M A R C H 2 0 1 8
Perhaps the most startling moment in nondual inquiry occurs right at the beginning when you turn your attention inward and ask: What am I? What is it that is seeing the world around me? What is feeling the sensations of my body? What is experiencing these emotions? What is it that is asking these questions? What is this me?
The startling part of this kind of inquiry is that you can’t find an answer. You can’t find anything “there.” Where? Where are you looking? Some seekers veer off at this point and find a mental construction to substitute for the lack of an answer — for example, “Well, I’m not a thing, I’m the sum total of all the conditions that make me — my body, my thoughts, my memories,” or “There’s no solid me in here, I’m simply awareness.”
Answers like these give the mind some satisfaction, but they stop the inquiry process and allow the mind to continue business as usual. That business is based on the fundamental equation that says, “I (whatever that is) am in here and the world (whatever that is) is out there. I am the primary subject. Everything else is an object that I perceive. I walk from here to there. I pick up an object and move its position. Isn’t this obvious?”
This is where the inquiry must persist. One helpful route is to question your sense of relative location. Where is the world of objects? Where is the chair, the floor, the building, the person over there, where are they happening? Are these things of the world truly over there, or are they where I’m experiencing them, in here?
This can give us another shock. The chair I perceive as over there is actually and only perceived by me in here. The chair is in here!
This shock can be a helpful disorientation, but it only goes halfway.
When we look for the place where the chair is appearing in here, in our subjective experience of it, we can’t find that either. The chair is definitely appearing, but where is it appearing?
Now your inquiry must turn on itself once again. It must ask what is behind the notion of here and there? Yes, it is convenient to interpret the world as an arrangement of heres and theres — at least with regard to negotiating our movements — but is that how reality is?
If you’ve stayed with me this far you may sense the inquiry presents us now with another shock, one that upsets the whole equation of here and there, of me and other. This is no longer a mental exercise. It’s too close for that. We are confronted with the loss of the subject-object relationship. We begin to suspect that objects are not separate entities located in space distinct from a separate entity called “me” that is located in a different part of space. Whatever is happening is happening all at once in the same here.
Your inquiry has exposed the fundamental intimacy of the Real. You sense, free of mental reasoning, that reality is completely intimate with itself. Your reality and the world’s reality are identical, all-at-once. You recognize that the experience of reality as a subject-object relationship is a convenience, not a truth.
You’ve probably noticed that this line of inquiry doesn’t leave any room for a “you” to be somewhere special. It obliterates your privileged position. This can be experienced as an unacceptable outcome and your habitual psyche can — and most frequently does — retreat to its customary positioning of “me as subject” and “world as object.” This arrangement of experience into self-other is so embedded in how we interpret reality that even though we may have a strong insight into the sheer intimacy and oneness of being, we quickly categorize it with our minds and avoid its implicit self-effacement. After all, how can I have “relationships” with people or things if there is no subject-object distinction?
I’m reminded here of the Buddhist lama who remarked, in a symposium with environmental educators, “You speak of developing a good relationship with nature. What are you other than nature to have a relationship with nature?”
The nondual inquiry process, in its many forms, is not something you do once and it’s accomplished. You need to engage with it again and again in increasingly sensitive and original ways. In the moment that the surety of the subject-object interpretative setup weakens, when you glimpse the perfect wholeness of things, relax into that glimpse. No need to think about it.
Let the world be utterly intimate with you, no separation. Relax and open into the directness of that experience. It’s not even an “experience” since that word implies an experiencer and something experienced. Relax into the all-at-onceness that happens prior to the interpretation of self experiencing something other. This all-at-onceness is intimacy.
To the extent that you can open into reality’s all-at-onceness, you begin to recognize that intimacy is simply another word for love. Love is the desire for, and the celebration of, no separation, closer than close. Although nondual inquiry begins as an intellectual process, the realization it reveals appears through the centerless and boundless dimension of the heart. When your inquiry results in this intimate blossoming of love, your life is given a confidence and joy that serves all.
One final note: you may have clear moments of recognizing the all-at-once intimacy of reality (including “you”), but then find yourself distinctly back in subject-object world. This is not a failure. Our bodies and brains have evolved to interpret reality in this dualistic way. The point is not to remain in “nondual awareness” continuously, but to develop fluency between these two “worlds.” After all, they are not two. Recognizing their unity frees us from situating ourselves in any position. Then we can say with Rumi:
I do not exist,
am not an entity in this world or the next,
did not descend from Adam and Eve or any
origin story. My place is placeless, a trace
of the traceless. Neither body or soul,
I belong to the beloved, have seen the two
worlds as one and that one call to and know,
first, last, outer, inner, only that
breath breathing human being.