Let’s start by blowing your mind!

Let’s just start out by blowing your mind and showing you, right off the bat, what’s really being described here. 

Have you ever heard of ‘stimulus response’?  It’s something that scientists have only discovered in humans.  It’s how we learn to call things names.  It’s the mechanism behind what “IS” is. 

The Tao Te Ching [Verse 1]

The way that becomes a way

is not the Immortal Way

the name that becomes a name

is not the Immortal Name

no-name is the maiden of Heaven and Earth

name is the mother of all things

thus in innocence we see the beginning

in passion we see the end

two different names

for one and the same

the one we call dark

the dark beyond dark

the door to all beginnings

*LaoTzu’s TaoTeChing translated by Red Pine

Saint John of the Cross [Stanzas of the Soul]

On a dark night, Kindled in love with yearnings–oh, happy chance!– I went forth without being observed, My house being now at rest.

In darkness and secure, By the secret ladder, disguised–oh, happy chance!– In darkness and in concealment, My house being now at rest.

In the happy night, In secret, when none saw me, Nor I beheld aught, Without light or guide, save that which burned in my heart.

This light guided me More surely than the light of noonday To the place where he (well I knew who!) was awaiting me– A place where none appeared.

Oh, night that guided me, Oh, night more lovely than the dawn, Oh, night that joined Beloved with lover, Lover transformed in the Beloved!

Upon my flowery breast, Kept wholly for himself alone, There he stayed sleeping, and I caressed him, And the fanning of the cedars made a breeze.

The breeze blew from the turret As I parted his locks; With his gentle hand he wounded my neck And caused all my senses to be suspended.

I remained, lost in oblivion; My face I reclined on the Beloved. All ceased and I abandoned myself, Leaving my cares forgotten among the lilies.


Buddha [Ananda Sutta: To Ananada]

(On Self, No Self, and Not-self)

Then the wanderer Vacchagotta went to the Blessed One and, on arrival, exchanged courteous greetings with him. After an exchange of friendly greetings & courtesies, he sat to one side. As he was sitting there he asked the Blessed One: “Now then, Venerable Gotama, is there a self?”

When this was said, the Blessed One was silent.

“Then is there no self?”

A second time, the Blessed One was silent.

Then Vacchagotta the wanderer got up from his seat and left.

Then, not long after Vacchagotta the wanderer had left, Ven. Ananda said to the Blessed One, “Why, lord, did the Blessed One not answer when asked a question by Vacchagotta the wanderer?”

“Ananda, if I — being asked by Vacchagotta the wanderer if there is a self — were to answer that there is a self, that would be conforming with those brahmans & contemplatives who are exponents of eternalism [the view that there is an eternal, unchanging soul]. If I — being asked by Vacchagotta the wanderer if there is no self — were to answer that there is no self, that would be conforming with those brahmans & contemplatives who are exponents of annihilationism [the view that death is the annihilation of consciousness]. If I — being asked by Vacchagotta the wanderer if there is a self — were to answer that there is a self, would that be in keeping with the arising of knowledge that all phenomena are not-self?”

“No, lord.”

“And if I — being asked by Vacchagotta the wanderer if there is no self — were to answer that there is no self, the bewildered Vacchagotta would become even more bewildered: ‘Does the self I used to have now not exist?'”


Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj

“Whatever you may have to do, watch your mind. Also you must have moments of complete inner peace and quiet, when your mind is absolutely still. If you miss it, you miss the entire thing. If you do not, the silence of the mind will dissolve and absorb all else.”

“It has nothing to do with effort. Just turn away, look between the thoughts, rather than at the thoughts. When you happen to walk in a crowd, you do not fight every man you meet, you just find your way between. When you fight, you invite a fight. But when you do not resist, you meet no resistance. When you refuse to play the game, you are out of it.”

“No particular thought can be mind’s natural state, only silence. Not the idea of silence, but silence itself. When the mind is in its natural state, it reverts to silence spontaneously after every experience, or, rather, every experience happens against the background of silence.”

“To go beyond the mind, you must be silent and quiet. Peace and silence, silence and peace – this is the way beyond. Stop asking questions.”

“These moments of inner quiet will burn out all obstacles without fail. Don’t doubt its efficacy. Try it. Silence is the main factor. In peace and silence you grow. In peace and silence, the skin of the “I” dissolves and the inner and the outer become one.”

“Your hope lies in keeping silent in your mind and quiet in your heart. Realized people are very quiet. You must realize yourself as the immovable behind and beyond the movable, the silent witness of all that happens.”


Ramana Maharshi

“What exists in truth is the Self alone. The self is that where there is absolutely no “I” thought. That is called Silence. The Self itself is the world; the Self itself is “I”; the Self itself is God.”

“The inner silence is self-surrender. And that is living without the sense of ego. Solitude is in the mind of humanity. Silence is ever speaking; it is the perennial flow of “language.” It is interrupted by speaking; for words obstruct this mute language. Silence is permanent and benefits the whole of humanity. . . . By silence, eloquence is meant. It is the best language. There is a state when words cease and silence prevails.”

“There is Consciousness along with quietness in the mind; this is exactly the state to be aimed at.”

“In samadhi* there is only the feeling ” I am” and no thoughts. The experience “I am” is being still.” The Self is God. “I am” is God. All that is required to realize the Self is to be still.”

*samadhi is a state of silent absorption in the Self, in God, in Nothingness of Mind itself, in Pure Silence

From the work called The Spiritual Teaching of Ramana Maharshi, Shambala Dragon Books 1988.  http://www.puresilence.org/ramana_maharshi_and_silence.htm


“It has often occurred to me that a seeker after truth has to be silent”.


Huang Po

The Mind cannot be transmitted;

to tacitly understand is transmission. 

The Mind can perceive nothing at all,

but nothingness is true perception. 

The tally is not the tally;

 also, nothing is not nothing. 

Do not remain in Illusion City,

Or you’ll mistake the pearl on your forehead;

Be aware, the word “pearl” is only an expedient,

For how can Illusion City have any form?

Plato [Allegory of the Cave]

SOCRATES: Imagine this: People live under the earth in a cavelike dwelling. Stretching a long way up toward the daylight is its entrance, toward which the entire cave is gathered. The people have been in this dwelling since childhood, shackled by the legs and neck. Thus, they stay in the same place so that there is only one thing for them to look that: whatever they encounter in front of their faces. But because they are shackled, they are unable to turn their heads around. 

SOCRATES: Some light, of course, is allowed them, namely from a fire that casts its glow toward them from behind them, being above and at some distance. Between the fire and those who are shackled [i.e., behind their backs] there runs a walkway at a certain height. Imagine that a low wall has been built the length of the walkway, like the low curtain that puppeteers put up, over which they show their puppets.

SOCRATES: So now imagine that all along this low wall people are carrying all sorts of things that reach up higher than the wall: statues and other carvings made of stone or wood and many other artifacts that people have made. As you would expect, some are talking to each other [as they walk along] and some are silent.

GLAUCON: This is an unusual picture that you are presenting here, and these are unusual prisoners.

SOCRATES: They are very much like us humans, I [Socrates] responded.

SOCRATES: What do you think? From the beginning people like this have never managed, whether on their own or with the help by others, to see anything besides the shadows that are [continually] projected on the wall opposite them by the glow of the fire.

GLAUCON: How could it be otherwise, since they are forced to keep their heads immobile for their entire lives?

SOCRATES: And what do they see of the things that are being carried along [behind them]? Do they not see simply these [namely the shadows]?

GLAUCON: Certainly.

SOCRATES: Now if they were able to say something about what they saw and to talk it over, do you not think that they would regard that which they saw on the wall as beings?

GLAUCON: They would have to.

SOCRATES: And now what if this prison also had an echo reverberating off the wall in front of them[the one that they always and only look at]? Whenever one of the people walking behind those in chains (and carrying the things) would make a sound, do you think the prisoners would imagine that the speaker were anyone other than the shadow passing in front of them?

GLAUCON: Nothing else, by Zeus!

SOCRATES: All in all, I responded, those who were chained would consider nothing besides the shadows of the artifacts as the unhidden.

GLAUCON: That would absolutely have to be

SOCRATES: So now, I replied, watch the process whereby the prisoners are set free from their chains and, along with that, cured of their lack of insight, and likewise consider what kind of lack of insight must be if the following were to happen to those who were chained.

SOCRATES: Whenever any of them was unchained and was forced to stand up suddenly, to turn around, to walk, and to look up toward the light, in each case the person would be able to do this only with pain and because of the flickering brightness would be unable to look at those things whose shadows he previously saw.

SOCRATES: If all this were to happen to the prisoner, what do you think he would say if someone were to inform him that what he saw before were [mere] trifles but that now he was much nearer to beings; and that, as a consequence of now being turned toward what is more in being, he also saw more correctly?

SOCRATES: And if someone were [then] to show him any of the things that were passing by and forced him to answer the question about what it was, don’t you think that he would be a wit’s end and in addition would consider that what he previously saw [with is own eyes] was more unhidden than what was now being shown [to him by someone else].

GLAUCON: Yes, absolutely.

SOCRATES: And if someone even forced him to look into the glare of the fire, would his eyes not hurt him, and would he not then turn away and flee [back] to that which he is capable of looking at? And would he not decide that [what he could see before without any help] was in fact clearer than what was now being shown to him?

GLAUCON: Precisely.

SOCRATES: Now, however, if someone, using force, were to pull him [who had been freed from his chains] away from there and to drag him up the cave’s rough and steep ascent and not to let go of him until he had dragged him out into the light of the sun…

SOCRATES:  …would not the one who had been dragged like this feel, in the process, pain and rage? And when he got into the sunlight, wouldn’t his eyes be filled with the glare, and wouldn’t he thus be unable to see any of the things that are now revealed to him as the unhidden?

GLAUCON: He would not be able to do that at all, at least not right away.

SOCRATES: It would obviously take some getting accustomed, I think, if it should be a matter of taking into one’s eyes that which is up there outside the cave, in the light of the sun.  

SOCRATES: And in this process of acclimatization he would first and most easily be able to look at (1) shadows and after that (2) the images of people and the rest of things as they are reflected in water.

SOCRATES: Later, however, he would be able to view (3) the things themselves [the beings, instead of the dim reflections]. But within the range of such things, he might well contemplate what there is in the heavenly dome, and this dome itself, more easily during the night by looking at the light of the stars and the moon, [more easily, that is to say,] than by looking at the sun and its glare during the day.

GLAUCON: Certainly.

SOCRATES: But I think that finally he would be in the condition to look at (4) the sun itself, not just at its reflection whether in water or wherever else it might appear, but at the sun itself, as it is in and of itself and in the place proper to it and to contemplate of what sort it is.

GLAUCON: It would necessarily happen this way.

SOCRATES: And having done all that, by this time he would also be able to gather the following about the sun: (1) that it is that which grants both the seasons and the years; (2) it is that which governs whatever there is in the now visible region of sunlight; and (3) that it is also the cause of all those things that the people dwelling in the cave have before they eyes in some way or other.

GLAUCON: It is obvious that he would get to these things — the sun and whatever stands in its light — after he had gone out beyond those previous things, the merely reflections and shadows.

SOCRATES: And then what? If he again recalled his first dwelling, and the “knowing” that passes as the norm there, and the people with whom he once was chained, don’t you think he would consider himself lucky because of the transformation that had happened and, by contrast, feel sorry for them?

GLAUCON: Very much so.

SOCRATES: However, what if among the people in the previous dwelling place, the cave, certain honors and commendations were established for whomever most clearly catches sight of what passes by and also best remembers which of them normally is brought by first, which one later, and which ones at the same time? And what if there were honors for whoever could most easily foresee which one might come by next?

SOCRATES: Do you think the one who had gotten out of the cave would still envy those within the cave and would want to compete with them who are esteemed and who have power?  Or would not he or she much rather wish for the condition that Homer speaks of, namely “to live on the land [above ground] as the paid menial of another destitute peasant”? Wouldn’t he or she prefer to put up with absolutely anythingelse rather than associate with those opinions that hold in the cave and be that kind of human being?

GLAUCON: I think that he would prefer to endure everything rather than be that kind of human being.

SOCRATES: And now, I responded, consider this: If this person who had gotten out of the cave were to go back down again and sit in the same place as before, would he not find in that case, coming suddenly out of the sunlight, that his eyes ere filled with darkness?”

GLAUCON: Yes, very much so.

SOCRATES: Now if once again, along with those who had remained shackled there,  the freed person had to engage in the business of asserting and maintaining opinions about the shadows — while his eyes are still weak and before they have readjusted, an adjustment that would require quite a bit of time  — would he not then be exposed to ridicule down there? And would they not let him know that he had gone up but only in order to come back down into the cave with his eyes ruined — and thus it certainly does not pay to go up.

SOCRATES: And if they can get hold of this person who takes it in hand to free them from their chains and to lead them up, and if they could kill him, will they not actually kill him?

GLAUCON: They certainly will.



Finding is losing; losing is finding (Luke 17:33).

The poor are rich (Matthew 5:3); the rich are very poor (Mark 10:17-25).

Hunger is satisfaction (Matthew 5:6); satisfaction is emptiness (Luke 12:16-21).

Weeping is bliss; bliss is weeping (Matthew 5:4).

The wise and learned do not understand; mere babes do (Matthew 11:25).

Folly is wisdom; the wise are ignorant (1 Corinthians 1:18-27).

Weakness is strength; strength is weakness (1 Corinthians 1:18-27; 2 Corinthians 12:10; 13:9).

‘Holy Father, […] that they may be one, as we [are]. […] that they all may be one; as thou, Father, [art] in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us […] that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one’ (John 17.11 & 21-23).

Back to the Tao Te Ching [Verse 2]

When the world knows beauty as beauty, ugliness arises

When it knows good as good, evil arises

Thus being and non-being produce each other

Difficult and easy bring about each other

Long and short reveal each other

High and low support each other

Music and voice harmonize each other

Front and back follow each other

Therefore the sages

Manage the work of detached actions

Conduct the teaching of no words

They work with myriad things but do not control

They create but do not possess

They act but do not presume

They succeed but do not dwell on success

It is because they do not dwell on success

That it never goes away


 Relational Frame Theory 

Relational Frame Theory, or RFT, was established to integrate a wide range of psychological phenomena into a cohesive theory of language based on contextual relationships. It proposes that human cognition and communication are founded in our capacity for identifying and creating relational links between stimuli, and made possible by our “arbitrarily applicable relational responding” ability (Cullinan & Vitale, 2009).

Acceptance and Committment Therapy

Built on the foundations of RFT, Acceptance and Committment Therapy (ACT) brings the research into the treatment process.  It helps clients learn and practice the six key contributors to psychological flexibility: acceptance, cognitive diffusion, being present, self-as-context, values, and committed action.  The ultimate goal is the pursuit of truth – not as an objective or subjective measure, but as a measure of what actully works in your life. 

Dialectical Behavior Therapy

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is another 3rd wave behavioral approach that centers itself on mindfulness, language, and inquiry.  The very point of the dialectic is to help people see that two apparent opposites can be true at the same time.  It helps deconstruct many entrenched thought patterns by presenting everything with its opposite as a way to retrain the mind, break down fixed positionalities, and alter behaviors along the way. 


If you can see the thread that is being woven here, it’s not exactly what most of us think of as ‘spirituality’.  Yet if you can grasp this, all the way, at the core of your being, then you have the power to find the freedom that has always been yours. 


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 following the path.