It’s Not Who You Are

I came up with this phrase as a way of unwinding the tendency to take my perceptions of others as objective truth:

It’s not who you are. It’s how what you do filters through who I am.

We cannot know people, or anything, directly. We experience everything through our senses. These experiences are packaged with the full weight of our conditioning, beliefs, and history before they even enter consciousness. We can’t hope to know what’s “really happening.” In a sense, it’s not even relevant.

The best we can do is know our biases. We can accept that each of us is a perceiving system in constant flux. We’re angry, we experience things one way. We’re tired, we experience things another way. We’re 5 years old, we experience things another way. It’s cloudy. We’ve just been dumped. We’ve gotten a promotion. We haven’t eaten for hours. We went for a run this morning…the context and the perceiver are inseparable. Each and every new experience effects the lens through which experience is understood.

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Rilke and No-Self


You are the future, the immense morning sky
turning red over the prairies of eternity.
You are the rooster-crow after the night of time,
the dew, the early devotions, and the Daughter,
the Guest, the Ancient Mother, and Death.

You are the shape that changes its own shape,
that climbs out of fate, towering,
that which is never shouted for, and never mourned for,
and no more explored than a savage wood.

You are the meaning deepest inside things,
that never reveals the secret of its owner.
And how you look depends on where we are:
from a boat you are shore, from the shore a boat.

—Rainer Maria Rilke

I was deeply moved by this poem. My understanding is that it was written as a love letter. I haven’t read up on Rilke’s spiritual experience, but what the poem seems to be pointing to is something much deeper than romantic love. It is an expression of the Buddhist insight of no-self, or anatta.
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The Transcendent and the Mundane

What we are seeking is right here. Transcendence doesn’t come from looking for something that isn’t already present. In other words, we don’t escape from experience. We escape into experience. Into a sound. Into a conversation. Into a simple, mundane thought. Into our lives. Our relationships. Our work. Our path.

With rare and fleeting exceptions, deep practice is unremarkable. It doesn’t dance and shimmer and trip out. Altered states do. But the practitioner is ordinary. The presentation is ordinary. The experience of life is ordinary. The arising and passing of the experience of self is ordinary. Disidentification from emotion is ordinary. Whatever that thing is that you’re expecting, some day you may notice that it’s just another ordinary part of the way things are, and you don’t even remember when you gave up searching for it.

Contemplation and Insight

I’m a practical guy. I like techniques, instructions, things I can do and perceive. But I’m going to experiment with something more “felt” today. I wrote this during my sit this morning…

How do you unwind meaning? Let things have as much meaning as they need to have. How do you overcome resistance? Fully accept resistance. How do you stabilize insight? Let insight become as unstable as it needs to be. How do you let go? Allow yourself to hold on.

Does this leave you confused/annoyed? Maybe something clicked? Neither outcome is better. But in the hope that No Meditator is Left Behind, some thoughts about spiritual insight:

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Guillaume-Nery_11Even when were scattered. Even when we’re doubting. Even when there’s resistance. For every ounce of attention, for every sidelong glance at the way things are, some hidden stone is being turned, somewhere in the depths, and the change that takes place is a change we cannot hope to witness directly. We can only see it’s reflection–in our thinking, in our actions, in our relationships.