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Whatever is not yours, let go of it.
Your letting go of it will be for your long-term welfare & happiness.
In the Pali Canon, the Buddha names two processes which comprise the delusion of selfhood: I-making and my-making. Whenever we think, “I am this,” or, “This is mine,” we set ourselves up to suffer.
I know this is Buddhism 101, but over the last few years I’ve found that actually practising not-self can feel quite inaccessible. I’ve used the meditation on elements within the body, seeing for myself how the air in my lungs is not distinct from the air outside, or feeling the presence of the earth element in my skeleton. During meditations like this, the Buddha tells us to reflect, “This is not mine, this is not I, this is not my self.” (SN 22.59) I’ve found this very effective during the meditation itself, but difficult to maintain off the cushion.
Recently It occurred to me that while I had experimented a little with I-making, I had never really experimented with my-making. The two are obviously related. If we truly possess something, it is under our control, which in the Buddha’s view is a necessary characteristic of anything that could accurately be called “self”.
In practice, however, I-making can be quite subtle and therefore difficult to notice and release, whereas my-making on the other hand is considerably easier to spot. The feeling of possessiveness is quite powerful. I sometimes feel it physically as a tug in my chest. This might happen whenever my housemate uses a steel spoon on my non-stick saucepan, or a cat pulls a thread out of my new jeans.
In the last few days, I’ve noticed that it’s possible to adopt a completely different attitude towards my possessions, by simply not regarding them as mine. I think of this as being the caretaker and not the owner of these things. A caretaker looks after things while they’re under her care, but doesn’t suffer any loss when they inevitably break or go missing. It’s important that a caretaker is still responsible—giving up my-making is not an excuse to give up all responsibility. She takes the best care of things that she can and even cherishes them while they last. But at the end of the day, they don’t belong to her.
Adopting this attitude has already brought me some peace of mind. I wonder if anyone here has used something similar. I’m interested to know, how do you practise not-self?
Thanks for reading—I know it’s a long one, but it’s been percolating for a few days now, and I wanted to do justice to the subject.