Thursday, April 8, 2010

There is nothing personal.

The following came in as a comment on the “Celebrating Your Contributions” post:

“Being kind to oneself” and yet “not to take personally the person making the contribution”: this is a tricky place for me. Doesn’t being kind to myself CONTAIN taking personally the person making the contribution? Don’t I WANT this person to feel good about their contribution? And isn’t that person one aspect of myself? To “not take personally” implies to me that I SHOULDN’T feel good about my contribution.

The writer is speaking to the heart of the spiritual conundrum we conditioned humans face. The whole issue of not taking ourselves personally can seem incomprehensible until we grasp one simple, extremely well-hidden piece of the puzzle: There is no such thing as an “I” to take a “myself” personally.

The assumption of “I, me, my, mine” is the primary stumbling block in our journey from identification as “an illusion of a self that is separate from the rest of life” to disidentification and awareness of the impersonal human incarnation. When we wake up, what we wake up to is the realization that there is no possibility of something being separate from life. Life is one thing. The illusion that there is an “I” that is the subject, with everything else as object, is created through unexamined beliefs and assumptions.

I was recently in conversation with a couple whose language provided what was for me a clear and extreme example of the “I subject”/“all other object” relationship to life. Each would speak about everything in their domain as “my.” He would talk about my swimming pool, my yard, my plants. She would do the same about the very same items, taking possession of each as hers. There was no sense of these things having an existence outside the ownership of the humans. Those roses only matter as they reflect on “me” and “my” prowess as a gardener!

In Yoga, one often hears the instructor guide students to turn attention to various parts of the body without ownership. “Feel the torso expand with the breath.” “Move the arms above the head along the floor.” In this way we begin to disidentify with an often harmful notion of the body as a possession of the mind, a mind that for many people is unexamined and misunderstood.

Once egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate is allowed to take ownership of anything (and that is the only “identity” that wants to have ownership of anything), that possession will be placed in a master/slave relationship in which ego has absolute authority over the fate of that possession. One of my favorite illustrative tales of this point involves (I think!) Robert Louis Stevenson. In my version of the story, Mr. Stevenson encountered a man beating a dog. When Mr. Stevenson intervened on behalf of the creature, the man told him, “That’s my dog and I’ll treat him as I want.” Mr. Stevenson replied, “No, that is God’s dog and I am here to protect him.”

Our conditioning to assume—there is no other word to describe the experience—the existence of a separate “I” is so deep that even after many explanations, even after we “get it” any number of times, it’s almost impossible for us to accept the fact as reality. But fact and reality it is. An “I” in a position of ownership and authority over anything is illusion. There is no separate self with the authority to judge, criticize, blame, and punish—or reward!

However, from center we can experience something like Mr. Stevenson and the pup: We can know, “This is God’s human and I am here to care for it.” From this perspective we realize that all of life belongs to life. We belong to life as surely as those roses, birds, clouds, and water. We are here as an expression of life. To the degree we realize that, let go an ego that has an illusory existence in an imaginary world outside the rest of life, and relax into letting life live us without opposition or interference, we are happy. To the degree that we want to be that illusion of a separate self, we suffer.

So, how can we feel good about the contributions of the person “I” call “me?” Simple. We feel as happy for and as good about gifts and contributions of this human as we do about the gifts and contributions of all humans—and of all of life’s expressions.

For more on this discussion, please go to the Open Air archives at and listen to the April 6 show.



  1. “This is God’s human and I am here to care for it.”
    To me, this sentence suggests that there are 3 players: God, me, and the caring. Lately, I've been looking at the Trinity (as in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) and this seems to speak right to it. There is God the creator, me the incarnation, and the caring action of the "spirit." All are one, inseparable, until the illusion of a separate self emerges. Through this practice, the experience of being All - of being each person of the Holy Trinity as we Christians might say - has arisen over and over. We can actually live this mystery of being not one, but all. What a marvelous gift of practice!

  2. From being part of life, I make the move (in a millisecond) to believing I know better than life. I know when I have made that switch, but I haven't caught myself "in the act".

  3. Fine. So there's no such thing as "I." What is it then that feels so certain it exists? That KNOWS it exists. That likes the taste of roast beef (sorry guys), and writes poems, and enjoys making love, and doesn't want to be in pain, and ... have to go now, my wife it calling. But damn, it's not so frigging easy.

  4. I'm so enjoying this blog, Cheri-- thank you so much. It is wonderful to practice with the notion of being the awareness that sees (contains) all of the "I"'s though of course it is not easy but I am amazed at the ever expansive powers of my heart as I do this moment by moment.

  5. I am finding this blog so helpful, Cheri. It's priceless having this directly from the guide. Thank-you so much.
    What jumped out at me in this today was the last paragraph;
    "We feel as happy for and as good about gifts and contributions of this human as we do about the gifts and contributions of all humans—and of all of life’s expressions."
    To me, that perspective contains such joy and freedom! And I can also know that for me, when envy or jealously or "feeling less than" arise in relationship to someone else's contribution, it's all horse pucky! And I don't have to listen to any of it. I can just enjoy the other person's contribution because, in a sense, it's life's contribution and all of life benefits including me!
    It kind of feels like life is rooting for all of us and wants the best for us all.

  6. "Fine. So there's no such thing as 'I.' What is it then that feels so certain it exists?"

    William Wordsworth had a great line one time. Actually, he had all sorts of great lines. But anyway, it went something like this -

    "In all things, I saw one life, and felt that it was joy."

    As many have pointed out, the use of nouns and verbs as dictated by the structure of our language really reinforces that notion of "I." Every sentence has to have a subject, and even poetic expressions like Wordsworth's are usually no exemption.

    Is there really "all things?" Is there truly the "I" that sees? What is this "one life" anyway? Quite frankly, if Wordsworth had been a zen master, he probably would have just uttered a single word - "Joy." Or perhaps simply lifted a cryptic finger to the sky or something.

    But anyway, the event was simply "joy." That was its beginning and end. That was the totality of the field, as manifested through the sensibility of the poet. But again, even though we have grammatical rules in English, that doesn't automatically mean they're the rules of nature.

    It's like the it in "it is raining." Surely, the event is simply "raining." But our language doesn't allow that, even though Alan Watts argued there really are no nouns at all, only verbs.

    What "knows" that it exists is simply existence itself, as localized and expressed at the point here and now.

    Thanks for the blog, Cheri. You're amazing. Or should I simply say "amazingness," and leave it at that?