I Had A Breakthrough But Have Doubts About It – Peter Ralston Newsletter

Reading your responses to others in the newsletter helps me to write. I’d been working “what” and I got something. I was in the tub contemplating and moving my hand, asking “what moves the hand?” I got it. I was what moved the hand as itself. I was the thing! There was no doubt that that was what created “who.” This didn’t have so much shiny lingering glow as getting “who” did. I didn’t think too much of that since the question felt resolved. Or rather, the question didn’t make sense anymore.

As time has gone on, doubts have crept in. Maybe I’m not done with the question. I’ve not been contemplating like I use to b/c I’ve been somewhat aimless, I’ve not had a question and, as such, have been more meditating and doing more maintenance work. What has emerged as a curiosity is “self”. I feel very comfortable saying I don’t know what that is and feel drawn to work “what is self?” The next “Transcending Self” e-course is something I’m planning.

However, my doubts around my experience of getting “what” all seem to have to do with the fact that “self” is still mysterious and something I’m certainly not free of. I thought those would go hand in hand, that getting “what” meant freedom from “self”. That assumption seems to be at the root of my doubts whether or not I really got “what”.
I feel foolish for not having written sooner. I should have written to try to help clarify all this a while ago but I was afraid to hear from you that I needed to go back to “what”. I’m not so fearful around that now. Life stuff and your responses to others, Leo specifically from the newsletter, helped me to suck it up and write.

Thanks Peter,




Really it sounds like you simply confirmed your who experience. The question: What is moving the hand? is not the same as: What am I? You are moving the hand, but that doesn’t answer the question: what is the nature of the one moving the hand? That is the question of “what.” It is becoming conscious of your true nature, and from what you’ve said it sounds like you aren’t. If you have there still seems some confusion.

To tell you the truth, usually a “who” is technically not an enlightenment. It is directly experiencing the one you are so that you can ask the right question when you then ask: what is the real nature of this one that I am? It is difficult to understand the distinctions being made here prior to becoming directly conscious of your true nature. To say that this nature is not your self becomes problematic since it is the nature of you, but is not the experience that you have that you call your self. So, the question: “what is a self?” is actually a different question, but probably best asked after getting your real nature so that there is clarity about what you’re referring to as a self. Whatever consciousness is true for you at this point is what is true for you.

The objective is to become completely conscious of everything, so don’t think of this work as answering a few questions or accomplishing some fixed stages or levels of attainment. Even those that have a few enlightenment experiences are still ignorant of many things and can misunderstand what they have become conscious of, so don’t worry about “passing some question-test.”

Even after a direct experience, insight, or breakthrough, the mind will always work out a self-referencing understanding of things, just like it will covet accomplishments and fear losing some perceived “status.” This same mind will have doubts because, when you’re honest, you know you’re still ignorant of something even if you want to ignore this ignorance. This is just stuff that a self does. One reason for this is because you confuse yourself with your mind and so try to preserve whatever the mind has worked out.

This problem people have—fearing being told by someone they respect that they don’t know something when they hope they do—is as common as it is dysfunctional. It reminds me a bit of the challenge I ran into teaching people effortless body-being using T’ai Chi as a training vehicle when they already knew a T’ai Chi set from another school. I didn’t really care if they learned my set or not, to me it was beside the point. So in the beginning I tried to teach them to apply Cheng Hsin principles to their old set. In every case it failed.

I studied the matter and determined that their brains, nervous system, approach, and beliefs were all wired around a system that was not created with my Body-Being principles in mind and so they always fell back into doing it the old way because that’s what doing it was to them! So I told them to learn my set because it was designed by these principles. I suggested that they toss their old set and learn this way of moving and being in the body from the ground up.

The reaction was always resistance, saying they didn’t want to learn another set after having learned the one. Having learned many different T’ai Chi systems, and hundreds of various sets in dozens of different arts, I wasn’t moved by this argument. I’ve tossed out more sets and techniques and whole arts than most people have ever learned. So—and I’m getting close to my real point here—I tried to convey that their perspective was dysfunctional and they were focusing on the wrong thing.


I understand the feeling of not wanting to repeat something or feeling like your investment is lost or that your achievement isn’t acknowledged. But that has nothing to do with learning, or the pursuit of what is real or effective. It’s the wrong view. Like I told those people, you can either do it your way and make no progress over a long period of time just to preserve some past attachments, or you can make progress in a short period—including learning another whole set of movements. The point is that staying with some accomplishment is irrelevant, what you learn or develop is what’s relevant.

Maybe you can see how such a dynamic applies to this common challenge. Our pursuit shouldn’t be about finding an answer to a series of questions, or protecting any accomplishment or past breakthroughs. It is about becoming more conscious. The questions and methods are tools, not the goal. As we become more conscious that will speak for itself. It can’t be lost and doesn’t need to be preserved. It doesn’t at all require that we resist any feedback. What you are conscious of is exactly what you are conscious of, no more, no less. What remains unconscious needs to be addressed as the work continues. It is an ongoing adventure. There are all sorts of questions to ask—about your true nature or the true nature of everything else, but also discovering the fundamental principles, components, or dynamics behind any activity or experience. This is the job of consciousness. Question everything—your experience, yourself, others, interaction, reality, and existence. There’s lots to work on. My new book might help with a bit of this. Keep up the good work.




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