The more I notice how little (if anything) I have control over, the more I seem to be nothing but a witness to what plays out in the field of experience.
So much of what happens to me, so much of what I think or feel, is out of my control. I act, I make choices, but rarely with full knowledge even of what choice it is I am making, much less the implications and consequences of that choice.
It seems we are a society of commentators, commenting on the strange things experience throws at us.
I don't choose my thoughts or feelings, I don't choose much of what happens to me. So much of what constitutes my experience is a reaction to something that has risen in the field of experience. Something strikes me as odd, or tragic, or funny. Then the witness/commentator sometimes feels moved to express that observation, like a musician might feel moved to respond and "riff off of" something someone else just played. Or sometimes it is silent, and the thought effervesces away as if it never existed.
So then, this "witness," this commenter/observer, is what feels like "me." I can't find "me" pulling the strings behind my experience, but I can find "me" watching it all, reacting to it all. My body is not "me," what happens to me was not chosen or willed by "me," my feelings and thoughts are not "me"... so much of this just seems the rumblings of the organism as it interacts with the rest of nature... but then there is that pesky "me." The "I think, therefore I am" that Descartes encountered. Except more like "I think about my thoughts, therefore I am."
But then, the practice of Zen, coming back again and again to the realization that this annoying pundit that thinks of itself as "me" is always wrong. Whatever I think about what is happening is just a fabrication. Just a story. I don't know where "me" comes from, or what it is, but it is like a hologram, a dumb one at that, some hokey dime-store thing with 'MADE IN CHINA' stamped somewhere on it.
So the witness, as ever-present, annoying, and misinformed as any Fox News pundit, is an illusion, an annoyingly convincing one, that you feel like a dumbass for falling for every single time.
And that's what Buddhism seems to teach... that "me" is an illusion... with Zen adding that it is experience free of "me" that is THE REAL DEAL...
But... how can we say that "direct experience" is real? It may be less fabricated than the witness, but it's fabricated nonetheless. The direct experience of taste, or smell, or touch, involves so many different processes of contact and interpretation and brain processing. So CONCEPTION is illusory, but so too is SENSATION.
This all sounds heady, but I make this point because it is something I feel in the pit of my stomach every day, that there must be something that is real, somewhere, but where is it? For as long as I can remember, sense data has felt false to me, or rather 'walled off,' as if I was blocked from the objects I was sensing by a foot-thick not-quite-clear glass wall. My 'secret practice' early on was that I could sit zazen enough that this glass wall would shatter, and suddenly everything would feel real! I would REALLY taste and REALLY feel and REALLY see. And in addition to that hope, I have sought out intense flavors, intense physical sensations, intense sounds, intense visuals, intense psychological experiences. Because it takes something intense to break through the wall and really feel like something. Oh, THAT was something. Now back to THIS, which feels like nothing.
I've had some "clear" moments, but I can never hold on to them. That was what I did for so long, chase after the feeling of realness. Until one day the thought arose, "Why shouldn't I feel a few steps removed from my experience?" Doesn't research show that any perception of sense data that arises is based in the brain, a few steps removed from the initial contact (chemicals entering the nasal passage, the hand brushing over a surface)? Maybe that feeling that sense data isn't quite as direct or clear as it seems to be IS the real deal.
So if the witness/commentator is a dime-store hologram that is always wrong about everything, and what we perceive directly through the senses is a construction of the brain, what the hell is real? Is the feeling that something is real just another trick?
Put another way: I'm tired of living in a sandcastle, thinking it's really a castle, but when the waves come wash it away, they wash away not only a sandcastle, but the whole beach, and then there is just the sound of the ocean, but even that is just a crappy bit of guesswork done by my brain. Why kick over the sand castle if there's nothing any more real than the sand castle?
Why take the red pill?