If you haven’t read the first part of this series, brew a cup of tea and start here:
In the first part of this series on non-dual awareness, we explored how a dualistic mind is born, with the presence and action of the ego. The main job of the ego is to separate “self” and “other”, and to create an identity. Other distortions of the mind (vrtti’s) that prevent clear seeing (vidya) of Supreme Reality or Truth, and contribute to a dual frame of mind include: conditioned beliefs and behaviors (klesa’s), impressions from previous experiences (samskara’s), and the results from volitional acts (karma). A mind operating under the influence of these distortions, sees boundaries.
Duality is the experience of separateness. Non-duality is the experience of interconnectedness. Dualism refers to two realities: pure awareness (purusa) and nature (prakriti). Pure awareness is unchanging and immaterial. Pure awareness witnesses the unfolding of nature. Nature is the phenomenal realm of matter, which includes the body, senses, and consciousness, and all the contents of consciousness such as thoughts, emotions, and memories. Dual philosophy states that pure awareness and nature are separate entities. In non-dual philosophy there is only Supreme Reality, and there is no separation of pure awareness and nature. The essence of consciousness is pure awareness (purusa), and consciousness can be thought of as a screen on which pure awareness watches. Pure awareness exists under the wardrobe of our identity, conditioned states, habits and karma. When the mind is colored by vrtti’s, our ability to exist in our natural state of interconnectedness is hindered.
In this practice we learn to identify the ways in which our experience of reality is influenced, to find freedom from them, and to open our eyes to see clearly. Here’s an example of how I’m working with non-dual awareness in my practice/life:
When I took initiation by Swami Tureyananda in January 2011, he opened his arms and heart to me as his student, gave me the name Jaya, which means Victory or Success, and gave me a mantra. As part of the initiation he asked that I give up something in my life that wasn’t serving me anymore. This was an intentionally vague request, that left me contemplating for days. I wanted to let go of a habit or pattern that wasn’t supporting me on my path. This samskara or impression from a previous experience, that I was to relinquish, needed to be significant. I wanted it to be a challenge for me, but not so much that I couldn’t stick with it. I was making a promise to Swamiji, as he was to me. After about three days, I knew what I needed to give up, people-pleasing.
For the first 30 years of this life I was an incredibly talented people-pleaser. I was a perfectionist that charmed those around me into liking me. I bent over backwards to receive attention and acceptance. It wasn’t until well into my adulthood, that I realized why I had become this person. I believed that in order to be worthy enough to receive love from others, I had to make them happy in some way. I had to make sure everything was OK, and that everyone was taken care of. If they were all happy, and I played a part in that (the bigger the better), then how could they not love me?
What I came to understand was that by and large my motivation for people-pleasing was rooted in a deep longing for love, coupled with a sense that there was something inherently wrong with me. I had to make up for that felt wrongness, by being better, doing more, and often to my own detriment. People-pleasing is different than simply wanting others to be comfortable and happy and offering genuine support. In people-pleasing there is also an ulterior motive. Being “nice” and “helpful” was a compensatory behavior fueled by the feeling of not being good enough.
So I gave up people-pleasing. And a couple years later, I’m continually surprised at the subtle ways this tendency still surfaces. I notice this habit pop up, and remind myself that I am worthy of acceptance and love, just as I am, without having to be different or better.
Recently, this old habit popped up incognito. I had written a strongly worded email to a friend, explaining some difficulty I had been having which was related to him, and asking for help in solving this problem. I had been dealing with this challenge and asking for help for quite a while, without much reciprocation, so this last email was more direct than usual. My friend and I spoke the following day and he shared that he felt the email was “angry”. I recoiled at the idea of me writing an “angry” email, and I said to him, “I’m sorry. I’m not a mean person… I don’t want to be a mean person.” And the next instant it hit me. People-pleasing alert!
Yes my email was direct, but not inappropriate or cruel. The moment I was perceived to be something other than “nice” and “helpful” I backpedaled. I had created this identity and desperately clung to it for the vast majority of my life. And even after two years of working to re-pattern, there I was, scrambling to uphold it. I realized when I uttered those words to my friend, that I needed to sit with this. So I went home, took a seat in front of my altar and held the following in my mind:
“I am not a nice person, nor am I a mean person. At my core, self is neither of those things.”
The practice of neti neti,“not this, not that”, a contemplative technique I learned from one of my teachers in India, helped me begin to comprehend the emptiness of self. I didn’t have to identify with either of those characteristics, because at the core, self is neither. The self is pure awareness (purusa), and is free of name and form or empty (sunyata). And when we enter a state of non-duality (samadhi) this is what we tap into. At the core we are neither nice nor mean, good nor bad, pure nor impure, light nor dark. Sunyata is also translated as boundlessness. The boundaries between self and other dissolves, and so in our true nature we are both nothing and everything at the same time.
As I sat, holding this thought in my mind, I began to feel lighter. A sense of ease permeated my body. I didn’t have to BE anything. Where there had been rigidity and constriction, expansiveness bloomed. I wasn’t grasping onto being “nice”, and I wasn’t running away from being “mean”. Stillness transformed into a felt sense that my body was disintegrating, particle by particle into the space around me. Where fear of not being something had once dwelled, liberation took it’s seat.
May we all recognize the fullness and emptiness of self, realizing our true nature. Blessings fellow yogin!