Are you for real?!

6.5 mins read.

We need to take the real self out. It is getting in the way of everything good, everything fun.

Grasping at our self as real is the reason we took rebirth as a human being in the first place. We blame everything and everyone for the problems of this human life of ours, but the real reason everything keeps going wrong is because how can anything other than polluted waves arise from a polluted ocean of samsaric rebirth? We need to purify our ocean-like consciousness of this contamination of ignorance by realizing that its object — the real or inherently existent self — does not exist.

I am carrying straight on from this article, so it might help to read it first if you have time.

Which is the real me?

In this meditation (outlined below), we can imagine lining up all our selves. There are so many of them! This is not even to mention the countless versions of self we have had since beginningless time. Line them up and see that the painful, overwhelmed one, for example, is one of many – so which one is the real you?!

What will come out of that is a moment of, “Oh, the self I normally see, the separate unique one, doesn’t exist!” Self exists, even the painful one, but only as an imputation of the mind — not from its own side. I am projecting a singular fixed self on shifting plural parts and believing it is actually out there, more than a projection.

We grasp at one of these versions of self at any given moment and believe it is the one and only, the real me, but why? And, for that matter, why do we pick that one and not another happier more resilient one?! There is no reason, just bad habit.

We don’t need to grasp any version as solid and real. Singularity is merely imputed – self is just a label that we are imputing on various parts of our body and/or mind, such as a thought “I’m hopeless at everything” and a feeling of being overwhelmed. There is no such singular self there. If we go looking for it, it’ll disappear like a rainbow:

When we look at a rainbow it appears to occupy a particular location in space, and it seems that if we searched we would be able to find where the rainbow touches the ground. However, we know that no matter how hard we search we will never be able to find the end of the rainbow, for as soon as we arrive at the place where we saw the rainbow touch the ground, the rainbow will have disappeared. ~ Modern Buddhism

The painful self is just a projection of our thoughts. We feel we have no choice but to experience it because we believe it’s real, but it’s not. What are we going to do if we understand this? Well, we will stop projecting it because it hurts. Why would we project that not good enough self?! That argumentative self? Especially when we have alternatives, which Buddha offers. We can be a confident, joyful Bodhisattva, for a start. We are not inherently a Bodhisattva (or anything else) but this actually means we can relate to ourself as one. This change of identification is grounded in reality, not fantasy, and will lead to incredible results.

A simple meditation 

I’ll now put some of the stuff from this and the last article together in a meditation.

Start by slowing down, as explained in this last article. Ideally generate a good motivation, such as the wish for your family and all beings to be free from the sufferings caused by self-grasping.

I always relate to myself as one self, a unit, a singularity. Is that true? For example, although I am happy, unhappy, tired, energetic, hungry, full, etc, I feel that this is the same single self that is sometimes hungry etc.  

Bring a painful version of self to mind, for example, “I’m not good enough/hurt/insecure.” Use a version that you get stuck in all too often. See how in that moment you perceive it to be your actual self.

I perceive that singular self as if it were independent of the mind and everything else, discrete, inherently existent. It appears to exist objectively as a single, separate, whole unit, delineated from everything else. This is the self I normally see. Spend some time getting a look at it. 

Then ask, “Is this my actual self? Is this really me?”

Line up a self that is an adult, daughter, friend, happy, sad, angry, attached, tired, etc. Which one of these many selves is me? The real me?

The self has many parts and therefore is not a singularity but a plurality. ~ Modern Buddhism

Therefore that painful self you’re stuck in is NOT the real you. It is A self, not THE self. The non-contiguous self that appears so clearly and at which you grasp does not exist any more than a rainbow:  

If we do not search for it, the rainbow appears clearly; but when we look for it, it is not there. ~ Modern Buddhism

Recognize that. Get a sense of relief as you let it go. 

What does this mean? Because my objectively cut-off painful self doesn’t exist, I don’t need to hold onto it. Because the self is just an imputation, empty of existing from its own side, I am always free to choose what to impute myself on or identify with. Because I am just projecting or imputing myself on a plurality of parts, I am free to project myself differently on different parts — I can identify with my Buddha nature, kindness, or wisdom, for example.

Hold this understanding for a few minutes if you can, feeling happy in the freedom of emptiness. And conclude with the determination:

I am not stuck; in fact I have limitless potential. I am free to be who I wish to be. Therefore, I will choose to be a happy self, a kind self, and/or a Bodhisattva.

Taking the time to slow down

As a main takeaway from these last two articles, I’d like to suggest that we all take the time to slow down so we can wisen up. I have been telling myself this because I, perhaps like you, have been coming out of a challenging several months, with more heady conceptuality than usual from getting caught up in one unfolding crisis after another, personal and collective. None of us is alone in facing anxiety and feelings of isolation – people tell me and I see headlines about the toll this Pandemic is taking on people’s mental health. I am finding that the simple act of slowing down is helping me a huge amount. I think it can help you too.

We can try it whenever we notice that our mind is getting tight or inflexible or worried. We can try it when we are next waiting for something – for a red light, for a kettle, for an appointment, for a meeting to end. If we just stop for a few minutes and allow our mind to relax, we will most likely find that we start to feel better. Our wave-like troubles can subside in a still, tranquil ocean. And not only that, we will also likely find that we naturally start connecting to a deeper sanity that waits inside us, such as love or wisdom.

Retreat season is just around the corner, in January — a perfect time to slow down and get creative for a far better year … Here is an article about meditation retreats and what is on offer in 2022.

Over to you. Please leave any comments or questions in the box below 

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Slowing down and wisening up

7 mins read.

Do you feel like you’re in a hurry a lot of the time? Like there’s always something to get to after this?

It’s not very relaxing, but in my observation we’re pretty much all in a hurry these days, including me more than I’d like of late. I caught myself the other day even managing to feel in a hurry while waiting in line at the airport. I had nothing to do and no real choice except to be, but I had an antsy feeling wanting the line to hurry up and/or wondering about what I was going to do or say when I got to the head of the line. Even though it was obvious that I simply had to show my passport and Covid certificate — even though I knew that and was prepared (had spent days preparing! even had the Verifly app!) — I still wanted to get it all over with.

This was instead of being utterly peaceful and relaxed in the present moment.

Which I can be if I want. We all can. But for that we have to slow down. There are many ways we can slow down, the simplest being just breathing and relaxing into our heart. There is no need to push for any result – we simply give ourself a few minutes to allow all our busy conceptuality to dissolve into the peaceful clarity of our own mind. 

Slow down AND wisen up

When we allow ourselves to slow down, we start to feel happier and less rushed. Even better, as soon as we absorb just a little bit we automatically become a little bit wiser. We are able to see things with a deeper knowing. We drop below the flotsam and jetsam of our turbulent thoughts to the still depths within and everything becomes clearer, reflected more accurately, as in a still lake. And then we can start to figure things out on a more spiritual level such that we can truly let go and relax.

Being in our heart letting everything dissolve into emptiness is the most relaxing activity on the planet. At least it is if we are actually a little bit absorbed and present and not over-thinking things, pushing to get this done, pushing for an insight. To begin with, we have to let ourselves abide with our Buddha nature. From there we can gently contemplate Dharma instructions – allowing ourself to stay with each little insight as it arises so that it can naturally evolve into the next.

It doesn’t work if we try to stay in control of the proceedings and rush them as opposed to surrendering to a deeper, let’s say unfurling, wisdom. This wish to control is ego-driven and it doesn’t work for meditation. If we’re not careful we start to identify with someone who isn’t that great at meditation, believing that meditation is going to be too much hard work even though we know it is supposed to be good for us. Meditating with that self-identification is rather painful. Sometimes it makes us a bit “lungy”, which is when our inner energy winds stop cooperating so that we feel strained and distant from our own insights.

I’ve spoken about how to deal with these things on the blog, but today and in the next article I want to explore in particular that self-grasping we have at a singular self, such as the me that cannot meditate. Maybe we can approach this on the basis of a little meditation, such as the one here. See you back here in five minutes …

…. Hello again.

How to abandon grasping at singularity

As with any discussion of emptiness, first of all we need some intellectual understanding through listening or reading to instructions, and then we gently bring that understanding into our heart by contemplating it with interest or admiring faith, without pushing. When we get a personal insight, our heart moves and we abide with that for as long as we can, neither following other thoughts nor pushing for further insights.

In the chapter Ultimate Bodhichitta in Modern Buddhism, Venerable Geshe Kelsang explains how we can meditate on the emptiness of the 8 extremes. These specialist meditations are in the section “The emptiness of phenomena”, and are the 8 different ways in which we grasp at phenomena as real. It is a spacy section and a lot of fun! I’m going to jump straight to #7 to share a practical way of meditating on avoiding the extreme of singularity as it relates to our self.

When we observe one object, such as our I, we strongly feel that it is a single, indivisible entity, and that its singularity is inherently existent.

When we think “Me” at any given moment, we are holding onto ourself as singular. The one and only. I am a whole unto myself. I am a discrete entity, existing in and of myself, I don’t depend on anything else. I am just me, indivisible me.

In reality, however, our I has many parts, such as the parts that look, listen, walk and think or the parts that are, for example, a teacher, a mother, a daughter and a wife. Our I is imputed upon the collection of all these parts.

We impute ourselves on multiple things. Whenever our “parts” change, which is all the time, our self changes, because we are not inherently single but imputed on a plurality. For example, what happens to the unhappy self when our mood lifts and we are happy again? It disappears because it was only ever appearance to begin with.

As with each individual phenomenon it is a singularity, but its singularity is merely imputed, like an army that is merely imputed upon a collection of soldiers or a forest that is imputed upon a collection of trees.

That’s not how our self is perceived by our self-grasping ignorance! Regardless which version of self is arising, ignorance grasps it as objectively or inherently singular. There’s just one of me, right?! So when I’m feeling overwhelmed, for example, that me is a single overwhelmed self, the one and only me. I believe it and buy into it. This grasping fills my mind, and therefore I feel bad and have little energy to do anything.

However, far from having just one self, we have a lot of them — in fact we probably have hundreds in any given day. I’ll go first:

I am a daughter; in fact I am arguably two daughters – my mom’s and my dad’s. I am a sister and a sister-in-law. I am anxious. I am relaxed. I am a writer. I never get round to writing. I am a hiker. I am a lazy lump. I am good at meditation. I should be better at meditation. I am kind. I am mean. I am cool. I am a nerd. (I am a cool nerd.) I am overwhelmed. I am in charge. I am a traveler. I never go anywhere. Etc etc. I just threw those out randomly, I could probably go on all day.

Most of these versions cancel each other out, yet strangely I still manage to grasp at each single one as if it was the real me.

We have gotten habituated to this singular sense of self over this and many lifetimes. For example, we can go for a long time without identifying with, say, a jealous self, but then someone does something and we’re believing it again. In those moments, it can feel unimaginable that we may not be that self. A friend may encourage us, “Hey, just drop it!” Yes, why don’t I?!, but it’s impossible. You don’t get it, I am that.

Ten minutes ago I was a different self. I am swapping selves continuously. I have to let go of one self to be another. How real can any of these singular separate selves therefore be?!

Moreover, with each friend we have also developed a different persona – jokey, serious, flirty, etc. We are constantly swapping hats/selves. Yet due to ignorance we then keep grasping at each self as distinct and fixed and stuck.

And not only that, but what about all those distinct selves the rest of you see when you look at “me”? You all think something completely different when you bring Luna Kadampa to mind. How many versions of me are floating around?! I hope there are some decent ones, but it’s not entirely my fault if there aren’t.

I am out of time and you may be out of coffee break. But the meditation I’m going to explain next week (already written) will help with this.

Over to you 🙂 Please leave any comments or questions in the box below so I can address them as well in the next article.

Further reading

Drop into your heart and breathe


Meditation in the pursuit of happiness


Pausing in the pursuit of happiness to be happy

Quick fix meditation on emptiness



Everything is relative

8 mins read.

This pandemic has been driving people crazy, and not least because we’re not able to move about much and let go of grasping at the place we’re in, so it feels real or absolute.

Continuing from this article, Perspective is everything. 

Back up that mountain …

It can be helpful to get in a car if you have access to one, drive to a trailhead, walk up a mountain, and look back at your now-tiny city. However, to change our perspective it is not necessary to physically GO up a hill; which is just as well if you’re still in lockdown or live in Florida. Nothing is really out there — everything is a dream-like projection of our mind. There is no real coming and going and we can travel up a mountain in our mind if we want to. 

No coming and going

Clouds (and rainbows) only appear in the sky due to a bunch of atmospheric causes and conditions coming together – clouds are not these causes and conditions, but take any one of them away and the clouds cannot form. Clouds therefore have no power to exist on their own, in and of themselves, self-contained, from their own side. They exist only in relation to other things, indeed AS relation to other things. Talking about the emptiness of the so-called “eight extremes”, which includes coming and going, Geshe Kelsang says:

The same is true for mountains, planets, bodies, minds, and all other produced phenomena. Because they depend on factors outside themselves for their existence, they are empty of inherent or independent existence and are mere imputations of the mind. ~ Modern Buddhism

Geshe Kelsang has said that things “barely exist”. Although they appear and function, they are no more substantial than objects that appear and function in a dream. That includes mountains! And Denver! And my body! And me! 

So instead of having to go to places and return from places, we can realize that everything is simply popping up in our mind due to multiple causes and conditions – not the least of which is our karma or previous mental intentions.

Whenever we go anywhere we develop the thought, “I am going,” and grasp at an inherently existent act of going. In a similar way, when someone comes to visit us we think, “they are coming,” and we grasp at an inherently existent act of coming…. However, the coming and going of people is like the appearance and disappearance of a rainbow in the sky. When the causes and conditions for a rainbow to appear are assembled, a rainbow appears; and when the causes and conditions for the continued appearance of the rainbow disperse, the rainbow disappears; but the rainbow does not come anywhere, nor does it go anywhere.

We seem to be moving around all the time — walking our legs, waving our arms — everything is constantly coming and going. Or is it?! When we drive along in a car, are we really moving? Or are the rapidly changing scenes and other sensory experiences simply unfurling moment by moment as mere appearances of mind in dependence upon causes and conditions, including ripening karmic seeds?! Space and time are relative, as Albert Einstein would say. 

Why does this matter, you may be wondering? Because if things are relative or dependent-related, we can disappear them by changing our viewpoint or mental angle. If the observer moves, the rainbow moves or disappears. For example, if we view someone who is unkind to us as a kind teacher of something we need to learn, (s)he is no longer an enemy but a friend.

If things are absolute, that is, not dependent on other things, then they are fixed and therefore there is nothing we can do to change them. Also, there is a real or absolute me over here and a real or absolute world over there and never the twain shall meet. With self-grasping ignorance there is necessarily a gap between me and everything else, which turns out to be quite exhausting because we tend to relate to that world with delusions, such as the pull of attachment or the push of aversion. As Gen-la Dekyong said the other day:

Stop tinkering with this impure world. We don’t have time! There is nothing we can do externally to change it.

Where is the center of everything?

Related to this, another thing I find helpful to contemplate from a mountain rock is how each of the millions of people moving about in the city below feels themselves to be the center of it. Wherever they are, wherever they go, everything seems to be revolving around that fixed or moving point. And when I am in the city, it’s the same for me – everything is revolving around me. If I am driving down Sixth Avenue, for example, Denver seems to exist in a centrifugal ring around me; and that illusion persists even if I turn down another street.

Even if we are motivated to help others, while we remain with self-grasping ignorance we naturally have the sense that the world revolves around us. That is how it appears and we assent to that appearance. However, how can a real world be revolving around me and around you and around everyone else at the same time?!

Each one of us Denverites is only one of, say, two million, if we count only the humans. (Though right now there’s a strong argument for also counting the six kittens who are running around my feet like crazy people). From a distance, it’s particularly absurd to say that any one of those two million+ living beings is central, that the city revolves around any one of them, including me. And when I am back in the city, I can remember that – I am just one of millions, no more central than anyone else. We are all equal. We all equally exist only in dependence upon each other, like cells in the body of life. We are indisputably nothing without others.

This was almost literally a “this mountain that mountain” enactment – I drove down the mountain of self and up the mountain of other. Looking back at my previous self and everything to do with that self, I got it into perspective. 

There is only one way to free ourselves and that is to get over ourselves. In truth there is no real or most important me to cherish because that self we normally see doesn’t exist. The more often we dissolve it away by looking for and not finding it, the better. This is emptiness or selflessness. As someone said on Facebook today:  

No self, nothing to cherish. This is so obvious so why doesn’t it permeate my entire being, providing constant peace? More time on the cushion for me till a stable realisation is attained.

Taking this perspective back down the mountain

We need a sense of proportion because it makes it a lot easier to help without becoming overwhelmed and burning out. Because of course there is horrible suffering in Denver – people are freezing sometimes even to death on the streets, a pandemic is raging, businesses are shuttered, and pretty much every single person you talk to has problems of one sort or another. Including me. But with a large viewpoint we don’t get so overpowered. Seeing the big picture, we can develop the big minds – universal love and the compassion that wants everyone to be free not just from today’s problems but from all their problems forever.

Sooner or later we have to get back down off that mountain! (Unless you are on retreat in a snowy cave. Tempting.) With those big minds, we can return to the middle of the city and help in practical ways. The bigger our mind, the smaller our problems, and the more capacity we have to serve others.

If we find we’re getting overwhelmed, it’s worth pointing out that our mind doesn’t have to get off the mountain. We don’t even have to physically go up a mountain in the first place! That’s what meditation is for, gaining perspective, seeing the relativity of all things. And everyone can learn to do this – regardless of where we happen to be living at the moment, or whether or not we have a car. There is truthfully far more space inside all of us than outside. We can close our eyes, do a bit of breathing meditation to get into our heart, contemplate the space in and around everything, and then get back to work. 

Whether or not we understand selflessness and dependent relationship perfectly yet, one immediate thing we can do is appreciate the people around us for giving us the opportunity to practice improving ourselves and helping others, in both obvious and less obvious ways. Given that nothing (including all living beings) exists in any absolute fixed way but is entirely relative and the nature of our mind, we can set ourselves up in relationship with others however we decide; and perhaps the best way to relate to them is in the aspect of kindness. From seeming almost inanimate at times, everyone springs to life when we think about their kindness to us; and Buddhism gives us so many different practical ways to do that. 

A mountain in the city

Last but not least, our Buddhist meditation centers in Denver and elsewhere will hopefully be opening up again before too long to provide a physical get-away for this kind of teaching and reflection. For example, a friend who now lives in Colorado was talking about KMC London in Kensington the other day: “That place itself is an oasis and, if we did something similar here, people would get the top of the mountain feel in the city.”

Thank you for reading! Would love to see your feedback and comments below.

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