Non-Dual Perspective
by Diane Linsley

I previously wrote about the stages of enlightenment. In order to
understand this article, I suggest you read that one first.

In 2016, I began experiencing what Ken Wilber calls the non-dual
perspective. At first, it felt very strange because it was different
from my previous experiences. It wasn't like my kenshos in early
2009 or the year-long, non-stop witnessing that occurred during the Third Rank of Tozan. Those were experiences of Oneness from the perspective of the Witness.

The Non-Dual Experience

Like enlightenment, the non-dual can only be understood by experiencing it. But once you do, you have to admit that it beats witnessing. You can still witness, of course. That's a skill you never lose once you integrate it. But non-dual is not witnessing.

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

Following the sports metaphor in my previous article, 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. It's not safe here on the playing field. Some days it hurts so badly that it's almost unbearable!

But there is profound joy at the same time because the non-dual experience is unblocked. You are one with the experience. Even the desire to step back and just be the Witness in order to protect yourself disappears. This can only happen when you know deep in your soul that All is One, and there is nothing to fear. A non-dual experience is like the ultimate orgasm - with no holding back.

I still have experiences of the Witness. I may go into the Witness during painful situations in order to watch what is happening with objectivity. But I also recognize this as a defense mechanism - a way to put a little distance between me and the experience. Witnessing is like having a glass wall between you and the experience. There is no glass wall during a non-dual experience.

Non-Dual and the Transcendent

In a Transcendent experience, you see the Oneness of all things. It's an awesome experience. But in a non-dual experience, you aren't just witnessing it - you are it. When another person suffers, you suffer. When another person is happy, you are happy. You experience things fully as they arise. You don't observe a beautiful flower - you are the flower. You don't 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 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. It's a courageous choice - to face life without resistance. A good practice for doing this is tonglen meditation. Tonglen is an advanced practice that goes beyond the witnessing state of mindfulness meditation.

At earlier stages, I didn't have the same choice. Pre-enlightenment, I just suffered in the ego. Post-enlightenment, I could witness, which greatly reduced the suffering. Now I have another choice. In the non-dual, I can step into the experience and be one with it. These are increasing levels of awareness.

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 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. When I was in the Third Rank of Tozan, I didn't suffer, but I wasn't as joyful as I am now. I was just blissed out in the Transcendent.

The non-dual experience is one of compassion. The root meaning of the word compassion is "suffering with." How can you have compassion if you are resisting the full experience of being a human being?

Ken Wilber says, "Absolute truth is emptiness. Relative truth is compassion." The Third Rank of Tozan is a prolonged experience of emptiness (witnessing). When it ends, we come back to the relative world of the ego. We have to come back in order to develop compassion and understanding.

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."

Shadow work is an important spiritual practice at this stage. Voice Dialogue is my favorite method. Another good practice is polarity work. Here's an interview with Ken Wilber about shadow work.

A good book on shadow work is The Dark Side of the Light Chasers by Debbie Ford.

Unity Consciousness

The end result of spiritual work is unity consciousness, which is the abiding experience of being one with everything. Moving towards unity consciousness, you expand your perspective by trying to understand the perspectives of others, imagining yourself in the other's place, and serving others in any way you can.

In an essay called "How to Grow Old," published in Portraits from Memory and Other Essays, Bertrand Russell wrote, "Make your interests gradually wider and more impersonal, until bit by bit the walls of the ego recede, and your life becomes increasingly merged in the universal life. An individual human existence should be like a river - small at first, narrowly contained within its banks, and rushing passionately past rocks and over waterfalls. Gradually the river grows wider, the banks recede, the waters flow more quietly, and in the end, without any visible break, they become merged in the sea, and painlessly lose their individual being."

The river is a beautiful metaphor for the expanding identity. No longer are you focused on just your own personal concerns. You now live to serve all of humanity. Bertrand concludes:

"The man who, in old age, can see his life in this way, will not suffer from the fear of death, since the things he cares for will continue. And if, with the decay of vitality, weariness increases, the thought of rest will not be unwelcome. I should wish to die while still at work, knowing that others will carry on what I can no longer do and content in the thought that what was possible has been done."

Here's a pointing-out exercise by Ken Wilber for non-dual experience.

Try this guided meditation on impermanence.

Be well,
Diane Linsley

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