Non-Duality, Well-Being and the Weight of Being Somebody
Updated: Dec 7, 2020
Practice Deeper Than Well Being
Well-being. Well, as a practice, ideal and aspiration, it’s necessary, beautiful and respectable. And also a bottomless labor. An everyday act of compassion it seems everyone is devoted to, even in what seem to be distorted or backwards ways. We live a continuous mandate to make our bodies warmer or cooler, to feed them or vacate them. We live a continuous effort to stimulate the mind, to mellow it, train it or expand it. We feel and suffer the demands of a heart that alternates between longing for company to longing for aloneness’s peace. The living body has the imperative to be well.
Whether you see it as grasping, karma, instinct, survival biology, whether you call it human nature, the living myth of Sisyphus, whether you call it love, we do the labor of holding it all together. We’re helped by our sense of obligations: to loved ones, to the law, to our own dignity, to our fears of what we might become, to show up on this world stage and be a decent person trying to live a decent life, at the very least. A constant output of energy is demanded to simply exist. This is how it is for a separate self - a struggle, being animated by duty, desire, will and the instinct of biological preservation. It’s ok thats the way it is. There’s a meaningness we can make of the texture of our being even when that texture is blood, sweat and tears. As practitioners of awakening, we respect this bottomless labor for love, continue it in our most skillful ways, yet orient towards something deeper and wiser than consensus reality’s recipe for well-being.
The Practice of Being Somebody
Let’s talk about non-dual meditation. Non-dual meditation is wiser than a practice aimed at only well-being because it gives us deep and fundamental relief from identity, the need to be somebody. How sweet this release into the open vista of non-dual awareness, free from being somebody! From deepest wisdom we know and feel that it’s heavy, identified as being somebody. What do I mean by identified as being somebody? What’s your experience of the feeling of being somebody?
Suppose your mind emits thousands of thoughts each day that orbit the core image you have of yourself. ‘I am like this, I am not like that. I am better than, worse than, different than…’ Imagine each of these thoughts and feelings of self-image as having some physical mass, say like a pebble. Thus far in life, how big do you imagine this pebble pile of thoughts and images of inadequacy and self-criticism, competition and jealousy, pride and superiority to be? How tall the pile of pebbles construed of despairing or celebrating your appearance and abilities, how you wish and do not wish to be seen? If you’re like me it’s high as the Himalayas, piercing the sky! It’s a big pile. Thousands of thoughts a day X 365 days X 20 years, 30 years, 40, 50….
Are we standing atop this pebble pile aloof and disconnected? Are we smothered, diminished in our breathing, underneath its mass? Not only might we be disconnected atop or smothered beneath, we may constantly work at adding or subtracting pebbles to maintain and reshape this self-image. It’s inherently stressful because we cant control what people think about us or even what we think about us. There are circumstances of change and loss coming our way that may transform us into somebody we don’t want to be transformed into. These are the consequences that come with identity as a somebody.
Seeing What’s Behind the Mask
In consensus reality it is unquestioned that we bear and must bear this weight. Perhaps more accurately it is unconscious, this weight. Do you ever consider the weight of being somebody? It’s like wearing a bulky backpack for so long we forget we are wearing it and completely normalize the burden. Do you ever consider this is something you can empty out or put down for a time being? Even a successful somebody, a loved somebody, even a unanimous somebody is, to one degree or another, heavy. From our deepest wisdom, identified as being somebody is heavy, thick and dense relative to the spacious, transparency of non-dual truth.
Unconsciously being a somebody, not knowing it as a temporary, inter-arising role in the great drama, we make a particular kind of trouble, a public and private disturbance. A somebody who is good or bad, a somebody who is whole and complete, a somebody who’s a total klutzy nudnik, the unconscious being of all of these beings of somebody inevitably come with friction. The activity of being somebody is a felt friction of rubbing up against the way the universe is: a groundless, creative, non-stop efflorescence. This friction gives off sparks we can see, sparks that burn, sparks that start fires. Consider for a moment all the sorrow, all the violence, all the painful drama that flares up from tightly wound egos. The premise of awakening traditions is that we are born into this friction, an identity crisis, from our first breath confused about what we are. We’re born into the contemplative imperative, to really see what it is to be somebody.
Suppose that all the somebodies that we see and be are no more and no less than characters. We look in the mirror and see who? Others look at us and see who? Who and what do you feel yourself to be in the innermost intimate way? What does your birth name refer to in deep actuality? If you close your eyes and quiet your mind and ask who am I?, does it match up with the image you see in the mirror, the images of yourself you see in your mind, the ideas about who you are that others reflect back? Does it match up with who you feel yourself to be in the most intimate way? In the mirror, we see a character, one among many that dwell with us . In others, we see a character, one of the many that are hidden from view. The different characters we appear as, on the world stage, within the mind of ourselves and all those we interact with, are simply that, characters. One face presenting among a multitude. Which is the real face? And how do you know? We’re a mystery to ourselves. I wager it is perpetually so - for every inch of self awareness, there are two inches of self unknown. For every precious, fleeting glimpse of perspective on ourselves, perspective on our life, there is an angle unaccessed, a self unaccessed, a perspective existing in potential that could bring relief or added richness or depth.
Each false or limited belief living through us, when brought into the light, seems to struggle for its survival, dig in its heels, make its case with a new passion, renew itself through the power of its own rehearsal. And often we do love them and they do love us, all the beliefs, all the parts of us that have substantiated themselves in order to, well, substantiate. They have served many compassionate functions- safety from the bigness of the great unknown, safety from the eyes of others, solace from the seeming black hole of death, safety from responsibility for our actions and their consequences. There’s a grief in letting go of identity as a somebody, a mourning for the familiar ending its stay or no longer taking up the space it once was invited to take up. Non-dual meditation practice brings us in intimate relations with this grief, into a richly aching and expanding sense of heart. We wake down into the heart-string fibers of loving and clinging and the throbbing texture of loss.
Meditation Beyond Meditation
However. Non-dual meditation. With that practice we open a vista within which we can see where and how the effort to hold it together is what needs to be done and we can see how we effort to hold together what has never needed and truly never has been held together. We’re talking about letting space and light flow into places it was previously crowded out. We approach practice living into the question, how do I crowd out inner space and light? We make conscious the practice of being somebody and we see what happens when we take a break.
As a practice, what is non-dual meditation? Non-dual meditation cannot be encapsulated by any approach, definition or understanding. Approaches, understandings and definitions are always defined relative to what they are not. Authentic non-duality is not stillness as opposed to agitation, neither spaciousness nor fixation. Neither effort nor effortlessness describes or prescribes it. Neither relaxation nor intensity is an unfailing key. Whatever is said or practiced at best brings you to a precipice, and unknowingly you slip off and plunge into unsupported, frictionless, blissful space.
It’s definitely not the practice of a technique. A technique is a man-made tool designed to improve upon the conditions of life as it is, an agent acting upon an objective world weilding a method. With non-dual meditation, agent, objective world and improvement are transcended in a gestureless and timeless release. Non-dual meditation is a stance of the heart rather than a technique. Yet even stance is wrong. Non-dual meditation is release from stances without making a stance out of the stancelessness that opens this mystery. Stancelessness: releasing the need to be somebody, not relating to any of the arising impulses in the body or mind : to correct, to improve, to meditate, to get somewhere. Somebody takes actions of mind and body to shape the world according to its vision of how to secure happiness. To correct the incorrect moment. In non-dual meditation, we cease the actions of expressing Somebody. All is allowed to arise, it’s the stance towards that arising we shift. This is the essence of Zen Shikantaza, Dzogchen Trekcho and any practice of meditation beyond meditation. This is utter simplicity. It may be true that mind training preceding this stance is necessary. It may not be true that mind training preceding this practiceless practice is necessary.
Sexy Books About Non-Duality
Many people will try to sell you a seminar or a book with sexy spiritual sweet nothings saying you don’t need to make any effort in awakening to non-duality, that You’re Already There! It’s half a truth, a three quarters truth at best. With Awakening’s eyes, we do see everybody as an unbroken expression of this mystery -nothing needing to be improved or practiced. Seemingly outside of Awakening, we have the deep-set dis-ease in our bodies and hearts, or the lack of it, to testify to whether Somebody is still being laboriously carried around. Call it effort or non-effort, whatever we call it, for non-dual meditation to truly be the centuries long celebrated non-dual, to taste its exquisite though ordinary fruit, we have to put aside practicing the practice of being somebody.
This is often called Letting Go, which in essence is simply seeing. Seeing the actuality of whats here, what the self really is, simply seeing the multifarious ways with mind and body we do the stressful practice of being somebody. Simply seeing that all these somebodies are see-through, potent yet lightly here. Thats the wonder of it. People give their whole lives to this endeavor of letting awakening shine through. So I wish not to belittle or underestimate the depth of devotion that, in all but the rarest people, is required to loosen the knot of ego enough for the light to really spill out. And yet, with the desire and the time and the methods, we can see. And as the luminaries say, when we take a close enough look, nothing is hidden. We see through. And there is the imperative to keep seeing through. An awakened or self that has seen, is still the obstruction of a self.
Yes, there is tremendous nuance within all of this - being somebody is a delight and an art when it’s contexted in awareness, a conscious choice, consenting to playing the many characters of our lives, slipping in and out of their psychic, translucent skin with mercurial ease. The joy and gift of ways like Dzogchen and Zen can be likened to emerging into a waking dream, a life lucidly tended to with both wholehearted care and a spacious, playful, expansive view. Not being somebody opens up this possibility of being everybody, being the whole of ourselves - everywhere we look, inner and outer we encounter an expression of our intimate nature - people, plants, perspectives, the works. This is Well-Being. Necessary, demanding, beautiful, and, dare I say, unavoidable. This deep kind of well-being is what I try to practice and what I hope to practice with you.