Non-Dual Awareness
by Diane Linsley

This article is a continuation of Stages of Enlightenment. You
may want to read that article first, if you haven't already.

In 2016, I started experiencing non-dual awareness. It felt odd
at first because it was not the same as witnessing, which had been
my normal state since enlightenment.

In the non-dual, the Witness drops away, and you are left face-to-
face with reality - with no Witness to provide that subtle sense of
separation that gives you a feeling of safety. No, this is real life in
your face!

A Metaphor for Enlightenment

Ken Wilber uses this metaphor for the stages of enlightenment:

Normal life (pre-enlightenment) is like playing a sport (basketball,
football, tennis - take your pick) without conscious awareness. This is what you've been doing all your life. You take the game seriously, and you suffer because things don't always go your way. Sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose. You are in competition with other players, and sometimes you get hurt. You try to figure out the rules of the game, but the rules keep changing, and you can't control the game. So you suffer.

In the Third Rank of Tozan (enlightenment), you suddenly find yourself sitting in the bleachers, just observing the game. You get to watch the whole game, including all the other players, along with your own ego, from a safe distance. From the bleachers, you see everything with a new and broader perspective that opens your mind to Reality. Wow! This is amazing. Your eyes have been opened, and there's so much to see.

Best of all, you are safe here in the bleachers. That person called Diane who is out there on the field is not you. You care about her - just like you care about everyone else. You wish you could help those poor people who are suffering in the illusion of the ego. You want to show them that there is a way out of suffering. You want them to join you in the bleachers so you can all enjoy watching the game, instead of taking it so seriously and creating more suffering.

So you try to tell people about the bleachers, but nobody believes you. "Bleachers? What bleachers? I don't see any bleachers." They give you suspicious looks. You know they secretly think you are crazy. Well, that's okay. They are living in illusion. You know better because you have experienced the ulitimate Reality - the Transcendent.

Then one day, wham! A ball from the game hits you as you are sitting there innocently in the bleachers, minding your own business. And it hurts! That wasn't supposed to happen. You'd gone for so long without feeling pain in the ego that you'd forgotten what pain is. Next thing you know, you are back on the playing field.

"What?! I'm not supposed to be here! What's happening to me?" You try to get back to the bleachers, but you can't. Welcome to the Fourth Rank of Tozan. The main difference between pre-enlightenment and the Fourth Rank is that now you know there are bleachers. You sat in them for a whole year. You can't deny their existence. But for some reason, you can't seem to find your way back.

This is where karma catches up with you. Your ego is really no worse than it was before. In fact, it's better in some ways. But it hurts a lot worse because you now have a high level of awareness. You see every detail of your egoic dysfunction that you never saw before, and you have no idea how to fix it.

The Third Rank of Tozan gave you a break from your ego - a nice, long, blissful vacation in the Transcendent. But now you have to do the dirty work. And it's a big pile of you-know-what. You can't just walk away and say, "The ego's not real, so I don't have to deal with it." Until you deal with it, the karma just keeps piling up.

The Non-Dual Perspective

Thankfully, there is still something to look forward to - one more spiritual perspective to gain. Ken Wilber calls it non-dual consciousness. Like enlightenment, it's not something you can understand until you actually experience it. But once you experience it with awareness, you have to admit that it beats pure witnessing. You can still witness, of course. That's a skill that you never lose once you integrate it. But non-dual is not witnessing.

Non-dual is when you are playing the game with gusto. Yes, you were kicked off the bleachers against your will, and you can't go back. But after pouting for some time, you make a conscious choice to play the game. No, it's not safe here on the playing field. Some days it hurts so badly it's almost unbearable. I'm often amazed at how much suffering I can feel without literally dying.

But there is profound joy at the same time. I think it's because the non-dual experience is unblocked. You are one with the experience. You experience yourself in everything and everyone that you see.

The Resistance of the Ego

Resistance is futile. As a highly aware person, you know that all suffering is caused by the resistance of the ego. And you've seen through the ego. The ego was originally created by you in an attempt to minimize pain. Sometimes it works - for a little while. But nothing works in the long run.

The ego resists the suffering of others because it doesn't want to suffer in the same way. Have you ever noticed the thoughts that go through your mind when someone else gets sick? You try to guess what they did wrong so you can avoid the illness by not making the same mistake.

We all have ways to fool ourselves into thinking that we won't have to suffer like other people. Maybe our spirituality will save us. Or our good health habits or positive thinking. Maybe we're counting on good genes or superior intelligence. Whatever we are attached to, that's what we expect will save us.

Meanwhile, we avoid getting too close to suffering people in order to maintain the illusion of separation. The ego is all about separation, and separation is rooted in the fear of suffering and death. What the ego fears more than anything is its own death. Enlightenment threatens the ego, and the non-dual experience threatens it even more. No ego wants to die.

The Non-Dual Experience

How does a person with non-dual awareness experience the world? Well, that's tricky to explain. It could be interpreted as a little insane. But let's go for it anyway. Genpo Roshi says that the enlightened state always looks insane from the perspective of the ego.

In the Transcendent, you clearly see the Oneness of all things. It's an awesome experience. However, in the non-dual, you aren't only witnessing it - you are it. When another person suffers, you suffer. When another person is happy, you are happy. You experience feelings fully as they arise. You don't just observe a beautiful flower - you are the flower. You don't just observe the world - you are the world.

From the non-dual perspective, I have the same longing that I had during enlightenment - to tell people about my experience in the hope that they might want the same marvelous experience for themselves.

Unfortunately, it's hard to sell people on the idea that they could experience life more fully. It's easier to sell the idea of enlightenment - the idea that there is a way to escape from suffering. Everyone wants to escape. How many people want to live fully?

If we are honest with ourselves, we have to admit that practically everything we do is driven by the desire to escape from suffering. Even our spiritual seeking is an attempt to escape.

Living fully in the Now is the essence of non-dual awareness. At this stage, it happens automatically most of the time. But sometimes the ego resists, and I have to make a conscious choice to stop resisting. It's a courageous choice - to face life without resistance.

Of course, that's my life on a good day. Like everyone else, I automatically recoil from pain. But I am aware at the moment when I feel the self-contraction of the ego. When I become aware of resistance, I can either keep resisting and create more suffering, or I can choose to relax and let whatever happens be okay. My favorite practice for doing this is tonglen.

At previous stages, I didn't have this choice. Pre-enlightenment, I just suffered. Post-enlightenment, I could step back and witness, which put some distance between me and whatever was causing the pain, which reduced the suffering. Now I have another choice. In the non-dual, I can step into the experience and be one with it.

Non-Dual Awareness and Compassion

Why would anyone want to open themselves up like this? Well, you won't know until you experience the non-dual for yourself. There is a bliss in letting go and allowing yourself to be fully human that is unexplainable. It makes no sense to the ego in its self-defensive posture.

Non-dual means "not two." There isn't me and the experience as two separate things. There is just the experience. There's not the relative world and the Transcendent. There's just One Reality, which encompasses them both simultaneously. Spirit is in all things, all people, and all experiences.

In blissful moments of non-dual experience, I find myself laughing with childlike joy as I am dancing, smelling a flower, or dipping my feet in the ocean waves. In painful moments, I find myself crying whole-heartedly without shame or repression. When you repress pain, you also repress your ability to feel joy.

In the non-dual, every object, person or experience has Buddha nature. Spirit is everywhere, all at once, in everything. There are no separate objects or separate people - only people who believe they are separate because that's their current perspective.

The non-dual experience is one of compassion. The root meaning of the word compassion is "suffering with." How can you have compassion for anyone, including yourself, if you are resisting or turning away from the full experience of being a human being?

Ken Wilber says, "Absolute truth is emptiness. Relative truth is compassion." Out of the transcendent experience of emptiness, we emerge with the ability to be truly compassionate.

In Soul Shifts, Barbara De Angelis describes love at this level. She says, "This love is not what we think of when we imagine love as happy and joyful. This love contains joy and agony, betrayal and compassion, relinquishment and redemption, humility and triumph all at once. It is completely full because it encompasses everything, leaving nothing that is human out, and then goes beyond that, exploding into what I can only describe as sublime. It is love for the imperfection of humanity that, at the same time, does not disqualify us from our divinity. The imperfect container still holds what is perfect."

This is a Fifth Rank of Tozan perspective. At this stage, the paradoxes of life are solved by integrating the opposites.

Here's a guided meditation to expand your consciousness.

Be well,
Diane Linsley

As a life coach, I use many different processes to help
people with their personal growth. Click here if you are
interested in coaching with me.


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