My introduction to yoga began with me crying on my mat at the end of class. I had no idea what was going on. I was a retired dancer seeking to heal my chronic low back pain. I wanted to continue training my physical body in a way that was more mindful than my classical and contemporary dance training had provided. I didn’t know it at the time, but this was my first experience with non-dual awareness. In class I had created shapes with my physical body, I breathed deeply, I focused my mind by paying attention to sensations, and BAM! Something happened. These layers of my body were communicating with one another. This was more than a physical practice, I knew that from day one. I wasn’t sure what it was yet, but I was determined to figure it out.
And ten years later, I’m still figuring it out. Non-dualism has been the focus of my practice for quite some time, and every day when I sit on my cushion, move on my mat, bike to class, talk with a cashier, or pile into the bus with the rest of the city, I feel it. Non-dualism is the awareness that everything is interconnected, that nothing is separate from anything else. The experience of non-duality is called samadhi or the complete merging of subject and object. Samadhi is one of the limbs of Raja Yoga, and is a result of sustained and steady focus of the mind, which leads one to a state of meditation (dhyana), eventually evolving into complete union. Little glimpses of samadhi or non-duality can occur all the time, we all have the experience of merging with the moment, but then it passes. On the surface, the idea that everything is connected may sound easy to understand. And while this is the core of non-dualism, more explanation is required. Let’s start with how dualism is born in the first place.
The ego (ahankara) is part of the mind that organizes itself into “I”. The ego’s job is to separate “self” from “other”. It’s practical to have a sense of self. For one to understand where they end and where another begins, allows the mind to organize and comprehend the material world. The ego creates a sense of identity based on our perception of who we think ourselves to be. An identity is a set of characteristics formed by genetics, the environment in which we were born into and raised, as well as every moment leading up to right now. The identity is reinforced by attractions and aversions (raga and dvesha), one’s likes and dislikes. The creation of the story of self, which is the action of the ego (asmita), is one of the conditioned beliefs and behaviors (klesa’s) that influence our perception of reality. In this practice, we seek to see clearly (vidya) by recognizing all the veils that alter our perception of Supreme Reality or Truth. The ego is a necessary component of the mind, that allows us to learn and understand, however the problem occurs when the the action of the ego gains control, and we consider ourselves to be a permanent and unchanging entity. We feel alone and isolated. A deep sense of disconnect arises and all of our actions are rooted in the preservation and maintenance of this idea of self.
By deciding who we are, we have in essence separated ourselves from being anything else. The ego can be thought of as a story teller. We are constantly in the process of creating this story of self, and what our experience is. Here’s an example of a story that is constructed in a matter of moments. Let’s say I experience a pain in the wrist. The language used is I have a pain in my wrist, and rather than simply experiencing the sensation, a story is placed on top of the sensation. After I have a pain in my wrist, comes I need to make an acupuncture appointment, followed by I really need to get my bike fitted, then maybe I should just buy a car, and I can’t afford a car, I need to work more. This story will go on and on if we don’t intercept and redirect the focus of the mind into experience mode, rather than intellectualizing-the-experience mode in relation to this idea of self. Instead of just sitting with the sensation, we create a story and move out of the present moment. When we let go of telling the story, and step into experiencing, we are getting a taste of non-dual awareness.
When we say that we are something, there’s a whole lot of things that we are not. And then to attempt to uphold this identity is exhausting! Constantly striving to fit ourselves into this mold we have created takes a lot of energy. When our idea self doesn’t align with what’s really happening in the moment, then we suffer (duhkha). When our anticipations or expectations fail to measure up exactly with reality, we experience disappointment and confusion. To let go of defining ourselves, and recognize the natural evolution of our experience, allows us to settle into the truth of impermanence. We are not the same person as we were yesterday, let alone the same person as last year. Identification leads to attachment. We grasp onto an idea or a person or an experience. We want it to stay the same because that which we’re clinging onto provided some sort of satisfaction once, and we don’t want it to change. But it does. It always changes. And the longer we cling, the more we suffer.
To start explaining non-duality, we have covered the beginning of dualistic thought. We’ll be talking about this for a while… so stay tuned.
Here’s an intention suggestion for practice: Focus on experiencing the moment and all that it contains, and notice when the mind starts to create stories about the experience. Notice when the ego takes over. When this happens, and it will, that’s why it’s called PRACTICE, come back to feeling. Feel the tactile sensation or the emotion, without attaching a story to it. Remind yourself over and over again to pay attention to what’s happening now, and what’s happening now, and now…. Not what happened a minute ago or what you think might happen next. Let your breath remind you of your ever changing experience. Every breath is a new opportunity to find the present moment.
Blessings on your inner journey to Truth!