Related somewhat to the “Weirdness” topic begun by Srinath, herein lies the published account of an author whose name I deliberately withheld in an attempt to minimize the tendency of prejudgment and reactive dismissal (or conversely, reactive endorsement) that can accompany the preconceived notions associated with a person’s name/ identity/ reputation. Once the identity of this author is revealed or recognized (if not initially recognized then Google of course should expose the source fairly easy), then their own “weird,” “occultic,” “far-out,” or just plain illogical and contradictory things they wrote can be, if desired, scrutinized, disparaged, and politely dismissed in a manner we here have observed others doing with Richard’s reports, opinions, and speculations. With that said, enjoy this person’s compelling (abridged) account – published a full decade prior to Richard’s collapse of his Spiritual Enlightenment – of finding themselves contending not only with the loss of their “lower (ego) self,” which they had lost many years earlier in dramatic fashion, but now, quite unexpectedly, their loss of what they knew as their “higher Self,” accompanied by a complete and permanent eradication of the entire affective faculty.
This is the personal account of a two-year journey during which I experienced the falling away of everything I can call a self. It was a journey through an unknown passageway that led to a life so new and different that, despite forty years of varied contemplative experiences, I never suspected its existence. Because it was beyond my expectations, the experience of no-self remained incomprehensible in terms of any frame of reference known to me and, though I searched the libraries and bookstores, I did not find there an explanation or an account of a similar journey which, at the time, would have been clarifying and most helpful. Owing then to the deficiency of recorded accounts, I have written these pages, trusting that they may be of use to those who share the destiny of making this journey beyond the self. […]
[The] notion of loss-of-self is generally regarded as a transformation of the ego or lower self into the true or higher self as it approaches union with God; throughout this journey, however, the self retains its individual uniqueness and never loses its ontological sense of personal selfhood. Thus, the notion I maintained of being lost to myself meant, at the same time, being found in God as the sharer of a divine life. It meant a permanent state in which God, the “still-point” at the center of being, was ever accessible to the contemplative gaze […]. I took for granted the self was the totality of being, body and soul, mind and feelings; a being centered around God, its power-axis and still-point. Thus, because the self at its deepest center is a run-on with the divine, I never found any true self apart from God, for to find the One, is to find the other.
Because this was the limit of my expectations (and my experiences), I was all the more surprised and bewildered when I came upon a permanent state in which there was no self, not even a higher self, a true self, or anything that could be called a self. Clearly, I had fallen outside my own, as well as the traditional, frame of reference when I came upon a path that seemed to begin where the writers on the contemplative life had left off. […]
I was left without a way to account for this experience, and even when I turned to books in the Eastern traditions, I encountered the same deficit of accounts — at least accounts that were available to me through the local channels. […]
I am convinced that the contemplative life is composed of two distinct and separate movements, well marked and defined by the nature of their experiences alone. The first movement is toward self’s union with God which runs parallel with the psychological process of integration, wherein the emphasis is on interior trials and dark nights by which the self is established in a permanent union with God — the still-point and axis of its being. In this process we discover that the self is not lost; rather a new self has been found that now functions as an undivided unit from its deepest, innermost center.
Following this first movement is an interval (twenty years in my case) during which this union is tested by a variety of exterior trials whereby this oneness is revealed in all its enduring depths of stability and toughness against all forces that would move, fragment, or disturb its center; thus, it is a period of discovering the beauty, the intense wonder of this gratuitous union and, above all, of discovering what this wholeness means and how it works in our daily lives. Then, too, it is a period of becoming acclimated to the relative difference between life with the old, easily fragmented self, and life with a new self that cannot be moved from its center in God. Still more, this seems to be a stage in which, if exterior trials are not forthcoming, the contemplative may seek them because the energy created by this union must move outward (as a unit and not as a scattered force) to find expression, to accept challenge — even suffering — as a way to both reveal and affirm this enduring love. […]
It seems that at the end of this period a point is reached where the self is so completely aligned with the still-point it can no longer be moved, even in its first movements, from this center. It can no longer be tested by any force or trial, nor moved by the winds of change, and at this point the self has obviously outworn its function; it is no longer needed or useful and life can go on without it. We are ready to move on, to go beyond the self, beyond even its most intimate union with God, and this is where we enter yet another new life — a life best categorized, perhaps, as a life without a self.
The onset of this second movement is characterized by the falling away of the self and a coming upon of “that” which remains when it is gone. But this going-out is an upheaval, a complete turnabout of such proportions it cannot possibly be missed, under-emphasized, or sufficiently stressed as a major landmark in the contemplative life. It is far more than the discovery of life without a self. The immediate, inevitable result is a change of consciousness, an emergence into a new way of knowing that entails a tremendous readjustment when the self can no longer be an object of awareness. […]
I may never get over the silence on the part of writers who say nothing about this second movement. Perhaps some contemplatives take in stride what to others is a monumental explosion; or possibly, writers downplay what they do not understand or deem unorthodox or rare; or perhaps — and this is my view — they have confused these two movements by failing to adequately distinguish between them: that is, to distinguish between two different changes in consciousness; between going beyond the lower (ego) self, and later, the higher Self […]. […]
I must re-emphasize that the following experiences do not belong to the first contemplative movement or the soul’s establishment in a state of union with God. I have written elsewhere of this first journey and feel that enough has been said of it already, since this movement is inevitably the exclusive concern of contemplative writers. Thus it is only where these writers leave off that I propose to begin. Here now, begins the journey beyond union, beyond self and God. […]
The experience that initiated this journey was the permanent silencing or closing down of the reflexive mechanism of the mind, with the result that it became impossible to remember myself. I could no longer reflect backward or inward, and though I strove with all possible energy to remain self-conscious, my mind kept falling back into the silence of no-self-consciousness. When this occurred, I blacked out because there was nothing there anymore — there was no thinker of thoughts, no doer of doing. Not only as an object had self disappeared, but as a self-conscious mechanism, self had become an impossibility. […]
Thus, in the first event or closing down of the reflexive mechanism, I could no longer remember myself; in the second event, or the withdrawal of the sense of personal energy, I could no longer feel myself. I believe this sequence of events to be important because, in retrospect, it enabled me to piece together this phenomenon called the self, a phenomenon which seems to disappear in the order of its initial appearance.
After these two events, and as I moved through the following weeks and months, I gradually discovered that the major result of these bewildering experiences was the disappearance of the entire affective system. […]
I saw myself as unwittingly trapped without a means of escape when I realized that once the self is gone, the resultant state is irreversible; the affective system could not be resurrected. In turn, this recognition was responsible for the unfelt, unknown terror and dread that afterwards came to mind. But once it had been confronted openly on the hillside, this insane phenomenon never reappeared. It was here I discovered that the stillness of no-self would hold fast against the most terrifying and unknown machinations of the mind. I learned that without any feelings to back it up, the mind is absolutely powerless to effect a single thing. At the same time, it became obvious that the stillness and silence of no-self was, indeed, a marvelous and irreversible blessing.
Through these events I came to understand how the indefinable, almost unconscious, personal sense of subjective energy and life was the nucleus, the tough core around which the affective system was built; a system that not only belongs to the self, but is the self. This feeling of personal life is like a seed within that branches out to permeate every aspect of our being. So to be without a self means to be without this seed, this gut-level feeling of personal being, along with all its branches, the entire affective system.
In the second event of the journey then, this seed and all to which it had given rise was uprooted in one full sweep, like a tree that had suddenly been felled. Life goes on, but it is a new life, one that is neither personal nor impersonal — it is simply a life without a self. So this was what I discovered: that self is the entire affective emotional network of feelings, from the most subtle unconscious stirrings of energy, to the obvious extremes of passionate outbursts.
Though separate from the cognitive system, the affective life so infiltrates the mind and all its processes that we can never separate our energies from the cognitive faculties as long as the reflexive mechanism remains. […]
To account for the rise of the affective system, we need only remember that the child feels long before he thinks. It is only gradually, with the development of the brain, that he discovers a separation exists between the seer and the seen, and with this discovery he becomes self-conscious. And once this takes place, his feelings become inseparably fused with his knowing. Thereafter both the knowledge and the feeling of self are all but indistinguishable. When the self disappears, this knowledge and feeling of a self disappear together like twin systems of a single circuit.
Because feeling precedes self-consciousness, it should be noted that the mere acknowledgment of self as an object of consciousness is insufficient to account for the self’s existence. Without a sense of personal energy or feeling to back it up, such knowledge is so lifeless and meaningless, it is no more than a mental construct as easily dispelled as a child’s belief in Santa Claus. The self is more than a knowledge of its own existence, and what this more is, is a gut-level feeling of energy, drive, power, and of a will that, when linked with the cognitive faculties, becomes the subjective certitude “this is me.” This energy permeates our thoughts, words, and deeds to such an extent that we have come to believe these feelings are part and parcel of what it means to be human — a belief I now see is a great mistake. […]
It goes without saying that, of itself, thought has no power or meaning unless there is some force or drive to back it up. Rid thought of this power, and thinking appears to be no more than a neurological mechanism of the brain. Ultimately then, self is not the thinker of thoughts; rather, at its most subtle, rock-bottom level, self is nothing more, yet nothing less, than the consciousness of “personal” energy.
Given this history, it should be obvious that if someone wanted to go beyond the self, it would be useless to try to alter either the cognitive or affective systems. As long as the brain persists with its automatic reflexive mechanism, it would only bring about another self no matter how we try to suppress or tamper with these systems. So whatever the reflexive mechanism is, it is strategic both to a life with a self and a life without a self. This is why I have said that only an outside agent can bring about the demise of the self; an agent, however, that has a physiological counterpart. […]
The impermanence of the self is comparable, perhaps, to the pineal body or organ in the center of the brain, which is said to be functional in the developmental years but later ceases to function. In similar fashion, the self, which was necessary for a specific way of knowing in the first part of life, ceases to function when it has outgrown its usefulness. Thus, the intervention of an outside agent has something to do with man’s reaching an unknown level of psychological development, integration, or evolution, before this agent can act, or before man can dare to live without a self. […]
In recent years we have begun to explore the process of integration, but it will undoubtedly be a long time before we get around to investigating the process of disintegration; and for now, at least, I know of no one who even admits to such a possibility. […]
Now that we have seen that the core of self is a sense of personal energy, we must go on to say something of the branches to which this seed gives rise: the entire affective system, which includes not only the emotions, but feelings we do not ordinarily associate with the system at all. What follows then, is what I know of this system, based not only upon what I discovered during the journey, but upon much that I learned before it began. Since the affective system is on a single relative continuum, I look upon it as a seesaw, where the ends of the board (or continuum) represent the extremes of attraction and repulsion, and the area closest to the near immovable center represent its more subtle, often unconscious, movements. […]
A friend recently told me that the falling away of the affective system was invariably a psychotic symptom. While I had never heard this before and have no idea if it’s true, my present perspective is quite the opposite. As I see it, the affective system is not only the cause of every psychological illness, it is the cause of all man’s suffering. An organic problem, without this system, could not give way to psychological or mental suffering, because there would be no fears, anxieties, or all the rest that so easily erupt into emotional disturbances.
In keeping with this is the admission of a gentleman who said he was terrified at the thought of losing his self. What he had obviously failed to realize was that the terror and dread he felt is the self, and that without a self there can be no such feelings. In fact, a sure sign the self is gone is the absence of these affective symptoms. So as long as there is any fear of losing the self, the self remains — in which case there is nothing to worry about one way or the other. But this is why the histories of those who have truly gone beyond the self will never be found in psychiatric literature. With no problems in the affective domain, few people would be in need of a psychiatrist or analyst; indeed, without an affective system, or without a self, this whole school of thought would be out of business.
Yet we cling to the affective system out of fear of what life would be like without it. We’re afraid that without feelings we will be inhuman, cold, insensitive, robot-like creatures, so detached from this world that we might as well be dead. Needless to say, there is no truth in this view at all; it is just another myth created out of fear of the unknown — where all myths come from. Nevertheless, to explain what life is like without this system is not easy because it must be lived to be understood, and any description of it only gives rise to an unending chain of philosophical arguments. All that need be said here is that it is a dynamic, intense state of caring; caring for whatever arises in the now-moment. It is a continuous waking state in which the physical organism remains sensitive, responsive, and totally unimpaired. When the journey is over, nothing is found to be missing or wanting. […]
One of the reasons such a state is difficult to understand is that few people realize, within themselves, the full extent of what the affective system really is. Some people think of it as the loving heart in man when, actually, this is but a fraction of its reality. A far larger part consists of the only true diabolical force in existence and, unfortunately, these affective extremes are not far apart — they’re only relative one to the other. A way out of this dilemma of relativity would be to live on only half the beam — the good half, that is — but it doesn’t work this way; either we are potentially subject to all these movements or we are subject to none of them. Some movements, however, are so subtle, we think of them — mistakenly — as primarily cognitive, or sometimes as merely physical, and since filtering out this system from the rest of our being is so impossible, we seek integration as a way of at least keeping it in line.
It is imperative to examine closely and realize that the root of the affective system is a sense of selfhood; a feeling of personal being which is identical to its will, its drives, motivations, values, and goals. This branches out to give rise to memories, desires, expectations. This fans out still further to color every perception and thought, until it reaches into every experience including the aesthetic sense of beauty, a sense of natural order, a sense of contentment, peace, boredom, tiredness, loneliness, ad infinitum. In a word, this system includes every sense of psychological interiority, and feeling of contemplative spirituality, that we know of.
Because the self is all this and so much more, any description of what remains when it falls away is bound to raise questions of a moral, behavioral, relational, and even of a metaphysical nature. Without a self there arises the question: what becomes the standard of measurement for the good life, right action, decisions, values and so on? To say there is no standard is to say the incomprehensible, but also to say the truth; a truth, however, that is only relative to having no self. Before coming to this state, standards must exist because it is the nature of the self to create them, and then to live by them.
It was this non-relative dimension I found missing when searching through the contemplative literature for insight into this particular state. Since self is a sense of interiority, the criteria of my search for this second contemplative movement was the absence of an interior life — which, of course, I did not find. Instead, I encountered the usual descriptions of love and bliss, lights and energies, God within and the true self, all of them descriptive of the first movement, and all of them belonging to the purely relative affective system. […]
I found no one who admitted or even suggested the complete falling away of the affective life. At most it seems that only its negative aspects are said to disappear, and it was this fact I found most questionable. […]
Feelings of love, bliss, joy, and all things ineffable are merely relative to their opposite, their absence, or some other point along the continuum; so when I encountered these descriptions I knew they were not what I was looking for. They were not indicative of the second movement beyond the self.
It occurred to me that the falling away of the affective life might be a piece of esoteric knowledge not given to the outsider, or even to the proficient, because he would not understand it ahead of time, and as a future prospect, it could prove frightening. So as it stands now, the high contemplative goal is generally regarded as a state of uninterrupted bliss or ecstatic union, which has become the incentive and the expectation. With regard to both movements this is nonsense, of course, but more especially when it is applied to the second non-relative movement that knows no such descriptions of interiority. […]
Living in the now-moment there is no question of how we feel or should feel; there is no conflict, struggle, or practice of anything because this moment allows for no movements backward or forward, either in time or along the continuum. Somehow each moment contains within itself the appropriate action for each tiny event in life without the need for thought or feeling. This is why, perhaps, a non-relative state raises so many philosophical and theological questions. It is not understandable on an intellectual basis; it is beyond the logic, the theory and the practices that we once took for granted would last forever. […]
It is the affective system that gives rise to the feelings, “this is my being, my life, my individuality" and on and on; but without a self there are no such feelings of possession or mistaken identity. […]
To be human, man must have a self because it is part of the subject-object type of consciousness necessary for survival. It is a protective mechanism against physical death and a state of unknowing. And for a time, at least, this is the way it was meant to be. […]
On my way to the library one afternoon, I stopped by Lucille’s house to see if she might be taking her daily walk in my direction. While getting her things together she casually asked me, “So what’s new?” I replied, “I don’t have a self anymore.” She turned to me with a bemused smile, “You, of all people! No self?” and broke into such a hearty laughter that I had to steady her on her feet. When she stopped laughing she asked, “Now tell me, seriously, what does this mean — you have no self?” I told her I didn’t know, which was why I was on my way to the library, to find out. Then she began laughing all over again, and her laughter was infectious; after all, what could be more absurd than losing your self?
In closing this account, I feel a beginning has been made by clearing the ground for much more that remains to be said. As stated initially, this writing stems from the failure to find this movement beyond self in the classical contemplative literature, and though I am no longer concerned for myself, I am concerned for those who may come to a similar end when they discover that their traditional path has suddenly disappeared. Having made this journey I now see, and see clearly, that a dimension unmistakably exists beyond anything that could be described as the self’s union with God — be it called Spiritual Marriage, transforming union, or whatever the terminology one may care to use. For the contemplative to regard such a union as the final or ultimate consummation of his spiritual life is a grave mistake. He is setting his sight at a midway point which, I now see, is too low, too close-in, and too narrow. At this point he may even be so centered in God that he is still subject to the illusion of personal deification […]. Whenever possible, it is best to get beyond such a point, even when letting go means surrendering this union with all its experiences and ensuing qualities of strength, love, certitude, and personal energies; for as long as there is any feeling, knowledge, or inkling that a self remains, he has not gone far enough.