What does it mean to say “not self?” I often hear the confusion of this penetrating teaching of the Buddha, ubiquitously described as the most transcendent and transformative aspect of his teaching.
For me, it is not an abstract idea that I try to understand so that I can believe it. Rather, it’s a moment to moment archaeological dig into my own experience to see if I can embody this precious teaching. What I find, when the mind is still, clear and quiet, is first that when I look for “me,” I can’t find any such thing. Rather, present to my physical experience, I feel constantly changing sensations of vibration, temperature, pressure, hardness, softness, flow. These sensations, indicate the aliveness of this body. In stillness, I see clearly that these sensations are shifting and changing all the time. Similarly, knowing mental and emotional experiences, I notice they too are constantly shifting and changing. These physical, mental and emotional experiences also are not in my total control. They appear to arise adventitiously, as a result of causes and conditions in my external and internal environments.
If this is to inform our life, we see that we are not a fixed, solid identity, but rather a collection of changing, shifting experiences to which we can appropriately respond in this very moment, not with fixed ideas of how things should be or of who we are, but with clarity of how they actually are. We are free to respond with what is needed rather than with idealistic ideas of who we are or how we “should” be.
We flow with experience.