Saturday, July 7, 2012

Practicing Not Self

Presented with many social opportunities, I have taken the habit of using those times of togetherness to practice, in another way. I call it 'not self' practice.

At the day program where I now go a few days a week, the entire time can become a meditation if  I choose to. Every elder, an unknowing teacher. Sitting quietly next to a person, or making small talk with another, I get to watch my own thoughts. I get to 'see' and feel the effect of the many 'I' centered ideas that cross my mind. Boredom, 'I' would like a better form of entertainment. Or 'I' bring a view of how things should go for the person in my care. Or 'I' doubt the value of such work, surely 'I' have important projects waiting at home. So many thoughts that have nothing to do with the reality of the moment . . . And each time, a subtle form of self-induced suffering, from letting the thoughting mill run amok and bringing in tensions in the body, and unnecessary stirrings in the heart. 

At a party, talking to a stranger with a lengthy story, same thing. I catch myself, being tempted to think about 'me'. 'I' am wasting my time with this person, whispers the small voice. 'I' want to go with my friend instead. Or, 'I' wonder what's in it for 'me'? It's all about 'me', and after a few such iterations, mindfulness stops the mind right in its tracks, and allows for redirecting.  Keeping mind on a leash has its sweet rewards. The pressure is off. Now, I can be fully present for whatever arises. I spend the rest of the night secretly observing mind at work, and saying thanks, but no thanks to all the other nascent 'I' thoughts. Such a lovely evening, it was . . . 

How are you with 'I' thoughts?  


  1. It's a tricky balance. On one end of the scale is having a conversation and being totally attentive to the other person and on the other end is being totally self-absorbed. When I notice 'I' thoughts, my inclination is to ignore them quickly in favour of the other person as analyzing them tends to lead me back into self-absorption through a different door :)

  2. Yes. Noticing 'I' nature of thoughts, not getting too much in story, and then applying awareness to the other person. They become frame of reference for awareness.

  3. I find many sources helpful- Zen, the Tao, and in this instance, Mr. Rogers. Someone I know who spent some time with Fred Rogers said that when you were with him, he made you feel as though you were the only person in the world. Totally present.

    Marguerite, another great and important post. Come see my work at We are on parallel paths, I think.


  4. This not a criticism but an observation. I have noticed over the years that many people who claim to have some belief in anatta tend to spend a great deal of time talking about themselves. Even outstanding teachers like Ajahn Sumedho do this. What is your feeling on this subject? Best Wishes Michael

  5. I'm just now beginning to raise the level of my awareness to the point where I can observe the "I" thoughts and do something about them. I still find it quite amazing when it happens. It's somewhat like reading a book that can be read on several levels, and to truly appreciate what the writer is doing, you have to be fully attentive and navigate among them. Not easy, but worthwhile.

  6. Thomas, I have heard the same thing said of Bill Clinton :)

  7. Michael, I have no problem talking about my experience of practice for it is really all I know. Is there some self-referenting going on? Of course, and I fully admit to it :) Only one who is fully, permanently enlightened does not cast any shadow . . .

    Regarding the whole business of not-self, I am very grateful for Gil Fronsdal's teachings on the matter. Thanks to him, I have been able to finally get a handle on the phenomenon of selfing as it surfaces over and over within 'my' mind. To see the pain derived from this mind's compulsive need to form 'I' thought has been an amazing realization. And for it, I am very grateful. That's all.

    1. Marguerite I have always been interested in various kinds of religion and philosophy but after a while you can start to notice a number of paradoxes that naturally arise. Therefore even though Im not as young as I was I still like to get different peoples views and opinions about this. As for myself I have no idea about any any of it. But there is a subtle contentment in realising you just dont know. At least that is my own rough and ready experiance.Anyway thanks for your comments.

  8. Clara, thank you for sharing your wonderment! Beauty of right view . . .

  9. Dear Marguerite ~ you wrote "To see the pain derived from this mind's compulsive need to form 'I' thought has been an amazing realization."
    For me that realization seems to be maturing more and more into the realization that that is just what the mind does, and maybe the definition of "mind" in a certain way: forming a center around which to frame all experiences. Then an inkling of the 'no-center' state flashes and that is so nourishing - also sensing that that 'no-place place' as some call it, is always here - something in 'me' always driving towards a deeper merging with that 'no-place' place while being passionate about this 'here-and-now' place with its hands-on experiences - and all of that without 'attachment' - what a trip we're on!
    thank you for your inspiration.