Why Nonduality? Or, The Last Stop (to Freedom)
As I was puttering around the place with various projects this morning I was pondering: why be into nonduality? Why be interested? Why not just let it go and forget about all this stuff? Why attend groups or listen to videos or discuss it with friends (like minded friends hopefully)? I’d been feeling a bit “filled up” with discussions and debates (especially from a friend that wanted to argue everything, going in circles in her mind), and had perhaps enough talking about Truth. And like a nondual life coach friend said, “talking about sex is not the same as having sex”. Why not just live and be happy and play? My recent experiences with an online group I’d started, as well as listening to friends who teach nonduality, were fun, and a way to be with friends, but also seemed like “topping off the tank” reminders, or pointers to just be still and listen.
A friend’s comment that “everything is spiritual”, and my retort that it’s also true that “nothing is spiritual”, and seeing how I hadn’t felt any inspiration to write articles lately about nonduality, and the drive to write a book had eased off, I became curious about this train station I’d arrived at. Yes, it’s moved into a more experiential rather than intellectual experience – one where I didn’t see any borders as real – but that’s not the end of the story so to speak; it’s not a case of “ride over”, and get off the ferris wheel to where one started. It’s not like I can go back to “normal life” (whatever the hell that was). I’d bought the ticket, taken the ride, and found myself in a strange yet beautiful land, and not where I’d expected to be. Of course it’s not expected: if I knew what I would see, there’d be no adventure and no reason to take a train trip. This is no commuter train. This is a one-way ticket to oneness. You don’t jump out of the plane called “All My Assumptions And Beliefs” for a skydiving adventure, and take the plane with you, or a shitload of carry-on baggage.
So it was not like I’d lost interest per se, but was more a “where to go from here?” sense.
This is my meditation-in-writing.
The Last Stop
Nonduality is the last stop at the train station. Where else is there to go? You’ve done everything psychological and spiritual you can think of or know of, explored every nook and cranny of where you were living-as-if-human (or not!) … and now see there’s nothing non-spiritual or nothing spiritual, and no part of life, no aspect of experience excluded. You are always there, or rather Here and Now and that’s it. Reality, visible and invisible. And life is good and getting better all the time, all by itself. It needs no help from “you” (you never existed in the first place – as a separate entity).
This “last stop” or “nowhere to go” – death of all the questions, of illusion, as it were – can be taken two ways:
One: nonduality as a study, in other words it’s about something;
Two: non-duality as a word for what is real, for what Is. It is a descriptive term. It is this latter sense I’m talking about.
This is related to the attitude and question “Well if there’s nothing to do and nowhere to go, then why meditate or study or do anything? Nonduality is saying I’m already ‘there’ and ‘enlightened’, right?”.
Well, yes and no.
Yes, that can be true at an intellectual “level”, that you’ve understood what is being said, and perhaps had an insight that of course it’s true. But this journey doesn’t stop there. You may still be on the train, and, having read the station map correctly, see that it leads nowhere and everywhere… But that’s not an arrival at the station. There are still two stops to go, to fully allow all the old illusions to die a sweet death: in other words to more fully arrive in ongoing peace and happiness. And the last “stop” is a non-stop…
I call “arrival at the station” when you’ve had a large enough glimpse, and big enough insight (or enough smaller insights) to realize you are indeed really and truly off the train. The goal in the future does not exist. There is no enlightenment for you down the tracks, waiting; there is just what there is now: call it consciousness call it reality, awareness of awareness, call it anything you like, but you are It and you exist within It, including all the stuff happening — the “movement and the repose” as it says in the Thomas Gospels — and nothing else exists, and the phantom “you” playing out on this “screen” had you going towards a phantom destination on a phantom train. And that causeless happiness is in fact what you are in essence (and to heck with all the existentialist philosophers like Sartre who said “existence before essence”: they were a bunch of materialist wimps 😉 ).
So now that you’re off the train, is the journey over? No, and this is where the neo-Advaita teachers go off the tracks, as well as many students. They don’t get that this is an eternal destination, not only in entirety, but as this seemingly unique instrument; there’s “residues of ignorance” to let go of, baggage to leave behind at the station, thus traveling lighter and freer all the time, until the avatar of the bodymind is shed entirely (the appearance of death, death of the body). Meantime you are dying thought-by-thought, walking without leaving footprints, finding a home at the train-less and station-less destination that is this non-destination here and now. Whatever habits are still being kept as pets, whatever “triggers” you or inspires a reaction from the old and re-worn baggage, the garbage of the past, that one is still clinging to, consciously or unconsciously, is to be released.
One of these habits (and these are not habits for a person, they are free-floating tendency patterns of the boundless that you are) is to fall back into seeing oneself as a person who has fallen off the train and gone bad, because of a momentary lapse into a tendency. Let’s say for example, your girlfriend says something mean, and you have a reaction, then think, “Oh shit, I am not getting this non-duality or spiritual stuff at all! Look what an ignorant son of a bitch I am, how I reacted and said something stupid!” etc. See how you’ve reacted to a reaction? Yet as soon as you saw the initial reaction, you are free, if you really saw it. But then you add the step of “losing what I had spiritually or in nonduality, being in consciousness…” (whatever) as a person. Just don’t add that step of being a person, at all.
Temporary ignorance (ignoring what one Is) is not Ignorance, with a capital “I” (the ignorance that most of the human species lives in). Nothing can be lost here. Go easy on yourself. Stop judging yourself, let go of self-criticism now. A little love goes a long way, brother… (oh, and don’t forget to go and apologize to your girlfriend or whomever you lost it with, or make up for it in one way or another, because you are still accountable as a seeming person in the relative game of life, even if you’re not ultimately separate, you jerk! 😉 Render unto Caesar…).
See the ignoring of what is real, what you are, for what it is, useless, and stand up naked and be counted as empty and measureless.
Who is counting? Only in the game of the relative, which is all good and fine and fun, are things counted, are there winners and losers in the dreamtime playtime. In reality, there is no one to count, and nothing to count, and that is freedom. All is Won and all is One. 🙂
Sounds like a great place to be in. A dying to the residue of old beliefs, assumptions, emotions, instinctive reactions and infinitely more.
And just perhaps, the Bhagavad Gita (Krishna: “You will see all things in the Self, and then in Me”) is not some ancient, fuddy-duddy “yeah but they didn’t know about the brain/about evolution or whatever back then dust-filled tome).
maybe it’s not “just awareness” ( a concept, if there ever was one!)
great place and rather messy and (perceived as) unpleasant, of course.
Perhaps this lovely duck couple will inspire you to see anew: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Do5xfAKSCSA&feature=youtu.be (you can even get up and wiggle your butt and move your feet in time with them)
Thanks for responding to my from-the-hip journalistic piece.
Funny you should mention evolution (which, by the way, is a useful theory and set of observations but doesn’t account for creativity in the present very well – and no religious interpretation meant here) because yesterday I answered someone’s question about pain, and they were coming up with all these “but why, when…” questions and doubts about why it exists when we could just feel ticklish instead, either citing God or evolution (the two great explanatory belief systems out there now). I’ll see about posting the dialogue since it’s something all us bodyminds attend to. 🙂
Regarding your comment “…maybe it’s not ‘just awareness’ ( a concept, if there ever was one!)” is was not clear if you were referencing your comment about evolution or if that’s a standalone? In any case, I like “You will see all things in the Self, and then in Me” and beyond that, my friend Francis Lucille’s Kashmir Shaivism and realism has definitely crept into the outlook here. I’m no longer a purist Advaita idealist (like Robert Adams) anymore. Yeah, let’s get real … (damn, now I have to write an article about what is “real” and “reality”…).
By the way, I like your description of your video more than the video itself “…allowing your brain to shift from a narrow, tensely focused style of attention to one that is wider, more relaxed, and more conducive to clear thinking, creativity, emotional balance, and overall well-being…”. However I’m wary of mindfulness practices as giving the wrong impression, since mindless, not mindful is the aim, the natural reality, and I hope you were talking about the brain merely as a way of garnering public interest. But it might lead you down blind alleys or having to make you-turns once you start answering questions… since brains only truly exist in awareness, and not the other way around, as dear Krishna pointed out.
And yeah, even the concept of “awareness” is just a pedagogical tool – used precisely, such as “that reality which is reading these words right now, whatever that is”– to point a student to what Is, in open not knowing… true Listening and Seeing.
EP: Thanks for responding to my from-the-hip journalistic piece.
That’s funny. My left hip just almost-spasmed this morning (hot bath took care of it – I was doing too many, too rapid hip circles and torso circles in my morning aerobics routine). Which leads us to pain and evolution:
EP: Funny you should mention evolution (which, by the way, is a useful theory and set of observations but doesn’t account for creativity in the present very well – and no religious interpretation meant here) because yesterday I answered someone’s question about pain, and they were coming up with all these “but why, when…” questions and doubts about why it exists when we could just feel ticklish instead, either citing God or evolution (the two great explanatory belief systems out there now). I’ll see about posting the dialogue since it’s something all us bodyminds attend to.
I think I’ve mentioned before my psychology doctoral dissertation was on mindfulness and pain. The old “why” question was the hardest to deal with. Of course, most patients weren’t asking about God or evolution but “why me?” To which the easiest response was, “Let’s see – continue in agonizing pain while we engage in an interesting intellectual discussion about why you, or, perhaps, dive into the sensations and release the “stuff” (like asking why) which intensifies the pain.” Usually they were happy to let go of the why at that point!
see below for a note on evolution
EP: Regarding your comment “…maybe it’s not ‘just awareness’ ( a concept, if there ever was one!)” is was not clear if you were referencing your comment about evolution or if that’s a standalone?
Standalone. (stand all-one!)
Or “Standing in the need of prayer” as the old Methodists used to put it. (Not your brother not your sister but it’s me O Lord, standing in the need of prayer…”)
EP: In any case, I like ” “You will see all things in the Self, and then in Me” and beyond that, my friend Francis Lucille’s Kashmir Shaivism and realism has definitely crept into the outlook here. I’m no longer a purist Advaita idealist (like Robert Adams) anymore. Yeah, let’s get *real* … (damn, now I have to write an article about what is “real” and “reality”…).
“Who” has to write?? (yawn, nondual cliches, sorry)
EP: By the way, I like the description of your video more than the video itself “…
What, you didn’t’ get up and wiggle your butt and your legs!?
EP: allowing your brain to shift from a narrow, tensely focused style of attention to one that is wider, more relaxed, and more conducive to clear thinking, creativity, emotional balance, and overall well-being…”.
EP: However I’m wary of mindfulness practices as giving the wrong impression, since mindless not mindful is the aim, the natural reality, and I hope you were talking about the brain merely as a way of garnering public interest. But it might lead you down blind alleys or having to make youturns once you start answering questions… since brains only truly exist in awareness, and not the other way around as Krishna pointed out.
I agree fully. It’s tricky doing this stuff for the general public. I was talking a week or so ago with a friend who has taught junior high school (that’s about 11-14 years old here in the US) for many years. We were aiming for the text to be accessible to around an average 13 year old kid; she thought it would work and is thinking about doing the course with our class.
I’ve been quite wary of the whole modern mindfulness movement since reading Kornfeld and Goldstein’s “The Experience of Insight” back in the early 70s. Your critique is spot on. Loch Kelly has a nice way of dealing with this, talking about “effortless mindfulness.” But the term “mindfulness” is so loaded now with heavy concepts, desires, problem solving, etc, we tried to avoid it as much as possible. Everyone knows the term so we chose to refer to it but to continue to try to (gently, not academically) deconstruct it. We mostly talk about attention as in the quote you used. The problem with taking the “brain” to be a ‘real” physical object is also there as well.
But we hope that by focusing much more on music, animation, poetry and in general, either non verbal means or at least non-analytic language we can get past so many of the traps that ordinary language leads to.
Oh, I was going to say something about evolution. I knew as long ago as the 90s that the old “triune brain” theory (reptilian instinctive brain, mammalian emotional brain, and the good old human cognitive brain) was neurologically incorrect. But I was impressed in 2007 when I discovered Dr. Dan Siegel’s work, though somewhat surprised he used the triune theory to teach about the brain. So we started using it again in our classes and online, but in 2016 when we started working on our online course, I was suspicious enough to contact a friend who teaches the brain to med school students.
He said nowadays most neuroscientists have stopped identifying specific brain parts with specific regions (amygdala is the ‘fear” center, for example). So we gave up physiology all together and instead talk about instinctive programming, emotional programming and mental programming. Perhaps switching to a computer metaphor is worse, but the main thing is practical use, and I have found patients can connect this to their experience MUCH more easily than talking about brain parts (except “PFC” for prefrontal cortex – PFC as the conductor, the coach, the CEO or whatever – they seem to find it’s enormously helpful, especially dealing with unhealthy habits).
I know, tons to quibble with with all of it; another reason I prefer to shut up and make music:>))
EP: And yeah, even the concept of “awareness” is just a pedagogical tool – used precisely, such as ” that reality which is reading these words right now, *whatever that is*”– to point a student to what Is, in open not knowing… true Listening and Seeing.
And who’s to say “awareness” is a better pedagogical tool than dancing ducks!
Yes, the whole thing of “making concessions” to an audience is a worthy topic of exploration. Francis and his student Rupert Spira are quite expert at retaining the highest level of “higher knowledge” yet being diplomatic, listening to the specific questioner, and making those concessions for pedagogical purpose, such as to the “separate self”. It all depends on what one’s aim is, and how irascible too I suppose, haha.
Heading out to the desert – so this reply is short – talk soon…
Hey, you know what? I actually have a practice question for you, related to “effort.” (I suppose it’s related to “doership” as well)
Here are some quotes from Ammalai Swami (direct disciple of Ramana Maharshi) that I have pasted at the top of my “todo” list and also keep in my inbox:
Let go of all the things that you pretend to believe are important in your daily life and instead focus on abiding as awareness all day and see what happens. At all times keep moving back to awareness, your source, and do not let anything divert or distract you from this. Never leave awareness, always keep it in the foreground and everything else you do in the background.
Live as awareness throughout the day while doing all other activities. Outwardly one should do whatever actions are necessary, but inwardly one should always be aware of the centre, the consciousness which makes itself known to us as the feeling ‘I am’. Abidance in awareness is a process by which attention is kept focused on the substratum instead of the names and forms that are habitually imposed on it. You can simply relax as this awareness and just be indifferent to whatever happens in it.Your responsibility in this life is only to abide as awareness and not worry about the outer events over which you have no control. Holding awareness in the foreground you will do everything exactly as it has to be done.
My question is not at all about the content of the quotes. I’m not even sure whether I would say I ‘agree” or “disagree” – actually, that’s not even relevant.
What I’ve found consistently for about 4 years, since I first came across them, is just glancing at them for even a few seconds seems to spontaneously “shift” the whole texture of what we commonly refer to as “me” and the “world.”
Don’t want to put too much into words, but here’s the question related to effort:
I see this passage many times a day, either when checking email or checking the todo list. I find a subtle conflict arising when I’ve put it away – how much “effort” to make to recall that sense of a subtle shift.
If I let go of all of my wariness about doership and effort, I actually enjoy just sitting at my desk (NOT meditating or anything like that:>)) and just allowing that sense to arise on its own. I suppose even that could be called “doing” or “making an effort” but it feels very playful.
I guess I haven’t succeeded in putting the question clearly – maybe, if you’re willing to do so in public, you could share your own sense about intentionality, will, choice, doing, effort in the midst of daily activities. I tend to lean toward favoring that which arises spontaneously, but the mind can play all kinds of tricks with that.
Gosh this is a confusing comment. Sorry if it doesn’t make sense.
Hi Don –
A good contemplation. And, a notable serendipity that you’d comment and ask about will and effort (in daily life) – I wasn’t going to read your comment until I got back from the desert (got back last night but was too tired). Last night I had three nice philosophical insights, statements while dreaming that I wanted to write about, but they seemed self-evident such that I would remember, but the mind was not holding onto them, so held onto the thought “The Effortless Way” that summarized. And so that’s what I had when I woke up and what I wrote in my journal: “The Effortless Way.” Then I read your comment.
So later in the morning I went to the park and did some writing about free will and such. When I got back, tuned into a live online meditation Francis Lucille was doing, and he was talking about: “Let the perceptions flow in the field of your awareness, free, don’t try to do anything about them; everything moves effortlessly on it’s own; in this way we are moving into the flow of things, we stop swimming against the flow. …”
In any case, I’ll see about posting a new article about “The Effortless Way” for your edification.