Aren’t We Trying to Get Rid of the Self?

L: Some things that you’ve written sound like you’re indulging yourself in therapy for your own benefit. You keep using the word “I” even though sometimes you switch to “we”. I thought the purpose of meditation is to supercede the sense of self and stop being self-centered.

Jay: I can understand what you say about getting away from the atman and not being elf-centered.

I would say that this sense of self can be clearly seen operating in us. It’s a product of how the brain functions. It’s can be so burdensome and it can separate us so much from others. But as far as I can tell, it isn’t very helpful to block it off or side step it. What seems most helpful is to be awake enough to this functioning of the mind that we aren’t fooled by it.

In other words I find it helpful to be very much in touch with the functioning of the sense of separation, of defending something, of being afraid of dying or being diminished or being controlled. When there is enough space that all of this can be felt, heard, seen, then it’s also clear that that’s not all there is. The space in which it’s seen is vast and full of compassion. It’s a space that doesn’t belong to anyone. It’s this space that presents solutions or embraces us with compassion.

I’m not speaking theoretically about this. This is my experience, even as I write this. That’s not exactly accurate. It’s not “my” experience. It’s just how things are, as it’s visible right now.

I’m not trying to say you should agree with this. It might not be how you see it.

People at the Zen Center used to accuse Toni Packer of “psychologizing” because she talked about these dynamics of how we think, feel, love, fear. This was not part of the Japanese Zen tradition. Yet most people have found Toni’s approach very helpful because it touches on the things that really affect us.

I’ve wondered from time to time whether what’s coming up in group dialogue isn’t just therapy. I’ve discussed this with a number of meditation teachers. I think that in usual therapy the seeing of psychological dynamics is partial. There is usually still an agenda functioning and in therapy that agenda may never be questioned (or it may, depending on the therapist.) In meditative inquiry the whole thing is up for questioning, all the way down to the fundamental sense of something/someone to defend. So in meditative talking, it can be very helpful to talk from and point to this vast space of presence with nothing to defend, if a person is functioning from that space not just speaking theoretically.

From this space, there is nothing that can’t be opened up, looked at, felt, experienced, tasted. None of these psychological things can destroy the vast space of presence. There is nothing that needs to be avoided. (There are things that should not be acted out, but that’s different from avoiding seeing them.) Even the full rage or paralysis of the sense of self can take place in vast space and be experienced as a passing and non-productive habitual reaction that isn’t based in anything real.

For me the important thing in all of this is sensitivity. For me everything follows from the willingness and in fact the deep need to be sensitive, vulnerable, feeling, in touch. Control, guardedness, avoiding emotionality, all have an appropriate place from time to time. But in terms of being alive and awake, they have no place for me.

I’m not uncomfortable speaking in terms of “me” because that’s how we all experience the intimate movements of the body/mind most personally. When I say “I” most people can easily relate to that. We are on the same wavelength. But my intention is to open up and look at the real dynamics of the sense of self, not to blindly reinforce it.

In some traditions the word “self” is used to refer to the undivided presence of life. It can be referred to as true Self. Asking “what am I” doesn’t have to be a meaningless question. I am something. There is no doubt about that. But I’m not what I think I am. I am not what others want me to be. I am not something that resists being what others want me to be. What am I? For this to become clear, I need to listen with utmost sensitivity and flexibility without knowing who’s listening or what is being heard.

I just remembered that I sometimes have had a tendency to hear other people’s words as telling me what I should do, even if they didn’t mean it that way. I wonder if this is happening for you when you’re reading my stuff. I’d like to ask you to give me the benefit of the doubt that I don’t want to try to make you think a certain way and I don’t want to judge you as being wrong. If we don’t see things the same way at this moment, it’s not a big deal. It gives us something that we can look at together. We don’t have to resolve anything as far as I’m concerned. What’s precious to me is just our interest and our honesty.

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