who is attached to the body?

Vic Shayne
13 Pillars of Enlightenment: How to realize your true nature and end suffering

Photo: Min An

Have you ever enquired into your relationship with your body? If we can go back far enough to the point of our consciousness as a self then we would find a merging between the consciousness and the body that comes into this world as a living being, upon birth. And then we begin to grow; and as we grow we are taught who we are. Our parents and teachers, however, are not experts or steeped in wisdom, so they simply repeat what they have been taught to believe. They pass along their ignorance to us and we incorporate this ignorance in our appraisal and belief of what we truly are. This marks the beginning of our psychological struggle to navigate and make sense of a world rife with conflict and ignorance.

Our conflict comes from ignorance, which is the ignorance that tells us we are separate from what we are looking at; that we are not whole. When you take a look at yourself you are seeing yourself, are you not? The self is seeing the self. When you take a look in the mirror you are seeing your self, which is an image — not just a physical image, but also an image built out of thoughts of what you are. One the beliefs of the self is that we are a body with all of its attachments and identities.

what can we learn from experience?
There are many experiences in life that may show us that we are not our bodies. That is, the essence of what we are has nothing to do with the body, brain, our attachments, our thoughts, or our identity. People who have had near death experiences (NDEs) have realized that the body dies, yet awareness persists. When you’ve had out-of-body experiences (OBEs) you realize that the physical body is at rest on your bed while the awareness is elsewhere. When you are deep in meditation it is possible for the body to completely disappear from your reality, and yet the awareness is expanded and independent. And when you are asleep, the mind, the attention, is elsewhere so that the body might as well not exist, as it has given up interpreting the outside world for you, because its physical senses are mostly or wholly diminished or inactive.

Why, then, do we persist in believing that we are bodies and all they seem to possess and repudiate? Surely, this belief brings a great deal of sorrow and confusion for us.

is life purposeless if you realize what you really are?
I was having breakfast with a friend one morning and he said that if you realize you are not the body then it seems like there would be no purpose to living. His point was well taken, but it immediately struck me that he was inadvertently proving that it is the sense of self that regards things as good or bad, worthy or unworthy, important or unimportant, purposeful or purposeless, and so on. It is the self that is concerned about a purpose to life, and it is the self that worries whether it will be happy, fulfilled, successful, or needed.

Without the self’s worries there would be no concern about having a purpose. And this means you would be coming from love as your spiritual-mental approach to life. When you come from love then you are a force of creativity in the world; what greater purpose is there than this than to be literally self-less?

The self fears obsolescence and annihilation, and it does so because it has been erroneously led to believe that consciousness depends upon the body, when the truth is that it is the body that depends upon consciousness. Once the body is gone, consciousness continues on. By analogy, after you remove an old arm chair from your living room, the room itself remains unaffected and continues to exist. Life and its activities go on with or without the self. Removing the self expands one’s enjoyment and potential; while the self with all of its beliefs and emotional baggage diminishes it.

does the butler own the mansion?
“Purpose” is an interpretation or judgment made by the self, which is the sense of a “me.” The self finds it necessary to put its stamp on everything in life— this is good, that’s bad, this is stupid, that’s ingenious, red is ugly, blue is nice, and so on. There is no end to it. But this idea of purpose is intriguing if you really go into it to observe how it comes about. The self is like the snooty, persnickety butler who runs the mansion without letting any detail go unnoticed and uncared for. But the butler does not actually own the mansion, and he has no wealth or social status. So too does the self derive a sense of importance, pride, irritation, anxiety, power, and satisfaction by getting lost in thoughts pertaining to running the body.

the ‘who’ that is attached to the body
At the outset we began to enquire into who is attached to the body. It’s the butler who doesn’t stop to think that he and his mansion are not really linked. If the mansion were to burn to the ground he would have a sobering experience of separation. The one in charge of the body and all of its actions, experiences, and problems is not inseparable from the body.

The ultimate question here is whether it is actually possible to realize that the awareness and the body are not the same entity. And perhaps more importantly is the question of whether you care to entertain this at all. Maybe it’s never occurred to you that your suffering is due to your attachment to a body, so that no matter how hard you try to be a better, less fearful, more happy person you suffer nonetheless and your ‘“progress” seems to be temporary or incomplete.

we are not trained to be free
Few people want, or dare, to be free of the codependent relationship between consciousness and the body. This comes from a fear of the unknown and it begins with the self that wrestles with its own state of existence in ignorance — ignorance of what it truly is and that it, itself, is the cause of its own suffering. It has been said that freedom comes with a price. In this case, the price is the ownership of the body by an ephemeral idea called the self.

“Who,” then, is attached to the body? The answer is that the “who” is a fictitious being (the me, the self) created out of thought that believes it is the body itself. When this “who,” this entity, sees all the faults, attributes, emotions, hate, love, attachments, and characteristics that mark its life, it is actually seeing itself, and in this recognition is the potential for a realization that there is no separation of the self from what is. With this realization, we can see that we are not bodies, but rather the totality of all that is, with or without the body, possessions, ideas, relationships, or anything else that comes and goes.



…writer for 40+ years, mind/body practitioner, self-enquiry meditation, NY Times best selling author (https://amzn.to/2CeaSE), consultant, researcher.

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Vic Shayne

…writer for 40+ years, mind/body practitioner, self-enquiry meditation, NY Times best selling author (https://amzn.to/2CeaSE), consultant, researcher.