"Sudden knowledge" of non-self

Caro, modified 8 Years ago at 5/16/15 6:08 PM
Created 8 Years ago at 5/16/15 6:04 PM

"Sudden knowledge" of non-self

Posts: 91 Join Date: 5/10/15 Recent Posts
My very first post here, thus please be patient. It is very long because some context is needed. Also, I don´t think I really want to make a claim to anything I have realized, but do feel like wanting to share my experiences as they partly relate to the stages of insight described here and partly don´t. (And apologies for my English as I am not a native speaker.)

To start with the main thing: I was on a 9-day Vipassana retreat about 5 weeks ago. On the evening of day 7, the teacher gave a talk on non-self, citing a Zen-koan stating that looking for the self is like searching for a black cat in a dark room, telling some longer story from Tibet and finally claiming that in reality there is no separate and permanent self or “I” but nothing but processes. I clearly remember getting all curious about the Tibetan story and then somehow disappointed by the seemingly absurd claim about sensory and mental processes as I thought that doesn´t make much sense. The following morning meditation was again introduced with a reference to non-self. I must have been quite deeply immersed in the meditation then. I remember trying to perceive a sense of an independent observer in that session but then just practicing open mindfulness of any upcoming experiences. And suddenly I knew – in a sense of knowing from a deep core within myself – it´s very difficult to describe. I knew that the teacher had been correct the night before, that there was no separate “I”. That “I” was really just a combination of processes of sensory experience and mental reactions to these which are related to all kinds of deeply engrained patterns. That was quite an amazing insight. I was full of surprise and amazement, felt like wanting to laugh out loud and be all excited about it as all of the sudden my sense of reality had been fundamentally altered. At the same time, I remained in that state of immersion where it felt like clear insight was accessible. There was something like an inner dialogue going on on the implications of that realization even though I don´t think I consciously asked the questions or gave the answers –also quite difficult to describe.

We switched from sitting to walking. I was walking barefoot on the rough asphalt. Sensory experiences were very concise and clear. Amazingly colorful colors, rays of light, the precise feeling of my feet touching the ground. The internal dialogue continued. E.g. I have always had a deep fear of being sick, alone and helpless at the mercy of strangers at old age. In that internal dialogue, some part of me wondered about that fear in the context of the new knowledge. The inner answer was that there was no more need for that fear, nor for fear of dying, fear of pain, fear of helplessness, as there wasn´t anybody whom this suffering would affect. Yes, there could be physical or emotional pain, but nobody to be hurt by that pain. There was also a realization that even without an “I”, that ever-changing “me” which does exist has the ability for insight and deep compassion and the ability to act based on that insight and compassion. Based on that, “I” could still work towards avoiding that potential future suffering – but in a somehow relaxed way, in the same way that “I” could help relieving the suffering of others. “I” also wondered if I was sad about the self having disappeared. The answer was an obvious no, that in fact this insight was extremely liberating. That I was free.

Once the sense of immersion had ended, I continued to be excited and somehow amazed. Rather ordinary reactions came back as well, e.g. feeling hungry and a slight annoyance about the long queue at lunch, but without getting caught in that annoyance. The next day, we broke the silence; there was a lot of joy in me of connecting to others, meeting a close friend etc. Now, 5 weeks later, there are still emotions and some occasions of painfully identifying with them, but so far the knowledge that there is no self as I had believed earlier has stayes with me. Some sources of suffering seem almost gone, e.g. social insecurities, obsessive goals of what I need to achieve in life. Basically, I feel like I am still in the process of figuring out what this new reality means.

So how did this come about? First, what did not happen: no direct experience of something like nirvana as described in MCTB (although I haven´t read the full book, yet), no experiences of vibrations, no passing through dark night while in meditation, and I still feel like a rather unskilled meditator.

I had started meditation about three years ago as a means to handle work related stress and to better cope with negative emotions. I did an 8 week MBSR class, which did help a lot with the emotions. Keeping a regular meditation practice afterwards, I had a strong wish to go deeper into meditation. By coincidence, I went for my first meditation retreat at a centre in the tradition of the Vietnamese teacher Thich Nhat Hanh. Meditation retreats there are light on meditation when compared to Vipassana, including also a lot of physical practices, community building and mindfulness practices in everyday life. The lay community of practitioners at that centre and their teachings of not only practicing meditation on a cushion but rather a mindful, responsible, loving and compassionate attitude in all of daily life deeply inspired me and left me with a feeling of finally having come home to something I had been looking for for a long time.

At that retreat in the middle of one night and a bit weaker during the day, I also had a strong physical experience of incredible energy and joy passing through my whole body (most probably A&P as you describe it here). Needless to say that I was hooked and continued practicing in that tradition afterwards. Over the past 2 years I went to more retreats, continued meditating almost daily (mostly 20 minutes of simple concentration on the breath and mindfulness of posture, body etc. interspersed with some metta meditation), read a lot on Buddhism, practiced in a small Sangha at home and spent a year with somebody with whom I had a lot of deep and inspiring Dharma discussions. I made seemingly small progress with the meditation practice (nothing that felt like altered states of consciousness, few periods of strong concentration, hardly any insight on the cushion), but seemingly large progress with integrating everything into daily life, noticing my emotions and thoughts ever more frequently, cultivating the ability to look deeply into myself to address day-to-day issues, understanding how I react to others, what makes me happy and unhappy, gaining step-by-step more inner freedom to lead a happier life. Also a few more “mystical” experiences with energies moving through my body, but that never happened during sitting meditation.

I also had a large share of suffering, particularly during the first months of this year before that Vipassana retreat. I ended a relationship, which caused a lot of pain and I had an (objectively speaking rather mild) flu while alone at home which made me face all kinds of deep fears. In both cases, I was very determined to fully meet the pain and suffering head on and to not push any of these feelings back into sub consciousness.

During these past 2 years, I was slightly frustrated at times that there seemed to be nobody to provide me with more structured guidance on meditation. That´s also why I had decided to attend that Vipassana retreat as I really wanted to further deepen my meditation practice. During the first days of that retreat, I encountered some of the “traditional hindrances” (I almost wanted to leave at one point as I found the practice to be heartless), but also was amazed to be able to watch emotions come and go, and thoughts arise in a specific part of my brain. Later, I entered into a stage of something like “pure observation” a few times, mostly when drinking tea in the sun (to the dismay of the teachers which stressed we should practice rather than sit around), just sitting there and being, observing mostly sounds without any judging. Until, on the last full day, that sudden knowledge of non-self just happened…

So much for now, this has been way too much text already anyways… Comments and observations are very welcome.
Derek, modified 8 Years ago at 5/16/15 6:24 PM
Created 8 Years ago at 5/16/15 6:24 PM

RE: "Sudden knowledge" of non-self

Posts: 326 Join Date: 7/21/10 Recent Posts
Sounds good to me. This realization without much in the way of unusual experiences is what I call a "soft pop." Elora, whom I was talking to on the other thread, hard more of a "hard pop," with bliss and lack of sleep. But that's nothing to worry about. People are different. Some people realize no-self with no meditation at all. Your determination to feel your pain before you went on the retreat was undoubtedly an important factor.
John M, modified 8 Years ago at 5/16/15 11:04 PM
Created 8 Years ago at 5/16/15 11:04 PM

RE: "Sudden knowledge" of non-self

Posts: 135 Join Date: 2/11/12 Recent Posts
No knowledge and no one to know it, yeah? Only timeless recognition. 

Pretty fucking trippy!
Mattias Wilhelm Stenberg, modified 8 Years ago at 7/18/15 12:29 PM
Created 8 Years ago at 7/18/15 12:29 PM

RE: "Sudden knowledge" of non-self

Posts: 131 Join Date: 10/26/13 Recent Posts
Congratulations, sounds great. And thanks for the nice report. emoticon
Caro, modified 8 Years ago at 7/19/15 12:54 PM
Created 8 Years ago at 7/19/15 12:54 PM

RE: "Sudden knowledge" of non-self

Posts: 91 Join Date: 5/10/15 Recent Posts
Thanks to everybody for the encouraging responses emoticon