LEWIS (1): Openings/Fear/the Self/Non-Duality Speak
“The experience of an Opening is actively held onto as a beacon to shine a light on the way back to who we really are.” (From the Prologue to The Story of ‘You’)
Lewis, from Wiltshire in England, read the extracts from the Story of ‘You’ and wrote to me via the contact page. Here are some edited excerpts of our correspondence:
…I have watched quite a few videos on Non-Duality but you are the first one to talk about these things in a manner that I can understand. I’ve become so tired of the usual Non-Duality speak but your way of presenting this is so simple and ordinary. Of itself the Glossary is amazing; everything is so clearly presented. Especially, insightful is ‘The Wound’; it seems to describe the ‘problem’ in a nutshell. Thank you.
For what seems like my whole life (54 years) I have (on and off) been trying to find a way to see beyond this Personality and get back to ‘that’ way of Being. I can remember vividly moments when there was a sort of stepping into life as it actually is, or a stepping out of what you are calling the Personality. This was until I was about 10 years old. It’s uncanny, everything you describe in the Prologue may as well be my own experience of this, where suddenly… an observer to life ‘as it is’ appears. These [Openings] continued at a much lesser frequency throughout my teens and just tapered away, but were never forgotten. And since those days there have been these little revisits…
There has always been the feeling that there is a way back. Your words are so comforting and I know you understand…
I’m glad to hear the sharing of my experience is of some help to you and that the Glossary is useful. Bear in mind, when you read the excerpts, that there may be bits that don’t make sense because you are jumping in randomly. It will be helpful, when you can, to read the books in order, because the whole thing builds very sequentially.
I know what you mean about ‘Non-Duality speak’. One of my goals when writing these books was to avoid that as much as possible – in the end it can become a block rather than a help.
I love that you wrote ‘never forgotten’. There is a Taoist story which puts it: ‘only forgotten’ i.e. not lost.
There is a way back, that’s the good news. How could there not be? it is who you are. I think you know this.
I’ll be honest – what we call the ‘normal’ way of being in the world has become my dominant mode of behaviour. The fear is, if there is no longer an identification with the personality then what will life be like? What if by continuing to pursue this enquiry into my true nature (the Natural State) something goes wrong and I end up in some sort of vegetative state and become unable to do anything at all?
It’s almost as though I would rather stay in this accustomed way of being than to risk stepping into the Natural State as that is an unsure territory.
You’re starting from the right place – if you’re not absolutely brutally honest with yourself in this enquiry you’ll never get anywhere with it. You have to See life as it is, whatever it is… You are where you are, that’s fine, accept it. Who said you should be different? The point is, there is some Yearning in you to return to that Natural State; that is also the truth of where you are.
The fear you talk about is natural. All I can say is, just as life breathes you, it also knows how to live your life without the filter of Personality. The Personality is built on the self, this sense of being separate, which is the vehicle through which you interact in the world. After the Shift, identification with Personality and its Suffering falls away, and what remains is this self on which it was built. The self is neutral, it is not informed by the Wound and all that Suffering.
The self knows how to operate in the world. Some teachers say all that goes after Awakening. If that was the case, they wouldn’t be able to function, to speak, to relate to people…
So that fear you have is natural. Let it be, but, if any of what I’m saying resonates with you, it may start to gently diminish.
Some speakers say that there isn’t a person/self/soul/I or power dwelling within the body (or indeed that there even is a body) – all is an appearance. I have read your definition of the ‘self’ in your glossary:
‘Our original sense of separateness which allows us to operate in the world. This begins as a neutral, functioning centre but as we grow up it becomes burdened with Emotion and beliefs and turns into the Personality.’
What exactly do you mean by ‘a neutral, functioning centre?’
As young children, before the Wound, we had no Personality yet we could function, we could play, relate to others, eat etcetera. That’s what I mean by a ‘neutral functioning centre’ called the self.
You could say that the core understanding of Non-Duality – which reveals itself in Awakenings – is that on the Absolute Level, there is no such thing as a separate person. However, in the Relative Level, Awakening appears to happen to a Being – a person. How else can we say that ‘Ramana Maharshi, the Buddha, Lao Tzu (insert your favourite “Enlightened” being here) is enlightened?’ There is the appearance of a person, to which we ascribe something called enlightenment.
So what is going on here? A person is having the understanding that there is no such thing as a person! Apart from that sounding absurd and impossible, one could ask: Who is having that understanding if no one is there to have it?
Let me put it another way: In this email I am giving you ‘my’ answer to your question, but of course, looking from the Absolute Level, there is no ‘me’. Without a ‘me’ – ‘my’ answer simply becomes ‘life’s’ answer.
However, in the Relative Level, that answer appears from this apparent Being, with this name attached to it. That apparent Being has the ability to think, to respond to your question and type these words. That is what I mean by the self.
As long as Buddha (for example) was speaking, teaching, eating etcetera, there was a self operating. Without a self he would have been unable to function in the world. He would never have had anything to teach because he wouldn’t have been able to think, let alone verbalise those thoughts. In short, we would never have heard of someone called Gautama Buddha.
The point is, after the Shift, that self is no longer burdened by the illusion that it is a Personality and all the beliefs, cyclical thoughts, Emotions and Suffering that go along with that. That is why I call it a ‘neutral functioning centre’.
So, can it be said that by acquiring ways of behaving/surviving in the world (the Relative Level) the ‘neutral functioning centre’ becomes a ‘biased functioning centre’ in the form of the development of a particular Personality?
After the Wound, the Personality is built on the foundation of the self which, as I say, is neutral. The Personality however, is not neutral. It has motivations, Emotions, choices, preferences; its Awareness is not Choice-less. So yes, you could say that the self becomes a ‘biased functioning centre’, but by then I call it the Personality.
Regarding your questions about the self: I think you might be approaching this from an unhelpful angle, almost like a detective trying to find the perpetrator of a crime. I understand why; this is what we do in the Relative Level. Something goes ‘wrong’ and we try to solve the problem by looking for who or what is at fault? In other words: ‘What made it go wrong?’ But in this enquiry we are not applying the logic of religion, which creates a ‘bad guy’ – the Devil – to take the rap for all the ‘bad’ stuff’. Here, from the viewpoint of Non-Duality, another angle appears – things are seen differently. When talking about this area of how we lose our Natural State the apportioning of blame and the dividing into opposites of good or bad falls away. One’s view – just like the self – becomes more neutral.
Perhaps I can give you a taste of that viewpoint: Instead of apportioning blame to the self, the Personality or whatever, try to see this subject without the filter of judgement. What you are left with is the realisation that no one, no thing, no entity is doing anything. In the Relative Level, energy is simply moving round, changing form – things are ‘just happening’. There is identification, which causes Suffering, and there is ‘neutrality’, which doesn’t. When it is seen that One is not the Personality, what happens is that identification falls away (energy ‘moves around’) and the experience of life changes. It is no longer hooked on this contracted idea of identity; that bias is taken away and what is left (in the Relative Level) is the neutral functioning centre of the self.
I think the problem is that most Non-Duality speakers appear to be implying that there isn’t any such thing as a ‘self’ whereas, you seem to be saying that there is.
If you are implying that there is a self then perhaps it’s in the sense of an idea believed in which is itself like everything else simply an appearance just happening (in the Relative Level) but for no one.
Maybe the confusion arises because of my use of the word ‘self’; which I define very carefully in The Story of ‘You’ (Chapter 10 is actually called The Self.) Perhaps when other speakers use the word ‘self ‘ they are referring to Personality? If they are not, then – for all the reasons outlined in previous emails – I don’t agree with them. (As long as you are functioning in the world, relating, eating, washing etc there has to be a sense of self that is doing all those things). This is the whole point of my definition: It points to the fact that there is the appearance of a Being operating in the world. To deny that is how you end up in the whole Absolutist world of ‘Non-Duality speak’, which tacitly seems to deny the appearance of the Relative Level. (How this is an incomplete picture which ends up as a limiting, mental trap of learnt concepts and catch phrases is discussed in my second book) So as you can see, I agree with your second sentence:
‘If you are implying that there is a self then perhaps it’s in the sense of an idea believed in which is itself, like everything else, simply an appearance just happening (in the Relative Level) but for no one.’
However, I don’t think you need to even say: ‘but for no one.’ I am somewhat wary of this phrase; it’s used very freely by Absolutists and parroted by their followers. It is then devalued and loses its ability to point clearly to this understanding. (You may not be using it in this way, only you can tell.)
There are certain ways to talk about this understanding. I am obviously using ways that seem clear to me, but the intention is to cut beyond Personality, not create catch phrases which the Personality can hang onto. (The Personality can hide in concepts which it becomes familiar with, even if those concepts point beyond itself.) I’m sure the same can happen with the way I express things, so it is a danger I am aware of.
You have an uncanny way of pinpointing what it is that I need to hear or be pointed to. I’m glad you mentioned the ‘concept trap’; I think I’ve been stuck there for years. The re-visits have always appeared whenever there has been a break from seeking, which hasn’t been often. It does appear that the seeking is some sort of blockade to relaxing and being open to seeing it.
There is something about your approach to this that appeals to me. As I have mentioned in a previous email, I am 54 and have been trying to work all this out for as long as I can remember. My current position seems (so far as I can tell) to be more like what you are pointing to – The Absolute Level and the Relative Level, in the sense of how to weld the ‘two’, how to be comfortable living as an apparent separate being while knowing that ultimately and mysteriously there is only Oneness – but this does not necessarily negate or make meaningless the Relative, lived experience.
Click here for the second part of this correspondence