Discovering "IS" #2
Steven: The anecdotes you were just mentioning involve something like little doors or portals into a more direct way of being. They're still within the domain of what I'm calling “an experience”—they involve a kind of ordinary moving mind, they could be critiqued by the contemplative traditions as at most a kind of starting point, and they could be studied by a cognitive scientist or neuroscientist as falling squarely within their technical fields’ coverage.
But if you keep going in that direction, you end up with something that wouldn't be so easy for these fields to study or cover in a particularly meaningful way. It would no longer be a moving mind event or process, it would be something that's more usefully and insightful understood in the terms of the contemplative traditions. There's a continuum there, to some degree, from things that are best understood as still falling squarely within the ordinary picture, to things that cannot usefully be represented in that way.
Piet: presumably the study itself would have to evolve, just like in physics, where the process of measurement in quantum mechanics is a lot more subtle than the process of measurement in classical mechanics, because the level of understanding of the topic at hand has become deeper.
Steven: yes, I think that's true. People are deeply embedded in a picture, an existential scenario with certain presuppositions and structures, and their experience may be preoccupied with items in that picture. Or it may be distracted in some way. It hasn't really gone somewhere else. There's a way of being more directly appreciative, that starts to be a significantly different thing from the usual way of being that involves an embedding in this typical picture. If you follow that thread or direction, that doorway, you end up with something that I think isn’t very usefully considered or explained in the more standard ways.
There are a lot of middle cases, but people underestimate the degree to which they can keep going in that direction, and the degree to which the logic changes as you go. This is a shame, because without good reason, basically just out of a desire to hold on to old models, perspectives or theories that they already have or which work well in some other domain, they want to deny this possibility of something falling outside the application of their cover. This is not necessarily a good scientific stance, it may just be stubbornness or lack of imagination or a kind of blind faith. Admittedly this is a tricky issue, and anything that you can describe or point at, you can also study. So I'm not saying that science can’t study the stuff …
Piet: but that science will have to change.
Steven: yes, precisely … and along the lines that you've already described, in a general way. You could, of course, study it in the more standard ways, but the results of doing that would involve diminishing returns as the case at hand involves a more truly direct form of presence, compared with their relevance to more typical kinds of cognition-events.
Piet: coming back to my experiences, to use that old way of talking about it, this morning while I had a sense of identifying more with the “is” than with the ordinary sense of body or mind—and this is something that I still have to a fair degree now—it’s interesting that there is this degree of freedom … I can shift from identification with body-mind to identification with “is” and back again, it’s nice to flex that muscle, so to speak. And then when I take up my abode in the “is”, it’s interesting that I see right now and also remember from this morning, while lying in bed, that there's this sense of spontaneity, that things happen in the right time in the right way.
I think this is what you and others are pointing at when they say that the ego should not be in charge, that something else should do the practice, rather than the “you” doing it. And interestingly, when I first heard that, on the one hand, it resonated with me, because of many previous experiences I'd had, and on the other hand, one cannot help but get this funny picture of a marionette or a puppet … where you give yourself up to some other force which acts through you, whether it is “God” or some other New Age idea or somebody being possessed by a so-called spirit or whatever. Those are the ordinary images we have of what would happen if you deemphasized the ego. And so then something else would supposedly work through you in an alternate ego or higher-Ego way.
But I now sense, more than before, and I find it extremely interesting, like a scientific observation, that by deemphasizing the ego or ordinary sense of self, things start moving in their own very natural way, without really being replaced by some other, clunky notion of self, as I just described. Instead, it’s a whole different dynamic. It's difficult to put your finger on it, because if I'm more self-identified, then I can also spontaneously speak words. And I don't necessarily know beforehand what I'm going to say or do, it all just happens. So I don't know how to get at the difference, but it certainly feels very different. It feels more fluid, more clear and spontaneous, not premeditated.
Steven: and insightful too, even if you're just trying to do science, especially on the theory level. It's much more fruitful, done this way. This is puzzling to people, because they want to think that this circumstantially-defined sense of self is in control. And in fact it is, as a sort of limiting factor, constriction or gating item of some kind. But that just means it’s an obstruction, not that it’s an efficacious agent in a useful sense.
More to the point of what you're saying, that sort of self is something that splits off from the world that we're really a part of. We are not really separate from the world, and then look at it as a disconnected observer, and then decide what to do. To the extent that we act that way, or actually just hindering ourselves. If we relax that heavy-handed structure, which is quite disconnected from the larger situation we are in, we don't thereby give over to something else, or somebody else, some mysterious occult thing. We actually relax to more of who we really are, and that is a more connected, integrated thing … so of course it’s going to act more aptly, and spontaneously, but not in a sense that's mysterious. Because in fact, it just involves a natural responsiveness based on being a part of things. It’s a matter of unification or integration with the larger system, so of course it’s going to aid “appropriate” action in some important sense.
We usually believe that if we split off and set up a separate vantage point, and then consider things in a disconnected way, we will come to a decision guiding an action that will somehow be more likely to be right. But that's actually a clumsy approach. And people imagine that if we give that up, the alternative is these weird cases you mention of being taken over by something. Or that, in a psychological sense, our actions just derive from some sort of low-level reflex that happens too quickly to be implemented by consciousness … or that the brain is doing things without the interference of the imagined self. These latter, more scientifically-oriented ideas could be right in many cases, but we shouldn’t let them obscure another issue: who we really are.
Who/what we really are, in the presential sense you and I are discussing now, is usually captured within this narrow notion of the circumstantially-defined self, but the alternative is not a matter of being a puppet or manipulated by something else, or being “just” a brain, etc. The alternative is simply relaxing to more of our real nature and real situation. In that case, we are really in a more authorial or effective position than we would typically be. It’s just that here, “authority” or “autonomy” or freedom from being manipulated are consistent with being a part of things, rather than a separate thing.
Normally, when we think about autonomy or potency as an agent … we believe we have to be disconnected in order to have that potency. But here, the logic is different, and we actually have more potency at the same time as being more integrated with other things, precisely because of that integration. The notion that being intimately connected would bring a loss of control, or of who we really are, is misleading.