  The precious opportunity for the recognition of the Self or Natural State is then lost.

Who we really are:

the Self/Natural State

If your attention is fixated on the always changing aspects of your experience, you will miss the unchanging Reality behind all things. You will, in fact, miss your own Self.

 

 

 

 

Those precious moments of peace and fullness are not experiences happening to you. They are you. Do you have the courage to question your very identity?

 

 

 

 

We are not trying to become something other than what we already are.

 

 

 

 

Your neurotic self is only dominant because you believe in it and focus on it.

Be open to the possibility that you are in fact already whole and complete, and that nothing more needs to be done except to realize it.

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'This is a very hard and complex process. It involves deep shadow work and growing understanding of the depths of one's illusions, fantasies, agendas and social conditioning.

 

It also involves profound inner experience of the divine presence. Over time, you will begin to see the difference between the frenetic urgency of your will and the subtle, peaceful, silent guidance of your heart and soul.'

- Andrew Harvey

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From the very beginning of our lives there has always been some part of us that is aware of what is taking place in our experience. We experience things: excitement, fear, thoughts, hunger, illness, desire and so on, and those experiences are constantly changing. However there is something in us that is always aware of those changing experiences. We are aware that we are hungry, we are aware we had a dream, we are aware of feeling happy or sad. We are even aware when we are confused, lost, obstructed and feel that we are not aware.These things are known to us. What is it that knows? What is it that is always bearing witness?

 

We probably believe it is the mind that is aware of the experiences we're having but that is not the case. If we look closely we will see that we are aware of our thoughts. We often catch ourselves thinking, so what is it that is aware that we are thinking?

 

Even though the experiences we are having constantly change the part of us that is aware of the experiences doesn't change. It is always in the background, aware of what is going on, but we are usually oblivious to it because we are so caught up in the experiences themselves: the continuous stream of our thoughts, impressions, feelings and sensations. 

 

At every stage of our lives there has always been this ever-present and unchanging ‘seer’ or ‘knower’ within which is noticing the appearing and disappearing of all phenomena within our experience. This unchanging ‘knower’ or awareness is never affected by any of the experiences it witnesses no matter how awful or wonderful they are. It is neither improved nor diminished by anything that happens.

 

When we are aware of this awareness, we experience a sense of peace, limitlessness and freedom. I’ll be referring to this knowing awareness as the ‘Self’ or our ‘Natural State’. When our attention is not occupied with the endless stream of our thoughts, feelings, impressions and sensations, we become aware of this ever present awareness and we experience:

 

  • The sense that nothing is missing

  • Peace, equanimity and clarity

  • Stillness and silence

  • Self-integration and wholeness

  • Uncaused happiness or joy

  • Feeling connected to all that is 

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As we have seen, it is essential to discover or rather uncover this knowing awareness for ourselves. Everything depends on it. In the following section 'Methods and Means II' we will be looking at different ways of doing this. 

 

Firstly though we need to observe and become familiar with the makeup of the personal self/ego. Why? We need to observe and become familiar with our personal identity and its nature so that we can easily recognise its qualities and be able to clearly distinguish it from the Self.

Discovering, or rather uncovering, this ever-present knowing awareness or Self is the beginning of coming to the end of seeking. The final part of coming to the end of seeking is the unwavering recognition of this awareness as one's Self, and abiding there always.

 

This is the crux of all the wisdom teachings, and all the techniques and methods from all the traditions are designed for this purpose alone: to still the mind for long enough so that the knowing awareness is revealed.

 

Then, either gradually or suddenly we come to recognise this awareness as ourselves, our true nature which has always been there. Abiding naturally and without effort as the Self/knowing awareness results in the natural and spontaneous end of seeking.

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First things first:

 

Our aim is to be able to clearly recognise the difference between the personal identity/ego and the Self.

 

Making this essential distinction and being clear about the difference between the two will give us the foundation for making the shift of identity from the personal self to our True Nature.

Understanding the nature of the personal identity/ego

Once again here are the common qualities

of the personal identity/ego​

  • An underlying sense of unease, fear or anxiety

  • A sense of lack, or there being something missing or insufficient

  • Unending stream of thoughts almost always concerned with the past or future

  • Only temporary experiences of fulfilment

  • A feeling of contraction and limitation and separation

  • Always wanting and needing more

Aren't there also positive qualities to the personal self?

We can experience happiness and pleasure as the personal self but these feelings are fleeting and always eventually leave us unsatisfied and wanting more. As we become more familiar with the inner workings of the personal self we will also come to notice that each feeling is followed by its opposite. If we experience excitement for example, we can be certain that before too long we will start to feel flat and depleted.

 

This is the emotional rollercoaster that most of us are on: the ongoing swinging between opposing emotions. If this is not your experience you are either abiding in your True Nature, or you are in some way repressing your feelings because they are too difficult to manage. In fact if this is the case you may find in the beginning that you experience a greater range of emotions: the highs get higher and the lows get lower. Spiritual practice and the intention to be free widen your emotional bandwidth and allow you to feel things you may have been repressing.This can be challenging, but it is only when we are not afraid of any emotion arising that we can  start to rest in the deep peace of the Self.

As we discover and begin to familiarise ourselves with our True Nature we finally find the equanimity and peacefulness that has been eluding us for so long. We find a contentment and fulfilment that is not dependent on anything external to ourselves. There is a sense of depth and connectedness that is not present in the experience of the personal self/ego.

None of what is being discussed here is of any real value unless you discover if is true in your own experience.

As we have seen earlier, we are identified with the personal self as 'me' and we are usually lost in the ongoing functioning of the personal self: emotions, especially fear and wanting; the needs and demands of the body, and in particular, in the continuous process of thought. By turning our attention to observing these internal mechanisms we are breaking this habitual identification. We are creating space around our experience rather than being lost in it. We are developing crucial objectivity and discernment.

 

We are learning to experience ourselves as the observer of experience and distinct from it.

This objectivity enables us to identify the personal self/ego when we are operating from it and when we begin to recognize the Self, allows us to start discriminating between the two. Normally these two aspects of ourselves, the ego and the Self are taken to be one entity. They are not. They are two very distinct selves: one is our True Nature and one is the false sense of self/ego.

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Observing the nature of the personal self

Our task now is one of interested observation.

Thought

 

Normally if we observe ourselves our mind has a lot to say: either about how great we are and superior to others or usually more often, how flawed and inferior we are.The task now is simply to observe: observe all the judgements of the mind without trying to change them. As often as you can, observe the thoughts as they arise as if you are quietly watching traffic go by.

 

You will find there is a constant stream of thoughts: about you, about others, about the past and future, about your life, about the world. Don't get involved with the thoughts, just observe them in a relaxed and interested way. It is of no importance whatsoever what the thoughts are, even thoughts you consider 'good' or 'bad'. The important thing is the observing itself. We are normally so identified with thoughts that there is no distance between us and the thoughts. The mind generates thought automatically and our attention or awareness is likewise automatically and habitually preoccupied by the thoughts. This leaves no room to be aware of awareness itself: the subtle and refined nature of the ground of being or Self. Keep watching and observing as often as you can both in and out of meditation and become more and more familiar with the nature of thought.

Feeling

Once you are comfortable and confident with observing your thoughts it is time to turn your attention to observing your emotions. Notice how emotion tends to follow thought: a negative thought will likely provoke a negative feeling. A positive thought will likely provoke a positive feeling. Some emotions arise spontaneously and for no apparent reason. Notice how rapidly they change and how mercurial and unpredictable they are. We seem to be always feeling something. Be interested in observing them in the same way you practiced observing thought. Don't try to change the feeling and don't get lost in the feeling, simply observe.

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In conclusion

We believe we are our thoughts and feelings and at the level of the personal self this is true. However we are much, much more than that. Beneath the constant movement of thoughts and feelings which our attention/awareness is habitually and usually exclusively preoccupied with, lies our true nature. When our attention is freed up enough from the compelling  and constant stream of thoughts and feelings we become aware of a vast field of peace and silence within. This field, or ground of being is always there. It is constant and serene and there is no movement there.

 

Thoughts and feelings are experienced as activities that are happening on the surface. In the depths of our being we are untouched by them. We are easily able to discern whether a thought or feeling is significant and in need of a response. Rooted in the Self we are able to respond naturally and appropriately. Abiding in and as the Self gives a clarifying perspective on all of our experience. We are largely ignorant and unaware of this inherent reality within us however and instead are living anxious and unfulfilled lives dominated and distracted by the constant processes of thought and feeling.

In the next section 'Methods and Means II', we will further investigate the nature of the Self and the means of recognising and abiding in and as it.