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Introduction to Non-Duality


If we put aside everything that can be doubted right now, what remains? The knowingness of being here and the bare actuality of present experiencing are impossible to doubt. What can be doubted and argued about are all the ideas, interpretations, formulations and explanations of this living reality—the abstract maps drawn by conceptual thought—the stories and beliefs about it. 

When we believe that we are a separate fragment encapsulated inside a body, navigating our way in a fractured universe, we inevitably feel anxious, deficient, incomplete, insecure. We think we are someone who needs to get somewhere and accomplish something, that we are the author of our thoughts and the maker of our choices, that we (and everyone else) should be better than we are. We seek relief from our uneasiness and dissatisfaction through possessions, knowledge, power, money, sex, intoxicants, spiritual experiences, etc., all of which ultimately leave us unsatisfied and disappointed.

But if we turn our attention to direct experience instead of learned ideas, can we find an actual boundary where "inside of me" turns into "outside of me," or is the boundary a mental image like the line on a map between two countries? If we open to the bare sensations of our discontent without thinking about it, do we find anything substantial, or simply ever-changing vibrations, appearing and disappearing? What if we look for the thinker of our thoughts or the maker of our choices?  Doesn’t every breath, heartbeat, thought, interest, impulse, action and choice emerge from an unfindable source? And what about the awareness beholding this whole movie of waking life, the awareness that sees thoughts as thoughts? Is that perceivable? Does that have a shape, a size, an age, a gender, a nationality, a life situation, a place where it begins or ends? And is there any actual boundary between awareness and the content of awareness, between subject and object?

Every wave in the ocean is inseparable from the ocean. Waving is something the ocean does, a constantly changing movement that never holds to any particular form. There is no actual boundary between one wave and another, and every wave is equally water. No individual wave can decide to go off in a direction other than the one in which the ocean as a whole is moving. Is it possible that everything, including what seem to be “my” independent decisions, are movements of a seamless unicity? We can call it mind or matter, consciousness or quarks or spirit or intelligence-energy, but the truth is, we don't know what this is. Even to wonder what this "is" seems predicated on the dualistic notion that this can be somehow formulated, grasped, pinned down and re-presented – that this must be some-thing in particular that can be singled out, seen, experienced (as a particular experience) or possessed as knowledge. But unicity cannot be grasped anymore than the hand can grasp itself. There is no actual division between subject and object, awareness and content, form and emptiness, self and not-self, figure and ground, relative and absolute. The apparent divisions are conceptual. And nothing that shows up is a solid, persisting, inherently real, observer-independent form. It may seem so, but the more closely we look, either with science or meditation, we find that nothing holds still or stays the same, that everything is mostly empty space, that nothing exists independently of everything it supposedly is not, and that we never experience anything outside of consciousness. Each of us is seeing a unique movie of waking life created by our unique conditioning, but is it possible that the seeing (the awaring) beholding all the different movies is unconditioned, undivided, un-encapsulated, boundless and free? Don't pick that up as a belief, but explore it in your own direct experiencing Here-Now.

The search for freedom is rooted in the belief that we are bound, that we are separate from the whole, that we are this "me" at the center of our life story. But what if this “me” is an ever-changing, intermittent appearance with no independent existence? Could it be that, prior to all our accumulated ideas about who or what we are, what everyone refers to as “I” is actually the same limitless, undivided here-now (intelligence-energy, seamless unicity, the Tao, wholeness, Totality, boundlessness, whatever we call it)? As we wake up to the utter simplicity of what is, right here, right now, we may find that all our insecurities and fears of death fall away, for they were based on a false idea of reality, like the fear people once had of sailing off the edge of the supposedly flat earth.

-- copyright Joan Tollifson 2017 --

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