Giving Attention to Nonduality

If we study nonduality – through the lens of A Course in Miracles, say – because we believe it’s right or true, or more right and more true than some other spiritual concept – then we are likely to end up disappointed. Nondual spiritual practice may be helpful according to the context in which we find ourselves, and that helpfulness may appear to be “right” and “true” (indeed, it sort of has to appear that way) but it’s still just an appearance.

details in the forest . . . a scroll of birch bark I would never unfurl for fear of losing the fundamental message.

I am saying something like this: there are many ways to get to Boston, and no one of them is “right” or “true.” They all work and are all helpful according to the one making use of them. Some people walk; some take a bus. Some people need maps, some are okay with trial and error.

You want to find the way that is most helpful in terms of getting you to Boston.

You don’t want confuse the way that is most effective for you with the “best” or “most right” or “truest” way. You want to be wary of defending your preferred way, of trying to force it on others, or of otherwise judging others’ choices. That’s a distraction that either slows you considerably or sends you down some pretty gnarly side roads that eventually dead-end.

And you really really don’t want to confuse your “way” with “Boston” itself. That delusion can mess one up for lifetimes, apparently.

The Boston analogy can be confusing because in fact our authentic spiritual practice – if one wants to call it that – isn’t actually leading us anywhere. It’s more in the nature of spit-polishing the window we already are and, in the process, reminding us that we are, in fact, windows – not landscapes, not houses, not dwellers in houses nor walkers through landscapes.

I first saw this in a clear and sustainable way in Cambridge, Massachusetts last year. There were several glimpses before but they were dramatic and self-inflating. They felt like special moments that belonged to me and nobody else. I was elated, enlightened, amazed, with the focus ever on the “I” to whom the experience seemed to be happening.

(That, by the way, is a variation of confusing one’s mode of travel for the destination).

In Cambridge I saw that the self isn’t really a discrete stable object but is more akin to (but not precisely being) an information loop – many such loops, actually, seamlessly intersecting – and that those loops extend through the body into the world (and its other bodies), the whole of which is also comprised of loops, all shimmering, unified and radically equal – and that this loopiness (which I have most effectively described as eddies in a brook), this oneness, appears simply as this life of this human observer: it is this. This this.

light and shadow in the clover

And it still is this.

By “clear” I mean that intellectual understanding was integrated with embodied awareness. There wasn’t an “understanding” of “something out there.” The something and the understanding were patterns in the same sea. The separation of physical / spiritual disintegrated (the one not privileging the other). You could say – adopting a Christian or ACIM motif – that Heaven wasn’t elsewhere, temporally or spatially. It was simply this.

And by “sustainable” I mean that the insight didn’t disappear after a few minutes. It didn’t run down the drain of the ego. It was more like riding a bike. At first you only get the thrill of balancing for a few yards here and there. It’s wobbly and frustrating. But then all of a sudden the whole experience comes together and you are riding a bike. And you can’t ever go back to not being able to ride again.

Often, in A Course in Miracles discussion groups and similar dialogue circles, folks will talk about how the body and the world are illusory. There is textual support for this position, of course (e.g., W-pI.132.6:2; W-pI.199.8:7-8). It has a certain appeal; it probably always will.

But it is more accurate to say that our relationship with the body and the world is illusory. The body, as such, isn’t so important. Nor is the world. It’s our identification and alliance with them as something fundamental that matters. That’s where the confusion – and the illusion – lie.

The body is more like a pair of glasses than vision or eyes. It helps see but it doesn’t bring seer, sight or seen into existence. And the world is more like a user interface than an actual external environment. It’s useful, not truthful.

If we pretend the world and the body are illusions – like mirages or a stage magician sawing somebody’s legs off – then we are deceiving our self. The body and the world are very practical and have their place. Don’t worry so much about bodies. They actually take care of themselves very nicely. Same with the world. Let it show you what it was made to show you, in the very way that it shows you.

places to sit, places to write

That said, it is helpful to investigate – by whatever means are most resonant and helpful – the apparent discrete self. Who are you? What are you? These are nontrivial questions that underlie the whole religious/spiritual program that human observers have been working on for thousands and thousands of years now. There are lots of helpful curriculums and teachers, new and old. And somewhere out there are students and teachers who need your presence and insight.

For me, after Cambridge, the work was simply to keep reading and thinking and sharing about all this material, and to see what happens. I am not so concerned about the outcome of the work, per se. Strictly speaking, there are no outcomes. Just loops – loopiness – coming and going. I use the phrase “give attention” to describe what I loosely think of as a spiritual practice. There are no secrets and no mysteries, which is not to say that there’s nothing to learn. Or to remember. But the stakes are not at all what we feared they were.

2 thoughts on “Giving Attention to Nonduality”

  1. A health-advisor friend of mine was describing the effects, and reasons for them, of foods/practices. For example, there’s a hormone that produces satisfaction and regulates according to how steadily blood sugar is maintained. Once people ate according to the satisfaction response they felt from such diet. Now people get satisfaction knowing about physiology and the sense of control that once was simply what eating was of its own (hopefully actually getting satisfaction from still eating!)! That was the loops within loops I noted. This was at a ACIM book study, so I mentioned how this seemed exactly parralled to our “spiritual” fractals. We’re learning now to name and diagnose things like “obstacles to love”, just in the end to notice how that extension of the fractal can happen. But the simply loving, like you point out so lovingly, is/was ever there. And is simply applied even to this outer fractal of”analysis”!

    1. Thank you for sharing that, Mike. Yeah, we are getting more and more insightful and yet the fundamentals do not change. Love is always there, no matter what we call it or how we describe or how deeply we go into the apparent material substrate. I am reading some Henry Stapp essays these days and in “Science’s Conception of Human Beings as a Basis for Moral Theory” he points out (I am paraphrasing a little) that orthodox interpretations of quantum mechanics essentially validate spiritual suppositions that have been around for millenia. More specifically:

      “This orthodox science–based conception of human beings as actors who are free to act efficaciously upon the physical world, and who are linked together by an immaterial presence, is in line with the inner core of all religions, and it buttresses, from a secular perspective, the communal values that religions spawn.”

      It’s an interesting essay. And an interesting life in which to find oneself đŸ™‚ Thank you!

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