The Non-dualogues share the conversations between slumberfogey and the pilgrim, in slumberfogey’s flat in London. Occasionally, the pilgrim brings friends, who join in the discussion.
slumberfogey: Pilgrim! Hello. It's been a while.
pilgrim: Hi slumberfogey. I was afraid you wouldn't remember me. I've had a lot going on, so I haven't been able to visit. But I have managed to do some of my homework.
s: Looking for boundaries in your experience?
p: Yep, but I never really found any. Was I supposed to?
s: You know what? I'd like to put boundaries aside this week and talk about freedom.
p: Okay, man. It's a free country. (Pun intended.)
s: Readers are going to think my old man humour is contagious. Now, remind me who you are. I need to see whether we need to backtrack at all after our break.
p: I don't think we do! I am the experiencer of my experience. I'm that which knows, is aware of, what is happening: all the thoughts, perceptions and ideas that flow constantly through my life.
s: Excellent! And when we do pick back up on boundaries, we'll investigate the nature of the relationship between your experience (aka what is happening) and you (the experiencer of what is happening). We'll look for the boundary between them.
But first, there's a fair bit that follows naturally from your re-orientation of who you are, and I'd like us to investigate those implications. They are revolutionary.
p: Sounds great. Here's your tea. So, what are the 'so whats' of my discovery that what I am is the experiencer of what is happening?
s: First, let's adopt a bit of shorthand. "The experiencer of what is happening" is a bit of a mouthful, so let's say that you are the Witness, that is, the witness of your experience.
p: Okay. I'm the Witness. What next?
s: Summarise what you know about yourself, about the Witness.
p: Uh-oh. Is this one of those moments when I feel really stupid while you quiz me?
s: You can't be stupid. That's one of the 'so whats.' Anyway, start with what you know the Witness is not.
p: Okay, it's not a thought, a perception or a sensation, or any combination of them.
s: Why do you say that?
p: Because those are all objects. I (the Witness) am not an object at all. I am pure subjectivity. That's why when I really, carefully search for myself, I come up empty. Only objects can be 'seen.' Subjectivity can't.
s: Spot on, PIlgrim! Now let's look at the radical nature of the freedom that the Witness's pure subjectivity implies for you.
p: Okay. Let's.
p: Oh. So you want me to pick it up? Um. Okay, yeah. Radical freedom. Yeah. It makes me feel like I'm... um... really free(?).
s: Sounds like some hints are in order. If we, for the purposes of today's discussion, split life into two halves - what is happening on the one hand and the Witness that experiences it on the other - what verbs 'live' in each half? Starting with the Witness 'half,' what verbs can the Witness be the subject of?
p: Well, the Witness can witness, which is basically to observe or to experience. Breaking that down, I guess the witness can see, hear, smell, feel, taste, think, remember. How am I doing?
s: Great, as always. But I think you might have overshot things a bit, while simultaneously leaving one huge one out. To be clear about what sits where, it's probably most helpful to think of seeing as 'experiencing a visual object,' hearing as 'experiencing an auditory object,' etc. Do you see what I mean?
p: I don't know why that's more helpful, but I'm fine with boiling them down to experience. So does that mean that I've basically identified one Witness verb - experiencing - and I'm missing one other big one? I can't think of what else it could be.
s: That's right. You've nailed the experiencing aspect of the Witness. The second is that it can be. It is. See what I mean?
p: Not really, I thought you said the Witness isn't any object that can be seen or experienced. But I guess it must exist if it is what I am.
s: There is a subtle distinction between the verbs to exist and to be, which we won't dive into now, but yes, since the Witness is what you are, it is. It can be the subject of the verb 'to be.' So, the Witness can experience and it can be. It's important to see that all other verbs are contained in the flow, the existence of what is happening - the other half of the equation. The Witness does not 'do' any of those other things.
p: I'm only vaguely with you, slumberfogey. That's certainly not the way I feel. I mean, if I'm the Witness, I certainly feel like I eat, think, walk, decide, intend, regret and a million other activities.
s: I don't disagree at all that it feels that way. I also don't expect you to just take my words at face value. But in the coming weeks, re-visit them and have them in mind as you go about life. Don't forget how comprehensive What Is Happening is. It is literally everything that occurs. You, as the Witness experience What Is Happening. The tastes, textures and other sensations of eating, along with the memories it evokes and the other thoughts that arise with it, including the subtle, underlying feeling that you are a person, a body-mind, are all part of the flow of What Is Happening. You, as the Witness, experience them.
p: I'll keep it in mind and see what my experience tells me.
s: I can't ask for anything more! So, you, as the Witness don't carry out any activities other than being and experiencing. How about as an object? What verbs can the Witness be an object of? If a boy kicks a can, then the can is the object of the verb 'to kick.' How about the Witness?
p: Well, we've already said that it's not an object at all. If that's right (and I still need to play around with this) then it's not the object of any verb. In your example, the kicking happens to the can, but in the grand scheme, What Is Happening doesn't happen to the Witness. Is that right? And yet, the Witness experiences it, so doesn't that mean What Is Happening happens to the Witness after all?
s: You'll need to experiment with it, but what I've found is that What Is Happening doesn't happen to the Witness but arises to the Witness's awareness. (Actually, the Witness IS awareness, but we'll leave that aside for now. Even this 'arising to' will update as we look at the relationship between the Witness and What Is Happening, as your understanding deepens.) So, I've asserted, and it's up to you to experiment and test, that the Witness is neither the subject (the 'doer') nor the object (the 'recipient') of any activity, of anything that is happening, of What Is Happening.
p: Almost like someone watching a film or a play.
s: Very well put! Or someone dreaming. That's the Witness, and that is you. Now, what do you think all of this might have to do with freedom?
p: Oh, that's right! You said freedom was our topic for today. I'm not sure, to be honest. That the Witness is free from being the subject or the object of anything that is happening?
s: Yes! Remember when I loosely substituted 'doer' for subject a minute ago? And 'recipient' for object? What things come with being the doer and recipient, respectively?
p: The doer is responsible, and the recipient bears consequences. Are you saying that the Witness is, that I am, free of responsibility and consequence? That sounds like a proposition that would - if everyone believed it - undermine morality, justice and social order, for a start!
s: Only if it's misunderstood. We're stating things quite bluntly at the moment. It's very important to remember that this freedom applies to you AS THE WITNESS, not to 'you' as a person, a body-mind. You are NOT a body-mind. The body-mind is a fragment of What Is Happening. It is on that side of the equation that conditions, limits and unfolding process exist. The Witness, that which you are, is free of all that. But... when What Is Happening includes the understanding that the Witness is the only experiencer and that the Witness is free from all limits, then the person, the body-mind, as a fragment of What Is Happening will feel free. The freedom that will emerge is freedom from fear - fearlessness. Our picture of freedom will evolve further as we consider the relationship between the Witness and What Is Happening, also as we consider other minds.
p: I don't think I really get that. I find it hard to keep from involuntarily flipping back to thinking of 'I' as the person rather than as the Witness. I lose track of which the freedom applies to.
s: That's completely understandable. We'll revisit this together many times, and in the meantime, you'll experiment with it in your own experience. For now, our pointer is that you are the Witness and that the Witness is free of limit. Realising that will mean that the person, pilgrim, the body-mind, will include less and less fear. That is the understanding's effect within What Is Happening. In the meantime, as you experiment, it may be interesting for you to notice the limits, the conditioning that the pilgrim, as a person, is subject to.
p: Phew. My head is spinning more than from any other visit. You're right, that's a revolutionary take on freedom. I have the feeling we'll need to kick it around more. See you next time, slumberfogey.
The Non-dualogues share the conversations between slumberfogey and the pilgrim, in slumberfogey’s flat in London. Sometimes, the pilgrim brings friends, who join in the discussion.
slumberfogey: Pilgrim! At last. You're late!
pilgrim: Isn't 11am a good time for you?
s: No, I mean two months late. My biscuits ran out seven weeks ago.
p: slumberfogey, I told you I'd be away for two months. I've been on a building project in Central America.
s: Oh, I remember now. Still, no biscuits.
p: I've got biscuits with me. Shall I put on the tea? What are we discussing today?
s: Who are you?
p: You recognise me, don't you? I'm Gary, but you always call me pilgrim.
s: So "Gary" is your name or "pilgrim" labels you, but is either who you are?
p: Oh, I get it. We're diving straight in, then. So I'll skip the bits covering where I'm from, what I do for money, what party I vote for, my ethnicity and my religion, because knowing you, you're looking for something different...
s: So, you are...?
p: Well, just a bloke. A person. A human. (An Arsenal fan.)
s: Don't sell yourself short. You're not "just" anything. But let's take "person." Did you say you had biscuits?
p: Yes! I'm bringing them out with the tea. Okay, so yeah, I'm a person.
s: And when you say you're a person, you mean you are... what? What is a person?
p: An individual.
s: Interesting. Let's remember that word and come back to it. So an individual what? And don't say "person," because we don't want to go in circles. You've already said a person is an individual.
p: An individual body, I guess.
s: Anything special about the body? Would a cadaver count?
p: No. A living body.
s: Ah. So you are a living body. How are you aware you're living?
p: Being alive is obvious. I'm moving around and stuff.
s: To pick up on the line of questioning I'm taking you on, pause for a moment and hearken back to our discussion last time about "what is happening." Although two months have passed, I hope we don't need to replay the whole discovery.
*** Intermission ***
p: Right, so I'll try to keep my answers to what I can be certain of. My direct experience.
s: Excellent! So, according to your direct experience, what is the body?
p: Well. I see it when I look at my hands, chest, legs or feet. I see my face's reflection in the mirror. So an aspect of the body is images I experience.
s: Great. What else?
p: I feel it all the time. My hand can touch my belly or slap my thigh. I feel my teeth chatter. My stomach rumbles. (I hear that as well.) My heart beats. I sense my limbs' position. Body movement, warmth, cold, hunger. So I guess the body is also a bundle of sounds and sensations.
s: Super. Anything else?
p: I smell my breath, too. I taste my lip bleeding or sweat rolling into my mouth. I guess the body is a collection of the same types of perception that come from "out in the world" plus the internal sensations.
s: Interesting. "Internal." Internal to what?
p: Internal to my body.
s: But you say - as far as you can tell from your direct experience - your body is those things. So some of those things can't be "internal" to the body. That's saying bits of the body are internal to itself, while other bits aren't.
p: I'm not used to examining the body this way, so I get tied up in how to express myself.
s: You're doing great. Just consider more carefully within what those perceptions and "internal" sensations rest.
p: Wait! I've got it! They sit in my mind. I am my mind!
s: So you are not your body but your mind?
p: Well, perhaps it's not so simple, since the mind is dependent on the body.
s: How so?
p: The mind depends on the brain, which is part of the body.
s: How does your direct experience tell you this?
s: How do you experience your mind's dependence on the brain?
p: I guess I don't. I base it on what others say and what I've read.
s: Okay. I'm not saying it's wrong. The mind may be dependent on the body, but let's stick with the things you can know, from your direct experience.
p: Yeah. So I'm sticking with saying I am my mind.
s: Do you, as a mind, include or contain anything else beyond the perceptions and sensations of the body?
p: Ah! Well, I have millions of ideas, memories, emotions, expectations, wishes and judgements in my mind. I guess my will sits in the same place.
s: Yes. Lot's more stuff, huh? When you say those things sit in the same place, what is that place?
p: My mind.
s: But if you are the mind, what is the "My" bit? If you are the mind, then saying "My mind" is equivalent to saying "My me."
p: But I'm distinguishing my mind from other minds.
s: What is your direct experience of other minds?
p: Ah, I get you. My experience is only through sights, sounds and other perceptions, which we've covered. I don't experience other minds. So are you saying they don't exist?
s: Well, that would be hard for me to say, since slumberfogey is one of them! No, they may well exist, but let's stick with what you can be sure of from your direct experience. We're taking empiricism seriously.
p: Okay, so I'll get rid of the "my." All those forms of thought and all perceptions of the body, plus all body sensations sit in me.
s: You say the perceptions of the body sit in you. Do the perceptions of the rest of the world (the images of the surrounding room, the sound of passing traffic, etc.) sit somewhere else?
p: No. Same place.
s: So all perceptions, sensations and thoughts sit within you, yes? So who or what are you?
p: I am the mind.
s: What is the mind?
p: I'm getting tired. I dunno. The container of those things?
s: Seeing things in a whole new way can be taxing. Those "things," those perceptions, sensations and thoughts. Do you remember how we rolled them up in our last meeting?
p: Oh yeah. I worked out (with your help) that I don't ever experience those different categories. They all come in bundled, undivided experience.
s: Exactly! And my little term for undivided experience is "What Is Happening." So, who or what are you?
p: If the mind is What Is Happening and I am my mind, I guess I am What Is Happening. Right?
s: You sound uncertain. How can you be certain What Is Happening is happening?
p: Arrrrrggggggghhhhhhh! This is exhausting. I always feel stupid when you do this.
s: Sorry. Maybe The Trial of Socrates is inaccurate. Perhaps his students killed him out of frustration.
p: What? What are you on about?
s: A classical allusion, young man. You guys have lost touch with your roots. Not enough time. Back to my question...
p: How do I know What Is Happening is happening? Because I'm experiencing it! It is my direct experience.
s: Right. You're not an inert container of those aspects of experience, of What Is Happening. You are its experiencer. So who are you?
p: I am the experiencer of What Is Happening.
s: Perfect! And What Is Happening is the flow of experience arising to awareness and receding to make way for the continuing flow "behind."
p: So I'm the experiencer, but I don't know what the experiencer is. I'm not the body - I experience the sensations and perceptions making up my direct experience of the body. Likewise, I'm not the mind - I experience the thoughts that are my direct experience of it. And, I'm not the external environment - I experience the perceptions composing my direct experience of the external world. So what am I?
s: That's what I asked you! And you've peeled away a lot of confusion. You've worked out that you are no thing (nothing). The things are aspects of What Is Happening. You are the experiencer of the things. If you still seek yourself as an object, as a thing, you'll come up empty. You - the experiencer - are not a thing.
p: I'm not sure how thrilled I am to be nothing. So my school teachers and ex-girlfriends were right.
s: Maybe it's not so bad. You used to believe you were a thing - a body or a mind or their union. You now see you are not a thing. Perhaps a further step awaits discovery. Are you willing to take on some homework?
s: Okay. Between now and when we next meet, look for boundaries.
s: I'd like you to investigate different boundaries on several "levels." I'll email this to you, but hear me out.
What would this imply for what you are???
Let's discuss what you find.
Until next week, pilgrim.
I'm curious. I like looking beneath and behind the obvious, also looking for what is between me and the obvious, obscuring or distorting my view.