In the first part of this series on non-duality, we explored how a dual mind is born, with the action of the ego and the formation and maintenance of an identity. In the second part we examined the deep seated desire that we all have for acceptance and love and how to practically apply the practice of non-duality in life. If you haven’t read them yet, now’s the time!
Non-dual awareness is what’s happening right now, before the mind separates and labels, before conception. Non-dual awareness is the raw moment to moment experience. It’s acceptance of what is, and surrendering into this deep acceptance. We all have non-dual awareness (samadhi) experiences, when we are totally immersed in the moment. We aren’t thinking of what’s happening, we’re simply experiencing. Often notable life events will inspire this presence, such as witnessing a birth or a death, or connecting with a lover.
When we settle into the moment, we are experiencing our ever present connection with everything. We are not separate from the moment. The moment is us and we are the moment. Picture this: you’re laying on the beach. Reclined on a big towel in the sand. The sun is perfectly warm as if wrapping the rays around you, snug. The rhythmic crash of the waves calms your mind and your body. There is no distinction between the sun’s rays or the wave and you. Your just here, taking it all in. You’re not even thinking of what’s happening. You are the sun, you are the wave. Sensations arise and disappear in the big open space of awareness that you are. This is non-dual awareness. It’s that moment before the processing phase of separating, labeling and organizing.
OK, so we all experience these moments of connection. And it’s our natural state… then why does it seem so difficult to hold on to this state?
The key phrase in the previous question is “hold on to”. Whenever we try to control our experience, or when we wish it was different in some way, we have moved out of being and into a place of struggle. We begin a war with reality by not accepting what’s actually happening. We do this all the time in subtle ways. We are constantly moving towards the things we are attracted to and away from the things we are averse to. Constantly trying to modify the moment and our experience of the moment by moving this way and that, and rarely settling into the middle, the present. And we do all of this because we are seeking comfort and wholeness.
To help us understand the suffering that occurs when we forget our already present wholeness and connection, let us turn to an Upanisad. The Upanisad’s are the last chapters of the Veda’s and the Veda’s are one of the oldest sacred Sanskrit texts that the six schools of orthodox Indian philosophies refer to, including Yoga. The Upanisad’s explain the nature of the true Self and Supreme Reality. In one Upanisad called the Brihadaranyaka, the story of creation is told. Joseph Campbell summarizes it:
“In the beginning…. there was only the Self; but it said “I” and immediately felt fear, after which desire.”
This explains the natural cycle of the human condition. Once we recognize ourselves as something separate, we experience fear. Fear of isolation. Fear of being alone. Once we feel un-whole, or incomplete, then there is desire for another, for something external to us. When we forget that there is no separation, then “wanting” is born. We can only desire something that is external to us. If we remember our wholeness, what is there to want?
This Upanisad passage helped me to understand that fear is normal. While it’s not our natural state, fear is something that we all experience. And when we recognize the experience of fear, we can accept it as just that. A fleeting experience, as every experience is. It’s when we identify with being a fearful or anxious person that it becomes a problem. Fear is not ours to identify with.
Fear is the foundation of every harmful thought, word or action. We build upon fear and express it in a variety of ways: fear of the unknown, fear of death, fear of not being able to provide for one’s self or family. We cannot simply ignore fear by squashing it down and saying, “stay away fear!” No, we must accept that it’s a natural result of feeling of alone, of feeling separate. And the remedy for fear is to connect with one’s self, with another, with the moment, with the breath… Remember you’re already present connection and intimacy with what’s happening right now.
A separate individual will always seek. Ultimately this quest is one of a desire to return to wholeness, to feel complete. Though on the surface it may appear that the individual is seeking acceptance, popularity, knowledge, love, wealth, power, or a spiritually inclined person might seek a non-dual awareness or a higher state of consciousness, ultimately it’s still a search for this wholeness. And this wholeness already exists in the present moment, and only in the present moment.
We’ve all found ourselves in this seeking place. If only I had that new job, or car, then I would feel good. If only I lost a few pounds, then I would feel happy. If only I could afford that vacation, then I would feel relaxed. Whether we are conscious of it or not, we are constantly hoping for the future to be better, and we place the responsibility of our feeling better, on something in the external world. This is not a new phenomenon. We have been conditioned from the moment we leave the womb, to depend on the external world to make us feel OK.
As babies, before we have words for our feelings, our needs or anything else, we communicate in the only way we know how, we cry. We cry whenever we don’t feel OK in some way, be it that we need food, we need a fresh diaper or we simply need to be held. And then our mother, father or caretaker comes and consoles us, giving us what we need, reinforcing this idea that what we need to feel OK, comes from outside of ourselves. While this was true for us as children, we carry this belief into adulthood and even though we can care for ourselves in those basic ways, we hold onto this idea that we need something outside of ourselves to make us feel OK. We have forgotten that true contentment comes from within, it comes from accepting whatever is happening right now.
I had been separated from my husband for a couple of years and it was right before i went to study and practice in India. I was in a very challenging place in my life, very unsettled. My father had recently been diagnosed with cancer, my mother had passed from cancer a few years prior, and I was struggling. I didn’t feel OK inside, so I started looking around for others to make me feel OK. I started dating a ton, in a manic sort of way. I was desperately searching for someone to make me feel whole and loved. My promiscuity was energetically harming myself and others, but I couldn’t seem to stop. I was just about to go immerse myself in study and practice and I was tearing through these unsuspecting (mostly unsuspecting) men, one after another. What kind of yogini am I? I thought. This behavior perpetuated the cycle of not feeling OK, because even if for a moment I felt connected and appreciated, it faded immediately.
Soon I found myself in Southern India recovering from my recent lifestyle. I came to realize that the feeling of not being OK, wasn’t unique to me, and it wasn’t how it needed to be. We are all human, and we are all on our paths. We all struggle with the same lessons in life, whether our individual lives appear similar or not. When we recognize that we are all going through the same stuff, compassion for ourselves and others springs forth.
We are whole and OK, just as we are. We do not need to be different or better to be worthy of acceptance and love. The future doesn’t hold some special circumstance of perfection. And when we look ahead or back we’re never actually present. The only opportunity we have for contentment is right here, right now. Be here and breathe.