This post discusses a little experiment you can do to give you an insight in to yourself and your “self-nature” as Zen Buddhism calls it. Despite the fact that this self-nature is always with us, indeed it is our real self, most people are blissfully unaware of it’s presence. They are so wrapped up in their intellectual thinking that they do not notice something about themselves that is somewhat odd. To gain an insight in to this oddity try the following experiment:
Hold your hand out in front of you with your palm facing downward. Silence your mind to the best of your ability and then, without raising any thoughts such as “now I am going to turn over my hand”, turn your hand over. It is important to remain as thoughtless as possible while doing this. Now turn the hand back so that the palm faces downward again but do it while remaining as thought free as possible. Repeat this process over and over while paying close attention to the movement of your hand and remaining as thought free as possible.
After doing this experiment for a while you may notice something odd; you can’t seem to locate who or what is turning the hand over. The hand turns, something tells the hand to turn but you can’t locate it. No thought tells the hand to move it just moves. It is as if an invisible no-man moved the hand. Where is this person that moves the hand? He seems to have no identity and he doesn’t engage in intellectual thinking at all. Whatever moves the hand is free of thought, free of identity, free of characteristics. This no-thing simply acts, simply turns the hand but remains invisible like a “ghost in the machine”. Once you get a clear perception of it you can’t even say to yourself “I turned my hand over”. You can only say “The hand turned over”. The experience can be somewhat spooky. The hand seems to have a mind of it’s own.
So what is going on here? It is clear that it is not the intellect as is normally thought of that is turning the hand. The intellect for most people consists of overt thoughts that pop in to their heads. The phenomenon that is being seen here is the real mind or “unconscious” or “self-nature” in action. Most people are not consciously aware of it because it has been usurped by their overt thinking and their ego. When their hand moves, the overt intellect takes credit for the movement and says to itself “I moved my hand”. In reality the intellect, at least not the overt intellect, did not move the hand. The hand moved because self-nature which is in no way separate from the hand decided to move the hand, but this decision was completely invisible to the intellect. The overt intellect and the ego therefore assume that they move the hand; they take credit for it.
What we have going on here is a dualism. Consciousness and the “Unconscious” or alternatively, awareness work back to back. Consciousness arises in the unconscious but being an inferior principle, that is an emanation within the unconscious or awareness, it cannot perceive it’s own source. Consciousness then acts as if it were the only thing existing because it cannot perceive it’s own source. The person becomes blind to their real identity; they identify with consciousness and the conscious ego but they are really a different being altogether. Their true identity lies in the unconscious but is hidden from them; consciousness usurps the unconscious awareness.
When a person carries out the experiment outlined above, it gives them an insight in to this. They can’t perceive who or what moves their hand because consciousness is not capable of perceiving that which moves the hand. However, this also opens up an enormous opportunity for the person. With a bit of deep thinking they can use this experience and realisation to their advantage. If consciousness cannot directly perceive that which moves the hand then by implication, conscious intellectual thinking is useless in the search for enlightenment. Instead of trying to work out intellectually what enlightenment is, the person must transfer their identity from consciousness to the unconscious awareness, and to do that they must abandon intellectual thought and pay attention to their body. This is the origin of “mindfulness” practise. Your real intelligence exists in your body, or more accurately, it exists everywhere, not in the ego that seems to sit in your head. Your real intelligence is reality itself but because you are not consciously aware of the unconscious you cannot perceive it. The ego is a usurper. Your body will happily go about it’s business without interference from the intellect. Indeed your body will become much healthier if it is left alone by the ego and the intellect. The ego and the intellect make people ill. The ego would destroy the body if necessary in order to maintain it’s primacy. It is so desperate to maintain it’s primacy that even in the face of a mental illness that is damaging the body it will try to maintain it’s grip. It will sacrifice the body to it’s own neurotic desire “to be”.
So, we can see a way forward here. Stop thinking and try to “become” your body by paying attention to it constantly. Observe your movements constantly and stop thinking of yourself as an intellectual being but rather see yourself as an acting being. You act, you don’t think. By acting and observing that action and observing that the action seems to be autonomous and spontaneous in nature you bring yourself closer to your source. Acting is if you like “true thinking”. You can “think without thinking” by “thinking” with your actions. That which you really are does not require intellectual thought in order to “know”. It “knows” intuitively and directly. Therefore, pay attention to your body, watch your actions and slip in to identity with the body not the intellect. Once you “become” your body and you have true identity with it, once you overcome the usurper that is the intellect and the ego, you will perceive the unconscious because that is ultimately what you are. You will become enlightened.