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Becoming open to the Self

Part II

The Natural Mind

The natural mind is called by many names, including among others, the unconditioned mind, original-mind, presence and selflessness. It is, in my view, the unconditioned awareness that you were born into when you entered this world. It is always present but most of us have "lost" it.

How could you lose your natural mind? The process begins to unfold very early. There are three aspects to the process. The first might be called primary programs (unconditioned) that are biological in nature. These programs send signals into conscious awareness that we react to. Hunger is one example. When you become aware of a hunger signal, you engage in activity directed at responding to the signal. You engage in activity that results in you consuming food and the program rewards your activity by eliciting satisfaction. Secondary programs(conditioned) are built upon primary programs through choices made and repeated. At the earliest stages one has little choice except to reject or accept what is offered by a caretaker. Later, one begins to have a wider range of choices and some independence from caretakers' choices on your behalf is achieved. Through choices and repetition of those choices new programs are established.

Once a program is established it becomes automatic. Given a choice of foods, you don't have to consciously think about the choices and, even if you do, the probability favors you making a selection that has a repeated history under similar conditions and in similar circumstances. Your automatic program (AP) makes the decision for you and when an impulse to act on the decision enters your conscious awareness (CA), you mentally say to yourself something like, "I think I'll have candied yams. They are really tasty." This is a conscious rationale for an unconscious decision made by an AP. When given choices that you have no history with, such as in an ethnic restaurant whose menu is outside your range of experience, you may be conflicted without your "inner guidance" and will have to actually apply conscious decision making to the choices by seeking more information about the items on the menu or, failing availability of sufficient information, resort to a random selection.

Even in such a situation, your APs may come into play as you gain information and an AP partially matches up with a menu item because of some commonality in an ingredient or ingredients with established choices. An AP may make a decision based on additional information and send a choice (as an impulse) into CA and you mentally say to yourself, "Oh yeah, that dish has lamb in it and I like lamb so I'll go with it." Lacking ingredient similarity, an AP may act on similarity in aroma or appearance. An adult with a lot established programs may seldom fall back on a purely random choice.

In addition to secondary programs there are tertiary programs.Tertiary programs are programs established through directed learning experiences. These may be informal, such as being taught a language or languages in the home, our family doesn't eat pork, Americans support their country, men are leaders and women must pay attention to their appearance. Other informal learning experiences may have social influences that are outside the family such as a peer group, community organizations and the media. You may acquire APs related to such things as music preferences, clothing preferences, religious beliefs, sexual attitudes, political ideals, occupational preferences and prejudices. Other directed learning experiences may be more formal like those found in educational programs to teach subjects like reading, writing, mathematics, history and physics.

[Note:If you would like a demonstration of the reality of these APs, click here "Implicit Attitude" (or paste: in your browser) and take some of the tests, especially those on social attitudes, and compare what you believe about the topics with what the tests reveals.]

Many APs will be functional, efficient and of benefit. Other APs may not be of any particular benefit currently but do no harm. Some, however, may be or may become highly dysfunctional and create a constant source of problems, the origins of which are difficult to identify. One simple example might be a woman who repeatedly makes poor choices in men because of dysfunctional APs that influence what she finds appealing in a man or, conversely, a man who finds problematic women appealing because of dysfunctional APs.

As you develop and acquire more and more APs, you begin to engage in a lot of thoughts, feelings and actions that enter awareness from outside CA. Conscious awareness creates explanations to explain the occurrence of these thoughts, feelings and actions. Over time the explanations are woven into narratives that explain who we are and why we think, feel and act in certain ways. This becomes an evolving self-description or what can be called a fictive-self. The fictive-self usually has several narrative variations, which draw on existing APs and new APs that may develop out of circumstances peculiar to a particular variation. There is usually a variation for each of the long-term roles that we acquire in the course of our lives, such as student, spouse, parent, employee, partner, friend and so on. Some of these variations may be more functional than others and especially dysfunctional when they are contradictory and in conflict.

Another important process in the creation and maintenance of our fictive-self is memory and imagination. When our awareness is not externally focused on some attention-requiring task like composing this essay, it goes into narration mode(a.k.a. default mode network to be discussed later). Memories associated with our narrative arise in CA. We ruminate on past accomplishments, pleasures, failures or misfortunes as a way of illustrating and reinforcing our story. If a memory doesn't fit our story well, we will modify and tweak the memory to bring it into better alignment with our story. We also project these memories through imagination into hypothetical future scenarios, which is different from drawing on past experience in considering how we can accomplish a specific goal. The latter type of thinking is called planning and is not just rumination. Narration strengthens our story and our identification with it.

We become strongly identified with the fictive-self we weave. It becomes us and we go through our lives thinking that we are the story that we have created to explain the APs operating outside of CA that direct our thoughts, feelings and actions. The more strongly we are identified with our fictive-self, the less aware we are of our original self and the less self-agency we exercise. In short, we have lost our natural mind and, in the process, the ability to see the world as it is rather than as it appears through the explanatory filters we have created to explain the effects of our APs. Literally, I AM my story and my story is ME, but a story is just that -- a story. Some people arrive at such an understanding spontaneously.

This epiphany about the fictive-self tends to be powerful, transformative and is often viewed as a spiritual event. The moon astronaut Edgar Mitchel described such events as noetic events. Because of a noetic event he experienced on a return trip from the moon, Edgar Mitchel created an organization to study such events. This organization is called The Institute for Noetic Science (click on the name or go to:

Personally, I had such a noetic event when I was seventeen years of age that revealed to me that my concept of self was simply a matrix of beliefs in which I had invested my identity. This was a transformative experience for me, but one that took years to manifest its effects and be fully understood. A decade later, I had a second noetic event in which I realized that, not only do we have a personal matrix of beliefs that we identify with, but there is a larger more universal matrix in which our personal matrix is embedded and entangled. If you're interested in these two noetic events in my life, they are covered in “A Personal Odyssey” (see Appendix 4).

Stories can be changed. The techniques discussed in Part I include methods for working on your APs and the story you have spun about them. Self-agency is the tool that needs to be developed, if you want to improve your story and change the way you relate to the world. Just knowing that your life is articulated by a story and making that story more functional can make significant improvements in your life.

However, recognizing that you are identified with a story and improving that story will not alone restore your natural mind. Restoring the natural mind requires that you stop identifying with the story that you've woven around your APs and relax back into the pure awareness of being. Being present with the natural mind will provide a fresh perspective on everything and you can respond to situations as if they were unique happenings, not instances of AP-driven events that make up part of the story that is your fictive-self. Being in the natural mind will let life flow through you unimpeded by efforts to control and direct it to make it conform to your story.

Ending identification with your I, fictive-self, ego, personality or whatever term you want to use for the construct is not generally something that people find easy to do even though the idea may appeal to them. There are many approaches to ending identification with the story and most of them involve extended programs of meditation. Meditation will give you greater access to material that has largely been outside of conscious awareness for most of your life. Coming to know and understand your APs will lead you to an intuitive understanding of the fictive nature of your ego or self. It is this direct understanding that begins to free you from identification with your story. It is this state, of being free of your fictive-self, that was referred to earlier in Pathway One as Step Three in meditation. Of course, the natural mind goes beyond a meditation practice and carries across into your normal daily activities.

Many spiritual teachings speak of losing the self or getting rid of the ego or living totally in the present moment. All of these notions should be considered as metaphorical ways of saying that you should stop identifying with your story. This also means you stop rehearsing, reinforcing and elaborating your story or in other words living in your mind. You can't get rid of your fictive-self because it serves useful purposes. But your phone, computer or car serve useful purposes and mentally healthy people don't invest their identify in them. These and many other useful things in your life are just tools. Likewise, once you stop identifying with your story, your fictive-self simply becomes a cognitive tool that is used as needed and then put aside until needed again.

To illustrate what this might feel like, consider the following scenario. You were selected ten years ago by your employer to go overseas to work in a subsidiary. Let's say that you went to Germany, if you're a German pick another country. You lived in Germany for ten years and became fluent in the language and came to understand the culture. Call this your German identity. At the end of ten years, you return home to work in the corporate headquarters.

You now operate in a way consistent with your native culture and speak your native language. One evening you are having dinner in a restaurant and overhear some German tourists having difficulty with the menu and with communicating their orders to the waiter. You get up go over to their table and in German ask them if you might be of assistance. They readily accept and you help them negotiate the items on the menu and place their orders for them with the waiter. The Germans invite you to join them and you do so and put your German identity to work during the dinner. When this dinner is finished and you leave the restaurant, the German identity is no longer needed and it is put to "bed" so to speak.

Think of your fictive-self as similar to this hypothetical German identity. When you can put it to "bed" and wake it up when circumstances require it, you will bring to an end most if not all of the narration that has previously had a near continuous run in the theater of your mind. You can now live your life largely in the present moment, which is all that really exists. You will have a much fresher and unencumbered view of events and can respond to them on their own terms rather than in terms of the character in a play of your own authorship. Thus, you have recovered your natural mind.

Many spiritual traditions see the recovery of the natural mind as the first step in moving on to a full opening to Consciousness and identification with what might be thought of as Source Consciousness. For example it might have been the natural mind that Jesus was referring to in the following:

"Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven."

A translation of this into other terminology might read, "Frankly, unless you can regain your natural mind, you will be unable to know Source Consciousness." You can replace Source Consciousness with whatever terminology works best for you. Examples might include Christ Consciousness, Divine Consciousness, God, Unified Field of Consciousness, the Absolute and so on.

Regaining the natural mind is significant in itself. However, for those so inclined, it can become a doorway. Passing through that doorway opens possibilities for access to much broader and deeper aspects of Consciousness.


The above title, unlike the book by the same title, has nothing to do with alien abductions. It is drawn from something one of my sons used to say when very young. If asked why he did something he would often reply, "It just took me." That observation seems apropos to this section.

Based on reading, listening to a number of people discuss their spiritual transformations and my own noetic experiences, I reached the following conclusions about spiritual awakening or Self-realization:

1. You can't develop it. There are no steps you can master one at at time. It is not like working through a belt system in karate. There is no black belt to be attained in the end by passing a series of tests.

2.You can't learn it. The study of theology, philosophy or spiritual teachings will not help. As one Self-realized being remarked, "...many of you are too intelligent for your own good. You have developed ways of interpreting the world that are highly complex. And so in order to address you...I am called upon to help you get past your education back to the simplicity of being, which is that God is Love...."

3.You can't earn it. Being charitable and doing good works may make you feel good and may be needed and appreciated by the recipients, but such actions do not contribute to some "spiritual score board."

Self-realization is equally available to a serial killer and a pious nun. Going to church and going to a casino are equally efficacious. In short, you have no control over it. It is largely out of your hands. It just takes you.

So, how do you come to be taken? The simple answer is by Grace (see Definitions). However, there appear to be three things that you can do that might serve as an "invitation" to Supraliminal Consciousness (see Definitions), Christ Consciousness, Source Consciousness; etc., to manifest. The operative word here is "might." The first is meditation. The specific practice is not important as long as it makes the fictive-self or ego transparent. This simply means clearing the egoic veil so that there is an opening making it easier for Supraliminal Consciousness to shine through your mask. A transparent self is essentially the natural mind. Returning to this state of mind has many benefits in and of itself. It is not, however, a condition necessary for Grace. The second is self-inquiry. This is a contemplative method that focuses on the question, "Who is aware of being conscious?" Clearly, your story doesn't have awareness so if the character in your story isn't aware who is? The third is by Transmission (see Definitions). Transmission is an invitation extended through a person in whom Source Consciousness has manifested. Contact with the power of the Supraliminal Consciousness emanating from such a person can create an opening in those exposed, if they are receptive. The operative word here is "can." None of these methods are necessary to manifest Source Consciousness but the first two might be considered personally beneficial things to do while waiting to be taken. In the end, it is entirely dependent upon Grace. "All you can do is create a space for transformation to happen, for grace and love to enter.” Eckhart Tolle


Of the two practices mentioned, meditation and self-inquiry, meditation is probably the most widely known. For our purposes let's focus on an important purpose of meditation since basic instructions for meditation were covered in Part I. An aphorism that arose during one of my meditations seems like a good way to introduce the basic purpose of meditation. The aphorism, Ego is the mask God wears while pretending to be you. What this aphorism suggests is that your ego or fictive-self is a mask that hides the fact that your local consciousness is merely an aspect of non-local Consciousness. Recall the idea of Supraliminal Consciousness as the full “bandwidth” of Consciousness that includes a constricted stream of consciousness that typically leaves one unaware of the higher aspects of the full “bandwidth” potentially available. What constricts Consciousness is the conditioned mind that operates through APs and about which your story is spun.

One purpose of meditation is to relax one's psychological guard sufficiently that you recognize workings of the self that usually reside outside of conscious awareness and can therefore begin considering their appropriateness. If memories arise with associated thoughts or feelings that cause a contraction in you, that is, they cause some type of negative emotional response, judgment or avoidance reaction, it is likely that these memories are related to negative APs and are embedded in your story. This content needs to be examined and if appropriate cleared or neutralized. This processing doesn't necessarily have to be done through meditation as was discussed earlier. Another non-meditative approach for dealing with negative APs is described below.

Michael Singer in his book, The Surrender Experiment, relates how he began a practice of observing his reaction to choices that arose in his life and if he felt a contraction about or resistance to one of the choices open to him; i.e., an urge to reject a choice, he simply said "yes" to that choice. It is important to recognize that the critical component here is being self-aware and recognizing when one has no sound basis for rejecting a choice that is eliciting a negative feeling. This is a pretty good indicator that an AP is involved. This wouldn't be applicable, for example, to a situation where you got two bids on a job and one was significantly more costly than the other. It would be reasonable in such a case to reject the more costly proposal, given all other factors being equal. Thus, Singer's practice would not dictate saying "yes" to the less attractive bid simply because you want to reject it. That decision to reject is based on objective factors, not subjective factors. The results from this practice for Singer were truly amazing.

The second purpose of meditation is to quiet the incessant chatter of the mind so that it becomes easier to recognize that one is essentially the awareness that observes what is taking place within consciousness and not the body/mind, which is a mechanism making physical experiences available to consciousness. Further, awareness is not the explanation or story that one spins to explain these experiences. Teachers that provide practices that facilitate this purpose are Leonard Jacobson, Richard Moss and Rupert Spira, among others. Jacobson puts his emphasis on being present in the moment, which means being fully absorbed in awareness of what is present rather than "lost in the mind," as he often puts it. Richard Moss teaches a process of monitoring where attention is focused, which he says can be in the past, in the future, in one's story, in stories about others (not limited to people) or in the present moment. He suggests that anytime you find your attention focused in one of the first four locations (or some combination of them), you simply shift your attention and focus to the present. Spira teaches that true meditation is a state in which attention is fully relaxed. He teaches that when you learn to fully relax attention, you have no where to go except into the source of attention, which is simple awareness of presence. All three teachers have a similar goal for their teaching but employ somewhat different approaches to the goal.

There have been several findings in brain research that I think have some bearing on meditation. Brain imaging studies have recently identified a network of brain areas and their associated functions that have been named the default mode network.This network has been labeled default because it seems to be responsible for most brain activity taking place when one's attention is not specifically engaged. It would appear that focused attention draws largely upon other brain areas and those areas represent a separate network, which to my knowledge has not been labeled. For simplicity's sake let's hereafter just refer to the "default mode network as the Relaxed Attention Network (RAN) and the other state as the Focused Attention Network (FAN). These networks are illustrated in the figure below.

Two views of the brain with the RAN in blue and the FAN in orange and yellow.

We are all familiar with the notion of left brain and right brain functions, but apparently there is another "divide" along the lines of a brain using focused attention and a brain whose attention processes are relaxed. As with the left and right brain concept, the RAN and FAN brain states do not necessarily mean exclusive functions for each network but rather primary functions. The FAN is frequently directed externally but can also be directed internally at specific cognitive tasks or physical states. The FAN appears to be more analytic and rational, while the RAN seems to be more metaphorical and imaginative.

The FAN appears to engage those areas of the brain that govern executive functions such as active attention, decision making, problem solving and planning. It accesses and uses knowledge and skills that an individual has acquired for engaging tasks of various sorts. It also exercises control over motor functions needed to engage in voluntary actions like drawing or surgery. If you're trying to cognitively inventory the things that you will need to take with you on a trip, to relax a tight muscle in your neck, learn how to solve quadratic equations or teach a child to read, the FAN is engaged. However, when activities requiring focused attention come to an end, RAN is automatically your default state. Clearly, if you're doing nothing but sitting staring out a window, the RAN will engage. However, when you're engaged in routine activities that don't require focused attention such as running on a treadmill or driving down a stretch of road with little or no traffic, you usually will default to RAN. Even when focused attention may be needed, boredom can result in inattention and defaulting to RAN.

When RAN is engaged what you get appears similar to free association or random presentation. In this state, thoughts, memories, images and feelings stream into awareness often with little or no apparent structure. As long as these stimuli stream, you remain in RAN. However, if you focus on one or more of these stimuli and begin to engage with it, FAN comes back into operation. Thus, FAN can be focused on either an external or an internal task. To illustrate the process of going from RAN to an internal version of FAN, think of standing in front of a conveyor belt and watching suitcases streaming by. This is analogous to RAN generated thoughts and images streaming through awareness. If you grab one of these suitcases off of the conveyor belt and begin unpacking it, this is analogous to focusing on one thought or image and following a chain of associations elicited by your attention to it. You are now back in FAN focused on an internal task. This, however, is usually a less engaged level of FAN than the level, for example, required for solving quadratic equations or teaching someone to read. This suggests that there are degrees of FAN and RAN, meaning that they are not "digital" states that are either on or off.

My introspective observation is that RAN is largely responsible for the creation of a fictive-self, self-narrative or ego and especially for maintaining and reinforcing it (see Research Update in Appendix 6). One way of thinking about the ego is as a psychological construct that functions as the subject or "doer" assigned responsibility for our activities. This fictive-self begins forming early in the developmental period and generally becomes stronger as a child ages into an adult. It seems to me, again from introspective observation, that most of the activity generated by RAN is to bring into awareness thoughts, images and memories associated with our experiences. These become the "bricks" from which we build, repair and reinforce our fictive-self or ego.

Initially, the mind begins a process of organizing this information into some sort of kernel story that is rooted in and identified with the body and the development of the notion of boundaries. This becomes the core construct around which our fictive-self or personal narrative evolves. An important function of the fictive-self or ego is providing a sense of coherence and continuity to our life experience. It becomes the basis for the meaning we assign to our lives. As our narrative becomes fairly well established more and more of what arises from the RAN are thoughts, ideas, images, attitudes, opinions and judgments (among others inputs) that reinforce our fictive-self and ensure our identification with the narrative.

The fictive-self can be recognized through the stream of "self-talk" that dominates awareness when the FAN is engaged with content RAN has generated. Much of this "self-talk" and can be recognized as rehearsal of one's personal narrative. We become the fiction we have created to explain our self to our self. We are like a hamster trapped in an exercise wheel -- always running but never getting anywhere. If you want to escape, you must first become aware of the structure of your personal narrative by examining the themes in your self-talk and what they imply about the beliefs, opinions and attitudes largely operating beneath your awareness and directing you like a puppet master. Gaining control of the strings linking you to your puppet master is the most essential step required for freedom.

I would suggest that very young children, before the core construct for the fictive-self is established, are not individuated. Therefore, their consciousness is more likely to be resonate with what some describe as Source Consciousness. It is perhaps worth repeating a comment made earlier concerning what Jesus may have had in mind when he said, “Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.Or, as I discussed earlier, regain your "natural mind." In other words, you cannot access Source Consciousness or the Absolute ("kingdom of heaven") unless you can first learn to stand aside from the fictive-self ("be converted") and return to a less individuated manifestation of consciousness ("become as little children").

One thought that comes to mind while thinking about RAN and meditation is that during meditation two things are likely to happen. First, the FAN is disengaged and, second, the RAN is engaged. These are operations that most of us fall into with hardly a thought. However, the purpose of meditation cannot be to simply engage the RAN, because if that were true, then there would be no difference between meditation and daydreaming. So, the question arises, what is the relationship between the RAN and meditation?

Many meditation teachers initially advocate the practice of mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness meditation (narrowly defined) is usually described as concentrating on a specific focus such as a rhythmic function like the breath, an auditory stimulus or a visual stimulus. The nature of the auditory or visual stimulus suggested will vary depending upon the tradition from which the suggestion is coming, but there is no evidence that I am aware of indicating any functional difference between the effects of different stimuli from different traditions. For example, if the focus is on a sound such as "Aum" or "Amen," then during mindfulness meditation one simply uses this sound either vocalized or sub-vocalized as a focus, and whenever one recognizes that the focus of attention has drifted, the instruction is to simply mentally note the deviation and return to the focus.

It seems that the basic process in this form of meditation is to learn to use a solitary focus of attention that requires no thought, which engages FAN at a low level. Keeping FAN engaged at a low level with such a stimulus helps avoid becoming entangled in the activity of the RAN. Once this condition is met, one can observe the products of RAN running in the background, so to speak. It has been said that the function of the mind is to generate thoughts, just as the function of the heart is to pump blood. If that is so, it is the RAN that is largely responsible for generating the thoughts, which are broadly defined to include almost all mental activity.

What one must learn to avoid is engaging FAN with any of the stimuli thrown up by RAN. Of course, this will happen and happen regularly for beginners. The only solution is to gently withdraw FAN from the RAN product it has engaged and move it back to the meditative or simple observational focus. As said earlier, the first step is to learn to recognize your self as merely an observer.

In the process of learning to hold FAN at "arms length" and simply observing the products of RAN passing through awareness, one begins to get a good sense of what sorts of stimuli are being generated by RAN. Frequently, patterns will emerge among the stimuli passing through awareness. This is how one begins to get a handle on the beliefs, opinions, judgments, expectations and attitudes largely operating beneath your awareness.

Many people may also have emotional reactions to patterns of stimuli that relate to negative events in their lives and may be initially overwhelmed by their emotions. These events have probably made contributions of importance to your personal narrative. They may also be the source especially of beliefs, etc. that affect your functioning. Becoming aware of these potent cognitive components "pulling your strings" is the first step in gaining control of those strings and letting them fall away. This is the second step in a meditation practice.

Most spiritual teachings that point one toward Self-Realization consider being able to sustain full presence in the moment (the natural mind) to be a necessary condition. Regaining the natural mind first requires controlling those puppet strings directing your life from outside awareness. By presence what is meant is that what you experience, whether events, thoughts, feelings, sensations, objects or people, are simply that. You register these stimuli in your awareness but your mind brings to them no preconceived interpretation and makes no judgment arising from such interpretations. This does not necessarily mean that you will draw no conclusion about what you are aware of but that any such conclusion will be untainted by the content of ego. You will discover that in most instances no conclusions are necessary at all. What you observe is simply what it is and requires nothing from you. This is the third step in a meditation practice.

The transition to the third step in one's meditation practice is not a sharp or clear transition. However, at some point the process of noting the activity generated by the RAN and recognizing and dealing with patterns related to your beliefs, opinions, judgments, expectations and attitudes begins to develop into an intuitive understanding of the conditioned nature of that aspect of consciousness we call the self. With this intuitive insight comes an opportunity to begin the process of standing aside or dis-identifying with the fictive-self or ego that is the illusion you refer to as "me."

"The illusion of [the] "permanent" self dissolving as awareness penetrates and knows the illusion. Moving deeper, beyond the small self, beyond aversion and attachment, beyond ignorance."Barbara Brodsky and John Orr (meditation teachers, see Links page).

Meditation then becomes a natural abiding in awareness of awareness. One's attention is both relaxed and focused in the present moment. One does not dwell on the imagined future or recollected past. One does not spin "ego stories" about the self nor explanatory stories about others, which can include institutions, organizations or people. One is able to live in the natural mind. Knowing Source Consciousness or the Absolute still depends upon grace, but one has done all that is possible to make oneself vulnerable to it and ready to expand into it should it occur.

There is one practice, which I think of as contemplative meditation, that is worth mentioning separately. This is the use, by one school of Zen meditation, of what is known as a koan. A koan is a riddle that is used as the focus of meditation. For example, the widely quoted koan, "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" Zen is not the only source of such riddles. Here are a couple from non-Zen sources, "The only way out is in" and "There is only one mind" (some other contemplative verses are in Appendix 7). It appears that the purpose of a koan is to shut down the RAN by silencing its near incessant chatter with an intellectual conundrum that has no rational solution. This not only serves as a focus for FAN but exhausts FAN's efforts to bring rational understanding to the conundrum. At the point of exhaustion one might say rationality implodes, leaving what Zen refers to as "no mind" or, according to the Hindu sage Pantanjali, puts one beyond words and concepts. The American mystic Franklin Merrill-Wolf describes this state as consciousness without an object. More information on the effects of meditation on advanced practitioners is in Appendix Two.

Keep in mind that none of the above is necessary and sufficient for Self-realization to take you. They can certainly help prepare you for dealing with the event and advancing it should it occur but it has taken many people who did nothing. In some cases, they rejected the event because they found it confusing and frightening but not always. If you take up meditation or other practices, take them up for the self-insight and other benefits, such as improved health, they might provide rather than as a path that leads to Self-realization. The end goal is for your daily life to become your meditation.


Self-inquiry is not a meditation technique, at least not in the usual sense. The requirement is that you monitor your thoughts all day, every day and use the self-inquiry to put your focus of attention on simple awareness whenever you find yourself getting caught up in ego thoughts or stories. This technique can be combined with meditation and may be helpful in getting the procedure established, but it is not sufficient to do it for one or two short periods each day. In an interview, Eckhart Tolle said if one had a choice between two fifty-minute meditation sessions per day or 100 one-minute meditations, he'd go with the 100 one-minute sessions hands down. He did say both would be better. However, he didn't say what he meant by a one-minute meditation. I think self-inquiry would make for a fruitful one-minute meditation. If you want to progress then you have to work at it all the time, not just in some isolated short-term practice session.

Self-inquiry is frequently associated with the teachings of the great Indian sage, of the early twentieth century, Sri Ramana Maharshi. Below is an excerpt from an interview with him by a student that addresses Self-inquiry.

Q: Is there any use to reading books for those seeking Self-realization?

A: All the texts say that in order to gain release, one should render the mind quiescent; therefore, their conclusive teaching is that the mind should be rendered quiescent. Once this has been understood there is no need for endless reading. In order to quieten the mind one has only to inquire within oneself what one's Self is; how could this search be done in books?

Q1: What is the path of inquiry for understanding the nature of the mind?

A1: That which arises in thought as "I" is the mind. By the inquiry, "Who am I?", the thought, "Who am I?" will destroy other thoughts. [Other words may be used in place of "Who," and some prefer "What."]

Q2: How might one consistently hold on to the thought, "Who am I?"

A2: When other thoughts arise, one should not pursue them but should inquire, "To whom do they arise?" As each thought arises, one should inquire with diligence, "To whom has this thought arisen?" The answer will be in the form of "To me." To this, one should inquire, "Who am I?" The mind will go back to its source. With regular repetition, the mind will develop the skill of staying in its source.

Q3: Are there no other means for making the mind quiescent?

A3: Other than inquiry, there are no adequate means. Other techniques such as meditation on the breath can aid the mind in being quiet but will not stop the mind.

Ramana Maharshi's basic process for Self-inquiry is to question every thought that arises that is extraneous to focused attention on a task. For example, one would not question thoughts when one is engaged in necessary tasks such as repairing a door or trying to puzzle out how to improve the gas mileage in one's automobile. One would question thoughts related to how one isn't appreciated for one's effort to repair the door or thoughts about one's spouse's driving habits being a major reason for poor gas mileage in the family car.

In my view, the most critical information in the above exchange is in A2. Primarily, what one is attempting to do is first stop identifying with arising thoughts, which means recognizing that you are the observer of these thoughts. You are not the thoughts. Secondarily, the task is to slow and finally stop the arising of extraneous thoughts. Recall the earlier discussion of a special brain network called the default mode network(relaxed attention network) that feeds a steady stream of memories, images and thoughts to ego whenever it isn't actively engaged in the external world. This stream of mental activity is what I mean by extraneous thoughts.

What Ramana means when he says not to pursue them is that one should not focus on them and begin a process of association and elaboration of the extraneous thoughts. Think of extraneous thoughts as being analogous to compressed data files on a computer and pursuing one of them as analogous to selecting and unzipping (unpacking) the compressed file. Think of the compressed file as having a label that says Chapter Seven and “unpacking” it to decompressing and opening the file, then printing it out and reading all of its pages. What I think Ramana means by "staying in the source" is resting in pristine conscious awareness or what I earlier referred to as the natural mind. Thus, the answer to the question "Who am I?" is not the thought, not the emotion, not the sensation, not the perception that stimulated the question but rather, "I am the Self who observes these stimuli arising in awareness." By implication, I AM CONSCIOUS AWARENESS.

Our true Self is the connection within all of us to our individuated consciousness that is an extension of Source Consciousness, from which all of physical reality arises. The ego is said to be self-referential because, while all operations flow from Source Consciousness, most of us have no experience of Source Consciousness and so, when the body/mind acts, the question arises as to the source of the action. The fictive-self (ego) is created and maintained in part to answer this question; i.e., I (ego) acted. Thus, a psychological construct (ego, self) is mistaken for essential being or Self.

The three contemporary teachers briefly discussed earlier, Leonard Jacobson, Richard Moss and Rupert Spira are doing variations on Ramana's approach in that all three emphasize a focus on awareness in the present moment and working at establishing such awareness as an ongoing process and not as an isolated practice such as a daily meditation period. Spira has suggested that an alternative way to approach Self-inquiry is to use the question, "Am I aware?" instead of "Who am I?" He teaches that the only way to answer that question is to go to the source of awareness (being aware of awareness) as opposed to awareness of something. This happens automatically when one seeks an answer to the question. The second step once you're aware of awareness is to keep attention relaxed and not focus attention on anything in particular within awareness. In short, learn to simply be awareness, to be fully present, to be here now. Jacobson teaches that one should monitor one's thoughts, and when one finds oneself getting lost in the mind, become present with whatever is before you in the moment. One technique that I employ to this end is when extraneous thoughts arise into awareness, I say to myself "not that -- this," which is shorthand for "not the thought that has entered conscious awareness but what is literally present right in front of me. Sometimes I'll also incorporate Spira's question, "Am I aware?" as an aid to focus on being aware of awareness.There is an eclectic program of meditation and self-inquiry in Appendix Eight.

Acting in the World

In an essay I titled The Nature of Evil (see Appendix 9), it was posited that within relative reality, which is subsumed by Absolute reality, there is a bipolar conception of behavior that ranges from ignorant at one end to enlightened at the other end. Of course, as with any bipolar construct, one might define a number of intermediate positions between the anchor points at either end of the dimension. In the earlier essay, ignorant behavior was defined as including what is generally thought of as "evil" but went on to include many types of behavior that probably would not generally be thought of as evil, though they might still be considered wrong. The core defining characteristic of ignorant behavior is perceiving everything external to oneself (subject) as an "object" suitable to be used in any way one sees fit to meet one's needs and especially wants (egocentric). Wants in this case being something that one has no objective need for but has acquired a desire to possess or consume in some manner. Objects external to the self can be anything, including material objects, social phenomena, plants, animals and especially other people.

The core defining characteristic of enlightenment is Self-realization or recognition that one's consciousness is in fact not an individual phenomenon but is a localized manifestation of Source Consciousness, which becomes more available through enlightenment. Some subject/object functioning remains a necessity even for a Self-realized person, due to the necessity of operating in a relativistic context. However, egocentric wants will no longer drive the motivational state of such persons, and thus they will not view objects in the world to be simple means to an end.

Earlier, the natural mind was described as a state of functioning that is virtually ego-free but without full Self-realization, ego-free in the sense that one identifies with conscious awareness rather than the body/mind. Rupert Spira has said that this is a half-way point between ignorance and Self-realization. The natural mind is also a state relatively free from the conditioned or automatic programs that usually govern much of one's emotional/behavioral functioning. Methods for working on conditioned, automatic programs (APs) is the topic of the earlier part of this book. These APs are acquired largely through our socialization and come to be organized around and understood through a narrative, which may consist of multiple but related stories constructed from our experiences and our memories of them. My term for this narrative is the fictive-self.Neutralizing many of our conditioned ways of interpreting the physical and social environment facilitates becoming free of ego-driven thinking, feeling and acting, i.e., deconstructing and ending our identification with the fictive-self. Once operating from the natural mind, one is available for (i.e., not resisting) a transformation of consciousness through an opening to Source Consciousness. This is not, however, something that one can "make" happen but must allow to take one as discussed earlier.

As long as one lives in the relative world, there will be choices arising out of the dualistic underpinnings of relative reality. In a book by Jon Marc Hammer, an interesting distinction was drawn. Hammer referred to the earth and the world as being distinct. The former is Gaia-like, which according to Wikipedia, refers to a hypothesis proposing that "...organisms interact with their inorganic surroundings on Earth to form a self-regulating, complex system that contributes to maintaining the conditions for life on the planet." Hammer would go one step further and say that this complex system is an organism and that all components of it arise out of Consciousness and to varying degrees possess consciousness. The world according to Hammer is a complex of ideas, concepts, beliefs and expectations that govern a drama called "human culture and civilization" performed on a stage called earth. Hammer's drama recalls to mind some lines from a poem titled Outlaw (see Appendix 5) that I wrote many years ago in an effort to capture a truth revealed to me during a noetic event (see Definitions). Several lines from that poem:

And the man knew God

And he was made free.

All history and tradition

Culture and words

Rescinded -- Grace.

Freedom from the past

And from the future.

An outlaw.

Eckhart Tolle makes a similar distinction albeit on a smaller scale. He speaks of one's life-situation versus one's life.Your life-situation is analogous to how you "stand" in relation to the world.Your life is related to your role as one of the biological organisms of which the earth is partially comprised. The world and life-situations are governed by the mind while the earth and life are governed by natural processes.

Consider the world to be a large web spun around the earth. The strands comprising this web can, for example, be thought of, but not limited to: political systems and ideologies, systems of law and concepts of justice, economic and financial systems, occupations, art, music, fashion, religions, philosophies, moral systems, science and technology, social mores, educational systems, systems of kinship and social classes based on maternity and paternity, “race”, ethnicity, wealth, gender and various other characteristics. One's life-situation results from the strands in the web of the world one identifies with and uses to define oneself. Now, imagine that all human life were eliminated from the earth. What would happen to this web comprising the world that most of us think of as reality?It would vanish instantly, clearly showing that it was not real at all but simply a product of the mind. What would happen to the earth and life? They would still be here and would continue on following the natural processes that have always ordered them.

A person acting from a conditioned mind is entangled in the world and cannot see beyond it. When one is functioning from a conditioned mind or ego, choices are ruled by APs, which are conditioned programs, many of which reflect beliefs, opinions and expectations that we have adopted that are related to the world. Such choices are often described as judgments or prejudices. Someone who has regained their natural mind acts through the application of naive thought and intuitive discernment. Thus, the natural mind functions in the world through the development and practice of naive thought and discernment. Discernment means seeing the "unfiltered" nature of things or seeing through the web. Thus, the natural mind must weave its way through the world distinguishing between essential and superficial characteristics when choices must be made.

Do understand that the web comprising the world is not an illusion and has real consequences that one must take into account. However, the natural mind helps give one a perspective on the web that opens the possibility of navigating it without becoming lost in it. The American mystic Franklin Merrill-Wolff spoke of what he called the "high indifference," by which he seemed to be referring to this ability to rise above the web and gain some perspective on it. This does not mean one is indifferent to the real needs of the living but only that one responds to them independent of egoistic influences. While Merrill-Wolff recognized that it is virtually impossible to completely disengage from the world, he thought that one could function in the world without being of the world. The natural mind is grounded in life and being, not in the world of the mind or as Leonard Jacobson often says, " the world of time."

Some choices involve simple preferences. For example, given a choice between several flavors of creamer for your coffee, personal preferences are adequate for making a choice. However, having found your way back to the natural mind, one no longer has beliefs and opinions (prejudgments) to rely upon in making many choices. One is left with naive thought and intuitive discernment as the basis for making these choices. This means carefully considering the worldly context for a choice and then determining an independent course of action in the present circumstance that is best suited to the true requirements of the situation.

Such choices seem to be close to what the Buddhists mean by right action. There are no hard and fast rules for right action. However, if one approaches decision points without being entangled in and identified with the world, one will usually arrive at the right action. This may simply flow from an unencumbered understanding, or it may be informed by intuitive discernment about what to do. If right action isn't apparent don't rush, allow the situation to settle into the natural mind and wait for an insight into right action. For those who have freed themselves from the conditioned mind, right action arises from the heart.