For the rest of this year and most of the next, I’ll be sharing a section each week from THE FRICKEN MAP IS UPSIDE DOWN , my latest book. From start to finish, from my heart to yours. From the big comfy chair.
You’re just in time for week two of this free series. So go ahead and get settled into your own comfy chair, grab a mug of something nice to drink, and read on.
(The following content is excerpted from The Fricken Map is Upside Down: Notes from a spiritual journey, by Carrie Triffet © Copyright 2019.)
It’s all fun and games until somebody loses an ‘I’
With a toss of her head, the woman across from me flipped back the curtain of blond hair from her right eye. It was the sort of haircut designed for one-eyed living. The sort of haircut that would drive me mad if it were mine. She smiled warmly across the café table and regarded me with one-and-a-half eyes, her tresses falling right back into their preferred spot.
‘Who is the ‘me’ that would be driven mad by this haircut?’ She inquired patiently.
I sighed. It was my own damn fault. Steve and I had been wanting to broaden our circle of acquaintance. Genuinely fond as we were of the local villagers in our corner of the English countryside, we found ourselves forever feeling like exotic specimens, seemingly the only tree hugging, Source-loving, moonstruck metaphysical types in a ten mile radius. I guess we were craving the company of like-minded souls. People on a spiritual path.
Steve had recalled her name from the distant past, a woman who had once been active in the local non-dual Awareness community. With a little diligent research, I found her on LinkedIn. As a job title, her profile had stated ‘Living from pure Awareness’ or something like that. I had taken it to be an aspirational statement. As it turned out she really was living from pure non-dual Awareness, and had been for decades.
She was of that rare breed, one who suddenly becomes enlightened in the middle of doing algebra homework, or cleaning the litterbox, or whatever. One day she spontaneously woke up, and all sense of a personal self crumbled away forever into the void. She still went through the motions of living a life, raising a family, holding a job. Yet no person was present for any of it. Nobody was thinking, yet thought was occurring. Nobody was making peanut butter sandwiches for a toddler, yet sandwiches were made. Life, in the shape of a soft-spoken woman with an asymmetrical haircut, was happening all by itself.
This complete loss of personal identification is seemingly the holy grail of the non-dual path, and for many years she had obligingly worked with eager seekers who hoped to experience for themselves that same stateless state. Even though, as she would tirelessly point out to them, there is nothing to experience. Experience is happening, but there is no experiencer.
Not unreasonably, she had assumed Steve and I had invited her out for coffee because we wanted some relentless non-dual pointing toward truth. In fact we invited her out for coffee because we like coffee. After a good hour and a half of no conversational statement left unchallenged—Who is the ‘I’ that feels burned out? Burnout is simply happening—we thanked her and made our exit.
That was a few years ago. A couple of years before that, I’d had a brief taste of the very truth she’d been pointing toward so patiently. Back in April of 2014, while wandering aimlessly through the walled city of Old Jerusalem, in the midst of overwhelming heat and hubbub, it happened. Without warning, the personal self, the personal Carrie, suddenly vanished.
I realized ‘I’ didn’t exist. Had never existed. I was not the busy person immersed in highly important doings, that I had always assumed myself to be. I was, in fact, a figment of my own imagination. Surrounded by this noisy tourist throng, I knew myself only as an impartial and impersonal gap through which oceans of stunningly irrelevant Carrie-centric stuff had always poured forth.
My feelings, my worries, my passionate opinions about everything and nothing. My ideas about the spiritual path, and how it was supposed to unfold. None of it was real. None of it mattered. Only this majestic emptiness mattered. It stopped me in my tracks. I sobbed a little.
I’d been a seeker of enlightenment for a very long time. Some kind of dramatic shift in perception was exactly what I’d been aiming for, hoping for, all along. Not this kind of dramatic shift, mind you. This one sucked.
This one, adding to its other peculiarities, was only a partial shift of perception. One in which there was definitely still very much an experiencer. (Sorry, nice blond lady.) And the acute experience of sudden identity loss, coupled with the recognition that none of the things I cared about had any meaning at all—well, it was infinitely more disappointing than I’d bargained for
The spiritual seeker part of me was thrilled to bits nevertheless, because on some level I recognized this impersonal spaciousness could lay the groundwork for the permanent inner peace I’d always sought. This part of me lobbied hard for making spacious emptiness our new home base. But the vast majority of me wanted absolutely nothing to do with it.
As with so many other things in life, when it comes to accepting an awakening opportunity, the majority rules. So the brief recognition of untethered grandeur faded as quickly as it came. In its aftermath my response was typical of the way I tended to view such awakening moments: I was bitterly annoyed with the part of the self that refused to get with the program. The foot-dragging part that always seemed bent on spoiling my heavenly fun.
For most of the previous decade, my focus had been on teachings of ultimate truth, beyond the limiting world of form. Pure, pristine divinity was all I was interested in. I had no curiosity at all about that mysterious ‘silent majority,’ no desire whatsoever to find out why this inner self might be choosing to lag behind. I had no patience, understanding or compassion for life as viewed from its limited perspective. My spiritual roadmap simply didn’t allow for that.
Years passed before I recognized the actual truth being pointed to so insistently, in that stifling hot Israeli marketplace. The non-dual awakened moment wasn’t it. That moment of dis-identification with the personal ‘me’ was only acting as the pointer.
The reluctant inner self it pointed to, I eventually realized, was the unlikely key to just about everything. In an altogether unexpected way, the inner foot-dragger turned out to be at the very heart and soul of permanent peace.
~ Carrie Triffet, excerpted from The Fricken Map is Upside Down: notes from a spiritual journey, © Copyright 2019