Sunday, January 31, 2010

Nonidentification

Nonidentification is a concept taught by the Sufi teacher Gurdjieff. The idea is also found among the Hesychasts in the Eastern Orthodox Church, who even detail four levels of identification. The idea is very similar to the Buddhist idea of nonattachment and also the Buddhist idea of "no self". When you are able to see the selflessness of phenomena, then you are in a state where you are not identified with anything whatsoever. Identification is a kind of hypnotic trance that humans are already in. The thoughts that we identify with, we have faith in, believe in, and feels ourselves to be. Each thought that we identify with has the word "I" within it, either literally or subtly. Through this subtle thought we can identify with anything, our bodies, our sensations, our impulses to do, and our emotions. When a Zen master teaches his students to "impersonalize" a phenomena, it means to not identify with the phenomena. For instance, I can feel "I am angry" or I can feel "Anger is arising within me". The former is identification with anger and the latter is seeing anger as an impersonal objective phenomena arising within oneself. When we identify with something, we give it our energy and our faith, and keep the phenomena alive in us. When we see anger as an impersonal phenomena and fully feel it, then the anger will arise, abide, change, and pass away, and we will be done with the experience. When we identify with the phenomena, then it defines us and limits us, while we sustain the phenomena with our energy. It becomes "registered in our consciousness" and becomes a samskara or thought imprint in our subconscious mind. It can then be triggered by sensory experience. The four levels mentioned in Orthodox literature are roughly, (1) temptation, (2) consideration, (3) connection, and (4) acting out. Temptation is when the phenomena arises and the reaction is felt inside us. Then we consider the possibility, have discussions in our minds, rehearsing what we are tempted to, and even run senarios. Then we decide and connect with the temptation and, intending to do whatever it is. Then we actually act it out. A person with no impulse control identifies with everything he or she is feeling inside. It seems that serotonin is a brain chemical that helps us to not identify and to do impulse inhibitation (resist temptation). In the New Testament, identification appears in the metaphor of (dreaming) sleep or the (walking) dead (as in "Let the dead bury the dead"). This trance like state is considered not really being fully awake and present to life. Saint Paul actually quotes a Christian Liturgy that is older than the New Testament in one of his letters, and has an alchemical formula for transformation:

Awake O Sleeper,
and rise from the dead,
and the light of Christ
will shine on you.

The formula actually describes three states. The first is nonidentification. The second is release of the artificial isolated sense of self called the "ego". The third is feeling the illumination of our primordial presence which is radiant awareness. This formula roughly parallels the Great Dharani in the Buddhist Heart Sutra [This is my own translation, the usual uses "gone" instead of "let go", but since the whole sutra is about releasing "clinging" and seeing that there is nothing that you can even cling to the latter seems more precise]:

Let go, let go,
Really let go,
Totally let go,
Awake, Rejoice.

The first two letting goes are practice. This is a level where we are still identified, but are trying to not be identified. If we keep on practicing, then we will have a moment where we really let go and the identification is released. This is when we have "satori" or "enlightenment experience". We temporarily wake up and feel our true nature. We then understand the Buddhist path from direct experience and we "see Buddha eye to eye". If our effort is sincere, this should happen somewhere between one week of 12 hours per a day of practice to two years of daily meditation practice of at least one hour per a day. For me, it took 4 hours per a day for 4.5 months. If it takes longer than three years, there is probably a need to evaluate what is happening. Either the method of meditation needs to be changed, some lack of resolve is present, some special need is present, like a trauma block, or there is some point in the teaching that needs to be more thoroughly understood.

There is a longer journey between "really letting go" and "totally letting go". The latter means the entire subconscious mind needs to be emptied of its tendancies to cling to experience or to identify with phenomena. It is during this phase of the process that we will feel like the walking dead or like an alcoholic who is trying to stay sober by sheer force of intention. Identification has a numb feeling to it. There is a haze over everything. When you have enlightenment experience, the color we see are vibrant and the sounds we hear are crisp, alive, and clear, and the silence we hear has a crystalline purify. Touch is also blissful and even the sensation of pain is vibrant and acute. We can wake up from the sleep of identification, but we need to slowly rise from being dead. It feels like a mass of numbness dissolving. Krishnamurti one time shared a key in saying, "Be attentive to your inattention" or "Be sensitive to your insensitivity". Our numbness is like a mass of insensitivity which can and will slowly dissolve within a steady attentiveness or sensitivity. It feels sometimes like a hot fever that is slowly going away and being replaced by a cool sanity. When we fully "rise from the dead", then we do "awake and rejoice" (bodhi svaha). The Zen Buddhists call this, "the Great Affirmation".

If you put together the various esoteric sources about identification, there are some levels worth mentioning. The level is a "samskara" which is like a potential identification lurking below the surface. There is a way to feel them as whirling energy patterns and a magnetic attraction that is actually attracting our future karmaic experiences to us. We are usually unaware of this level of our subconscious, but this kind of vortex often organizes "dream matter" and forms our dreaming experiences, and later on, usually with a little help from external events, gets triggered enough to be felt in waking life. There is a reaction that then occurs, which is the "temptation" level. We feel a reaction happening inside us. The Buddha taught people to "remain with the sensation" and not act it out. The reaction will eventually calm down. But we can move to "consideration" which is where we start thinking all kinds of thoughts. If a person at the job insults us, then we may feel ourselves saying all kinds of things in our head about them. We are acting out on a kind of mental rehearsal level and feeling emotions stirring inside us. This is a very common form of mild identification and it does wear us out, causes us to age, weakens our immune system to become more vulnerable to disease, and causes us to eventually die. There is a point where we connect our will or our intention with the impulse to do, decide to act it out. This is where we are totally identified and we become "an accident waiting to happen". This is also where the samskara "reloads" back into the subconscious mind so that it can be triggered again when the right conditions happen. The last phase is when we actually add our physical body and do it, actually have the argument or whatever. When we are deeply identified, then we might rush through all those stages so fast that we do not even know we are making a decision. Most of us start out this way. When we live this way, we are like conditioned robots doing what we are programmed to do. The programmer, too, has flipped the autopilot and has literally fallen asleep. Jesus taught people to forgive others because they "not know what they are doing". It refers to this sleep of identification, becoming a zombie robot following hypnotic conditioning. To be angry with humans who are "sinning" is like getting angry at a typewriter because whenever you hit the "g" key it types a "g" on the paper.

A mantra came from awakened mind and can cause us to wake up. It purifies us of the thoughts that we usually identify with if we persist long enough, then it dissolves back into our awakened nature. A mantra is hard to identify with, too, because its meaning requires us to be a little awake to feel. A mantra is like the Buddhist teaching of "no self", we have to be a little bit free from the self trance in order to even understand what Buddha said.

Part of meditation is to learn to see without identifying with anything and later to dissolve identification with the false sense of self (the "me" put together by thought that Krishnamurti talked about). Pure awareness naturally does not identify with anything, naturally allows phenomena to arise, abide, change, and pass away without clinging to anything and without resisting anything, and naturally is unselfconscious. We identify with what was attached to and we are attached to anything that reinforces our identifications. When Buddha taught people to notice that anger arises "without self", he wanted people to not identify with the anger, to not attach their "feeling of self" to the anger. He did this by having people focus on seeing that there is no self in the anger, no self in the fear, no self in the sadness, and then to let it wave through us. When it does not catch us anywhere, then we are done with samskara, the karmaic imprint, and the subconscious mind empties itself of this content. We have one less karma running our lives.

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