"To study the Buddha Way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be actualized by myriad things. When actualized by myriad things, your body and mind as well as the bodies and minds of others drop away. No trace of enlightenment remains, and this no-trace continues endlessly."
Meditation, no matter what form we practice, is another way of studying the self. When I sit, especially in the early minutes of a session, I'm intimately aware of how I experience myself. I'm a smorgasbord of thoughts and feelings, and settling those experiences doesn't seem possible, as much as I want it to be. So, in following my breathing or repeating a mantra, I study that experience. My "self" animates and comes into focus. I see how my thoughts drift and how feelings emerge from those thoughts.
Sometimes certain feelings emerge because of what I want to get out of the experience. I find myself intolerably human and unequivocally myself. I can't imagine divorcing experience from this self. Sallie Jiko Tisdale wrote that we cling tightly to our perception of self because there is chaos all around us. We seek validation of these selves we've curated. And even if we receive the validation, we aren't satisfied – we somehow feel like it's not enough. She likens it to a boat on a rocky sea that we cling to so tightly we don't realize that it's a cage.
When I sit and attempt to "step backward," as Dōgen said, I find myself stuck in this first step. I'm simply "studying the self" and never "forgetting the self." From a skeptic's point of view, that must mean that a) I'm doing something wrong, or b) it's impossible to forget the self because the self is all we have.
Sallie Jiko Tisdale seems to offer a third possibility.
"The first part of studying the self is to simply look. You can’t forget something if you don’t know what it is. We can’t drop it until we’re ready to move past it. This is very difficult because we have to accept what we see. We have to accept that right here, right now, this is what we’re working with. This is what I have. As soon as we see that we see that everything we hold onto changes."
It's easy to see that we change over time. I am a different person now than I was 20 years ago. But, I am also a different person now (calm, comfortable, writing) than I was a few hours ago during a stressful moment at work (frustrated, agitated, unfocused). If "I" am a different person in different years, and also a different person in different hours during the day, does it not follow that I am different moment to moment. And, if that's true, is there really a "me" at all?
Not being able to accept this is, I find myself stuck in the "studying the self" phase. But, studying is what we must do. We must look, and continue to look, until we can accept – and, potentially, forget.