I first learned about the notion of non-duality from a friend who always seemed to have her life together. She is one of those glowing women on her purpose, married to a dreamy guy, makes plenty of money, and radiates loving energy. She just seems free. “How do you do it?” I would ask. She would smile this knowing smile and say something about how it’s not just about doing, it was about being. “Huh?” I would shrug in response and go back to doing.
One evening she invited me to the Skirball Museum in Los Angeles with one of her favorite teachers of non-duality who goes by the name Gangaji. I typically avoid white people anointed with spiritual Indian names, but curiosity won. When I arrived, I surveyed the crowd with my usual skepticism, observing how they were mostly white, middle to upper class, and eerily peaceful. Gangaji eventually came out resembling a hot and lovable, white-haired Grandma and started to talk about non-duality or what she calls “the truth.” “The truth”, she said “is the infinite awareness of all that is. It is the space where all thoughts, emotions, experiences, matter, etc. move through. It is indefinable and unchangeable. It is the non-duality that holds the duality within it.” Whoa. Let’s read that again. She made jokes about how ridiculous it is to use words to describe the ineffable nature of non-duality and stressed that she wasn’t a guru and this wasn’t a religion or philosophy or spiritual practice. It is, simply, what is.
In that lecture hall, I felt a palpable and loving peacefulness coming from her and various people in the room, but not from inside of me. No, I was too busy hunting for it. I suddenly became aware that I had spent my life hunting for peace, proof, understanding, love, freedom, and a soul mate; all external things I thought would make me good and whole. And here she was telling me that at the very core of being I am already whole. There is nothing to seek or find. “Um, what?!” The usual battle raged inside my mind as I tried to translate non-duality (oneness) through my lens of duality (two-ness). The mind is the perfect duality machine, churning out binary thoughts of good/bad, right/wrong, and this/that. What she was saying made my mind machine choke and sputter. I wanted to make something make sense. I wanted to make the unknown known. There is nothing more uncomfortable to my dualistic mind than the unknown.
I walked out a little confused and disappointed. My friend asked me what I thought. “I mean, she seems rad and peaceful and free and I dig her, but what will I get out of this?” She laughed and lovingly said, “Nothing sweetheart. You get nothing.” Then she smiled as if this was the greatest gift I could ever receive.
I shrugged again and went back to my usual routine of doing and thinking, but something kept pulling me back to this “truth”, this being-ness, Gangaji was talking about. I started reading books and listening to meditations by Adyshanti and Alyssa Nobriga and as I started to let my mind soften around these ideas, I started experiencing glimpses of this awareness. I started feeling it viscerally. For example, consider the famous Rumi quote, “Out beyond right-doing and wrong-doing there is a field. I will meet you there.” If you slow down and sit with it for a moment, doesn’t it just feel true? I can feel it subtly strike some inner chord and resonate throughout my body eliciting an exhalation, eliciting relief. What at first may seem like a Pollyanna perception of Oz or heaven graduates into a more subtle awareness of something beyond the mind, beyond the beliefs we carry.
The tricky thing is not to turn non-duality into a belief. The moment I try to grasp or hold onto this awareness, it becomes an object of the mind and disappears. To write about it seems impossible, but for centuries many have tried so what the heck? Every religion and spiritual tradition has pointed to this ineffable truth and given it many names; Divine Substance, The Force, Ground of Being, Buddha Nature, The Still Point, The Mystery, Stillness, What Is, Loving Awareness, God, Tao, Divine Presence, Nothing, Emptiness, Everything, Spirit, Christ Consciousness, Advaita, Brahman, Light, and Truth.
According to Adyshanti, meditation helps unlock our experience of it and reveals what is already there. Inquiring within reveals what Alyssa Nobriga calls our “inherent enough-ness and wholeness.” Instead of making non-duality into an ideal or an idol or a deity outside of ourselves we can each wake up to the divinity that is the very essence of our being. Imagine if we could play and create in the world from this place of wholeness, with nothing to attain or earn or deserve. Just creation for the joy of it.
“But what do I get out of it?!” Screams the ego. The answer really is nothing. If I surrender completely into the one-ness and accept what is then my ego would cease to exist. Oh, the terror! This begs the question, who am I? If non-duality resonates with you, you will follow it like the white rabbit into infinite awareness Wonderland. And if it doesn’t you will likely shrug and go back to doing what you have always been doing. Which is all good, we are all one anyway.
“The Truth is far more all-encompassing than the mind could ever comprehend. No thought can encapsulate the Truth. At best, it can point to it. For example, it can say: “All things are intrinsically one (The Pearl of Great Price).” That is a pointer, not an explanation. Understanding these words means feeling deep within you the truth to which they point.” – Eckhart Tolle