Nondual but dismissing the human?

Some nondual or neo-Advaita folks seem to dismiss or downplay the human aspect of what we are and say things like “I am not this human”, “there is no self”, “I don’t exist”, and so on.

I understand where they are coming from. As our nature, we are not primarily this human self. There may be a human self in a conventional sense, but there is no inherently separate self here in my own experience. As capacity for the world as it appears to me, I don’t really exist.

They may want to emphasize the capacity and oneness aspects of our nature and downplay the human aspect, perhaps to compensate for others (or themselves!) viscerally over-emphasizing the human aspect out of habit.

At the same time, it does seem one-sided and perhaps a bit like an ideology. It can be quite misleading to others not familiar with that terrain. And it’s not terribly nondual. They seem to mentally create a split where there isn’t one and where it’s not strictly necessary.


I find myself as….

Capacity for the world as it appears to me. As what allows it all to happen within my experience. As what forms itself into any experience.

As oneness. As what the world, to me, happens within and as. As the oneness the world, to me, happens within and as. (And with “the world” I mean any content of experience, anything seen here, heard, smelled, tasted, sensed, and thought.)

A part of oneness is this human self, as he appears in my sense fields including my mental representations. He is as much part of it as anyone and anything else that’s here.

And there is a special connection with this human self. This oneness has inside information from this human self in the form of all his sensory input. Others take me as him. And this oneness plays the role of and as him in the world.

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Exploring nonduality: There is no [whatever]?

Some nondual folks like to say “there is no X” where X can be anything – self, human being, a cup of tea.

Is that true?

As so often, the answer is yes and no and it depends.

X – whatever it is – is an idea. It comes from a mental overlay. Also, the idea and what it refers to happens within and as consciousness and oneness. In both of those ways, we can say there is no X.

There is no cup because “cup” is a label and an idea and not the thing itself. And there is no cup because it’s part of existence as a whole.

That’s true, and it’s also just one side of it.

There is X because we – collectively – have decided it’s that way. It’s a way for us to function, orient, and communicate. It has an obviously practical function.

Also, even if all is part of existence some things are more or less distinct. A cup can be moved around. It functions, in a practical sense, as something separate from other things.


We can say that a cup doesn’t exist because “cup” is a label and not the thing itself, and the label and what it refers to happen within and as consciousness and oneness.

At the same time, we can say that the cup does exist because we can talk about it and use it. It exists for us in a practical and pragmatic sense.

It may not exist the way most people think of it. The label and our ideas about it are not the cup. And the cup in itself isn’t ultimately a cup. To us, its most basic nature is consciousness, not being a cup.

And that’s the same with anything we can think about and label, whether it’s me, I, an observer, a doer, a human being, the world, the universe, and even consciousness, Spirit, the Divine, Big Mind, God, and so on.

Why is this important?

For many, it’s not important and that’s more than OK. They live their lives and have other interests and things to focus on.

But for some of us, this is fascinating. It’s helps us recognize what we really are, which is capacity for the whole world as it appears to us.

For some of us, like me, it’s also about finding a way to express our immediate experience. The way the world appears to me seems a bit different than for many, so there is a natural interest in exploring it further and find ways to express it. (Even if the only way to get it is to find it in our own immediate experience.)

Deep ecology, ecopsychology, ecospirituality, healing, sustainability, spirituality, nonduality

These are the types of articles that quickly mushroom into something that could be a book instead of a brief article. So I’ll try to keep it brief and succinct. The downside is, of course, that a lot of the richness and juiciness is left out. The upside is that it invites the reader to explore the richness and left-out connections for themselves. Rich explorations sometimes come out of very simple pointers.

What are some of the connections between deep ecology, ecopsychology, ecospirituality, epic of evolution, systems views, healing, sustainability, and spirituality? These are all areas that have been passions for me since my teens, and they are closely related, although often not explored in connection with each other.

Deep ecology can help us change our conscious view and be more aware of the interconnectedness and interdependence of all life. We are a part of nature and the Earth. All life has intrinsic value.

Deep ecology practices, such as Joanna Macy’s Practices to Reconnect, helps us have a visceral experience of deep time and the deep interconnectedness of all life. Over time, this visceral experience of deep time and deep interconnectedness can become a new norm for us. It can become something we naturally live from in daily life.

Ecopsychology can provide very helpful pointers for how to bring more people on board with sustainability, and organize society so that what’s easy and attractive to do is also something that benefits society as a whole, ecosystems, and future generations. Other branches of ecopsychology give helpful pointers for individual healing.

Systems theories help us also change our conscious view to recognize the deep interconnectedness of all life, of society and ecosystems. Earth is one seamless system, and we can learn basic principles of how Earth as a living system – along with most or all other living systems – work. A systems view also gives us pointers for where to target what types of social interventions to invite systemic changes.

Healing is essential for reducing reactivity, open for more flexible, pragmatic, and big picture views, and provide contentment and a sense of safety allowing us to act more consistently in the interests of the larger whole and future generations. As we heal, and if our basic needs are taken care of and we feel relatively safe, we tend to mature. And as we mature, we naturally tend to broaden our concern to include others, the wider social and ecological wholes, and even future generations. Our sense of “us” tends to broaden and be more inclusive. At the very least, as we heal and mature, we don’t feel as threatened if someone else acts from this more inclusive sense of “us”.

Society and culture is another aspect of this and a big topic. Some cultures already offer a deeper sense of connection with all life, while our modern western one tends to teach us we are separate from nature and disconnected from past and future generations (however illogical that is). Similarly, I imagine that societies with good social safety nets tend to allow people the “luxury” of being concerned with sustainability. And, of course, ecological crisis – whether regional or global – will tend to do the same out of necessity.

Ecospirituality can open for a deeper sense of all as expressions of the divine, and it can help us bring people from different religions on board with sustainability by using their existing religious language, values, and rituals. Depending on the religion, and the subgroups within the religion, we can say that all is the divine, or infused with the divine, or at least divine creation. And that we are not only part of but stewards of God’s creation and responsible for passing on an Earth to our descendants that will allow them to thrive. The specific language will depend on the religion and the subgroups, as will the rituals and practices aimed at deepening our experience of all as the divine, and how we bring it into our lives and society.

Epic of Evolution uses science to help people shift into views and more visceral experiences of deep time, the deep interconnectedness of all, reverence for all of existence, and even Big Mind. As Carl Sagan said, “And we who embody the local eyes and ears and thoughts and feelings of the cosmos we’ve begun, at last, to wonder about our origins. Star stuff, contemplating the stars, organized collections of 10 billion-billion-billion atoms contemplating the evolution of matter, tracing that long path by which it arrived at consciousness here on the planet Earth and perhaps, throughout the cosmos.”

Spirituality and nonduality provide tools supporting all of these shifts in perceptions, views, and visceral experiences. Heart-centered practices help us reorient from indifference or aversion to befriending and finding genuine love and appreciation for ourselves, others, society and ecosystems as a whole, life as a whole, and future generations. Inquiry helps us heal from wounds and hangups created by identifications, and it also helps us see through and shift out of the sense of separation created by identifications. The Big Mind process, which is a form of guided inquiry, can allow us to have a direct and immediate taste of all as the divine which can also help us reorient and feel a greater sense of responsibility for how our actions impact all life.

I should add the obvious, that natural and social sciences, and technology, are all vital components for us creating a more sustainability society locally, regionally, and globally. Effective global governance is another vital component. As is shifting out of neo-liberal views and policies aimed at benefiting corporations over people, nature, and future generations.

When I imagine a more sustainable society in the future, at least in regions of Earth, I imagine all of these as important components and commonly found in different parts of society. And I imagine serious research being done in each of these fields. Of course, most likely only a small(ish) part of society will be actively interested or engaged in these areas, although that’s often enough for it to be reflected in mainstream culture, and it may be enough to bring about the changes needed.

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Our fundamental identity

What does it mean when we say there is “no separate self”?

Obviously, there is a human self here. A human being walking around talking, thinking, feeling and so on. That doesn’t change. (At least not until we die.)

Our surface identity may be with or as this human self with its labels and roles in the world. That identity is accurate and helpful. But it’s not our final or fundamental identity.

Our more fundamental identity is as what this human self, and any experience, happens within or as. Some call it awakeness or consciousness since that’s what it can be experienced as.

Since this is what all our experience happens within and as – including this human self, others, and the world as we experience it – there is a sense of oneness here. It all happens within and as what we are. And that’s how it is for others as well, whether they notice or not.

And since there is oneness, we can call it love. What we are, and what everything is, is love. It’s not necessarily a felt love, in a conventional sense, although that could happen. It’s more the love of the left hand removing a splinter from the right. It’s the love that’s reflected in views and actions because it’s all one.

Also, since there is oneness, we can call it bliss. Although I hesitate a bit to use that word. Again, it’s not bliss in a conventional sense, although that can happen too. It’s a quiet bliss inherent in existence. It’s the quiet bliss that comes from all as one, all as consciousness, all as love. It’s a quiet bliss underlying any of our usual varied human experiences and states.

And although we can say that all is consciousness, or love, or even this quiet bliss, that’s not quite accurate either. All of this happens within and as what we are. Some call this void, or even the Godhead (Christian mystics). But words don’t quite reach it.

So, in a sense, it’s not very mystical or magical. It’s quite simple, direct, and here and now. And yet, it can be difficult to notice. The mind is trained to focus on its own content – thoughts and sensory experiences – so it easily misses what it all happens within and as.

That’s one of the tricks life uses to be able to temporarily experience itself as an apparently separate being, and not just one but many of them…! That’s part of the play of existence. That’s the infinite experiencing itself as finite. That’s existence exploring, expressing, and experiencing itself in a myriad of different ways. That’s lila as some call it.

There has to be a ripeness to notice it, whether it’s subtle or a spiritual opening or awakening. And when there is interest, that usually reflect a ripeness.

Note: When I say “obviously there is a human self here”, that’s meant to show that our human self continues much as before when what I write about here is noticed. Our lives don’t neccesarily change that much. It’s more the context we are consciously aware of that changes. We could also say that what we call this human self also happens within and as what we are, and doesn’t exist as anything separate or inherently substantial. (Although in a conventional sense, we could say it is both separate and substantial, and that’s true as well.)

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Seeking and inquiry

Some folks seem to reject inquiry because they see it as seeking, and – apparently – seeking is bad 🙂

For me, a few different things comes up for me around this:

Inquiry mainly helps me see how my mind operates. It helps me see how my mind creates its own experience of the world.

Inquiry helps me release or soften seeking. I get to see how what I seek, and the lack I perceive in myself or my life is created by my own mind. This tends to soften the seeking, and sometimes it even falls away.

Inquiry helps me find peace with what’s here, whatever it is. It helps me see that it doesn’t need to change. In these cases, I seek – to some extent – finding peace with what’s here, or some form of resolution that comes from seeing more clearly what’s here.

Sometimes, I do inquiry because I notice I suffer and I know from experience that I suffer because I don’t see very clearly what’s here. Inquiry helps me see more clearly what’s here, and there is less suffering, and sometimes it falls away completely. In these cases, I seek a relief from suffering, I may seek some sort of resolution. And that seems OK too. It seems very natural and very human. It’s even kind.

Seeking seems to be a natural part of human life. Right now, I seek to write this. Just before, I sought to eat (a very delicious) dinner. Soon, I’ll seek to sleep. When I do inquiry, it’s often out of curiosity to see what’s there, so there is a seeking to see what’s there. Humanity wouldn’t exist, and wouldn’t survive, without seeking. Of course, heavy handed seeking creates suffering. And inquiry helps me soften the seeking so it becomes milder and often more playful.

When I hear people rejecting inquiry because they see it as fueling seeking, I can see their point. Inquiry can indeed be used to seek something, and it can fuel seeking. And yet, that’s only if inquiry is not applied to explored that seeking. If it is, we get to see how the ideas of something to seek and of a lack are created, and that seeking tends to be more transparent, and perhaps soften or fall away. Also, it may not appear as a problem anymore.

Also, it brings to mind how nondual ideas can be made into an ideology or a religion, and even used in a “good” vs “bad” fashion. It’s good to not seek, and bad to seek…! Of course then we seek not to seek, so the seeking is still alive and well, just applied in a different way than most of us applies it.

Idealism is often just another way to try to find safety, and it comes with it’s own shadow side.

It is curious to me why seeking would be seen as bad. Is it because it shows we are unenlightened or unclear? If so, what’s so wrong about that? It seems that empathy and kindness would be more helpful. Is it because seeking can create suffering? That’s clearly true, and yet it also depends on how heavy or light handed that seeking is.

As I mentioned above, to me, it’s far more interesting to see how my mind creates the dynamics around seeking, including the idea of something to seek and a deficiency in me or my life. And at least for now, inquiry is the best tool I have found to explore that.

Visualizing what I want

Some nondual folks speak out against visualizing what you want. I get why.

If there is identification with the visualization, it just means reinforcing those identifications. It means (perhaps) reinforcing ideas of the future, that I need whatever I am visualizing, that what’s here is lacking and not good enough, that what I am trying to compensate for (deficient selves, lack) is real, and so on.

For me, it’s not either/or. The two can co-exist, or even support each other.

When I make a list of what I wish for in my life and also visualize it (which happens as soon as I think about it), several things happen. If there are identifications there, I may have fears come up around not having it, or having it. A sense of lack, or of missing something, or a deficient self, may be stirred up.

Whatever is left for me to see or meet or love or question is stirred up.

So I get to see it. Meet it. Rest with it. Find love for it. Question my beliefs around it. I can also see if any of it is findable. Can I find an actual threat? What I am seeking? What I feel I am lacking? The compulsion for it to be different, or to get something specific? (Living Inquiries.)

This can all lead to a deeper sense of freedom. And here, my preferences are held more lightly. Some of them may have initially seemed like a need, or even a matter of life and death. And now they are more a wouldn’t it be nice if.

It can still be helpful to make lists of what I would like in my life. It helps me clarify my preferences. It helps me mentally try out different options, and see how it resonates with me. It helps me reorient. It guides me to work towards what I would like in my life. It helps me recognize and take opportunities that bring me in that direction I wish for my life, when they come up. In short, it may help me become a better steward of my life.

It also helps me see what’s left for me. What’s left to look at. Welcome. Rest with. Inquire into.

It’s all about how it’s done. I see how these types of lists and visualizations can reinforce wishful thinking, a sense of lack, deficient selves, and more.

I also see how it can be done in a more wise way, and be very supportive.

Also, research – for instance outlined in The How of Happiness – shows that certain forms of this practice can be very helpful.

So I agree with the nondual folks. I also agree with the “ideal life” list making and visualization proponents. And I see the two approaches as mutually supportive, if done with that intention.

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Unfindable self, unfindable world

In Michael Taft’s book about the history of nonduality, he mentions that some traditions emphasize unfinding the self, and other traditions unfinding the world, and some may include both.

For me, it makes sense to include both, and really anything that’s part of my world that seems real and solid to me. Why leave any stone unturned?

And that’s what the Living Inquiries do. I look for deficient selves. Threats. Compulsions. My body. Other people. Situations. Awareness. Thoughts. Anything at all.

There is a shift when a systematic, thorough and sincere looking shows that something is unfindable. It doesn’t mean that I am “all done”. It’s just a shift. Then there is something else to look at, and for. It’s an ongoing process. And over time, the shift deepens.


I don’t often use the word nonduality. Perhaps it’s because it’s almost too neat a way of phrasing it.

Our experience of life is already nondual, in a sense. It’s of a seamless whole which contains any other experience, including of dualities.

Nonduality is sometimes described as not one and not two. On the one hand, it’s “not one” because it’s rich and diverse, and it’s “not two” since it’s a seamless whole. It’s also neither, since both are images, an imagined overlay, and not “reality itself”. The description – not one, not two – may be as accurate a description of experience as possible, and yet – since it comes from an overlay of words and images, it’s also possible to make that too into an ideology, and take it as real and solid.

Really, duality and nonduality are both unfindable. When I look, I cannot find either outside of words and images – and the sensations associated with them which lends a sense of reality, solidity and meaning to those words and images.

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Nonduality, systems view, ecophilosophy

I went to a talk with Stephan Harding and David Abram at Schumacher College earlier tonight, and was reminded of the connection between nonduality and ecophilosophy. (Mainly because the way they talked about it bordered on the nondual, but didn’t quite embrace or come from it.)

To me, nonduality, systems views, and various forms of ecophilosophy are natural allies. They complement each other beautifully.

Nonduality simplifies and unifies, and offers pointers to see through stories.

And the other ones are powerful stories which can transform our lives at individual and collective levels in a very much needed way at this point in our history.

What these all have in common is a recognition of stories as stories, with a power to guide and transform our lives. And of the oneness of all life, of everything that is.

Nonduality animation

I like what happens at the end: After a period of confusion and struggle, he finally sticks his head through the (appearance) of separation, and then tries to run away from it as fast as he can. But it doesn’t work, and he is absorbed back into oneness. I imagine that for many of us, reality has revealed itself, and we are in the struggle against what’s already here.

Leave no trace

In Zen and other traditions, they talk about leaving no trace, or the man that casts no shadow or leaves no footprints in the snow.

This can be understood in several ways, and I am probably aware of only a few.

In a worldly sense, it means leaving no trace ecologically and socially. To leave our ecosystems and society to our children and decedents in no worse condition than it was for us. This is the ecological and generational sense of leaving no trace.

It can also mean leaving no trace as a guest, or in one’s own home, in terms of cleaning up after oneself, and here also leave the house in no worse condition than when we entered. This is the politeness sense of leaving no trace.

In a different sense, it can mean leaving no trace in terms of the dynamics and processes of this human self, or those this human self participate in. Instead of resisting these processes, we can allow them fully and even amplify them, seeing where they lead and what they ask of us and have to show us. We could say that this is the Process Work meaning of leaving no trace.

And finally, it can mean leaving no trace in terms of not being caught up in identification with content of awareness, or as Byron Katie says, to not be at war with what is. Identification is released from stories, so also with resistance, which allows the struggle and drama to go out of it. This human self is allowed to live its own life, as it does anyway. This is the nondual sense of leaving no trace.

What is the truth in the reversal of this statement? In what way is leave traces true?

In our human life, we do leave traces. Whatever we do has social and ecological ripple effects, and we are aware of only a very few of them. So by bringing more awareness, information and experience to this, we can aim at producing ripple effects that are more likely – in our best guess – to support life rather than harm it. We leave traces anyway, so why not bring as much attention to it as possible. Why not be a little more consciously engaged.

There is another way of playing with the initial sentence: don’t leave traces of no traces. When I make a big deal out of leaving no trace, then that in itself is leaving a trace. Again, just something to notice.

The most materialistic, and the most spiritual

When we go out to one end of a polarity, we often meet the other end right there. For instance, by fully allowing an experience, there is a freedom from it right there (through reduced identification with resistance to it, and the beliefs and identities giving rise to the resistance). By going to the end of one end of the allowing-freedom from polarity, we find the other end.

Another example is the polarity of materialism and spirituality. There is a relatively easy co-existence of these two in some areas of the world, such as northern Europe, delegating them simply to different realms of existence. And in other areas, such as the US, these two are often (peculiarly?) seen as opposed to each other.

But there are also other ways to look at their relationship.

And one is to notice how the most materialistic shares many features with the most spiritual, which I see here as the nondual spirituality of Buddhism, Adveita and other traditions.

  • Infinite causes and infinite effects. Both see the world of form as infinite causes and infinite effects. Anything happening has infinite causes, going back in time to the beginning of the universe and out in space to the extent of the universe, and also has infinite causes. It is the local expression of the movements of the whole world of form
  • No free will. This comes out of the previous one. Everything happening has infinite causes and infinite effects, so there is no room for free will. There is no free will at the level of our human self. As hard-nosed as conventional science is, they usually don’t put it in such crass terms, but the nondual traditions often hold less back here.
  • No separate self. This too comes out of the first one. The world of form is a seamless whole, and any appearance of boundaries are only created in thoughts. If we separate out this human self, we see that it is maintained in structure and content by a continuous through flow and exchange with the larger whole. It is relatively easy to recognize at an abstract level, but as long as there is a belief in a separate self, then our experience of it will be of a separate self. The only way to recognize no-self, in immediate experience, is for Ground to notice itself. First, we may find ourselves as the witness, and all form – including what initially appeared as an inside and outside – as a seamless whole. Then, there may be the recognition of even this witness as absent of any separate self.
  • No inherent meaning. From a materialistic science, and also existentialistic, view, there is no inherent meaning in the universe or our human lives. And this too is what the nondual traditions report, and what we can find through our own exploration. Here now, there is just awakeness, inherently free from any particular content or form, yet allowing any and all form. And any sense of meaning comes only from a story, appearing within and is overlaid on content and form. There is no inherent meaning anywhere, since awakeness is stainless and independent of content, and also since any sense of meaning only comes from a story. And this freedom from stories and meaning allows for a free play of any sense of meaning, coming from any story. Existence already allows any sense of meaning and any story, and when we find this in ourselves, we are aligned with – and find ourselves as – that. So we are free to play with the stories that makes most sense to us, that has a practical value, fits the data more or less, and also supports – as best as we can tell – the life of ourselves, our community, and earth as a whole.
  • (more to come)

One of the reason there is such as easy coexistence, and so many parallels, between these two, is that the spiritual side of it involves a recognition of Ground, of God as awakeness inherently void of any characteristics, so then allowing and being Ground for itself manifesting in the vast variety of forms we know from our own experience. On the one hand, there is a separation of Ground (awake void) and the world of form, and on the other a recognition of the two as both expressions of existence, of God. And both of these allows for the world of form to be exactly as it is, including however it is experienced by us and described by science.

This is what we find at the extreme end of the spirituality side of the polarity (as defined for the purpose of this argument).

If we go a little further in from this end, we find forms of spirituality mainly concerned with the content of awareness, with the world of form, and not much about Ground at all. And since science is mostly or all about the world of form, they find themselves sharing the same turf, so there is more possibility for conflict. One way to resolve this is to delegate areas, and this is what we see quite often. We agree on science dealing with one area of the world of form (what we can see, touch or measure with instruments) and spirituality with another area of the world of form (what we cannot measure, such as souls, afterlife, and so on).

No Distance

One of the characteristics of an awakening beyond our human self – to F7 (nature mysticism), F8 (deity mysticism), and/or to F9 (witness) – seems to be a deepening sense of intimacy with the whole world, a deepening sense of no separation.

Jen has shifted in and out of the witness over the last few weeks, and I asked her tonight if she also experiences a sense of intimacy with the world. She immediately said yes, and that it seemed that the world had become two dimensional – that there is no distance anymore, although also of course the usual distance in meters or feet that we all are familiar with.

There is the conventional space, measured in meters or feet, within the context of a sense of intimacy with it all, of no distance.

Early sense of ground

And why is it so?

It seems that it is an early intuition or sense of the ground, an early taste of nondual realization. Consciousness is beginning to be aware of itself as everything, including the seer and the seen.

Early sense of God watching God

In addition to this deepening sense of intimacy with the world, there may also be glimpses beyond this – where there is a stronger realization that this is God watching God.

When I look into somebody’s eyes, it is God watching God through God. And this can be very obvious sometimes, especially with the right people in the right setting.

We can have tastes of this even as there is still a vague sense of I placed on this human self or the witness.

Deepening further

As this deepens further, it shifts into a more clearly nondual realization. There is not any inherent I anywhere. It is all just happening. There is no doer, only the doing. It is all the play of God, all emptiness dancing.