In “The Principle of Selflessness,” (Week 2 of Rodney Smith’s Tricycle Retreat, “Selfless Practice“) one participant remarks on Smith’s “directness and subtlety” in his talk.

Indeed. Given the slippery subject matter, Smith’s directness is especially appreciated. As soon as we begin to seriously consider the concepts we cherish, such as the self, they start to fall apart. Language becomes more difficult to use. Struggling to find the right words, Eric, another retreat participant, found that quotation marks would help him describe his dilemma.

“I” have a sense that “observing”—or “observation of” my thoughts, or “seeing” my thoughts, or “watching” my thoughts—is just another thought. That is, a stream of thoughts will pulse through my mind, then suddenly I will “catch myself” and think, “Oh, look at all the thoughts that just passed through.” And it seems as if I am now observing my thoughts but the more I meditate, the more I question whether or not there is any great awareness taking place, or whether I am simply having a thought ABOUT awareness. I wonder if I’m not tricking myself into thinking there is awareness, when in fact there isn’t.

Smith responds:

The watcher when observed by awareness is shown to be more thoughts, though more subtle and slippery than our gross thinking. So I would not focus on catching every thought because that intention is often self driven and leads to the person who is watching. I would suggest being quiet and opening up to whatever is occurring, a more free floating form of conscious attention that is not object driven. What is seeing the thought is not a thought. What is seeing an experience is not an experience. You can be certain that whenever something comes into consciousness, awareness is what made it noticeable. Instead of getting annoyed with the forms that are arising, simply see what they are arising within. What is seeing out of your eyes? Not what you see but what is allowing seeing to take place at all.

To participate in this retreat you must be a Tricycle Community Sustaining or Supporting Member. View a preview of “The Principle of Selflessness” below.

Also, when you become a Tricycle Community Member, you can join a Special Community Discussion with Robert Chodo Campbell and Koshin Paley Ellison, the founders and co-executive directors of the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care.