Monday, June 22, 2020

Bernadette Roberts - In the absence of self/The Silent Mind

The following is an excerpt from a biography self-written by Bernadette Roberts for the book Mystics, Masters, Saints and Sages by Robert Ullman and Judyth Reichenberg-Ullman.

The moment was unheralded, unrecognized, and unknown; it was the moment “I” entered a great silence and never returned. Beyond the threshold of the known, the door upon self was closed, but the door upon the Unknown was opened in a fixed gaze that could not look away. Impossible to see the self, to remember the self, or to be self-consciousness, the mind was restricted to the present moment. The more it tried to reflect back on itself, the more overpowering the silence.

By steadily gazing outward upon the Unknown, the silence abated and the emptiness of self became a joy. But the search for the still-point–God within–revealed not one emptiness, but two, for when there is no self, there is no Other; without a personal self there is no personal God–without a subject, there is no The still-point had vanished, and with its disappearance it took very sense of life the self possessed–a self which could no longer be felt to exist. What remained was not known. There was no life, no will, no energy, no feelings, no experiences, no within, no spiritual or psychic life. Yet, life was somewhere because all was as usual.

Though it could not be localized or found within any object of sight or mind, somewhere out-of-doors, life was flowing peacefully, assuredly. On a bluff above the sea, it revealed itself: life is not in anything; rather, all things are in life. The many are immersed in the One, even that which remains when there is no self, this too, is absorbed in the One. No longer a distance between self and the other, all is now known in the immediacy of this identity. Particulars dissolve into the One; individual objects give way to reveal that which is the same throughout all variety and multiplicity. To see this new dimension of life is the gift of amazing glasses through which God may be seen everywhere. Truly, God is all that exists–all, of course, but the self.

At one time, the Oneness grew to an overpowering intensity, as if drawing itself together from all parts, drawing inward and obliterating all that existed, including the eye that saw it and that which remained. At the threshold of extinction, the eye flickered and grew dim; instantly, that which remained, turned away. To bear the vision, to enter in, the light of the eye must not go out. Somehow it must become stronger, but what kind of strength is this and how could it be acquired? There was something still to be done, but what? No-self is helpless; it has no strength; it is not the light of the eye nor the eye itself.

Nine months passed before the eye upon Oneness became the eye upon nothingness. Without warning or reason, all particulars dissolved into emptiness. At one point, the mind came upon the hideous void of life, the insidious nothingness of death and decay strangling life from every object or sight. Only self can escape such a vision because only self knows fear, and only fear can generate the weapons of defense. Without a self, the only escape is no escape; the void must be faced–come what may. On the hillside, the epitome of all that is dreadful and insane was confronted–but who, or what beheld this terror? And who or what could endure it? In the absence of self, all that remained was an immovable stillness, an unbreakable, unfeeling silence. Would it move–crack open? Or would it hold? This could not be known, surmised, or even hoped for. What would be, would be.



~ From The Experience of No-Self: A Contemplative Journey. © 1993 Bernadette Roberts.

 I wish I understood the mechanism of self-consciousness, or how it is possible for the mind to bend back on itself, for if I did, I could more easily convey a better understanding of no-self and its most noticeable effect—the silent mind. But whatever this mechanism is, the state of no-self is the breaking up of a self-conscious system whereby the mind can no longer see itself as an object; and at the same time it loses the ability to find any other object to take its place, because when there is no self there is also no other.

I might add that the mind has never had the ability to see itself as a subject—this would be as impossible as the eye seeing itself; yet I think this very impossibility may be the clue to the type of consciousness that remains when consciousness without a knowable subject or object becomes the whole of it. This type of consciousness is not available to our ordinary way of knowing, and because it cannot be experienced or understood by the relative mind, it falls squarely into the realm of the unknown and the unknowable.

I used to believe that in order to know of the self's existence, it was not necessary for the mind to reflect back on itself—to make itself an object or to be self-conscious, that is; instead, I believed that the basic awareness of thoughts and feelings went right on, and was present whether I reflected on them or not. Now, however, I see this is not the way it works. I see this is an error, but an error it is only possible to realize once self-consciousness had come to an end. It seems that on an unconscious level this reflexive mechanism goes on so continuously, it makes no difference if we are aware of this mechanism on a conscious level or not. In turn, this means that when the mechanism is cut off, we not only lose awareness of the self—or the agent of consciousness on a conscious level—but we lose awareness of the self on an unconscious level as well. Stated more simply: when we can no longer verify or check back (reflect) on the subject of awareness, we lose consciousness of there being any subject of awareness at all. To one who remains self-conscious, of course, this seems impossible. To such a one, the subject of consciousness is so self-evident and logical, it needs no proof. But to the unself-conscious mind, no proof is possible.

The first question to be asked is whether or not self-consciousness is necessary for thinking, or if thinking goes right on without a thinker. My answer is that thinking can only arise in a self-conscious mind, which is obviously why the infant mentality cannot survive in an adult world. But once the mind is patterned and conditioned or brought to its full potential as a functioning mechanism, thinking goes right on without any need for a self-conscious mechanism. At the same time, however, it will be a different kind of thinking. Where before, thought had been a product of a reflecting introspective, objectifying mechanism—ever colored with personal feelings and biases—now thought arises spontaneously off the top of the head, and what is more, it arises in the now-moment which is concerned with the immediate present, making it invariably practical. This is undoubtedly a restrictive state of mind, but it is a blessed restrictiveness since the continual movement inward and outward, backward and forward in time, and in the service of feelings, personal projections, and all the rest, is an exhausting state that consumes an untold amount of energy that is otherwise left free.

What this means is that thinking goes right on even when there is no self, no thinker, and no self-consciousness; thus, there is no such thing as a totally silent mind—unless, of course, the mind or brain (which I view as synonymous) is physically dead. Certainly something remains when the mind dies, but this "something" has nothing to do with our notions or experiences of a mind, or of thought, or of ordinary awareness.

What I call a "silent mind," therefore, is a purely relative experience belonging to a self-conscious state wherein silence is relative to its absence, its opposite, or to some degree of mental quietude. But in a fully established non-relative state—which is non-experiential by ordinary standards—there are no longer the variations, degrees, or fluctuations that could be known as the silent mind. This does not mean we cannot pass beyond the mind to "that" which remains when the self-consciousness falls away, but it does mean that whatever lies beyond the mind has no such tool for its description.






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