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Dharma Diagnostic Clinic, aka "What was that?"

Sense of ownership disappeared from experience! Thoughts?

Hi all,

I've just been on a five day zen retreat with about 10 hours of sitting per day. Lots of stuff happened during that time, but I wanted to keep this limited to the most significant, puzzling experience. After one of the sits, I suddenly felt an accute shift in my perception and understanding of my own consciousness, and by extension, of that of others. I felt, or to better describe what it was like at the time, I saw or understood (since it really felt like getting a fact rather than having an experience), that there was no longer any sense of 'ownership' or anyone 'behind the wheel' of my conscious experience (I know, language-wise this doesn't really work). I felt like 'Joost' was a sort of wind-up toy, a flesh machine, or some kind of conscious animal (well duh). I looked at my friends and the other people around me and 'recognized' the same - really seeing them as flesh and bone, conscious animals with brains in them full of hopes and dreams and such. The one perceiving all of this felt like it was also coming 'from' my brain, but not 'owning' that experience, just as a part of it.This shift in perception created an acute sense of empathy for others, myself and all life on earth - I immediately saw much more clearly how humans are on a level with all other life, for instance. This also came with a huge sense of liberation and a sense of a weight being lifted, and a problem solved in my mind, forever.

However, today I feel more or less like the old me (apart from being exhausted from the retreat!) and though I still see there is a real truth to what I saw yesterday, I don't really perceive it that directly anymore. Hard to say that it's completely gone, but still.

The experience was not accompanied by any energy or weird phenomena a la A&P (I've had that before) and was more like a sudden, acute shift. But because it's not really clear that it is a permanent shift of perception, I can't really be sure it is anything further down the line.

Any thoughts? Thanks a lot!

RE: Sense of ownership disappeared from experience! Thoughts?
9/3/19 12:40 PM as a reply to Joost.
By the way, I'm saying I feel normal. But a sense of this insight is still there. My brain may also be very tired after countless hours of sitting and simply need rest. I will see if it sticks and report back. But ideas are appreciated in the meantime emoticon

RE: Sense of ownership disappeared from experience! Thoughts?
9/4/19 3:11 AM as a reply to Joost.
Update: after a good night's sleep and with a replenished brain, I'm finding the perspective is still there and alive now. emoticon

RE: Sense of ownership disappeared from experience! Thoughts?
9/4/19 3:28 AM as a reply to Joost.
Whatever it was, it sounds like a good thing, right? Best wishes for your wellbeing and practice!

RE: Sense of ownership disappeared from experience! Thoughts?
9/4/19 5:36 AM as a reply to Joost.
I concur: regardless of the diagnostic stage, that is a great direction to go in, and you can use that insight to gently turn on all the subtle stuff you think is you, thoughts, feelings, attention, peace, well-being, space, consciousness, questioning, asking, looking, being, amazement, boredom, tranquility, ease, practicing, etc.: gently use that stage as a platform to subtly and lightly deconstruct the sense of the center, doer, watcher, knower, be-er.

Best wishes!


RE: Sense of ownership disappeared from experience! Thoughts?
9/4/19 1:22 PM as a reply to Joost.
Hi Linda and Daniel,

Thanks a lot! I agree, that's the most important and useful conclusion. I will continue to gently investigate and deconstruct any sense of an I.

Daniel, your book and all the different podcasts you have been on have been extremely helpful so far and will continue to be so, I think. I listened to your interview on 10% happier again today and I recognized so much more of what you were describing than before, which I think is another sign that this is a good direction.

Because this was a zen retreat I threw myself into the practice as specifically as possible according to the guidance of the resident zen teacher, who, though framing things very differently, clearly had a very strong sense of where he was guiding me through a fantastic combination of loads of sitting and great daily dokusan/one on one conversations, where he guided me simply but effectively to see through where I would get stuck every time. 

What really helped was his strong encouragement and belief that one retreat, even a short one, should be enough to get a real taste, and perhaps more, of what 'this' is, as long as you give everything. At the same time, Daniel's fantastically clear and concrete descriptions of all aspects of the practice helped provide a sort of point of comparative understanding that was also crucial. It's good that the zen teacher leading the retreat specifically said that disregarding other practices and traditions would be a big mistake, and that zen has its strengths but also its weaknesses, and encouraged us to experiment and combine perspectives and approaches.

Good stuff. I just want to say, thanks again Daniel, you're really doing amazing work. And I'd like to say, not only because of your work but also just your personality - because as a fast talking academic I'm sort of similar to you in terms of energy and extraversion and it was profoundly encouraging to see that I don't have to become a soft spoken introvert in order to truly practice ;) That and the great sense of fun, curiousity and experimentation you bring to your work, which seems like such an important part of it all!

And thanks again for the encouragement, Linda! Really appreciate it. Will start reading your practice blog!

Cheers, Joost

RE: Sense of ownership disappeared from experience! Thoughts?
9/4/19 1:23 PM as a reply to Joost.
That teacher sounds like a keeper.

You are very welcome.

Best regards from another fast-talking academic energetic type - who also happens to be an introvert. Things aren’t always what they look like. emoticon

RE: Sense of ownership disappeared from experience! Thoughts?
9/4/19 1:28 PM as a reply to Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö.
Linda - hahah, for sure!

Curious about what you're doing academically, I'll ask more via PM!

RE: Sense of ownership disappeared from experience! Thoughts?
9/6/19 7:10 AM as a reply to Joost.
Update: perspective still there; I do notice all kinds of deeply ingrained mental habits coming up that relate to a sense of an owner/driver self, but I'm aware of them now and I can just sort of accept them and let them play out or pass on. I also noticed feeling a deep kinship with the rest of reality. Not just with people or animals; my bed and I, the wall and I, we are essentially the same. It feels very grounded: things are as they are but I don't feel qualitatively different from the rest of reality. Seems very natural and logical, but I really didn't experience it like that before. Cooool stuff.

I also feel like my body is sort of naturally drawn to more practice; strong but gentle-feeling desire to just sit. A sort of baseline good feeling in my body, of the energizing 'piti' type maybe?

RE: Sense of ownership disappeared from experience! Thoughts?
9/11/19 7:23 AM as a reply to Joost.
Hi again all. Just some further reflections, not really because I'm looking for answers but just because it may be interesting/and or useful for others.

First of all, some more characterizations of the insight that happened during the perspective shift. I felt like my 'soul' (even though I didn't think I believed in such a thing..), and the souls of all humans, were instantly gone, as if in a sort of instantaneous global rapture event. Instead, life was there, suddenly, with much more power and presence than ever before. I really felt like I was conscious, but weirdly 'soulless', without the sense of a controller or driver. It was a good feeling - but at first, it was also sort of weird, disorienting and creepy.

But I quickly had this sense of what I can describe best with a Dutch saying: 'when the cat has left home, the mice dance on the table.' I felt like, if there is no internal 'authority', no separate subject standing apart from all this, then I (and everyone else) am really fundamentally free. This felt amazing. There were no energy phenomena associated with all of this, just a sudden shift to this new perspective.

Edit: the day before this shift happened, I had this sudden, strong but fleeting, sense of absolute unity of everything. I was walking in kinhin/walking meditation, and I suddently felt like 'oneness is walking'. I reported it in the one on one with the Zen teacher and he told me 'One is certainly good. But it's still conceptual. What if it's nothing? Try to sit through that and see beyond/let go of the conceptualisation.'

In the week or so since this, I've not stopped believing the fundamental notion that we are all fundementally processes that are part of the same reality - but now and again, I've lost the visceral feeling/directness of that insight. It comes and goes, and that seems to have to do with deeply rooted mental habits that re-emerge. However, when it is there, I feel very much related to everything and everyone around me. Like the rest of reality has a deep family-like bond with me. I realise that 'Joost worrying' is very much the same thing as 'rain falling' (excuse me for sounding like a zen cheeseball). When the perspective is not so directly present, I've noticed that looking for it won't help because that grasping IS the self; and that the reverse, fundamental acceptance or letting go, brings it back (but I'm not too worried about this).

Other things I have noticed are that reading old diary notes from the last few years leads to very different insights about what I needed or was looking for (since any struggles seemed unconsciously tield to wanting to be freed from the sense of a separate self which I can now see much more clearly) and that dharma in books, lectures, podcasts, talks etc. resonates much more with me and all kinds of aspects that people talk about suddenly stand out as much more sensible.