The First Step on the Spiritual Path

I will be the first to acknowledge that the title of this post is a bit misleading. This is because, whether we know it or not, everyone is on the spiritual path. The path is unfolding now. You have already taken innumerable “steps,” and in the end there were never any steps to take, but that is not what I want to say here.

There are many overused statements on the spiritual circuit, such as “there’s nothing to do” or “there’s nowhere to go,” or “you’re already enlightened, so stop trying.” And there is truth to these statements, but they are of little use. They are easily co-opted by the separate self (ego), which will gladly fool itself into believing that it is all done and fully enlightened, because apparently “there’s nothing to do.” This is unfortunate whenever it occurs, for it only exacerbates our suffering.

I will say something rather unpopular, then, when it comes to modern spirituality: Please do try to get free. Please make the effort. Assuming that the reader of this post is still living out his/her belief in themself as a separate entity (as the vast majority of us are), there are practices to be done, emotions to be explored, and inner investigation to dive into.

If the reader has seen through the illusory separate entity and abides as the Self eternally… well, I cannot imagine why they would be reading this blog.

In any case, we are all on our way to the recognition of our true limitless nature, of our home prior to our finite minds, of ourselves in and as God. From the most heinous murderer to the highest saint, we are all on this road together.

Life is the spiritual path, and the two cannot be separated.

However, in order to liberate our minds—to be happy, self-aware, and stand for true peace on Earth (the fancy term for this is “to be enlightened”)—it is helpful to consciously acknowledge that we are on the path.

Therefore, quite simply, the “first step” is to know in your heart that you are making your way back home. Bear this in mind as often as you can. There is not a single moment in which the path isn’t unfolding. Remember that there is no “way out” but to keep walking the path with courage and honesty.

No, this is not a step in physical space. There is no need to go to India or a monastery just yet (or maybe ever). All that is necessary is an authentic knowledge that you are already in the stream towards awakening/non-dual recognition, and that there are efforts to make to get there. Perhaps this will take place as a quiet acceptance in your heart. Perhaps you will want to tell friends and/or family in some form or another that you have chosen to take up a more introspective life. (And how they respond to this news may present one of your first major challenges.)

In any case, the point is that we, in some way, regard the spiritual path as a reality in our lives. We do not put it on the backburner or fall prey to the belief that there will be “another life” in which to get real with ourselves about these matters.

Generally, we prioritize our understanding and investigation more and more as its implications become clearer to us.

In time, if the thirst for realization grows strong enough—often due to the fact that the happiness “gained” by external/worldly factors has become unfulfilling—we make truth our highest priority. Sometimes we have to suffer quite a bit before we get the message that we must prioritize liberation (though some of us are luckier.)

By this point, several things are understood: Self-realization is the greatest service you can render to humanity, abidance in ultimate truth is the only means by which to experience lasting happiness, there is an ultimate truth to be discovered and it is not merely housed in the minds of a few exalted individuals, truth cannot be found in a set of beliefs, our assumed identities/egos are illusory, among others.

Even so, these notions may well be understood on an intellectual level, but do not mean one is liberated. There are a great number of individuals who can talk the non-dual talk. As our powers of discernment become more refined, we get better at determining who is steadfast in the Self and who has merely had a big “experience” that the separate self has incorporated into an “enlightened ego.”

Similarly, sometimes we tend to go in circles with one another over our personal opinions and relative truths. Such positions may be well-thought out, but they are not our concern when it comes to non-duality. There exist in this world billions of relative truths and personal viewpoints, but none of these are the ultimate. The ultimate lies beyond mental comprehension, and thus cannot be theorized about or expressed in words. It must be simply known.

I make such a disclaimer because I feel we are running out of time to argue. Yes, there is always time for questions, clarifications, and challenges, but the interest of non-duality is not in the debate of mental positions or philosophical discussions. It is in the investigation of the mind and emotional bodies themselves—a thorough exploration of the one who is experiencing the world. As humans seeking to become more aware, the time has come for us to take steps into our own selves, give our arguments a break, and simply look at what is going on inside of us.

More importantly, what is the reality of the entity in which things are happening? Where is it? What is its essence?

These are the kinds of basic questions we start with. Anything else, and we are apt to be fooling ourselves. We are already on the path, so why not get real about it?


The Most Important Work You Can Do

A cursory glance at the news—or even a discerning evaluation of your fellow human beings—will likely reveal a bleak picture for us today.

I will not go into listing the myriad problems that appear to exist in the world here, for two reasons: 1. I do not want them to be the focus of this blog, and 2. You can find them on thousands of other websites, extrapolated on in many scientific studies, or in a conversation with a group of concerned friends. Suffice it to say that we seem to be living in a period of upheaval and ruin. Though this has probably been the general sentiment of most thinkers in recorded history, there is something particularly pressing about this era.

This urgency is reflected not only in institutional breakdown and environmental catastrophe: These are mere symptoms of how out of touch we have become from our nature. More intimately, we know it in our felt experiences of fear, dread, and despair.

Rates of anxiety and depression continue to climb. This is not due to any generational weakness: The inner crises young people face are founded upon the very real and serious acknowledgement of a world that looks to be falling apart at the seams, and the utter lack of a cohesive response by those who have, by some process, arrived in a position of authority no matter how deluded they are.

I suppose the entire sentiment of this first passage is to say that if you are suffering, if you are worried, if you are sensitive to the collapse of natural spaces and biodiversity, if it concerns you to see humanity dividing itself and constructing walls and denying safe passage to one another, there is nothing wrong with you. This is a healthy response, though it is an uncomfortable one.

Your inner alarm is rightly going off, and you know something needs to be done.

The question, then, becomes what do we do?

So often, our actions can feel paltry—a flash in the pan compared to the war being waged on all other species, and upon human freedom itself. There are the stock answers: Try to use less plastic. Consume fewer animal products. Drive less often if you can help it, be mindful of the trash you generate, vote, shop local, give what you can to reputable charities. Indeed, these are wonderful suggestions for what we can do in order to lift up the the world and cease to be a contributing factor in its destruction.

… And yet the alarm bells still go off.

This is because there is something more important than our external behaviors that must to be attended to. That thing that is our inner work.

When I speak of inner work here, it is not of the same variety as the work that goes into personal development, growth, the acquisition of new skills, or self-improvement. These are fine, but I would expect that anyone who is reading this has become aware of the limitations of “personal growth.” Efforts to improve the person we imagine we are will ultimately still leave us in a state of dissatisfaction and chasing. The “person” can always be better or worse, and maintaining this “good person” image—both to ourselves and others—can easily become exhausting.

Being that this is a blog on non-duality, it ought to be said that even the shiniest, most improved, most motivated, and most hard-working person nearly always views themselves, still, as a separate entity from the world “out there.”

The belief in a self as a separate entity is the root of all psychological suffering. It is the chief delusion that allows the world to go on in its self-annihilating machinations. It is this separate self we seek to examine—to see what it really is.

And so we may say that this kind of inner work is more of an in-depth investigation (or perhaps a dismantling) of the person rather than an attempt to improve upon an existing (assumed) identity. This is the work that has the most profound effect on the world. To rid oneself of delusion is the most important work that can be done.

So, too, it is the work that leads to profound and lasting happiness within.

Non-Duality Is

I set out to write an explanation of non-duality in this first post, but immediately found myself at a loss for a proper definition. Each time I tried to begin, my words felt imprecise, and that is because they are imprecise.

Words are inherently limiting; they can only be used to describe concepts and objects. The matter we are concerned with here is not conceptual. So, I will concede right off the bat that words are mere pointers, and that we are always limited by language to express our firsthand perceptions of life.

Just as a description of falling in love (butterflies in the stomach, extreme elation at the thought of your beloved, warmth, euphoria, etc.) fails to properly express that experience, no definition of non-duality will be as useful and transformative as the firsthand discovery of it by you.

It is not even accurate to say call it a “discovery,” for this word implies there is something new to be found. More accurately, non-dual knowing is a kind of remembering, or a re-discovery of something that, in reality, has always been here. Direct non-dual recognition is actually not difficult, though sustained practice up to and following this recognition is recommended by nearly all qualified teachers.

With this preface, a literal definition is as follows: Non-dualism means “not-two,” or, “one undivided without a second.”

The typical manner of experiencing the world is to assume there is an individual “me,” or “I,” and then there is “everything else out there.” This I, in its finite, limited state (the one we tend to operate in day-to-day), believes itself to be an entity separate from all others. We imagine our bodies as concrete objects with borders at the skin. We imagine our minds as being generated by the brain, and the beliefs within it as being “ours,” uniquely cultivated, independent of “other” minds.

From a non-dual perspective, this is not the case: Deeper investigation can (and always does) reveal the borderlessness of the body, and the absence of the mind.

What is left when the body and mind are discarded from perception? I encourage you to find out for yourself in meditation, though will describe it here as a field of whole, unlimited awareness. It is without quality, and thus cannot be fathomed by the mind.

This substance (which is not a substance) is existence itself, and it is all that we can perceive. It goes by many names, some quite esoteric: Consciousness, awareness, pure consciousness, emptiness, Source, Truth, the Self, God, and others. It is at the root of all religious traditions, though can (and perhaps ought to) be approached scientifically.

This place is our true home, our true nature, and our true (identity-free) identity. Not a single human being is excluded from this basic fact of awareness.

We have never left this place; it only appears this way to the supposedly separate “I.”

Here we are wise to be wary of being pacified by common beliefs such as that we are “one with the universe,” or that we are “connected with everything.”

These may be decent starting points, and sound quite nice on the surface. However, a closer look reveals that there is still the belief of separation in such sentiments: Being “one ‘with’ everything implies there is “you” and there is an “everything” to be one with. There is “you” and the universe. There are two. Having an experience of oneness is not tantamount to non-dual recognition, and rarely results in a total transformation of one’s way of relating and being in the world.

Similarly, the very notion of connection implies multiple separate parts that touch and break off again. To feel connected contains the assumption that there is a multitude of objects that sometimes make contact with “other” objects. In this view, there is “you,” the object of the body/mind, and other objects with which to connect and become interested in.

These platitudes, as nice as they seem, leave us still as finite, isolated islands, subject to ongoing suffering and confusion.

The essence of non-dualism is that it simply asks for us to take a very close look at all we presume to know.

Here, we do not begin by studying the stars, or distant galaxies, or political theories, or mathematical equations to create models of the universe. We do not even begin by studying the brain, which is, in fact, just another object (albeit an important and sophisticated one!). Useful though these studies may be, all knowledge of them will be fundamentally skewed until the mind that perceives the stars, galaxies, theories, equations, and brain goes thoroughly investigated.

Here, we begin to challenge our most fundamental assumption first—what is this “I” we continue to reference day after day, that thing which studies and thinks and chases after comprehensive theories of everything? If we get this first piece wrong, the structures built on top of it are doomed.

So, what really is the “I” we take ourselves to be? Often, we take it on assumption that the “I” refers to our individual bodies, minds, stories, likes and dislikes, personalities, beliefs, etc. We sometimes can become trapped in our own stories, and feel painfully confined by a sense of smallness we do not feel, in our hearts, reflects who we really are.

When it comes to the non-dual approach, we do not make such assumptions. We stop assuming (which often requires that we slow down the compulsive nature of thought), and start looking inwardly at what we may have missed.

In short, to study non-duality is to study yourself including and beyond the mind. It is to investigate the one who has been making assumptions about itself, life, and the universe all along.

Hello and Welcome

Dear Reader,

This blog has been created with the intention of fostering a greater understanding of non-duality and its implications in the world. It has been created out of a sense of duty and great love. It is my response to a time of what appears to be tremendous turmoil, confusion, and suffering.

In future posts, I will clarify what is meant by the word non-duality, and why it could very well be the single most important (yet oft-misunderstood) word in our lexicon today. This is because what the word actually points to is nothing short of revolutionary for the collective mind—that which creates the conditions of the world we see before us, for better or for worse.

I will also include links to various teachers who have inspired me, and perhaps a few personal experiences if they feel relevant to the matter at hand.

I look forward to doing this work, and wish you liberation over all.