Non Duality - A radical View
22nd August 2022
Non duality is a term you may or may not have come across, but in our work at Mindfulness Unleashed there is a growing interest.
Non duality is a translation of the Sanskrit word Advaita - meaning not two.
What non duality is pointing to is that underlying all the multiplicity we call life, people, cats, dogs, trees, mountains and the rest of the known world there is one energy, or one reality from which all these seemingly different things derive their existence.
When we are infants we are just a bundle of joyful energy, we don’t have a sense of ourselves as separate from the world. Mum’s face is our face, daddy’s voice is our voice. We haven’t yet split the world into self and other, into me here and life out there happening to me.
There is just life. As an infant all our wishes are taken care of, we cry and we are fed for example.
Psychologists have done many tests over the years, but also many parents witness this in their children. At about the age of two and half (the timescale alters slightly for different infants) we begin to develop a sense of ourself as different and separate from the world
The child begins to know itself as an individual and from then on it realises that it has to negotiate its way through life. It needs to act in a certain way to gain approval from her or his parents and society. Slowly, but increasingly the world becomes a threatening place, because we may not get what we want but, also, we may get what we don’t want.
The ability to think develops, which of course is a wonderful thing, but also much of that thinking becomes self-referential. We begin to monitor ourselves by thinking about ourselves. As this continues and intensifies we begin to identify with the thinking, the story of ME, and to feel contracted, small and trapped within the confines of this body.
As this process deepens we begin to identify with our thoughts and the self image the mind creates. This can be painful. Instead of experiencing directly the wonder of life, we now begin to experience our thoughts about life. All this thinking and identifying with thoughts makes us feel increasingly alone and separate from life, separate from others. Life is now not a place of wonder but, increasingly something that is scary and dangerous.
As the years roll by we increasingly retract into the world of thought because it is believed that we need to constantly think about life to be safe. Along with this we are increasingly and almost constantly thinking about ourself. Our lives become one where we are increasingly fixated on thought.
We then take our identity from the constant stories and images that mind keeps generating and we lose touch with the glory and joy of being and shift into what I call the virtual world of thought.
Most people don’t know this, but at some point we believe that we are the self image which exists only in the mind - as an image. For the vast majority of us perhaps 80 to 90% of our attention then gets fixated onto the thinking/stories, and the self image which is a result of all this self centred thinking. This is where the tragedy happens - we then take that story and image which appears in the mind to be reality, to be who we are.
To illustrate this in very simple way let's do a short exercise: Pause now and close your eyes and sit quietly for a few minutes.
Did you notice how you were having conversations with people only in your imagination but, that they felt real? Did you see that for a period you were completely absorbed in that mental world? The person you were tailing to felt real, you felt real, the room you were in felt and looked real and indeed the emotions in generated felt real. But it was all imagined!
This is one simple example of how we spend most of our time - in this virtual world and taking that to be life. It’s nothing short of madness, but we are all doing it so it appears normal.
Please read these next two paragraphs slowly and take a few moments to absorb what is said here.
Thought themselves are real, they really happen. However, they are only pointers or symbols, they are not the actual. I will repeat: thoughts are not the actual. Thoughts are like signposts pointing to something or somewhere, they are not the thing or place itself.
For example, does the thought/word water feel wet, can you wash in it? Does the thought/word fire burn your mouth? Is the image of your friend, really your friend? Is the image of you really you? NO!!!
Let’s take another example: Imagine for a moment that it is a Sunday morning and you are relaxing in the park listening to the birds and feeling well. Then a thought pops up about a disagreement with a friend you had on Friday - so now an image of the past has taken over the reality of the present moment. You are transported to Friday and you are going over the disagreement. You feel irritated with your friends’ obvious narrow mindedness.
Then because the mind needs a solution it jumps to the imagined Tuesday morning - now you have the imagined future - when you will meet again and you are having a conversation, in which, of course you put your friend right. Then you pop back and you hear the birds once again, but now with a residue of irritation which was caused not by the conversation with your friend, because that isn’t happening, but by your thoughts.
You listen once again to the birds and feeling the morning sun on your face then off you go again into another story. What happens is that your attention which is what is aware of the real life sounds and sensation “collapses” and enters the virtual world of thought, and you take that to be real for the duration of the imagined story.
At some point our attention wakes up from that thought made world and has the opportunity to see what has just been happening, and to engage and appreciate the real world. However, these moments at first are brief because, off we go again into the imagined world, our virtual reality.
I am not saying that we shouldn’t think about the issue regarding the episode with the friend but, we need to do it in a conscious way and use the thinking mind wisely. Also I am not talking here about practical and functional thinking which is obviously necessary and useful, but talking primarily about the self centred unconscious thinking described above.
Another thing we can get into is self talk. This is when we are not talking to another person in our imagination but, talking to an image of ourself.
For example, when we are self critical it feels like that critical voice is talking to us, being critical of us but, it isn’t. It’s all just thoughts. It’s like a computer programme, it’s just doing what it does. We take those thoughts personally, when it is all just conditioning, those thoughts are just firing off.
Now here is the crux of it. This is radical so hold onto your seat. The person you take yourself to be, the one looking though those eyes, the one you believe is being criticised is only a thought too, only an image built up and believed in since we started to learn language. It feels so real because nearly everybody believes the same thing, which reinforces the belief. This is the cause of 95% of your mental and emotional suffering. I am not talking about physical pain and the natural feeling of sadness for example of losing a loved one.
This belief in ourself as a separate person existing in some way inside the head or body is just that, a belief, it’s a story. It doesn’t exist in the way we believe it does. I am not saying we don exist but, the reality of who we are is very different from our belief. The word person is interesting in itself, it comes from the Latin persona, which literally means mask. The mask of who you believe you are is obscuring your real nature which is vast, immeasurable, joyful, full of wonder and intimately connected with all life - and intuitively you already know this.
"A human being experiences him/herself, his/her thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty."
"Our separation from each other is an optical illusion.” Einstein
Through mindfulness when practiced correctly we uncover the truth of who we are, non duality is another approach to the discovery of our true nature.
What is our true nature? Well it cannot really be talked about but a metaphor may help to sense what it is.
You true nature is like the sky, vast, open, without preference, without limits, it allows everything to appear just as it is. Does the sky ever change? Is the sky a thing with dimensions? No, of course not, it just is.
What happens is that from our viewpoint on the earth the sky gets obscured by clouds. The clouds are our thoughts and beliefs, they seem to limit us and indeed if we believe we are the thoughts and those thoughts are about us, then we will experience the limitation of those clouds and not the vast open sky. We can be forgiven for believing there isn’t a sky at all if all we seem to see when we look up are the clouds.
Our attention can be so absorbed by thinking that we truly believe that is all there is. Your true nature is like the sky it is unbound and free. It never changes. The sky like your true nature is space-like and allows everything just to be. The sky is never hurt and damaged by whatever appears within it and neither is your true nature. It is waiting patiently for you to return home which is the here and now. In sufism your true nature is called The Beloved
So non duality is a term pointing to the truth of who you are. It is pointing to the truth that we are ultimately all one even though on the “surface” there is difference which can be celebrated.
Realising your non dual nature is the arising of true compassion because as the Dalai Lama said, I cannot hurt anybody when I see they are myself.
We run online non duality satsangs (meetings in truth) every Monday evening, 19:00 - 20:30 UK time. Your first evening is free and here is your Zoom link.
Or drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like a link sent to you.
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