Beyond Self

by Richard Bolstad.

Integration Book

As taught on the Integration course in Thailand, Crete and New Caledonia

For thousands of years human beings have searched for a state which is beyond time, beyond sorrow, beyond the isolation of the "self". Happold (1971) notes that such a state is described in all religions. In the Christian Bible, St Paul writes "I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me" The earliest Islamic poet of Iran, Baba Kuhi writes "I passed away into nothingness, I vanished; And lo, I am the All-living - only God I saw." The Hindu saint Paramahansa Yogananda explained "When one is illumined, he sees himself as the one Spirit throbbing beneath all minds and bodies." The Taoist teacher Huai Nan Tzu says "Those who follow the Natural order flow in the current of the Tao." In the Buddhist text Samyutta-nikaya it is explained that the feeling of "I am" has no corresponding reality, and that when this truth is understood then the state of nirvana is attained (Rahula, 1959).

In modelling the teachings of the Indian speaker Jiddu Krishnamurti (1895-1986), I have come upon a clear exposition of how, in NLP terms, the illusion of self is maintained, and consequently how it comes to an end. For us as NLP Practitioners Krishnamurti's work provides a series of recognisable NLP processes for unveiling the secret all humanity has been seeking. Further discussion of his teachings is found in other NLP articles (see Bolstad, 1996, 1997). Here I want simply to introduce four central "experiments" to use Krishnamurti's term; four processes which lead immediately to the experience of that which is beyond self.

A New Definition of the Self

The "Self" is a nominalisation of a process which we could call "owning" or "appropriating" or "identifying". As William James said, "The I... is a Thought, at each moment different from that of the last moment, but appropriative of the latter with all that the latter called its own." (Bolstad, 1997, p16).

Information flows into our neurology via the five senses from outside, from other areas in the neurology, and also as part of the various non-sensory connections between all life. There is a very simple mechanism by which, from moment to moment, our thinking then divides this information into two sets. I see the door and I think "not-me". I see my hand and I think "me" (I "appropriate" the hand to myself, or "own" it; I "identify" with it). Or, internally I see the craving for chocolate and I think "not-me". I see the ability to read this article and understand it and I think "me" (again, I appropriate or own it; I identify with it). Actually, all these pieces of information are in one mind! The notion of self and non-self is an arbitrary division; a metaprogram or internal sort similar to matching or mismatching. This division may be useful metaphorically, but it is a division which has "taken over" and now thinks it runs the neurology.

Like any metaprogram or internal sort, the owning of experiences as "me" and the disowning of experiences as "not me" occurs largely unconsciously, but is continuously active. The whole notion of strategies as we usually think of it in NLP depends on appropriating or owning one sensory experience after another in a sequence. A vast array of sensory experience is available at every moment, and the metaprogram of owning selects out one section at a time as "mine". It seems, for example, as if "I" am first holding a book, and then "I" am looking at the words, and then "I" am saying the words to myself, and then "I" am making pictures of the meaning. Actually, all of the senses are functioning all of the time, but conscious attention is shifting from one sense to another as the sense of "I" appropriates or identifies with each sense in turn.

Attention is not Concentration

Krishnamurti explains (Jayakar, 1986, p 378) "When thought identifies itself with sensation, then it becomes the 'me'... To observe with all your senses -in that there is no identification. The question is, can you look with all your senses awakened?... When there is movement of thought, then it is one particular sense operating. Can I find out if there is a totally different dimension? A state where consciousness as we know it ceases... This is only possible when the sensory as identification with thought is understood. Then the senses do not produce the psychological structure, as the 'me'"

So Krishnamurti says simply being aware of all of the senses at once puts an end to the process of owning/identifying. Here is the answer to a double bind which many students of "meditation" have been caught in. Students of meditation have often assumed that the ending of thought (particularly of Auditory digital representations) is the prerequisite for experiencing a state beyond sorrow. Zen teacher Shindai Sekiguchi explains the problem with this: "The common idea is that in order to reach this state one must empty the mind of all thoughts and ideas. This is in fact true, but the desired end cannot be achieved by consciously attempting to think about nothing ... Similarly, if I tell a friend not to think of a red monkey or a yellow hippopotamus, that animal immediately leaps into his mind to prove my point." (Sekiguchi, 1970, p6).

One solution to this dilemna has been to take the attention which has been wandering down various paths, and hold it in one sensory system (in Zen this is done by concentrating on the breath, for example). Krishnamurti argues that this leads to concentration, but not to awareness. It focuses the sense of self, but does not end it. Put in NLP terms, it may give your self a better strategy, but it does take you beyond strategies. He says (Krishnamurti, 1954, p218-221) "I am interested in so-called meditation but my thoughts are distracted, so I fix my mind on a picture, an image, or an idea and exclude all other thoughts... A business man making money is very concentrated -he may even be ruthless, putting aside every other feeling and concentrating completely on what he wants. A man who is interested in anything is naturally, spontaneously concentrated. Such concentration is not meditation, it is merely exclusion... A man who is fully aware is meditating... Then you can follow, without condemnation or justification [owning or disowning], every movement of thought and feeling; by following every thought and every feeling as it arises you bring about tranquility which is not compelled, not regimented, but which is the outcome of having no problem, no contradiction. It is like the pool that becomes peaceful, quiet, any evening when there is no wind; when the mind is still, then that which is immeasurable comes into being."

In terms of the sensory systems, as described in NLP, meditation simply means the simultaneous awakening of all the senses. "If you are so attending, all your senses are completely awake. It is not one sense attending, but the totality of all the senses. Otherwise you cannot attend. Complete sensory activity is a state of attention. Partial sensory activity leads to concentration...Can one see completely with all the senses? See not with the eyes alone, but with the ears; to listen, to taste to touch?... Watch yourself one day. Look at the sunlight and see whether you can see with all your senses, completely awake and completely free. Which leads to an interesting fact. Where there is disharmony, there is the self. Attention is complete harmony. There must be a great volume of energy gathered through harmony. It is like the river Ganga. Attention is a movement to eternity." When Buddha was asked "Are you a God?", he said "No!" When he was then asked, "Are you a man?" he again answered "No!" When the speaker finally asked him "Then what are you?", he replied "I am AWAKE!"

Exercise One: Differentiating The Senses

In order to awaken the senses, Krishnamurti points out, I must first be able to differentiate which sensory modality is active. It has been known for some time (Kimura, 1976) that when a person trained in music listens to an orchestra, a different area of their brain is activated than when a person with no training listens (the expert is identifying the musical instruments used and the structure of the music etc often using visual construct instead of auditory). When a person listens to a language they know, a different area of the brain is used than when they listen to one they don't (auditory digital versus auditory). Krishnamurti says (1973, p 466) "Can you see a tree without the operation of thought, without the image of the tree? -the image being the thought that says: that is an oak. In observing a tree what takes place? There is the space between the observer and the tree, there is distance; then there is the botanical knowledge [Auditory digital], the like or dislike of that tree [Kinesthetic]. I have an image of a tree [Visual construct] and that image looks at the tree... Is there an observation without the interference of thought? -that means without the interference of any image. You can find this out; it's not a question of just accepting or believing. You can look at your wife or your husband, the tree, the cloud, or the person sitting next to you, without any image." For this first exercise, then, just be aware of some specific thing (a tree, for example) and find out which senses are activated. Listen to hear if you name the tree, and then stop naming it, and look at it and listen to it without knowing intellectually what it is, and without comparing it to other images internally.

Exercise Two: Awakening The Senses

This is very simple to experience. Take a moment now to actually see the book in front of you. Don't name it as "book" or you'll end up staying in Auditory Digital and talking to yourself about attention (ie keep the senses clearly differentiated). Instead, just see the shape of the book. Expand your vision out, so that while seeing these words you are also seeing all else in your visual field. Now hear the sounds around you as you read; even the sounds of your own body, as you see all that you can see. Now add the tastes in your mouth, and the smells in your nose, and the feelings of your body, both inside and on the skin. Continue seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, feeling. Allow all the senses to be awake at one time.

Shortly, you may have found that your attention became concentration again, as you, for example, thought about what you were doing. As soon as you notice that, attention is there again, so allow all the senses to reawaken. There is no need to attempt to keep attention "constant". In fact, attempting to keep attention constant, like attempting to do anything else, is identifying or owning (ie loosing attention). It is the activity of the self. Each time, as your senses awaken, the illusion of the self disappears. As this is not a form of concentration, it need not be done in a certain posture. This exercise can be done throughout daily life, and returned to whenever one notices its absence. Krishnamurti urges not to treat it as a task. He also says (Jayakar, 1986, p244) "You cannot watch from morning till night. You cannot be vigilant, never blinking for the whole day. So play with it. Play with it lightly."

Dealing With Unpleasant States

One of the first challenges that people may come across when using the process of Awakening the Senses is that of unpleasant states. The temptation is to shift the attention away from these and thus begin the whole process of "disowning" or excluding them, ie of the self. Krishnamurti had an interesting model of how people maintain negative internal states. He held that painful states persist because the person has built a neurological barrier around the states, preventing them from "flowering" in a natural way, and dying like any flower, so that the next state emerges. The self actually causes suffering! Rather than try to solve the immediate problem a person raised with him, Krishnamurti would invite them to deal with this underlying dynamic. For example, questioned about how a teacher could deal with frustration in a student, he replied (Jayakar, 1986, p251) "How do you question so that frustration unfolds, so that frustration flowers? It is only when thought flowers that it can naturally die. Like the flower in a garden, thought must blossom, it must come to fruition and then it dies."

His own student, Pupul Jayakar, describes Krishnamurti's technique for this. It is reminiscent of several NLP patterns, such as Tad James' "Drop Through" technique (Hall & Bodenhamer, 1997). In the following quote, note that Jayakar uses the word "thought" where we would use "State": (Blau, 1995, p136) "He would lead you from thought to thought, till there was an ending of thought. He would do this, for example, with the thought of greed. He would do this with a rising of fear. He would keep on saying, "And then what arises? And then what arises?" so that you started observing, "what is", as it arose. You also observed, "what should be" as it arose in thought. So that one was awake in that instant of "what is"." Krishnamurti explains (Jayakar, 1986, p253) "To say that jealousy is the cause of attachment is mere verbalisation. But, in actually allowing jealousy to flower, the fact that you are attached to something becomes a fact, an emotional fact, not an intellectual verbal idea. And so each flowering reveals what you have not been able to discover; and as each fact unveils itself, it flowers and you deal with it. You let the fact flower and it opens other doors, til there is no flowering at all of any kind and, therefore, no cause or motive of any kind."

Exercise Three: Ascending States

Identify a significant emotional state which you may have resisted and prevented from flowering and ending. Be aware of that state, and check, as you're aware of that, that you allow it to flower, as if you were watching a flower rise up and die down again. Now ask yourself, "What arises from underneath that?" Be aware of that next state as it too flowers and dies down, and check again, what arises. Continue until you have run through to a state where there is no new distress which arises; until there is the pure ground of awareness again. At this point, people tend to report an extraordinary feeling of joy, of love, of oneness with whatever is.

The Deeper Layers Of Mind

A second challenge which may arise as a person continues to experiment with awakening the senses is that the self may learn how to go "underground", and attention turn back into undifferentiated Auditory digital introspection. In a discussion with world respected physicist Dr David Bohm, Krishnamurti discusses this issue.

"Bohm: That is always the trouble. Everybody gets into this trouble: that he seems to be looking at everything, at his problems, saying, "Those are my problems, I am looking." But that looking is only thinking, but it is confused with looking ... that means the operation of thought is unconscious for the most part and therefore one doesn't know it is going on. We may say consciously we have realised that all this has to be changed, it has to be different.

Krishnamurti: But it is still going on unconsciously. So can you talk to my unconscious, knowing my conscious brain is going to resist you? Because you are telling me something which is revolutionary, you are telling me something which shatters my whole house which I have built so careful, and I won't listen to you - you follow? In my instinctive reactions I push you away. So you realise that and say, "Look, all right, old friend, just don't bother to listen to me. I am going to talk to your unconscious. I am going to talk to your unconscious and make that unconscious see ... That changes me, not all this verbalisation ...

Bohm: to reach the unconscious you have to have an action which doesn't directly appeal to the conscious.

Krishnamurti: Yes. That is affection, that is love. When you talk to my waking consciousness, it is hard, clever, subtle, brittle. And you penetrate that, penetrate it with your look, with your affection, with all the feeling you have. That operates. Not anything else." (Krishnamurti, 1973, p.536-538 Italics are not there in the written original, but the marking out of these phrases is clear in the audiotape of the discussion)

And again "What is needed is a radical change in the unconscious. Any conscious action of the will cannot touch the unconscious. As the conscious will cannot touch the unconscious pursuits, wants, urges, the conscious mind must subside, be still, and not try to force the unconscious, according to any particular pattern of action. The unconscious has its own pattern of action, its own frame within which it functions. This frame cannot be broken by any outward action, and will is an outward act. If this is really seen and understood, the outward mind is still; and because there is no resistance set up by will, one will find that the so called unconscious begins to free itself from its own limitations. Then only is there a radical transformation in the total being of man. " (Jayakar, 1986, p266)

This is a principal well understood in NLP. If the self operates both consciously and "unconsciously" then to end the process of the self requires an action at the unconscious level. Krishnamurti calls this deeper action love. Love comes upon one when one suddenly discovers the beauty of a sunset, or a symphony, or a gentle touch. "There is beauty only when your heart and mind know what love is. Without love and that sense of beauty there is no virtue, and you know very well that, do what you will, improve society, feed the poor, you will only be creating more mischief, for without Love there is only ugliness and poverty in your own heart and mind. But when there is love, and beauty, whatever you do is right, whatever you do is in order. If you know how to love, then you can do what you like because it will solve all other problems. So we reach the point: can the mind come upon love without discipline, without thought, without enforcement, without any book, any teacher or leader - come upon it as one comes upon a lovely sunset? ... But you don't know how to come to this extraordinary fount - so what do you do? If you don't know what to do, you do nothing, don't you? Absolutely nothing. Then inwardly you are completely silent. Do you understand what that means? It means that you are not seeking, not wanting, not pursuing; there is no centre at all. Then there is love." (Krishnamurti,1972, p.86)

Exercise Four: Unconscious Transformation

The teachings of people such as Krishnamurti are designed to awaken this unconscious movement. That process has already begun, because as Krishnamurti points out, the first step is the last. There is no path to enlightenment. There is only a single act: to wake up! As you read these words, the act has already taken place. It may not yet be continuous, but then nothing is continuous. There is only this moment, and in this moment you can see, hear, feel, smell, and taste the life that is. That is all.

Love, as Krishnamurti says, may be the answer to all our problems. But to find it, the "me" that wants to find it must be still. Pupul Jayakar asked Krishnamurti what the essence of his teachings was. He said (Jayakar, 1986) "Where you are, the other is not!" And yet that other is the source of all that has been beautiful in your life, of all happiness, of all meaning. It is for the other that we live. The metaprogram of the self is constantly seeking continuity, through "owning" both experiences and things. And through this owning, one hopes to possess joy, love, beauty and truth.

The zen master Ryokan-sensei expressed it most eloquently. He lived in a little hut at the foot of the mountains. One night, a thief visited his hut, and was frustrated to discover that there was nothing there to steal. Ryokan said to him "You have come a long way to visit me. You should not return empty handed. Please accept my clothes as a gift." As the bewildered thief hurried away, the naked Ryokan-sensei looked up at the moon and sighed. "Poor fellow," he sighed, "I wish I could give him this beautiful moon."


Ascending States

  1. The guide begins in a resourceful state
  2. Establish Rapport, and restate the person's own word for the emotional state they want to change. Check "So you can get that state fairly easily as you think about those situations now? You'd know if that changed wouldn't you?" Then say "Just be aware of that [state 1] now."
  3. "As you are aware of [state 1], what arises from underneath that?" Continue asking until the person has gone through a "wordless" state (eg "nothing", "a void") from which a positive state naturally arises. Write down each state:

    State 1: ______________________________________

    State 2: ______________________________________

    State 3: ______________________________________

    State 4: ______________________________________

    State 5: ______________________________________

    State 6: ______________________________________

    State 7: ______________________________________

    State 8: ______________________________________

    State 9: ______________________________________

    State 10: _____________________________________

    If the chain repeats itself ask "What arises from underneath all that?" Stop just below the wordless state, checking that the person experiences a "physiological shift".
  4. Tell the person to stretch and breathe. Then start again at State 1. The second time, guide the person through, saying, for example: "As you feel [state 1] , be aware as [state 2] arises."
  5. Tell the person to stretch and breathe. Then start again at State 1. This time, ask "As you feel [state 1], what arises now?" The person will tend to miss out states and go straight through the wordless state. Repeat this until the ultimate state arises immediately.
  6. Tell the person, "As you experience that state now, just notice what you are hearing here now... at the same time as you see the things you can see now... at the same time as you feel the feelings in your body... at the same time as you smell and taste any smells or tastes... and awaken all the senses at once."
  7. "Try to think of that situation where you used to feel [state 1]. What happens now?"
  8. "Think of a future time, when in the past you would have felt [state 1]. What happens when you imagine that time now?"

This technique was developed based on the work of Jiddu Krishnamurti (1895-1986)

Dr Richard Bolstad is an NLP Master Practitioner and Trainer who has worked with clients individually and as a trainer of groups since 1990. He can be contacted at PO Box 35111, Browns Bay, Auckland, New Zealand, Phone/Fax: +64-9-478-4895 E-mail: Website: