To learn to see, to learn to hear, you must do this—go into the wilderness alone.
Fundamentally, at the heart of our suffering is our sense of separateness from life, which means that we experience life through the eyes of duality. I am separate from you. You and I live in a time-and-space-based world of countless people and objects. We might end up wondering about true connection or how to put an end to our separateness.
Our sense of separation fuels our society’s every pursuit: material, psychological, professional, social, and spiritual. Innocently, we’re looking in the wrong places; assuming love, peace, acceptance—or whatever we’re seeking to be complete—is out there; seeking somewhere, something, or someone else. It’s our disconnection that triggers this outward seeking. This agitated deficiency only creates more division and suffering, bearing little fruit.
The origins of separation
In psychospiritual terms, our individual self is by definition deficient, because it has a life span and is dependent on other things that also have a limited life span. Identified this way, we use others as a means for self-enhancement; we try to find ourselves through our relationships. Similarly, we identify with our roles, status, and possessions, grasping for them and becoming preoccupied with scarcity, and a dread of losing our stockpile of ego embellishments. These embellishments, which are primarily adopted beliefs, are used to patch up a fragmented sense of individuality. We mold ourselves by interacting with the cultural framework in which we live and to which we contribute. Culture fashions the components of our sense of self and informs, to a large extent, our perception of reality. Right from our formative years, it gives us a way to communicate, to know what’s acceptable, and to find meaning. Although it seems as if culture is “out there” somewhere, it exists in our minds as a bundle of recurring stories. These societal sound bites make up our collective character and codes of behavior. What this alludes to is a compelling experience of individuality that is conceptually constructed, and seemingly alienated from the whole.
Existential anxiety and alienation force us to inquire; they set in motion purifying shifts of awareness, which unveil a new kind of freedom. This shift can unfold gradually in non-dual therapy. When we take a closer deeper look, we might find that we’re not separate from each other. We are a web of expansive aloneness and profound connectedness. Beneath our short-lived identities we know we are not merely islands, but part of the universal mainland we long to locate: a microcosm of a much greater macrocosm.
Ego is preoccupied with desire and fear and fabricates a world of superior and inferior people; nothing frightens it more than emptiness and uncertainty. Ego’s biggest fear is the realization of its illusory nature, a far worse death, it thinks, than the body dying. That is to say, believing in difference keeps it alive; its mission is to divide and conquer. We could say that the ego is a bundle of desires and fears. The forces of push and pull, or aversion and attraction. No wonder we feel so confused, exhausted, tense, depressed and overwhelmed when we identify with the ego.
The deeper cause of loneliness and isolation
Loneliness and isolation do not simply indicate the absence of a healthy social life, or anything we lack. The truth is that we’re under the spell of a much more fundamental and illusive sort of isolation. Such experiences are rooted in seeing life through the distorting filters of desire and fear—desire causing us to want things we see ourselves as lacking, fear expressed as avoidance and defensiveness. Paradoxically, even our quest for intimacy may be the reason for such feelings.
The cliché is true: we’re always looking for ourselves, our truest selves. Rediscovering our true Self is the ultimate purpose of non-dual therapy. And while it may at first seem incongruous in our search for connection, what we’re actually trying to find is our deeper Self—our infinite, non-conceptual Self, with a capital S. Looking more deeply beneath our identity, we find that it’s the same Self that is everyone. This Self is the all-encompassing, undivided Self that is everyone and everything.
How to realize radical connection
In being out of sync with ourselves, however, we’re shut off from what’s truly happening, and our egoic narratives (“I’m not enough,” “I’m inferior,” “I’m superior,” etc.) are compelling and all-consuming. Our noisy minds influence much of our day—our actions, reactions, and emotions. We’re often hypersensitive to all the drama around us in an alien world, and our eyes are closed to any common ground. The world rarely meets our hopes because it’s a projection of incongruence, a projection which requires masses of energy and effort to maintain but no energy whatsoever to transcend.
Our inadvertent overlooking of Self and the anguish that ensues are an inside job. They cloud the mind and Being like a solar eclipse. An eclipse is a natural event, an essential part of the arrangement and movement of the sun and moon. What isn’t natural is the idea that the sun doesn’t exist when hidden from our sight. Similarly, our lack of focus on and discernment of our true Self and Source is a perverse (albeit unintentional) state. As a speck of dust in our eye can cause irritation and haziness, so the erroneous belief “I am a separate, finite individual” absorbs our entire attention with a single point of awareness, obscuring reality. We suffer from misapprehension, shortsightedness—that’s all.
The antidote? To sincerely question if in truth we are confined to a dualistically isolated world of our own conceptualizing, to take in the boundlessness of Knowing, and to uncover and inquire into the cause of our condition. Analyzing, numbing, or treating symptoms isn’t enough. You can inquire like this on your own or with a therapist who used a non-dual approach. Remember, a good therapist or counselor acts as an invisible mirror for your own processing and home-coming.
Contemplate this: what you are (beyond the self-concepts) is boundless and all-inclusive. Beyond the apparent confines of “me”, you are transcendent of time and space. Within that “you” that you call the Self, you manifest as countless focal points of universal Consciousness that project duality. Radical connection, then, can be realized through putting things into perspective, through learning to “see” clearly and expansively. It is realized by initially connecting with our own Aliveness—localized consciousness, or Being; our basic sense of existing—and then coming to recognize that Aliveness is not divided into separate subjective egos. This is what I call “discerning focus.” We don’t have to cultivate Aliveness because it already is. Having said that, we can develop a discerning focus and distinguish the universal Consciousness from the changeable activity of the mind and the world it imagines.
The true meaning of nonduality
“Non-duality” doesn’t mean “against duality”; it’s not meant to imply that duality is bad. “Anti-duality” denotes a dualistic state of mind from whence springs the fraught pursuit of certain expressions of life and the turning away from others. In other words, non-duality is both the Deep Knowing of inseparability and an entire embrace of passing paradox. It’s the supreme balancing of the contraries. It’s authentic connection. It’s Self-realization. It’s unconditional love.
This posts consists of extracts from ‘Living the Life That You Are: Finding Wholeness When You Feel Lost, Isolated, and Afraid’ by non-dual counsellor Nic Higham.
Nic Higham is the author of ‘Living the Life That You Are: Finding Wholeness When You Feel Lost, Isolated, and Afraid’. He is based in Leicester, UK where he offers counselling.