Nevada Sky
Creative Commons License photo credit: RealEstateZebra

At one point when I was young and stupid (that’s a joke people) I misread various texts and thought they literally meant one should destroy the ego. I even remember wondering if this meant I would somehow no longer be me post ego-death. The fear I felt at such a thought sprang from attachment. Understood in this way ego-death seemed not much different from physical death. In a sense I would cease to exist.

Now my current understanding is that the ego doesn’t exist in and of itself so there really isn’t anything to kill. That is, the ego exists as the product of previous causal factors. It is not something that exists separate and distinct from everything else. The ego, like everything else, is part of a giant web of interconnectedness. I came to realize this when I read a Buddhist text called Stages of Meditation. The text emphasized that the sense of self is like an illusion. Not that our ego is an illusion.

It was then that I realized what the texts I had been reading were trying to express. In psychology an illusion is a perception that represents what is perceived in a way different from the way it is in reality. So I realized the text meant we are deceived into perceiving the ego as separately existent when in fact in reality it is not.

Further it is my current understanding that my ego is not, in a sense, “me”. It is the product of past causal conditions playing themselves out as complex effects. Mindfulness meditation allows me, when I am mindful both in meditation and in day to day life, to watch the playing out without that playing out having any further causal effect and so on.

In fact I don’t think there is any “me” that can be tied down. The “me” today is not the “me” of yesterday. Change is constant. As a simple example and in just a physical sense 2,000,000 red blood cells die and must be replaced every second. It is believed that all our cells of our physical body are completely renewed every seven years. With new research suggesting it may be as often as every year.

Somewhere, I feel that, at the core of my being, is a place like the sky. The sky is always clear and blue. Sometimes clouds come and then clouds go. All the while the sky is still the sky. Clear and blue.

I think we tend to mistake the clouds for the sky. That is, I think we mistake our thoughts, our emotions, feelings and behavioral patterns as being “I”. As I see it (ha!) such things are not “I”. They are dependent upon external causal factors beyond any one person’s control. Thoughts, emotions and even behavioral patterns come and they just as quickly go. These things are to what I fundamentally am as clouds are to the sky.

Call what I metaphorically describe as the sky consciousness. Call it whatever you like. Words are just limited symbolic labels and not the thing itself. Whatever it is it feels like my irreducible fundamental being. Trying to describe it is like trying to describe the sky. We describe the sky by talking about the things in the sky like clouds and stars.

Try describing a hole in a piece of wood without describing it in terms of the things around it. You could say the hole is brown. But really that is the color of the wood not the hole. You could say the hole is round. But really that is the shape of the wood surrounding the hole. You could say that the hole is empty space. And there perhaps we would be getting somewhere but even then perhaps the hole contains space but it still not the space itself. Thus the way we see ourselves is like an illusion. We perceive ourselves in a way that is different to how we really are. We think we are the clouds because we mistake them for the sky.

One result of this sort of thinking is that what we truly are is beyond the ability of our limited physical senses to detect. This suggests that we are not even mind. I have heard mind described as also being physical. Consider a light bulb. It is physical. Now consider the light that emanates from the light bulb. It is also physical. It can be detected by our limited physical sense of sight. Now consider the electricity that powers the light bulb. It to is physical. Subtle. Yet still physical. So to is mind.

On the subject of words I always like to remind myself that words are simply symbolic representations and not the thing that they represent itself. I find it very interesting that we generally think in a language. I was born and live in Australia where the predominant language is English. Thus I think in English. More to the point when I think in English I think in a socially conditioned manner. Considering a language is mutually agreed upon symbolic behavior.

This is why I love the non-discursive experience of meditation and often post-meditation. While sitting often I will hear a dog bark. At which point I feel no need to discursively mention to myself in English that a dog is barking. I simply experience the event as it is. The clouds they come. The clouds they go.

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