The Disappearing Self

I’m watching the French Open. (Federer just lost the first set.) Anyway, my daughter keeps standing too close to the TV. And I keep telling her to move back. Telling her for the third time gave rise to following idea:

I was thinking about how when you move up close to the television screen the picture disappears – all you see are a bunch of dots (pixels). But then, of course, when you move back out a few feet there is the picture again.

This is like the experience of being a self. When you move deeply into the experience of being a self, it seems that the self disappears. But move back out a “few feet” and there is the self again.

So which position or state shows the situation as it really is? I suppose they both do. It all depends on your point of view. (Although, in the case of the television, sitting back a few feet is usually more practical.)

Okay, I need to go watch the rest of this tennis match.

[2 hours later]

(Federer won the match.)

I’m thinking that the deeper truth is not revealed in either the experience of being a self or the experience of being a no-self. But rather, the deeper truth is revealed in the movement between these states.

This is the miracle of an enlightened moment – freely moving between the experiences of self and no-self.



  1. Here's one for you...

    I was at dinner a few night ago. For some reason, I found myself considering that the 'external environment' (sound, vision, people, etc.) was unreal and not-self, my 'internal environment' (feelings, thoughts, reactions, assessments) was unreal and not-self, and my sense of myself as a witness was also unreal and not-self. Then it came time to pick food from the menu and I started laughing because I couldn't decide what I wanted!

    It was a peculiar situation. I'm certainly not 'on top' of it. Is this at all what you are describing as freely moving between experiences of self and no self?

  2. Dear Anonymous,

    Wow, very interesting! It sounds like something pretty wonderful was happening that night. Has this happened before or since that night? You asked me, “Is this at all what you are describing as ‘freely moving between experiences of self and no self?’” It sounds like, at least in this moment, that the illusionary nature of your sense of self had revealed itself – it had dissolved. I think that sounds similar to what I am describing. However, here is a question that you need to answer for yourself. How freely were you moving between self and no-self? How free are you? Remember, having too much wine can have a similar effect on your sense of self. But I would not say that while drunk you are free. At least, not free in the sense that I mean free. Something else to remember: Experience is a changing mess of sensations. And an individual’s sense of self is extremely subjective. The sense of self is not only vibrating (alternating) with the sense of other, but the sense of self changes as you move through your day and life. Where do you reside? Is your sense of self located behind your eyes? Some people say that their sense of self resides around the heart region. It is strange how our sense of self changes. Some people think of themselves as the space in which experiences arise. Is that an idea or an experience? Is there ultimately a difference between an idea and an experience? Is the sense of self just an illusion? What does this mean? Do you remember looking at some optical illusion – such as a picture of a spiral that “magically” appears to be moving? Even when you know that it is just an illusion the spiral still appears to be moving. Is the sense of self like this kind of illusion? Even when you know that it is an illusion, does the illusion still persist? How deep is the sense of self? Is it just an idea – an abstraction? Even when your mind is absolutely silent, you may still have a sense of self. You still have a point of view – every animal does. A sense of self seems important for survival reasons. Do beetles have a sense of self? And on and on and on we can ramble, throwing out question after question.

    What a confusing mess!

    Let’s drop all that . . .

    Let’s notice: Are you free?

    Are you free to both transcend and embrace this mess of questions, answers and experiences? Have you realized that you are ultimately not this mess? Have you realized that you are ultimately one with this mess? Freely moving between these two realizations – this is the freedom of an enlightened moment. This is what I mean by freely moving between experiences of self and no-self.

    I hope that helped a little. Tallis

  3. It does help. Thank you for taking the time to reflect and write. Not sure if I'm free, but definitely feeling ok about feeling stuck when I do. New years resolution was to investigate aversion. Perhaps a little moment of growth is occurred. Anyways, I'll reread your reply & contemplate. Thanks. :-)

  4. The space between thoughts is where we sink into real tectonic plates
    that shift and overlap...thats my favorite
    metaphor and I hope addresses your thoughts
    on the issue.

  5. Pete,


    Where does the opening beyond/beneath the space between the thoughts bring you?