Simplify thoughts down to either words or pictures. If you look into your experience, you can see that thoughts arise in one of two different ways—either as words or as pictures. Words are literally things, such as “Scott” or “I am a victim.” Pictures are mental images, such as the memory of sitting yesterday and feeling alone, or the picture of a body part or a knot. It is good to see the difference between words and pictures. Notice exactly which of these is arising to give you the sense of a separate person. It may also be helpful to frame the particular words or pictures. For example, imagine the words “I’m miserable most of the time” inside a picture frame in your mind, or on a road sign. Stare right at the words. Keep looking straight at the words, and then ask, “Are these words me, the victim?”
Refrain from trying to answer the question “Is this me?” intellectually. Don’t think about your answer. Don’t analyze the question. Don’t refer to other parts of your story to find the answer. Just look directly at whatever is appearing, by itself, whether it’s a set of words, a picture, or an energy. Look at it in the same way you would look at a color without naming it—directly, with bare naked observation. From that direct observation, ask, “Is this me, the victim?” Intellectually, you may understand that words or a picture are not the person (victim). But these inquiries have nothing to do with an intellectual understanding. When you are looking at words or pictures, pay attention to your body. Notice when the body reacts with an emotion or a sensation. This is the body’s way of letting you know that, on some level, you believe that you are those words or that picture.
Keep your answer to the question “Is this me?” to a simple yes or no. Don’t add detailed analysis to the answer. For example, if you are truly a victim, and if that victim is here, present in and as your body and your mind, then it shouldn’t be hard for you to find it. You should be able to find it right away, in your direct, present experience, without the need for elaboration. Take the example of looking for a pair of shoes in a closet. If you pick up a shirt, there is no need to give five reasons why the shirt is not the pair of shoes. You know that it isn’t the pair of shoes. No elaboration is needed; you just keep looking for the shoes. Treat this inquiry the same way. Stick to simply trying to find the person, with a simple yes or no.
Remember that you’re looking for the person, not for evidence of the person, or for thoughts that point to the person, or for parts of the person. During the inquiry, it may seem as if every set of words, every picture, and every energy you encounter is “part of” the person, is evidence of the person, or is pointing to the person. Don’t settle for this kind of thinking. Go deeper. Look for the person itself. If all these temporary things point to it, then where are you—the real, permanent, separate, actual victim? If all words describe it, then where are you? If these appearances are merely part of it, then where are you? The you—the actual victim—is what you’re looking for. That’s what is unfindable when you look for it directly instead of thinking about it. For example, if you’re looking for the victim you take yourself to be, then it may seem as if the words “Life treats me unfairly” are part of the victim. Forget about finding parts. Look for the victim itself. Are the words “Life treats me unfairly” you—the actual victim? That’s the proper question. We often assume that these kinds of thoughts are describing or pointing to an actual, inherent victim that is really there, underneath the thoughts. To prove that the victim is not there, underneath the thoughts, just drop—relax—any thoughts that seem to describe or point to the victim. Notice that if you relax these thoughts, you can’t find the victim when you’re directly looking for it. But you can’t find it when the thoughts are there, either. You find only thoughts, one after another—no actual victim.
If you’re looking at words or at a picture, and if the words or the picture seem to be the person, then this always means that there is some energy, some sensation or emotion, arising with the words or the picture. If the body reacts in any way to the question “Are these words me, the victim?” just say, “Yes, this is me.” Then bring your bare attention immediately into the body, and experience the energy directly, letting it be exactly as it is, without trying to change it or get rid of it. If you find your mind labeling the emotion or sensation with words such as “sadness” or “contraction,” ask yourself, “Is the word ‘sadness’ me, the victim? Is the word ‘contraction’ me?” If not, then relax all words and pictures for a few seconds, and experience the energy without any words. Simply rest with the raw sensory experience itself. And then ask, “Is this energy, by itself, me, the victim?” If you see that it is not the person, then let it be as it is, without trying to change it or get rid of it. This frees up the energy to move and change naturally, and it often dissolves. But the point is not to try to get rid of anything. That’s just more seeking. The point is to see that the energy is not the person. Once you see that no words, no picture, and no energy is the person, it no longer matters as much whether these things arise. Any appearance can come and go, yet the victim is never found. This allows the story and the emotions to quiet naturally and effortlessly. Suffering, seeking, and conflict show up in our experience from our unconscious belief that these appearances form a separate person.
If an energy—that is, an emotion or sensation—in the body seems to be the person, this always means that there are words, pictures, or both words and pictures arising along with the energy. If this happens, notice the words or pictures that are coming up with the energy. Then look directly at those words or pictures and ask, “Is this me, the victim?” An energy seems like the person only when words or pictures are arising along with it. Pay particular attention to those subtle mental pictures, such as images of body parts and other forms and shapes in the body, that appear to contain certain emotions and sensations. If you see a picture when you’re experiencing energy, then ask whether that picture, by itself, is the person. For example, is this picture of a knot the victim? You can even imagine a frame around the image, if that will help you see that it is only a mental picture, not a person. Observe the picture directly until it begins to change on its own or disappear. As you see that these are just mental pictures, and that they are not the person, the pictures tend to change or disappear on their own. Even if they stick around, it won’t matter as much, once you see that they are not the victim. Don’t skip the mental pictures that may arise around emotions and sensations. They are very important in these inquiries.
See that words, pictures, and energy are not actually welded together. When you think you are a separate person, notice that words, pictures, and energy seem welded together. For example, when the words “I’m a victim” arise, it can feel as if the emotion of sadness is welded together with the words, and that a picture of the stomach, for example, is welded together with the words and the sadness. All three appear at once, as if Velcro were holding them together. This is called the Velcro effect. Really pick apart the words, pictures, and energies, and for each one, each time, ask, “Is this me, the victim?” This is a powerful way to untangle the experience of words, pictures, and energy being welded together. When you’re not able to find the person in any one of these words, pictures, or energies, and when you allow these appearances just to be as they are, you undo the Velcro effect, and your suffering is released.