We are one person,
We are two alone,
We are three together,
We are for each other.
— Stephen Stills, Helplessly Hoping
Some self-proclaimed non-duality ‘teachers’ play a bit fast and loose with the terms ‘I’ and ‘you’, possibly because they don’t want to alienate possible students of any of the wide spectrum of non-duality practices and messages.
As a result of this, when I meet people and tell them I’m exploring non-duality, I often get a “me too” response, followed by an explanation of their “personal journey” to achieve liberation, awakening, presence, enlightenment, transcendence, higher consciousness, pure bliss, oneness-with-all, or some other state (sometimes with a colour like purple as a qualifier to show how far they’ve progressed). When I tell them my sense of radical non-duality’s message is that none of these ‘states’ can be attained by any individual (or teacher!) and that there is no ‘one’ to attain them in any case, I get very confused looks.
“I’m not talking about the false ‘you’ that is disconnected from oneness,” they’ll reply, “I’m talking about the real ‘you’ behind the mask, the authentic ‘you’, the higher ‘you’, the ‘you’ that manifests pure beingness. You know, the I am you.”
“Sorry,” I reply. “There is simply no ‘you’ of any flavour. The minute there’s a ‘you’, that’s duality, something apart from everything else. The minute there’s an ‘awakening’ or ‘consciousness’, that’s an awareness or consciousness of something, something other, subject and object. Time and space are illusions, so there can’t be a journey or ‘progress’ or a ‘now’. In fact ‘you’ are the problem — it’s ‘you’ and your search, your journey, that prevents the full-on realization there is only oneness.” Now the confused looks turn to frowns.
There is then an awkward attempt to find common ground — after all, we have both followed this challenging path and put a lot of time and energy into it, so surely we are looking for the same thing, just using different words, no?
“I’m afraid not,” I say, sadly. “There is no hope for ‘you’, no path or goal or destination. Only when ‘you’ vanish will liberation or enlightenment or whatever ‘you’ call it be realized, and it will be realized by no ‘one’. The same is true for ‘me’.”
At this point they usually think I’m putting them on. They get the same look of anxiety and despair that people get when I tell them that a study of complex systems leads to the inevitable conclusion that our civilization will have completely collapsed by the end of this century, no matter what we try to do. At some point both arguments lead them to say to me: “What’s the point of doing anything if you believe that? You make everything sound hopeless.” And they may imply that such a view is an insult to those who are trying hard to improve themselves, and the world.
At this point I recall that someone told me they were so infuriated and depressed after reading just a chapter of John Gray’s Straw Dogs (the book that had me so giddy I read it cover to cover twice before I could put it down), that they hurled it against the wall.)
And now we are at an impasse. They can’t conceive of anyone who is this ‘hope-less’ being at all joyful, or being motivated to do anything. And nothing I can say can persuade them otherwise.
I admire courageous activists and ‘direct action’ projects. I am a fan of Eckhart Tolle and Adyashanti and what they’re doing to “make the prison of the self more comfortable”. They don’t make promises and I have no expectations. We can get along fine.
But if you run into me and want to talk or collaborate about our shared purpose and beliefs, please don’t get your hopes up. It is hopeless — striving to make ourselves, or the world, better. But I will still like, admire and support you for trying. I know we are all doing our best. And this world and this life are amazing.
So let’s spend some time enjoying it together. Let’s play, and celebrate, and wonder. Our earnest differences really don’t matter.
We are one, after all.