The World Is My Mirror
To furrowed frown
I’ll choose my move
I’ll usurp your crown
All is set
Let the games commence
Check the rules
And make it tense
The appearance of heat
The first glimpse of fire
Look at me now
Let our faces retire
Touch my hand
Let’s embrace our demise
The flames of collapse
Enlighten the wise
The ash of destruction
It’s over too soon
The tick of a clock
A finger to the moon
Awaken my friend
It’s all been a game
It’s fun to get caught
But it ends all the same
Setting the Scene
Here we are, you and I, sitting in a little country pub somewhere in the thick of winter, by the inglenook fireplace. We are watching the flames licking up the chimney as we see the snow flurries out of the window. Dusk approaches. There’s the satisfying comfort that I have booked an overnight stay and the barman goes to bed only when I have downed my last pint of real ale, brewed locally and tasting like nectar. We contemplate how far we have come in this crazy life and where it is all leading to. We relax back in our red leather armchairs, pick at our snack of strong cheese and fresh crusty bread, whilst we just talk and ponder. Come and join me in the pages of this book.
So what is this book all about? Does the world really need another book about non-duality? What can this one say that other books cannot?
What follows is an ordinary bloke’s description of this amazing, unfathomable thing called Wholeness, oneness, and liberation. I want to convey that liberation is not somewhere else and at some other time. It is here in the everyday life that is totally fresh and totally new. I have not referred to many teachers and have not placed poems or aphorisms at the beginning of every chapter.
To anyone flicking through this to see what all the fuss is about and with no real interest, I apologise. Prior to 2008, I would have been with you and put the book down again. I have no answer why this gripped me at the time it did. All I know is it just happens, like the heart beating and the food digesting. It seems life can be confused and life can be clear. But I will say this: there is an energy here that is totally ruthless and will stop at nothing until it finds. This unseen leviathan makes infinity look small. The frustration is that if you find yourself seeking and discover this kind of message it can drive you nuts because what you think you are seeking for will not succumb to pressure. I cannot give you what you seek because you do not have anything more or less than I do. Seeking and not finding, believe it or not, is not so bad. When not finding is finding, where do you go and where have you been? What follows is the best I can do, now.
You will have to see for yourself what this is about. You have to taste the food before you leave the restaurant; if you eat the menu it’s a bit cardboardy and stale. What I try to do is to use what we have to hand, to explore experience — not to eliminate it.
The message of this book is that what appears to happen, does not. To see this may require investigation on a grand scale. Use the mind and take it to its limits. If you feel like a doer, then ‘do’. You do not need to listen to those teachings which go for the jugular and say there is no you that can neither do or not do. I am not saying that it’s an incorrect formulation — it is not. The thing is when ‘you’ can say that, knowing it comes from a place you never thought existed, your disappearance will be your everything. The teachings and the teachers are like a boat that carries you across the river; they are left for someone else to use going another way. I wonder if that could be called compassion?
I suggested that you ‘use the mind’ and the mind is an awesome piece of kit, but it can take on too much too easily. Asking it to contemplate consciousness, awareness or no-thingness will cause it to malfunction. The mind’s a very practical fellow and can come up with some useful strategies to keep this body functioning and life happening: it adapts in milliseconds, not millennia. Take, for example, the ability to recognise a familiar face among crowds of thousand: quite a feat if you bear in mind faces do not differ in the same way a tree differs from a sausage.
So the mind deserves respect. It does its job admirably. It creates colour, sound and furnishes a world for you with interesting things to entertain and excite you. But why not respect its limits? Give it some space now and again and allow it to rest. I promise it will thank you.
The mind is a label slapper: drawing lines and making things appear to be solid and unchanging. It loves to predict and to know. This is a survival strategy that has great benefit to this sophisticated tube that puts things in one end and expels from the other. The mind and body function perfectly in the environment that created them.
The mind is also soaked in ignorance and bravado that renders it necessary to create what is actually nonexistent. I am thinking of an independent self or person residing in the body somewhere, owning the body and calling it ‘mine’. It then becomes seduced by its own creation — the narcissist of narcissists, if you like.
In a way, it has not made a mistake, this is what comes with the territory. It is useful to tell a lie and know someone else cannot read your thoughts. The trouble is that self creates the notion of non-self and so a world out there gets created by default. There is no escaping it.
It can feel mighty uncomfortable, though, to be pushed around by people you perceive as ‘other’ in a huge, ancient pre-existing universe. You feel a temporary part, a visitor on an alien planet. Life becomes serious business.
The searching, though, is life searching, life getting depressed and life getting frustrated. It is a game, a game that is taken very, very seriously. Once seen, this game is breathtaking. The mind could never have come up with this one. Who sees...? Life sees, that is who.
Your experience is the only one you know of. Use it, do not lose it. Non-separation is all that is re-discovered. Wholeness sees itself in its apparent forms and greets itself round every corner. I invite you to be brave and take a look. When you look with honesty you only see yourself.
The world is my mirror. Reflect on that!
Looking at What Is
We believe there is something called ‘space’. Not only outer space, but the space around us. Now, in this space there are things — objects. We are convinced these objects have a life of their own: they have independent existence. In this way a sense of permanence is created in order for planning to take place; for future events to occur; for ‘life’ to happen. This seems so self-evident that any idea to the contrary feels ridiculous. This is the world of the individual, the person, the ‘me.’ What follows is an attempt to see if this is true. I don’t want to put anything else in its place. If we cannot confirm this commonsense axiom through enquiry, what shall we do? If the very ground of conventional existence can be questioned and shown to be unsound, then like a bouncy castle with the valve open, it starts to deflate and change shape. If you see reality as it actually is, you are in for a shock. You will get over it and a sense of normality will return, but you will never go back to ignorance. The reason is because there is no one to go back and no back to go to.
The world as it appears is the only world you will ever know. Trying to escape this world for some special one made from just awareness or consciousness is not possible. The illusion is all we have. There is no such thing as awareness or consciousness without an object. Have you ever experienced an apple and at the same time been absent? It does not make sense, does it?
And yet awareness gets bandied around in some spiritual circles as if it is the ultimate goal or the absolute. Thinking of awareness or consciousness in this way is the catalyst and impetus for a lot of seeking activity. Awareness seeking seems so much better than everyday life. Everyday life is problematic, messy and untidy, even when we think we have imposed some sort of order or control. We want something with smoother edges and more symmetry. This is not to say that ‘something’ is not always present even in deep sleep and prior to birth. It is just that deep sleep and prior to birth have a habit of looking after themselves. What we are interested in is this appearance business, this world that keeps showing up that intrigues and scares us in equal measure. Consciousness has the ability to disguise itself and ignore itself when it appears as a world. It is truly astounding the lengths it goes to in order to appear lost in its own creative abilities.
Trying to escape from this conventional world you have come to know will only add to the anxiety and frustration when you are attempting to realise something else called awareness or the absolute. I guarantee you that even after the most illuminating satsang or mind-blowing retreat, you will still need to eat, sleep and use the bathroom. The sun will still burn you and the wind will dry your skin. That is how it is. That is how things are.
Perhaps you can then just relax into the mystery of things and surrender to the All Powerful. But there is no mystery to life; there is just life. To know where it came from, and why, is not possible, simply because that needs ‘two’ and there is only ‘not two’. If you knew what the world is and where it came from, that would only be more fantasy created by a mind that thrives on stories. If you knew the ‘secret’, then you would think you were godlike, and that would make you very poor company. Thinking you know what anything actually is, is what got you into this mess in the first place.
There is nothing wrong with seeking. The problem is finding, or even not finding, and making a big thing of that. Finding what you are looking for is the worst thing that can happen. The reason is simple: it is bogus!
If you are one of these people who discover the truth as a result of your intense investigations, the chances are you will try and pass it on to others — you know, to save them the trouble of going through what you have been through. This is how the spiritual market place gets erected. Practices and rituals become a ‘path’ to enlightenment.
But even the messages that say there is nothing to find, that you are it, have the potential to set the mind off again by contemplating nothingness. Now to sit and meditate on nothingness is madness. You are being very unkind to the mind. It will try and help and then start coming up with gobbledygook to support you and your endeavours. You will then get angry with the mind and wish it would just go away — very unfair to something that is just being true to its own nature.
There is only one erroneous, insidious and downright terrifying idea: that is believing and feeling oneself to be a separately existing thing.
If you are one of these truth seekers it is because, for some unfathomable reason, that feeling of separateness has played the leading role in the drama you call your life. Not everyone experiences separation the way you do. Some get on with their lives sometimes feeling happy, sometimes less so. And even if all their worldly pursuits are a form of seeking, it does not grip these people to the extent that they continually contemplate existence and being. They simply get on with their lives. There is no need for retreats and ashrams for these guys. They are not in a state of bliss, but they are not obsessed with themselves either.
Your obsession with you is the problem. Of course I am talking about the objects of your dream, not ‘real’ people with ‘real’ lives. I am talking about the belief in the solidity and permanence of the dream that feels out there and separate. It is not. It cannot be. This is what separation amounts to — a sense of otherness.
You can do nothing more than accept things as they are. How could you do otherwise? Seeking is seeking for something that is ‘other’, something separate, and, like Father Christmas, there isn’t one.
If you want anything to do, do this: the next time you see, touch, smell, taste or hear an apple, ask yourself if any of those experiences can happen in your absence. If not, where is the ‘apple’? The answer to this question is highly personal and might not be available in words. It is like watching a child playing with his trucks in the sand-pit and asking his thoughts on awareness or consciousness. He’ll look at you, smile and then absorb himself once more in building a sand dune or refilling his lorry at his depot. What you cannot see is that he is given you the best answer you will ever get. The difficulty is, you are looking for more.
Liberation is like having one of those fairground grabbers come along, pick you up, take you somewhere neutral, spring clean you, coat you with an anti-static spray and then throw you right back into the thick of it. Only this time, although everything appears just like before — nothing seems to really stick.
The world is appearance only: it has no reality or power of its own. Without no-thing, some-thing cannot appear. Without appearance there is no no-thing to even be contemplated. This is why there is only Wholeness. However, I shouldn’t bother contemplating Wholeness — you will only turn it into something objective. When you do that there will appear to be a division into two. Just thought I would save you the trouble, that is all.
Trying to describe this to someone locked into the consensus reality that most people share is not possible. There is a blindness that will not allow any consideration of reality being other than what they have been brought up to believe. To be a person is to see a world that is fully formed and extended in time and space. Objects seem to have inherent existence, an existence that seems to require no cognition. Amazing! What a trick! A moment’s reflection, however, brings this assertion into question and renders it impossible. This impossibility arises not because it is too far-fetched, but because the very appearance of anything is the appearance of knowing, experiencing and presence.
Relatively speaking there is a ‘me’ and a ‘you’ and it would be silly to say there is no distinction. However, if we look closely, a so-called other person from your perspective — which is the only one you have — can only appear in your consciousness.
They appear in the form of vision, in the form of sound, smell, touch, and if you are really intimate with someone, taste as well. But these all constitute experience. And experience is just another way of saying right now, presently, actually. So, you see, the world of separate things having an independent existence is why some traditions call the world an illusion. They are not saying the world is not appearing; it is just there is no world that can be grasped and described without referring to sensations. This is why you may hear some say that all there is is Wholeness. This is what is being pointed at — one seamless reality that appears as experience in and as awareness. There is not awareness of; there is just awareness in all its many appearances. Awareness comes with appearances: no appearance, no awareness; no awareness, no appearance. Neither can be grasped without the other. Both are empty. No need to contemplate which has more reality. Not two. Non-dual. Oneness.
The mind could therefore be seen as a kind of projector, peddling fantasy as solid and real, out there and separate. It assigns experience as objective and independent. There is nothing actually wrong with fantasy. Telling our children that Santa delivers presents in the world on Christmas Eve is fun and creates a sense of joy and wonderment. Still believing in Santa as an adult when all the evidence indicates otherwise is downright foolish. But this is what we do when we believe objects have inherent existence — when we believe that they exist in and of themselves without being perceived by us.
It is this very belief that wreaks so much havoc, suffering and anxiety in our lives. But calling the idea of separation just a belief does not capture the accompanying feelings and lived experience of being alone in a vast universe, a universe we have to continually bargain with to give us satisfaction and keep at bay the dark underlying fear that we can be destroyed, and be no more — annihilated.
Ask yourself if you can experience prior to sensation. It would be like saying I knew myself before the body appeared, before my parents got their thing together and initiated that chain reaction that I call myself. It does not make sense. And yet thoughts of an afterlife and going somewhere can grip us with the kind of fear that leads to depression, anxiety, worthlessness — madness. There is nowhere to go other than right here, and ‘here’ is not a place; it is everything.
There seems to be an implicit idea or assumption that we come into this world as if there is some kind of holding area that keeps us back until we get assigned our era and social background. But if we take the time to investigate, the body has always been right here, at least in potential, inseparable from planetary activity. No new atoms have appeared labelled ‘me’. Whatever constitutes the body is assembled from what already is. We do not come into this world; we emerge out of it. This is quite, quite different. We therefore have no separateness or solidity. We cannot find what we are other than an expression of all there is. A unique expression of Wholeness is not a separate being. That is the illusion. That is the error. That is the suffering.
So there is no need to search for your true nature because you do not have one. ‘True nature’ is just the mind off on another wild goose chase, always trying to make something out of nothing, always trying to have a vantage point and acquire knowledge of this No-thingness. See the futility of this. Laugh at it, then go and hug someone or have a beer.
The advice here is investigate, investigate, investigate. Do not accept anything you hear or read. It will not work. Reality is staring you in the face, and what is staring you in the face is where you begin and end. Take a look. Be brave. Turning inwards and finding emptiness is indescribable — thank goodness. For there is no need to describe something you already are. This is being, Wholeness, oneness. It is beyond description, not because it is too amazing, but because no description can capture it. Capturing This wouldn’t be It. It would be just more ideas, beliefs, concepts. It would be soaked in memory, in deadness, in the past. Reality is now; now is reality, again — not two, non-dual, Wholeness.
Warning: take no notice of any message that says,‘Who can do that?’ Or, ‘Who will investigate?’ Even though it seems paradoxical, do not let the absence of a ‘you’ stop you from ripping out the root of suffering. In this play, an apparent character can look at himself, or herself, and question the author’s authenticity because they are one and the same. The playwright, the play, and all the characters are not separate. Wholeness searches, Wholeness plays. There is no other.
Relax, you don’t have to do anything; you are being done. But have your life. Continue to respond by name, continue to argue with your spouse and get exasperated at your kids. Take a walk in the park and marvel at a tree, a squirrel, a litter bin and a drunk. Feel sad at the plight of the homeless and starving. Hold nothing back. Let actions proceed and watch the hand reach into the pocket and throw a few coins down into the threadbare old hat, by the blanket, by the dog, by the doorway. No need to say it is all an appearance. It is life.
It is a curious thing: when the world shows up, I show up. Or the other way round: when I show up, so does the world. That has always been the case, but largely ignored, unnoticed. This intimate relationship is what has been described as ‘nothing appearing as everything’, Neither ‘everything’ nor ‘nothing’ is deemed to be more important or special — they are one and the same. This is how things actually are. Objects do not turn up without you, how could they? The very first sensation experienced as a baby — and there’s a ‘you’. Experience is appearing as hunger, as agitation, as wanting to be held. By not expecting things to be a certain way or searching for a special state, you become bullet proof, because whatever turns up is nothing other than experiencing appearing as ‘that’.
At first it is destabilising. You are questioning objective existence and doubting assumptions about reality; you are questioning assumptions which have been spoon-fed to you all your life. This destabilising is unavoidable. Some people experience more, some experience less of this destabilisation, but it will be felt; it comes with the territory. For years you have probably accepted that people, places and general everyday objects exist in the way you assumed they did. This is the dream you awaken from, but it is also the one you awaken to. Nothing changes, the sun still rises and the clouds still empty their watery cargo when you have planned your barbecue. The difference is you know you are not separate from the rising sun or the sausages smoking away on the half lit charcoal.
Events and their contents are like a mirror. The images in that mirror, although highly varied, have a strange, unchanging character — they only reflect Wholeness, a kind of full emptiness.
It is one thing to read or be told how human life begins: one solitary sperm fusing with one solitary ovum and starting a series of actions and reactions that never stop even when the body changes function at death. It is quite another to actually witness a baby making an appearance. What you see is the full force and awesome power of nature in one relatively tiny, helpless organism we have dubbed ‘baby’. There, staring you in the face, is the miraculous. Yet it so quickly gets taken for granted once all the activities are set in motion to ensure the survival of ‘baby’ in a world that can produce the miraculous and also destroy it at whim.
Babies are just one example. Take a look at anything and ask yourself, ‘If I remove the label from this object and do not replace it, what do I find? What can I say about it?’ Try this and if you can let go or see beyond preconceptions, you might see that objects are not objects; they are the appearance of no-thing, appearing as whatever is appearing. Gone is the idea of the inherent existence of objects, and in its place a mystery unfolds. A mystery that has always been here, dancing in front of us, showing us its wares as well as fooling around with notions of permanence and solidity.
Nothing can be taken away from its environment and still continue intact and unchanged. Stick a human being in outer space without any artificial environment, such as a space suit, and you will quickly find that the normal functioning has been arrested to the point of failure. Oxygen which abounds on earth is absent in outer space. The body, interacting with these conditions, will very quickly be no more.
So in describing any particular aspect of the world you are also describing the universe as it exists today. We have become so narrowly focused on objects as things in themselves and defined by words, that to consider interconnectedness and Wholeness seems fanciful and a pursuit for those with their head in the clouds; sane, responsible people knuckle down and get on with things.
It is just this sanity, this ‘normality’, that becomes problematic and stifling. It is the constant feeling of being just a cog in a machine playing our little role that starts to fatigue us to the point of desperation or depression and anxiety.
Then, the very system that confuses us also supplies the means to fix us and help us play the game differently, by offering the wisdom of professionals well versed in the trials and tribulations of life in the form of therapeutic intervention. This system is born out of ignorance but it attempts to help the poor soul afflicted by doubt and fear to see the world differently, more accurately, with more clarity.
What is not seen by the client/patient is that the veil is still tightly attached; it has just been decorated with nicer designs and a few more holes inserted to enhance breathing and ensure a better exchange with the conditions of the preformatted world of reality. It seldom occurs to either the helper or the helped that the world we know and love is constructed rather than interacted with. And so the game goes on, perhaps a little easier and with more accuracy, but the root cause remains to emerge again in another guise with new obstacles to overcome in the future. Even those therapies that operate within the paradigm of phenomenology cannot shake off an independently existing world with a unique interpretation by its interlocutor, negotiating using a pseudo-exchange of ideas to arrive at closure.
© 2012 Richard Bates / Non-Duality Press
All rights reserved. Used by permission.