I was on a non-duality retreat and the teacher began by standing up and saying “There is no point in your being here……It doesn’t matter if you come to any of the talks. There is nothing whatsoever to be gained. You might as well be outside in the gardens or in your room.”
There is absolute honesty in this because it is true that there is nothing for the self to be gained – ever. The search for peace, freedom and joy is obscuring the peace, freedom and joy of the life we are already. Before, during, after the retreat… no difference.
The teacher knew this – hence his words.
The end of the seeking comes with the realisation that there is nothing to be found, that there is no seeker even. This is the constant pointing of all non-duality and spiritual teaching from the very ancient to the modern:
What we are looking for is here already.
It is the search for it that obscures it.
It is the idea of ourself as separate, as needing something that hides the wholeness of being that is all there is.
It is this idea that is the only confusion.
‘There is nothing whatsoever to be gained’ these words are coming from someone who clearly has realised them. The teacher spoke his words with love. The teacher was happy, smiling, making jokes, laughing, eyes sparkling. The teacher had strong relationships with their partner, family and friends. The teacher teaches and writes books and does other expressive activities. The teacher is healthy, vital and vibrant in their body.
The teacher wasn’t trapped in their house afraid to leave because of panic attacks and anxiety. The teacher wasn’t trapped in their bed by a sense of inadequacy or worthlessness unable to get up and start the day. The teacher wasn’t self-harming or abusing others or numbing away their painful thoughts with drink or drugs. The teacher was profoundly present in the room, no anger at the past or terror at the future. And although there was plenty of disagreement and correcting of what the students said, there was no conflict with anything or anyone.
And this is the paradox with the realisation of wholeness.
Until there is the realisation that there is nothing to realise, that wholeness is what we are already, there can be suffering. Often significant suffering. Often torturous suffering. Misunderstood suffering that sets up its own vicious circle in the scrambling for relief. Even though ‘nothing is happening to no one’, the experience of being an individual can create intense despair, depression, hopelessness, conflict, anxiety and harm to self and others.
So how to address the suffering that comes with the insecurity of believing ourselves to be a separate individual without continuing and exacerbating the wild goose chase to secure that non-existent individuality?
Many teachers say we don’t need to, that it is not real, there is no one suffering and that any attempt to alleviate the suffering is only reinforcing the ego-self. But is that just to leave someone languishing in the suffering the mind creates?
Let’s imagine a river.
On one side is the student, suffering, desperate and miserable, shouting across to the teacher, ‘How do I cross the river? How do I get to the other side?’
And on the one side is the teacher saying over and over again, ‘There is no side to get to. There is no river. There is nothing to do and nowhere to get to. There is no river.’
But as long as the student’s mind is lost in itself then the river looks absolutely real. It looks to the student that there is a difference between them and the teacher, that there is a gulf between them and the peace, happiness, freedom and love they are searching for. It looks like there is somewhere to get to, a river to cross and as long as it looks like there is a river to cross then the search is obscuring the truth.
So, what to do?
How can that student be supported without increasing the search?
How does the search end?
What we are really asking is:
Where does the realisation that ‘there is absolutely nothing to attain’ come from?
How does the seeking, restless, insecure mind settle into simply being?
How does the wholeness that we are become so obvious that it makes the search for it ridiculous?
Are we really saying there is nothing we can do to help this happen?
I don’t think so. Even the teacher that is saying ‘Don’t stay in this conversation. There is nothing to gain.’ is apparently holding the retreat and writing the books. And the retreats and the books are agents of realisation and confirmation of truth. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t be attended or read.
Because until these questions are answered, there is something to be realised. There are veils obscuring the truth of what we are. And those veils, entirely insubstantial as they are, made of nothing, thoughts, wisps of air, are also blocks of concrete.
There are ways – many ways – in which the realisation of true nature and, with that, a dramatic reduction in how suffering is misunderstood – can be brought about without creating more confusion.
From what I have seen over my courses and programmes, things start to change when the mind shifts out of identification with its own story of separation and resentment. When that frantic whirring activity of resistance and seeking settles it reveals the presence that was there all along.
The elements that encourage this shift are:
- Above all, love and support (because this is life and death to the identity and feeling safe enough to loosen that tightest of grips is everything)
- Equally above all, a focus on the body (to allow the sensations that have been long repressed, to nurture and respect what might have long been neglected, to bring attention back to the closest we have to reality)
- Supported observation of our own words, actions and reactions (to make transparent how the conditioning of separation is being maintained, to carry out this exploration in honesty, openness and accountability)
- Conscious enquiry into the nature of thought, belief, concepts and reality (as there is beautiful logic and rationality in this exploration)
- Subliminal support (to amplify what is subconsciously known about our true nature)
- Supported courageous movement into experiences that trigger shame, insecurity, fear and need (to expand beyond the imprisoning concepts, to see that through these experiences lies a whole other reality of self and other)
In making that shift from identification to presence, we reverse the process in which that insecure identification was created in the first place. For those who have experienced trauma, neglect, violence or abuse, points one and two are especially critical to allow the settling back into safety, into the reality of the physical.
Each step forward into the river represents a lightening of the burden of seeking, a falling away of what is not, or no longer, true.
After each step, there is a look back to see how far we have come, only to realise that there is no river behind us. We have not crossed anything.
Yet there is still river ahead. Another step. Another look back and again no river behind us.
Until, lightening by lightening, dissolution by dissolution, step by step the river is crossed.
We are on the other side.
And it is clear there is no river.
It is clear there is no teacher.
We are in exactly the same place we were before.
Nothing has changed.
And yet… everything is completely different.