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Three Liberating Wisdom Perspectives on the Self

Hi Everyone,

One of the fundamental questions on the spiritual path  is “who am I?” This weeks article looks at three perspectives that can help us to see a little deeper into the nature of our own self.
A quick reminder of this Wednesday evenings meditation class on “The Essential Meditation of the Buddha”, 7.30-8.30pm. You can find full details by clicking the link.

Yours in the spirit of flowing awareness,

Article of the Week:

Three Liberating Wisdom Perspectives on the Self

Here are three perspectives that you can adopt as a contemplative practice both in and out of meditation. These perspectives are related to last week’s article on the Essential Meditation of the Buddha, but it is not necessary to read that article for this practice to make sense.
The benefits of working with these perspectives as meditation objects are numerous, but the most important is that they help to liberate us from some fundamental misconceptions in our mind that normally we carry around unexamined, and which cause us substantial suffering and pain.

These three perspectives are:
1.       “Whenever or wherever there is a strong grasping of or attachment to your self-sense there is suffering”.
2.       “Whenever you have a wish for something transient, changeable and impermanent to remain fixed as it is, then there is suffering and pain”.
3.       “Whatever object you look at is not the self.”

Each of these perspectives is explained in three parts.
1)      A statement that describes the perspective itself.
2)      A method for beginning to test the truth of the statement in your own experience.
3)      A short breathing meditation practice that you can use once you have confidence in the perspective and its power to aid you in your pursuit of a peaceful, centered and aware mind and life.

Perspective 1:
Statement: “Whenever or wherever there is a strong grasping of or attachment to your self-sense there is suffering”.

Method for testing the truth of this statement: Recall the last time you experienced pronounced suffering, fear or anxiety. As you do so the feeling of attachment to your sense of self should well up as a physical tension in the center of your chest, a physical sensation, not just a mental one. Focusing on that physical tension, deliberately relax it, and as you do so mentally also relax your attachment to your self-sense. Observe how your suffering decreases in relations to the extent that you are able to relax that strong grasping and attachment to your sense of self.
Actually, most of the time it is perfectly possible to engage all of our daily tasks and relationships successfully with a far more reduced attachment to our self sense than we currently have.

Breathing meditation: Anytime you feel the tension arising from an overactive self-sense arising within your chest space, take a few breaths, as you inhale inwardly say to yourself “letting”, as you exhale say to yourself “go”. As you focus on the words “letting go” and breathing, simply do as the words say, release the tension in your chest and let go of the mental attachment to your-self sense.

Perspective 2:
Statement: “Whenever the self wishes for something transient, changeable and impermanent to remain fixed as it is, then there is suffering and pain”.

Method for testing the truth of this statement: One basic sense of reality that we are trying to develop here is simply the sense that everything is always changing. Whether you look at the coming and going of your breathing, the gradual aging of your body, the way Monday changes into Sunday, the movement of the seasons. As the Buddha said “all produced phenomena are impermanent”. With this in mind it is not so surprising to find out in our own experience that whenever we cling to something impermanent, whether it be a stage in our relationship with our romantic partner that is changing, the growing up of children or whatever there is a sense of pain that goes with it. What we need to do is allow change to happen without fighting it in a negative way. Go with the flow rather than always trying to swim against the current. (Note: Doing this might actually mean that you age more slowly ;-))

Breathing Meditation: On the inbreath focus on the word “flowing” and on the outbreath “awareness” allow yourself to relax into the flow of the moment to moment change that is occurring with each successive moment of awareness.

Perspective 3:
Statement: “Whatever object you look at is not the self”.

Method for testing the truth of this statement: This is a statement that, like the two above it leverages very heavily upon the teachings and observations of the Buddha. The basic thing to observe in your own experience is that:
a)      We tend to cling to many “things” such as our body, different mental states and emotions as “me” as if they were our true self. We are actually doing this one way or another most of the time.
b)      However, in fact all of these things that we tend to think of as self are actually objects observed and possessed by the self, they are not the self itself. The self is always the witnessing observer of these things. The self is always the subject of our awareness, and so anything that we can objectify and consider as an object is not the self.
So, where do we find the “self”? We find it only as the witnessing awareness of everything that our mind observes. This awareness itself has not qualities or form beyond simply being a witness. In this sense the self is pure, empty, luminous awareness, nothing more.

Breathing Meditation: On the inbreath focus on the word “spacious”, on the outbreath focus on the word “awareness”. Allow yourself to rest as deeply and calmly as you can within the pure, formless awareness of your own true self.
An alternative exercise for this section might be to: On the inbreath focus on the word “no” and as you exhale “self”. As you are doing so recognize that everything that you see, sense and perceive lacks a self in the sense of having a tangible form that can be identified as a fixed, inherent self.

© Toby Ouvry 2011, you are welcome to use or share this article, but please cite Toby as the source and include reference to his website