What psychological role does Me serve in the human triad of Self? We are sentient creatures easily threatened. Things harm Me. Events bruise and batter Me. The Me is our fearful Self. Me is the pronoun cast in this vulnerable role. Research in rats and lower primates suggests how humans might minimize some elementary limbic contributions that create this fearful Self. Animal research provides other hints: how to diminish my Self’s strong instincts to hold on like a pit bull, tightly attached to any material possession and opinion I believe is Mine; how to become less angry when my turf is threatened.

Dr. James Austin, a retired academic neurologist and longtime Zen practitioner

But what about positive experiences? Can someone who has been shorn of Self experience an affirmative impression at that same moment? Yes, for several reasons. Because a profound release arrives during the very act of cutting off the pejorative layers of the
I-Me-Mine, and it contributes to the net positive sense of experiencing a great Amen. A release from what? From the vast mental superstructure that had not only overconditioned our past [and] multitasked our present but mortgaged us to an anxiety-ridden future.

True, other primate societies create complex psychological problems. Yet few societal burdens match the layers of psychic complexities that “civilized” human societies impose daily on each Self. This helps explain why kensho’s sudden release from the weight of all prior overconditioning enters experience as a profound “lightening up.” No burden of thoughts that you could create willfully when lifted from the top of your psyche would lead to such release. Instead, when kensho liberates the unconscious, it is the convictions at deep psychological layers that drop out of the bottom of the bucket.

From Selfless Insight, © 2009 by James Austin, M.D. Reprinted with permission of The MIT Press.

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