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Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea
Sudhir: Hi, James. I’m currently reading your autobiography and Teachings of Ramana Maharshi at your website, and I’m really amazed at your understanding and ability to explain this complex subject. However, the reason I’m writing to you does not have altogether to do with spirituality, at least in a direct way.
I was also watching your videos at YouTube, and heard you mention the word “depersonalization.” But the main reason I’m writing to you is because you really understand what mind, consciousness and body really are.
I’ve been suffering from depersonalization disorder for the past 30 years. I’m unable to feel the reality of myself. This state was brought about by an emotional trauma I suffered in my teens due to a separation from my sister. That event does not affect me anymore, but I’m trapped in this state and can’t get out. As you may know, medical science has a very limited understanding of this and not many solutions.
I’ve tried many other treatment modalities, but nothing has helped so far. I even tried reiki, but the energy seemed to stop after a while. I’m currently doing Zen meditation and it helps me get through the day.
What I know is that this state can also be brought about by Zen meditation. Therefore I’m asking you this question and wondering if you, with your immense knowledge about self, consciousness, etc. would know what the underlying cause is and a possible solution.
I won’t be too surprised if you do not respond, as I know that you’d like to receive emails relating to Advaita, but I just have to try.
~ Best regards/namaste
James: What do you mean when you say, “I’m unable to feel the reality of myself”?
Sudhir: It means just what it says… I’m unable to feel the reality of myself… I can’t feel the “me” inside me. I came out of this state three times in 1989 for no apparent reason and it was instant, but it did not last… that’s when I knew that there’s something wrong with me and sought professional help. That’s when I was diagnosed with depersonalization (DP). I also have derealization, which is DP directed outward, i.e. the world seems to be behind a kind of haze… it’s a little hard to explain. There are many people suffering from this, but since medical science doesn’t really understand the cause, it doesn’t know how to cure it. It is something that I’d describe as a “negative nirvana.” Thanks once again, and let me know if you need more information.
James: Thanks for the reply. I understand exactly what you are talking about now. There is a solution. You came to the right place. It is a spiritual issue that has become a psychological problem for want of resolution. The psychological explanation is quite reasonable, but it obviously only considers the situation from the position of the body-mind. The spiritual explanation includes another factor, the self, which is unknown to the psychological people.
You say, “I’m trapped in this state and can’t get out.” That is true, but it is not true. If you identify with the mind, the subtle body, the person you call Sudhir, it is true. It is a state of mind between the world and the real you, the self, or awareness. It is not true because you are already out of the trap but you don’t know it. The crux of this problem relates to your idea of yourself. When you say you are trapped in this state, you are thinking of yourself as an ego, the experiencing entity, the doer/enjoyer. This is not actually who you are, but 99. 999999% of the world’s population thinks they are this entity. It is not actually a real person. It is just an association of the I, consciousness – the real you – with a particular state of mind. This is why you cannot feel the reality of myself. The self you are talking about does not have much reality. It has a bit of reality insofar as you experience it, but fundamentally it is empty of meaning. Identifying with it causes a “negative nirvana.”
The factor that is left out of your description is the one who is aware of this condition. Who is that? This is where the solution comes in. The solution is self-knowledge. It is interesting that you wrote me because there was a woman in a seminar I did in Turkey recently who had been suffering from depersonalization for thirty years and had tried all the medical and psychological and quasi-spiritual solutions. Nothing worked until she heard the teachings. When the self was revealed to her, there was a great relief because she realized her mistake: identifying with the experiencer, not with the one to whom experience presents itself, the one who is always present and free of all states of mind. It will take time to break the identification with the experiencer, but there is now a way out.
You are not what you see. You are not what you experience. When the lady told me that she was dissassociative, as if it was a problem, I told her that it was great! You should be disassociated from the world and your body-mind. In fact you are always disassociated. They are simply objects appearing in you. The ignorant, worldly part of you only knows the world of objects and wants to find meaning in that world by negotiating its way through it. But there is nothing to get there. The Buddha called the psychological condition that comes from the realization that it is devoid of self-nature dukkha. The word is generally translated as “suffering.” This is correct. This is your condition.
But it is important to understand why the suffering happens. It happens because you expect something different. Dukkha is a compound world. Du means “suffering” and kha means “hollow,” or insubstantial. The traditional example is bamboo. It looks very solid and substantial from the outside, but it is hollow or empty within. When you come into this world you take the world to be real. But at some point – in this case the trauma you mentioned – you realize it is empty. This puts you into an existential funk. You feel trapped. But there is no place to go because your attention is riveted on your body-mind and the world around. You cannot engage, because you know there is nothing there. It is a kind of existential limbo. The problem is not that the world is empty, because it isn’t. The problem is that you can’t see that you are full. You are unable to turn your attention away from the body and mind and the world and look at the one who knows that the world is a dream. When you do this, you see that the emptiness is actually a fullness, that everything is meaningful and beautiful and that there is no need to connect with it, because it is already connected to you. So this is a knowledge problem. When you do not have self-knowledge it becomes an experiential problem. You want a different experience. But your experience of disassociation is caused by faulty self-knowledge. As I mentioned above, you take yourself to be the experiencer, not the one to whom experience presents itself. It may take some time for you to realize this and for the import of this realization to change your experience – which it will.
If you can’t get it on your own, then perhaps you can come to one of my Vedanta teachings.
Sudhir: I’ve been reading and studying Advaita for the last four years. The only reason I can understand completely what you’re saying is because of my exposure to U.G. Krishnamurti, whom I hold in the highest regard as far as Advaita is concerned.
However, how would listening to more of the same thing make a shift? I’m caught in between. I can either jump to the experiential “normal” state or I can be in the state that he, Nissargadatta Maharaj, Ramana Maharshi and possibly you are in. At the moment, either one is acceptable to me.
How do I make the jump in either direction ? More knowledge is not the answer. Of that I’m sure. I have physical symptoms… dizziness, heaviness of the head… how can I get rid of this?
James: You are right, more knowledge as you conceive of knowledge is not the answer. Self-knowledge is the answer. It is not ordinary knowledge. The shift takes place when self-knowledge happens. It is a consequence of self-knowledge. The problem is that you think you can make the jump and get into a state where the suffering stops. But it does not work like that, because the doer, the jumper, cannot make a limitless jump. Wherever you jump you will always land in maya. When you understand that you are awareness, the doer, the jumper, is neutralized. The dizziness is due to too much sattva and rajas. The gunas, not the trauma, are the cause.
To make the shift you have to see that you have already shifted, meaning that you are awareness, not the doer, the sufferer/enjoyer entity. Adding to your problem is the fact that you have learned Vedanta intellectually, but you have never been taught Vedanta properly. Uji was a realized soul, but he was not a proper teacher. He would be the first to admit it. In fact he called himself a barking dog. He talked about realization but he did not have the method to reveal the self, although some people got epiphanies and awakened in his presence.
Enlightenment is not a special state. I am not in any state nor is any mahatma. All states are in me. If anyone says they are in some kind of special state, they are not enlightened. Enlightenment is simply the knowledge “I am awareness” and a practical understanding of what it means to be awareness to the part of you that is appears in samsara.
Vedanta is not intellectual at all. It is a means of knowledge that needs to be wielded on you. It is a very successful means, but you have to expose your mind to the teacher and the teaching in a systematic way because the identification with the doer is hardwired. At some point during the teaching self-knowledge takes place and eventually your identification with the doer ceases.
Here is something to think about: If you know Sudhir and his disassociation problem, are you Sudhir?
Sudhir: Before my separation from my sister in 1981, I used to love myself… I used to think, “There is only one me in this universe… it doesn’t matter what destiny has in store for me… whether in the future I am a success or end up a beggar on the streets, I’m still the only one who can feel myself, and that is enough to sustain me.” It’s rather ironic that that “me” is what I lost.
James: Why bother about that “me”? It is not you. If you can lose something, it is not real. It is not you. You cannot be lost. And if you are referring to the self, you did not lose it. It is the self that is writing this letter to me now.
The things that happen to us are not statements about us. What did the loss of your sister have to do with your self-love? You still love yourself. If you didn’t you would not be writing this letter. The loss of your sister had nothing to do with you. It was just Isvara taking back what it had given. She was not given to the world to make you happy. She came to work out her karma. When it was done, she left. You were very attached to her and you are still attached to her. She lives as an idea in your mind. You suffer because you believe that you need someone else to make you complete, not because she is gone. To heal you need to see that this is not true. You need to forgive yourself for believing that you can only love yourself when someone loves you. It is wonderful when someone loves us, but only because it awakens the self which is love. She was only a catalyst to get you in touch with the love that you are. This kind of object-dependent love is totally insecure because you have no control over the object and its karma. So to heal you have to find the love that you are. This is the shift or the jump that you want. But there is no easy way out of this, no experience you can have that will set you free of the need for a love-object. To get free you need to investigate yourself and see if you really do need someone else to love you.
Sudhir: From a pop psychology point of view, I was so pained by the separation, and not being able to cope with it I just dissociated from myself. The pain could not be separated from my being, and so I lost my being.
James: If you know you lost your being, did you lose your being? You are just insecure, Sudhir. You believe you need someone else in order for you to be okay. It is not true. You have been torturing yourself with this thought for a long time. It is time to let it go. If you cannot see how you are creating this misery and love yourself, then at least find someone else to love. Your sister is not the only person who is lovable.
Sudhir: If that is the case, how can I make this jump without healing? But where do I find this healing?
James: You can only find it by seeing that you are worthy of love. This is why Vedanta is the solution. It reveals your true nature to be love. Awareness, you, are parama prema svarupa, limitless non-dual love. Read my last two blogs on love on Advaita Academy. You can access them through my site ShiningWorld. com/blog.
Sudhir: Okay… then what do I do? How do I end my suffering?
James: You can’t do anything to end it or you would have done it by now, meaning that there are no actions that you can do that will guarantee that the suffering will end. Having said that, if you are qualified for self-knowledge, approach a qualified teacher and expose your mind to the teachings of Vedanta, you might discover yourself to be the self, in which case your suffering would cease.
However, if the gunas are responsible for the symptoms you experience, this approach will not work. In this case you would have to figure out how to create enough tamas in your subtle body so that you feel connected to the physical body. Your mind may be too sattvic and rajasic.
Another option would be to accept it as someone who has a physical disability accepts it and gets on with life. It is just a feeling, a sensation, that comes and goes, is experienced in various degrees, is not real and is not subject to the control of the ego. If it is prarabdha karma you will have to experience it until the actions that brought it into being have completely fructified. The only way out in this case is to take it as prasad and not worry about it. It is unlikely that this is the case, however, unless you were so attached to your sister that you could not distinguish yourself from her.
I suspect, however, that you are creating it as you go, in which case it will be almost impossible to get rid of it because you are looking for an external solution. You want to do something, not realizing that it is the doer that is creating this condition. Perhaps it has become your “story,” your identity, and while it is not a particularly pleasant one, it has become a comfortable one and may be giving you a certain kind of perverse satisfaction. Ask yourself who you would be without the idea that you have a depersonalization disorder.
Anyway, Sudhir, this is not my area of expertise. Vedanta only works on psychologically healthy people. It is not intended to fix psychological problems, apart from mild neuroses brought on by identification with one’s likes and dislikes. This seems to be somewhat of an obsession and beyond the scope of Vedanta.
In any case, I wish you all the best.
Sudhir: James, how do I create tamas in my subtle body?
James: You have to experiment. Check all your activities and associations, and see what effect they have on your subtle body. Then develop habits and associations that produce tamas, grounding. It is very difficult because it involves turning your lifestyle upside down – assuming my diagnosis is correct, which it may not be. It is just an educated guess, although your condition is quite common in the spiritual world. Developing tamas is contrary to the natural flow of energy from tamas to rajas to sattva in evolved people. You seem to be unable to make the leap from sattva to the self, and the rajas makes you dissatisfied with your state, so it seems the only option is to back up a bit. It would be a lot easier to just find a way to accommodate yourself to your state of mind, but getting rid of it seems to have become somewhat of an obsession.