Leaving the Road Behind

Final Reflective Essay: Leaving the Road Behind

For me, the most direct and observable impact of this course has been my decision not to continue pursuing a transpersonal path.  While difficult to communicate without sounding arrogant or aloof, there is a great deal of simplicity in embracing mystery.  There is an abiding knowing, beneath the known, which dissolves itself in silence – and in that silence finds itself.  Faced with the difficulty of trying to articulate the indescribable, amidst the vast expanse of collected transpersonal theories and personal belief systems, I find myself drawn toward greater and greater simplification, toward greater and greater silence. 

My general personal impression is that the transpersonal field feels too broad, too undisciplined, and too focused on experience – too invested in the transcendent, or in trying to make the transcendent appear scientific.  I don’t mean for this to sound critical – it’s not.  There are as many opinions on the subject as there are people in the world.  I’m just drawn to silence, simplicity, and solitude – seeing these as a suitable remedy for what ails us in society today.  As I captured in an email to Dr Erickson last week, “After 20 years of contemplative practice and ten years of pointing others in the direction of experiential non-dual insight, silence really is the substrate of wisdom.  I always feel it important to weave this point into all of my writings, just in the same way that all of my teachings simultaneously provide and demolish liberating concepts so that clients and students can begin to see for themselves just how the mind operates; always trying to find an answer – and yet every answer gives way to more questions in an endless cycle that starts to look like a spiritual hamster wheel.  And here we are, sort of laser focused on various conceptualizations of transcendence.  From where I stand though, there is no ‘transcendence’, one must actually transcend the mechanics of mind to the point where one transcends transcendence itself and just resides in Being – whole, complete, fulfilled.  No more questions, no more discontentment; just being at one with the mystery, living in dynamic harmony with the way of things”.

In practical terms, the tendency toward silence and simplicity is now drawing me toward working with others, in a clinical setting, to address “stress, anxiety, and anxiety-related mental health conditions among working adults”.  This feels more meaningful, concrete, and actionable.  My intention, therefore, is to leave the transpersonal domain behind and focus on something more clinical – something where I can honor my own inner silence while working with others.  This is by no means a negative outcome.  Indeed, if the class brought forth clarity for me, dispelling what I ‘thought’ while also exposing where some of my unobserved attachments lay dormant, then I consider that a success.  What will happen next is just as mysterious as everything that has led to this point – so, I’m okay with not knowing and with not needing to know.  I’m okay with letting go of this direction and opening myself to other possibilities that feel more true to me… and to my work with others.  Whatever I say though is riddled with paradox and ambiguity – so I just find myself stepping back into silence and relaxing into the way of things. 

Thank you all for our time together… it has been a pleasure. 


Reflections on Emptiness

Reflections on Emptiness

    I must say that I’ve been enjoying this week’s reading a great deal.  It covers much the same ground that I teach and address in my client work.  For instance, the conceptual frame of the empty self (Cushman, 1995) is similarly expressed in Buddhism as “the hungry ghost”.  Bringing this concept into the proper contextual relevancies of our time, I’ve been speaking of it as an insatiable seeking; seeking ‘that’ which seems so elusive – consuming everything in an effort to fill an inexplicable void of emptiness.  Coming at this topic from the perspective of nonduality, I always follow this statement by explaining how, when we fill that emptiness with emptiness itself, we discover our true fullness. 

     Here is where I find a bit of mirth.  How radically different the same word can be when approached from radically different perspectives.  On one hand, we are talking about feeling empty, incomplete, lacking somehow – what Cushman powerfully describes as “an absence” (p. 225).  On the other hand, we are talking about dissolving our conceptual boundaries until we have been rendered empty of concepts (or rather they’ve lost their solidity).  I don’t mean this literally of course – it’s just one way to describe something indescribable. Now the interesting problem that emerges, in saying this, takes on two very relevant forms.

     First, Cushman rightly and repeatedly warns of what can happen to those who abandon their own ability for critical reflection and succumb to the will of another (pp. 211-278).  In many ways, asking a person to confront their perceived perceptual boundaries is tricky work – work that must be handled thoughtfully, compassionately, and ethically.  Second, as both Cushman (1995) and Daniels (2021) highlight, giving something form gives something form.  By this, I mean Daniels’ example of self-actualization as something that created the idea of self-actualization as a ‘thing’ to be ‘achieved’ (pp. 124-130).  In the same way, anything we might say about emptiness gives emptiness form and is no longer truly empty. 

     Those are my reflections for the week.  As I said, I’m really enjoying the reading.  I loved the historical portrayal of self over time (Cushman, 1995) and cautionary reflections on the unintended consequences of myth-making (Daniels, 1995).  I also appreciated how Berkhin and Hartelius (2011) took a steadfast position on defending specific Buddhist teachings from transpersonal misunderstanding and misuse.  And, of course, exposure to a number of feminist perspectives was also insightful and thought-provoking.  To summarize, I remain deeply appreciative of the path that brought me to this program – and to this class.  All I hear are voices of great wisdom ringing through.   


Berkhin, I., & Hartelius, G. (2011). Why altered states are not enough: A perspective from Buddhism. International Journal of Transpersonal Studies, 30(1-2), 63-68

Cushman, P. (1995). Self-Liberation through consumerism. In Constructing the Self, Constructing America (pp. 210–278). Da Capo Press.

Daniels, M. (2021). Shadow, self, spirit – revised edition: Essays in transpersonal psychology. Imprint Academic.


Toward a More Complete Model of the Brain, Mind, and Consciousness

Toward a More Complete Model of the Brain, Mind, and Consciousness

     The study of consciousness, it seems, cannot advance beyond its own limited premise without incorporating a lightly held balance of both science and ontology; a balance between knowledge and mystery.  As evinced by Koch (2018), one of the common perspectives held by the larger scientific community is that consciousness is, in some necessarily quantitative manner, a byproduct of brain activity – and yet, at the very same time (and counter to that proposition), consciousness does not appear to be the sum total of the brain and its parts.  It is not easily explainable through a reductionistic, materialist view of the ‘brain’ as the origin of consciousness – hence the “hard problem of consciousness” that pervades to this day.  Another perspective could shed a very different kind of light on the “hard” problem of consciousness by shifting our perceptual frame of reference just enough to catch that light.

     Prenter (2021), for instance, has prepared a nondual account of the interaction between perception and consciousness which, among its many other well-made points, states that “there is no question of whether matter is ‘intrinsically’ conscious, since material objects are icons on interfaces” (p. 101).  When this perspective is turned toward consciousness itself, we must question whether or not we have made consciousness an icon, projected upon an interface, from the very outset – causing a great deal of confusion on the matter.  In sharp contrast to this deep examination of foundational assumptions, the account of Pepperell (2018) seeks to present arguments in favor of a physical and energetic explanation for consciousness that emerges from neuroscience, biological processes, and the physical sciences.  He suggests that complex organizational structures, producing a dynamic range of energetic patterns, are responsible for creating a “recursively self-referential” mechanic of differentiation which we could then describe as consciousness (p. 9).  Neither model, in and of itself, sufficiently explains consciousness or answers to the origins of consciousness though.  Perhaps by holding both in the same space, we can seek a resolution in the ‘and’ that exists between them. 

     Held together in the ‘and’, this balance between science and ontology allows for a very different relationship between the various models of mind being used to explain consciousness.  Indeed, when we see consciousness as the byproduct of brain activity, we quickly arrive at a limitation in our abstractions of mind.  Whereas opening ourselves to the possibility that the brain could be an object of consciousness, made manifest through conditional conceptual models and the unquestioned acceptance of authoritative knowledge, may allow us to step out of the view which sees the physical as primary and consciousness as secondary; enough so that the two reverse – and then find equilibrium.  Rather than choosing one position over the other, it is in being able to hold both positions at once, without conflict or paradox, which allows us to construct a more complete model of the brain, mind, and consciousness.   


Koch, C. (2018).  What is consciousness? Nature 557 (S8-S12) doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-018-05097-x

Pepperell, R. (2018). Consciousness as a physical process caused by the organization of energy in the brain.  Frontiers in Psychology 9(2091)

Prentner, R. (2021). Dr Goff, tear down this wall! The interface theory of perception and the science of consciousness. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 28(9), 91–103. https://doi.org/10.53765/20512201.28.9.091

Getting Started: First Things First

Getting Started: First Things First

     My starting point for this class is well summarized by Laughlin and Rock (2013) in their description of mature contemplation, natural attitude, and the transcendental epoch that appear within Husserlian transcendental phenomenology (pp. 266-268).  Indeed, some of the key points made are the very reason for my interest in completing the ITP doctoral program (with a concentration in consciousness studies and contemplative neuroscience).  My focus, for the past several years, has been on teaching contemplative wisdom practices that help clients clarify, for themselves, the “numerous realizations pertaining to the essential structures of consciousness” (p. 269) that tend to emerge from experiential nondual insight. 

     The core challenge, as I have come to see it, is also reflected here (p. 273) – an acknowledgment of the inherent difficulties in communicating a wordless understanding, using words; combined with the general disinterest that most people have in the kind of rigorous, and often deeply confronting, self-reflection that is required.  This, at least, characterizes early elements of the deconstruction process that usually occur for one’s cup to be made empty.  Once empty, the use of language, models, and liberating concepts become vehicles of conveyance rather than a literal description or interpretation of reality, truth, and being.  This, in turn, becomes a doorway to further integration and embodiment, where nonduality reveals itself as something akin to a lived mystery that is celebrated with curiosity and appreciation in our everyday experience.       

     This reminds me of a paper that I came across, a couple of years ago. Hanley, Nakamura, and Garland (2018) conducted a study of nondual awareness that attempted to identify the traits and states of consciousness that correlated with the subjective experiences of its participants.  After this week’s reading, and my introduction to the formal study of phenomenology, I am quite excited to see how the new models, methods, and approaches that I am learning about now can be applied to defining, measuring, and communicating esoteric principles such as those that become obvious and undeniable through contemplative practice but are impossible to convey through the limits of language.  In essence, I am learning new linguistic and symbolic references that can be used to further peel apart the common misconceptions that create so much inner and outer conflict in the world.   

     Given the sample discourse between Pinker and McGilchrist (2013), for instance, what we are observing is a conflict of perspectives that appear somewhat entrenched and positional.  Yet what is really being argued here are deeply biased, conceptual, and perceptual maps that differ in the way they approach the intersection between the sciences and humanities.  If we adopt the use of model agnosticism introduced last week (Erickson, 2020) perhaps discussions such as this could be more fruitful.  No longer so deeply identified with the content of our various positionalities, we can be more open to discourse without personalizing (or needing to defend) our varied interpretive stances.  This is where I want to take my own research work, so this class is already very exciting for me. 


Erickson, J. (2020). “Model agnosticism” in Imagination in the Western psyche. (pp. 12-18). Routledge.

Hanley, A. W., Nakamura, Y., & Garland, E. L. (2018). The Nondual Awareness Dimensional Assessment (NADA): New tools to assess nondual traits and states of consciousness occurring within and beyond the context of meditation. Psychological Assessment, 30(12), 1625–1639.

Laughlin, C. D., & Rock, A. J. (2013). Neurophenomenology: Enhancing the experimental and cross-cultural study of brain and experience. In H. Friedman, & G. Hartelius (Eds.), The Wiley-Blackwell handbook of transpersonal psychology (pp. 261-280). Wiley Blackwell.

Pinker, S., & McGilchrist, I. (2013, August). Science and the humanities. Channel McGilchrist. https://channelmcgilchrist.com/steven-pinkers-essay/

What is nonduality?

What is nonduality?


In all my years of teaching, I have yet to come upon a single definition of nonduality which is satisfactory; one that is consistent with my own experience.  It is not from a lack of trying.  It is that the true essence of nonduality cannot be expressed in words.  Whatever words I use as a pointer toward the understanding I am trying to convey, they all fall short of their task.  Indeed, language is, itself, the veil which precedes all dualities.  Language is also the veil which precedes nonduality. 

I could suggest, as most nondual teachers do, that nondual means “not two” or “one undivided without a second”. It is a way of expressing the fundamental nature of reality as a singular whole in a manner that is beyond the ability of the human mind to fully comprehend. It is something that is only made directly and experientially apparent when one sees beyond the illusory limits of the conceptual, mind-made self and conceptual, mind-made world – a process often referred to as ‘awakening’.

Nonduality is not a religious or spiritual belief system – it is the nature of ‘things’, seen clearly as they are. In fact, all such belief systems have arisen in the wake of one who has experienced this basic truth and tried, to varying degrees of success, to share it with others. The seeds of non-dual reality can be observed as the core foundation of all esoteric mystical transmissions; including Gnosticism (Christianity), Sufism (Islam), Kabbalah (Judaism), Zen and Dzogchen (Buddhism), Advaita Vedanta (Hinduism), Yoga, Taoism, Sikhism, and several other lesser known ancient wisdom traditions.  Modern-day research in the fields of physics, neuroscience, transpersonal and experimental social psychology, linguistic anthropology, and more, are also providing a rich body of evidence that further reinforces the truth of these realizations.

Yet this description does not actually tell you what nonduality really is or what it means.  I could try sharpening the image a bit by offering a more experiential description.  I could tell you that the preeminent quality of nondual realization is the direct, experiential recognition that ‘you’, as you think of yourself, do not actually exist in the way that you ‘think’ you do. It has to do with the nature of our conditioned minds – at least at first. We’ve been taught to see the world a certain way – to see it as separate or apart from ourselves; to see ourselves as separate or apart from it. We’ve been drawn into a story about the way things are that simply isn’t true. We’ve become so immersed in and identified with this story that we’ve lost ourselves to it.

Nonduality is the clear seeing of things as they are, without our conditioned filters. It is to see through the illusion of ‘self’ and into that which exists ‘before’ the mind comes into being; into that which is ‘prior’ to the mind. There are many other things that can be said about awakening from the dream of duality, but no point is more fundamentally important than this one – everything hangs on this single premise. For as long as you see yourself as isolated, separated, and apart from the whole, you remain caught in the net of duality. When the illusion of a separate self has been seen through, everything falls into place on its own – just like it has been doing all along.

And yet I still have not said anything concrete about what nonduality really is…  Nothing that the mind can grasp onto or capture as an object of consciousness.  I have painted a vague picture, an abstract view.  Something that feels incomplete and unsatisfactory.  Something that sounds like a trifle bit of philosophical meandering devoid of any real meaning.  Why must it be so?  It is difficult to explain in words – difficult to formulate within the limited constructs of language.  And that’s the rub. 

So, these days I am explaining nonduality in a very different manner.  Not as a single principle that stands alone, but as part of a triad that stands together.  They say all good things come in threes, and this is no different.  In fact, the threefold journey of awakening is a necessary abstraction that encapsulates an important point.  Awakening is, ultimately, a three-stage process.

In the first stage we are deeply caught in the net of duality and completely identified with our body-mind experience as ‘me’. This stage can be quite challenging and tends to inspire a great deal of suffering in people’s lives.  In the second stage, there is a seeing through or a falling away of our conceptual identity. We become aware of ourselves as awareness and begin to disentangle ourselves from identification with the body-mind experience.  In the third stage, there is a sense of radical intimacy with all aspects of our inseparable being. We inhabit and embody every aspect of our lives from a place of deep knowing that completely embraces this non-separateness.

Most people live their whole lives in the first stage. Many are able to pierce through to the second stage, but then create a new identity around the discovery of themselves as awareness. Very few, it seems, are invited into full fruition of the third and final stage.  Much of this has to do with the role of language and the workings of the mind.  Since the mind is limited to the use of words to establish and maintain its contextual frame, it seeks to inventory, categorize, and quantify anything said in words – turning the whole experience into another conceptual abstraction; into a series of nested traps. 

To avoid this common tendency, I am therefore suggesting that nonduality is actually a philosophy, a set of teachings, and a way of pointing at something that is no-thing at all.  In other words, the study of nonduality represents a particular path, a pathless path, but a path nonetheless.  But where does this path lead?  Does nonduality lead to nonduality, or is there something which reveals itself as we walk the path?  Something that invites us into a new and mysterious relationship with ourselves?  What is the fruit of seeking?  What is at the end of the path?  This fruit, this ‘end’, I would refer to as Self-realization. 

I will address the topic of Self-realization – and the third pillar of the triad, the embodiment of awakening, in separate articles.  For now, though, it is enough to understand that nonduality is a path that leads to Self-realization.  In this context, nonduality is like a map and Self-realization is like a destination.  One leads to the other – at least this is the most useful way of exploring this topic in the early stages of inner inquiry and investigation.  It helps focus the seeker in the direction of a goal that feels solid, concrete, and obtainable. 

This imperfect conceptual division can be thought of as an open doorway.  When we are standing on one side of the doorway, it may be helpful to receive instruction on how to cross the threshold.  Once we have crossed the threshold, we realize something about the nature of the open doorway that we could never have possibly understood while standing in our original position.  It is subtle and elusive, and can only be seen by stepping through it for ourselves.  No one can explain it to you, make sense of it for you, or give it to you.  All that we can do is tell you how to cross the threshold for yourself.  This is the function of all nondual teachings. 

The act of crossing the threshold, the experiential revelation of Self-realization, has its own themes, processes, and teachings, but those are for later.  What matters at this stage is an earnest and sincere willingness to look at where we are pointing, at what we are pointing towards.  As I sometimes like to say, this is the process of “using the mind to sharpen the mind until it can pierce the mind”.  Nonduality is the whetstone which makes our blade sharp enough to pierce the mind.  It requires hard work and determination, radical self-honesty, and disciplined practice for the blade of the mind to be made sharp.  Or, if you prefer “for so long as you believe you are someone, doing something, then give it everything you’ve got!”.

I’ll tell you right now though that the teachings of nonduality have a hidden agenda – they all do.  The goal of all such teachings, behind their external presentation, is to exhaust the seeker… to lead the seeker into such a state of great confusion that the mind can no longer be relied upon in any way at all.  This is often referred to as a process of ‘ripening’ so that the fruit is ready to fall from the tree on its own.  This can sound quite scary – and in fact, it is a terrifying prospect for the mind.  Yet all those who have ever stepped through the doorway, since the dawn of time, have undergone the same invariable process: a breaking down or deconstruction of the psychological self that is born of language. 

This is where nonduality begins to elicit the early stages of Self-realization.  As you peel away all the layers of who you are not, who you are begins to radiate in much the same way that the sun shines in the sky.  It does not matter whether you can see the sun or not, it is always there – always present.  When the weather clears, you can witness it for yourself, which can be glorious.  But the presence of darkness or clouds only obscures the sun – they do not extinguish it.  Language creates the darkness; language creates the clouds.  Language obscures awareness; the most fundamental aspect of Being.  This is just a general approximation though – not the realization itself. 

Are you starting to see why it’s so difficult to offer a stand-alone definition of what nonduality is?  Of why all such definitions are ultimately unsatisfactory?  Because the best way to express it is as a negative, as an inversion, as a stripping away, as a dismantling, as an unlearning.  Even nonduality itself gets deconstructed.  This is why I am refining my own description so that it reflects a path toward something – toward realization of the Self.  Since I can’t really tell you what it is or what it isn’t, I am framing it as a path of Self-discovery.  In my next article, I’ll offer more context on the nature of the Self which is discovered, but the only way you’ll ever recognize it for yourself is by inquiring deeply and becoming a fearless revolutionary in your very own life. 

Shaking Loose of the Nondual Mind

There is a rather common misunderstanding that tends to happen among those who are drawn to the study of nonduality.  There can be an opening or realization that happens at the level of mind. There is an emergence of real wisdom, but it has not yet penetrated down into the heart.  This form of intellectual awakening can be cold, dry, distant, and quite often carries a nihilistic tone with it. Such a one can also be quite judgmental, demanding, and rude – often telling others that they are getting it wrong or doing it wrong.

Of course all great teachers, masters, gurus, sages, saints, and mystics will have a strong element of deconstruction present in their work with others, but it comes from a place of deep patience, wisdom, and compassion – not a demand to be heard or a need to be right.  The difference is in the overall presentation. One who is truly awake knows that no one is actually asleep, and yet paradoxically one must be awake to see this clearly. If this is not understood then we could say that the awakening is ‘incomplete’ even though it’s not really ‘true’ in the deepest sense.  For the awakening to fully resolve itself, it must enter into and penetrate the heart. It must become the full embodiment of awakeness – of seeing only the Self in all that is and falling in love with the Self as all that is. This love is not intellectual – it is not conceptual. It is the effortless Love of Self that arises when the Self is remembered. 

People will often say to me that nothing matters, that it’s all a dream, and yet they are still experiencing great inner turmoil, and don’t understand why. This is why! To awaken at the level of mind is beautiful, but ultimately remains unfulfilling. There is a deeper awakening into the Heart that must occur – a deeper sense of Love that must be touched within us.  But of course I must also be careful here, because another common misunderstanding is that love is all that matters. If you have not yet seen beyond the conceptual notion of love, then it’s really just the same scenario as above but in reverse. Love is not the issue – Wisdom is; so we work to clear the mind instead of working to open the heart.

My main point here is that both Wisdom and Love must be wordlessly present in the immediacy and intimacy of our own direct experience, or we will be like a bird trying to fly with just one wing. Wisdom is emptiness, Love is fullness, and the two are inseparable in awakeness. If we have not yet seen this for ourselves then we may feel lopsided in some way or continue to struggle with some aspect of our experience.  It’s good to find a qualified teacher to work with if this is where you find yourself. It’s not that you are lacking anything or have gotten anything wrong, it’s just that a teacher can offer additional pointers to help dissolve or dislodge whatever apparent stuckness remains. It is just the Self appearing to the Self to fulfill the Self, so you really have nothing to lose – except of course your ‘self’.

—Bradley Bemis is an Orlando-based spiritual teacher of non-duality and Self-realization, an inner presence coach and guide, and is currently working toward his Master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. He offers a combination of public discourses and private sessions for those who are interested in exploring the enlightened insights of nondual wisdom. 

Love’s Three Qualities

Love’s Three Qualities

When I speak on the topic of Love, it is often imbued with three distinct qualities – Love’s cleansing fire, Love’s compassionate embrace, and Love’s playful dance. These distinctions are not ‘real’ or ‘unreal’ in any meaningful sense, but they illustrate the true nature of divine intimacy as it plays out in the immediacy of our own direct experience.

Loves Cleansing Fire

Of course, one of the most common questions asked by people of nearly all religious and spiritual persuasions is “if God is Love, then why do so many terrible things happen in the world?”  The response is usually a hollow-sounding “the Lord works in mysterious ways”, which is, of course true, but lacking in an explanation of ‘why’.  It is interesting to note here that the most commonly held definitions of God are inclusive of a being that is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent.  Meaning that God is all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-present; or, put another way, there is nothing that God does not know, nothing that God cannot do, and nowhere that God is not.  There is also common agreement that God has a plan, and that everything that happens is happening as a part of the plan.  If this is true, which it is, in a way, then how can anything ever possibly be out of alignment with the perfection of God?

Here we must return to our understanding that love and happiness are often mischaracterized as being one and the same, and that happiness is the highest goal or ideal of God.  That all beings should be ‘happy’ is what we claim.  So naturally, when something happens that makes us unhappy, or robs us of our happiness, we immediately judge it as being a mistake or an error of some sort.  As something that ‘should not be happening to us’ or to the ones we love, or to other beings at large.  It is a terrible thing, a tragedy, a horror – something that God should not allow to happen, and so we then begin to judge God.  But if we believe that God, even if we define this term loosely, is the ever-present reality of being, in complete control of absolutely everything, knowing full well what is happening and why, is it more likely that God has it wrong, or that we do?

What we must begin to realize, as hard as it may be to come to terms with, is that everything that happens to us, that has the quality of pain and suffering, of difficulty and hardship, is also part of that very same plan.  A plan that is completely grounded in Love, as freedom.  Not the freedom to do what you want, when you want, the way that you want, but freedom from identification with words, concepts, ideas, models, notions, beliefs and preferences; from the egoic view that things should be some other way than the way that they are.  Indeed, our suffering can best be measured as the distance between the way things are and the way that we want them to be.  Closing this gap does not occur by wanting them more badly, or by thrusting ourselves more completely into changing our circumstances.  It can only be closed through the process of wise acceptance and compassionate surrender.

As we begin to slow down and take notice of what is happening in our lives, and we begin to witness for ourselves that all of our suffering can be tied to some sort of fixation or clinging to our own conditioned views and beliefs of the way things ‘should’ be, the more we begin to realize that we are the architects of our very own misery.  As this realization takes shape within us, and if we can make space for a deeper truth, we can begin to recognize that Love, in its truest form, is visiting us with the experiences that are required to free us from our condition, confused notion of a ‘self’ that is somehow separate or apart from the whole.  The more tightly we hold onto and protect this sense of a personal self, the more we suffer.  The more we let go of our conceptual notion of self, the more open, spacious, and loving we become.  Cast in this light, in the true light of Love, we start to see clearly that our suffering is actually a manifestation of a deep, profound, loving truth that seeks to burn away all that is untrue.  

Loves Compassionate Embrace

It is quite possible to misunderstand the quality of Love that we might call its cleansing fire, or its redemptive, transformative power.  This is where compassion, as another key quality of Love’s true essence must come forth to reclaim the conversation.  To say that our suffering is a sign of God’s love, and then to leave it so, would misrepresent the key focus of what is being presented here.  It is simply an effort to reframe our experience of suffering so that we can better understand it and allow it to do its work; which ultimately proves itself to be joyful participation in the unfolding of our own lives, from one beautiful unfolding moment, into the next, no matter what the moment may contain.  When you can learn to take joy in your suffering, are you really suffering anymore?  This is not to suggest that we should seek out suffering in some sadomasochistic effort to become more ‘free’, but rather that a different, more compassionate understanding of suffering can make all the difference in our experience of life. 

Love knows our pain, our suffering, our difficulty and our confusion.  Love understands the impact that its cleansing fire has on our experience of life – and the feelings of sadness, loneliness, and fear that so often accompany that experience.  Very little of what we see, out there, in the world, makes sense to us.  Why on earth would a loving God, by any name or description, force us to endure such heartbreak.  The answer has more to do with who and what we truly are than it does with how we perceive ourselves – and is found in the unitive experience of Being that a spiritual awakening ultimately reveals to us.  But until we are able to arrive at that answer for ourselves, Loves compassionate embrace is our refuge – it is the home of the Heart; the gift of forbearance that sees us through the dark times, the hard times, and all of the challenges that come.  It is our ability to hold our suffering in our hearts and shine the light of compassion upon it that is the greatest example of how Love is holding us, guiding us, and offering us the solace we need. 

What Loves compassionate embrace is offering us is an opportunity to sit with ourselves, in ourselves, and watch our hearts break.  And rather than question this, push it away, or seek a better explanation, Love invites us into a very different kind of relationship with our experience.  It is asking you to be an active participant in its own unfolding. Just know that, whatever is happening; right now; for you; is perfectly in harmony with itself. Just abide in it – from a position of non-judgmental loving awareness; and invite it in to break your heart. Then, notice just how infinite the capacity of your Heart really is. See through the eyes of wise, loving surrender, into everything as your Self; and give it whatever outpouring of love your heart calls you to endure.  This can be a movement in your own direction as you struggle to understand why life is the way it is; or it can be a movement in the direction of a loved one, a friend, or even a stranger.  So long as we are working to move in the direction of Love, for ourselves, for one another, and for the earth, we can never get it wrong. 

Breath love, kindness, generosity, gratitude, grace, patience, forgiveness, and compassion into every moment of your life – and do not judge yourself when you fall short of this goal. Just take another breath – and continue on. Eventually this process becomes effortless; as you step across the threshold of doing, into the presence of being. Which is what you have always been, are now, and will never cease to be.  The process of awakening to this realization requires you to encounter yourself over and over again, at deeper and deeper levels of Truth; revealing what needs attention, what needs healing, what needs love. It is a process that has no end. The wise do not avoid this fact, they embrace it fully; doing what must be done – whenever, wherever, and however they are called.  Just choose love, over and over and over again; until you disappear into it.  This is all that you can really do.  This is what it means to live in the heart of surrender; the Heart of compassion. 

Whenever you find yourself reacting to the endless vicissitudes of life, take a moment to slow down, steady yourself, breathe deeply, and drop down into the space of the Heart.  Let go of the mental structures and formations – the story that is appearing in the mind and presenting you with difficulty.  Drop it all down into the Heart.  Drop the mind into the Heart.  Just allow them to be there.  Fear, uncertainty and doubt; anxiety and restlessness, and all of our painful emotional responses are all qualities of our experience that are born from the unexplored regions of ourselves. It is by shining the light of loving awareness upon them that we begin to free ourselves from them. When we see them become present, and we consciously hold them in the Heart of compassion, we can feel their heat as they ignite and are burned away; again and again at ever more subtle levels of experience. This too is the work of Loves cleaning fire, and although it can be uncomfortable – even intensely painful at times, it is the only method by which one can begin to resolve the unresolved and arrive at true inner peace.

Loves Playful Dance

The more that we allow Love to do its work within us, the more free we become from the ties that bind us.  Love is the current that is guiding us home, and as we begin to flow as one with its calling, it shows us another side of itself.  It offers us an opportunity to revisit the childlike wonder and innocent curiosity that once governed our earliest days – that fueled our thirst for knowledge, understanding, and expression – that inspired our imaginations and kindled our dreams.  Not as anything even remotely resembling the state of lostness that we are in now, where these notions have a completely different meaning; but in the absence of our conditioned confusion, our misperceptions, and misunderstandings we return to a clarity that is luminous, empty, and infinite – an experience that is unhindered by our egoic fears, desires and efforts to control everything.  It is, in fact, Love teaching us how to dance once more – Love teaching us to taste the freedom of Being that we have forgotten – Love teaching us to be true to Love – to be the dance of Love fulfilling itself; something so beyond beautiful that we can barely touch it with words. 

Most will read this and agree without reservation; see joy jumping in their hearts; feel hopeful tears running down their cheeks; or sense a deep and unfathomable longing to experience this kind of return to Love.  This is what we want – what we desire most, and what we demand from the experience of awakening, and yet each of these represents a movement in the direction of denial and avoidance that says “why can’t I just have that?” “Why must I endure so much suffering – why is it all so hard?” But these questions are arising from within a fundamental misunderstanding of who and what you truly are.  They are the very voices of pain and suffering speaking.  It is for this reason and this reason alone that your pain and suffering remain in place and why Love’s cleansing fire and compassionate embrace remain so necessary to your journey.  Until you understand your own true nature, you will be plagued over and over again by forces that are beyond your control; forces that you must first yield to before Love offers you its greatest, most deeply held, most profound gift of all.  In other words, one must first crawl through the fires of hell to arrive at the gates of Heaven.  To discover that you are already in and as Heaven must be arrived at by leaving everything else behind.  This is the true nature of the spiritual journey – taken with absolute earnestness and sincerity. 

We should not fret over such things though, for Love is always with us.  To paint a picture of joyful suffering is to bring a brushstroke of Truth to the scene, but it need not be the final image that we commit to the canvass.  As we begin to pay attention to what is happening in our experience, and feel the tightness around us start to loosen, something in our experience begins to dance with us.  We start seeing through our fears and Love catches us on the other side, over and over again.  The more we relax, let go, and surrender to the current of our lives, the more free we become – and, the more free we become, the more present we are with ourselves and our circumstances.  Even amidst the most difficult and trying times, we can learn to take deep joy in the very movement of life itself, no matter what we find ourselves engaged in.  We learn how to smile through our tears and be authentic in our experience.  Loves playful dance is the result of living in this authenticity.  As Loves cleansing fire performs its work, and Loves compassionate embrace holds us close, Love begins to shine through more and more clearly; and this Love consumes us within itself – we become Love at play…  we have always been this Love at play.

Such a revelation is not arrived at through the various methods that are so often spoken of in spiritual circles though.  One does not simply change their thoughts to bring about the clarity that allows Love to fulfill itself in such a manner.  For Love to be free, we must step fully out of its way and relinquish ourselves into it.  For Love to be alive, we must become its perfect embodiment in the world.  For Love to spread, we must give voice to its true nature and weather the storms that will inevitably and invariably result.  Within Love’s playful dance, the continued cultivation of patience, wisdom, and compassion – the fruit of Love’s cleansing fire and compassionate embrace, give birth to this new way of Seeing, Knowing, and Being.  Here it is known, without doubt or question, that the play is not of our own making, but that of Divine Will, the impersonal impetus of Awakeness as it draws itself out.  Indeed, the promised playful dance of happiness, bliss, and joy emerges out of deep surrender; out of a willingness to give ourselves up; out of humble deference to the Whole. 

Notice here that none of these explanations are consistent with the worldly notion of happiness – which is little more than a passing fancy.  Nor does it align with the conceptual notions of bliss and joy that are clung to by the seeking mind, by the suffering separate self.  The playful dance is not ‘yours’ or for ‘you’.  The playful dance belongs to Love itself, and it will dance in whatever manner it sees fit – not in accord with your demands, desires, or wishes.  It is not until you have been cleansed of your misperceptions that you will be invited into the full experiential beauty of the dance.  Why?  Because it is invisible and imperceptible to one who’s mind is the arbiter of a relative reality which has no Reality to it.  And so we return once more to Love’s cleansing fire, where this revelation occurs; and to Love’s compassionate embrace, where this revelation is nurtured.  Those who are wise will not make happiness their first goal; will not focus on the acquisition of blissful states, or the joyful exuberance of transient pleasure.  Those who are truly wise will sacrifice themselves upon the alter of Love’s cleansing fire, allow for Love’s compassionate embrace to sooth their wounds, and surrender themselves to Love’s playful dance – all on its terms, and not on those of the person who is confused to begin with.  There is no other way home to the place that we never left – which is none other than your very own Self. 

—Bradley Bemis is an Orlando-based spiritual teacher of non-duality and Self-realization, an inner presence coach and guide, and is currently working toward his Master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. He offers a combination of public discourses and private sessions for those who are interested in exploring the enlightened insights of nondual wisdom.  Learn more at awakeningintolife.com.

A Continuum of Conscious Awareness

You can also listen to a podcast where this article is discussed:

Note: All models are just an effort to bring one to a place where models are no longer necessary.  They are like stepping stones and should never be picked up and carried along…

The Continuum of Conscious Awareness is a dynamic model that represents five distinct stages of the spiritual journey.  It does not keep us bound to any one particular stage though.  As a ‘continuum’, it honors the fluid nature of the awakening process and recognizes that we may move through several different stages over any measurable length of time, be it hours, days, weeks, months, or years.

The five stages that make up the continuum include:

Sleeping:  This is the normal resting state of most people in our society today.  We can all summon to mind the mental image of one or more people who fit the traditional definition of ‘one who is asleep’.  For these people there is little to no interest in spiritual exploration, or if there is, it’s at the surface level; lacking in real substance.  The unquestioned assumptions, firmly rooted in their minds, govern their day to day lives – lives that are spent pursuing the activities of the world with little consideration for the possibility that there may indeed be another way.  In many cases, those who are ‘asleep’ are also in deep psychological or emotional pain.  This pain may be conscious or unconscious, but either way it has a tendency to manifest itself in attitudes of negativity and self-defeat.  It is a fearful pain, a contracted pain, a pain born in the isolation and separation of misunderstanding.  For this reason, it is important for those of us on the spiritual path to acknowledge their pain and forgive them for their actions.  We can call this ‘the practice of compassion’.  This practice is an invitation to hold our hearts open for all those who are enduring their own inner suffering.  Not to judge or condemn them, but to love them despite themselves.  In many ways, these people are our greatest teachers.  They are offering us the gift of patience and understanding. For those on the spiritual path, this kind of practice may be difficult; and can be fraught with its own kind of issues and challenges, but it is an essential part of our flowering process.  In some cases, the manner in which we treat such people may actually inspire them to begin questioning their underlying assumptions about the nature of life.  In doing so, we become the catalyst for their evolution into spiritual seekers

Seeking:  The seeker is generally born, within our direct experience, as an acknowledgement that something may be missing from our lives.  The seeker can also ‘explode onto the scene’ as the result of a traumatic experience, or a particularly difficult set of circumstances.  For some, the seeker is just a natural unfolding that comes without any coaxing at all.  What produces the seeker is generally of less importance than the simple fact that the seeking quality has emerged within our experience.  As this seeking quality arises, we somehow find ourselves compelled to question the inner workings of our own minds, and to find answers that resolve the incongruities of our apparent existence.  We may develop an insatiable appetite for knowledge about religion, spirituality, psychology, science, and more.  We may dedicate a large part of our lives to the activities of seeking, such as prayer and meditation, participation in spiritual communities, listening to teachers, going through various forms of psychotherapy, and engaging in a myriad of other such explorative methods.  Some of us may even go so far as to travel to distant lands, or disappear into cloistered spiritual communities where everything is a reflection of our spiritual intent.  There is really no wrong way to engage in the activity of seeking – the seeking itself draws us in whatever direction we need to go.  It is enough that we are seeking.  What really matters is the degree of sincerity and earnestness with which we approach our seeking activities; the degree of self-honesty that we are willing to apply to our seeking process.  If our desire is pure, and we are willing to do the work required of us, then we greatly increase the chances that we will experience that which is sought – the experience of ‘awakening’

Awakening:  When we begin to talk about the true nature of an authentic ‘spiritual awakening’, we may be tempted to believe that this terms has a particular meaning associated with it.  Because we already have a preconceived notion, we may prefer to seek out descriptions that are consistent with these notions rather than opening ourselves up to the possibility that it may not ‘mean’ what we think it does.  In fact, one of the most challenging aspects of talking about spiritual awakening is the mind’s tendency to insert itself into the dialogue and begin describing what it wants the awakening to be.  For many of us, we are fixated on the end result of the awakening process – not on what it actually takes to arrive at it.  We want the peace that is promised, the freedom from suffering, the bliss of being; but we want it in pill form so that it’s easy to swallow and offers immediate benefits.  None of these preconceptions actually have anything at all to do with awakening though.  Awakening is something else entirely.  This gentle warning is offered to the seeking mind so that it is prepared to engage in an honest discussion about what an awakening really is.  The experience of awakening can be a gradual one, or it can come on all at once, but its quintessential hallmarks are largely consistent across the stories of all those who have been invited into it.  They are common enough, at least, to warrant mention.  These include the direct comprehension of emptiness and wholeness; not as mind-made conceptualizations, but as an intimate and immediate realization of ourselves as unconditioned awareness.  This realization is not the end of the journey however, it is the beginning of a new one – a deepening into the understanding of who and what we truly are.

Deepening:  Once we have crested the shores of awakening, and glimpsed the fundamental truth of our essential nature, we are properly positioned to engage our seeking activities from an entirely different vantage point.  It is the awakening process itself that demands deepening.  As we awaken, we begin to recognize that, although we are none other than awareness, our conditioned minds still have a tremendous hold over our experience of life.  This conditioned mind is very much akin to an old-style record, with many deep groves in it.  If we are to arrive at a culminating point in our experience of awakening, then we must take the time to polish the record until all of the grooves have disappeared.  For many, the deepening process is actually the most difficult and challenging stage of awakening.  It can even include a more pronounced sense of suffering than before our experience of awakening.  During this stage, we are forced to feel everything, investigate everything, and allow everything.  The weight of watching our inner and outer worlds crumble can be devastating to the egoic mind, and is absolutely inescapable.  We are often drawn into a dance of fear and surrender that requires us to abandon every aspect of our old conceptual world and learn how to become comfortable with a new life of complete uncertainty.  Meanwhile we are also called to experience ourselves with such love and compassion that we fall inward towards its invisible center of gravity.  As we empty ourselves of ourselves, this love pours in from every direction, completely consuming our old identity and restoring our inherent innocence, wonder, and joy.  Eventually something begins to dawn within our direct experience – a sense of wholeness, fullness, and completeness that gives way to the quality of ceasing.

Ceasing:  For those who have not experienced it for themselves, ceasing is just as difficult to speak on as ‘awakening’.  Primarily because within the dawning of ‘ceasing’, there is a recognition that reveals to us we never needed to seek anything in the first place.  Even ‘awakening’ itself is a myth.  Anything and everything that we have ever read or heard said about the awakening process is seen in a completely new light.  We are invited in to the cosmic joke of spirituality, of which we are love’s punchline.  There is so much openness, spaciousness, and joy within our direct experience of life that all seeking activities fall gently away into a direct knowingness that all there is to do, has been done; and all that there is to know, is now known. Everything is clear, crystalized, effortless, and simple. There’s no resistance left, only love.  We are ‘in the world, but not of the world’.  Life goes on, just as it did before, but nothing will ever be the same again because we know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that we cannot know, and that all is always well.  Life is just taking care of itself, as it always has.  What we are, just *IS*, and we are all *IT*.  It is all *JUST THIS* and our role is to *JUST BE*.  Nothing more can be said on the matter.  It is a state that would appear as a complete paradox to the mind, but because of the deepening process, the mind has attenuated to a new reality where it no longer needs to know or do anything in particular.  It sees itself as a contextual remnant of a dream world, but also sees beyond itself into the sphere of absolute reality.  It can hold all paradoxes because it is no longer the point from which life is lived.  It can weather all ambiguities because it no longer expects life to comply with its demands.  It is from this place that we enter into the infinite last mile.


Nonduality From the Heart

In nondual spiritual circles, we could say that there is a certain range, continuum, or bandwidth of teachings that bring the spiritual aspirant or seeker to full and final fruition.  These types of teachings live at the heart of all contemplative wisdom traditions. 

There is a great commonality across them – which points to an absence, a presence, and living in the presence of absence.  Another way that we can imagine this is by looking at it as a journey.  This journey takes us up a mountain, exposes us to the view from the top, and then carries us back down the mountain.  In Zen it is said that there is a mountain.  Then there is no mountain.  Then there is a mountain again. 

In each case we are seeing a very simple arc revealing the full and mature expression of inner understanding.   One cannot get caught in the net of the mind, including the net of non-duality that the mind may cling to.  If we truly understand this term, and what it is pointing toward, it must, by its very definition, be a completely inclusive explanation of reality.  This inclusiveness is what I point to when I use the term Love. 

It has other dimensions to it as well – but they may express Love in a manner that we are unfamiliar with.  I describe these dimensions as Love’s cleansing fire, Love’s compassionate embrace, and Love’s playful dance.  All three are dynamic movements within the grand harmony of our Being.  When we are ready to pay attention, to really pay attention, we can see these forces at work in every moment of our unfoldment. 

I would advise those who are of a true heart to become aware of your suffering and study it well.  Also study the suffering that you may be creating in the lives of others.  Become a student of suffering.  As you encounter this suffering, embrace it with an open heart and ask yourself, ‘what am I holding onto here?’.  If you look closely, you will see that you are identified with a thought about a person, place, thing, idea, or experience.   There is an attachment, or a clinging to views that is present somewhere within the uncharted territories of your unquestioned assumptions. 

Be gentle in your examination and inquiry though.  Don’t stand under the shade of any one tree for too long, or you’ll never feel the sun on your face.  Recognize, right now, that this whole journey inward is taking your toward a transparency that reveals the true unitive nature of Life as completely indivisible, always and forever whole; but in a way that is beyond all manner of conceptual understanding.  Here, the earnest are destined to come to rest in the fullness of emptiness.  This is the place I refer to when I use the word Heart.  A Heart that is open, spacious, silent, and still. 

Traditionally, and empirically, those who find this place often tilt themselves in the direction of service – humble service to Love and Wisdom.  It is not always so, therefore do not let this become a trap either, but it is a common occurrence.  This means that non-duality isn’t ‘disengaged’ in the manner that the mind may attempt to assert.  What we are disengaged from is the mechanics of the mind as the governing force in our lives, surrendering completely into the Heart of Wisdom instead. 

When I say that this site, Awakening Into Life is about ‘Nonduality from the Heart’, this is what I’m talking about.  I tend to keep the focus of our conversations on gently and tenderly letting go of our fear, doubt, and uncertainty – and to test the waters of our own self limitation to see if they are real, or if they have been imposed by a conditioned perception.  Is this conditioned perception the truth?  Or are we still in the mind?  So I’m drawing us down into a deeper dialogue that prepares us to enter a wordless reality that the mind is simply never going to be able to understand. 

When this becomes clear for us in our own direct, immediate, and intimate experience, and we find ourselves opening up to what’s really here, our hearts become free to honor their full expression.  But we cannot bypass the shift that delivers true transcendence.  Going up the mountain is indeed challenging and rewarding – and so is seeing the view from the top.  But never forget that the last part of the journey takes us back down the mountain again, into the compassionate embodiment of our humanity.   This is the fruition of the pathless path, where one crosses the threshold of the gateless gate, and takes their first steps on the infinite last mile.

—Bradley Bemis is an Orlando-based spiritual teacher of non-duality and Self-realization, an inner presence coach and guide, and is currently working toward his Master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. He offers a combination of public discourses and private sessions for those who are interested in exploring the enlightened insights of nondual wisdom.  Learn more at awakeningintolife.com.

Looking Closely

For the vast majority of us, here we are in our unquestioned experience of ourselves, operating from ‘I-the body’ with the idea that consciousness resides in the body as a function of the brain. We believe that consciousness is the product of various electro-chemical stimuli and that subjective experience is the result. This proposition, from a rational scientific perspective, has no basis in fact though – and is often referred to as ‘the hard problem of consciousness’ by neuroscientists, researchers, and others.

When we begin to question these assumptions – and start paying very very close attention to our own subjective experience, a new insight may emerge. If you look – if you really really look at your own subjective experience, is it true to say that consciousness or awareness is ‘in’ the body? If you look closely, if you really really look, would it not be more accurate to say that there is this awareness – and that the body is appearing in this awareness? Look – really really look…

When something happens, aren’t you aware of it? Aren’t you aware of the body and its sensations? And what about the mind, or the patterns of thought that appear? Aren’t you aware of these thoughts? What about experiences? Aren’t all of these experiences happening in awareness? If we look, if we really really look, can we see that everything that comes and everything that goes is coming and going within this awareness? Take a look… test this for yourself.

If you look, if you really really look, you are likely to see that awareness is primary. Awareness is prior to any of these appearances. Without awareness, these appearances would be impossible. So awareness is primary – and comes before all thoughts, feelings, emotions, sensations, and experiences. Just orienting ourselves in this direction is a profound shift in perception that reveals tremendous space within – space enough to be present with whatever is happening in our awareness without necessarily reacting to life in habitually unskilled and unloving ways.

Is this the end of the road though? No, not at all. If we keep looking from this awareness – if we keep looking at what’s appearing within this awareness, we are likely to see that there are all of these thoughts coming and going. Of course, if we haven’t looked – if we haven’t questioned, then we are likely to have a pretty tight relationship with these thoughts. We may be taking them quite seriously, identifying with them, and assuming ourselves to be them. This is perfectly normal, but the fact that it is normal doesn’t necessarily mean that it is accurate.

Where do thoughts come from? Take for instance a very simple statement “that dog is brown”. Notice how this thought appears in the form of words, in language. This thought is being spoken in the mind, but it is indeed being spoken. The words that you are reading right now are being spoken in your mind are they not? It may happen so quickly that you don’t even notice it, but if you are looking closely, you might just see that this is true. So here we are thinking to ourselves “that dog is brown”. But is that dog really brown? Is it even a dog? When a thought arises, it is usually arising in reference or relation to something that is happening within us, or in the world outside of us. In the world of objects.

Let’s take a moment here to point out that this use of language is learned. At some point in our early childhood we were taught what a dog is and we were taught what the color brown is. As this occurred the information was filed away as an object reference that is recalled every time we see ‘dog’ or ‘brown’. We could say that we were conditioned to see the object ‘dog’ and understand what a ‘dog’ is. We were conditioned to see the color ‘brown’ and understand what the color ‘brown’ means. There’s nothing wrong with this – it makes interaction possible. But let’s keep looking.

Before we were introduced to ‘dog’ and ‘brown’, what was there before it? Can you remember back to a time before you were taught the basics of language and meaning? A time when you didn’t ‘know’ what anything was? Think of a baby or a small child. Think of how sweet and innocent a baby or small child is. They are, of course, still interacting with the world. They just don’t have words for anything. Their experience is a direct, immediate, intimate, unfiltered experience of what’s right here, right now. There is a natural honoring of life without the need for a mental model.

But then someone taught us that this apparent shape, with these apparent qualities, should be referred to as ‘dog’. That it is a ‘dog’. We were also taught what a dog is, how a dog behaves, what a dog does, and what a dog is for. Suddenly, the infinite potentiality of life become bound up in the word ‘dog’ and the meaning of ‘dog’. The infinite potentiality of life was mentally reduced to dogness. The same is true of the color brown. At some point someone pointed at something and said ‘brown’. Now the infinite potentiality had colors and one of those colors was ‘brown’.

And so here we are, talking about brown dogs. It may sound like a silly conversation to be having, but this point – about brown dogs – has the potential to help us understand what a true, authentic, and mature spiritual awakening really is. It carries within it the potential for us to arrive at that which the word ‘enlightenment’ is really pointing toward. Because there are no brown dogs – do you see? There is only the label, the concept, and the meaning that has been handed to us as a way of relating to the apparent world of phenomena. It is how the mind sees – but this is not Reality!

Keep looking. Look closely. The words come and go as thoughts, do they not? The thoughts come and go in awareness, do they not? Objects come and go as experience, do they not? The experiences come and go in awareness, do they not? So again we are arriving at this awareness – this awareness that is primary. This awareness that is present prior to anything that may be appearing within it, including the words, thoughts, objects, and experiences that are coming and going within the empty spacious presence of awareness. And remember, everything here is predicated upon the foundation of language.

Now we arrive at the beginning edges of paradox, ambiguity, and contradiction – like approaching the horizon of a black hole where the laws of physics begin to breakdown. We have to look closely, really really closely, at our own direct experience. And we have to ask ourselves who is doing the looking? Pay close attention to what happens when you move toward this question with sincerity. Do not be afraid. Love is here, ready to catch you on the other side. Can you actually find anyone there? If you say yes, aren’t you just using the language of conditioning to turn the answer into an object?

It’s okay, it’s perfectly okay. This continued mental translation of Life into objects isn’t even really the issue. It’s a habitual pattern that may need some attention for a while, but there’s something even more subtle that we can work with – we can cease believing in our thoughts. Remember, your thoughts say absolutely nothing about the nature of Reality as it *IS*. Your mind doesn’t actually know anything. All it knows are its concepts. The mind does not even realize that it too is just a concept. Look closely, examine your assumptions, and see for yourself what’s really True.

Again, let us return to the awareness that is aware of these words. Then let us notice the noticing. THIS. Right Here. THIS is all there is – to notice the noticing – that’s as far as this goes my friends! There are no answers to be found, no explanations, no mystical states of being, no ideas, no beliefs, nothing – there is not one single ‘thing’ here! Only awareness, only noticing. Yet this void in space isn’t where we ultimately end up. This isn’t the end either my friends. If we remain here, at the top of the mountain, we’re likely to remain dry and disconnected. This may be our natural state, but here we must shift again.

With no center – and yet still completely here, where can you go? Now we begin to drop down into the Heart of our Being. Not the physical heart of course, and not an object. No. What we are coming into contact with is the very Presence of our Being; the felt sense of Presence that is an immediate and intimate Reality beyond words. We drop down into the heart, breathe deeply into it, and we rest here, in the silence, stillness, and quiet of Being. The mind goes on, life goes on, everything is exactly as before, but now the mind is transparent and radiant, and you have come to rest in the fullness of your Heart!

When this realization or revelation begins to take root, we find that our Hearts are infinite and have the power to anchor us in this aware Presence. The two are really inseparable for they are not really two ‘things’. Who and what we are is this Presence. So we are open, spacious, empty and aware, with a mind that has become transparent and radiant, and a heart that has become open and clear. We are firmly rooted in our *SEEING* as the Absolute view, while also encountering the relative reality of the mind, body, and phenomenal world; doing so with great love, wisdom, patience, and understanding.

—Bradley Bemis is an Orlando-based spiritual teacher of non-duality and Self-realization, an inner presence coach and guide, and is currently working toward his Master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. He offers a combination of public discourses and private sessions for those who are interested in exploring the enlightened insights of nondual wisdom.  Learn more at awakeningintolife.com. 

A Radical Shift in Perspective

The Day Everything Changed

During the summer of 2014, I was going through a terrible crisis of identity. My life was a shambling mess of a thing, and I was actively hiding from it; doing my best to distract myself from the day-in, day-out dramas of my own inner conflict. For years, I’d been lying and exaggerating, manipulative and controlling, selfish and self-centered. I put myself first in all things – and made sure everyone around me knew just how important and intelligent I was. If you didn’t do things my way, then you were a complete idiot – and there was no getting around how right I was about everything. And if you didn’t agree, or you had thoughts of your own, then I’d respond with anger and vengeance – in a very subtle and passively aggressive way of being. 

Meanwhile, on the inside, I was terrified of everything and everyone. I had no idea of who I really was – I was so busy trying to protect layer upon layer of massive denial that I didn’t have time to be me. Instead, I watched TV, played video games, and disappeared into the world of tabletop roleplaying. There was so much guilt and shame in my life; so many reasons to hate myself – I had absolutely no interest in being with myself – everything I did was about escaping me; about taking my mind off of what I was hiding from. I had no friends, was completely disconnected from my family, and used my romantic relationships as my only anchor in the world – but still kept even those at an incredible distance from myself.

I’d been living in Seattle for several years – since leaving the Air Force in 2000. I’d tried Buddhism out for about a year or so in 2004, visited with a couple of mental health professionals, taken antidepressant and anti-anxiety medications, tried different diet and exercise regimens, become vegan, and attempted a host of other things; all in an effort to ‘figure out what was wrong with me’ and ‘find some semblance of peace’. Nothing really worked. At best, I was told I was suffering from ‘perfectionism’ – at worst, I was told nothing at all. No one seemed to have an answer for me – no one seemed to have the solution that I was looking for. And so I remained caught up in a world of self-limiting defeatism that, outwardly looked like it was working, but inwardly was eating me alive.

Coming up on the summer of 2014, I was living with a longtime girlfriend who I’d been with for about 6 years. She and I had a tenuous relationship at best. We spent most of our time in our home offices on opposite ends of the house. We ran errands and did a few chores together, and we slept together at night. But outside of a few general conversations about her work and about mine, we didn’t really have much to say to one another. We were roommates who shared a bed. She was obviously unhappy with me – but she endured, I think, in the hope that one day I’d turn things around and grow up. And she was dealing with her own psychological angst and issues. As with most couples, we were getting exactly what we needed from each other, even if it was largely unhealthy.

It was during the August/September timeframe that I really started to notice just how dark my inner world had become and how miserable I really was. I owned my own information security consulting firm at the time and had just wrapped up a huge contract. There was money in the bank and all of my bills were paid in full, so, as I often did, I decided to stop working for a while. I would sit in my office at home and play games – games that were meant to include social interaction – but I just played them by myself. Sometimes I would play so late into the night that I wouldn’t go to bed. Instead, I’d just crawl into my office recliner as the sun was coming up – moments before my girlfriend would be getting up – and pretended to be asleep.

When I wasn’t playing games, I was watching TV. And I was watching some really dark television programs. It was actually the television programs that started to clue me in on just how lost I’d become and how much I was hurting on the inside. I was actually enjoying them. Not just their entertainment value, but their darkness in general. I found myself deeply disturbed by this revelation and something inside me began to ask, ‘is this really who you want to be?’. So, in September, I began to look more closely at my behavior – at both my internal and external patterns of thought and expression. Having studied psychology quite extensively, I pulled out my copy of the DSM and started flipping through symptoms. After looking at the various diagnostic profiles, I was sure that I had pretty much every diagnosis in the book. 

I really had no idea what was actually going on with me, but it was clear to me that whatever was going on must be bad – so I started to research the scariest and most troubling mental health disorders I could find.  I was horrified by the possibilities and started to see myself as a broken, unfeeling, uncaring, monster, drowning in guilt and shame, completely incapable of human connection and completely incurable. I died a little bit inside as I was reading up on just how broken I was – and I felt something stirring inside me that could only be described as hopelessness. But at the same time, I was suddenly and absolutely determined not to be the person I was anymore.  Whatever it was that was happening inside of me, I decided then and there that I would do whatever it took to get better.

Several things happened all at once. I located a psychologist in the area who had experience treating people with all kinds of mental health issues. I found a book on neuroplasticity and our innate ability to heal our brains. And I started to pay very careful attention to my thoughts. I remembered some of the breathing techniques that I’d learned during my stint with Buddhism and began to practice them – but not actively, which was quite interesting. The breathing technique just sort of came forward on its own – and it was very different than it had been when I was practicing it before. Instead of meditating on the cushion, I would just find myself doing things around the house and in my life, watching my breath move in and out at the tip of the nose. It just felt natural.

The first time I was supposed to see the psychologist, I bailed. I was simply too afraid and hadn’t worked up enough courage yet. A week later, I tried again. I remember sitting in that chair, in an almost statuesque form, unmoving and unflinching, filled with a terrible dread. It was like an hour-long panic attack, but I refused to get up and leave. I absolutely had to get better. So, for the first time in my entire life, I threw off every shackle and dropped every guard. Through a rain of tears, I opened up about everything and didn’t hold anything back. Absolutely nothing was left on the table. I answered every question, admitted to every falsehood, revealed every secret. I felt completely open in that moment – and it was the most freeing experience I’d ever had.

Suddenly my world began to open up in a brand-new way. I dove into reading books about mental health, neuroscience, and the healing power of the mind. I also started to practice what I called ‘radical self-honesty’ within my own inner world; examining the content of every thought that came through my mind and asking myself where the thought was coming from. I started to look at how I was behaving and what I was doing from the position of an observer studying – almost scientifically – the inner workings of my own mind. I took stock of the masks I was wearing, and, no matter how painful it was, I started to ask myself who I was behind each mask. Within the space of about a month, I began to experience myself in a radically different way.

At that point I had already started writing, openly, about my experiences. I was participating in a chat forum for people suffering from mental health issues and was documenting my entire journey on a website that I’d set up. I wanted to have a way of sharing my journey of inner exploration with others who were suffering in the same way I was, even if I didn’t know where that journey was going to lead. More than anything though, I wanted to offer hope. So many people were in the same spiral of hopelessness and they were certain there was no way out – and yet that was not what my study of neuroscience was telling me. It’s also not what my experience was telling me. It began to feel as though the labels people gave themselves were a self-fulfilling trap – one that I had fallen into.

As this process continued, I began to have these moments of insight and clarity that were deeply profound, each one life-changing in its own small way. I called it ‘the popcorn popper’ and every day I was seeing new kernels blossoming into form. And then came the day when I finally faced the childhood trauma that started it all. I called my mother and spoke with her, at length, about my life, my suffering, and what I’d been going through for all these years; and I asked her what happened. You see, when I was about 7 years old, my father was in the navy and we were living at the naval base in Cuba. My parents divorced and we moved to Florida to live with my aunt. It was just me and my little brother, thrown into the turmoil of parental discord – with no control over anything that was happening.

One day, we were heading to New Jersey to visit my grandparents – a day I remember vividly. We spent a week or two there and had a good time being together as a family. Then, when it came time to leave, my little eight-year-old heart was shattered. My mother knelt down in front of me and told me that I wasn’t going home; that she was taking my brother back with her to Florida, but I’d be staying with my grandparents in New Jersey. And then she left. So here I was, eight years old – I’d just lost my father and now my mother had given up on me too. No one wanted me. No one loved me. I was stuck with my grandparents and my other aunt – and as much as they tried, there was nothing they could do to put humpty dumpty back together again.

I lived in New Jersey for a year. By the time my mom had me come back home again, the damage was done. What I began to refer to as ‘the oldest wound’ had been opened and become infected. As I spoke to my mother, at the age of 42, about this experience, she was completely devastated. For her, it will forever be the greatest mistake of her life – but there, in that moment, in our sharing, we began a process of healing that nothing else could have touched. She told me that none of it had anything to do with me – told me how much she had loved me; how dear I was to her and how hard it had been to leave me behind. She admitted to her own reasons for doing so – and she set the record straight on everything that I’d been holding onto for all those years.

When people talk about catharsis, I understand what that word means now. In that one conversation, 35 years of darkness began to fall away. And something new opened up in me – a new kind of willingness and understanding – a new call for love within myself – something completely different from anything I had ever experienced before. In the days that followed, the popcorn popper went into overdrive, until it finally exploded. There were a number of other things happening in my life at the time, and healing was coming from every possible direction, but that one phone call got right to the root of everything – to the sense of abandonment that became my insecurity and my unworthiness – that became my entire inner world and all of my protective mechanisms.

Entering into the first couple of weeks in October, I was a changed man. I started to challenge myself to rise to every occasion – and to let go of my old patterns of thought and behavior. On 13 October of 2014, I was bringing that newfound sense of intensity to a couple of important chores that needed to be done around the house. There was a floor transition that needed to be installed in the entryway of the house, and there was some work that needed to be done to readjust a doorframe in the bathroom. No matter what, I was going to get these two tasks completed while my girlfriend was at work. I started to work on the floor transition – it was difficult work – and historically, when I encountered ‘difficult work’, I would just quit and go watch TV or play video games; but not this time.

The floor transition needed to be installed in concrete, which was quite challenging. I did everything I could, tried every trick I could imagine, watched a lot of YouTube segments, and yet nothing worked. I was getting angry with the project – feeling a familiar sense of rage rising up within me. It was a telltale sign of my old emotional content. If there was something I couldn’t do, or something that made me feel ‘lesser’ I’d skip right past angry and into an earthshattering rage. The reason I often quit doing things that were difficult was in an effort to avoid this rage because it was not something I wanted to experience. It was easier to give up than to feel things. But this time was different, because, somehow, I was experiencing this rage at a distance, mindfully; a mindful bodily rage.

And so, there I was, doing my best to complete a project that was obviously beyond my skill, but unwilling to give up until it became clear that there really wasn’t any way for me to finish the install on my own. I needed help, which of course just made things worse – but I wasn’t really concerned about it – I just needed to do what I needed to do. And so, I switched to the door frame. It had shifted out of alignment and needed to be reset. Continuing to be with my mindful bodily rage, I began to take everything apart and engage in the adjustment process. As I was trying to shift the frame into its final position, it cracked. My rage doubled – and yet it did not consume me. I calmly assessed the situation and determined that we’d need to replace the frame. But my rage was right there – being witnessed.

With both projects ending in failure, and this intense, mindful, bodily rage burning on the inside, I decided that I needed to find a way to deal with it directly. I tried a couple of things, but they didn’t work out, so I went to the bookstore to get a book on rage. It was quite common for me to buy a book on any topic that interested me or was troubling me, but as I was walking into the bookstore, seething with rage, my only hope was that no one would talk to me – I wanted to be able to hold on just long enough to get out of there without losing myself to the monster. Luckily, I did find a book on rage, but then remembered that a friend had recently recommended ‘The Work’ from Byron Katie, so I found an audio CD of hers called ‘Your Inner Awakening’.

I made it out of the store and back to my car. I was still completely caught in my mindful rage, but I’d completed my goal. I put the CD in and started driving around. As I listened to Byron Katie talk about her own life before her ‘Inner Awakening’, I heard her talking about my life. What she was describing was exactly what I’d been experiencing – albeit hers had its own unique flavor – but it tasted the same. All of the pain and anguish, the self-loathing, the shame and guilt, the inner and outer struggle – it was all right there. As I drove around, I felt like I’d found kinship with someone who knew what it felt like to be me – and I was listening intently to what she was saying. All I remember now, is that I was turning the corner, a block from home, as she was talking about her family’s problem with socks.

By the time I walked in the door of our home, my rage had subsided – replaced by sheer exhaustion. All told, I had spent a full six hours in a state of mindful bodily rage that was on the verge of consuming me at any moment. So, I went outside, into the back yard, and sat down under our small covered porch. Without thinking about it, I closed my eyes and settled into a state of deep absorptive meditation. Suddenly, everything inside of me fell away. There were no thoughts, no sense of identity, no sense of self. There was simply awareness – and awareness of awareness. My mind was completely empty – my inner and outer worlds had both disappeared – the ‘me’ was gone – there was only this awareness – and me, as awareness, aware of awareness. That’s all there was – awareness, aware of itself, as awareness.

I have never been the same since that moment. That was the end of everything and the beginning of something completely new. Who I had spent my life as, suddenly and irrevocably, died in that moment. Something wondrous was reborn in its place. It was an experience of such incredible and profound intensity that it will be with me for the rest of my days. It was my initial opening into what would become my life – the first real and tangible step into Self-realization; something I knew nothing about at the time. I was not a spiritual person and spirituality had not really been of any interest to me. In fact, I joke, to this day, that I was both an atheist and an asshole. So imagine my surprise when I found out how wrong I really was!

…and that’s how it happened for me.  But this isn’t the end of my story – it’s really just the starting point.