Over the last year I completed an eCourse with Peter Ralston called ‘Transcending Self’. It consisted of 40 weeks of instruction, contemplations, exercises and discussion via email. While the structure is very simple, the content and experience is very powerful. Each week there were a series of challenging contemplations, exercises and a prompt to complete a writing assignment.
This was the 3rd eCourse I’ve done, and the other two were just as effective. Which is remarkable as they were on topics you would normally associate with having to do face-to-face: Tai Chi and Body Being. It’s a credit to Peter that his approach to teaching and the whole of Cheng Hsin is so easily learned with a little guidance and a lot of contemplation of one’s own experience.
Here were my thoughts prompted by some questions in the last week of the course:
Q: What was the course about as a whole?
Truth. Ontology. Being. Unknowing.
Contemplations and exercises offered to expand our awareness. Freeing ourselves from unconscious identification with our assumptions, manipulations and concepts. Each new contemplation and revelation appeared to be an opening and invitation: to be, present, unknowing. The instructions were straightforward, yet experiencing the truth of each paragraph was difficult. In each week we were given materials that offered a completely different approach, yet all seemed to be designed to enable a similar thing: transcending the unexamined assumptions around ‘self’. Fear, emotion, concepts, manipulation, knowing, meaning, time, space, happiness, being were all fundamentally reframed.
I don’t know really know what to say about the course as a conclusion. Being, unknowing, inquiring, contemplating and truth-seeking are all more familiar and accessible. It’s like new, unforeseen (yet ever-present) territory has been opened up, and from that new ‘ground’ I have a new orientation and relationship with infinitely more space for more revelation, deeper accountability and heart-felt appreciation. While this course is not directly about any relationships, ethics or effectiveness, it has improved all of those immensely.
Q: What was my experience of the course, overall?
Reviewing the course and assignments reveals a remarkable breadth and distance from where we began.
I learned a lot that was beneficial for my mindset, behaviour and relationships, though consider that learning a sort of side-effect of the contemplation of the truth and being. I still feel a huge gap between the potential and embodiment of this teaching and how I’m being and behaving, however I feel complete and ok with that as I realise it’s that very gap, fear or judgement that will immediately undermine my ability to relate and act from a sense of sufficiency.
Another distinction that became useful was between considering a) how I am doing the course, and b) how the course and instructions are doing me. Focusing on the first is necessary e.g. Am I completing the assignments? Am I able to communicate my experience or understanding succinctly in writing and in conversations? Paying attention to the latter of how the course changed my being or behaviour was even more important. I noticed the effects as I hold my ’self’ differently, respond differently, ask different questions, and prioritise my activities differently.
Q: Any other reflections?
Yes, lots! Here are some reflections, each paragraph separate and non-sequential.
I became aware that the ‘contractive’ response comes from trying to preserve some thing I call my ‘self’ and that I identify with. Something I believed was there and needed protecting. In each moment the choice is there to be open, responsible, flexible, and pay attention rather than to protect, contract and close. In doing that old behaviour, the only observable self that exists and that others interact with is the very same contracted, conflicted self. While I primarily experienced this shift in being in a psychological, relational context, the same also has also been true of physical interactions. While trying to preserve my fighting style, surfing style, or physical form, I notice how inflexible I can be when not ‘inquiring’ or paying attention to what’s actually occurring.
I can see how my ‘knowing’ and actions can be consciously and unconsciously about reinforcing my self-identity. I am now more transparent to myself, for example seeing how my hesitation or consternation can come from not wanting to do something as it’s not consistent with how ’I’ want to be seen. As I wrote in one assignment “My self may be nothing more than a misconception. A separation of being enables this sort of apparition. Through the primacy of the experience and boundaries of the apparition, there is a sense of control, capacity and relief from the tension of unbounded being. Each moment one repeats the mistake, re-minding one’s sense of self in separation. Now it seems there is some alternative way of being without separation, judgement, manipulation and self-identification: a continuous state of inquiring into being and action.”
I don’t really know what (or how) to summarise on the final few lessons (36 to 30). Mostly this was not something I can really articulate in writing, trying to manipulate words or explain what’s going on. Though the word ‘how’ was useful, as a contemplation e.g. how is music being? How is being? How is this being held? Just being and allowing being as itself. Complete and absolute present attention being or doing without a ’second’ perspective i.e. just ‘one’, no objectification, viewing, chatter, filter, judgement, manipulation or ‘meta’ commentary of self-definition. Perfectly being the monkey or a principle (e.g. honesty) for no particular purpose i.e. not for any gain other than being it, that, or ‘honesty’ perfectly. Being an un-Identified presence, in unknowing wonder, barely bearing complete equanimity while no-one is doing and in some ways absolutely nothing is happening. As, is, this: the taste and texture of experience, not ‘of’ or outside anything, as itself. Not asleep, just awake, without future, history, body, past, fear, anticipation, self-identity, protection, relationship or location.
The cumulative impact of this work has been quite remarkable. Week by week this ’self’ is outplayed, undermined, deconstructed, shown to have no history and no future, and to be arbitrary and non-existent (except as a misconception). Releasing self releases all sorts of tensions around improving, developing, protecting, changing or expressing one’s self. Embracing being opens all kinds of senses, possibilities, experiences and relationships.
Something of lasting value is simply being better at contemplation: being more comfortable, willing and confident to notice, frame and hold inquiries into some phenomena or experience. Contemplation in itself feels like a practise that enables coherence in mind, speech and action, which helps when my tendency had been a sort of split between abstraction and action (without a strong alignment between the two). I reflected on the how this is distinct, complementary and mutually-enabling of meditation. Perhaps in meditation it’s relatively easy to ‘let go’ of everything and experience being or truth directly, yet while doing so not noticing exactly what and how I am holding this whole experience. So, when my time for meditation ends, it just ends rather than with a deliberate practise of contemplation there is a stronger sense of intention and more direct influence on how I am and what I do.
Perhaps the other distinction is that in the the past I had even held meditation and even ’transcending self’ as a step or project or process towards a ‘better self’, whereas now my meditation is more about simply experiencing being. Anyway, I have a better sense of both meditation and contemplation together and separately, and the impacts of both forms of practising are more direct than previously.