Catch – 22

Here’s the thing. I can blog about non-duality and you can read about non-duality until the cows come home, but until there is direct experience, there is no real understanding.  Oh, there may be an intellectual understanding to a certain point, but no real ‘gut’ feeling of those ‘aha’ moments that tell us we really and truly get it. Direct experience is the real teacher. Direct experience is truth because it cannot be refuted. Unfortunately, it also cannot be proven by the usual scientific standards, but that doesn’t preclude its authenticity.  We need to let go of our limited views of reality.  Look around.  It’s time and it’s necessary.

Now, here’s the problem.  You can’t go looking for direct experiences. They creep up on you at totally unexpected times. Even if you have a regular contemplation or meditation practice, there is no guarantee that you will have a ‘brick falling on your head’ type of experience.  You can, certainly, but with consistent spiritual practice, the experiences tend to be cumulative and therefore culminate into a broader kind of understanding, which over time changes your views about things and you begin that wondrous, scary journey from which there is no return.  Still, those ‘right between the eyes’ sort of experiences are the ones that catch our attention. But, of course, we have to be open to them.

The good news is that stories of non-dual, watershed moments are not as rare as one might think.  Eckhart Tolle, in the introduction of his book, The Power of Now, describes his life up to the age of 29 as one of immense anxiety and dread “…interspersed with periods of suicidal depression.” One night, as he was suffering through his usual panic and dread, he thought, “I cannot live with myself any longer.”  He suddenly realized the strangeness of that thought. He began to question who he really was. Was he “… the “I” or the “self” that the “I” cannot live with?”  The duality that we all experience smacked him right between the eyes and he began to wonder if only one of them (the ‘I’ or the ‘self’) was real. His spiritual transformation occurred at that moment.

Fritjof Capra in the preface of his book the Tao of Physics, describes his non-dual experience of ‘oneness’ occurring on a beach, where he suddenly became aware of the ‘…cascades of energy coming down from outer space, in which particles were created and destroyed in rhythmic pulses…” and how his own atoms were participating in this cosmic dance. He suddenly began to see the similarities between modern physics and Eastern philosophy, which set him on the path of writing this book.

Direct experience usually leads us down a whole new path in life, as it did for Tolle and Capra. It expands our awareness and life is never the same. We begin to rise above the tedium to see the big picture. But do we really need to have direct experiences in order to experience changes in our perception?

I’m not sure what the answer to that question is, so we’re stuck in a spiritual catch-22.  How do we get to a place where we can begin to perceive non-duality without direct experience? How about cultivating a bit of tolerance? Tolerance removes the obstacles that lead to compassion and kindness. That would be a huge step forward from where we are now. It requires that we lift our awareness and place it on something other than our own self-interests. When we get there, we begin thinking of ways in which we can be of service to others.  Ask yourself, “Am I serving myself or am I serving others?”  Service to others might just put you on the path toward non-dualism.

Every age thinks it has all the answers. We need to get over ourselves and realize that it’s time we wake up and move past the limited conceptual, man-made parameters of thought and embrace a more encompassing, compassionate view of reality in an effort to solve humanity’s problems. Einstein said, “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.”  We need a shift of consciousness – now. We can put our awareness anywhere we want, so put it where it will do the most good.

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Dancing with Maya

Lord Shiva Nataraja, The Cosmic Dancer

One day, my teacher was answering a fellow student’s question and he remarked about how our egos are “…dancing with Maya.” Maya, a Sanskrit term, loosely means ‘illusion.’ It is really our perception of what is real that is illusion. What we see as real is merely the manifestation of the One Reality. However, we perceive our physical world, including ourselves, as separate from the One Reality or God. The truth is that there is no separation. The idea of separation is the illusion.

I’ve used this analogy before, but if you remember the TV show Star Trek Voyager, the crew was able to entertain themselves on the holodeck. This was a place where various holographic worlds were created and story lines played out with the crewmembers acting out roles. While they were in the story, everything seemed perfectly real to them.  But, of course, none of it was. So, while we think of the world we live in as real, which it isn’t – physicists say reality is more holographic in nature -we, our egos that is, are merely characters in a play acting out a script on the world stage.

In the first Matrix movie, Morpheus continually tries to show Neo who he really is – or isn’t, which is Thomas Anderson living a tedious life within the confines of a computer generated ‘reality.’  Through a number of experiences, Neo is freed from the limited perceptions of his mind and by the end of the movie knows the truth. He sees the physical world as the computer generated illusion and therefore knows that the bullets that are meant to kill him are not real.

The reason we can’t accept the world as illusion is because we don’t see that the material ‘stuff’ the world is made of is not ‘stuff’ at all. Physics has proven that nothing is solid.  What’s more, the kinetic theory of solids, liquids and gases tells us that nothing is static, which means the ‘particles’ that make up matter are always in motion.  However, these ‘particles’ of matter are atoms and when you look at atoms you will find that subatomic matter is not matter at all but energetic patterns. Physicist and author Fritjof Capra in his book, the Tao of Physics, says, “…the constituents of matter and the basic phenomena involving them are all interconnected, interrelated and interdependent; that they cannot be understood as isolated entities but only as integrated parts of the whole.” He goes on to say that “…particles are processes rather than objects,” and that, “…subatomic matter is continually creating and destroying itself through the emission and absorption of virtual particles.”

We are witness to this creation and destruction all the time. The change of seasons is a perfect example. Also, we recognize the impermanence of our world in the rise and fall of civilizations throughout history, as well as the birth and death of stars and other universes.

Eastern mysticism sees creation, perpetuation and destruction in the universe as the dance of Lord Shiva Nataraja (pictured above).  It is Shiva’s dance that sustains the universe. From a physics standpoint, this is an elegant explanation of the continuous ‘dance’ of the interconnected patterns of energy that we perceive as the material world. Fritjof Capra goes on in his book, the Tao of Physics, to explain the details of this metaphorical representation as follows:

“The upper right hand of the god holds the drum to symbolize the primal sound of creation, the upper left bears a tongue of flame, the element of destruction. The balance of the two hands represents the dynamic balance of creation and destruction in the world accentuated further by the Dancer’s calm and detached face in the center of the two hands, in which the polarity of creation and destruction is dissolved and transcended. The second right hand is raised in the sign of ‘do not fear’, symbolizing maintenance, protection and peace, while the remaining left hand points down to the uplifted left foot, which symbolizes release from the spell of maya. The god is pictured as dancing on the body of a demon, the symbol of human ignorance which has to be conquered before liberation can be attained.”

Our perception of a material-based reality keeps us blind to the truth and bound to the rhythm of birth and death and rebirth powered by karma, which means ‘action.’  The bonds of karma (action) are broken only when we recognize that we, and all that we experience, are not separate from the One Reality or God, but are part of it. When that happens moksha or ‘liberation’ is the result.

Until then, keep your dancing shoes on…..