(The following is an excerpt from the book, Nothing Personal, Seeing Beyond the Illusion of a Separate Self by Nirmala.)
“Death” most often refers to the death of the form, but the experience of dying doesn’t just happen when the body dies. Every experience you’ve ever had has died, and everything you’re experiencing now is in its death throws. Of course, in every moment, there’s also a birth—a new moment is being born. It’s tricky to see this in the moment, but if you reflect back, you can see that everything that has come before is now dead and something new has taken its place.
This is a profoundly different view of how things happen than we’re used to. Our concept of change is a misunderstanding: Reality isn’t actually capable of change. Nothing ever changes; it can’t. All it can do is die and be reborn. We think that something changes into something else. So, we go back and look at what happened before something changed to try to find the cause.
But that’s not the way it happens. What really happens is that an old experience dies and a new one is born. There’s no connection between what was and what is now, no cause and effect. In every instant, the universe that you know dies and a new one is born. Once you see this, time doesn’t make sense anymore. There is no past that causes the present that causes the future. Life comes fresh each moment, completely unlimited by what came before. There’s no telling what will be born in the next moment.
We can’t see, for instance, how sadness changes into allowing because it never does. Sadness never becomes anything; it just comes to the end of its natural life. At some point it finally dies and something else unpredictable takes its place.
The question is, How willing are you to see that what is happening now in this moment has no relationship to the past? It’s a little weird, and yet a lot of things suddenly make sense, such as why it rarely works out the way we expect when we to try to change something. One way of saying it is Being doesn’t need to recycle. Being is limitless, so it just throws out the old and tries something new.
There’s a powerful sense of a flow of time. It seems like the present is affected by the past, and the future is affected by what you do now. That illusion is really convincing. That’s how good Being is at this game. But every now and then it throws out a whole new universe that doesn’t at all correspond to what just was, and then we’re left confused.
One of the ways this illusion gets maintained is through memory. Memory is the attempt to keep a dead moment alive. One way you see this is in a traumatic experience. In that moment, the experience seems to be too much, so rather than experiencing it fully, consciousness contracts and the experience goes into a memory or pattern of tension in the body. Because we weren’t ready to be there completely with that experience, we put it aside, where it remained undigested. This strategy makes sense when you’re a child and you don’t have the resources to be with an experience.
Experiences like these need to be digested. Once you see that whatever traumatized you is no longer here and that you aren’t a child anymore, you can handle looking at it. When you do this, you feel lighter. Anytime you let one of those dead corpses from the past go, you feel lighter. It doesn’t need care and feeding anymore. What a relief. Trying to keep anything alive that’s dead is a lot of work. No one has ever succeeded, even though we’ve all tried to keep some experience, some state, some perspective, some identity alive.
Every me that we’ve ever thought ourselves to be is like a zombie—the student me the adolescent me, the little boy/girl me. They’re just corpses; there’s no life in them. They’re totally imaginary. So, how do you change or heal the child or adolescent me? The healing comes when you see that this me doesn’t exist anymore; it’s an imaginary corpse you were trying to animate and fix or an imaginary experience you were trying to animate and re-write. But when you check, you can’t change it; it’s dead—and naturally so.
This simple realization is the end of the problem. When you get up close enough to an experience, you see that it doesn’t exist anymore. You see the truth of it—that it’s no longer here, and that frees you from that particular illusion of cause and effect.
There are two ways to go about this. One way is to go directly to this moment, where nothing from the past exists. Meditation and inquiry are both designed to bring you to this place where nothing exists. Nothing exists because it’s already dying by the time you notice that it’s been born. That’s how quick life is happening. When you come to that place, you realize that nothing’s around long enough for it to exist and that nothing that ever happened still exists. That’s the direct route, and it can dissolve all limitations in an instant.
The other approach is taking it bite by bite: You digest all that undigested experience. You work on your issues by bringing up those experiences. When you do this, it often feels like a burning. You experience an intensity, but now the experience doesn’t exist, so no matter how intense it is, you can handle it. And then something weird happens, and the experience is no longer an issue. That something weird is that you realize that the experience doesn’t even exist: You bit into something and found out that there’s nothing there.
When you digest one of those experiences, you do feel lighter and something flows and your life gets better and your relationships get better because now there’s room for that; you’re not relating to the dead parent or the old spouse that was around yesterday but to whatever is being born in this moment.
The problem with this approach is that it fosters the illusion that all of this work on ourselves is going to do away with our problems. It can easily turn into an attempt to create a better me, one who never has a difficult experience, and that’s not realistic. Besides, there’s an endless supply of dead problems; new ones are being created every moment. So with this approach, you’ll never be done. It’s not that there’s no place for this approach, but the point isn’t to create a better me but to become free by arriving fully in this moment.