The term “nonduality” may be used, rather loosely, to refer to a broad spectrum of teachings and practices that attempt to express and/or reveal the nondual nature (or aspect) of reality. It may also be used to refer to the unitive insight or nondual reality, itself–THAT toward which so many of the saints and sages of the world’s wisdom traditions seem to be pointing.
Before I proceed, let me make clear that (in what follows) I am neither affirming or denying the legitimacy of any kind of metaphysical system, other-worldly hope, or supernatural revelation. Nor am I interested in any of the occult or paranormal powers (or “siddhis”) that this or that guru or mystic may purport (or be reputed) to have (or to have had). I have no knowledge or experience of such things–nor do I desire them.
Nor am I suggesting that there is some state of mind that can be developed over time by virtue of this or that spiritual practice (though I would be the last person to tell anyone to abandoned such practices if they seem authentically helpful). Rather, I am pointing to something that is hidden in plain sight– here and now –and which can be seen easily enough when one grows tired of looking for enlightenment or fulfillment elsewhere.
As a Christian, I am inclined to call this the light of the world or the mind of Christ. And if pressed to discuss it further, I might even be inclined to employ quasi-Trinitarian modes of discourse to help describe the dynamic spiritual community that seems characteristic of that which is seen, simultaneously, to be One Life, Divine.
On the other hand, it must be stressed that there is no reason to believe that this vision is restricted to Christian believers (or, for that matter, that any particular belief is prerequisite to this kind of seeing). As indicated above, it seems to be universal–the light that lights everyone who comes into the world (cf. John 1:9; Psalm 36:9).
In retrospect, one sees that this light is– just as Jesus is said to be —with us always; and remains, indeed, always the same–yesterday, today, and forever (cf. Matthew 28:20; Hebrews 13:8). Looking back, I can remember catching glimpses of this many times over the years, but because no one had explained what to look for, I misunderestimated and promptly ignored it. Again and again I looked away (or somehow overlooked it) in my desperate search for something more. And all the while the light of the world continued to shine in my soul– just as it has in the soul of every human being –from the beginning.
For example, a very strong intimation of this was seen as I first read these lines from the Upanishads in 1993 or ’94:
“Like two birds of golden plumage, inseparable companions, the individual self and the immortal Self are perched on the branches of the selfsame tree. The former tastes of the sweet and bitter fruits of the tree; the latter, tasting of neither, calmly observes. The individual self, deluded by forgetfulness of his identity with the divine Self, bewildered by his ego, grieves and is sad. But when he recognizes the worshipful Lord as his own true Self, and beholds his glory, he grieves no more.” ~ Mundaka Upanishad 3:1:1-2
While these lines gave me a jolt and helped to inspire an additional 15 years of study as I continued to explore various religious and philosophical traditions, I had no frame of reference in which to place the insight therewith associated–and there was no one else in my life to whom any of this seemed particularly meaningful. As such, I continued to search–searching for something, I knew not what…
Fifteen years later– in the middle of an excruciatingly painful period of personal and family trauma –I was introduced to the teachings of Eckhart Tolle and watched the online archives of what were, at that time, his very recent webcasts with Oprah Winfrey:
A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose
If I remember correctly, this was early in 2008 and I was only vaguely aware of Eckhart Tolle at the time–vaguely aware of his name, that is, not his teaching. Moreover, I don’t think I have ever watched an entire episode of Oprah in my life, before or since! But those webcasts were the occasion of my seeing, once more,the light of the world. Only now it was seen in such a way that I would never look elsewhere for it again.
This is not to suggest that I was perfectly “stable” or “established” in this seeing (or that my ego “died” or was “dropped”). I made no such claims then–nor do I today, some five years later. I simply realized, there and then– and continue to realize here and now —that there is no need to look elsewhere. HERE is where the action is… NOW is the accepted time…
From those webcasts, I learned to look beyond the painful circumstances of my life to the “aware presence” or “alert stillness” in which any and all circumstances unfold. Eckhart Tolle helpfully distinguishes between “the egoic” mind (with its running mental commentary) and the light of awareness (which he sometimes refers to as “unconditioned consciousness”). I immediately associated the former with “the carnal” mind (or the mind of the flesh)and the latter with “the Spiritual mind” (or the mind of Christ). He also makes reference to something he calls “the pain body” which is more or less equivalent to the idea of the demonic in the Bible. I mention these points of contact with traditional Christianity, not because Christian beliefs or modes of discourse are essential to this insight, but because Tolle has been so unjustly criticized by so many well-meaning but ultimately misguided believers.
The take-home lesson from all of this is NOT that Eckhart Tolle should be promoted or that his teachings should be believed… Nor that we should seek to understand his teachings in relation to any other teaching or conceptual scheme… Rather, the good news– if and when we are ready to hear it –is that we are not merely the body that we see when we look in the mirror… And we are not merely or even primarily that which we think ourselves to be–not the “mind-made” sense of self that suffers so… Rather, we are the light of aware presence or the field of alert stillness in which any and all phenomena appear… Indeed, walking in this light, it can be seen that we are both this field of awareness and all that appears therein… In short, we are the NOW.
As such, there is no need to search for– indeed, no possibility of finding —completion or fulfillment in the future. How wonderful simply to be— simply and innocently to be –here and now. Take no thought for tomorrow… Old things are past away, behold all things have become new… In aware presence, one no longer approaches this moment primarily as a means to some future end–one no longer feels the need to manipulate the turn of events…
In the course of time, one seems to grow more established in this insight as the “ego” assumes its proper role. No longer sitting on the throne of our heart, the egoic mind is now content to be a servant– the servant of awareness —our servant. No longer the slaves of a self-absorbed and tyrannical director of a largely fictitious drama, we now recognize ourselves to be the light of the world and, by virtue of this recognition, enjoy the peace that passes understanding.
Moreover, it turns out that the light of awareness is the source of a much deeper and much more profound intelligence than the cleverness of the egoic mind. As such, once we learn to lean into this moment– to bring all our problems into the light of aware presence rather than attempting to magically escape them –intelligent solutions often appear of which our impatient and desperately evasive ego would have been totally oblivious (if, as in times past, it was attempting run the show exclusively by and for itself ).
While all this may sound complicated, nothing could be more simple. No extraordinary aptitude or effort is required to see this. Indeed, there is little or nothing one can do beyond being honestly and lucidly aware. And even that is the gift of God, so to speak–not of works lest anyone should boast... But for those who so desire, there are some basic exercises that many find helpful:
- Listening to Stillness
- Practicing Breath Awareness
- Practicing Inner-Body Awareness
- Self-Inquiry (“Who am I?”)
— a silent inquiry…
— a non-conceptual realization…
- The Headless Way “experiments”
This article by Leonard Jacobson also offers some practical instruction:
In the course of the last five years, I have (from time to time) practiced all of these exercises until they have become more or less habitual. In addition, I have continued to explore diverse ways of describing and communicating this unitive insight (aka nondual realization, but sometimes referred to simply as waking up or seeing). While it easy enough to see that Reality is One— or, at any rate not-two —there would seem to be no single way of articulating this insight which is clearly superior to all the others. A lot seems to depend on an individual’s temperament, cultural and educational background, and particular circumstances. While there is no guarantee if and/or when this insight will begin to take precedence in the life of any apparent individual, it’s hard to deny that there is some correlation between awakening and having an interest in and/or exposure to some kind of spiritual teaching. Here is a partial list of several rather popular teachers that I have also found to be especially helpful:
When time permits, I hope to post additional links and resources pertaining to these and other teachers, as well–including some who are not so well known, but who are, for that reason, much more accessible to those who might wish to contact them personally. In the meantime, search the names, above, on google or on YouTube and/or check out the podcasts, below…
[ Note: If you feel drawn to spiritual teachings, but do not find any of these resource helpful, please have a look at The Perennial Philosophy and/or Christian Vision sections in the menu, above. I also recommend The Reality of Being, by Jeanne de Salzmann, Gnosis: Book One, by Boris Mouravieff, and Meditations on the Tarot, by Anonymous]