Actually not. What happened is I woke up as always in a 5-star hotel with my eyes able to see such beautiful things, my nose sensing such wonderful fragrances and my fingers able to do oh, so many things. But I’d forgotten where I was, and who I was. Also, I had a roommate, Mr. Ego, who was anxious about that and in response had so many ideas for things we could do.
Harold, John and Kristin wrote fascinating comments on “We Are Not Alone”, my post about the sense of self. Harold’s begins: “When I meditate I realize that the thoughts that flow through my head are simply thoughts. Who notices those thoughts? The part of me (I call it my core) that notices those thoughts I feel is the real me.” That reminded me of Anam Thubten’s metaphor above where Mr. Ego keeps distracting “me” from reality. Harold goes on to explain how reflecting on the difference between his core and his thoughts enabled him to: “make perhaps the most profound and fundamental change in my life”. It’s an inspiring example of the benefit of this kind of practice.
What Harold experiences as his core seems to be what Buddhists term cognizant awareness. Its existence can be pointed out with words but it can’t be adequately described or explained. We can recognize the experience, however, because it is our fundamental nature. I’ve met enough extraordinarily happy and kind people who trained themselves to recognize that awareness so I’m sure it’s true. I need to do as they did because my cognizant awareness is still obscured by the relentless activity of my thought-making heap, Mr. Ego.
What I imagine to be “me” feels like an ever-changing heap of habitual responses that in varying combinations keep being re-enacted in response to new experiences. I have a sense of continuity, that there is a “me” at the center, because repetition causes the individual habitual thoughts to gain or lose strength slowly and new habits get added at a relatively low rate. What happens from time to time, though, is like what happens to sand piles. Some habits get aligned, so to say, along fault lines. When an experience that would usually have little effect hits the fault line and triggers an avalanche, “me” does seem to change.
John describes: “a thought experiment where I gradually eliminate all elements of what forms my awareness of “me” […] sight doesn’t exist. No hearing or concept of hearing. […] no memory […] What is left? […] the me that used all my bodily functions to perceive “the world”, still seems to “be”, but in a timeless awareness.”
Maybe, John says: “there is really only one “us”, but many entities animated by the one “us”” and: “if there were a being who created us […] for a purpose, […] these perceived multiple individualities might be to help us to develop a personal awareness of the effects of Evil since we would be experiencing both the performance of evil actions and the effects we perpetrate on our “selves”. Perhaps it’s part of a long term education in how to be a truly rational and compassionate being.”
I do not sense the existence of a causal being but I have come to see our situation as a long term training program in compassion. The existence or not of a Creator feels unimportant for two big reasons. One is that it doesn’t help with the fundamental mystery. If the universe was created by a Supreme Being, what created that Being? Much more importantly, followers of all traditions, including Tibetan Buddhism in which there is no Creator, agree that by training to see things as they really are, we inevitably become more happy and more kind. If all paths lead toward that goal it isn’t important which one we take, only that we take one.
The more I examine it the more it looks like my heap of habitual responses is not separate but part of the heaps of everyone I’ve ever interacted with and those with whom they interacted. We are in separate bodies but we operate as a unity. Like John, I’m concerned that may sound: “strange and mystical and off-putting” because my supreme trust is in logic. The thing is, it’s logical that our suffering results from our awareness being obscured by our habitual thoughts and emotional responses and how they interact among us.
My academic training was in physics and English literature. I was at the time also fascinated by philosophy and theater but pretty much abandoned them soon after because it seemed they could have no practical result. I always retained my interest in how things work physically and how we communicate. What John terms “the oneness or not of us” and Harold is aware of as his “core” will likely remain a mystery to me because they seem beyond the reach of intellect. But not beyond the reach of experience. I’ll keep working on experiencing cognizant awareness.
I don’t know enough to respond to John’s comments about Hinduism or the Abrahamic or other religions. I will at some point write about size, structure and longevity of religious, secular and government organizations. In every case, they have enormous impact on the results organizations achieve.
Kristin recasts my dad’s words, writing: “What if “Be like THAT, then” were a call to be with (or like) whatever we are experiencing in the moment? Be like that bowl slipping down and spilling over, be like that bird in the tree chirping, be like that rock sitting on the beach. A call to “be here now” as opposed to a humorously paranoid “the world’s out to get me.”
That’s a great example of how we can reprogram ourselves. Noticing our habitual thoughts is the first step but what next? Bringing them into the light cuts their power but not instantly. Often-repeated ones build up a lot of power. Mental judo, rethinking them with a positive message, is a good way to wear them down. They will in the end fade away now you notice them but in the meantime their power will be less harmful.
I highly recommend reading Harold, John and Kristin’s comments and ask you to add your own.