As noted before, one reason, among many, why I enjoy Paul Breer's books about the illusion of free will and of independent selfhood is that in addition to persuasively arguing why we humans lack free will or an enduring Self he talks about how these illusions can be markedly reduced, if not outright eliminated.
His second book, Beyond Self-Realization: A Sectarian Path to Enlightenment, has the greatest focus on "how to." I'm only about a quarter of the way through it, but I've come across some tips that make sense to me.
Breer was a student of Zen Buddhism for five years. He observes that Zen, like most spiritual traditions which don't believe in an immaterial soul or self, basically has the attitude that enlightenment -- defined as a recognition of no-self (and by implication, no-free-will) -- is best attained by detouring around the notion of selfhood and free will that virtually everybody has.
Meaning, these traditions don't aim directly at demolishing that notion, which Breer views as being akin to a boulder in the road that usually is bypassed instead of blowing it up. Breer, though, favors a blow it up approach. Or at least, chipping away at the boulder until it is just a small rock.
However, some of his techniques for doing this that I've come across so far are mainstream approaches in Buddhism, which includes Zen. So I'm suspecting that later on in the book I'll learn about Breer's more explosive techniques.
An approach he talks about quite a bit is akin to the noticing or labeling technique of mindfulness. But rather than saying to ourself, "I'm angry" or "I'm sad" or whatever, Breer prefers leaving out the "I" and saying "Anger is arising here" or "Sadness is arising here," where here means the body/mind of the person experiencing those emotions.
Over time this diminishes our sense of being a freely willing agent, or a self to whom those feelings are happening. I agree, but I find the same benefit in simply saying to myself "anger" or "sadness," as some of the mindfulness teachers I've studied advise.
The more you do it, the clearer it becomes that while the sensations [or emotions, in my examples] are real, there is no inner "I" producing or even having them. Each time you acknowledge that fact, the self shrinks.
Repeated often enough, the practice will clear the mind of all self-referencing, leaving nothing but sensations (now more vivid than before), feelings (no longer possessed by an inner "I") and problem-solving thoughts (those not in service to the illusory self).
This is similar to what the Buddhists call mindfulness meditation; it goes deeper, however, in that it does more than keep your mind focused on what is happening; it serves as a constant reminder that the self-as-ego is an illusion, that all events involving the body-mind are arising on their own out of Circumstance.
It will gradually convince you, in other words, that there is no inner "I" doing anything at all, thus no inner agent for you to identify with. In turn, acknowledging that the entity you take yourself to be does not exist will clear the way for the discovery of who you really are.
Another mindfulness technique Breer likes is to lose yourself in sensations. I see this as being akin to the Zen adage of "chop wood, carry water." Well, maybe not just akin, but exactly the same.
Most of us tend to distance ourselves from our experience by either considering how the experience affects our (illusory) "I," or how other people may be viewing our experience from their own perspective ("Can the audience tell I have stage fright?").
Here's how Breer puts it:
Losing yourself in an experience means experiencing a feeling or sensation without being aware that you are having it. In the ordinary (samsaric) way of perceiving, you are usually aware that you're aware -- for example, that when looking at a tree, you are not only aware of the tree, but also aware that you're looking at it.
I remember hiking high in the Rocky Mountains years ago and stopping to take in the panorama before me. It bugged me that I couldn't simply look at the scenery without being simultaneously aware that I was doing the looking.
It felt like I had a monkey on my back, a useless, unshakeable, mind-created burden that corrupted the influence of just plain looking. That monkey, I began to see later, was present in almost every experience I was having: that included eating ("I" am eating this meal), showering ("I" am taking a shower), reading ("I" am reading this book) and so on.
In one form or another, the self (as either the inner "I" or the body-mind) was sticking its nose into everything I was doing, feeling or thinking. That's when I turned to sense-immersion for help.
With practice I found it possible to get rid of the monkey altogether, leaving nothing but the sensation of the moment. What I found was a new clarity -- accompanied by an unshakeable feeling of peace. Once I could look at a tree without the thought that "I" was doing the looking, the tree became more vivid, more present.
There was a new stillness to the experience, one cleansed of all judgment, evaluation, preference, and desire. In a word, the "I" monkey was gone -- and in its place stood a world seen for the first time in its pristine rawness -- a world no longer corrupted by the presence of a self obsessed with its own survival.
When meditation is carried further, something still more astonishing happens, namely the disappearance of whatever is being observed. When both observer and observed are gone, what remains is consciousness which is no longer tied to this or that -- just consciousness itself, or what we referred to earlier as Pure Consciousness.
But we are getting ahead of ourselves. Right now it is enough to see meditation as a way of eliminating thought while you remain alert. Since self-awareness is sustained with thinking, cleansing the mind of all unnecessary thought will shrink the self and bring more freedom and clarity into your life.
...The freedom comes from a shrinking of the self, i.e., a shrinking of all those activities like worrying, regretting, desiring, resisting, complaining, etc. that are spawned by the self illusion.
Well, on this blog I've been skeptical of other writers who claim that Pure Consciousness exists and can be experienced. My view is that even if Pure Consciousness exists, it couldn't be experienced, or at least remembered, without an impure consciousness that can say "Pure Consciousness was just experienced."
But I remain open to whatever evidence or arguments Breer brings forth in the rest of his book about Pure Consciousness.
I do like his attitude toward experiencing the world without using the lens of our (illusory) self. Many years ago a friend shared a poem that, I'm pretty sure, contained this marvelous line:
"We should be able to look upon a mountain without considering it a commentary on our life."
UPDATE: I got the idea right, but not the words:
I should be content
to look at a mountain
for what it is
and not as a comment on my life