Nondual Awareness moves as Love
Nondual awareness has been called the underlying, non-conceptual unity and essence of life, experience, and knowing. Yet its awakened movements in the body-mind include more than the pure, clear seeing of our true nature. To deeply see is to be, is to know, is to love. Our true nature moves as love, compassion, and intimacy in the moment. Mind imagines love or intimacy means something personal, yet it is the impersonal dimension of our being that cannot separate itself in any way from its reflections as life itself. This is an intimacy that does not just “witness,” “transcend,” or “be with,” but is actually “at ONE with.” Seeing, being, and knowing itself whole, it seems to simply love its own expressions, even when our mind may not.
While many have glimpsed moments of the Mystery that seem beyond the judging mind, it is often the case that conditioned mind will continue its identification with a separate self that then efforts to be what it is not: continually present, loving, awake. Then the mind either judges its failure harshly, creating undue suffering, or congratulates itself for its progress, only to discover that an experience that seemed expansive one moment may contract in the next. All the while, what is ever-present, ever open, and at peace has not come or gone anywhere. Attention has simply moved.
Spiritual awakening is actually a failure of the ego to maintain its separation. That which is trying to be present, loving, or awake, while seemingly earnest and definitely preferable to pursuing lesser goals, is our egoic consciousness imagining it will achieve something that it cannot. Separation will not deliver unity; thinking does not see; and more time will not take us to the Timeless.
Deeper than any ideas or beliefs, our true nature is already ever-present, loving and awake in us right now. We do not create it and we cannot destroy it, although conditioned judgments will seem to obscure that which is timelessly present and compassionately aware.
When our first response to a moment, a situation, or a person (including who we have taken ourselves to be) is judgment, we will find it hard to truly love. Even with our mind’s telling us we “should,” we cannot authentically find or deliver love. Unconditional love will never be created by thought or by our efforts at self-improvement. While there is a place for what might be called self-improvement, it is not Self-realization, and will never deliver the unbound freedom that we hope. We keep looking in the wrong place.
What accepts all is what IS all, and that cannot be found in identification with a separate “me.” No matter how many affirmations or practices the mind does, it is in awakening to our true nature that loving awareness spontaneously begins to replace identification with a conditioned body and judging mind. This does not mean that we must “wait” until awakening happens in order to connect with the warmth and tenderness that exists in our own heart, however. Because truth, love, wisdom, and clarity are already present NOW, we can begin to investigate who or what we truly are beyond our thoughts. We can inquire who or what it is that continually wants to be in some other place than here and now.
The Heart of Awareness
While our true self does not claim any name, I sometimes refer to its silent mystery as the Heart of Awareness. It is what illuminates our mind and sees intimately through the Heart. This is the dimension of our being that sees the moment as a single, undivided happening. It is simultaneously the emptiness of awareness, the oneness of love, and what discerns life’s moment-to-moment expressions of uniqueness and difference.
When this mystery awakens itself through a body-mind, including awakening on the levels of head, heart, and gut, it seems to show up as love for its own expressions as Being itself. And this love is beyond the capabilities of egoic thought to produce it, and sometimes even to receive it. If we have not experienced the depth of this love, it is difficult to imagine how deeply loved every speck of us and this world truly is.
To awaken is to remember the truth of who or what we are. It is to realize what is ever-present, self-authenticating, and timeless. It is to step out of our limited identity while simultaneous accepting the full range of life’s human expressions. Unlike our conditioned mind, this Heart has neither judgments nor conditions for its freedom or compassion.
The narrator of our thoughts is not who/what we are
Once, before we acquired language, we did not imagine that the narrator of our thoughts was who we were. We were simply openly engaged with life moment to moment—laughing, crying, sleeping, eating, crawling about, and curiously discovering what was before us and within us. We were amazed by the simplest things—a spider, a feather, a leaf, a rock, a spoon, our toes, the eyes of our mother.
Of course the development of language and a sense of self are a normal and necessary part of our growing up. But in time, we started to believe that the voice talking to us inside our head was who/what we were. We imagined it was proof of being a separate entity when, in fact, it was simply the movement of conditioned thought operating in the wholeness of Being. We began to listen to our inner “tour guide,” telling us what was outside the window of life’s “tour bus.” Often the shades were totally pulled down, and we were content not to truly SEE the passing scene, but to live in a virtual reality, listening only to our descriptions. And, of course, believing our conditioned mental descriptions and judgments created their concomitant emotions, both negative and positive.
But what has been aware of the narration, the judgments, the emotions, the sensations that occur in our lives? What has been here for every experience of our life—the lovely moments and the most challenging ones? Are you the thought of yourself, a self-image that changes depending on the internal and external “weather,” or the continuous thread that is awake and aware throughout all of the constantly changing phenomena that come and go?
How much suffering have your judgments created for yourself and those whose lives you may have impacted? How much love have you pushed out of your heart by believing the narrator, by unquestioningly believing you knew who you were? Even when you may have become interested in spirituality, you still imagined it was your egoic mind that would eventually find truth, and learn to love. You may even have imagined that the ideas you had or the word you used for the Ultimate was what it was.
Words can never describe our true nature. Although writing, speaking, and pointing arise, our essential nature is empty. By this I mean empty of definition, empty of concepts, free of conditions, free of limitations, and free of any idea of a “me.” It has no name, though it does not refuse any of the many names thought has given it. It simply IS, giving itself unconditionally to the moment. When realized, it is nothing that our mind can “know” as an object. What knows itself is a wordless mystery that reveals itself in silence and stillness.
Awakeness simply awakens to itself; it becomes self-evident; it is the knowing of itself. Any authentic awakening always carries a shift of identity. But this does not mean taking on a new identity; it means seeing the unreality of our constructed identities. Our true nature actually does not identify with anything, yet it is never separate from what arises. It illumines whatever moment appears in the movement of life’s causes and conditions. It does not judge our human experiences, but embraces them with love, compassion and intimacy in the Heart we share.
Even though you and I will never be able to truly know if your experience of the color blue is the same as mine, or if your experience/intuition/taste of the wordless, formless dimension of being is the same as mine, we use words. We try to speak about the unspeakable nature of ourselves. We will always fail since descriptions must use words, and words use language, and language comes from conditioned mind. But where does conditioned mind come from? What is its source?
An Ocean of Awareness
If we are interested in awakening, Rumi gives us a helpful pointer:
Silence is an ocean.
Speech is a river.
When the ocean is searching for you,
Don’t walk to the language-river.
Listen to the ocean.1
We are living, breathing, eating, sleeping, laughing, loving, doubting, crying, praying in an ocean of awareness, an ocean of beingness that is life itself. It is an ocean that contains everything, is the substance of everything, and an ocean that we share with all beings and all things. This ocean is totally still and silent in its depths, and yet is teeming with life, fluidity, and impermanence on its surface, moment-to-moment. If you are interested in discovering this dimension of your SELF, silence is your greatest teacher. It can reveal what is beyond words. Yet, we frequently search everywhere but in silence. We look for something outside ourselves rather than becoming interested in who or what is actually looking. We long for what we imagine we do not have.
Desire and Deep Longing
What do you most desire? Whatever it is, you no doubt imagine that its fulfillment will bring happiness. Of course, we discover time and again, that while getting what we think we want in our relative lives seems to bring a short-term happiness, it is soon replaced by other desires. Desires fluctuate as we evolve and grow in our human lives. Satisfactions are soon followed by dissatisfactions, leading to more desires. At some point, we may discover that the reason we were happy even for a moment, when we got what we wanted, is because we temporarily stopped wanting to be someplace else. Our true nature is here now, in this place, in this moment, in this experience, not trying to be somewhere else. Imagine that freedom!
What is the deepest longing of your heart? If it is for truth, for freedom, for awakening, for love, then I would point out that we do not long for something we have never known. We might be curious, as for a food we have never tasted, but we only LONG for something known, but perhaps forgotten. Curious as this may sound to the mind of thought, our longing for awakening comes from what is already awake, aware, and alive inside of us. Our longing for love comes from the Love that is already present within. Follow your authentic longing to its source. The spiritual search is actually for what will bring a lasting contentment and freedom, not a temporary one, and yet, what is awake, free, and loving in us is not separate from what arises moment to moment.
No one to find the Self
Minds believe there is a separate someone who will eventually find the Self, the truth of who/what we are. But once remembered, we realize there is no one to find the Self, no one to become the Self, no one to rest in the Self, no one to hold on to the Self, no one to lose the Self. In fact, there is simply no separate one to become enlightened. The Self (or no-self) is what we are, what is timelessly present in every moment of our lives whether we are conscious or unconscious of its Presence. It does not sleep even when our body is sleeping.
Sometimes the seeker is invited to “Rest in Awareness,” but the one who is experiencing resting or jumping in and out is not the truth of what we are. What appears to be bouncing in and out is our egoic consciousness that maintains identification with a separate body-mind. Why not become deeply curious about who/what this is?
Who am I? is the most important question in spirituality. If we are sincere about finding out, it is a question that can dissolve the questioner. Eventually, we are like a candle looking for the sun that melts when it gets close enough. Even when we imagine the sacred Presence we seek is far away, it is that very Presence that notices our feelings, thoughts, disappointments, and illusions. What we are is closer than a thought, closer than a breath, so close we do not even notice—until we do.
There is only the Self
The Self is only one. If limited it is the ego.
If unlimited, it is Infinite, and is the Reality.2
In its wholeness, Being’s unnameable Source unfolds our lives and bends grasses in the wind. It is the Timeless present as time, in the first cry of a newborn and the last breath of a dying form. It is the Life that animates our body-minds and the Love that transforms them. It is that which neither begins with birth nor ends with what we call death. It is a mystery that seems to love to BE. Awakening to itself, to its own movement as being, awaring and loving, can melt us out of separation into Oneness, beyond subject and object, beyond inside and outside.
To awaken to this dimension of our Being is to realize the shared, single ground out of which life springs. It has been called nondual awareness—unborn, pure, limitless, shining and illuminating whatever is here. But as soon as a concept forms, we miss the intimate experience of THIS that is silent and unseen, seemingly hidden and yet inseparably present in all that is seen, felt, touched, tasted, smelled, heard, experienced or known.
What we are, in our deepest shared essence, moves as every unique manifestation of Being, moment to moment. The limitlessness of the sky and the impermanence of the clouds are one in essence. The Heart of Awareness, our undivided true Self, and our dualistic mind, are not two, simply aspects of a single body. Differences do not mean separation.
Our mind lives in time, in duality. This is not a mistake. It makes it possible for what is whole and undivided to relate to itself, see itself, love itself. Nonduality is not in opposition to anything, but sees its own expression, its own dream, from the perspective of its wholeness.
A single coin
Sometimes called emptiness or no-thingness, the darkness of the Unknown is empty of definition, and empty of self, yet the light that shines from the darkness sees the relative dimensions of our being. Dark and light, absolute and relative are like a single coin. What is awake to which side presents itself in any given moment?
Many believe that awakening to the absolute dimension, to that which is timelessly aware, is the end goal of a spiritual quest. But as the Buddhist poem, The Sandokai, states so simply: To encounter the absolute is not yet enlightenment.3 While enlightenment is a concept forged in our dual mind, seen in opposition to ignorance, it could be said that enlightenment is what we are, not what we become. To awaken is to see that everything is that, whether knowingly or unknowingly. And to truly SEE from this dimension is to experience an open mind and an open heart.
Open mind, open heart
Whether or not we feel there has been a glimpse, or one or more authentic awakenings, each of us is already This that is open, awake, aware, compassionate, loving, and intimate with life—its own life. When we begin to see, without judgment, how and in what ways our minds keep dividing us from the moment, we are seeing from that deeper dimension that simply sees clearly. It is only conditioned mind that judges. When seen as what it is and not who we are, mind is not an enemy; its original essence is open. When we see a flower, a tree, our beloved, or experience a moment of resistance, or a sip of tea, without words, perceiving without a conceptual overlay, we are seeing from openness of mind.
When we begin to feel into that dimension of our being that is simply open and awake in the Heart, we may discover that love has been knocking from inside our heart wanting to flow out, when all along we were longing for love to come “in” from some outside source. An open heart does not just intimately feel connected with the moment; it feels the oneness of our true nature. We can actually begin to see through the eye of a warm and tender Heart.
What if you knew you were that Heart, that source of love and awareness, that source of heart-wisdom? How would you move? How would you respond to your mind’s antics? How much compassion would you bring to yourself and others? How open would you be to not knowing, to not needing to be in control?
Minds love the idea of awakening, but are not so fond of the idea of surrender. And yet, when truth begins to move more and more directly and spontaneously within us, the mind begins to surrender to the deeper knowing, to the life that moves us, to the intelligence that keeps the planets in their orbits and us in ours, to the love that simply wants to be expressed and not held back by fear.
A very helpful thing, if one wants to experience the truth of one’s Self, is to simply STOP! Stop, be quiet, and notice that something is already silently present, already aware, already noticing the moment of your experience before your mind claims it. And this that is awake in you is not threatened by any experience. What is fearless begins to touch fear; what is at peace is not upset by conflict; what loves simply wants to embrace what is here.
Indeed, as we begin to awaken more deeply to the truth of what we are, everything that has been hiding in the shadows, unseen or unloved, will begin to come forth to be seen, to be loved, to be returned consciously to the wholeness of being. When this happens, we have done nothing wrong. At last there is enough Presence operating consciously in the system to gather the broken pieces of our lives back into the compassionate arms of the true Heart we share.
Life continually extends invitations to open to the energies and experiences that simply want to BE what they are, (or what they were), rather than trying to judge them, rid ourselves of them, transcend them, or intellectually analyze them. We are invited to see what they are actually made of. When those things we have rejected in ourselves, or in life, are finally allowed to be experienced within rather than resisted, they stop knocking so loudly at our door. When our heart opens to the suffering in ourselves and in our world, we find compassion waiting to embrace the hurt. All along, everything simply wanted to come back Home.
© Dorothy Hunt, San Francisco, 2018
- Jalal al-Din Rumi, excerpted from “Send the Chaperones Away,” The Essential Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks and John Moyne (HarperSanFrancisco, 1995), 198.
- Ramana Maharshi, Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi (Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu, India: T. N. Venkataraman, Sri Ramanasramam, 1984), 130.
- Sekito Kisen (Shitou Xiqian), The Sandokai: Identity of Relative and Absolute.
Dorothy Hunt serves as Spiritual Director of Moon Mountain Sangha, teaching at the request of Adyashanti. She is the founder of the San Francisco Center for Meditation and Psychotherapy and author of Leaves from Moon Mountain, Only This!, and Ending the Search: From Spiritual Ambition to the Heart of Awareness. She has a long and deep connection to the teachings of Ramana Maharshi and the path of Self-Inquiry, as well as the nondual teachings of Zen, Advaita and the Christian mystics. She offers satsang, retreats, and private meetings in the San Francisco Bay area and elsewhere by invitation. www.dorothyhunt.org