No-Self Versus Selfless

(This post is not about something I know. It’s about something I’m chewing on. The words end up contradicting each other in some ways. But somewhere in those contradictions is an important truth. Warning: this is rambly and probably not always understandable. I’m also sure there are nuances that didn’t make it on the page. It’s a mess. Welcome to my mess.)

There’s this thing I’m learning in Tai Chi. It’s about concealing my physical center. Once my opponent finds my center, they can manipulate it. They can use it to force me to move where they want. They can drive into it with force and cause damage. So I practice concealing it. I know it is well hidden when I can’t feel it myself. Then I feel like I have no center. I feel like a ghost. That’s the word my Sifu used too last time I went to Push-hands class. He said I was a ghost. No-self. Good luck trying to push the wind. Before you arrive I have already gone. Everywhere you look, I am already gone. It comes and goes. It’s hard to keep it going more than a few seconds. I’ll get better with practice.

To attain this loss of self, you need to know exactly where your self is. Otherwise you’re like a child who hides by covering their own eyes. It doesn’t work at all. You have to find it before you can lose it. Where is it? What is its shape? What does it feel like when it’s discovered? You let it interact with things. You feel it bump into stuff and you say “There it is!”  Then you learn how to avoid bumping into stuff. When you no longer feel the bumps, then it feels like it’s missing. You have entered the flow. “Go with the flow” seems like a simple piece of advice, but it’s so hard to achieve in practice.

It is kind of a mystical subject, because you don’t really feel at peace when you’re always bumping into things. On the other hand, it can be scary to not bump into things because every time you do, there’s that feedback, “Here I am!” Without that confirmation are you still here? Are you still you? We label the feedback. Some of it is positive and some is negative. We try to bump into good stuff and avoid the bad stuff. We bump back, harder.

So, last Friday I was on the treadmill. I was learning to conceal my center while walking. Is my gait smooth? Or is it catching? If someone pushed me would they be able to link up the connections? I found more than one center. Sure there was the main one, but there were other smaller ones, also vulnerable to being pushed. I attempted to conceal those too.

Then I noticed Khunm observing me practice. We got into a conversation about how this relates to Names. In Kemeticism, we know that Names have power, and it’s good to keep yours concealed so that others do not have power over you. I pointed out that when my center is concealed, it reminds me of the Nun, of not having a Name. The Nun and the Nameless do not have a great affect on the world. Your Name also gives you power to act upon the world. That’s why it’s good to have one, even if it can be used against you. It’s leverage. It is good to know the shape of that Name and how it interacts with the world. When used properly, using it is as effortless as a well-fitted key turning a lock. It’s good to fade into the flow, but you also need to know when and how to use your gods’ given Name within the world.

We had talked earlier about how getting stuck causes damage. You tense up to avoid bumping into the bad thing. You grab and fight to hold on to the good thing. In both cases, your center is revealed and open to the incoming force. That which doesn’t bend will break. Resistance meets power equals heat, which can burn. He told me this as he examined the cracks and burns in my own shell. I need to pick my battles more wisely. I need to stop bumping into quite so many things. I need to use my Name for its intended purpose instead of using it like a dull rock to blindly bash into stuff. (Especially if I’m bashing myself!) Bashing into things is sometimes effective, but it’s also self-destructive. Planning a better angle of attack is usually more effective. In other words, it’s a sword, not a hammer, dipshit.

We hear about non-attachment and no-self and selflessness in context with spiritual things. Most of the time, I don’t think we really understand what those things mean. Selflessness has a connotation that you have given yourself away to someone else, maybe to your god, maybe to the people around you. I tried that with Ra. It didn’t work out very well. His Name then eclipsed mine, but my Name isn’t Ra. Something was lost in that exchange. My Name has value. Every Name has value. It is a thing created in the world that the world has need of. I might not understand that need, but who am I to judge? I don’t think that giving away the self to someone else, even a god, and thereby negating your Name is the real point here.

Non-attachment sounds like not caring about anything. It sounds like apathy. I don’t think that’s it either. My Name contains the ideas of love and hate within it. But do I have to own the things I love? Am I obligated to the things I hate? If someone loves or hates me, do they get to determine my reactions? All they have to do is say the magic words to steer me from my path or send me into a rage. Are my buttons that easy to push? Taking control of my own reactions doesn’t mean I don’t care. I will let my fear/love/hate/sadness pass through me. I don’t deny it exists. I just try not to get stuck. (People hate it when you don’t jump the way they expect when they try to push your buttons.) But no, it’s not apathy. I tried that before too. It was a mistake. You spend so long trying not to show emotion, and then you realize you’ve stopped feeling them too. Feel and release. That is non-attachment.

None of these things are easy. This is not just “think happy thoughts.” For some reason we respect physical effort and the development of physical skills, but we think that mental skills come automatically.  I have no idea where we got the idea that our minds are obedient little slaves that roll over whenever we read a new book or hear a new piece of advice. When has that ever worked??? Who started spreading that myth? Once the myth is debunked we go the other way and think, well my brain just does whatever it wants, so there’s no point in trying. These things I’m talking about here are skills. Skills are learned. Skills are practiced. Skills require time and effort. Practice does not make perfect. It makes small incremental improvements with a staggering series of backsliding. Also, your practice and your improvement aren’t going to look like everyone else’s. When it comes to sports, I don’t have to explain practice and differing ability and the relationship thereof. Those concepts don’t go out the window when we’re talking about the mind.