A question that gets asked (by others and also inside my own head) is this. Given that the sensation of sweet, unruffled well-being may occasionally visit a person, in which the mind is still and all apparent problems have dissolved, what is it that causes this condition to become the norm?
This is the compelling question. Mostly it gets asked because a person thinks that coming up with a possible answer may give rise to a possible method for getting there. The trouble with the idea of a method is that you’re doing something so that you will “get somewhere” in the future, not for its own sake. You’re doing it so that “you” will change . . . which is not what happens at awakening.
At some point the sense of self – of What You Are – stops having to do with the usual, and instead it has to do with spaciousness.
So you say — well, what’s a person’s incentive to (say) linger over the question What am I? What spawns that question? It comes of the longing to know the truth. It’s an existential curiosity that’s come alive. Which is very different from the desire to feel better, to stop suffering, to have mystical experiences.
Meanwhile, my own curiosity (without regard for a possible method) has led me to wonder and wonder. I watch someone tip over into the stable condition, or I encounter someone who’s been that way for some time, and I’m curious about what might have happened to get them to the other side of that line — to that “place” where there is going to be no getting thrown off-balance, no becoming lost in thought, no identification or attachment, or mental or emotional anguish. Which is very different from the occasional fleeting taste of the sweet emptiness where nothing is experienced as wrong.
It seems that at some point the sense of self — of What You Are — stops having to do with the usual (personal history, beliefs, personality, desires, fears), and instead it has to do with spaciousness. Who You Are has more to do with present-moment awareness than with any sort of solid-seeming self that’s apparently stable over time. You appear to be the space in which all is occurring (which is very different from the you that could bear a grudge or fear death).
Your dear old familiar self simply no longer feels like what you are. So, in the relieving absence of that burden, a whole new sense of reality takes over — including the reality of “you,” the nature of life and time, the immediate scene, and other people. When that new sense of the real takes over, you cannot possibly be troubled, because “you” (in the familiar sense) are no longer operative.
At least, this is how it appears to me.
But then the question comes: okay, but what causes the old sense of self to finally completely dissolve? Maybe it’s a matter of the made-up self being seen through enough times, so that it feels less and less real, until it ceases to hold together. Or maybe there’s a shattering all-at-once blow to the self, such that its insubstantial nature is abruptly illumined. Maybe it’s deep and sustained contemplation on the question What AM I, anyway?
There is no authoritative answer. I can’t even say with confidence what happened in my own case.
At the very least (not to come too close to the primrose path of a possible method), it must surely be a good idea to keep an unwavering eye on the ongoing maintenance and expression of the dear old apparent self, the one that’s able to suffer, to get lost in thought, to experience life as a series of problems and goals (among them, the search for a method to awaken). And to remember constantly that this self is not It. This self is incapable of sustained peace and well-being. All it does is block awareness of the deeper reality, where the enduring sweetness abides.
Whatever the longed-for It is, it isn’t that old thing. See that much. And then, give it no more attention. For to give it attention — even to lament its apparent substance — is to encourage its ongoingness, its appearance of reality. Sort of like indulging a toddler who’s having a tantrum. Or like pumping high-octane gas into the thirsty tank of selfhood.
Meanwhile, this other “you” is patiently waiting to take over, to gather you in its tender arms.