Written by: Brittany Bannerman
Non-duality has always been an integral part of the work that we do at Strength Counselling Services. It comprises the foundation of our fifth pillar of the therapeutic process: The Integration Tier. At this stage, our understanding of non-dualism is used to help others realize the ability to access and reconnect to the truth within themselves. This, in turn, allows one to access freedom and experience unconditional acceptance and transcendence. In order to understand non-duality and its role in our lives and therapy practices, we must first define a few terms we will be using throughout this blog post. The following definitions and explorations will build on each other to help you better understand non-duality and how it can be experienced and applied in your life.
Transpersonal Psychology is the blending of modern psychological understandings with the deep wisdom of various spiritual traditions around the world. In transpersonal psychology, we seek to both acknowledge the importance of understanding the personal realm (i.e., our human development and all aspects of self – including our unconscious) while also going beyond the personal to place the human being into a context that exists within the larger framework of spiritual philosophy. Transpersonal psychology recognizes eight key assumptions of the human experience: That our essential nature is spiritual; that consciousness is multidimensional; that humans have legitimate impulses towards spiritual seeking that are expressed as a search for wholeness; that it is both possible and helpful for our growth to contact a deeper source of guidance and wisdom within; that it is integral to our health to unite our conscious will and aspiration with the spiritual impulse; that one can access transpersonal experiences through altered states of consciousness that can aid in growth and healing; that one’s life and actions are meaningful; and that the transpersonal context shapes how we are viewed and view others (i.e., all are fellow seekers and evolving beings).
Historically, non-duality stems from Eastern teachings of Advaita Vedanta, Buddhism, and Taoism (to name a few), and has many definitions all pointing to the same ultimate concept of “not-two,” or the essential oneness/wholeness/completeness that exists prior to apparent separation. For example in Taoism, dualistic thinking or thinking in opposites is refuted – as can be observed in the Yin-Yang symbol which seeks to marry dualities within its symbology. In Advaita, this is viewed as the non-difference of subject and object (i.e., yourself or I and anyone or anything outside of yourself). There are many other ways to explain and define non-duality. Some refer to non-duality as the ground of all being, pure consciousness, or accessing our essential essence. It can feel like an experience of complete clarity and a buzzing, visceral aliveness within every cell of our bodies (some people experience this state after an intense catharsis/emotional release).
Non-duality is also a state of being that is created overtime through deep inquiry into the notion of who are we… really. It occurs during the dissolution of who we thought ourselves to be. This is a process that often occurs during therapy as we begin to recognize that we are not our thoughts or our emotions, and that our ideas of who we are (even our personalities) were shaped by experiences throughout our lives and our reactions to those experiences (i.e., the collection of our behaviours, coping mechanisms, patterns of thought, etc.). We often think of ourselves as our ego identities. Here, the term “ego” is referring to who it is that thinks our thoughts, or the sense of ownership we feel that creates a separate, illusory “self.” This is actually what we are referring to when we refer to ourselves as “I”. Transpersonal psychology theorists have recognized that throughout our development, human consciousness actually extends beyond the awareness of that autonomous “self,” ego, or the ”I.” Rupert Spira describes the thought “I am” as the beginning of the separate self and that the separate self, created by the “I” thought, grows roots in the body that we call the feeling of being “me.”
When one accesses non-dual awareness, however, they feel a sense of dissolution of the separate self/ego/”I” that is replaced by a novel sense of oneness and connectedness that unites the ordinary and extraordinary. You begin to realize that experience takes place both within you and is made out of you, and that there is no separation in that process. Put another way, non-dual realization is a process where consciousness begins to recognize itself and moves into unrestricted, pure consciousness. It is a process of releasing that which you are not in order to realize that which you actually are.
EXPERIENCING AND ACCESSING NON-DUALITY
We often experience non-dual states when we fall in love or see something so beautiful it takes our breath away (also known as moments of “awe”). Rupert Spira describes what happens in these experiences as a collapse of the feeling of being an inside self that knows of an outside self or other. Suddenly there is no space between us and our lover, or us and the breathtaking sunset we are experiencing atop a mountain peak. The peace and fulfillment that we are seeking is actually the simple knowing of our own being. In non-duality our world becomes simpler: Where there were egos attempting to pull love and acceptance from each other, there is now innate love, peace, and acceptance in the shared identity of oneness. I accept you just as you are, knowing that you are a mirror of me and that we are both ultimately the same thing. Alan Watts described it like this:
“We do not “come into” this world; we come out of it, as leaves from a tree. As the ocean “waves,” the universe “peoples.” Every individual is an expression of the whole realm of nature, a unique action of the total universe.”
So, we are all unique “waves” but we are made up of the same ocean water, we just wave differently. Put another way, we are like radio antennas picking up signals and transmitting them as our own unique radio station – yet the signals are coming from the same ultimate source.
Okay, so how do we purposefully access non-duality or non-dual states of consciousness?
Apart from the experiences mentioned above (i.e., love, awe that connect us immediately to non-separateness), is there a way to live permanently in the non-dual state? This is a paradoxical question in itself as non-duality is actually the very ground of our being, meaning that it is always here and, thus, always accessible to us. It is not separate from us. It is the true experience of reality that is not separated into anything; that we are not judging, liking, disliking, or needing to be different. It is (YOU are) the sky upon which the clouds float by. So, apart from exercises like meditation or compounds like psychedelics facilitating these fully connected experiences, we access non-duality by cultivating the acceptance of all that is within ourselves and outside of ourselves. For example, in meditation you access a state in which you are just being whatever you are in that moment by connecting to breath and witnessing thoughts and emotions come and go with no attachment to them or desire to change them.
When we put this into practice in therapy it allows us to drop the judgements of our situations and problems. We let go of the “me” that complains about or dislikes my situation so that I can experience what is without that complaining experiencer (which some refer to as the “split mind”). In living from a place of non-duality we live in a new state of being akin to what Krishnamurti called “choiceless awareness.” This means simply perceiving what is free from judgements, identifications, and justifications. Rather than relying on our conditioning to dictate what we assume to be right or wrong, we instead become aware of our reactions and conscious of our motives and conditioned responses. We realize that we can totally allow what is very naturally, just as you allow the sun to shine and the clouds to move across the sky without effort. We find peace and fulfillment in knowing our own being, and that what we essential are is inherently and perfectly without resistance.
Our invitation to you is to practice being the sky and not the clouds that move through it, or the ocean and not the individual wave you think you are. See if you can accept whatever is today with no judgments, preferences, or desire for things to be different and see what happens!
If you would like to learn more about transpersonal psychology and non-duality, speak to one of our practitioners by contacting our team HERE. You can also check out some of our favorite teachers of non-duality: Mooji, Alan Watts, Adyashanti, Jeff Foster, Rupert Spira, Eckhart Tolle, Ram Dass
Choiceless awareness: A study book of the teachings of J. Krishnamurti.
Tzu, G., Bannerman, B. Transforming Trauma into Healing and Being: a Non-Dual Therapy Approach. Int J Ment Health Addiction 15, 63–79 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11469-016-9659-1
Psychotherapy and Spirit: Theory and Practice in Transpersonal Psychotherapy, Brant Cortright
O’Keeffe, J. Prior to phenomenal perception. Paradoxica: Journal of Nondual Psychology, 6 (2014).