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Dropping Your Self

Dear Integral Meditators,

What happens when you simply stop thinking about yourself for a while? What benefits might there be? The article below explores these questions in a mindfulness context, enjoy!

In the spirit of the no-self,


Dropping Your Self

When I was a Buddhist monk doing my studies there was a lot of emphasis placed upon the  study of the self, and the study of the no-self. What it all basically boils down to on a practical level is this; we are deeply attached to our idea of what we think of as ‘I’. This attachment to our idea of who we think we are acts as the foundational basis of almost every thought, emotion and action that we have/do, and it gives rise to a huge amount of stress, anxiety, pain and confusion.

Dropping your I
So, one of the quickest ways of finding a freedom, or liberation from this confusion is simply to spend periods of time where we simply stop thinking about ourself, or ‘drop the I’. You can do this as a mindfulness meditation by choosing a fixed period of time, say 5-15mins to sit quietly. During this time there are basically two rules:

  • You can think about anything you like except your I or self
  • You drop all the labels that you usually associate with your idea of who you are; job title, gender, pretty/ugly, strong/weak (etc), position in society, married or single, successful or looser. Any concept, idea or habitual way you have of thinking or describing yourself or I; drop that

Your job for the time you have set aside is simply to drop the self and be aware; put it down and not pick it up.

The discovery of a new self in the no-self
When we drop the self in this way, one of the things that we discover is an open spacious experience of self that we were previously unaware of. It is a self that is free from labels and preconceptions; a self that is open to the moment, to learning and to being genuinely creative and spontaneous. Because it resists all labels we might describe it as a ‘no-self’, but it might also be described as a deeper self or truer self. In Buddhism one of the terms used to describe it was our ‘Buddha Nature’; it is our deeper nature and everyone without exception has it.

Picking your everyday I back up
Once you become familiar with dropping your everyday I, you can then pick it back up again and use it in your daily life, but you always know that you are free to pick it up or put it down; you have a choice, and you are free to choose. You are not a slave to your I.

Relaxing and Awakening together
Dropping your I is a simple but profound practice that we can use to both deal with our everyday stress and challenges more effectively, building our concentration, and awakening to a new, deeper awareness of who we are and what we might be. It can be done on the train or even whilst walking. If you have a few moments after reading this article, you might like to try it straight away!

© Toby Ouvry 2016, you are welcome to use or share this article, but please cite Toby as the source and include reference to his website

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Finding and Meditating on Your True Self

Who am I? What are the characteristics of my True or “Real” Self? This is one of the fundamental questions that the great wisdom and meditation traditions of the world all ask, and when we experientially find the answer in meditation it always indicates an enlightenment experience.
One of the key understandings we need in order to search for our True Self is that it is theultimate subject, it looks out onto the world and at objects from a subjective point of view. The True Self is always the subject of your consciousness.
If we have something that we think may be our True Self, we can see if we can turn it into an object with objective qualities. If we can do so, then we can be certain that that thing is not our True or Real Self.

Lets’ take a few examples:

Is my body my True Self?
Certainly much of the time our sense of self is based around the feelings and experiences of being in a physical body. If someone says to us “You look like a bit of a fatty today!” we will most likely respond as if they have insulted our real self! But hold on, if we check it is actually quite easy to change our subjective identification with our physical body into an objective experience. For example we say “My body”. This indicates that the body is the possessed and we the self are the possessor. Since we can observe our body as an object in this way we can conclude that it is not our True or Ultimate Self.

Are my mind, feelings thoughts and opinions my True Self? 
Like the physical body we can generate extremely strong self-sense based around different feelings, thoughts and opinions that our mind generates. However, like our body it is possible to take an objective stance and watch our mind objectively, so our mind fails the subjectivity test too.

Is the body-mind combined my True Self?
The combination of body and mind is a tempting thing to place our sense of self upon, but since we have already seen that both can be objectified, it follows that the combination of both can’t be the True Self.

Is my spirit my True Self?
Many spiritual people would jump onto this one. The True Self must be the luminous, formless ground of being that we discover when we go beyond the mind into silence and the inner space that lies beyond the mind. However, although a subtle and deeper aspect of self than the body or mind, our spiritual being can be observed objectively like the everyday body and mind, thus it too fails the test of being the True Self, the only aspect of self that we cannot turn into an object.

The Witness Consciousness
What is it that remains constant whether we are observing our body, mind or spirit? Termed most often as the “pure witness consciousness”, this aspect of self has only one quality; it is the witness of whatever is arising in our mind. Beyond this witnessing there it has no other qualities! This is our True Self. It remains at all times the same, whether we are focused on our physical world, mental world or spiritual world.

The Non-Dual Self
Moreover it is the same witnessing consciousness in me that is in you, the witness within me and the witness within you are indistinguishable. Thus by connecting and meditating upon the witness self we connect to the Universal Self, that unified Self that lies within the heart of all living beings without exception and looks out through an infinite number of pairs of eyes!
By meditating upon the True Self or Witness Self we also therefore arrive at an experience of Unity with the Selves all other living beings. Multiple selves in infinite living beings become the one True Self looking out through the eyes of all. In this sense by discovering our own True Self we have also discovered the Non-Dual Self, the One-Self that lives in all living beings.

Meditating on the True Self
The above explanation of how to find and connect with the True Self as I mentioned is implicitly found in all of the great wisdom traditions of the world, but the wording borrows most explicitly from the Hindu Vedanta tradition. Essentially meditating on the True Self is very simple, but infinitely deep and can be done in two parts as follows:
1)  Observe the flow of your awareness from moment to moment, become aware of that which is watching and observing the flow of sensory, mental and spiritual objects though your awareness. Recognize this subjective, witnessing awareness as your True Self and focus upon it gently.
2) Once you have some familiarity with step 1, then become aware that the witness awareness that you are now recognizing as your True Self is the same witnessing self or True Self within everyone else. In this sense it is the Universal or Non-Dual Self that is present in yourself and every other creature that you meet. As you are placing your focus upon your witnessing awareness, integrate the recognition that it is the True Self and also the Universal Self, the Self that is one in all and all in one.

There you go, simple enough for a beginner, deep enough for the most practiced Yogi!

© 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