While working with clients on the difficulties in their lives that have caused them to seek help, I have in recent years found it more and more possible to support them in dropping directly into awareness itself. Surprisingly, discovering “what is aware” within us offers clients a peaceful and loving-kind connection to all of life, and a sense that “all is well” even in the middle of the troubles we constantly meet. Becoming able to experience what is aware within us as the ground of Being itself provides clients a tremendous resource in healing the painful aspects of their lives, and, for many, offers the satisfaction of life desires long-held and thought unattainable.
We live in a time when there is a dramatic convergence of science, psychology and spirituality in their attempts to describe what has long been known to be ultimately indescribable. (It’s been three thousand years since the Tao te Ching pointed out that “the Tao you can describe is not the real Tao”.) The centuries-long battle between science and religion — though still raging in many parts of the country and the world – is being transcended by a meeting of minds among many scientists, psychologists and spiritual leaders of our day. Yet even as these minds meet, they agree that ultimate reality cannot be defined and pinned down, but only pointed at by words and perhaps experienced in a leap of awareness beyond words.
For a description of this convergence in the realm of Chaos and Complexity Theory, see my article entitled “Strange Attractors in a Fractal Psyche — Chaos Theory, Nondual Wisdom and Psychotherapy — 1995.”
The convergence of approaches nears complete unity in the dialogue between third wave behaviorists and teachers of non-dual wisdom. Although the starting place of psychotherapists treating the problems of individuals, couples and families is slightly different from that of spiritual teachers helping students awaken to their own true nature, the motivations of the clients and the methodologies of the therapist or spiritual teacher are very similar.
I eventually want to spend some time in these web pages exploring the similarities between third wave behavorial treatments such as DBT and ACT and the teachings and techniques of modern non-dual teachers like Adyashanti, Gangaji, Isaac Shapiro, Dorothy Hunt, and Loch Kelly. I believe that clients and practitioners of these two fields can learn important things from the dialogue between them (and time will tell if this thought appears useful to anyone else).
Nondual wisdom sits directly at the meeting place between the scientific approach and the spirituality at the core of all religions and philosophies. It can be approached from any direction, because it depends upon no beliefs or dogma of any kind, and yet is respectful of the metaphors used by all systems of belief. I am just as happy speaking with an avowed atheist about these matters as with a believer from any religious system that I’ve yet encountered in forty years of exploring religions and spiritual paths. With clients or students who doubt religious beliefs, I will applaud their doubting, and encourage them to doubt what their thoughts have told them about who they are as separate discrete people — to doubt what the structure of language implies about pronouns like “me” and “you”. With clients or students who are devout followers of some particular religion, I will encourage them to look within the deepest teachings of their religion and explore the implications of those teachings within their own experience.
Someone who explores the nature of awareness with nondual technologies is essentially conducting a series of experiments with a sample size of one — him- or herself. What is revealed in these experiments carries its own weight of conviction, even though it cannot be reduced to words or concepts.
Having already mentioned that it is impossible to define Nondual Wisdom, let me try to give you some idea of what the term points at. The Nondual Wisdom and Psychotherapy Institute has a nice description of it on their homepage, and you may find a more thorough philosophical treatment in Wickipedia. The next few paragraphs are words that came through me one night while feeling inspired.
A poetic response:
How to describe Oneness? Anything you say just invites the mind astray!!
But yet these words flow from stillness, heard by what is silent, silence not separate from anything it perceives, happy to experience failure. What cannot be described teases us to describe its nonexistence, and we dance in delicious failure.
Isaac Shapiro was once asked if there’s ever an original question in satsang. He sat in silence for a moment, and then said, “In satsang there’s only ever one question… pause… and it doesn’t have an answer!!” We laughed with him at what makes no sense in any way to the thinking mind. When thoughts are stopped for a brief instant — by an exchange like this, or by something beautiful we see in nature, or by any random act of sheer grace – the obvious connection of everything with what mysteriously perceives it all can rush into the foreground of our experience.
The question Isaac was referring to is — in a million variations — “Who are you?” “What is aware in this moment?” When we “look for what is looking”, as St Francis suggested, there is nothing – no thing – to be found. As awareness, what you truly are cannot be located and pinned down. That is why the “one question” has no answer that is true in the way answers usually seem to be. Anything we can say is not really true in this ultimate sense. All words can do is point in a direction the heart must leap, and even this formulation is completely inadequate, for there is nowhere to leap to except here, and nothing to leap except what has always been One. This oneness of awareness recognizes itself when it’s ready to do so, and though it seems to help the process to spend time in silence and associate with people in whom this realization has occurred, the timing and manner of awareness waking to itself cannot be controlled.
You don’t have to “do” anything to notice this about what you truly are – it just happens by itself when it happens by itself. And when it happens, you discover that there never was a “you” in the way you thought, a separate something that needs to be defended. It has always just happened by itself!! And it does it very well, very well indeed, radiantly well from its own point of view, even when what happens seems terrible to the mind.
What simply is needs no defending. It is undefended love, showing up for itself in all forms and creatures, including what is defensive within thoughts of an apparent “me” and “you”. Does awareness itself have a problem with anything? I haven’t noticed that it does, though thoughts seem to have a problem with nearly everything. Even something the mind thinks is terrific, like a healthy physical body or a new lover, threatens to go away before the mind wants it to. But what is left when everything goes away? What cannot die, because it was never born? It’s you, my love, you as awareness.
As Eckhart Tolle said as the title of the first chapter in the Power of Now, “You are not the mind!!” You are what is aware of the mind.
As awareness, you are mysteriously non-locatable……. Silent….….Still…… Vast….. with the sense that “all is well”.
As Ramana Maharshi puts it, “Realization is our true nature. It is nothing new to be gained. What is new cannot be eternal. Therefore there is no need to be doubting whether we would gain or lose the self.”