Thusness and I have found Tommy M.'s writings on the Facebook group "Useful Talk" to be well written with great clarity of insight and experience. Tommy is a seasoned practitioner who participates as a moderator in Daniel Ingram's online community Dharma Overground. He had recently started a blog with very good and practical advises, Methods of Awakening
Here is a compilation of some of his postings (not in particular order):
I realized tonight that I've replied to several posts but never actually introduced myself, and given that I tend to be a wordy and annoyingly verbose writer who's style can sometimes present an air of authority, I figured it'd be useful to say hello and clear a few thing up in case my replies are taken as anything other than opinion.
My name's Tommy, I have a practice history of around 15-16 years in various traditions, methods and techniques ranging from Buddhism to Magick. I enjoy helping people with their practice if I can, as well as learning more about my own practice and how to live a better, happier and more helpful life. It's that simple, I'm no authority and I don't claim to be an expert in anything; what I say is based on experience, not on what I've read in a book or online or heard from someone else, my current practice is (loosely) within Buddhist models although I tend towards a more freestyle approach. Basically: if it works, use it.
Yeah, this probably comes off as some egotistical, "look at me" thing, but it's not the case and is certainly not the intent with which I post this. I just know that my way of writing can make me seem like a bit of a prick to some and wanted to point this out before I continue to post. I hope you all manage to find an end to suffering, stress, tension, unhappiness or whatever it is that you're seeking and am happy to be a member of the community with you all. Peace.
Thanks Nick, I appreciate the invite and look forward to contributing in any way I can.
I’ll answer the questions first of all and then do the whole introductory thing, but feel free to ask whatever you like if there’s anything else you’d like to know and I’ll try to answer as quickly as I can.
1) Is there a 'me', at all, anywhere, in any way, shape or form? Was there ever?
Nowhere to be found, and there never has been.
2) Explain in detail what the illusion of separate self is, when it starts and how it works.
In the moment we’re born, we begin to experience the world as something which is not “this” or not what seems to be experiencing “this”; a basic psychological mechanism is set-up that creates the fundamental duality of “this” and “that” which is usually described in terms of survival as “approach” and “avoid”: We approach that which is pleasant and helpful to “this” and avoid that which is unpleasant or harmful to “this”. Although required for our survival and development as a species, this duality is what allows for the sense of an “I”, a separate “this” which experiences a separate “that”, to occur and so leads to the creation of a subject and an object. It’s this fundamental flaw in the perceptual process that, simply through ignorance of how a self was never actually anywhere to be found, allows the self to arise and also to be perpetuated.
That basic misperception is then reinforced throughout our lives due to this dualistic condition being the norm for the majority of the world, and we’re taught to experience the world in terms of spatial dimension, of separation and objectification. Why? Because human beings are actually just big fucking monkeys who figured out how to write down and communicate abstract thoughts; thought is where the self tries to hide out, pretending that those thoughts belong to someone and that there’s someone who decides to “think” them at any point. Yet, when we look and see if any of those thoughts are any different to one another, or if they’re somehow special, permanent or appearing ‘from’ a ‘thinker’ somewhere, what do we find?
As long as we live with the unquestioned assumption that “I”, as an independently existing, permanent self, exist in any way we will be tied to a life of suffering based on that fundamental push/pull of duality. To make matters worse, we literally do it to ourselves and it’s cessation requires no more than the clear seeing of what is actually here!
3) How does it feel to see this?
One word sums it up for me: Clarity. When that realization first occurs, it is quite literally beyond imagination how clear, pristine and vivid the world is seen to be and how it has always been. You’re still there, as this body doing what it does, but there’s a tangible feeling of freedom as the weight of identification, which is a literal but apt way to describe it, drops away for the last time.
4) How would you describe it to somebody who has never heard about this illusion.
It’s literally like waking up from a dream on a warm summer morning.
5) What was the last bit that "pushed you over" and made you see through the illusion of self?
Due to my situation at that time, I had been contemplating how all things are impermanent and subject to change. It became clear that the only constant I could find in my life was change and it occurred to me that even this sense of “I” wasn’t excluded from that, so I looked closer: it was just one thought, then another thought, then another one ad infinitum and then...BOOM. After that, the whole world just seemed to open up in this completely different way and life was never the same again.
I’m an average joe from just outside of Glasgow who’s been involved in the whole spiritual journey malarkey for about 15 years now. My practice history ranges from Buddhism to Chaos Magick, although I’d describe my overall approach as basically freestyle and syncretic , but with an emphasis on the Buddhist models simply because they’re the clearest and least dogmatic (at root) I’ve ever come across. In the end, what I’m most interested in is the nuts and bolts of meditation techniques, the mental postures involved in these sorts of practices and investigations, and finding a way to present them free from any specific spiritual or psychological model.
I first realized not-self in early 2009, it became a turning point in my entire practice and led to the most clear and obvious permanent perceptual change I’d ever experienced. Since then, I’ve maintained a practice in vipassana, a Buddhist insight practice which uses bare attention to momentary sensation to investigate the nature of reality, which has led to further shifts in the way I experience the world. I currently participate and moderate on the “hardcore dharma” site, The Dharma Overground, and also write a blog called “Methods of Awakening” which is my attempt to describe the phenomenological basics involved in the techniques available, from various traditions, to allow a person to realize their true nature.
As you’ve probably noticed, I tend to write in a quite verbose and particular way but I do so for a reason: Clarity in communication. It can sometimes come off as condescending or arrogant, and my tendency to be quite upfront and direct in general probably doesn’t help that. I know this might seem like a strange thing to add in an introduction, but I’ve found from experience that my style of writing can be taken the wrong way at first by those who don’t know me. It’s for this reason that I wanted to mention this and to say that, with wholehearted sincerity, I never, ever mean any harm nor personal insult when I post, even though I can seem quite confrontational at times. My greatest interest in life is to put an end to the fundamental suffering wrought by ignorance, for myself and my fellow beings in this world.
Anyway, I’m hoping that this epic 1,000+ word post will provide a sufficient introduction and prove my credentials, so to speak, but as I said at the start, please feel free to ask whatever you like and I’ll get back to you asap. Again, thanks to Nick for the introduction to the site and to the rest of the admins involved in operating this site; to see others engaged in the noble cause of ending suffering is an inspiration and I’m more than happy to be a part of that in any way I can.
Peace y’all and may you end suffering in this lifetime.
Perception could be described as the coming together of sense consciousness with it's corresponding point of contact and sense object, i.e. ear-consciousness, hearing and sound = perception of sound; it becomes apparent through observation that there is no distinction between the process of hearing and the sound heard, any division between the two is entirely implied by some thought via belief or some unquestioned assumption about what reality 'is'. If this is experienced clearly through direct observation, attentiveness or mindfulness (done properly) of this moment-by-moment process of sensate contact - not simply through an intellectual cognition or initial insight into what it truly means to experience no sense of a self/Self/Soul/agent/do-er/center-point/Astral Voodoo Dropkick Monster/whatever - then the duality breaks down further and another level of experiencing presents itself, vivid and immediate, just as it always has been. Yet even though that mode of experiencing is, in my opinion, far preferable to any other way of living, it seems possible to go beyond even that! Although by that point, such distinctions - not just intellectually but experientially, as actuality presenting itself, just part of this luminous interplay of sensations - no longer occur and so to even describe it as such would be misleading. Suffice to say, it's pretty fucking cool.
Please understand that I don't mean that comment about "intellectual cognition or initial insight...etc" in any derogatory or insulting sense, I'm just being upfront about what I see and read here sometimes. It's not as simple as having just "become liberated" or "awakened" or any of those labels for what is obviously a worthwhile realization; I've been there too and thought I was King Shit, how "I Am Everything & Everything Is Me" and all that bullshit where you think you've finally cracked it, only to have reality kick you in the ass with a lesson in why it sucks to have to deal with the push/pull of a continuing, albeit subtle at first, duality between subject and object. I’m not saying I’m anything special, an expert, authority or some super-enlightened teacher or whatever, I’m just a guy who’s been doing this for a while and found out that this shit goes waaaaaayyyyyy further than you might think. When I use phrases like “beyond imagination”, I mean them literally and with total sincerity; if you’re contented to be where you’re at, so to speak, that’s absolutely fine and I support that 100%, however my ongoing experience has convinced me that, although you’ve see that there never was such a thing as a self, the metaphorical rabbit hole is deeper than some smart-arsed comment I can’t think of right now.
Inges, I didn't mean to imply that you or anyone else on here had only experienced an intellectual cognition, I was indicating that such a level of understanding is quite easy to come upon but that it's very different, as you know, from experiential realization.
When I say that "duality breaks down further", I mean that literally; although you've seen through the illusion of a self, there is undoubtedly still a subtle, or perhaps not-so-subtle imputation of a subject/object which is created, at it's most gross and obvious level, by a lack of clarity with regards to the arising of emotion/affective feeling. In comparison to how you experienced the world "before", this current level of clarity and non-dual awareness seems incredible, but it becomes 'normal' after a while; those habitual tendencies to reify a subject to the apparent objects will recur until you’ve eliminated the fundamental ignorance which leads to their arising. Note too, when I use the term “ignorance”, I don’t mean it in a insulting way, I’m using it in the sense it’s used in Buddhism to indicate a lack of insight into the nature of things.
Continuing to examine and investigate your experience, just as you have, will continue to reveal more and more layers of belief, conditioning, volitional formations and unquestioned assumptions about experience to be dissected and seen for what they are: Mental fabrications. I know that my suggesting that, somehow, you’re not “there” yet might seem insulting or arrogant, and perhaps it is, but I’d ask you to look closer at who or what it is that’s “insulted by” the suggestion.
“Then you write:
---"Yet it seems possible to go beyond even that! "--
but you don't explain where, what and how. Can you say more about that?”
To say that it seems “possible to go beyond even that”, is admittedly inaccurate as it implies that there is any sense of a “that” or “this” or anything involving location, direction, dimensionality or space. I’ll describe a brief overview of how things have progressed for me, experientially, since initially realizing Anatta:
Seeing through the illusion of self is like opening the door into wonder, but taking your first tentative steps into that amazing clarity and vividness leaves you blinded somewhat. You think that you’ve made it through and experienced “awakening” or “enlightenment” ‘cause it’s like you’ve woken up from the dream that “you” even existed in the first place...it’s like the seconds after you wake up on a sunny morning, not knowing who or where you are, or what the day holds, everything fresh and new...but your eyes become accustomed to the ‘light’ and you begin to see that, rather than being anywhere “else”, you’re still right where you were but with this new understanding and clarity. As you wander through this seemingly new world, you meet others and you start to reify this new “identity”, this “I without an I” if you like, like a hollow mould onto which you carve your new life as “liberated”, or “enlightened”. Slowly but surely though, the old habits come back and you find yourself getting pissed off at people, being annoyed by current events, emotionally perturbed by day-to-day disagreements, but all this while telling yourself, like a mantra, “there’s no “me” there to feel this way so I don’t need to deal with it”. Continuing to investigate my immediate sensate experience, seeing how there is no subject to be found, that permanence and change are only imputations of mind, and how clinging/craving any of ‘this’ just led to the same cycle of bullshit eliminated even that; thought, feeling, identity, Self, Soul, agent, do-er, feeler, no affective emotional qualities whatsoever, just this complete stillness, peace and absolutely no sense of mental ‘movement’.
But ‘further’ still, recently the entire construct of body and mind as having any sort of objective existence began to dissolve entirely! To experience the world as the world experiencing itself, so to speak, direct and intimate, like living life in High-Definition, even the sense of existing as this physical form drops off completely; not that the body isn’t still ‘here’ and doing it’s thing, but it’s experienced as a dance of instantaneous, self-liberated, luminous sensation, not as “the body” or “the mind”. Yet things continue to deepen, to develop and change without any effort on “my” part, just this dance of creation doing what it does. Please note that I am using these words literally, when I say that the mind and body ‘drop away’, they appear to do so and all that’s left is what I can only describe as 'pure experiencing'.
Does that give any sort of indication what I’m talking about? I’m not trying to say I’m any sort of expert, all I can ever know is my own experience but certain things in how others communicate their insights take on a completely different level of clarity after you’ve been there too.
Lisa, when I use the word "experiencing" I am simply referring to basic sensate perception, i.e. seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching, & thought. Even after a 'shift' into an entirely new perceptual experience, the world continues to be experienced as these six streams of consciousness; sense consciousness itself is equally transient, empty and self-liberated, but it's arising is still dependent on conditions. Any better? :)
Jackson, I really like the way you describe this here: "The perceptual experience is a complete unitary gestalt." I often use the term "gestalt" when trying to describe the complete unification of the sense-field that occurs, however it fascinates me that even the apparent unity itself can be broken by observing how the non-simultaneous nature of perception is illusory too; in other words, it all seems to be happening at once, no sense of any passage of time or continuity between one moment and the next. Wonderful fun!
It seemed much more fragile & thin when I first began to encounter it, but it's just the absence of any stability or anything for "me" to cling to that makes it seem 'thin' or somehow insubstantial. I no longer experience 'this' reality, as in the way things were experienced prior to the elimination of the sense of being, and haven't done so for at least six weeks, and the memory of what it was like to live any other way seems so distant that it's like remembering a dream. You'll almost certainly have experienced this at some point in your life, but to live it 24/7 is really quite something & well worth it.
Delma, I tend to avoid framing my practice within the Actualist model for a number of reasons. If you're familiar with the festival of butthurt that happens on the DhO every time the subject comes up, you'll know what I mean. The term "cessation of being" is, as far as I know, more of a Buddhist thing but it's an adequate description regardless of tradition.
Lisa, it's hard to describe purely because I know that it's easy to confuse with lots of other things depending on where you're at. The sense of being, as I'd describe it anyway, is that fundamental sense of existence which underlies every experience. It's what remains once the self has been seen through, but it still implies some sense of a subject or something which seems to be aware of this experience as it happens and so still implies a false duality.
I wasn't looking to add anything, I just find your inability to discuss the practical aspects of meditation & your insistence on the whole 'nothing need be done' to be laughable, not to mention unhelpful given the context you're posting in. I'm not saying you're 'wrong' in saying that there is nothing to be done, but you seem to be unable to grasp the fact that such a realization, even in your own experience, requires 'effort' at some stage simply by the application of attentiveness/mindfulness to ones immediate experience.
Feelings can only appear in relation to an object which is not clearly experienced via the six sense doors. They are always feelings ABOUT something and their appearance is part of what leads to the creation of a subject, an “I”, who is there to experience this apparent object, that which is perceived as “not I”.
When there is no subject to be found, how is it that objects continue to be perceived?
What’s still implying that “you” have control over any of this experience called “life”?
What’s still hiding in the shadows, pretending it’s something other than it really 'is'?
If you were to drop dead right now, what would actually change in the world?
Just a few things to consider if you're still interested in unraveling the knot...
There is no subject whatsoever beyond it's imputation, whether genuine or otherwise. If you still experience ANY sort of sense of an observer or subject or even a body to whom this is happening, you're not done and there are still a LOT of knots to be unraveled.
I write a blog called "Methods of Awakening" which may be of interest to some of you, I'm still in the process of finishing up about 10+ articles to post so forgive the sparseness at present.
My focus is on practical, down-to-earth, bullshit-free techniques and methods available, from various traditions, which can allow a person to develop further insight into their experience and free themselves from the ignorance which prevents us from seeing clearly. I'm not a teacher or any sort of expert, what I write about is from empirical experimentation and personal experience over several years, so please don't take my opinion as any sort of authority. I just figured some people may find some use in this particular article.
Apperception, depending on the context it's used in, could be described as being direct perception of that instant of sense contact before the mind develops a feeling (positive, negative or neutral) about some stimuli and then subsequently labels/conceptualizes it. What you're describing as "direct experience" here, particularly the mention of "realness" and the completely different way of experiencing, sounds to me like you've probably encountered apperception. That way of experiencing becomes the baseline at one stage in practice and is such a hugely different, not to mention freeing, way to live that it's literally beyond imagination, purely because to apperceive a 'thing' can't be imagined, only experienced directly.
While the initial realization of anatta (not-self, rather than no-self), may bring about a period of apperception, normal perception tends to return, albeit different in some way, due to the still existent subject/object split. Apperception in the sense I'm using it is entirely devoid of ANY sense of "me" even existing AT ALL, not simply the recognition of "my" illusory nature. When apperception is occurring, there is literally no sense whatsoever of anyone who sees, or hears, or thinks. While you've had a glimpse of what that's like, the actual experience of it as the baseline of functioning is very different, much clearer, self-luminous and so, so immediate and direct. I don't think that "apperception" is being discovered at LU to be honest, although that's not to say that people aren't perhaps encountering it to some degree, but I'm pretty certain that no one so far who's come to this via LU has penetrated that far...yet.
That's a fair point, and thank you for your honesty. I do tend to question people quite openly about this, calling people out on what they're saying and taking a more upfront approach than what's common within the whole 'spiritual' thing, but that's because having people call me out on my own bullshit in the past has led to major re-evaluations of fundamental misunderstandings which I'd neglected to investigate. Don't get me wrong, I'm not accusing anyone of bullshitting or making false claims, it's just that things can get very, very confusing at times and there are lots of time-wasting 'wrong-turns' one can make. Obviously there's a lot to be said for going off the beaten track, I'm not disregarding the importance of excursions along the way, but, to me at least, this process can be approached much more efficiently with good techniques/methods, discipline and strong intent. Either way, I'll make it quite clear that I NEVER ever post with any ill-will or with the intent to harm another in any way.
A verse I wrote the other night...
There is seeing, but no one sees.
The windows open into an empty room.
Even the walls cannot be found here.