I wrote an article not too long ago about the contemplative concept of dual and nondual thinking. It was a great place to start when beginning to create space for a world of paradoxes. However, the being of nonduality has nothing to do with thinking at all. It is an awareness that arises from one’s heart and creates a feeling of deep connection with all things.
Nondual awareness is part of both Eastern and Western traditions, through the practice of effortless mindfulness from the Sutra Mahamudra of North Indian Buddhism and the practice of centering prayer, developed fully only 50 years ago but arising from deep within the Christian tradition. The purpose of these practices are to give the practitioner a greater capacity for uniting their inner and outer lives into one compassionate way of being. It is to fall back into a sense of interconnectedness with all things that gives one a deep sense of feeling loved and of being innately in service to the universe.
The way we look at the world is typically through our eyes from our head brain. I know that seems obvious, but it’s profound, because there are other ways to look at the world. When we use our eyes and brain, or even close our eyes in meditation and access other senses, we are thoroughly enveloped by our sense of self and the awareness of the other things and people around us. We are the subject, they are the object. We are the observer, they are the observed. There are problems all around us, and we are inherent problem-solvers. This does not need to be.
In most meditation practices, especially those made popular in the West, the observer practices either Focused Attention, an outward practice such as focusing on the breath, or Open Monitoring, which is an inward practice that allows the observer to view his or her thoughts and feelings. In both of these practices the goal is to drop one’s awareness down into the heart space and observe from a place of gentleness and love. However, the observer and observed split is still present, and limiting.
In Nondual Awareness, or effortless mindfulness, or centering prayer, the boundaries between the observer and the observed melt away. Thinking itself drops away. There is no longer a dual sense of subject and object, but the awareness becomes nondual, subject and object collapse into unity. It is an awareness which one can feel has always already been there, and has been waiting for us to remember, to settle back into it.
Where focused attention feels like a cloud of sensations, and open observational monitoring allows us to drop out of the cloud and observe it in an open sky from a safe distance, nondual awareness is more akin to becoming the space in between, and in, and through, all things until they are sensed only as one infinite thing. The sky, the cloud, the land, the trees, the birds, the wind, the sounds, the light, the dark, and even “me”, all things let go of their boundaried selves and become one. One awake and aware energy, unified and infinitely okay.
Loch Kelly, an effortless mindfulness teacher, says, “If you think ‘I will never get this,’ in some ways you are correct because the ‘I’ that is trying to ‘get it’ can’t.” The “I”, the observing self, cannot perceive this nondual self which is both no-self and all-self simultaneously. It is through letting go, a complete surrender, that this space in between is perceived and fallen into. You let go of attention to thoughts and physical sensations and become pure intention, intent to fall into the care of the awareness that is aware of all things and has always already been there.
You no longer draw your attention to forcing presence, but rather settle into the vastness of awareness which is only ever completely present. You simply let go and remember. Practitioners of effortless mindfulness and centering prayer often describe a sense of deep safety and well-being that they are present to when practicing.
Both the practices of effortless mindfulness and centering prayer rely upon the use of glimpses, or brief groundings, which allow one to access this spaciousness while acknowledging that residing there in perpetuity is difficult due to the nature of our physical beings. The practice is to glimpse this already awake awareness, and to glimpse it over and over and over. In centering prayer, each thought is just released and let go of, and the in between moments are glimpses of this divine union of all things. It is kenosis, or self-emptying, the very act of atonement that Christ practiced.
Cynthia Bourgeault, a centering prayer teacher, shared a story of a practitioner who was struggling with letting go of thoughts and had reached out to her mentor, Thomas Keating, for help.
“Oh, Father Thomas, I’m such a failure at this prayer. In twenty minutes, I’ve had ten thousand thoughts,”
“How lovely,” responded Keating, without missing a beat. “Ten thousand opportunites to return to God.”
The practice of nondual awareness is a compassionate practice. Compassion for one’s self, and then in letting go of the self, compassion for all of every thing and all ones. It is a practice of returning, a pathway of remembering, an arising into a state of infinite compassion and complete and utter connection to all of the all. It gifts to the practitioner creativity and deep love. And, since it is both outward and inward, it gifts an everlasting foundation of eternal goodness that is deeper than the deepest suffering and allows one to move through the space of all of experience with grace.
It does not demand attention. It does not demand time, posture, physical alignment, or silence. It demands nothing, and asks only that we let go. It is a compassionate spaciousness, where you have always, always, always been loved. From this space of connection we can act and be and live from a grounding of compassion. We enter into communion with Christ’s greatest kenotic love. With Mary, we say, “Let it be.”
This brief overview of nondual awareness is intended only to serve as one possible launching pad for your journey into mystical union with God. There is much more to experience, to understand, and also to just let be without trying to experience or understand. Before you go, I offer one glimpse of what might be available to a practitioner of nondual awareness. I’ve borrowed this from the tradition and it’s teachers, it is not of my own creating.
Allow this question, “What is here right now when ‘I’ don’t try to get it?”
And, “What is here right now when there are no problems to solve?”
Allow space to let it be. Peace be upon you. Namaste.