Here’s another installment in a series of emails that took place between Michael and one of his senior students beginning the Summer of 2009. May you find the exchange interesting and enriching.
Student: What is empathy?
Michael: An impersonal gift of seeing someone totally. We could also think of it as the opposite of greed.
Student: Makes sense. On another point, there are questions still surrounding what appears to be the separation between my experience and your experience. There is something that wants to make this separation the reality instead of seeing that it is an arising within one awareness that we share. So with that said, what is it that is stuck within experience that still sees you as apart from me?
Michael: Sounds like your small self is still fighting against the Big Self’s offering. This, of course, is understandable. Big Self is inviting the small self to recognize the fact that it is perpetually partial in its offering. Put simply, the ego hangs on to separation as a way of keeping its job.
The gift of non-separation that the Big Self sings means death to the small self’s priority, or, in Western terms, it is akin to ego death.
Student: The Big Self kills the small self?
Michael: No. There is no killing of anything as our awareness expands. We just begin to realize what is and what is not useful. We go past but bring along what we’ve always had in the same way that we’ve gone past our teenage and yet we bring it along in our experience as we mature. So we could say that the realization of the Big Self utterly diminishes the position of power that the small self has always known and has expected to maintain. And yet despite its newly diminished role, we bring the small self along as we deepen our practice.
Student: Something in me gets this intuitively but I can’t say that I understand what you’re saying. But the fact that I do not understand doesn’t negate or deny awareness.
Michael: Right. Awareness is beyond anything that you could ever consider “yours.”
Student: So I am before the “I” that thinks it understands. So who is left to want to understand what you’re saying?
Michael: Who, indeed. Awareness doesn’t want anything. Wanting can only arise from something that feels as if it is apart from the deep singularity.
Student: So this wanting comes from the mind, or the ego, or the small self that’s craving understanding?