My Awakening

The author describes how he realized the Self while reading the transcript of a famous talk by Franklin Merrell-Wolff.

Franklin Merrell-Wolff

By Shawn Nevins

The following excerpt comes from chapter 14 of Shawn Nevins’s book Subtraction. The title used on this page, “My Awakening,” does not appear in the book.

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NINE DAYS LATER, a package arrived from the Merrell-Wolff group. Excitedly opening it, I settled into reading the transcript of a talk titled “The Induction.” Alone in my apartment on a Tuesday evening, Merrell-Wolff’s long-dead words came alive and forever changed my life.

“Let’s start a little analysis,” Merrell-Wolff began, like a friend stepping beside me to share some playful thought.

He began a self-analysis, a deconstruction of the self, actually; first addressing the body.

“So we come to the first stage of self-analysis. It runs generally this way: I ask, ‘What am I?’ And first it occurs to me that the idea that I am this body is a delusion, because this body is an object before my consciousness. I speak as though it were my body, I speak as though I possess it. It is therefore external to me. I am not the body.”

I agreed, what I saw was not me; the view was not the viewer.

Next, Merrell-Wolff addressed the roaring rage of our feelings.

“Are those feelings of I? No, for I experience them. I but experience them. They are different from me. I can identify them, and that itself is enough proof that they are not I.”

I agreed, again. I saw “my” feelings as a thing apart; occurring outside of my sense of I-ness. I had noticed this for many years.

Next, he broached thought.

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Click to read or hear Franklin Merrell-Wolff’s Induction Talk.

“Am I this body of thoughts in my mind? No. One gets a little closer to his thoughts than to anything else, and it’s a little harder to untangle this. But if he watches and studies closely enough, the thoughts come to me.”

This, too, I saw occurring time and again in meditation. Thoughts entered my mind without effort on my part.

Having dissected the body, feelings, and thoughts, Merrell-Wolff pointed to the last bastion of identity.

“I’m not the mind, I’m not the feelings, I’m not the body—that I see. But I surely am, I surely am an individual, apart from others.”

This was my sense of identity; the sense I existed in this world.

“Now what you’ve gotten a hold of is a very difficult fellow—it’s your ego. He can sneak around and confuse you like the dickens. You can spend years trying to get behind him.”

Which I had. My meditations tried and tried to see beyond the black wall in my mind.

“And what you do, you can get into an infinite regression. You look at your ego. All right, here am I and all of a sudden it dawns upon you that which is looking at the ego is really the I. So you stick that one out in front. You look at it again, but then you realize it couldn’t be, because here is a something that is observable.”

Yes, the infinite regression; my mind spinning round and round; the noting of noting in Vipassana; awareness watching awareness and finding no resolution to this conundrum.

“At last it finally dawns that I AM THAT which is never an object before Consciousness. And mayhap, at that moment, in your analysis—the Heavens will open.”

As these words entered my mind the room filled with energy, like rapport, like that long-ago moment by the student center under the pine trees, but with the intensity of an engulfing flame. Tears erupted, poured down my face, and obscured the room. Merrell-Wolff’s words were true; literally, physically true. I, Shawn, was ever an object, and ever a thing destined to die. It was obvious and undeniable that I was and always would be doomed to die. In the face of that stark realization, I felt my self fading away, but there was no fight. I did not run from death because there was nowhere to run. The runner himself was vanishing, and as that happened something became startlingly clear—the nothingness that I was fading into and had so feared was already inside me. Outside and inside were fundamentally the same. How could this be? How could there be only one thing? No observer, no observed, just ONE.

This implosive realization gripped my head like a vice and forced me to the floor. I was being consumed by something too vast for the mind to hold. I felt I was dying, but I was not afraid.

Two or three times the pain lessened and I climbed back to the chair, but it came again and again I fell to the floor. Lines from Richard Rose’s “Three Books of the Absolute,” appeared in my mind: “O eternal spaces, art thou black or white… Is thy form clothed in light or darkness?” Over and over I answered, “No, No, It IS. There is not black or white.”

The mind could not contain the merging of two into one, and the gut-level, crushing feeling that one is equivalent to none. With no observer, there was nothing to observe and nothing to be observed. The feeling was of slipping into darkness, losing all I had held to so tightly, losing words, images, thoughts, and feeling. Going to sleep yet finding I was still awake, but not as an “I.” Instead there existed only the still, silent blackness that is sleep. A blackness that was motionless yet vibrant. Dark yet shimmering. Silent yet vibrating. Dead yet potent. Suddenly, the agony culminated. No words remained. Only THIS.

Silence in a space without bounds. A self with no container, containing nothing, contained by nothing.

A voice appeared in this silence, saying “Not this way.” As if reemerging, or reentering, or realizing suddenly I was in a room, objects appeared. In my journal, I scrawled these words:

God is here. He rings in the death of all we know.

Rejoice, the end begins.

A new life. Nothing ever the same.

We are everlasting.

Rejoice. I am free. Behind these words flows everlasting Light.

It’s back there. Doors open. Look inside.

This is my way. No plan.

You cannot follow, but you must try.

God is here. God IS HERE now.

The sobbing waned. I was stunned, shell-shocked. Somehow I found my way to bed and fell into a deep sleep.

Text © 2018 Shawn Nevins. Photo ‘The Heavens Open’ © 2005 David Tomic.

Shawn Nevins (b. 1968) was a student of Richard Rose. He lives in California.

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This page was first published on March 30, 2021, last revised on April 19, 2021, and last republished on April 19, 2021.



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