last year

The Self-centered Pursuit of No Self

When I first heard of the idea that all of life doesn’t revolve around me – that the object/thought I had mistaken myself to be might not be findable – it simultaneously had two effects.

One effect was to begin an inquiry into whether ideas or thought are actually the final truth.

The other effect was to trigger the self-centered, possessive mechanism that wants to claim everything as its own.

And this second effect is one that I didn’t even begin to recognize as such until fairly recently.

There is a great irony – and one that was lost of me for a long time – in rooms full of people gathered in the self-centered pursuit of no self.

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I attended such gatherings because I wanted to improve the object I mistook myself to be. I wanted a better me. A happier, more confident, better-defined self.

And I wanted to claim that self and hold it up and proclaim, “This better self has discovered that there is no self!”

Here’s the funny thing: the more I inquire, the more I “wake up”, the more I discover that there’s a great joy in throwing the central caution of self-centeredness to the wind.

My friend, John Veen, recently used the term “unreasonable” to describe this joy. And it really struck me when he did because that is how I experience it.

It is totally unreasonable. Reason/caution/self-centeredness declares that protecting my future self’s security is all important. That is all that is reasonable.

And from that perspective, to be willing to release this chronic fixation and the physical contraction/posture of that fixation is not only unreasonable. It is reckless. It is like stepping off the edge of a cliff.

But upon stepping off the edge in this totally unreasonable way, it seems abundantly clear that reason and self-centeredness are just this tiny speck in the totality of the openness of life.

Sure, we can cling to them, maintain this tense posture. But why bother?

There’s joy in finally admitting that my feelings, my opinions, my beliefs, and even my life aren’t worth fixating on in that way.

They aren’t bad or wrong either, of course. No more than a speck of dust is wrong.

But imagine clinging to a speck of dust as though everything hinged upon it. As though it was all-important.

And if anybody came near, you’d lash out in self-protective violence. “My speck of dust! Don’t come so close!”

The irony is, of course, even the speck of dust is harmed by this isolation.

Let it be free.

Another funny thing: much of my life I assumed that my wants, needs, preferences, and feelings were worth managing because they seemed to be fundamental to happiness.

Meaning: I thought I needed to feel good to be happy.

Turns out not to be true.

And that’s good news. Because I could never figure out perfectly what feeling good was or what I really wanted.

I don’t think any of this is a moral issue. So please don’t mistake it for that. I’m not saying that we should become selfless. And I’m not saying we must do anything.

I’m just suggesting that an honest inquiry may be revealing and surprising. It sure is surprising to me.

I wouldn’t have guessed that happiness could be apparently uncaused and independent of how I feel or my opinion of myself.


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