Somebody in my house picked up Suzanne Segal's book, "Collision With the Infinite, " this morning. Outwardly, it seemed to be me. But inwardly, it didn't feel that way.
Even though I've got a bunch of books in my meditation area that were ripe for reading, I was drawn to move into an adjoining bedroom and look over the contents of a couple of bookcases. My right hand followed my eyes after I spotted the book.
Holding it, I didn't have a sense either that I'd made a decision, or that a decision had made me. Something simply had happened.
A few seconds later I was thumbing through "Collision With the Infinite," reacquainting myself with Segal's description of how, while waiting for a bus, she experienced a sudden sense of emptiness -- that the self she'd considered herself to be didn't really exist.
Back in 2007 I wrote about the book in Consider a cosmos that is only consciousness. It was nice to make friends with Segal's thoughts again -- and my own highlightings of favorite passages.
She writes lucidly, honestly, and refreshingly non-dogmatically. I suppose she could be called a "non-dualist," but if this word is used in her book, it isn't often. "Vastness" is her preferred term for what she now feels connected with.
At the bus stop in Paris, the "me" was annihilated, and it has never reappeared in any form. With this annihilation, there occurred the realization that a "me" has never existed who is the doer behind what has appeared to be "my" life. In recent years, it has also become clear that not only is there no "me," there is also no "other."
The "no other-ness" is now so dominant that nothing else is perceived. Life is being lived out of the infinite substance of which it is made, and this substance -- which is what and who we all are -- is constantly aware of itself out of itself. What an extraordinary way to live!
The vastness never requires that something must go away for it to be the vastness. After all, where could anything go in this vastness? ... Nothing has to change, go away, or transform itself into something else for the vastness to be the vastness. The vastness is always who and what everything is.
Now, this outlook is pretty darn close to a bunch of philosophies. Advaita Vedanta. Buddhism. Taoism. Other forms of monism and non-dualism. However, Segal almost entirely writes from her own experience, not from concepts.
For a long time her feeling of emptiness was accompanied by fear. She went to quite a few therapists and spiritual types in an attempt to understand what was going on. A Zen practitioner gave her advice. Then she asked him, "Have you experienced what I'm talking about?"
He admits that he hasn't. She moves on, eventually coming to some conclusions on her own:
This raises questions about the value of performing spiritual practices, studying ancient texts or even living a "spiritual" life. Most practices imply the existence of a "me" who can do the practice and eventually accomplish a particular goal.
But if a practice is undertaken by such a "me" in order to attain the non-locatable vastness of no personal self, then a conundrum or paradox presents itself. A personal doer is presumed to exist who must do the practices properly in order to achieve the realization that there is no personal doer.
...Further, most spiritual practices presume that awakening is someplace else and must be reached or attained. But we are always the vastness -- always! It is the naturally occurring human state.
Where would the vastness go? Where could the infinite hide? What could we possibly need to do to become the vastness, when we already are it?
I liked Segal's contention that any supposedly "spiritual" practice requiring the giving up, elimination, stopping, or purification of something (mind, desires, thoughts, etc.) is misguided.
This fits with my own lengthy experience, thirty-plus years, of practicing a meditation system that emphasized the negativity of Mind -- which earns a capital "M" because it was considered to be not only what goes on inside the human cranium, but also a universal "negative power" that misleads the spiritual aspirant and keeps him/her from entering the realms of Soul.
You can't get much more dualistic than that, which helps explain why the Radha Soami Satsang Beas (RSSB) teachings, a.k.a. Science of the Soul, frequently cited quotations from the Bible.
Just as Christianity posits a Devil or Satan who stands between us and God, so did RSSB claim that Kal or the Negative Power operates through the human mind, which therefore can't be trusted.
Of course, this teaching was communicated by gurus who had a human mind and used it to share their thoughts about spirituality with disciples who received those ideas through their own minds.
Which is a paradox. And points to a way out of these sorts of contradictions: Segal's hypothesis (for her, a certainty) that the individual self/soul/ego or whatever doesn't really exist, but only appears to.
She speaks of how crazy it would be for someone to decry all the seaweed in the ocean. Hey, oceans have seaweed! That's part of what makes them oceans, and not purified water.
Segal also talks of the cosmos as being akin to sand. A finger made of sand draws figures in the sand. It's all sand! Nothing else. To say "the finger, and the forms drawn by it, interferes with the oneness of Sandness" is misguided. There's only sand, no matter how it appears.
Is Segal right? I don't know. Is there such a thing as right and wrong when talking about the ultimate nature of the cosmos? I don't know that either. I simply resonate with what she says.
All ideas about accomplishing spiritual awakening are based on the assumption that there is a someone, a you, who can perform the practices and accomplish the goal. But this someone doesn't exist.
Take, for example, the popular spiritual notion that we need to "get out of the way so the infinite can just flow through us." It is predicated on a non-existent someone who can figure out how to surrender. We need to see that spiritual and psychological practices, every single one of them, are based on taking ideas about who we are to be the truth of who we are.
The idea that we are the doer behind our actions does not make us the doer, no matter how often we get hoodwinked into taking this idea to be truth.
Then there is the notion that we must stop the mind in order to be free. But who will stop the mind? Like everything else, the mind is just what it is. A mind that generates thoughts is not a problem; it is simply doing what minds do. The mind is made of the same vast emptiness as everything.
Whether the mind is active or quiet, this emptiness never changes. Nor does the infinite wait for the mind to do or stop doing something in order for the vastness to reveal itself to itself. If the mind should stop, it simply does so as part of the unfathomable mystery.