Saturday, October 8, 2011

Guest Post: that lumpy feeling

I know something is moving inside me when I get this funny lump in my throat. It feels similar to what you'd feel if something strikes you with a bit of sadness, but not in a depressing way, and not enough to make you cry. The unusual thing signaling that a shift is taking place is that it lasts: sometimes for hours; sometimes for days. At Shambhala I've heard people refer to it as being able to "taste your heart". It's a raw feeling.

The first time I noticed it, I started to worry that it wouldn't go away and that I'd be stuck with this sensitive, vulnerable-feeling lump in my throat forever (!). I thought I'd unlocked some a vulnerability I couldn't put away. And then, soon, the business of life took over and I'd moved on to less precious things.

Tonight I can feel it again. It happened at a talk at the Shambhala center where the teacher introduced a kind of contemplative meditation where you "search for your self". You close your eyes and first look in your body to find your self. No luck there. I'm not my hand or my skin or heart or bones. Then you search in your consciousness, memories, ideas, and thoughts for your self. No luck there either. Lots of activity, but nothing solid and essential.

Then comes the interesting part. You relax your searching, and just try to answer the question: "who (or what) is seeking the self?" That was the moment it clicked for me. That's me searching (I thought)! There's something there. A will. An intention. Something that's not muscle and bone or grey matter. But something that, for lack of a better term, puts the whole thing in motion. But what is that? Is that me?

I don't have an answer. But the contemplative exercise opened up a very spacious and expansive feeling. It's only been an hour or two, but I already feel different about myself. Like there's more there (and yet I'm less solid!) than I imagined.

In spite of it being a confusing, seemingly intellectual, and in some ways frightening exercise, somehow this all touches the heart in a profound, truthful way. I feel at the same time a greater sense of mystery and a sense of acceptance and comfort.

We don't have a very good vocabulary to talk about these feelings or ideas. But where this rawness leads, in my experience, is to a place where I'm more sensitive and connected to the people and things around me, and more able to feel profound gratitude.

I asked the teacher tonight about the idea of egolessness. It always sounds to me like 'blankness' or somehow erasing your personality, your identity, and characteristics. His response was that nothing could be further from the truth, and gave this example; when you're playing a sport that you're good at, and you get on a streak, scoring, playing really well, you're in a state of flow. You're not thinking very much about yourself. You might even be more aware of the court and the other players than your own body, feelings, and appearance. Being egoless is like being in a state of flow. You're more present for others. You're only blank in the sense that you're not coloring everything with a skewed, ego-driven perspective.

I've always been a bit timid about the idea of egolessness. Tonight I think I might have got just a small taste, in a controlled setting, of what that's like. It's funny how hope and fear can take me away from the path. For the last two classes of this series, I've been little by little chipping away at my resolve to keep on the path (atleast the Shambhala path). But I can see tonight that there's nothing to fear and much to be gained from becoming more present with reality. I can feel my heart. And that means I'm headed somewhere in the right direction.


  1. Nice read. As somebody who is extremely green regarding meditation and hasn't thought much about the ego, I always just equated egolessness to selflessness. It pretty obviously goes beyond that (otherwise you're just martyring yourself right?).

  2. Thanks for the comment CJ. Egolessness is a big discussion, and I can only say I've tasted it a few times. Ultimately egolessness is supposed to transcend concepts, but hey, we have to work with what we've got, so to answer your question through concepts, I don't think egolessness is about not looking after yourself. In other words it is not about "idiot compassion" as it is often referred to. It is also not about trying to repress the thoughts that you will naturally have about self interest, even though those thoughts may be directly creating the suffering you experience and contributing to the suffering of others. We have to take baby steps.

    Egolessness is a process that supposedly unfolds as you practice meditation for many years and contemplate the nature of self as well. Really examine what the self is. Where is it? Is it in the body? Is it in the mind? When you die, is your self totally gone?

    As the teachings on shunyata try to explain, one is capable of attaining the realization that dualistic thinking is illusion or samsara. In other words, I am not separate than you, but we exist in a state of perpetual interdependence and are actually one, in some way.