Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Constantly Arising Self

In your meditation practice, and in your daily life, you can be aware of the sense of "self," or "I, me, and mine," arising almost continuously. The self is noticed in a number of ways, most obviously when we are suffering under the weight of a strong unpleasant or upsetting emotion. The presence of these emotional sensations in the body are merely signals that somewhere we are clinging to something. Once this experience becomes known through awareness, we can do something about it.

What we do, of course, is release the tight grasping fist and hold the experience in an open hand, allowing the sense of self and any accompanying emotions float freely in a spacious awareness. The longer we cling tightly to something by calling it I, me, or mine, the deeper we will sink into the quicksand of self. Disengaging from, and dis-identifying with the sense of self is as easy as returning to the feeling of the body breathing. The hard part is remembering to do this.

The arising self can be clearly seen while we are practicing vipassana meditation. It can sometimes become a very unsettling or frustrating experience as we are constantly noting the attachment to something (signaling the presence of the sense of self), and then releasing the fist. We may have to repeat this process seemingly moment-by-moment for our entire practice. On retreats, I have been beset by so much arising self that whole days were taken up with releasing from its attachment.

The result, however, is a soft and open sense of freedom from being held prisoner by the self that wants to cling to everything and identify it as its own. It takes diligent and wholehearted effort. And the reward? Nothing less than freedom.


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