(This is another of my ‘thinking out loud’ posts on non-duality. If the subject doesn’t interest you, you might want to skip this one.)
cartoon by the late, wonderful Charles Barsotti
About 18 months ago I began a journey, intended to help me handle stress better (something I struggle with a lot), exploring the subject known as ‘non-duality’ (or non-dualism), which some define as the realization that there is no ‘separate self’ (or ‘separate’ anything) — everything is part of a oneness (which some call ‘consciousness’ or ‘spacious awareness’ or ‘infinite presence’, others call ‘your true self’ or ‘true being’ and yet others call simply ‘all there is’, an infinite eternal unknowable no-thing that is also everything.
I began that journey with Liberation Unleashed’s Ilona Ciunaite, and I hung out there for several months, trying to ‘just look’ to see the self as illusory. I then checked out Eckhart Tolle’s videos and book The Power of Now, and then moved on to the videos of other non-dualists (Adyashanti, Mooji, Jon Bernie, Rupert Spira, Jim Newman, and Tony Parsons, in roughly that order). This seems to have been a progression from a more accessible to a more radical non-dual message, and the more radical the expression, the more it has resonated with me.
Here’s a transcript of the Tony Parsons video linked above, that articulates his ‘radical’ message on non-duality:
Separation is the root of all seeking. As tiny children there is simply being. There is no one. Life happens. Regardless of whether a child cries or seems hungry, there is just pure being. And then a moment comes when that tiny being identifies itself and becomes a separate person. At that moment of separation, there is a contraction back into the sense of being limited in the body. “My boundary is this skin, and everything else is separate”. From that moment on there is seeking, and a sense of something lost. ‘Being everything’ is lost in that moment. And being a separate person, an entity looking for everything, begins. From that moment on there is only seeking — until there isn’t.
And that seeking is endless. People we see in the world — wanting to be rich, to have lots of lovers, to have power or whatever they want — all desire is the longing to come home. And home is wholeness, home is being everything, which is our origin.
So oneness arises as wholeness and then plays the game of becoming separate. So the whole key to liberation has nothing to do with the apparent separate person. We grow up and we feel separate, and we learn from our parents and teachers and priests and bosses and spouses that we are definitely separate, live in a separate world, and there is absolutely no doubt that we have a choice, we are a separate individual that has free will and can choose to make our lives work, or not. So what you see in the world is a desire to make people’s lives work, when what people are really doing is trying to fill this sense of loss.
Most people spend their whole lives living like that, trying to fill that sense of loss. For some making money, being powerful etc. isn’t enough — there’s still a sense that there’s something missing. So they look for what’s missing — in religion, in therapy, and in the search for ‘enlightenment’, but all this time there’s an absolute conviction that they’re a separate individual with the choice to fulfil this sense of loss. And when you go to an enlightened ‘master’, you’re naturally attracted to the ‘master’ who still presumes the fundamental idea that you are separate, and that you ‘need’ to meditate or self-inquire or ‘give up the ego’ in order to find what you’re looking for.
And all of that is the ignorance. That’s how the game continues. Religion is the seeking, through ‘individual choice’, for something that already is. What we’re looking for already is this. But all the time there is someone seeking, this can’t be seen. The fulness we seek is timeless and the seeking is in time — “It’s going to happen when I’ve meditated”, or “The answer’s going to be on the next page of this book.” “I’m going to find it one day.” There’s that constant agitation of looking for this. Sometimes it’s gratified for a short while and it seems everything is complete. But that gratification is short-lived and is soon replaced by the longing for and seeking of this.
That gratification and wholeness can never be found until there’s no one looking. It can’t be found by the individual, because the individual function is to look for that. When there’s no longer a seeking, that which is sought, is seen. But it is seen by no one.
So we’re here today to rediscover the key to wholeness. And the key to wholeness is that there is no one. So this is a very simple message, and a very difficult one — difficult because it’s about your death, the death of the individual. It’s about moving beyond the idea that there’s anyone sitting in this room who can ‘do’ anything, beyond the idea that there’s anyone — any separate entity — in this room.
And it’s coming to realize that what’s happening right now, is happening to no one. There’s no one that this is happening to. The whole sense of being separate is that everything that’s happening is happening ‘to’ you, and that everything ‘you’ do affects that and ‘attracts’ what happens.
Liberation is the realization that all there is, is this, is what’s happening, and it’s happening in emptiness. So that all that’s sitting in this room is emptiness. There’s a body that feels, there’s a mind that thinks, but it isn’t anybody’s body or anybody’s mind. It is just what’s happening.
This is so simple that it totally confounds the mind. So what we’re here to talk about is totally beyond understanding. It can’t be understood. You’ll never understand your way to ‘enlightenment’. Nobody ever has. There is no such thing as an enlightened person. Already, all there is is liberation, all there is is enlightenment, and in that there are people looking for it.
So we can talk together and it’s possible that something will be seen, but it won’t be ‘you’ that sees it; it will just be seen. And also energetically, as there has been a sense of contraction (me, I am this body), there can be an expansion, a dropping of that sense of contraction and a moving out into free-fall, into boundlessness, into the unknown. The idea that ‘you’ can know and ‘you’ can do it simply drops away and suddenly there’s a wonderful, free but dangerous place called everything.
It’s very simple: All there is, is this. That ‘thisness’ is totally physical, all the five senses are speaking to you right now. Through all the five senses the beloved is waving and saying “I’m here already. You don’t need to look for me. This is already what you’re looking for. This is it. I’ve never left you. I’m the perfect lover. I’m here already and I sit here watching you looking for me.”…
We don’t function in duality. In the dream we think we do. In the dream we’re absolutely sure ‘we’ choose this and avoid that and do that and not that. This apparent choice ‘we’ don’t do — it is done. You don’t go in and out of duality by choice. There is only what is. Everybody in this room is being lived. There is just life happening in this room. There’s no choice, no will, and nowhere to go, nowhere that anything has ever been. All there is, is this…
It’s not something to ‘get’. Liberation is actually a loss of something rather than a getting of something. The loss is the one that’s trying to get it. When there’s nobody trying to get it then suddenly it’s realized that it already is that. This is it. There’s nothing to ‘get’. Choice and doing apparently happen, but nobody has ever done anything. There’s no responsibility, nothing to forgive. It’s just happened. Breathing is happening. Seeing and hearing are happening, but nobody is doing it. This [pointing to himself] isn’t doing it. There’s nobody doing it. Isn’t that amazing?…
It feels dangerous to the person, because it’s the end of apparent individuality. For the individual who thinks they’re in control of their life, that fallacy that you’re the ‘managing director’ of your life, and can make it continue, falls away, and that feels risky…
There is something that I call ‘liberation’, and with liberation, it’s all over, there’s no one, there’s just life happening, but previous to that there can be an ‘awakening’, a sudden realization that there is only oneness, and then for a while, subtly the seeker comes back and wants to own that. So you can’t say how long it lasts. Awakening and liberation can happen at the same moment, or after a few weeks or longer.
Awakening is not gradual. Awakening is totally immediate because it’s timeless. There’s a seeker looking for oneness and then suddenly there’s nothing. There is no time. There is only this.
The idea in the mind that if you meditate long enough you’ll get to it, is ludicrous. That’s what keeps the story going. The whole idea that there’s something to do to find this is a total denial that already, all there is, is this.
No lovely fluffy Om One Consciousness, just ordinary ‘all there is’, without the veil of the illusory self to make it personal. No Path, direct or otherwise — with no control, no free will, there is no pathway or process or practice or program for the individual person or self to get there, and no ‘one’ to pursue it in any case. All-there-is is beyond the comprehension of the limited, separate, personal, illusory self, as is any understanding of how ’all-there-is’ is that, or happens, or any understanding that there is no ‘why’ , no purpose— it just is. ‘Abiding’ and meditating and inquiry and contemplation won’t help, and may even hinder this realization.
So why keep listening to these ‘hopeless’ messages? Why attend a meeting with one of the messengers? There seems to be something — a ‘resonance’, a bodily intuition — that emerges from listening to stories of others whose egos/minds/selves have ‘fallen away’. Perhaps this ‘resonance’ is ‘all-there-is’ speaking through our intuition, out of earshot of the ‘conscious’ separate self, and listening to it might trigger the realization, or at least a ‘glimpse’ of it, un-consciously.
About a week ago I experienced such a ‘glimpse’, while sitting looking out over the forest near my house. It had the following qualities:
- It felt more like a ‘remembering’ than an ‘awakening’. Some memories of very early childhood (some of which had been just a blur until then) and a few memories from more recent, very peaceful times, flooded through my body, which felt ‘flushed’ in the way it feels during a sudden ‘aha’ moment, or during feelings of intense love.
- It felt amazingly free of anxiety or fear, very peaceful and joyful in a ‘boundless’ kind of way. Everything was awesome, more-than-real, unveiled, unfiltered and just perfect, exactly as it was.
- There was no temptation to grasp onto it lest it be quickly lost again. It was clearly always here, everywhere, not ‘going’ anywhere, accessible always. My ‘self’ would have been anxious not to lose it, but my self was, in that moment, not present. Momentarily, I was not my self.
- A silly grin came over me, and stayed for hours.
If this is an ‘awakening’, it is not my first, though this one seemed to connect me, through those suddenly recalled memories, to past ‘awakenings’. It felt wonderful, but also completely ordinary and obvious. Oh, that! How could ‘I’ not have noticed?
And I now wonder (since many of these memories were pre-school) if the horror I felt at the age when I first entered the school system, that had me retreating for much of my young life deep inside my head and into my imagination, was just the new separate me concluding that all these separate ‘selves’ made no sense and were awful and full of cruelty and suffering and I was going to hide from them until they went away or somehow all of it made sense.
Or perhaps this is all just wishful thinking, and my brief moment of ‘awakening’ or ‘connection’ was just a daydream.
I can appreciate that the people I love and care about find this ‘going nowhere’ journey, and this belief in non-duality, with its implication of giving up ‘self’ control and the sense of responsibility, frightening, even threatening. Most people believe that what we do and don’t do is governed by a mature sense of self, self-control, self-awareness, personal responsibility, personal choice and ethics. Non-duality says none of this exists and our behaviour is what it is despite the non-existence of all these things.
This seems, understandably, preposterous. How do you explain ‘positive’ changes in the way we behave (“personal growth”) in their absence? Non-duality says it can’t be explained, that apparent changes just happen (or more accurately, since non-duality recognizes that time is also an illusion, that what the separate ‘we’ perceive as changes in behaviour according to some pattern ‘our’ minds conceive and remember as ‘sequential’ on a ‘time line’ in memory and judge to be ‘improvements’, just happen). That Gaia, the astonishing sympathetic evolution of environments, cells and organisms to be self-optimizing and self-sustaining over billions of years and against all odds, just happens. Just a game that ‘all-there-is’ plays with itself. For no reason.
Absurd. Unbelievable. Could only be the belief of a victim of desperate, cult thinking. Yet, somehow, intuitively resonant.
So I apologize to those I love for their understandable anxiety, but I somehow sense that this is all for the best, and that (like others who have apparently been through this) what remains if ‘I’ go will love them even more, and be less anxious and ‘self’-preoccupied about doing so.
And if ‘I’ stay, it will have been an interesting journey anyway, one that seemingly is already bringing about some ‘changes’ in ‘me’ that are healthy and calming: I still catch myself getting angry, sad, anxious and fearful, but these feelings pack less of a punch and pass more quickly, as if they are being observed and soothed. I feel myself wanting less, not so much being more accepting of what I have and what is, but more giving up hoping and striving due to a sense that striving and hoping and yearning and aching and dreaming don’t make any difference to the outcome, so why stress it?
So to some extent this ‘journey’ is over, since while I’m still curious about all this (and love to talk about it ad nauseam with those interested in the subject), I sense that self-less ‘awakening’ and ‘liberation’ will happen, or won’t. And if they happen, ‘I’ won’t be around to take credit, or lament the consequences.