Driving through the Arizona desert, I'm in the passenger seat staring out at the mountains slowly streaming by, trying to recall how it felt to merge with my surroundings back when becoming one with everything meant disappearing, meant swiping myself out of the picture and dissolving into thin air, becoming nothing and everything. Well, everything except for me, except for somebody. Only in hindsight can I say that most of the time when following those pseudo non-dual pointers, I was not actually becoming one with everything, I was disappearing into it and there's a world of difference between the two.
But, in wanting to vividly describe it so that I can help others find a new way to experience oneness without dissolving, without losing themselves, I have to dip into my own absence again, to re-visit it experientially. Fearing that the re-entry gate might get jammed again, I hesitate before making my exit. It takes some effort, but pulling off the old self-swipe, my sense of identity, of somebody-ness, vanishes into thin air. Like so many times before, having once identified with the character of "Jessica" already feels like a memory of a distant dream, and the elbow resting against the window belongs to no one. My absence right now doesn't feel exquisite like it did before, or enlightening, but extraordinarily hollow, stultifying. Nonetheless, here it is again, along with the familiar tug of grief and muscle clenching that visits me when I remember with full clarity and feel the full weight of how much I lost in the abyss of self-effacing spirituality. Yes, I did find some rare jewels in no man's land that I carry with me, but I hope to god I never find myself stuck there again. I've gotten what I left for, so swiping myself back in, I return.
With a swell of relief, I summon my soul and psyche back to where they belong, as integral parts of this scene. How grateful I am for a new way to experience oneness - a oneness that includes me in it. To those self-abandoning, faux-enlightened "gurus" who call this my fictitious ego's attempt to "have it's cake and eat it too," I say to you that it's delicious. A real someone, this limited but real ego me, gets to be present to savor a oneness of diversity, a cosmic unity that we couldn’t even know, that wouldn’t even be had the "undifferentiated, impersonal ground of being" not evolved into this interconnected web of inseparably separate, and wondrously different, little me's.
How sweet it feels, this full-blooded, heart-bursting buoyancy, this thick and warm intimacy with the mountain range riding alongside me. I smile, knowing I'm living that marvelous paradox that Tim pointed out, that whatever I'm communing with, I am also one with. Oneness only because there is relationship, and relationship only because there is more than one thing. Within this intimacy there's a wellspring of kindness towards my bruised and aching heart, making my sorrow feel like a privilege because it means I got to live for more than one day. When I feel intimate with all things, I can cradle my sorrow, and when it dances with joy, I feel utterly alive! I can set a place at the table for pain because it won't threaten my oneness with the mountains, our intimacy is too primal to be that conditional.
Drawing the world closer to me, it feels like I'm enfolding everything I see in an open embrace, taking the entire scene into me without it negating me. Nothing to negate here but negation itself. Looking out at the mountains now, we're woven together seamlessly and yet paradoxically without physical distance lost between us. This kind of oneness doesn't tell me to "drop the burden of being a person and become nobody." It doesn’t falsely believe I must dissolve myself into it.
If I could, I'd run through the desert laughing and crying, my heart exploding and hair dancing in the wind. Drunk with aliveness and steadied on my feet by the presence of the One as "the ten thousand things". And there is more than "just seeing happening" without a seer, there's both a seer and what's seen that need each other in order to be, and the miracle of my eyes through which to perceive. The cherry on the cake is that I no longer have to use air quotations to call them mine because with nothing to desecrate or deny, everything is re-confirmed, re-sanctified. And this little me who isn't all of me, but knows her place within the whole of everything, is grateful to feel not just profoundly wanted, but utterly necessary.
When I first starting awakening to what felt like the reality that I was "just an illusion", little more than a fantasy fiction, I saw that since all of my limiting beliefs were phantom constructs, in lieu of their reality, I could actualize most of the things I most deeply wanted, should I choose to.
But the catch was that with the crumbling sense of a solid self who aspires to achieve, coupled with the non-dual teachings I was absorbed in which taught that to be truly free, we have to let go of aspirations to become anything or anyone, of any motivations of the "imaginary ego" and see through them all as the concerns of the "sleepwalkers" that keep them trapped inside of cyclical suffering.
Looking back it's troublingly ironic that in the same moments of clarity that I could have the things I most wanted, I no longer wanted them! I'd seen through both the barriers to having what I desired, and the desire itself. It was like waking up to my infinite potential just to waive at it and say, I don’t care about you!
I remember a sense of success in thinking that in seeing through the fantasy of personhood, I was liberated from the hedonic treadmill of achieving what that fictional self desires only to soon feel dissatisfied yet again and off chasing the next illusion of something that would secure lasting happiness. But, the honeymoon years of an often deeply contented non-self faded out into the nightmare of (how did I not see it coming?) of nihilistic apathy and what had turned into an ever-increasing disturbing difficulty shoring up personhood in interactions and relationships. I felt myself sort of pretending to be that character I'd once so unquestionably, effortlessly interacted from/as, and straining to dredge up that personality that the people I knew we used to, in order to maintain conversations that I had dwindled interest in engaging in.
There were times when simply carrying on a conversation felt strenuous, I found myself drawing blanks more and more, and finding myself feeling shockingly, feeling vacuous, the last thing I'd ever been and would ever have wanted to be. What was clear that the cause wasn't simply my bouts of depression, but the total dissolution of my self structure that I'd gone through and was continuing to experience both in meditation, and "off the cushion." The more frequently I entered states of self-transcendence and was further convinced of the ultimate truth that what we really are is "pure awareness," the more unreliable my somebody-ness became.
I wish I'd heard my future self whispering to me, "be careful what you wish for," before this liberating disappearance of identity morphed into a crisis of epic proportion.
Didn't I ever think that I might end up drowning in the still waters of "just abide as pure, open awareness" and end up like a ghost trapped in a shipwreck at the bottom of the sea?
Didn't I ever think, after I'd tossed my passion into the junkyard, leaving it to rust, that one day I'd want it back and the engine wouldn’t start? That I'd cry in horror, fearing that the experience of personhood as more than illusory would forever remain a relic of the past, collecting dust on history’s shelf? That I'd be devastated by what I'd done and fall to my knees in grief for the loss of my own self?
I used to categorize my spirituality and associated beliefs as "non-dual" without hesitation, and that has changed. It's a tricky toss up these days to know what someone is pointing to when they use that term....
When non-dual is stated as an answer to a question of whether reality is dual or non-dual, I'll agree to disagree, because my answer is both/and. When it points to the simultaneous reality of oneness and twoness, and that the spiritual and the material are inseparable, I'll be smiling from my heart. When it points to balance and reconciling division, I'm totally in. When it's a rally cry for a war against the ego, I'm running. When it points to inter-connection, balance, and self-compassion, I'll stand for that. When it supports greater intimacy, personal responsibility, and a deeper sense of meaning, amen. When it encourages and celebrates self-expression, human potential and societal repair, hallelujah. If it signals pitting god against its' humanity, or the ego against itself, I ask you to reconsider. When it incites disdain, apathy or nihilism, I'll pass. When it's renunciate, hollow, sterile, and cold, I'll pass too. When it points to everything as a unique expression of the One in relationship with itself, I'm right there with you, seeing the extraordinary in the ordinary, jumping for joy and sorrow, and everything precious in between.
I recently discovered Evolutionary Spirituality, a beautiful non-dual perspective, that I feel drawn to and invigorated by, especially the notion that since everything in the world is a manifestation of god (or Beingness, which resonates with me), the process of evolution is actually the evolution of god, of Being in a constant state of becoming. Deeply humanistic, unlike so many non-dual frameworks, we as humans are the leading edge of evolution, and when we experience ourselves as an expression, a manifestation of god, we can play an active role in the evolution of god - as we evolve, so does god. "Each human being participates in the process of divine evolution―that is to say, the evolution of all of reality―every human being participates uniquely in that evolution." Life, from this perspective, takes on a new level of meaning, awe, and empowerment - revealing our innate human divinity, worthiness, urging us to love, heal, and grow from a consciousness in which the transcendent, the sacred, is found in and shines through every minute detail, never separate, right here in our flesh and blood, our sweat and tears, our trials and triumphs, our struggles and joys god's struggles and joys too.
I wrote this after realizing that from this perspective, god is even that which I experience as unwanted and unwelcome in me ... and this gives me renewed motivation for self-compassion, to welcome myself with as much room as I try to open up for the "good" parts of god that I want.
Message from God
I am here, even in this anger and despair
Find me here and you can find me anywhere
See me here, and you will see me everywhere
How deeply can you enter this moment to be with me?
To be with me is to be with you too, and to be with all of this
To fully feel me is to fully feel you
If you only hear me in the spaces
In the spaces between sounds
You'll miss me in music
If you only hear me in the silence, in stillness
You'll miss me in thunder
If you only think of me as light
You'll not see me
When I'm weeping
If you only want me to be radiant
You'll reject me
When I show up in agony
When I am (you) drowning in darkness
I am with you, wherever you go, whatever you do
But don't you see?
You don't want all of me when you don't want all of you!
Know that when you hold your hand you're holding mine too
When you take care of you, you're taking care of me too
"Let go of resistance." We hear it all the time in guided meditations, don't we? "Don't resist anything." This can be confusing. If something harmful is happening to me or someone else, shouldn't I resist it? I think the confusion happens most people think that "Don't resist" is solely a call to inaction. Sometimes it is. Sometimes that is what is most wise and skillful in the situation. But it doesn't mean to never try to change anything, or to just let bad things happen even we have the ability to stop them. It may not often be seen this way, but "Don't resist the moment" can also be one of the strongest calls to action, because for me, non-resistance isn't about letting harmful things continue, it's about not resisting the reality of what is happening, because only when we first soberly acknowledge reality do we have the opportunity, should we want it, to address it and change it.
Here's a living example. We are too often exploited, abused and taken advantage of without doing anything about it. While it's not always the case, we often don't do anything about it because we're at least partially in denial of the fact that it's even happening. In some cases, we resist acknowledging what our body, intuition, and even mind are telling us that we don't want to hear. In this denial, we are averting our eyes from the unpleasant truth of the moment and repressing our awareness that our boundaries are being trespassed. We go into full inner resistance mode.
When we pretend that things are other than they are, we have no opportunity to change them. To change things, we have to tune into and listen to the signals saying something isn't right, that something is hurting us or others. "Don't resist what's happening," in this context, is about what's happening on the inside, and it's a call to courageously face reality, even when that means discomfort, disturbance, and disillusionment. Practicing opening up to what we are feeling inside is leads to more freedom and empowerment to take necessary action, and also can help you discern what that is!
So, "Don't resist" isn't always suggesting "don't do anything." It means allowing the reality of what is happening in the moment so that you can determine when you need to take skillful action towards positive change, and then have the choice to mobilize yourself to follow through with it.
*The idea isn't that resistance is bad or unspiritual, which is also implied in a lot of teachings. Ironically, "Don"t resist" even applies to resistance itself, meaning that part of the practice, as I see it, is welcoming the parts of us that feel resistant. Resistance is natural and serves a function as well. Our bodies have resistance wired into them and this has protected us in many ways throughout our lives and we can appreciate that. We aren't getting rid of anything, and that's the point.
It's so important to know that there are times when spiritual teachings based solely on "just being" and that present stillness, silence, and slowing down as a panacea and/or as more spiritual than motion, activity and sound are not only not helpful, but when extreme can exacerbate or lead to the opposite extreme of hyper-arousal.
The opposite of hyper-arousal, hypo-arousal is often used within the context of trauma but is overall related to the healthy regulation of our nervous system, which lies at the heart of a balanced human being! "Hypo-arousal refers to an arousal state that lies at the low end of the continuum. Behaviorally, hypo-arousal may be observed as under-responsiveness to stimuli and one's environment, for example, as lethargy, inattention, apathy, or boredom."
During times of hypo-activation, (sometimes part and parcel with depression, trauma, or simply periods of low energy and motivation) we struggle to mobilize ourselves to fully function and/or engage in the things that bring us joy, wellbeing, fulfillment. Some of its other "side effects" are:
-Excessive sleeping, etc.
What I've needed most need in these times is the impetus to mobilize myself, movement, motion, re-activation, and when I've understand this, and found that the meditations on sitting in stillness are not serving me, but actually contributing to the problem - sometimes they have even led to it. This has caused me to turn away from teachers and teachings that blanket prescribe stillness and slowing down as a panacea. I've felt disappointed and troubled by their lack of balance, awareness of and sensitivity to the inherent risk in doing this. That being said, many spiritual teachers, mindfulness and meditation guides don't have ill intentions, it's simply a blind spot, and I don't want to throw the baby out with the bathwater because being able to self-generate stillness and quietness of mind is transformative in so many positive ways.
"You can feel trapped in amber while life is passing by. This is not the same as profound inner stillness."
I want to say that it's very important to validate yourself when you're questioning whether a certain practice, paradigm, or teaching is actually promoting holistic wellbeing, which includes not just what you've been taught is "spiritually healthy" but also what is physically and psychologically healthy. Mind, body, and spirit should all be benefiting if it's a healthy practice. In my view, if one or more is being harmed, that's a good sign that there's a dangerous imbalance in it. Most teachings and practices are not a one size fits all solution and it's important to skillfully discern when they are and aren't fitting for us.
"You can feel trapped in amber while life is passing by. This is not the same as profound inner stillness."
I'm a strong advocate for being able to generate inner composure and quietude when the moment calls for it, so it's important to remind ourselves that when it's balanced and skillful, the ability to consciously slow down when frazzled and frenzied can make us feel more purposeful and motivated, not less. The idea is not to slow down to a lifeless state, but enough to be able to hold down our forts so they doesn't get carried away by every whim, and wind that blows from without or within. I see it as not slowing down in defiance of speed, but to balance, compliment it, and ultimately help us make more deliberate choices that help ensure that what we're moving towards is where we actually want to be going.
I step out of my apartment on a crisp fall morning, filled with a sense of awe and tenderness wells up in my heart, struck by the very reality of the world.
Then I hear the great Nisargadatta's voice echoing through time, "Refuse this dream the stamp of reality!"
But I can no longer heed his call because today life is no longer just a dream, not a bubble to burst, but dramatically, mind-blowingly real, and in its isness, everything radiates significance.
My soul flutters with delight watching god interact with itself everywhere I look. Everyone a piece of god that contains all of god.
Then, I hear the great Ram Das's voice whisper, "Everything is god in drag!" While it's a lovely statement, it doesn't fully ring true anymore because I now see that god doesn't wear masks, and the world is not just an appearance.
This world of form no longer conceals god, but reveals him/her/it everywhere, all of this is the revelation of god, it IS god expressing itself in infinite ways, god, the multi-faceted!
I smile to myself because today I don't need to peel anything back or strip anything away to look upon god's (many) face(s).