Part Three: Taking the Body for a Walk
Indeed, the sage who’s fully quenched
Rests at ease in every way;
No sense desire adheres to him or her
Whose fires have cooled, deprived of fuel.
All attachments have been severed,
The heart’s been led away from pain;
Tranquil, he or she rests with utmost ease.
The mind has found its way to peace.
That was all pretty intellectual, so let’s shift gears a bit to explore an exercise about the experience of the self, and the experience of releasing it to some extent. Then, in Part Four, we will explore the evolution and the neurology of the apparent self.
While the development of self-identity – and the individual personality that goes with it, linked to a unique personal history – is natural and innate in the normal brain, it also makes us suffer and causes harm to others when we set our own self against theirs.
The problem is not so much that there is a patterning of self in the mind and thus the brain – but that we identify with that patterning, grow attached to it, and cling to desires in terms of it.
In this exercise, we suggest that you start with a fairly brief meditation, and then get up and walk around some. But here’s the emphasis: try to do the meditation and the walking with as little sense of personal “I” as possible.
For example, in the meditation, we will start with a chance for you to set the intention of letting go of self during the exercise, and we will then focus for a few minutes on the sense of letting go via the exhalation. Then we will suggest that you explore giving up all control over your breath, to the point that your body has to take over – don’t worry, it will do so, just like it does every night when you are sleeping.
And then in the walking, you might explore whether there needs to be an “I” there for the body to walk, avoid bumping into walls, etc.
Throughout, even without much “self,” there could still be awareness present that is somewhat localized to a particular body, including the perspectives available, literally, from that body’s eyes. And executive functions present that decide to walk more quickly or slowly. And motor circuits present that guide movement and help you avoid tipping over.
But in all that there need not be the autobiographical self present, the personality with a history, “Rick” or “John” or “Stephanie.”
So when we use the term “you” in the exercise, we are referring to a person in the sense of a specific body with a nervous system and awareness all co-arising, but not to a personality identified with that body and the history of events it has lived through.
You might have a sense of the activation of the personal self increasing and decreasing over the course of the exercise. Just turn the record button on in your mind when we begin and let go from there. Anything important will be available for you to recall when we come back and talk about what you experienced.
Like any of the inner exercises we do, it’s alright to experience whatever you get. And if it ever gets uncomfortable, pull out of it and shift your attention elsewhere. It’s also OK to ignore these suggestions and go with what feels most valuable for you.
We suggest that you read through the instructions a couple of times to familiarize yourself with them, and then glance at them as you need along the way. Pace yourself as you like, speeding up in certain parts and taking your time with others.
Relax, with your eyes open or closed.
Taking a moment to come into your body . . .
Establishing the intention to let go . . . to let go of personal self . . .
Attention resting more and more in the sensations of breathing . . .
Feeling safe in this protected setting, among good people . . .
Able to relax vigilance about the outer world and bring attention inward to the breath . . .
The breathing ongoing, the other contents of awareness just flowing on through . . .
Without grasping after them or aversion toward them . . .
Continually letting go . . .
The exhaling especially being a bodily letting go . . .
Letting go of personal self with every exhalation . . .
If you like, relaxing any sense of top-down control of your breathing . . .
Allowing your body entirely to control your breath, just like it would if you were sleeping . . .
Letting go to the body . . . letting go of any control of the breath . . . the body simply breathing . . . releasing any personal attachment to the breath . . .
In this place of letting go, breathing continues. . . .
Awareness continues . . .
Spacious awareness with little or no sense of personal self . . .
Peaceful and pleasant . . . no need for self . . .
Awareness and the world ongoing . . . alright without a self . . .
Now if you like, experiment with opening your eyes, if you haven’t already, to explore vision occurring without needing a personality present to receive it . . . .
Perhaps move your gaze around gently, experimenting with the objects of your gaze needing no self to receive them . . .
Now if you like, experiment with small movements, without a sense of personality or self, directing them . . .
Perhaps a finger moving a little . . . or a shoulder shrugging slightly . . .
Intentions perhaps, directions perhaps, prompting those simple movements, but without needing a personality to guide them . . . .
If you like, experiment with this . . .
Experiment with gently standing up, without needing self to guide the standing . . .
Explore standing, and awareness of standing, without needing a personality to make standing happen . . .
There is awareness there, standing there . . . but does there need to be a self there?
And if you like you could explore moving a little, in that space, awareness and movement happening without needing an owner . . .
Now, if you like, you could explore walking or moving about . . . without needing self . . . awareness without any identifying with experiences . . . we’ll do this for five minutes in silence . . . and feel free to come sit down sooner . . . .
Now that we are about to come to an end of the exercise, if you like, take a minute quietly to be aware of self itself as an object of spacious awareness . . .
What reflections arise as awareness considers self . . . as awareness considers that personality with a certain name attached?
Perhaps compassion arises in awareness for that personality construction . . . that self . . .
Trying so hard over the years . . .
Compassion arising in awareness for the confusions of that self . . .
For its frustrations and suffering . . .
Perhaps insight arises in awareness about freedom from self . . .
Selfing arising in awareness like any other content of awareness . . . with no problem attached to it . . .
Penetrative insight joined with calm abiding
utterly eradicates afflicted states.— Shantideva
Reflections After The Exercise
It can be a little hard to move from the places you may have experienced during the exercise back into the realm of speech and verbal thought.
You might explore the sense of words and speech comprehended in the mind without needing self to do that . . . . or even words being produced without needing a personality to make them . . . .
With respect, we’d like to offer these questions for you to consider:
- Who are you?
- Is there a self in awareness?
- What caused self to activate, to become more prominent in the mind? Worry or fear? Anger? Desire?
- Does the presence of self in the mind increase and decrease and increase again?
- Does self seem to be very minimal, even entirely absent, from time to time? Is self actually a fixed and permanent fixture of mind?
- Is self unitary, or made up of parts? What holds those parts together? What is present when one or more of those parts is absent?
- Is self a pleasant experience? Is there an inherent sense of contraction and tension always present with self?
- Is self necessary to breathe? Is self necessary to walk? Is self necessary for sensations or thoughts or emotions to arise?
- Is self necessary to express natural goodness into the world?
This is Part Three of a six-part series.
Introduction- The Neurology of Awareness and Self: Introduction
Part Two Continued- Non-Dual Perspectives on Awareness
Part Four- The Neurology of “Self”