The Path from Here to Here


Intellectually, the message of radical non-duality, for the most part, resonates with me. I appreciate conceptually these core parts of the message:

  • The ‘separate self’ with personal identity, responsibility, self-control, free will and choice is an illusion. I understand how the separate self likely arose since it confers short-term evolutionary advantage, and I see that its pervasiveness in highly intelligent and domesticated creatures also appears to cause horrible suffering and seems to underlie some extremely dysfunctional suffering-provoked behaviours (violence to and abuse of self and others, ‘self’-ishness manifesting as greed, hoarding, overprotectiveness, defensiveness, envy, jealousy, taking things ‘personally’, regret over ‘irresponsibility’ and lack of ‘self’-control, shame or nostalgia about the past, terror or yearnings about the future etc).
  • There is no ‘path’ to letting go of the separate self. No practice, behaviour, drug, process, or learning will increase the likelihood of the separate self’s disappearance. Such practices and studies may make the prison of separateness more comfortable, but they will not bring ‘liberation’ from the self.
  • The disappearance or ‘death’ of the separate self has no significant impact on the apparent behaviour or functionality of any human or creature (from the perspective of other ‘selves’). We don’t need a separate self to do what we do (in fact we seemingly cannot do otherwise than what we do). The end of the separate self does not mean the now-selfless character becomes nihilistic, incompetent, or indecisive. In fact that apparent character now becomes part of the full-on stream of life, ‘what is happening’, no longer veiled by the pattern-obsessed mind, and may therefore actually become more functional (equanimous), more loving, more compassionate, less ‘selfish’ and more joyful (metta, karuna, mudita, upekkha, the so-called four states after ‘enlightenment’). The person or character does not become ‘enlightened’ by these states (no person can be enlightened); rather, enlightenment is the natural way of being, a way that is only obscured when the separate self intervenes (with the best of intentions, of course). This part of the radical non-duality message is infuriating to many people: To assert that all the stress, anxiety, dread, fear and intense energy that goes into the struggle to be a competent, alert, “responsible” separate self is for nothing, seems outrageous. But intuitively and intellectually it now makes sense to me.
  • The sense of separate self that emerges (in most humans, apparently, around the time of birth or shortly thereafter when the mother is first recognized as separate) is not just intellectual — it is an embodied sense, something visceral. It’s very much an emotional and sensual sense, and opens the ‘separate’ creature to emotions that apparently only ‘separate’ selves feel (most of these, like enduring anxiety, fear, anger, sadness, shame and grief aren’t particularly positive emotions). It also opens the ‘separate’ creature up to sensations that apparently only ‘separate’ selves feel (apartness, proximity, distance, the sense of time, ‘otherness’). So the death of the separate self is likely to leave vestiges of separateness behind in the physical creature (trauma, ‘instinctive’ fears, conditioned actions, memories etc). The shift in the behaviour of the character that once imagined itself separate, then, likely occurs gradually and only after the death of the illusion of separateness, not instantaneously. Because the trauma, fears, conditioned actions, memories etc no longer have anything to sustain them or identify with, they apparently also fall away gradually as the entire embodied creature becomes ‘again just’ the one-ness of all-there-is.
  • All there is — being, life, everything — is meaningless, without any purpose. This too offends the separate self desperate for meaning in and purpose to everything. But the lack of meaning or purpose to life doesn’t trouble me at all. Ever since I read Stephen J Gould on the randomness of evolution, I’ve let go of the need for any meaning for it. It is just what it is.

I don’t however appreciate the elements of the radical non-dual message that assert that:

  • The only creature that has evolved the ‘separate self’ is the human being. This just doesn’t make sense to me. Domesticated creatures can suffer separation anxiety, and that is not just a reflex, intuitive occurrence. Many mammals and birds (at the very least) have been shown to have a ‘theory of mind’ that allows them not only to plan actions but to anticipate the response and behaviour of ‘others’. Acknowledging that the emergence of the enduring separate self (enduring in the sense that it lasts longer than brief, ‘instinctive’ fight/flight/freeze etc moments) is not limited to the human species does not, however, negate the plausibility of the overall radical non-dual message.
  • The recognition that comes with the falling away of the self is that everything arises from nothing (or nothing appears as everything), and everything is both real and unreal. I know this aspect of the message is hard to put into words but there must be some better way to articulate it. Yes, the separate self clearly sees the subject-object dual universe ‘it’ perceives as uniquely real, and sees everything else as unreal. And if the self is an illusion, what ‘it’ sees as real is clearly not real, except to itself (and hence what it sees could be said to be both real — to itself — and unreal — in the context of ‘natural reality’). But what does it mean to say everything is both real and unreal? And how can everything (or anything) ‘arise’ out of nothing if there is no time in which it can arise? I can understand that, from a phenomenological perspective, there are likely many phenomena that neither the ‘self’ nor the senses of any creature can perceive (things too small or too far away for example). But to say that it is just ‘a mystery’ how nothing appears as everything, and how everything is both real and unreal, is just unsatisfactory. I don’t claim to be able to understand or ‘see’ or perceive infinity, but I can appreciate what the concept means and that it is possible, and convey what it means to others. But ‘it’s a mystery’ does not explain the concept, and especially since this part of the message is mimicked so precisely by all radical non-dualists, they must therefore have some shared conception of what it means. So tell us, damn it.
  • The appearance of seemingly separate selves has no effect on what apparently happens. This is an obvious corollary of the assumption that there is no ‘free will’, but it seems self-contradictory. If the separate self underlies all suffering, then presumably the ‘self-possessed’ character’s actions, while uncontrollable (by the self or anyone), will be different from what they would have been were that character not possessed of a self, no? The delusion of a self, like the delusion of seeing ghosts, for example, is a characteristic of the character that affects how that character behaves, even if that character has no free will or choice about these behaviours. It is the game of life playing itself out. And in that case, it seems to me, the presence or absence of a perceived separate self will affect that character’s behaviour, even though it is uncontrolled. It was the separate selves that believed themselves to be Hitler, Stalin, Mao that led to the most horrific atrocities of the 20th century. Had they been ‘self-less’, it is almost impossible to conceive of them behaving the ways they did.

This is all intellectually fascinating, and intuitively it has great appeal to me. But my seemingly separate self has dug in and is not letting go. It refuses to die. ‘I’ don’t pretend, beyond having had a series of ‘glimpses’ during which my sense of separate self temporarily and briefly disappeared, to appreciate any of this beyond an intellectual and intuitive level. So ‘I’ am not awakened or enlightened (and ‘I’ can never be). Nevertheless, there are, it seems, some major shifts occurring.

Most significantly, acceptance of this message as ‘likely true’ has changed everything ‘I’ perceive and believe; everything I do and think and feel now seems to be seen through an entirely new lens (or rather perhaps without a lens that previously distorted everything). Just as discovering polyamory changed how I reacted to love songs and ‘romantic’ films that celebrate exclusive relationships, radical non-duality has changed how I see all relationships, all human activities, and the world.

My relationship with my self

 Now that I have started to see life-beyond-the-self as perfect, just as it is, timeless, wondrous being, I have developed an unusual relationship with my self (mostly, I would like it to get lost). I’m not impatient with its presence; it’s only doing what it was conditioned and evolved to do. I’m not longing for it to be gone, because my ‘glimpses’ showed that it isn’t real, and that ‘natural reality’ (what really is) is right here, and eternal. ‘I’ don’t have to strive to ‘really’ see it. It is already here, all that is. My self is just currently apparently momentarily standing in the way of seeing it, but that’s fine: there is no time, so there is no hurry. Selves are struggling away doing their best, but unfortunately, they are doing so for nothing, and for no one.

My relationship with others

This new perspective is also affecting my relationships with others. I am starting to appreciate others’ suffering more, as I become more equanimous with my own. I am slowly becoming less prone to anxiety, anger, fear, jealousy, guilt, shame and sadness as a reaction to others’ actions or to their situations or to the state of the world.

I am starting to be more sympathetic, to care about everyone a bit more — doing so seems less of a personal burden than it once did — even as I am less inclined to try to change them or their circumstances. When those I care about are suffering, I am a bit more attentive, but less invested in doing anything other than noticing and acknowledging. I take it all less personally. I know that sometimes they want me to do something that they think will make them feel better. I know that their suffering (though not their pain) is mostly a result of their identification with their selves, but I am not inclined to try to tell them so; this message is not for everyone, and it is essentially hopeless. And I am inclined to do, mostly, what they wish me to do. Why not? What does it cost ‘me’, whether it is effective or not?

I think I am seeing people more as they are, and less as I would wish/hope them to be. Because there is so much suffering in this crowded world of ‘selves’, I see most people as a bit sadder, more tragic, than I used to, but this doesn’t make me care about them less.

My relationship with love

Love is shifting a bit for me. Love is, after all, essentially selfish; it’s all about what we feel, want, and imagine in another.We love who we want the other person to be. At its best, love is a kind of temporary freedom, but that freedom is another illusion, another escape, another hiding from the apparent (to the self) awfulness of what is really real. I’ve never been very good at loving others, and I’ve been worse at being loved (it always seemed like an obligation to me).

I can no longer imagine falling in love again — that crazy rush that obliterates the self along with what is actually real. I know it makes everything else in the world seem, for a while, unimportant, irrelevant, and that’s exactly the problem. It’s a drug (actually a whole set of drugs), and after the high there is always the coming down. That’s no longer worth it to me, and I think I’m seeing my self and other selves a little more clearly now so that I can’t see myself falling again. That doesn’t mean I couldn’t love someone new, but it would be very different from ‘falling’ in love with another ‘self’.

In love I am taking others’ actions less personally. After all, they can’t help them-‘selves’ and neither can I. And they are not their selves, any more than I am. They do what they do because they can’t do otherwise. It’s crazy to take that personally. ‘We’ can’t choose who we love (or hate), or what we do, and once you appreciate the unreal nature of the self, getting upset about a relationship is like getting angry at a character in a play because you don’t like the lines they’re reading.

I think those I currently love understand all this. I am not ‘in love’ with anyone, but those I love I love differently now, more ‘really’ and enduringly and for who they really are rather than for what they do for me. Why do I so profoundly love them rather than any of the other many beautiful/lovable people in my circles and in the world? My sense is that this character that ‘I’ inhabit sees my presence with them to be uniquely useful, that this character gets pleasure doing so, and that those I love see value in my doing so. Maybe that’s what self-transcending love is about. It’s perhaps also what self-transcending friendship is about.

What I do with my time

I am retired now, so you’d think I’d have more time to do what I want or choose to do. But it doesn’t seem to be that way. I visit those I love, I relish my time alone and with friends, I do volunteer work (the local transition initiative, the local arts scene, Group Works, co-housing). I write, compose and explore new music, paint, cook (my newest hobby), and play — somehow there doesn’t seem any real choice in what ‘I’ do each day. I awaken and things get done. The only change that’s come about recently is that I’m more aware of exactly how little ‘choice’ goes into what I do. I’m blessed, though, in that I really enjoy what I am doing, and I don’t wish I was doing, or could be doing, something else.

My worldview

I had already given up belief or hope that civilization could or should be saved, and lost interest in politics, economics and other complex systems we simply cannot change or control. It’s been a long time since I believed in ‘progress’. The radical non-duality message has merely enabled me to be at peace with what I was already (not) doing.

I find Gaia theory — that our planet has evolved and acts as a single self-managing organism in its collective, collaborative best interest, compelling. Radical non-duality would say that what seems like evolution is just a purposeless unfolding, a game or experiment, the universe at play. I find this disheartening — Gaia is so lovely, such an astonishing and affirming model, it is hard to acknowledge that it is just play. The self apparently emerged as an evolutionary advance. Depending on your point of view, that advance was either catastrophic in consequence, or changed nothing. Non-duality tears apart the conceit that self-awareness, consciousness and intelligent tool-making and decision-making differentiate humans positively from other species; if anything, these illusory ‘advances’ actually demonstrate that humans are the most foolish species, living in a dream when most other creatures are fully alive.

I have always found science (the creation of models that are interesting and occasionally useful) arrogant in its assertions of knowledge and potential achievement. Radical non-duality provides some solace for that sentiment, while making it largely moot.

As a long-time misanthrope, my view of basic human nature used to be very negative — we were inherently violent, destructive, selfish and thoughtless. A few years ago my view shifted to a more generous one: that we are all doing our best, even the worst of us. Radical non-duality takes that one step further — ‘we’ are not doing anything, and our selves are not in control of what they apparently do or decide or think or feel. Now I am starting to feel as sorry for our woeful species as for all the creatures whose world and lives we have apparently desolated.

My personal pleasures and recreations

Recently I’ve come to believe that work is unnatural, and so is the compulsion to do it. I have always been a hedonist at heart, though some would call me just lazy and self-indulgent. For much of my life, pleasure-seeking has been an escape, my way of taking my mind off a reality that has always otherwise been wanting. Games and sex and sensuous creature comforts (candlelight, lamplight, warm baths, skilfully-composed music) are my favourite distractions, more intense and endurably engaging than eating or walking in nature, and vastly preferable to reading or watching films (which I find less and less enjoyable, perhaps because most of what is being written and composed these days is execrable).

I can’t see the falling away of the separate self as affecting these preferences much (non-dualists say that was the case for them). I can envision my pleasures becoming more adventurous when my fearful self dissipates, and I expect my interest in escapist entertainments will, if not wane, be at least more balanced by a growing interest in more engaged-with-the-world, less self-ish pursuits.

Creative work, on the other hand, has never been easy for me to do. Composing music, writing, cooking, painting and other recreations are hard work, and while I feel compelled to do them, they are not really pleasurable. Why then do I do them? Essentially, I can’t not. They are, I sense, not so much elements of who ‘I’ am but what all-there-is, is, expressing itself through me. That hasn’t changed, and isn’t likely to as my self gets out of the way, other than perhaps to make these difficult, essential pursuits more joyful, more pleasurable.

Intuition

‘Trust your instincts’ has been a mantra of How to Save the World since it began. The challenge has been explaining to people how you instinctive ‘know’ something, when the self insists on a rational, analytical, intellectual explanation, and views intuition with suspicion. The first instinct, I suspect, was for self-survival, and was the precursor to the emergence of the apparently separate self. My study of complexity suggests that our capacity to know things intellectually is extremely limited, which is perhaps why the self tends to (apparently) decide things based more on emotion than reason. Radical non-duality goes further and asserts that nothing can be known and that nothing is decided, and that there is no one to know or decide (or, for that matter, intuit).

So now I’m wondering if intuition is all-there-is expressing itself through us, quietly whispering the truth in our ear to guide us when the selfish intellect and our equally selfish reactive emotions get it all wrong.

So, in short, my recent study of radical non-duality, and my intellectual and intuitive appreciation of its likely veracity, have seemingly made me more compassionate, less reactive, more observant, less judgemental, more equanimous, less emotional yet somehow more joyful, more sympathetic, less identified with suffering (my own and others’), more flexible, more perceptive, more loving but less inclined to fall in love, more appreciative, less inclined to take things personally, more accepting, less ‘selfish’, more carefree, less misanthropic, even more hedonistic, less fearful, and more intuitive.

How can this be, if I have, in fact, no free will, no choice about anything? If there is no ‘I’, how can I be ‘more’ or ‘less’ of these things? Well, for now, there is an apparent ‘I’, and though it may mean and portend nothing and may be just wishful thinking, it is apparently (to me) what’s been happening. That will have to do.

The path from here to here

I have not been looking for a path to ‘liberation’ from the self for very long — just a couple of years. Radical non-duality claims there is no path, and this makes sense intuitively, though it taxes the patience of the self-weary self. The ‘path from here to here’ is a non-journey, not so much an awakening as a death. But there is no letting go — that would be a path. There is no waiting, no enlightenment, no liberation — there is no such thing as time, not even a ‘Now’, and no where to get to. There is no one. There is only all-there-is, eternal, wondrous, just being. Just this. So close, but nowhere near.

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7 Responses to The Path from Here to Here

  1. Paul Heft says:

    Why does one love? “My sense is that this character that ‘I’ inhabit sees my presence with them to be uniquely useful, that this character gets pleasure doing so, and that those I love see value in my doing so. Maybe that’s what self-transcending love is about. It’s perhaps also what self-transcending friendship is about.” Yes, that seems right. But the trap I must be wary of is seeking such love in order to feel valuable, or useful–I think that’s self-aggrandizing, and building the self doesn’t work, and it’s a defense against my fear of not being needed. (Note that I haven’t given up on selfhood and free will yet! I don’t beat myself up for my thoughts, but I do try to steer away from the more illusory directions.)

    Noticing your character shifting, you wonder, “If there is no ‘I’, how can I be ‘more’ or ‘less’ of these things?” But Dave, don’t you believe that each person has a character (that is, characteristic ways of thinking, feeling, behaving) and that conditioning (i.e., repeated experiences) can affect that character, regardless of the sense of self? As a simple example, if you were constantly bombarded with media having a particular slant, don’t you think that would affect your attitudes without your willing it or even being aware of it?

  2. Dave Pollard says:

    Paul: Yes, exactly — it is ‘usefulness’ that makes love self-transcending, but if it is the self striving to be useful, it’s the opposite. And I think part of real ‘self’ awareness is acknowledging the self can’t do other than what it does or be other than what it is, and forgiving our ‘selves’ for the obfuscation and suffering they unintentionally cause.

    I’m still sorting out what Tony Parsons calls the ‘character’, and what the character is with and without the self. It’s easier to approach this, I think, by looking at non-human characters that clearly have personalities. My problem is the non-human characters I have know are all either domesticated or very intelligent, and hence all of them are afflicted, I think, with selves, selves that have a great deal to do with their character. And domesticated animals are clearly conditioned by us (and vice versa). Do dolphins, which are very intelligent and often encounter humans but are not (except for an unfortunate few) domesticated, have distinctive characters? They would seem to be playful, but is that an expression of their distinct selves (playing “with” some “other”) or is that just a characteristic of truly self-less yet intelligent creatures? How about ravens, which seem comparable to dolphins in every way 9including playfulness) except that they appear more anxious, less trusting of “others”. Is that conditioning, or the workings of the diabolically imaginative self of smart creatures conjuring up frightful scenarios? So then is human playfulness, clearly a characteristic of some ‘characters’ more than others, a state of selves that are ‘closer to’ selflessness, and if so, what does that mean in non-dualistic terms where ‘closer to’ selflessness means nothing?

  3. JPL says:

    Hi Dave,

    I would recommend you explore the work and teachings of (recently deceased) Albert Low. He provides a different perspective on non-duality whose implications often differ with or shed a new light on many of non-dual affirmations/propositions (your green and red sentences) you wrote down. His views would also help you to further explore and articulate some of your (perfectly justified) difficulties/criticisms of the core ideas of non-duality as conceptualized and recycled over the past 20 years by individuals who don’t have genuine insights but instead imagine (no very well I must add) what would non-duality is (or could be).

    Albert wrote many books. I would suggest to start with “I’m Am Therefore I Think”

    https://www.amazon.com/Am-Therefore-Think-Worldview-Twenty-First-ebook/dp/B007P6NJ0A/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1471009419&sr=1-1#nav-subnav

    and Restoring Meaning: Evolution revisited

    https://www.amazon.com/Restoring-Meaning-Evolution-Albert-Low-ebook/dp/B00U0N3WN4/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1471009497&sr=1-2&keywords=meaning+albert+low#nav-subnav

    Best,

    JPL

  4. Brutus says:

    I appreciate what you have explored and written. It’s all very, very interesting to think about. But I have to push back a little (bad habit of mine).

    Considering that consciousness and self are soft evolutionary forms, unlike the tangible structures of the body, it seems to me questionable to say any too confidently that they evolved in as a result of short-term evolutionary advantage. E.O. Wilson wrote a book about what he calls eusociability, which examines the highly social nature of human interactions. He may argue something similar; I read only a capsule review, so I’m not sure. Since you already acknowledge (from Gould) that evolution often proceeds randomly, the evolution of self may not have been selected by evolution but simply appeared and been subsequently reinforced. This is essentially why we now have the term gene-culture coevolution, also known as dual inheritance theory. Speaking of bad habits, it’s a common mistake among those who know only a bit about biology to yoke one form or structure to evolution. When it’s hard tissue, the fossil record often demonstrates the succession of forms. When it’s soft tissue or indeed behavioral or even a human instinct or institution, the evidence is typically missing. Conjecture provided as evidence is just rhetoric, and I’ve seen it applied to things like a gene for religious faith or the so-called evolution of capitalism (an example of a human institution). Phooey on all of that.

    Your personal story, beginning in midlife as a doom blogger, giving up on solving truly intractable human and planetary problems (but still trying to understand them — kudos for that), and now indulging yourself by writing about your own journey, may be blocking your attempts to extinguish your “self” (not in the sense of suicide). Your intellectual habits (close examination and then blog summaries of your learning) frankly reinforce the very self you want to lose. Though there may be no clear path to letting go, there are certainly stumbling blocks.

    We already have models for self-lite in those absorbed in sports, cinema, video games, and others entertainments. They look and often function like fully grown adults, but at the same time, they’re childlike and innocent of the travails of the world. To me, they’re close to being zombies, which is not something to be desired, but they certainly enjoy a strong social milieu and are untroubled by the awfulness of politics, injustice, and various harbingers that threaten to remove the cornucopia we currently enjoy. To say that they don’t see it coming is quite the understatement, but perhaps the old saw has it right: ignorance is bliss.

  5. Dave Pollard says:

    Thanks Brutus. I think we’re actually mostly on the same page on this. My comment that self & consciousness emerged accidentally but were reinforced (what I understand as exaptation but I’m not an expert in this) is just a theory, and I hold it lightly, and in putting it out here I’d welcome alternative theories as to how (not why) it might have emerged (and at the same time whether and how all creatures actually have it to degrees, which might explain why Sapolsky’s self-stressed baboons are such unpleasant creatures).

    I also find ‘social Darwinism’ (and in fact most of Dawkins’ theories) opinionated, unsupported and arrogant. I do think, however, that the sense of self/consciousness is, as Tony Parkins asserts, more than just ‘software’ — it may have begun as such but now it’s embodied, and not just in a reactive sense. Our sense of ‘other’ and apartness transcends the intellectual; it’s something we experience with our whole bodies. When I watch silverfish’s evasive manoeuvres, I see intelligence at work, not just some DNA-encoded instinct.

    And yes, my writing about and preoccupation with my ‘self’ is almost certainly entrenching my sense of self, not ‘enlightening’ it. But I’ve come to believe doing so doesn’t make it more or less likely that that self will fall away, and in the meantime, it’s comforting and interesting and sometimes even useful to have a theory behind things we cannot hope to really understand and change.

    Also interested in your thoughts aa to whether intense events (sex, extreme sports, moments of existential terror/grief) are closer to or further from ‘self’-liberation. My sense (which is the opposite of Tony’s) is that these are all actually self-reinforcers, and while the self may seem to temporarily go behind the clouds during such events, it then returns with a vengeance to assert ITS success at that event.

  6. Brutus says:

    Absolutely the self is embodied. There can be no self w/o the body. But to suppose that it inhabits a particular place or organ is a mistake. Daniel Dennett asserts that the mind is smeared across the brain, but considering how the entire body is wired for sensation and the nervous system is a unitary whole, I don’t see it as particularly helpful to suggest that the brain all by itself or by virtue of its executive function is the seat of consciousness. That’s an artifact of the machine and scientific worldview that breaks things apart into discrete functions when the truth is all the parts function together. As with machines, some parts are separable (amputation or excision) or swappable with modern medicine (transplants), but the organism nonetheless functions as a whole.

    Also, event late in life, the brain’s extraordinary plasticity enables hard-wiring of cognitive functions that receive repetition and thus reinforcement. It’s the opposite of synaptic pruning. Chomsky famously proposed (in the 1960s) a language organ, presumably somewhere inside the brain, that would account for the facility for acquiring language. It’s unclear to me whether the term “organ” was intended figuratively or literally. I suspect the latter, but again, it cannot be separated from the brain or body as a whole. Last, there is conjecture that the corpus callosum, the bundle of neural fibers that connects the left and right hemispheres of the brain, is a vestigial structure than no longer serves its original function. This feature suggests to me rewiring of the brain at a biological level, meaning embodiment of the modern sense of self. Little of this is settled science as far as I know.

    You wrote: And yes, my writing about and preoccupation with my ‘self’ is almost certainly entrenching my sense of self, not ‘enlightening’ it. But I’ve come to believe doing so doesn’t make it more or less likely that that self will fall away … These two sentences are in direct conflict with each other: entrenching yet no more or less likely …. Certain thoughts and modes of thought have both enablements and blockages. Seems to me education is an enabler of intellectual thought, whereas narcissism is a block to liberation from the self. Interactions within the psyche are too complex to make for easy diagnoses or therapies, but some obvious influences ought to be reliably observable.

    Your question about intense behaviors being closer to or further from liberation from the self is impossible for me to answer definitively. My sense is that many such behaviors (both pleasurable and distressing) are undertaken precisely to lose oneself in a state of flow (see Mihály Csíkszentmihályi) or to merge into a supposed group mind (drugs, dance, music, mobs). Whether those have the paradoxical effect of reinforcing one’s sense of self upon return to normal cognition (by today’s standards) is a good question. Plenty of people effectively destroy themselves chasing behind the clouds, as you put it. I consider that a disturbance of the self/psyche, not liberation. More wholesome, partial loss of self is fairly commonplace, but it’s a place we visit, not one we inhabit full-time. We may well be in the midst of a paradigm shift, as increasing prevalence of disturbances to the psyche suggest.

  7. Dave Pollard says:

    JPL — thanks, I’ll check him out.

    Brutus — yes, though if there’s a paradigm shift happening it’s not likely Eckhart Tolle’s “Whole New World” but rather a social disintegration back into ourselves and away from our species-as-responsible-crown-of-creation. I can’t see any reintegration before collapse; too much trauma and damage done to the exhausted, terrified human bag of water for it to do much more than hide and cower and hope the danger will pass. Which like everything it will, eventually. Thanks for your thoughts — interesting to ruminate at the intersection of collapse and non-duality.

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