With good reason, neo-advaitists try to end the suffering caused by narrow focus on particulars - to solve the problem of not being able to see the forest for the trees - by teaching relaxing your attention into open panoramic awareness. But, losing sight of the trees for the forest is just as treacherous, and non-dualists need to take more care to ensure we don't become apathetic to the particulars in the pursuit of the wide angle view, by teaching balancing the two without a hierarchy between them and without teaching panoramic awareness as the end goal, and rather as an important perceptual skill that helps to minimize the suffering of myopic fixation, and afford a holistic view of reality that helps us to engage with the particulars of life in a different, less suffering-inducing way. But, there's good reason to avoid the risk of becoming myopically fixated on the macro lens, the open, panoramic awareness as a replacement for targeted attention.
Yes, once you've spent a lot of time viewing from that relaxed, vast, expansive awareness, it can start to feel like a sort of hassle to put energy into focalizing your attention in order to fully engage with particulars Open awareness often feels like a relaxation, awareness becoming spacious, diffuse to the point that it could be difficult to or you could be resistant to putting energy into particulars again because it becomes too much effort, a hassle- this can end up as open awareness leading to a kind of focus ennui, as the question of why focus on particulars when this non-particular, gestalt awareness is so peaceful, unperturbed by the nuisance and effort of attending to particulars. But let it be known that non-particularity is not more spiritual or better, though it can feel and is often presented as preferable, and an ultimate spiritual goal, especially for those who suffer immensely from difficulty releasing focus on particulars, on minutiae, for example those on the more extreme end of obsessiveness, and rumination who tend to feel an especially strong pull towards the relief from fixation that radically open awareness can offer.
But, an aperture that strains to open is just as problematic as one that strains to contract..... Read More ⬇
Why is it so hard to find pointers towards self-compassion in most modern non-dual circles? Because they are founded on denying the self that you'd be showing compassion towards, of course, and on putting the "impersonal" on a pedestal while condemning and stigmatizing those who perceive and value any degree of individual selfhood as delusional idiots. Of course self-compassion would sound like a joke in this case, even heresy. This kind of self-rejecting pseudo non-duality seeks to divide and conquer - carving out the sense of a personal self and smashing it to pieces. Of course there's no room for self-compassion here. But there's an abundance of it in non-dual views that perceive the universe, god/absolute as expressing itself as the manifest world, including the real experience of being a person with painful emotional experiences worthy of compassion, not damnation. A view in which the personal and universal, the transcendent and immanent, are entangled lovers, two sides of the same coin of a reality in which the manifest world and personal sphere aren't bull-dozed by a stand-alone "absolute" or placed below it on a hierarchical non-dual totem pole. Aggression towards the self that automatically negates relationship has no space for the self-compassion that is needed to hold space for the wounded parts of our selves, and collective shadow, with kindness, instead of dropping them like non-existent hot potatoes beneath the floorboards of faux- enlightened consciousness. We need more people to speak up about teachings that call themselves non-dual yet split us and pit us against ourselves. If everyone on earth has a spiritual awakening today, it won't make the world a better place unless they wake up and grow up, which means taking responsibility for healing ourselves and helping one another heal too. We can't do that unless we believe in our own essential validity, and that we ourselves are worthy of our own love.
A "neutral" definition of a cult:
"Any group of persons devoted to a charismatic leader (or leaders) who changes these persons' outlook and behavior by communicating his/her values and views and perhaps a kind of “energy,” spiritual or otherwise."
Neo-Advaita (pseudo non-duality) may not be a full-on cult, but after years of immersion in it, I eventually faced the shock that I had been a part of something I'd be comfortable describing as having cult-like qualities. Timothy Conway, who has written profusely about the dangers within Neo-Advaita, share some of the warning signs of unhealthy "dysfunctional" cults that I failed to see in Neo-Advaita before I was in over my head.
Each of them exist along a spectrum of extremity, and in many cases, these can be subtle rather than overt in Neo-Advaita, but they are significant enough to have damaged both myself and many others.
I share Timothy's hope that "with widespread spiritual education, more people will come to appreciate the qualities of authentic spirituality, and destructive cults will no longer be able to take root and encroach upon and degrade so many lives."
"Seductive recruiting strategies." If the spiritual movement is pure, the movement won’t need to pursue anyone with a hyped sales pitch that exploits people’s desires, fears, or insecurities.
People, including myself at one point, are lured by promises of "insta-enlightenment," THE END OF SUFFERING, a direct path to endless bliss, eternal peace and inoculation from all suffering, a Utopia on earth once you realize the Ultimate Reality according to Neo-Advaita. The claims, when you look back, are not very different from those made by self-help authors promising endless happiness in 5 easy steps, except for the fact that those don't require self-abandonment and symbolic suicide.
"Intimidating indoctrination procedures that psychologically break a person down (suppressing old behaviors, attitudes, and relationships) so that s/he can be rebuilt according to the group’s ideal of a docile, unquestioning, compliant member."
This one gives me the chills, recalling how so many radical non-dualists take pleasure in hacking away at other people's souls, tearing them down.
The intimidation tactics, the claims of having the absolute, unquestionable truth, the reward of being "awakened' for following their guidance, the gaslighting, etc. is all too easy to see now. You are literally taught to strip yourself of all identity and burn it to ash. And intimidated if you think there's anything harmful or unhealthy about this. Many Neo-Advaita teachers bully people into no-self oblivion, degrading and belittling them from a place of narcissistic self-righteousness and giant spiritual egos. Read More ⬇
I’ve personally experienced Neo-Advaita teachings that are so anti-relational to the point that they reject and even shame as weakness the basic human need for healthy intimacy, teaching spiritual aspirants to believe it’s unspiritual to follow this biological imperative – in teaching how to be self-sustaining (ironic, given that the teachings are based on self-dissolution) these teachings helped me to become better able to self-generate that which is unhealthy to rely solely on others for, but I’ve seen and experienced myself, the radical self-reliance it promotes lead to the opposite extreme of over-dependence on others- isolationism, alienation, avoiding intimacy. It’s an example of when non-dual teachings that aim to ease the suffering caused by one extreme, end up swinging to the other extreme, rather than finding a balanced middle way, which would be, in my view, inter-dependence in which two or more people are not solely dependent on the other to get needs met and take responsibility for fulfilling the needs that can and should be derived within oneself, but who, in caring for one another’s wellbeing, are able to be a source of support for one another, and recognize that there are healthy human relational needs that can be mutually supported.
I’ve pondered the in-congruency of promoting extreme individualism on one hand and the devaluation of individual personhood on the other! Now, do we envision a future in which self-sufficiency is promoted and valued along with inter-connection and mutual supportiveness that is not about clinging to others or expecting to get all of one’s needs met from external sources? If so, then it would help to encourage those in the non-dual community who say that it’s spiritual or enlightened to source *all* of your human needs from within yourself, to see the imbalance of this paradigm, how it can actually harm people, and to shift into considering how, from a non-dual perspective, we can balance self-reliance with healthy relational symbiosis.
"I hope you didn’t come here to learn anything new tonight because you'll be sorely disappointed to hear that nobody showed up to teach nothing to no one...the exit door is to the left, and trust me when I say it's now or NEVER!"
A woman in the audience, Mary, has stepped up to the microphone with tears in her eyes and begins to tell her tale of woe. After five minutes, he starts getting hot under the collar, fearing he might snap and blurt out what he's thinking. DON'T YOU GET IT YET!? YOU DON'T FUCKING EXIST!! He's biting his tongue, trying to keep his cool, crafting a new self-obliterating play on words he hasn't already regurgitated ad nauseam
Before he can get it out, she chokes out the words, "My husband George doesn't take me seriously, it's like I don’t even exist, I don't know what to do!”
She's made it too easy! He's ready to deliver the final blow, but he needs to build suspense. Drawing from the the Playbook, insert drawn-out awkward silence, blink erratically while staring blankly ahead, sip water from the glass next to funeral parlor flowers. After several more minutes of exaggerated blinking and lobotomized stares, he's ready to execute.
"Okay Mary, imagine you’re George right now in a moment where he’s not taking you seriously. Really try to be inside his mind. What words are going through his head?"
She's closing her eyes, her breath becoming ragged as she breathes in deep and loud, holding it in her chest for several moments. On the out breath she whispers, "Mary…...is…...a…...joke."
"BINGO! The bad news is that George is right, Mary is a joke! She doesn't exist. But neither does George! You are both illusions in a nightmare that never existed. You're free, don't you see? Mary doesn't exist and nobody gives a shit!"
Snickers from the crowd...
She's taken aback at first, her face all scrunched up and eyebrows deeply furrowed while she whispers the riddle to herself "I....don't exist...and no one gives a shit?" Silence...and then BAM! Mary gets the cosmic joke and erupts into laughter.
"Thank you," she whispers, wiping tears from her eyes.
"So, who wants to go next?"
To be on a humanistic non-dual spiritual path, we must transcend and include. You don't climb a ladder to the sky, cut off the rungs, and sever off the lower rungs that got you there unless theres something down there you're running from of course.
"Transpersonal," for example, can be misinterpreted as what is entirely NOT personal, or has nothing to do with the personal dimension of reality, so that it points to the notion of exclusionary transcendence (transcending and excluding personhood in this case), but I see it now as pointing to what is more than yet includes the person/personal dimension. Now you don't end up with disembodied, ungrounded and non-human transpersonal experience, but the down to earth embodiment of something that is personal and more than personal, an experience of personhood as an integral part of something bigger than itself- that transcends and includes it.
This is a dramatically different experience from the experience of/experience of oneself as "something" transcendent that is cut off from what's transcended. It's not an impersonal, or non-personal experience, it's a MORE THAN personal experience that the personal you is/gets to be a part of. Rather than a capital S "Self," that is INSTEAD of a lower case s "self" it's the experience of Sselfhood (Jason Shulman). It's becoming personal + instead of something less than personal.
As Ken Wilber wrote of "egolessness" (which self-negating non-duality considers a coveted quality of all self-transcendent experience), "Egolessness does not mean "less than personal," it means "more than personal" Not personal minus, but personal plus..."
Questions to consider...
Can you feel the difference? How does it feel different?
If you shift from transcending & negating, to transcending and including, is there anything valuable you'd lose? Anything valuable you'd gain/get back?
Scores of people, including myself, who eventually leave cultures like Neo-Advaita behind, cite the dryness, flatness - the extreme impersonality of it - as one of the biggest things that pushed them away in search of spiritual paradigms and experiences that are pro-social, fully human, that celebrate rather than denigrate individuality, and promote the preciousness of deep, rich vivacious personal relationships.
It shouldn't be surprising that the quality of impersonality as a spiritual ideal is ubiquitous in most self-negating non-dual teachings. An example is the frequent talk of non-dual consciousness being characterized by impersonal love, and they seem to be pointing to a love that transcends particularity. But, as I've come to see it, love for all humans at once, and not just one in particular isn't impersonal, it's universal love! A powerful and transformative feeling that radiates out towards all of humanity rather than one person or group of people.
I ask if it isn't more fitting, warm, and human to call it universal love. And taking it further, to flip all notions of "spiritual" impersonality to universality. This probably won't be quickly embraced by die-hard Neo-Advaitists, given that their teachings are literally, and self-reportedly, de-personalizing, centered around permanently stripping humanity of identity and personality in order to step into the supposed truth of selfhood's non-existence and the reward of annihilated suffering. Yes, achieving impersonality is boasted as success in these teachings, whether or not it agrees to call it achievement (since achievement is a value of the non-existent ego, after all). But, if more individuals make this flip, and share why it's so important, it could catch on. And it makes a difference.
Impersonal love (or impersonal anything, for that matter) is no longer on the list of qualities I want my spirituality to nurture, but a sense of universal inter-connection, benevolence and compassion is at the top.
"To go beyond duality is to resolve opposites by integration, not by the denial of one side of the polarity. We do not go beyond the dualism of the subject-object split by denying that objects (the universe) exist, or by denying that the subject (‘I’) exists. Either denial is a type of insanity." - P.T. Mistleberger
"You are not looking at the sky, you are the sky."
"You aren't touching the earth, you are the earth."
This is again the either/or, the "you are this or that," that hasn't embraced the paradox of both/and. If you are not touching the earth but simply are the earth, you have no experience of contact with the earth. You negate the relationship of your body to/with the earth (and anything for that matter) when you totally negate your self-existence. I say that you're both a person touching the earth, and the earth itself. This is relationship, and a most precious paradoxical one! Non-dual relationship, in which subject and object are not just one, they are also one. This allows for the experience of the One (or Beingness, the Universe, etc.) having individuated to the point of now being in relationship with itself in all the different ways it's come to express itself!
No need for anything to dissolve, only a oneness of multiplicity to be realized. If you are not touching the earth but simply are the earth, you cannot experience intimacy with the earth, if you are not this and are only that, intimacy is off the table. In my experience, dissolving completely into something so that you lose all sense of distinctness and individuality is not intimacy, it's an experience of dissolution, of total merging, which is an experience of a "oneness" in which more than one thing seem to lose their multiplicity and become just one thing, rather than an experience of unitive inter-connection, where two things remain two while also being one, i.e. they are the one as two. Dissolving to become something, let's say the earth, or the sky, nullifies the experience or notion of being one with them. Without any separateness, any multiplicity, there's no relationship, and there's no with without relationship, is there?
Experiencing myself solely as an Evergreen tree is an astounding experience, and so is looking at it and being with it, knowing that it is another expression of what I also am. After self-negating non-duality eroded my personal availability for intimate inter-personal relationship, I'd sacrifice the former for the latter, but luckily I don't have to, because with both/and perception, which is uni-dual, I can experience both - I am every thing else and I am also me, primarily me because I wouldn't even be aware of any thing if I weren't one of them. "What you're communing with, you're also one with." Paradoxically, I don't lose myself, my particularity, my individuality, my boundaries, or subject and object duality to become the sky, the earth, the woman gazing in my eyes, we are one and we are two, and thank god, because this is far more precious to me than even the most mind-blowing samadhi.
"There is no subjective experience that is not related to some object; there is no experienced object except through some particular interpretive vantage point... reality is relationship between perceiver and perceived."
The paradox that these seeming polarities are both individuated and utterly conjoined, is the heart of nonduality, and one that is naturally tricky for our limited human minds to embrace. While it's understandable to conclude from transcendent experiences that subject and object are simply mythical, as nondual understanding evolves, they are restored to their rightful place in a mesmerizing, life-affirming union to be reveled in.
It is a tragedy when spirituality abandons the "I-thou" by reducing us to I AM.
"For I am divided for love's sake, for the chance of union."
In the first phase of my spiritual path, when I was very immersed in Neo-Advaitic spirituality which placed a great emphasis on things like detached impersonal "witnessing," the non-existence of self and separation, simply being rather doing, as precursors to a radical sense of perfection, the states of awe and perfection I experienced were often what could be described as "non-participatory" - a term I got from Jason Shulman when he described a kind of awe in which the experiencer stands back, apart from, and dis-engages with what's now perceived as just what Ram Dass called "the passing show." Moments in this detached, transcendent kind of awe-infused perception which I then would have thought of as non-dual, were precious to me, and while I still have them sometimes, I am drawn towards a different kind of awe-infused perception that calls me not just to be, but also to do, to engage inter-personally in the goings-on of life in a profoundly new way, instead of only being non-participatory, disengaged reverie.
This perception involves a deeply engaged participatory awe that doesn't require a sense of self, of separation, or anything else that Neo-Advaitic spirituality presented as merely a mirage or in the way of Reality with a capital R, be transcended and invalidated, excluded, it doesn't require abstaining from anything, because now the awe comes from the perception that whatever I thought of as transcendent, is not separate from anything I ever thought needed to be transcended. This non-duality is not the non-existence of separateness, of reducing materiality to immateriality, but non-duality of the material and the immaterial, of beyond and within! This is the non-duality of trans-immanence, and from this perception, the divine is incarnate, it has materialized, and is participating in every moment as the un-manifest made manifest.
The participatory awe of transimmanence that I experience doesn't require me to stand back, to dis-engage, detach, rise above, or transcend anything except for the conviction that oneness, the transcendent, formless divine, stands apart from or can be separated from form and separateness, etc. It doesn't require a sweeping view only, a still or silent mind or body, it doesn't request purity - a busy mind, impurity, and even the most painful emotions are precious, they are god (choose your favorite word) as busy thoughts, impurity, and painful emotions. Now I'm called, as one of these precious expressions of the absolute, of god, to open my heart to it all, to myself, as an act of opening my heart to all of god, and to act , interact , be deeply involved, not just witness it and say that it's all okay and perfect so there's nothing to do...now perfection(ism) is one of the furthest things from a spiritual ideal, along with any notions of "enlightenment" that involve qualities like perfection or ease that are supposedly attained by pushing away anything that causes dissatisfaction and dis-ease, and seeking a perpetual nirvana that is not also known by its other name, samsara, is itself a hindrance to be overcome by being embraced too as an expression of the absolute, of god, in this case, struggling to accept the bittersweet imperfection of it's own humanity. Only in its human condition does god struggle with perfectionism, and when man realizes that imperfection is a quality of the divine, that struggle loosens, and we perceive the divine preciousness of imperfection and feel compassion for the all too common crushing disappointment that the spiritual or material pursuit of perfection tends to lead to.