Fish space out when they hear about water Experience is to you as water is to fish.

Today’s topic is a hard one for the same reason that fish get bored and stop listening when you tell them they’re floating in water.

Everything you’ve ever known has been an experience, just like fish have always been in water.

This topic is not only boring, it’s incomprehensible, because if everything has always been an experience, you’ve got nothing to compare it to and that makes the situation invisible.

By “experience” I mean your observation or witnessing or knowing or feeling or awareness of something that your brain has presented to you: a sight, a sound, a wondering, a memory, a thought, a piece of wishful thinking, a worrisome possibility, the intuition of God, the pain of arthritis, a burst of anger, the sense of a quiet mind, a sudden understanding, the relief of your biopsy coming back negative, love for your pet rabbit, etc. etc. etc.

The mind is a representation machine: it shows us representations of things, and it’s difficult to avoid the feeling or assumption that the representations are the things. It even shows us representations of ourselves, which we call “I”.

It even shows us representations of its own processes: wondering, seeking to experience, questioning, the endless cycle of instigating the next experience.

The Self — yourself — is outside of all that.

Most people know this on some level, but there’s a difference between knowing it and successfully applying it to vichara.

Experiences always include (1) an object, i.e., the representation experienced (it may be a very subtle “thing”; it may be God or a state of mind that you imagine to be enlightenment); and sometimes (2) the sense that I am having the experience. Number (2) is the ego.

You are neither of those things. You are outside experience. You are the knowing (the real knowing, not the pseudo-knower we call the ego) that makes experiences possible.

You are not an experience.

Incidentally, the ego doesn’t depend on belief in a “story.” The idea that the ego results from identification with a “story” is a kindergarten story told to seekers because it keeps the whole enterprise of seeking comfortably within the realm of experience instead of helping you transcend the prison of experience and break into the light.

The ego is (1) a representation of ourselves that our minds show us which includes, very importantly, (2) the representation (the feeling) of the mental activity that keeps the representations going which includes, very importantly, (3) the activity of looking for yourself.

The ego is mainly felt as the endless activity of seeking and obtaining experiences. This is why Ramana says that ego stands only so long as it grasps objects. If a thing is an activity, when the activity stops, the thing ceases to exist.

Why should you care about this?

Chances are good that you’ve heard or read a bazillion times that the Self is not an object. Chances are also good that no matter how many times you hear this, when you go looking for yourself, you inevitably try to find an object. You’re pretty sure this is wrong but you can’t find an alternative.

The reason you can’t find an alternative is that you are looking inside the realm of experience. You can’t help doing that for the same reason a fish can’t recognize that it’s wet: you haven’t yet noticed or recognized something which isn’t an experience.

I shouldn’t say “looking” because that word will probably mislead you. “Looking” pertains to experiences. There is a kind of noticing that can persist when looking stops. That’s what you’re after.

Don’t give up!

6 thoughts to “Fish space out when they hear about water Experience is to you as water is to fish.

  1. Freddie 🙂 you’re back. I don’t know why i decided to check back in here today but i did. and i find a new post.

    Hope you’re doing well.

  2. Freddie, brilliant, I mean, just brilliant article! What I can notice in my myself is that some of the ego’s activities (such as repeating the same thoughts from a past trauma) are charged by emotion. There is no let go and it prevents me from “looking” at myself without this experience. Those moments when there is no experience and the ego doesn’t rear its ugly head are rare and when it happens, doesn’t last very long.
    Could you please write an article on how we can dissipate and dissolve these emotion-memories and settle into our authentic self?

    1. Hi Rama.

      Sure, I’ve already written articles about destroying painful, compulsively recurring memories. I’ll link them in a minute. If those articles aren’t general enough or don’t really address your question please let me know.

      I agree that emotion is often (I’d even say usually) the driver of the thought process.

      Thanks for the kind words. Very interesting that you write them because after I reread this post, I disliked it so much that I wanted to delete it! 🙂 Since you liked it, and since there are now comments here, I guess I’ll leave it but change it.

      I know two ways of destroying painful, compulsively recurring memories. The first way you probably already know. It’s Ramana’s method of patiently returning the attention back to “me” every time a “thought” (i.e. any kind of mental activity whatsoever) arises. Like he says in Who Am I?, paragraph 6: “However many thoughts rise, what [does it matter]?” I think of this as the “brute force” method but as you probably know, he says it’s extremely easy. He and Muruganar wrote a song with the refrain, “It’s extremely easy!” Well, okay. 🙂

      There’s another way to destroy painful, compulsively recurring memories that I’ve written about on this blog several times. In those articles I refer to such memories as “vasanas” but in retrospect I think that’s probably not the right word. The series begins here.

      1. Freddie, this article you wrote is perfect as it is! No changes required.
        I’ll go through the links you’ve mentioned. Thanks very much!!
        During my practice, I noticed two things which I later experimented with some. They provided some relief. I need sustained practice to see if this helps to completely dissolve them.
        1. I noticed that under the influence of heavy emotions such as anger, sadness, fear etc, I tend to tense my body and/or specific parts such as shoulders, chest and the inside of my skull (yes!). After several minutes of doing this, my body aches so such that the pain becomes unbearable sometimes. So, just noticing and relaxing those sensations somehow lessened not only the physical pain but also the underlying emotion.
        Now I get that tensing my body is a reaction to the emotion and a way of resisting it. So relaxing, the opposite of tensing seems to help.
        2. When past memories, what I perceive as traumatic appear, I immediately ask myself – “is it useful for me to indulge in this memory again given also that it has resulted in physical pain utimately?”. Not in so many words but a quick internal “scan” and on several occasions, I’ve been able to quit thinking/encouraging this past memory yet again. That was helpful.

        I’ll go through the methods you’ve suggested. Just thought I would mention these two experiences of mine.
        Thank you again for all your articles, helpful tips and sharing your experiences!

        1. Rama, thanks for your continuing kind words but I think some of the things I wrote above are wrong.

          Thanks also for sharing your methods. Like you I’ve often noticed the strong connection (maybe even an equivalence) between emotions and bodily sensations. Like you say, you’ll see whether these methods have a permanent effect. I was talking only about methods that have a permanent effect, but I suppose methods that have only a temporary effect can be useful too.

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