Self-Discovery Portal

Doing Nothing vs. Being Nothing:
The Case of the Forgotten Self

by Art Ticknor

From a presentation at the April 2014 meeting of the TAT Foundation:


I want to check to see if I'm starting this presentation with the right assumptions: You're here this weekend to procrastinate the work that needs to be done, right? And my role is to enable that by keeping you in the state you think of as awake, by inspiring or irritating you for the next 45 minutes, right? :-)

Doing Nothing

My first mini-satori experience occurred in the winter of 1979-80. It was late on a Friday afternoon, back at work after having done a weeklong intensive with Richard Rose the preceding week. I was chatting with my secretary about knowing oneself, and she asked me: "Do you know who you are?" Searching for the truth of self had become my primary focus for the past year, so the question was not an unfamiliar one. But it was a catalyst.

Back in my office I felt something strange was happening, and I wanted to hold it off until everyone had left for the weekend. So I got a three-ring binder from my desk, swiveled my chair away from the door, and sat with the binder on my knee as if reading it. When everyone in the department had left, I got up, closed my door, turned off the light, sat back down, and relaxed or let go.

It felt as if my awareness were rising up, although I was still aware of myself sitting in the chair, and from "up there" I saw a new view. The words that formed in my mind were: "Something is!" And my reaction was one of awe: If something is, it had to come from something, and that thing had to come from something, all the way back to a first thing; but where did the first thing come from? It would have to come out of nothing! Manifestation seemed logically impossible, and yet it occurred.

I then felt my awareness coming back down. I knew the view hadn't been any final or ultimate view, but I accepted the fact that I must not have been ready for more. And then I felt my awareness start to rise up again. I found myself saying goodbye to those I loved in case it was a one-way trip. Again I got a new view: I saw that what's false is as valid as what's true—that there's a validity beyond any set of opposites—and titled the view as "Everything is just the way it is."

When I saw Richard Rose a few weekends later, I described what had happened. He nodded, saying I'd had a minor satori, and added: "But don't think that means there's nothing to be done."

I thought to myself: "How can he think I'd be so naïve?" But several months later, when I reviewed my journal from the period, I found that I had jotted down a conclusion after recording the event almost word-for-word that nothing therefore needed to be done.

Suggestion: Don't fall into the trap of thinking there's nothing to be done, the trap of non-doing or non-selfing. Find the source of doing, the real Self.

Comments? Arguments?

Being Nothing

Bernadette Roberts, in the self-published autobiography of her early years, recorded the following conversation with Father Columbanus, a Discalced Carmelite priest, which occurred when she was seventeen:

Columbanus: There will come a time when I will not be around to help you, but just remember, there comes a time in everyone's life when they must stand absolutely alone and separately face their own misery and nothingness.
Bernadette: So I am nothing, so what? I already know that.
Columbanus: To know you are nothing is very different from being nothing.

Suggestion: Don't settle for a conceptual knowing or understanding. Self-realization is an awakening to being your true, present identity with full awareness. The process is one of disillusionment, a conquest of illusion.

Questions? Comments?

Subtitle: The Case of the Forgotten Self

Not just any old self, but the self. So the question has to be phrased as: "Who or what has forgotten Itself?" Not Art, not the you that you believe yourself to be (that you've become identified with), but what we are at the core of Being.

The Supreme Self, the Absolute, apparently projects a relativistic cosmos where by seeming accident it forgets and remembers itself.


Recognizing/Remembering Oneself

I recently came across several references to a man named Francis Bennett, who reported discovering "the ever present presence of spacious, pure awareness … the unchanging essence of who he really is and always has been; the Supreme Self talked about by many sages and saints from many spiritual traditions down through the ages" during a 2010 church service in his Montreal monastery. "He also came to see, simultaneously, that this vast, infinite sense of presence at the very center of his being (and at the center of the being of everyone else on the planet) is actually not separate from the presence of God, which he had been looking for during his many years as a monk and spiritual seeker."

"Who we really are, on the most basic level, in your own experience, is simple, present-moment awareness. And the essential nature of this awareness is itself happiness, peace and pure bliss." [Quotes were from his website, which now seems to be repurposed.]

Your reactions?

That's not how I'd describe what I found.

  • Vastness describes the cosmos; the center has no dimension.
  • Simple, present-moment consciousness is uncertain, probabilistic, chaotic … ever-vacillating between happiness and unhappiness … an ever-struggling contest of fears and desires.
  • The core isn't happy, peaceful, blissful—it has no characteristics other than Isness.


"Only the Moment of Existence Remains"

Does that describe what you're looking for?

"Cure unknown. Cause unknown. Probably a virus. Possibly an imbalance in the blood minerals. Whatever the cause, the effect was the disruption of the cells on the outer surface of the brain, destroying the reasoning process, eroding the memory until only the moment of existence remains…." - Tony Hillerman, writing in 1986 about a fictional character with Alzheimer's disease.

Self-discovery is not trying to make a moving state static but finding the source of movement and non-movement, of life and death.

The Case of the Forgotten Self, continued

The self is that which sees.

Ramana Maharshi constructed a table of sentience, going up the levels of faulty belief to the Truth:

Object Seen


The body, a pot, etc.
The eye
The optic nerve-center
The mind
The individual self
The eye
The optic nerve-center (the brain)
The mind
The individual self / the ego
Pure Consciousness

He annotated the table with the comment: "The mind is nothing else than the 'I'-thought. The mind and the ego are one and the same. Intellect, will, ego, and individuality are collectively the same mind."

The eyeball doesn't really see the body or the pot; the optic nerve-center doesn't really see the eyeball, etc. He constructed a ladder to demonstrate the refinement of disillusionment as we lose identification with lower levels of non-sentience.

Who or what sees the individual self? The Real Self—labeled Pure Consciousness by Ramana. The occurrence is referred to by various names such as self-realization or self-recognition.

If you are That which sees, that which is truly sentient, then what's your feeling-belief about what would have to "occur on its own accord" to show you what you are?

Wanting - Seeking - Finding


Life objective: It amazes me how objective-averse so many people coming to philosophical self-inquiry meetings are. Their responses often fall into the category of: "Me? Life objective? How unsophisticated!"

A life objective comes from recognition of a life-size want—admitting a large dissatisfaction with one's life as it was or is, based on a feeling that something big is missing or lacking.

I think many people, possibly the majority, pursue satisfaction unconsciously, without framing an overall life objective.

Finding that which is missing—the forgotten self, true identity—involves:

  • Looking vs. sleepwalking; climbing Ramana's table of sentience, Richard Rose's Jacob's Ladder of misidentification, and
  • Seeing. The mind's seeing is an intuitional process that runs mostly in the background of consciousness. It brings us to the doorstep of finding. Direct seeing, knowing by identity, ends the search of the ego- or individual-self for its source.


You're (like) a river flowing toward the ocean: Maybe rapid-moving or sluggish; maybe shallow or deep; maybe near the headwaters or closer to the vague spot where the river loses its identity.

You're (like) a drop of water: Maybe a frozen particle, shortly before falling from a cloud that formed when water evaporated from the planet's surface, about to lose your particular identity sooner or later depending on all the factors that determine your fate.

I haven't found a magic wand to awaken someone from the dream of life. What awakened you this morning? You can hunt the magic wand or magician, but magic produces illusions. Awakening results from the conquest of illusions.

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