I haven’t worked through this fully, either cognitively or meditatively-experientially, so I may think something different in the future.
A while back, I had at least some (but unmistakable and deep and pervasive and stable) elements of the figure/ground reversal that Shinzen Young talks about, sort of like you no longer identify with experience or the experience of the self, but instead you identify with where experience comes from.
I haven’t deeply and carefully examined this for myself. It might not be homogenous/uniform, and there’s many senses in which I still have a self and am still identified with my self and self sensations and self-concept and beliefs about my self and motivations relative to having a self… But I’ve also lost a fuck-ton of selfing and self-reference and self-significance and self-historical-non-transcedence. So, there’s probably a lot of careful and useful distinctions to be made here.
In any case, when this happened, I sort of gained this deep, refreshing peace, that’s always back there. I can still experience intolerable emotions, and my mouth can taste metallic from stress, and I can’t exactly dip into or reflect on or be as that background as a reliable tool for being in the world.
But something very interesting happened with respect to death. Again, I don’t know if this is flawless, and I haven’t examined my current state very carefully with respect to this. Also, I’m not obviously cycling or intending to rack up lots of fruitions. I currently don’t think it’s necessary for getting all the goodies. So what’s below is provisional.
But, when you blink out or have attended to some relevant aspect of a fruition or have some insight into emptiness and mind, when you’ve tasted true nothingness, or at least have had experience on either side, something becomes ok about death? Some author has probably said this more eloquently—I’d be curious in the comments.
Like, we’re all striving to make everything ok, so there’s somewhere somehow, even in the deepest state of agony and despair, somehow in that is the belief that it’s going to be all right in the end. Even in totally giving up, implicitly that giving up is to get something. (Some philosopher’s have made this point concisely, I think. Analytically (see analytic/synthetic distinction) all (true? representation-based? handwavehandwave) goal-oriented systems are acting on the basis of the goal being fulfilled, even if part of the plan involves figuring out the goal or replanning. Somethingsomething.
Anyway, the nothingness happened. Inside of itself it did not carry knowledge or expectation of there being a world on the other side. There was no experience, no time, no consciousness, nothing. Perfect experiential annihilation.
I was originally going to write that so then that nothingness has to be ok? Has to be completion? Even perfect goodness? Perfect satisfaction?
But, that’s not quite right. My goals, what I want, contains experience, is experiential. I’m surely so dumb about much of what I want. But right now I want profound intimacy, profound goodness for other people, etc.
So what’s so good about the perfect annihilation thing, if it’s not good in and of itself?
Well you sort of learn that the nothingness is pregnant, potent. It itself is not experience, but just on the edge of it, spatiotemporally, is this like limbing of pregnant potency. Like, the void is alive.
And you sort of learn that nothingness gives rise to you in each moment. (I haven’t currently trained up my perceptions to actually be aware of this in any contiguous succession of moments.)
And so, like, permanent annihilation is still like critically bad.
But, you lose your fear of the instant before any potential instance of experiential annihilation. And, I’m leaving so many reasoning steps out, maybe the logic won’t hold, but you sort of have to believe you’re going to come back anyway. You sort of have to believe that there’s continuity. Like, we die in each moment between moments of consciousness anyway (which can be detected with training) and come back as something different.
So like if you get hit by a train and die, is that any different than the blinking out every few X milliseconds?
I mean it’s really fucking different in lots of ways, but something has changed. I don’t know what it’s like for other people who’ve tasted nothingness, emptiness, fruitions, etc.
I want to qualify not being afraid of death. I don’t want to die, but some deep, really significant existential horror has blinked out. (I still experience other horror if I go looking for it or am unlucky, though, less and less and less and much of it is empty in the technical sense.)
And, that horror blinking out makes it possible to turn a really important crank: being able to really, truly look at one’s goals. I think that being able to really truly looking at one’s goals may necessitate solving lots and lots and lots and lots of puzzles. And/but one of the critical puzzles is this death piece thing.
It becomes ok to look, all things being equal, and in potential.
So, I still have to work through all sorts of reactivity. I think, like, I’ll still contort and torment myself and experience sick, hollow, hopeless, time-stopping dread if someone e.g. pulls a gun on me. But now there’s a sense of optionality around that? Of the possibility for mere correct action (up to the training or preparation one has had for potentially life-threatening event X)?
I think it won’t be safe to not be “reactively” “reflexively” scared/terrified/tormented of/by death-in-the-moment or specter-of-death-in-the-future until one has concrete and fully general strategies for not dying that are strictly and universally better than being scared/terrified/etc by death. So like being scared of dying is useful until the mind has something better. Being scared of dying is really inefficient. Instead why not just take skillful actions? etc.
I’m sort of hinting at like a belief now in reincarnation and maybe the above could still be interpreted as me being fractionally less likely to preserve my life in all the situations where one might endorse preserving it. (Would I sacrifice myself for a kid? A life partner? I dunno.) Did I break my brain? I don’t think so, though maybe of course I’d say that.
It’s more just, like, there’s this extraordinary new fractional spaciousness now around death, I can defer thinking about a bunch of stuff because they’re not necessary for doing the best thing now, and there’s this huge weight off my shoulders, the possibility of looking directly at many things that I couldn’t look at before. Perhaps I’m one step closely to just being able to live fully, which includes viciously but ever-yet-more-non-self-torturously strategizing around having a rich, full, good, healthy, safe life. Lots of other moral/experiential/strategic/intimate puzzles to solve, and lots more to think about re metaphysics, death, quantum field theory, consciousness, physicalism, reincarnation, many worlds, healthy eating, exercise, life extension, etc. But now there’s more optionality and my life and my expectations for my life are better. So much better. And it’s been rock solid for many months, now.