What does non-dual mean?

I hardly ever use the word non-dual even if I have been familiar with it for a few decades. I prefer to describe my experience using more ordinary words.

So what does on-dual mean? What does it refer to?

ESSENCE

Here are a couple of versions:

Reality is a seamless whole. Only thoughts divide. And reality is always more than and different from any thought or set of thoughts.

To ourselves, we are consciuosness and the world to us happens within and as this consciousness. We are oneness and the world to us happens within and as that oneness. Again, thoughts divide and cannot capture the reality of what we are, or reality as it fundamentally appears to us.

We are non-dual and reality as it appears to us – before mind gets caught up in our stories about it – is non-dual.

WHAT DOES DUALITY REFER TO?

Another approach is to focus more explicitly on our relationship with thoughts.

Duality – the experience of duality – happens when our mind assigns exclusive truth to a thought.

This thought is true, that thought is false. Buddhism is true, Christianity is not. I am right, you are wrong. I am this human self and not the wider world. I am something within the content. of experience, and not what it all happens within and as.

Non-duality involves – but is not limited to – recognizing the limited validity in a range of different perspectives and stories, and seeing the bigger picture that holds them all.

HOW THE MIND RELATES TO THOUGHT

Said another way, this has to do with how the mind relates to thoughts.

If my mind gets caught up in holding thoughts as true, then duality is created.

When I recognize my own more fundamental nature, and the nature of thoughts, the non-dual is revealed.

It’s pretty simple, and yet there are innumerable wrinkles here which makes it interesting.

HOLDING THOUGHTS AS TRUE

What happens when my mind hold a thought as true?

The obvious is that I’ll perceive and act as if it’s true, to the extent possible.

Also, when my mind gets caught up in holding a thought as true, then an experience of duality is created.

Each thought creates a view, and the mind identifies with and as that view. A sense of I is created around the view. I become that particular view.

That, in turn, creates a sense of I and Other and identification with the former.

That’s how an experience of duality is created.

RECOGNIZE THE NATURE OF THOUGHTS

So what’s the nature of thoughts?

They are here to help us orient and navigate in the world. They have a pragmatic function. Their function is not to hold or reflect any final, full, or absolute truth.

They are pointers. They hold limited validity, and the way they are valid varies.

RECOGNIZE MY MORE FUNDAMENTAL NATURE

In one sense, I am this human self in the world. And when I look more closely, I find I more fundamentally am something else.

More fundamentally, and to myself, I am what my field of experience happens within and as.

A thought may call this consciousness. To myself, I am consciousness. And the world, to me, happens within and as the consciousness I am.

This involves a release of identification with content of experience, including a human self, doer, observer, and so on. And, more precisely, it involves a release of identification with mental representations of all of these things.

Here, it’s easier to recognize the nature of thoughts. Recognizing my more fundamental nature makes it easier to recognize the nature of thoughts. It’s easier to hold them all more lightly. To see that they have a pragmatic function only.

IN REAL LIFE: A MIX

In real life, it’s of course not always so clean cut and simple.

Our nature may generally rest in recognizing itself and thoughts are generally recognized for what they are. And at the same time, parts of our psyche holds onto certain (painful) thoughts as true. These are wounded and traumatized parts of us. And they inevitably color our perception and life.

We may also generally recognize or nature and the nature of thoughts, and sometimes more obviously get hijacked by painful thoughts and identifications.

Or there may be areas of life where we hold onto limited and painful thoughts and identifications, perhaps even without recognizing because it’s so familiar to us. It may be obvious to others but not so much to us, at least for a while.

MY EXPERIENCE

As I have mentioned a few times before, there were a couple of big shifts when this human self was in his teens.

The first one was when I was fifteen. Mid-day on January 1st, it was as if the world became distant. The whole field of experience became distant – the world, this human self, emotions, thoughts, everything. Later, I understood that it was if any sense of “I” became absorbed into observing. The observing became an I and what this consciousness was temporarily identified with and as. My human self at the time had no ideas about this and just felt something had gone terribly wrong. This lasted for a year.

Almost exactly a year later, between Christmas and New Year, there was a shift into oneness. Into all as the divine, Spirit, God. This shift didn’t go away.

All of this made it unavoidable to see the general nature of thoughts. They are here to help us orient and navigate in the world, and not so much more. They cannot capture any full or absolute or final truth.

They happen within and as what I am, as anything else. They live their own life, as anything else.

As is not unusual, many parts of my psyche were formed within separation consciousness, were wounded and perhaps traumatized, and these continued to operate from separation consciousness and wounds. They color my perception and life. Some of these have found healing, and some still wait for healing.

When it comes to my mental field and mental habits, it was shocking to to this part of me when the oneness shift happened. I was a self-identified atheist since elementary school so definitely hadn’t expected – or even heard about – it. My mental field was used to operate from duality, so it took some time for it to reorganie and be more aligned with oneness. And that’s an ongoing process.

How have I supported my mental field in realigning? I read a lot of systems views and deep ecology books in my teens and early twenties. I read a lot of Taoism in my late teens and twenties. I read a lot of Buddhism in my twenties and thirties. I read a lot of general mysticism in my twenties and thirties. And equally or more importantly, I have done quite a bit of different types of inquiry – especially the Big Mind process, The Work of Byron Katie, and the Kiloby Inquiries.

BIG MIND ON NON-DUALITY

Hi Big Mind.

Hello.

Can you say something about non-duality? How does it look to you?

Non-duality is a term some humans like to use. It looks about as useful as it’s not. Some get very caught up in the idea of it, in their mental representations of it, instead of using it as a pointer for finding it for themselves.

Non-duality is what I am, what you are, what every conscious being inherently is. It’s not something mystical or distanced or weird. It’s what we already are and are most familiar with.

It’s really all we ever know.

At the same time, mind is very good at creating the experience of something else. Of creating the experience of duality.

It’s part of how I explore and experience myself. There is nothing wrong about it. It’s natural. And it can be interesting to explore.

Duality is the experience we create for ourselves when we take ourselves to fundamentally be a human self or anything else within the content of experience.

It’s just an experience. It’s a filter. It’s not inherent in what we are or reality.

What we are and reality is one. It forms itself into everything within content of experience. And that includes a temporary experience of duality.

When I form myself into an experience of duality, it creates a sense of discomfort. It’s out of alignment with my nature and reality so it’s inherently uncomfortable. It can also create a longing, and that longing is ultimately for me to recognize my nature.

I should also say that recognizing my nature and being temporarily caught up in duality are inherently equal in a certain way. The former is more peaceful and the latter is more uncomfortable and creates more challenges for this human self and other beings. And my nature is also the same in both cases.

Image by me and created with Midjourney to hint at non-duality AKA oneness. Lots of things inside a circle.

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Nothing matters, everything matters

We can explore this in different ways.

CAN APPEAR AS A PARADOX

If we take thoughts as holding exclusive truth, then this can seem a paradox. (1)

How can both be true?

THE NATURE OF THOUGHTS

If we recognize thoughts as thoughts, this seems different.

Thoughts are questions about the world. They are here to help us orient and navigate in the world.

Thoughts cannot hold any full, final, or absolute truth. That’s not their function. (2)

Here, we recognize that everything and nothing and matters are all ideas. They are mind-made and not inherent in the world.

THE VALIDITY OF BOTH

And there is validity in both.

When I explore this, I find…

Nothing matters

To matter is an idea. I cannot find it outside of an idea. It’s not inherent in reality. Nothing matters because I cannot find “to matter” outside of my ideas of it.

Everything matters

To me, everything happens within and as the consciousness I am. It’s literally me taking all these forms. Everything matters because to me it’s all me.

Also, as a human being, I love this world. I love nature. I love all the ways reality shows up. I love how the universe has formed itself into all we know. I am part of this world so everything matters to me.

It’s all true in its own way.

NOTES

(1) To get to this point where thoughts seem true AND mutually exclusive, we have to do a lot of mental gymnastics. We have to convince ourselves, against overwhelming contrary evidence, that our thoughts somehow are true. (Whatever that means.) And we have to convince ourselves, again against overwhelming evidence, that whatever validity is in different thoughts is mutually exclusive.

(2) Our ideas about the world highlight some features and leave other things out. They leave out an infinite amount, and we mostly don’t even know what’s left out. They are different in nature from what they point to. They reflect our unique viewpoints and biases. The world is always more than and different from our ideas about it.

Chelan Harkin: The worst thing we ever did was put God in the sky

The worst thing we ever did
was put God in the sky
out of reach
pulling the divinity
from the leaf,
sifting out the holy from our bones,
insisting God isn’t bursting dazzlement
through everything we’ve made
a hard commitment to see as ordinary,
stripping the sacred from everywhere
to put in a cloud man elsewhere,
prying closeness from your heart.

The worst thing we ever did
was take the dance and the song
out of prayer
made it sit up straight
and cross its legs
removed it of rejoicing
wiped clean its hip sway,
its questions,
its ecstatic yowl,
its tears.

The worst thing we ever did is pretend
God isn’t the easiest thing
in this Universe
available to every soul
in every breath

– from “Susceptible to Light” by Chelan Harkin

I agree with the essence of this poem, love that it is expressed in the form of a poem, and understand it’s written for effect.

At the same time, I would nuance it a bit.

SKY GODS

The sky-god phase was a phase in our western human culture. It didn’t happen in all cultures or for all of humanity. And I I suspect we are seeing the end of this phase, or at least the end of its monopoly.

It’s not inherently bad or wrong, but it does come with drawbacks and limitations as any view, and more people realize that these days and seek a different approach.

THE PLAY OF THE DIVINE

And who did all of this if not the divine, through and as us, culture, and evolution?

In some ways, we can say we did it. And it’s more fundamentally life who did it through and as us. Or the divine that did it, through and as us. And it’s also life – through and as us – that’s becoming aware of this now and seeks another way to see it.

All of it is life (or the divine) expressing, exploring, and experiencing itself in always new ways.

EASY AND NOT SO EASY

And yes, that makes God the easiest thing. It’s everywhere and every experience. It’s what’s experiencing and the experience, and those two are really one.

And that’s not always so easy for the divine – when it locally and temporarily takes the form of us – to fully comprehend. After all, as us it’s living within a culture where the sky-god view is ingrained, and where it has trained itself to see itself as separate.

That too is part of its dance and exploration of itself in always new ways.

FINDING IT HERE AND NOW

As usual, I like to explore this as a projection.

This is all happening here and now.

When I explore what I am in my own first-person experience, I find I am what the world to me happens within and as. To me, the world happens within and as what I am. Any ideas – of sky-gods, immanent divinity, people doing this and that, this person being a certain way, and so on – happens within and as what I am.

To me, all happens within and as the consciousness I am. I can project this out and say that all of existence is consciousness (AKA the divine, Spirit, God), and all of existence is the divine exploring itself, and that may be accurate. And yet, it’s more honest for me to stay with my own immediate noticing.

For me, all happens within and as what I am. I am this consciousness taking all these forms, and metaphorically exploring itself as all of these forms.

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Star Wars: The Last Jedi

 

Luke: What do you see?

Rey: Light…. darkness….. the balance….?

Luke: It’s so much bigger.

What do these words from the trailer mean?

The following is one of the mainstream interpretation, and although I try to avoid topics that are covered in the mainstream, this one is too good to pass up.

In many spiritual traditions, and in our own ordinary maturing as human beings, we tend to initially split between good and bad, light and darkness. We seek the light and avoid the darkness. That’s the safer approach, initially, until we gain some more experience and reach a certain level of maturity.

And then, we realize we need to outgrow it. We see the pitfalls in splitting life in that way. We realize that we all have both in us, and if we identify with one we have to suppress the other which doesn’t work in the long run. At a social level, we end up demonizing groups, which is not good for any of us.

So we need to find both sides in us. Find a larger whole that already embraces and includes both. Find ways to live with and from both. And in that process, we find some maturity and a different and more real type of kindness. We don’t have to demonize anything in ourselves or others. We recognize ourselves in the whole world, as it is. There is a deeper and more genuine empathy.

Is that why it’s time for the Jedi to end? If the Jedi only know and use the light side, they are out of touch with life and reality. A new approach is needed. And Rey may be one of the first ones to be trained in this new approach.

Embracing both sides we find something so much bigger than either one. So much richer, fuller, more mature, and – if done with some skill – more kind in a real way.

It can also be a dangerous transition. We go from a safer and more immature identification with the good, to getting to know and embracing both sides. We often make mistakes in this transition, and that’s how we learn and mature. That’s how we find the deeper form of kindness that can come from embracing and befriending both.

There is nothing new here. This is part of any relatively mature spiritual tradition, and it’s what we realize growing up – at least most of us. It’s also not new in literature, mythology, or even movies. But if this is the theme of the new Star Wars movie, it’s certainly good that it comes into mainstream culture in this way. It is a message that can be helpful to many, especially younger ones, and especially in the US.

It may not be popular, but I still have to say that the US culture tends to be more obsessed with the good/bad split than many other cultures and has a more immature take on it. Evangelical Christians, and any form of Christian or religious fundamentalism, is an example of that more immature view. Other examples are, unfortunatly, how the US media tends to frame issues, and aspects of US foreign policy.

There is nothing inherently wrong with this approach although it does create some suffering and is dangerous if taken too far. And it’s also a stepping stone. One of an infinite number of stepping stones. Each one with its own drawbacks that we eventually discover, take to heart, and partially resolve with the next more inclusive approach.

Of course, this may not at all be how these words are explained in the movie. Somehow, I doubt it. I think they’ll take an approach that’s more “horizontal” in terms of maturity. One that doesn’t neccesarily require a step up in maturity.

And the Last Jedi movie poster is awesome. A great take on classic 50s sci-fi art.

Note: When Rey says “light” there is an image of Leia and a rebellion control room (I assume), when she says “darkness” we see Kylo Ren’s charred helmet (I assume), and when she says “the balance?” we see some books perhaps symbolizing wisdom and maturity.

Note II: I see that people talk about “grey Jedi” as a term for those who embrace the larger and more inclusive wholeness of the light and the dark. I don’t like the term since it sounds bland and as if the light and dark blend together. It’s much more about including both, the full spectrum. Maybe “full spectrum Jedi” is more accurate but obviously less catchy.

Note III: As mentioned above, there is an apparently safe simplicity in dividing the world into good and bad, and identifying with the good. It seems safe, and it’s also a bit naive since that’s not how the world works. We all have both in us, and identifying with parts within that split leads to scapegoating, dehumanization, us-them attitudes, and struggles with others and oneself. So eventually we realize we need to include both. We need to find both in ourselves, and learn to befriend both and live with and from both. And in that, there is a deeper and more mature kindness and compassion towards ourselves and others.

The simple dualism is a stepping stone. And the exploration of a more inclusive wholeness is also a series of stepping stones.

There is a slight risk here: the initial exploration of wholeness can be used to justify living from parts of ourselves in an unkind and less wise way. We can tell ourselves that “it’s good to embrace all of me, and that means it’s OK to be mean” or greedy, or hateful, or whatever it may be. I certainly saw that with some of the senior students at K. Zen Center. They used the wholeness principle to justify being jerks.

That too, of course, comes with consequences, and those consequences invite us to find a kinder and more mature path.

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