Nonduality and the Twelve Steps
There is just one thing going on
Everything — you, me, the earth and the sky, the flowers and trees, mountains and seas, and all that walks, swims, or flies — constitute just a single, integrally connected, flowing oneness. It is always moving, always morphing, always reshaping itself through endless changes. And the greatest change in history is happening right now, in our lifetimes.
We’ve heard people casually state that “we’re all one,” and related statements many, many times. The concept of oneness, while it remains merely a concept, is hardly a radical notion. Yet when this idea of oneness moves beyond the conceptual, beyond ideas, and into actual, lived experience, then this “notion” becomes absolutely revolutionary; totally transformative on both a personal and a planetary level. There appears to be just such a revolution happening in our world. Given that you’ve come to be reading this sentence, there’s a strong likelihood that it’s specifically happening within you as well. The universe, shall we say, is waking up to itself. It is consciously waking up to both the fact of, and the knowing experience of, its own being and its own singularity.
The universe itself is alive; everything that is is one living beingness.
There is just one thing going on.
The wisest of the wise, East and West, have known the nature of this beingness for several thousand years. Throughout history men and women have left their villages, homes, and families to travel to distant deserts, mountains and jungles seeking a monastery or hermitage, or the proverbial old man on the mountain, where they might find an unveiling of the truth that is reflected in that single declaration of a living oneness. Fortunately we don’t have to do that, but some of that same courage and earnestness will go a long way in helping us discover that truth for ourselves — and to actually begin to live it. That’s what we have come here to do.
A spiritual quickening
People all over the world are “waking up” to their true nature, to their true relation to this beingness. Something like a spiritual “quickening” has gained momentum over the past two centuries, especially in the last fifty years, and dramatically in the last fifteen, since the advent of the internet. That integral connectivity suddenly had a medium through which to connect with itself globally as easily as it could locally. In physics it is known that when momentum’s mass grows, so does its velocity. This awakening movement is growing larger and faster, and then larger and faster again, and it is changing both our world view, and our world, as it does so.
Not just for the elite
Enlightenment is not a delusion or a fairy tale. It’s not just for the spiritual elite, or the lucky few. It’s real, and to a great degree, a methodology for reaching it can be taught. Granted, the receiver has to be ready for such a transmission; there are never any guarantees. But if the right degree of earnestness is present, then the truth of our being is bound to be discovered. A dedicated spiritual seeker now has a wonderful chance of becoming a real live spiritual finder. Be clear that what I’m saying is that you can almost surely wake up if you want to badly enough.
Nonduality means oneness
Nonduality is the term we use to label the exploration of this oneness. It directs us toward recognizing our inherent oneness for our very own selves. “Non” means “no” and “duality” means “more than one,” so this is the philosophy of not-more-than-one. The effectiveness of this teaching is measurable. We change, or we don’t; we can judge it for ourselves. We wake up, and/or we see others wake up, or we don’t. Again, we ourselves are the judges. I know of no other spiritual teaching whose success or failure is so clear, evident and public. You’re surely going to be hearing more and more about it in coming years as this teaching quietly spreads like an ocean of dye as it makes its way around the globe. Wherever it goes there is marked change.
Even if you have never heard of Nonduality, it doesn’t matter. That might even work for you, simply because you won’t have to unlearn or overcome a bunch of intellectual knowledge. Such knowledge can be very helpful, but if we don’t stand upon it and reach beyond it, then it can become a hindrance.
I have seen two men, neither of whom knew anything at all about this teaching, come to an awakening as we were going through some investigation together. They didn’t need background. Just like in recovery, they needed honesty, openness, willingness and, in their cases, trusted guidance. It’s the principles themselves that are important. In reading this book you’ll feel a strong pull if this is your path. If it is your path, it can’t be avoided.
My own spiritual journey began decades prior to my entering recovery, but until I became abstinent there was no consistency in my study or practice, and no quietness of mind, circumstances that are extremely helpful in “encouraging” grace, we could say. I did get a clear glimpse of my true nature fifteen years before a larger awakening occurred, but that ended up haunting me more than aiding me.
After that experience I spent my days loaded and goaded, until I was driven to give up my addictions and returned, in my case, to the lonely path of truth.
I’d had a taste. Once I was clean and sober and reasonably sane and stable, I wanted more of what I’d seen those years ago. The image of that experience never faded one bit. So it was through recovery, and through my working the Twelve Steps, that I gained enough physical stability and presence of mind to chase enlightenment in an orderly and sustained fashion. While it may be completely unnecessary for someone else, in my case all of that sustained chasing was apparently exactly what I needed. Something worked.
Nonduality and recovery
I’ve always been struck by the similarities between the process of getting clean and sober, and the process of spiritual awakening. So I want to share the view from “this side” with those who appear to be on “that side” in the same way that I shared the message of freedom-through-recovery with thousands of alcoholics and addicts over the years. Sadly, in the very same way it was with Twelve Stepping, I can share this until I’m blue in the face, and use the sharpest, clearest language available, but my eager victim who’s heart is screaming for enlightenment simply will not, cannot wake up until it’s their time to do so. That’s the way of it. Nonetheless, having had a number of people awaken while we have been talking about this, I do know that what I present here is effective in helping others. This is not mere theory; it is field proven.
I’m eternally grateful to my old Twelve Step fellowship, which is why I never name it. They prefer anonymity, and that’s fine with me. They saved my life, and they gave me the stability and mindfulness I needed to get back on the spiritual path. It was my gratitude to the Twelve Step community that initially drew me to start writing this book in my head; I’ve been thinking about it for two or three years, and then suddenly everything fell together and here it fell out of my head and onto paper. It is an offering to all of you out there, in or out of a fellowship, in or out of recovery, who are looking for the next step in your spiritual journey. Perhaps this is it.
The Twelve Steps outline a program of action that recovery literature fleshes out, and the fellowships then teach people to live by it. In that same way, the twelve chapters that follow this one will offer a view of a new way of life, and flesh out this beautiful teaching until a firm foundation is poured and set for you to walk on. I present my take on Nonduality, and use the structure of the steps to hang it on.
Enlightenment is the “natural state”
Walking this path to its natural conclusion — enlightenment — changes our entire perspective — on everything, including our ideas about this strange thing called enlightenment. Our problems are not necessarily solved, but we do find that most of them will lose their charge. They just won’t have the same hold over us. Over time we resonate less and less with fear and anger. When fear or anger are experienced they’re likely to be quick and sharp, followed by their ever-faster disappearance. Our pressing spiritual questions may not all be answered, but many of the ones that aren’t will immediately cease to be so important. The deadly seriousness of everyday life is dramatically lessened, or even eliminated. There is a flood of peace, an experience of freedom and overall well-being that was previously unknown to us. We will immediately know things we cannot even dream of until it happens. For the human being apparently experiencing this shift, it’s like receiving a high-speed download. Enormous change can take place in seconds.
While in my experience there is an ebb and a flow to the bliss that often accompanies awakening, the underlying peace, freedom, ease and comfort can become our everyday experience. In fact, that’s our goal, so to speak. We’re not looking for another great buzz; we’ve seen where that leads. We are seeking a stable shift that requires absolutely no effort to maintain. Some call it the “natural state.” That’s as good a name as any. As incredible as it may seem, this experience is actually available to every human being at every moment. You don’t have to be special to “get it.” In fact, our insistence on being special is precisely what keeps us from it! The more ordinary you are, the better. It is the closeness of truth that throws us, not the distance.
For the record, this teaching assumes the reader is already abstinent, thus it does not address how to get that way. If you are experiencing active addiction, seek help through a Twelve Step program, or other professional care. Sometime down the road, come back and read this book if you still feel so drawn. If you are already a member of a Twelve Step fellowship or other recovery method, this book is not a replacement for that program, but rather a way to augment it. Finally, this book won’t help anyone achieve financial security, or acquire the mate of their dreams, but neither will it stand in the way of those things. It’s entirely unnecessary for us to renounce anything in the normal realm of human experience — except the sanctity of our thinking. A change in how we live or how we behave might be a side effect, but it’s a completely backwards notion to think they might be some prerequisite. Natural living follows natural being, not the other way around.
We will use the Twelve Steps for the sake of an introductory structure, but the book is not about the Twelve Steps. Let’s understand straightaway that this is not a standard recovery book. It’s written for sober, abstinent people who are most likely standing at a spiritual cliff edge. Often these cliff edges coincide with lives that may be in crisis, or dramatic flux. That’s not required, but very much like recovery, it’s a common way this teaching is discovered. No one arrives in recovery on a roll, and few arrive here in that condition either.
Nonduality is there to catch us when we jump from the known into the unknown. This book is designed to be a bridge between the Twelve Step community and the Nondual community; a bridge that carries traffic both ways. It has the power to help bring about a dramatic shift in the lives of the people who closely resonate with it. It also has the power and purpose to introduce people in Nonduality to the practical miracle of Twelve Step recovery. Teachers should know about it. Some Nondualists who are not in recovery probably should be, and this may give you a more comfortable way of thinking about it.
The Fred story
I don’t want to get too far into the Fred story, but some of it will serve to introduce me as a human being, and to illustrate the teaching. That, by the way, is the only reason I’m telling any of the Fred story in this book. After all, it’s just another story.
For a long time, even prior to active, obvious addiction, I was not an especially nice guy. I wasn’t an absolutely terrible guy, but I was a far cry from being anyone’s role model. As age is wont to do, that pattern wound down some as I grew older, but in many ways I still remained self-centered and acted in very selfish ways even well into sobriety. I was trying to be less selfish, and to take responsibility for my actions, and I had made some mighty progress, but as addicts we know better than most that old patterns often die long, hard deaths.
I was a quick and funny guy, and thus generally liked, but rarely dearly liked. In my romantic life I was the kind of guy who was easy to love when I was around, and yet there was not a lot of love lost once I was gone. I’ve had way too many romantic relationships in my life, and probably a hundred jobs. Stability, as you can see, was never my strength. Stubbornness was. In every area of my life I was all about doing things my way, but sadly enough, my way never worked out very well, or not for any length of time. Thus when I was thirty years old I found myself bedding down under heavy medication in the locked facilities of a mental hospital. For the second time. This is not a life that’s on track for good things to happen.
I was in that mental hospital because I’d already run my life completely into the ground through active addictions to numerous substances and behaviors. What I wanted was a change of state from whichever one I was then experiencing, and I was willing to do damn near anything to get one. I was always on the hunt for any version of reality other than this one. Beyond alcoholism and drug addiction, I had a whopper of a gambling problem. That gave rise to big time lying and stealing, and I was good at both. I’ve used everything from a lock pick to a shotgun to get what I wanted. I overdid everything I could, every time I could, any way I could.
So I had arrived at the mental hospital at a point of critical mass. I was a stone’s throw from a life that would be spent in the gutter, a locked ward in a hospital, or a locked cell in a prison. Name your poison, but they were all lousy options. It doesn’t even make sense that I avoided that fate. Gratitude has deep roots here. A little background is in order.
I grew up in South Carolina in the 1950’s. Ours was an apparently middle-class family that was actually poor as dirt. My father had been a practicing alcoholic for most of his life and as we’ve already seen in my story — and probably yours — addiction doesn’t make for any sort of security, be that financial, physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual. My parents’ colorful phrase for financial insecurity was, “The wolf is at the door.” Well, the wolf lived at our damn door, and even when things began to level out he stayed on my parents’ mental porch for the rest of their lives.
I was apparently fine until I started school, where I discovered I wasn’t so fine after all. We were living in a great school district thanks to my parents’ wisdom and concern, but that put me in class with the kids of the doctors, lawyers and Indian chiefs who ran my hometown. I developed an acute, chronic case of less-than. I only knew two states: I was either less than you, which is how I felt most of the time, or I was more than you, which I experienced when I was loaded. As we say in the rooms, I was essentially an egomaniac with an inferiority complex. I heard someone in a meeting describe it as feeling like “the piece of shit around which the world revolves.” That, by God, is dead-on. This roller-coaster self image of mine never once included parity.
In response to this inherent sense of lack I became a bad actor in elementary school. And never really stopped. I ran away from home for the first time when I was twelve. I ran away for the last time when I was forty-five. My life went from bad to worse every time I ran, but I just couldn’t not do it. This is the nature of compulsivity. In true pathological fashion, I could not learn from experience.
A lot of people in recovery have been homeless. You don’t have to be an addict to wind up homeless, although it sure helps. Still, anyone at all, through loss of a job, illness, divorce, sheer bad luck, whatever the circumstance, could end up becoming homeless. If you were really unlucky, or fate really had it in for you, perhaps you could end up homeless twice. I have been homeless nine times.
My friends, that is not luck. That is skill. I am wonderful at giving my shit up and ending up on the street. Left to my own devices I will always find a way to suffer. I found a trap door in every “bottom” I ever had until the last one.
Let me give you an example. In 1988, almost as if I was living in a parallel universe where Fred’s were fairly reasonable people, I was a successful merchant. I had a nice house, a nice wife, and a nice life. Ten years later I woke up to find myself living as a park bum in Mt. Tabor City Park in Portland, Oregon. I was homeless, helpless, penniless, and clueless. I had no future and no hope. And I had done every bit of the damage myself. Even I, the Teflon wonder, couldn’t find anyone else to blame. It hadn’t been a straight fall from grace, but it was one hell of a steep slide. Years later, when I would tell this down-and-out story to rooms full of drunks and addicts in treatment, I looked for all the world like this perfectly normal little guy, basically like most of their dads, with neatly cut silver hair, wearing khakis and a pressed shirt. I had to go to some lengths to even make the extraordinary nature of my story believable. I would tell them the end of my story before I told them the beginning, just to get their attention. It worked.
So long as I had plenty to drink, I simply didn’t think the park was all that bad. I mean there were a couple of scary times with gangs, and I was cold as hell at night, but I had to expect privation. After all, the story that I told myself was that I was a clever Zen master getting back to nature and communing with the squirrels. Zen masters didn’t need much. Except a lot of booze, apparently. And cigarettes; lots of those, too. Here’s the trap door. When the liquor ran out, the real situation began to settle in. Hunger, fear, regret, and a good case of the delirium tremens beat the arrogance and lies out of me in a hurry. I was now aware that I was hiding from cars in the bushes, suddenly scared of my shadow, when something suddenly struck me. Incredibly, even unbelievably, I had been in a nearly identical situation sixteen years before.
Way back in the late autumn of 1982, I had woken up one morning in the Arizona desert in a nearly identical set of circumstances. After sixteen years, all I had really accomplished was that I’d moved my dilemma from one of the driest places in America to one of the wettest. This is what a circular pattern looks like.
I’ll cut it short and tell you that I got out of the park within a couple of days of deciding to. Six weeks after I got out of the park I drove back through it in a new Miata convertible. I had a woman on my arm, and money in my pocket. I was a citizen again! We parked close to my old hideout, where my old sleeping pad was still under the bushes. Rather than being floored with the gravity of my former situation, and gratefully overwhelmed by my amazing deliverance, I turned the whole thing into the story of a lark in the park by the most cunning guy you’d ever want to meet. I made it sound like a plan instead of a train wreck. This was not a guy who was learning anything. This was not a guy who’d finished drinking.
Three months later I was on the road again, running back to South Carolina, which was where I’d run from ten years before. In my head home had become the new Mecca, which is precisely what Oregon had been a decade back. This is what circular living looks like. After continuing difficulties, when I saw homelessness looming in my future again, I got back into recovery. I haven’t had a drink, or a drug or placed a bet since March 30 of 2000. I did the whole deal, just like they told me to: meetings, literature, sponsor, steps, and service. To my lasting amazement, after a bit of lag time for the existing fires to burn down, my life even began to improve. You know the rest of the story. It’s not so different from yours.
And that’s quite enough of the Fred story.
A different kind of awakening
I want to touch on one more thing in this introduction. The spiritual awakening spoken of in this book is not the same awakening typically spoken of in most spiritual or religious circles, or in recovery. This will become apparent as we advance through the book. Enlightenment occurs in all of those traditions, but it’s uncommon. Nondual awareness comes when the illusion of separation effectively surrenders to the truth of unity. The difference between the relative surrender of a drop apparently surrendering to the ocean, and the ocean recognizing that no drops exist, is quite significant. It is also experiential. Once you pop the bubble, so to speak, you come to know another level of reality. We may cover it up, but there’s no unknowing it. It’s very common for our ongoing life patterns to continue to run for quite a while, and we may feel like we’re going back and forth between the levels for a quite a while, but what’s done is done.
Nonduality and recovery: parallel, not opposing
I was taught when I entered recovery to dwell on the commonalities I would find in other members, and not the differences. It was good advice, and I’d like to air it here as well. Nonduality and recovery don’t have to conflict. In physics, for example, classical mechanics describe the way the universe works under certain circumstances, and that’s been proven to be a true model. Quantum mechanics describe how the universe works under another set of circumstances, and it, too, has been proven to be a true model. Neither model eliminates the need, essential validity, or effectiveness of the other. Recovery and Nonduality could be said to be much the same way. What works in recovery works in recovery. What works in Nonduality works in Nonduality. We could say our goal and approach determine our outcome; neither conflicts with the other. We can embrace both.
This book is for people who are looking for a deeper spirituality than they’ve yet encountered; perhaps deeper than they imagined was possible. You don’t have to change whatever practice you currently do, or your association with any religion or tradition you currently belong to. You can use this book to simply augment your current practice or tradition. I invite you to hold onto your current structure; there’s neither a right way, nor a wrong way to practice Nonduality, although there are certainly ways that are more skillful than others. But stay in recovery, remain with your church, mosque, temple or synagogue; continue your prayer, meditation, hatha yoga, step work, or whatever practice you subscribe to; all that’s fine. Here we are for something, but we are against nothing. This book can help you take all of that to another level, and gain greater satisfaction and insight from it.
For all of the doubting Thomases out there of every stripe, let me offer a famous quote from Herbert Spencer that many of us in recovery will be familiar with. “There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance — that principle is contempt prior to investigation.” That kind of thinking was nearly the ruination of every addict. Why let it keep us from liberation now?
So, what is Nonduality really all about? We’ll explore the answer to that question and many, many more in the next twelve chapters. This might be just what you’ve been looking for, even if you didn’t know you were looking. If so, let me welcome you Home.
The honesty to which this step refers means telling ourselves the truth about ourselves. In recovery, that truth is about our active addiction. In Nonduality, that truth is about seeing our secret addiction. The solution to both addictions is the same, but neither can begin until the foundation of personal failure has been laid. Our only shot at power lies in accepting our complete lack of it.
That’s such a radical idea. On the face of it, it doesn’t even make any sense. Yet it’s the single most important principle that recovery was founded upon. It’s also the principle that underlies all of Nonduality, although it’s seen in a very different way. We’ll take a look first at this concept through the eyes of the recovery tradition, and then we’ll compare that to how it’s seen in the Nondual tradition. We’ll start with the familiar and then move toward the new.
In the recovery tradition it’s always a major hurdle for us to get to the point where we accept our powerlessness over whatever it is that’s eating up our lives. We just don’t want to be powerless, not in anything, not in any way. But in the end we either have to confess it, or go on destroying ourselves.
Let’s be candid. Wherever we find surrender in the world, which isn’t on every corner to start with, we will find two camps. The large camp surrenders selectively. We surrender to this, but not that. We accept that thing, but not this thing; let go of one event, but not of another. In recovery this selective surrender plays out when we accept our powerlessness over our drug or behavior of choice, but retain the story of our power in everything else. Our life’s lack of manageability — which the second half of the first step addresses — is generally seen to be chiefly a symptom of our addiction. We may not say it out loud, but we say it in how we really live our lives. We may do everything else recovery requires of us, but that absolute surrender-to-God’s-will thing? Not so much.
There is a small surrender camp where people let go of much more. We often hear from this other camp in the rooms. They tell us to make our best efforts, but leave the results to our Higher Power. That’s Nondual wisdom wearing a recovery hat. A lot of people say this, but most of them will then worry about their problems at night. That’s not letting go, that’s wishing we could let go. There are some people, however, who really let go. They know that they can’t tell a blessing from a curse. They know that those definitions are built around timing. Addiction, for instance, was the worst thing that ever happened to us until it became the best. Without it, most of us would never have taken a spiritual path in this life, and found what we’ve found. Becoming addicted, in a bizarre way, is the greatest thing most of us ever did. (Or we could say it’s the greatest thing we never did!) What a great gift!
It’s easy to spot members of the small surrender camp within recovery. They’re the happiest people in the rooms. They have their share of ups and downs, some days when they behave better than others, and of course they face the same challenges in life that everyone else does. But there will not be any underlying sense of their being “irritable, restless, or discontent.” When things don’t go their way, they accept and adjust quickly. They will not be consistently reporting anger, fear, resentment, or poor behavior, because even though all of those things may pop out from time to time, they will be far from that person’s norm. Surrender isn’t something we talk about at this level, it’s something that is lived.
If we happen to stumble upon Nonduality, then we will discover a third camp, the smallest of all. In this camp we not only give up our attachments to conditions and outcomes, but we actually give up ourselves, or at least the story of ourselves. We trade in our limited identity for an unlimited one. It’s not that we merge into the one. There would have to be two in order for a merging to take place. In this third camp it is clearly seen that there is only one thing going on to begin with. That thing is us. The goal of seekers here, all of their study and practice of this wisdom tradition, is directed toward joining this third camp of absolute, unconditional surrender.
In Nonduality we learn that we’ve been suffering from another addiction, a secret addiction. We’ve been suffering from the addiction to self. Rather than merely being caught in the bondage of self, we find that we have been caught in the bondage to a self. We’ll look at this very closely in the third step, but we need to get a feel for it right away.
There is just one thing going on. Our secret addiction, our bondage to a self, is our conceptual resistance to the living reality of oneness. We hang onto this resistance because we don’t know any better. We don’t know any better, in part, because we don’t want to know any better. This addiction to self is just like our more obvious one: we aren’t going to give it up easily. To overcome it, we have to come to want liberation more than we want anything else, even before we’re sure that there is, as Gertrude Stein said, “a there there.” I’m not so much talking faith as I am intuition, and in some cases a measure of temporary, conditional trust.
The good news about our coming to Nonduality is that we will regularly encounter people who, precisely like the situation in recovery, have been there, and can point us toward it. In fact, some teachers knowingly live in truth all the time. Or we could say they consciously live as truth all the time, which is more accurate. Others rely on memory in the same way that clergy rely on holy books, but I say that as an observation and not a criticism. Everyone is right where they’re supposed to be, and doing just what they’re supposed to be doing; we can bank on that. We can always bank on reality! Reality is what is. Anything else is simply a story occurring within reality. There is no such thing as what isn’t. We’ll say this time and again in an attempt to seep through the mind’s defenses.
What we want to do at this stage is begin to open, to allow new ideas to enter, try out suggestions, and then test the evidence as we move down the path. Is this Nondual teaching working — for us? Are we beginning to see the world in a distinctly different way? That’s all that counts. Everything else stems from that seeing. No “understanding” of Nonduality is actually required. Ever. I don’t understand it, and I don’t know anyone who does, although I know some extraordinarily wise people. We use the mind, but only with the understanding that the mind cannot transcend the mind, not on its own. Einstein told us, “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.”
“Sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly,” as we say about getting clean and adjusting to our new way of living. In that same way, we get Nonduality the way we get it; it unfolds as it unfolds. What we’re doing here could be called the Way of Large Numbers. It has been tested and seen to be successful. This is a practical path to enlightenment that can be taught. It is a way that can be duplicated. We again see a parallel with recovery’s cookie-cutter model.
I know people who essentially got “struck by lightning” and their addiction fell away; perhaps you do, too. That’s great for them, but what about us? How do we follow that path — walk around a golf course in a thunder storm holding up a steel rod? The Twelve Steps gave us something tangible that we could not only work for ourselves, but which we could also pass along to others. What we’re doing here is setting up the duplication of what’s already been successfully achieved, which is the same cookie-cutter model we used in recovery. It worked for us there, and given enough earnestness, it can work for us here as well.
One of the ways we learn who we are is through discovering what we are not. It’s a process of reduction, like noticing that when all the aggravating sons-of-bitches who were making us drink and drug left the room, we still wanted to drink and drug. We then had to wonder, “Could the problem possibly be me and not them?” What a concept! In a not-too-dissimilar way, discovering who and what we are via discovering who and what we are not may seem backwards, but historically it works pretty well, and by doing it this way the mind develops less resistance to the teaching. Truth sneaks in the back door.
Nonduality is chock full of paradox, because what we’re talking about can’t really be talked about. Words are the best tools we have, but they are poor ones in relation to the task. We are stuck in the very same place that Lao Tzu was 2,500 years ago when he started writing the Tao Te Ching and said,
The tao that can be told
is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be named
is not the eternal Name.
is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be named
is not the eternal Name.
Lao Tzu knew he had taken on an impossible task and wanted to state that right up front. I’m doing just the same. Lao Tzu then went on to write a whole book about that which cannot be written about, and I’m merrily carrying on in the same manner. I always was a slow learner. As a provisional truth we could say that our mind is part of this Tao that Lao Tzu was talking about. I think it will make sense to you that the whole can easily hold all of its parts, but that no part can possibly contain the whole. The mind, the part, just can’t grasp this teaching. There’s just what is, which is beyond either partness or wholeness, but it’s unnecessary for us to understand that just now. Part and whole will do.
The mind is the vehicle we’ll use to help us take something of a quantum leap in logic, and actually move beyond the mind. This book will give you the opportunity to come to know your own true identity — the single verbness that is. We’ll have to use labels and other concepts in order to properly conduct our investigation, but we never want to believe that any of them are true. They’ll still work. I don’t have to believe that a hammer will do its job. In the absence of any beliefs at all a hammer will still nail things quite wonderfully.
This investigation is really important to us, because it explores the possibility that within the ordinary lives we’re living today, right here, right now, there may be an entirely different living experience. Not a conceptual thing, not something to read and remember, not something to discuss at a juice bar, or over daiquiris, but a whole new way to be and live. What if we are already in the Promised Land and don’t know it? Unless we’ve previously had a glimpse of this truth, we can’t even begin to imagine what that means, or what is really and readily available to us — in this life, on this planet, in this time, without us having to be anything or anybody other than who we are, and without buying a ticket to Tibet.
What if we didn’t need thirty years of prayer and meditation? Is it possible that in some cases such practices could actually impede our way? Could our case be one of them? We’re not speaking for everyone in every situation. We’re speaking of us in our situation. What’s right for us? Is it at least possible that sainthood may be overrated? Is it possible that trying to be other than the way we already are is the perfect method to prevent us from being changed? A willingness to be “other than the way we are” is quite different from trying to be other than how we are. The former is surrender. The latter is resistance with a pretty hat on it. It’s still the same old resistance that’s tripped us up all our lives, it just looks better — which makes it all that more difficult to let go of. How well did we do efforting away our obvious addiction? Not so hot. Resistance doesn’t work any better here with this more subtle issue, with this addiction to being a separate “me.”
I confess to having been around recovery for a lot longer than twelve years, but most of that time was spent drunk-and-in-charge. Do you remember that? The whole time my life was going down the tubes I was very clear on what the rest of the world should be doing! I was an instant expert on whatever popped into my mind. I might have been drunk or in jail, but by God I was still right! Recovery taught me that, for me, being right was a fatal malady. I had to first be wrong before my conditions could begin to right themselves.
That’s a perfect example of what I call the 180 paradox. We’ll talk about this paradox quite a bit more later, but suffice it to say here that every deep spiritual truth I’ve ever learned showed me that the world works exactly the opposite of the way I always thought it did. I spent my whole life looking for a right turn, or a left turn that would take me out of my troubles. I never once thought about taking a U-turn until I absolutely, positively had to. I didn’t want to be wrong. I had a whole life invested in my being right, and to repudiate that would repudiate my entire history. I couldn’t see that this was exactly what I needed. We can’t see what we can’t see until we do.
Here is another 180 paradox: we can never see the most obvious thing until we can. Then we can see nothing else, and wonder why in the heck it took us so long to see it. Wasn’t the need for us to join recovery just like that? I couldn’t see it until I was almost dead! The truths exposed in Nonduality are sort of like that, too. We cannot see the most obvious thing until something courted, yet unbidden happens, and then we can see nothing else. Our seeing of it may be momentary, but it’s always unmistakable. It doesn’t need any outside verification; they call it self-verifying, and that is my experience as well. Our seeing of it, indeed our conscious being of it, can also become continuous. It’s not like we can fall away from it, or out of it, although it can feel like that’s the case.
Surrender in Nonduality is eventually seen to actually be what we are, rather than something we do. Everything that is has already been welcomed — by us. Otherwise it could not be. We are the welcoming of reality. I know this is confusing; it’s unnecessary for us to be masters of this just yet. Let the ideas begin to seep in; that’s plenty. Let’s agree to be plain, open people for this life, and masters in the next.
If we want to know and consciously be this truth, then we can begin to practice doing what it does. Let’s practice being ourselves! Let’s start welcoming reality, this reality, this here, this now, this this, exactly as it is. There’s nothing conditional in that. For the moment, instead of thinking of our bodies as being “us,” let’s think of our them as being suits, something that we’re wearing, not something we truly are. Let’s endow our suits with the traditional Buddhist six senses: seeing, hearing, tasting, feeling, smelling and thinking. Now, let’s further pretend that reality — this reality — is a movie that our suits are watching. We can learn something of absolutely critical importance this way.
When our suits take in the vast panorama of reality, what do they do with it? They would do the same thing all computers do with information, which happens to be the same thing our brains do with information. They process it. And what does a “process” of any kind need? Time. So, in the relative model there is a delay between perception and reception, and another one between reception and conception. In other words, although our suits may be experiencing something called the present moment, we, the wearer, are always looking at the past.
Now let’s just gently notice that our actual situation is precisely like the one described. By the time our brains process what the body has told them, and that information is made into something useable, we are experiencing the past. Reality is always a done deal. Reality is always “in the can” by the time the brain can even experience it. I offer this to you as a tool, and here’s how to use it. I ask you, what is the point in our resisting what is, when what is already is? I can hate that my car is black all that I want, but it doesn’t affect the color one iota. I get to suffer, but it doesn’t change a damn thing.
We can’t change it! We can’t fix it to suit our whims! We can’t correct it! We can’t do a thing about it! Oh well, yes, it’s true that we can resent it and suffer, or we can fear it and suffer, but where’s the sanity in that? We also have the option of seeing the truth. Reality cannot occur any other way than it occurs. Everything is woven together. Think of it as a giant tapestry, a mile high and a mile wide. The only part we can see is what’s right in front of us, and the part that we can see is already done! The meal is cooked and on the table; there’s no point in wishing the timing or ingredients had been different.
There is no wisdom whatsoever in resisting what is. Our mind wants to turn it around and around in the futile hope that if it does so long enough and hard enough it can come up with a workable alternative that better suits our conceptual separate me’s desires and demands. But it never will. It can’t. It’s over. Our perceived reality is always already past. For goodness’ sake, let’s just get out of the way and let what already is do what it’s already doing!
Surely you remember how difficult it was to face our then-active addictions. We didn’t want to have them. That didn’t change the fact that we did have them, but because we wouldn’t fess up, we kept doing the same things over and over again expecting a different result. Only when we came clean about our dirt did we have a chance to get better.
Let’s talk a little about my story again.
In early recovery, after having spent nearly a lifetime loaded-and-in-charge I went through a brief period of surrender and amiability with the world as it was. When I saw that I’d previously been wrong when I denied my addictions, and confessed this willful wrongness publicly, something opened up, and I began to see that I’d been dead wrong in a lot of my thinking. This kind of humility, however brief, left me willing to entertain all sorts of new ideas and insights. As a result, when early sobriety wasn’t utter hell, it was a period of great peace. I remember quite a lot of it very fondly, even though I was poor as a rat and scared to death of ending up drunk or homeless or both. I constantly lived about half a step from homelessness, and yet I learned to be content with both my financial insecurity, and my scorched standing in the non-recovery “real world,” where I was just another loser.
Of course that stage of surrender didn’t last long; it almost never does. Soon enough I began to take back the reins, succumb to the rising sureness of my own beliefs, opinions, and positions; see just how things ought to be, and complain about my lot in life the same way any poor victim like me would. When I first got to the rooms all I wanted was to not suffer so much. Thirty days later all I wanted was to not suffer so much and have a job. A month after I got a job all I wanted was to not suffer so much, have a job — and a girlfriend. And then a car, more money, a dog, nice weather, polite clerks, good drivers, and on and on and on, trying to fill the hole inside of me with stuff that just kept dropping right on through it. No matter what I got, once again it never was quite enough. I began to worry about the future, which is actually a hell of luxury when you’ve been in the frying pan for as long as I had been, but of course I didn’t see that. When I was living in the park, I wasn’t worried about my future!
I don’t think I was really much worse about this than anyone else, but I certainly wasn’t any better. I did the best I could. We all do. I tried on humility and gave it a test drive from time to time, but found that it was a little too constricting. You can’t be humble and complain at the same time, just as gratitude and fear can’t inhabit the same space. But I didn’t drink or use or gamble, I did a lot of service, and my conditions slowly improved — they just didn’t improve quite as fast as my sense of entitlement did. We could call this the Spiraling Way of Wants. The truth is, so long as I continued to walk that way, I wasn’t surrendered, although I claimed to be. The claiming of it, sadly, left no open space for the universe to work. Tell a lie, live a lie.
So I spent several years in recovery in unconscious denial of my powerlessness over anything other than my addiction. I had moved from being drunk-and-in-charge to being sober-and-in-charge! It’s a neat trick that they don’t actively teach us in recovery, but if we watch closely there are plenty of people who’ll show us the ropes, without our needing any formal coaching. What we learn is how to surrender just enough to remain abstinent-and-in-charge. In this mode, we still get to live our life with rants and tirades, with lasting anger and lingering resentments, but we come tell on ourselves regularly in meetings. We pretend that public confession somehow makes everything okay, and many will obligingly chuckle with us, since we’re doing the same thing they’re doing. But how many years can we continue to act out as assholes, followed by a prompt confession to it in meetings with a headshake and a sheepish grin, before it becomes clear that we may have some self-awareness that we didn’t use to have, but that there is still no willingness to actually change? The phrase “progress, not perfection” can become a license to do whatever the hell we want. “We are not saints,” is another favorite cop-out that wasn’t meant to be a license to be bad, which is often the way we use it.
There is a very similar place we can reach in Nonduality too, so I might as well address it here. We can believe Nondual teaching and end up suffering badly. Those around us will suffer, too. There’s no sort of classic “conversion” scenario in Nonduality. Teachers are not trying to get anyone to believe these teachings. They’re not even true! They’re pointing toward truth, but they’re not true in and of themselves. Just like the action plan of recovery, we want to get busy and try this stuff out, put it to work in our thinking, our living, and in any practices we might have. A zillion people have read recovery literature and gone on to ruin. An awful lot of people read Nondual material, but stay in what I call “spectator” mode. Nonduality is not a spectator sport. We have to get involved.
I know, I know, the mind will tell us, “Well gee, he’s saying that I’m only part of the one thing going on, and thus I can’t have free will! Heck, I might as well do whatever I want!” I hear variations on this all the time. This is not spirituality. At all. This is egoism via intellectualism, and it will lead to either hedonism, or nihilism, or both. Leave it alone for now. The interesting thing is that when it’s used like this, “what I want” is never what I think is right, but always what I want to do anyway.
The mind can only hurt itself and others when it toys with that kind of loop. It is poison to progress.
Try to accept, just for now, that we can’t know what we don’t know. Let’s give doubt free rein in our minds. Let it gnaw at all of our sure thinking. Let it gnaw at our foregone conclusions. Let it gnaw at all of our BOPs — beliefs, opinions, and positions, especially our ones about free will or the lack of it.
Just like in recovery, few people begin studying Nonduality because their lives are going just like they want, and they simply want to amp that condition up with a dose of spirituality. There is usually a crisis of note going on in either the foreground, or the background of our lives (or both) before we begin to reach out for something else. If we are rich and good-looking and have the life and lover of our dreams, who on earth is looking for a fix for that? No, we come because things have gone south on us. We have tried muscling this crisis away, and that didn’t work. As recovery folk, we almost surely tried “turning it over,” but for some reason this time we didn’t get a lot of relief from that, either.
Whether our situation is acute, blazing pain, or a chronic, dull throbbing doesn’t matter. We can’t go on, and we can’t give up, so we’re stuck. We’re hung with our own damn lives. So, if fate has placed us on the road less traveled, we may turn to Nonduality to see if there’s not some way to “side-step” our suffering. Can I acquire and use this thing called enlightenment to help me make an end run around this awful story? Please, God, give me an escape hatch!
That’s exactly what I tried to do. It didn’t work. But I had gotten myself hooked anyway, and the teaching wasn’t about to let go of me. What I found out is that we can’t ever go around anything. The only way to something is through something else. If I want to be on the other bank, then I have to cross the river. If I want less suffering, I’ve got to go through the suffering that I have, and allow it to fully discharge. If I want truth, I’ve got to work my way through the lies.
We can learn to use suffering as a signal. When our so-called lives really begin to be painful, it’s a sure sign that we’re caught up thinking, worrying, and scheming over our life, and we’re taking our life really seriously. We are lost in our head, living in either an imaginary past, or an imaginary future. We are not living in our body, where everything is always just so. Suffering means we’ve made something up, and have decided to believe it. We are once again lost in denial, only it’s over something other than our obvious addictions. It means we’ve relapsed into our core addiction. Our core addiction is shared by, I would guess, very close to seven billion people. Well over ninety-nine percent of the world believe they are separate entities. Every single one of us feels like the center of the universe, because we are visually positioned in the center of our universe. It’s a combined trick pulled by perception and illusion. Ego is the man behind the curtain. Suffering is its fruit.
In short, when we’re suffering, it means that we’re cheerlessly living in the denial of oneness. I sheepishly confess it still happens to me. It doesn’t happen very often, and it doesn’t happen for very long, but it does still happen.
When we’re not in denial of oneness, we can clearly see that there is just life as it is. Only. There isn’t anything else. There is no room in life as it is for “my life.” There’s just one thing going on. It’s not “me over here and oneness over there,” which is a normal human feeling, however untrue. “It’s all one except the me over here who’s watching it be all one.” There is recognizable, patterned activity happening where our bodies live, but it’s webbed to the activity of the entire universe. There is no separate entity anywhere, ever, except in our heads. This is why there can’t be any free will, nor any lack of free will. Who is there to have or not have it? The basic equation of human life is, “entity equals suffering.” We’ll be seeing this equation restated in many ways, because this is the obvious, but somehow nearly ungraspable, core of the teaching.
This unity has tremendous diversity — unity doesn’t mean that everything is the same. Clearly it’s not. So when we join these words, diversity and unity, we come up with unicity. That’s a helpful word for us. Yet even if we could explain oneness — unicity — with words, this still wouldn’t be enough. We are not marching toward a new theology. What we come to Nonduality for is the One Taste. We want to know this oneness for ourselves, not just hear about it. Other than our using it as a marker for our own journey, who really cares what someone else has experienced? Bully for them, but what about us? Living on second-hand spirituality is like watching someone else eat a meal and then telling ourselves we’re not hungry. The hunger is not going to go away until we satisfy our hunger. Spirituality works the same way. We have come here, blindly or intentionally, to genuinely discover for ourselves how things really are, how the world really works.
It comes as a surprise to most people that we genuinely can know this for ourselves. If I screw up and mention enlightenment in the wrong company, that person will wince, and then smile nervously while looking for a fast way to part company with the kook. Nonetheless, we can know the most basic truth of the universe. We can know what Buddha and Lao Tzu knew, for example, and thereby experience life in a not altogether different way than they did. We really can come to see as Jesus saw, and understand in a whole new way much of what he said. We, like he, are simultaneously one hundred percent human and one hundred percent divine. We become our own clergy. As farfetched as all that might sound, that’s what the teachings of Nonduality are all about, and they’ve been with us for thousands of years. They have quite a track record. Perhaps they really are worth a look.
If you do join us, I can’t advise you to share all of this with all of your friends, not as information prior to enlightenment, nor as living truth in post-enlightenment. We think that upon our awakening everyone will be able to feel truth, and hear it through us. It won’t happen. People who are really open, by which I mean people who are in deep suffering, or near death, or in serious crisis, may very well feel it, and hear it. They don’t have much time left, nor any story left that’s worth defending, and so truth has a way to slip in under the door, so to speak. People who want to know the truth more than they want anything else will be able to hear us fairly well. If there is a carpet of trust underlying the relationship, that’s very beneficial to transmission as well. But the vast majority simply will not get it, and they will not get us. The price of this understanding is being misunderstood. If you come aboard, you might as well get used to it.
The great thing about addiction recovery is that, in the face of abject failure, something grand and magical happened to us, and it happened through acceptance. Not through resignation, but through real surrender. So we have some inkling, or maybe far more than an inkling, of what all of this next step is all about. Recovery has done us yet another great favor. It has actually primed us for Nondual surrender. It has primed us for approaching enlightenment. Recovery has given us one new life already, and now we discover that it has readied us for another! Who could imagine that people such as we could come into such great bounty and beauty? Who could imagine such grace as this?
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First English edition published December 2012 by Non-Duality Press
© Fred Davis 2012
© Non-Duality Press 2012