selflessness: “… a simple way to practice relaxing our grip on our self-sense that’s available to us at every moment … simply be present, right now …” ~ Elias Amidon
Self realization … self discovery … self inquiry … these are not only familiar terms but are easily embraced by any earnest seeker … but the term selflessness is a different story. It’s almost a pandora’s box … tends to evoke puzzlement or similar feelings … perhaps even panic or fear because it is ego-death?
Yet in the spiritual journey one has to face this fear … or meet this challenge. This “facing” or “meeting” tends to be seen as not easy … something very big … insurmountable or the like … but upon deeper exploration one finds a hidden treasure underneath.
Elias Amidon – in his usual very relatable style – posits that it is easy to embrace selflessness through a simple practice (that’s available to everyone) and shed the associated fear … but also discover that it is our natural state!
Elias is a Pir (Spiritual Director) of The Sufi Way who has been “an initiate of the Sufi Way for the past 44 years” … who, aside from Sufism, also explored Theravada Buddhism, Native American, Christianity, Zen, and contemporary Dzogchen as part of his life long pursuit of spirituality.
So, here is Elias on Selflessness …
Selflessness: From Fearing To Embracing
No matter what spiritual path you take — Sufi, Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Taoist, Advaita, Dzogchen — one day you arrive at a sheer cliff where the path ends.
At that precipice you face a seeming void: the voiding of your self. It can be a scary place, and most of us have had the experience of turning around at that point and making camp back in the familiar hills of our specific path, to be assured by its practices, stories, and promises. After all, who in their right mind would step off that cliff? There must be another way around! If I want awakening, enlightenment, freedom — if I want to be in God’s presence — I want to be there when it happens, and not voided in some spacey emptiness.
It’s not surprising there is confusion about this. Selflessness, ego-death, egolessness, fana (the Sufi term), psychic death (the Jungian term), self-transcendence, self-surrender, the dark night of the soul — however it’s been described — the precipice and what it represents feels like a threat to our sense of rootedness as existent beings. It seems only natural to withdraw from its edge.
Since birth we’ve struggled to establish our moorings in this reality by identifying our “self” with various layers of our experience, whether it be our body, our gender, ethnicity, religion, opinions, or other more subtle forms of identification. Of course, there’s some utility to this, at least when we can hold our self-identifications lightly. But when we hold them tightly, when we assume that what we identify ourselves with represents the truth of what we are, we set ourselves up for conflict and suffering.
We may have heard this expressed a thousand times in the teachings of our spiritual path, and we may accept it intellectually, but the obliteration we fear as we waver on the precipice of selflessness can still make us pull back from opening into its spaciousness.
There’s a simple way to practice relaxing our grip on our self-sense that’s available to us at every moment — if we can recognize it for what it is. We don’t have to be in a refined state of meditation or self-analysis; it’s an opening offered to us continuously and it doesn’t take any preparation to experience it. Simply be present, right now. It’s easy because it’s already given to us. There’s nothing we have to do to make it happen.
Notice that when you turn your attention to the presence of this very moment, there’s a little gap. It may only last for a few seconds. It’s when you relax from doing anything at all, when you stop reading these words, when you’re in-between thoughts and you’re not busy judging what just happened, or planning what might happen next.
Notice that in this gap there’s no sense of “you.” Your memories are not there, your language is not there, your attitudes about things are not there. Of course, you could bring up a memory, or a word in your language, or an attitude you have, but in the simple presence of this moment, none of that is present. Even your name is absent, even your gender, even your religion — there’s just this empty, open, clear moment, and it’s selfless.
Learning to relax knowingly in this present moment, even for periods of a few seconds, purifies us. It’s like when we were kids on a hot summer day in the back seat of the car, rolling down the window and letting the wind blow against our face. Eyes closed, smiling.
It doesn’t take being an advanced practitioner to let this happen. It’s not even scary, since this gap is familiar and doesn’t carry the big name of “ego-death” with it. For a moment or two, you know yourself without your identities and attitudes — you’re just here, without being “you.” Empty and fresh and present.
These little moments of purification are available to us at any time, and the more we refresh ourselves in them the easier it is for us to realize that selflessness is not something frightening or obliterating. It’s our natural state, and we’ve known it all along.
~ Elias Amidon
Elias’ writes a monthly Notes from the Open Path which are short contemplations on an approach to living wholeheartedly and in clear awareness (aspects of his Open Path teachings) … visit his website for more of his work: The Open Path – The Sufi Way.
The entire text of Selflessness above is authored by Elias and is excerpted from his May 2022 monthly email Notes from the Open Path (also available on his website). He has graciously given us permission to freely share these notes with our readers.
May you embrace Selflessness … and … discover the gifts therein …
May you remain safe and well.