Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice

 

Inner Work


For the week of October 13, 2014

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Transcending Me

(Transcendence: Part 4)

Having begun to see through our thoughts, through our emotions, to see them as just thoughts and just emotions passing through our awareness, we move toward the possibility of seeing through our personality, through what we believe we are. Our thoughts and emotions run in familiar but complex patterns and rhythms. They refer to “me.” But the surprising and shocking fact that slowly, and sometimes suddenly, dawns on us is that this “me” does not exist as a distinct entity, or even as a fuzzy entity. It is just a concept that we have bought into and defend at great cost.

When we can really see our thoughts as they are, we know them to be just these mental sounds or images moving through our mind. Each mental sound or image represents, refers to, or symbolizes something. Often that something exists in the material world. For example, the thought sound “table” refers to this actual wooden structure in front of me. Other thoughts, like “cold” or “justice,” refer to more or less abstract concepts. We believe that the thoughts “I” and “me” refer to something as real as a table, not abstract. Yet when we look for “I” or “me” we do not find it, we do not find something whole and indivisible in the way we assume that “I” exists. It seems that our pattern of thoughts and emotions refers to itself as “I.” But no thought and no emotion is actually “I.” So where am I? Or rather, do I even exist?

A major confusing factor is that sometimes when we think “I,” it does refer to the reality, to who we truly are: our will. But that is only the case when we think intentionally. The vast majority of the thoughts that pass through our mind are not “our” thoughts, not intentional: they are automatic, associative, reactive, or patterned thoughts that happen on their own, that think themselves, with no involvement of our “I.” Thoughts are truly ours only when we consider some issue purposely, when our attention and intention engage in the thinking process. Our problem is that we do not distinguish between these two modes of thought, between whether particular thoughts are intentional or just automatic.

So, for example, we feel shocked and ashamed when nasty but automatic, unintentional thoughts pass through our mind. We mistakenly believe that these are “our” thoughts, that they speak for us, that they represent our actual views. And so we may start a hopeless and unnecessary battle against the automatic, self-generated thoughts passing through our mind. Hopeless, because automatic thoughts cannot be banished and will always cycle back. Unnecessary, because they are not “our” thoughts and do not necessarily represent what we believe, much less what we would ever act on. Seeing through our inaccurate view of the thoughts in our mind is liberating, one less impediment on the way to being what we want to be. We are not our thoughts, whether intentional or automatic.

Our senses also collude in the illusion of “me.” We see and we assume that it is “I” that sees. Certainly there is seeing, but where is the “I” that is the purported recipient, the seer of the sights. We hear and we assume that it is “I” that hears. We feel our body and assume that “I” have a body. But that implies that I am not my body, that I am something, someone who has a body. Where is this “I”?

Again, it is like with our thoughts. If our sensory perception is intentional, if we are paying attention to what we see or hear, then it is our I that sees or hears. But the great majority of the time, we pay minimal or no attention. Our sensory stream goes on without our intentional contact with it. Life passes us by. Yet we assume that all our sensory impressions are the same, that our “I” is the seer and hearer of all these sights and sounds, even when we are not paying attention.

We can perhaps gain some clarity on this issue of I, me, or self by looking at it on three levels: the me self, the I Self, and the Divine SELF. The level of the me self is our pseudo-self, our assumed self, made up of the amorphous cacophony of thoughts, emotions, and urges that together we may call our personality and that we mistakenly assume to be who or what we are. That is the self referred to in the Buddhist teaching of no-self, that trains us to see that what we believed to be our Self is not an independent, integral Self. To transcend this me self, we must see through it, see that this mass of thoughts, emotions, and urges do not amount to an I Self, see that this supposed me self is superfluous, is just an idea, and is totally driven by our personal history and the conditions and whims of the moment.

The next level of Self is our true I, our will, the one who sees what we see and does what we do, when it is present. If our I is not present, if we are not present, then no one sees what we see or does what we do; it all just happens and streams by, moments of life lost to us. But if we are present, if I am present, then I am whole, unified, alive. There is someone at home: I am. So another part of the work of transcending our ordinary, personality self, is to be present, to be. That puts us in our I Self, in our one will. When we pay attention, we are, otherwise we are not.

Yet this I Self that we truly are, as wonderful and liberating as it is, is not the end of the story. There is the Divine SELF, the SELF of all Selves. We transcend our I Self, by opening to the Divine SELF. We will address that process in later parts of this series.

For this week, please look at the cacophony of your personality, your me self, and contrast that with the I Self of presence.


     

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