Sunday, May 24, 2020

Varieties of Non-Self and Non-Dual experiences.

Someone on a discussion forum asked about scientific studies of no-self experiences. I referred them to an article which discusses a student report on the subject that includes informative references.

I also replied that there are several different types of not-self, non-self, no-self, and nondual experiences and I think each would have a different physiological correlate. It is helpful to recognize this if one is going to research the scientific studies on the subject.

Some people might point out that nonduality is not the same as no-self, since nonduality can recognize unity as a self. Another way of looking at it is that if you experience unity then your ordinary self is not the complete understanding of self, so nonduality can be considered a type of no-self experience. Also, from the experiencer's point of view, there is a blurring of distinction and an overlap of the two types of experiences. And if your interest in non-self is because you are interested in understanding how the ordinary mundane self might not be the only way of experiencing reality, then nonduality may also be of interest. For all these reasons I am combining both types of experiences in this article.

  • One type of experience is when the distinction between observer and the observed disappears. When this happened to me I lost awareness of body after many hours of meditation and it seemed like all that existed was what I was looking at. Since I existed I must be the thing I was looking at. I think this is what the article I linked to above is about.

  • I went for a walk and tried to notice those no-self moments - moments when something you see or hear catches your attention and you are aware of it without thinking about anything else. At first I noticed a few and I wondered what the point was, to extend their duration or to let repeated observations convince me that self was an illusion. I kept walking and noticed more of these moments. I began to get a sense of the quality of them which helped me to notice more and more. As I went along I started to notice them fairly frequently. They came faster and faster until I thought every sensation is a no-self moment. I laughed. I thought it was a good joke.

  • A similar kind of experience happens sometimes after a meditation session when the mind is very quiet from meditating, the absence of mental chatter creates a feeling that something is missing, there is a feeling of a kind of emptiness, a hollowness where the "person" is missing. I call it "feeling like a doughnut". One is aware of the body but doesn't feel like there is anyone in there.  It doesn't sound logical. I am not trying to be logical - I am trying to describe a feeling. Feelings are not necessarily logical.

  • Another kind of experience is when you observe the activity of the mind and see that thoughts, emotions, and impulses arise from the unconscious unasked for and uninvited. Every time you are trying to keep the mind focused in meditation and you become distracted by an interrupting thought, it is a reminder that you don't control your mind. It may seem like the self is only pure awareness observing thoughts emotions and impulses. But then if you consider that the feeling of being an observer is just like any other thought, emotion, or impulse, you are left with nothing. You can get a feeling of intentionally using your mind when you are trying to solve a problem, but where did the intention to solve the problem, to use your mind, come from? Buddha said consciousness is like a magician's trick. I think this is what he was talking about.

  • Here are some of other types of experiences:
    • [This type of meditation] also creates a kind of synesthesia where everything I see and hear, I also feel in my body as if they are part of me. There is an effect like the brain is a virtual reality machine and what I see is really a movie inside my head projected on the unchanging screen of pure awareness, like my mind contains the whole universe including me walking around inside it. Other times I feel like my self and its boundaries are dissolving and I am expanding to merge into infinite space

    • You can learn to be so relaxed that you don't feel defensive. You don't feel the need to defend your boundaries. You feel like an interconnected part of everything and everyone. Like each part, including yourself, is (joint owner of?) the whole. This state is resistant to unpleasant emotions because it affects your feeling of identity. It changes your opinion of what is "me" and "mine". If you are everything, you are not any particular thing. There aren't things outside you that affect you. There just is what is. It feels like unconditional good will and compassion and the absence of self-importance.

  • Another type of experience may occur if you just sit and notice your perceptions: what you see, hear, and smell around you, what you feel inside your body, the activity of your mind - thoughts, emotions and impulses. Doing this, you might be puzzled about what exactly you should pay attention to. Should you check each type of perception in a specific sequence? Should you just watch your mind and see what happens? If you just watch, who is it that is deciding what you notice? This question is significant because it shows that despite popular belief, there is not an obvious continuous stream of consciousness or a controlling consciousness. You may notice that consciousness is really just a series of distinct moments of awareness. There is nothing that is continuous from perception to perception. There is no continuous self in it. There is awareness of this perception, then that perception, then another perception etc.

    This isn't meant to be a logical explanation that might be true or false - it is a description of a feeling that some people have. It is not meant to help you understand or believe something, it is meant to help you feel something or recognize what you might be feeling.

    Observing experience in this way can help diminish suffering because if you are experiencing something unpleasant, by spreading your awareness around different external and internal sensations and mental activity you spend only a small fraction of the time aware of the unpleasantness. Additionally, observing unpleasant emotions along with other types of perceptions has a dissociating effect where the experiencer feels more like an observer than the one who is suffering. This eases suffering and is a type of non-self experience similar to one mentioned above.

  • This next link is also relevant, it describes nondual experiences/beliefs in many different cultures: Christian, Sufi, Native American, Jewish, Spiritualist, an atheist, etc.]

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