Beyond No Self
and therefore our attention is on them most of the time, our sense of identity often moves into our body and
our thoughts, feelings, and desires. We start to say "I am sad" instead of "I feel sad." We speak of our
experience as if it is our identity.
Anytime we add something to the statement "I am," as in "I am scared" or "I am a bird watcher," our identity
moves into that thought. This is what it means to identify with thought. A thought by itself has little power or
significance. It may be relevant and useful, but it doesn't have much lasting impact. Most thoughts pass very
quickly, so much so that often we can't remember what was said in a conversation just a moment ago.
However, a thought that begins with "I" or "I am" or a thought that is about me or my possessions or my
experience evokes a bit of this sense of identity. It is as if our true nature or true identity moves into or tries on
the shape and feel of the thought. Dissolving or deconstructing the thoughts that we identify with can free our
essential identity from an assumption that it is somehow contained in our body or our mind. Seeing the
falseness of those ideas opens the door for our deepest sense of our own existence to move out of the tight
confines of our beliefs and ego identifications.
Often when the sense of self is set free from the structures of ego- centered thought, it naturally expands into a
full experience of the underlying true nature. We call a sudden expansion into true nature like this an
awakening, as it seems we have awakened to a whole new reality that is rich and full of joy, peace, and love.
However, again it is also possible for the sense of self or identity to move into a different belief or assumption
of no-self. This often happens when the focus of a teaching or inquiry is on the negation of false
identifications, without a counter-balancing emphasis on the underlying reality of presence. Some spiritual
practices are specifically designed to negate false identifications, such as the practice of seeing that you are
not this and not that until nothing is left. Some spiritual teachers and teachings emphasize the non-existence of
a separate individual and go on to suggest that not only is the individual not real, but the world and everything
in it is not real.
There is a profound truth in this perspective, as it penetrates the usual belief or assumption that the ego and all
of its experiences are the most real aspect of our experience. Even those who have tasted deeper reality often
return to a ego-centered perspective because of the momentum of our over concern with the physical and
mental realms. Even in the face of profound experiences to the contrary, there is a habit of assuming that the
most important things are your physical body and your ideas, beliefs, and thoughts, so much so that we think
everything that pops into our heads is important. We will even use the argument, "That's what I think" to
justify our position, as if thinking something makes it true. Since our most common thought or assumption is
the assumption that I am the body or I am my thoughts, feelings, and desires, this pointing to the falseness or
incompleteness of that most basic belief is vitally important to the loosening of the grip it has on us.
However, in the absence of a pointing to and experiencing of our true nature, there is this danger of the sense
of self simply landing on a new belief in no-self. Your sense of self moves from a limited and painful
identification with the mind's idea of yourself to a more open and freeing idea of emptiness and non-existence.
While this is relatively a relief, it can eventually be just as limiting as the original ego identification. When
our identity or sense of self has moved into or identified with nothingness, or at least with the idea of
emptiness or no-self, it can become stuck there. This is often reflected in a kind of defensiveness of this new
identification. Anytime someone challenges you, you deflect the criticism or conflict by retreating more fully
into the idea of no-self. Or you can turn the tables on them and try to convince them that they do not exist so
their concerns are not valid. This new identification with no-self can be flat and uninvolving. Life has no
meaning or value. So, what has been a helpful and freeing dissolving of limiting structures can then become
fossilized into a new limiting identification.
Because it is your essential identity or sense of self that moves into or identifies with the concept of emptiness
or no-self, it is a very convincing new identification. Whenever identity moves into an experience, it does not