What is nonduality?

‘Nonduality’ means ‘not two’, or ‘one without a second’. Although the word is often associated with the ancient Indian philosophy of Advaita, the understanding of fundamental oneness can be identified in mystical origins throughout all cultures. Nondual understanding denotes the deep knowing and direct insight into an essential awareness or consciousness that underlies and manifests the apparent play of separateness or duality. From the nondual perspective, the divide between individuals, objects, and all phenomena, is nothing but a conceptual construct.

Nonduality reveals our true nature – the expressions of consciousness that everybody shares, including freedom, joy, peace and love. This knowledge, which isn’t intellectual knowledge, found in the insights of various sages through the ages, is the core of Hindu Vedanta, nearly all schools of Buddhism, and Taoism, and mystical Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

Nonduality does not negate the appearance of separateness but points to the Source from which the world of diversity flow, the Source in which the play of duality unfolds. The blossoming of our full potential involves the evolution of mind. Life is a dynamic dance between individuality and wholeness.

The nondual approach to therapy

When we embrace the reality of wholeness – that there is a single life, consciousness and eternal Self that permeates myriad forms – dilemmas persist which are psychological. Emotional suffering calls not for bypass, denial or suppression, but deeper exploration and healing. Spiritual realization rarely heals our deep wounding or unconscious interpersonal patterns developed in early in life, observes John Welwood (2003) in ‘The Sacred Mirror: Nondual Wisdom and Psychotherapy.’ These patterns keep showing up in our lives in various ways. Often what we require is psychological processing that facilitates bringing into awareness the conditioned dynamics that reinforce these patterns.

A key principle of Nondual Therapy is that the separate self is illusory. The conception of the separate self creates the experience of ‘otherness’ which leads to a sense of unease, conflict and abandonment. In the dualistic paradigm, we strive to gain what we desire and avoid what brings suffering, and this constant seeking forms contractions (Johnson 2017).

It is in the nature of the mind to divide and oppose. “Can there be some other mind, which unites and harmonises, which sees the whole in the part and the part as totally related?” asked Advaita teacher Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj (1897 – 1981). “In the going beyond the limiting, dividing and opposing mind. In ending the mental process as we know it. When this comes to an end, that mind is born” (Maharaj 1973). The nondual approach to therapy is based on the restoring capacity of the unconditioned mind (Fenner 2003). The practitioner provides a space for clients to encounter the unconditioned mind to dissolve suffering and attending to psychological wounds. Nondual therapies are based on the fact that we have all that we need, purely because we are conscious.

The aims of nondual therapy

The goal isn’t to get rid of thoughts or feelings to reach a state of freedom. Rather, therapy awakens an experience of the unconditioned mind, and cultivates this experience. Grounded in the unconditioned mind, thoughts, emotions and perceptions still occur, but they don’t define or limit us. In this way, Nondual Therapy is a development of traditional therapeutic modalities, but it is unique in that it liberates us from compelling forms of programming that operate in humanity’s collective mind. Each nondual therapist brings something different and crafts the approach differently, there isn’t one method. Nondual awareness enriches existing theoretical models through the practitioner’s deepening awareness.

Fundamentally, Nondual Therapy is about healing; the compassionate work of rediscovering naturalness and wholeness. It is a process which helps release the body-mind’s energetic contractions by witnessing and releasing our fixations as they arise (Johnson 2017). By recognising our reactivity, its influence on us is released, and we are more able to respond lovingly to what arises. In going beyond judgement to acknowledgement, Nondual Therapy meets our deeper life in a way that conventional approaches that focus on the past and outward behavior do not. The more we cultivate the capacity to embrace the unfolding of contractions through the cessation of desire and avoidance, the more our true Self shines through.

What do nondual therapists do?

Connecting with their clients beyond the isolated, separate self, nondual therapists embody a quality of awareness that has the potential to enhance their practice. Through their presence and therapeutic skills, they help their clients appreciate the transparency of their limited identities and gently abide in a new openness, while simultaneously welcoming, honoring, and inquiring into any emotional, mental or somatic contractions that reveal themselves. In being introduced to the unconditioned aspect of their existence, people’s experience can begin to deepen and stabilize (Fenner 2003). Such is the healing power of awareness, silence and listening.

This is not about attainment or improvement. Instead, Nondual Therapy is about undoing and unmasking the entangled personality to make way for the natural flow of Nondual Qualities (Johnson 2017). Some of these are listed below. Therefore, the power lies not in ‘doing’ more, but in softening the apparent solidity of the separate self through utilizing the qualities of our consciousness creatively.

Instead of attempting to mend the personality, a nondual approach sees identity as one of the countless beloved forms of Source in action that can be celebrated as part of the whole being expressed. The capacity to have compassion towards the form we take to be our self and to be curious about the patterns and phenomena that show up in the body-mind is key in Nondual Therapy. This is supported by the nondual therapist who provides an open and non-judgmental space that allows things to be as they are, without the pressure to change.

In nondual therapy, we do not regard duality as ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’. We do not reject the many expressions of life. Instead, we accept the evolutionary movement towards natural stability and harmony. With a shift into authentic being, a spontaneous unfolding happens of the contractions that define the personality. We create a space free of tension allowing the natural letting go of dense beliefs and stuck feelings, thoughts, and energies.

As I put it in my book ‘Living the Life That You Are – Finding Wholeness When You Feel Lost, Isolated, and Afraid’: “[It] is an uncensored embrace of our present experience with courage, letting life unfold as it will, but not getting enmeshed in and identifying with that unfolding. This loving, existential embrace reveals the way to healing, to deeper understanding, to authentic unity with the universal. Suffering, if held and assimilated into universal Consciousness and no longer escaped and shunned, teaches us to be even more sensitive and receptive to contented possibilities of truth.”

It becomes less important what we do, but crucial to be what we are. Nondual therapy sees the individual self for what it is. It dissolves identities, including the roles of client and practitioner, teacher and student, enlightened and unenlightened. We rediscover a place in our experience that is free of deficiency and the catalyst of our most harmonious actions.

The possibilities of the nondual approach

In spaciousness, it becomes possible to wholeheartedly inquire into the composition, the quality, and the origin of suffering to loosen the contracted and identity-based view of the here-and-now. In a shared depth of presence, we witness, acknowledge and eventually dissolve difficulties and transformation happens.

Nondual inquiry is focused on unveiling the reality of what we are, surrendering to a deep-knowing of our true nature, and fostering an in-depth understanding of the mechanics of the conceptual. In many ways, nondual therapy is similar to satsang (a spiritual discourse or sacred gathering) because it is an investigation into the ultimate truth of mutual experience (Krystal 2003).

The personality, with all its dispositions, characteristics, and preferences may remain. There’s no attempt to alter or remove anything or to find answers and solutions. Instead, the aim is simply to discern truth and reality and to magnify the quality of the timeless moment. Of course, there may be a desire for change or a fear of what is presently manifesting, but these concepts, stories, and beliefs are held, recognized for what they are and investigated with the light of inquiry.

Accordingly, the intensity inherent in suffering and conflict evaporates spontaneously. Paradoxically and quite effortlessly, problems may get processed. Answers to questions such as “Who am I?”, “What do I most desire?” and “What is the truth?” may become apparent as entrenched beliefs and self-concepts are freed. Human suffering, however, is not seen as something erroneous, or something that defines us. What we are is prior to the human form. What we are is the creative capacity out of which each impermanent form arises and dissolves.

Such a recognition can bring peace, freedom and joy, as if returning home and being embraced by life. As John J. Prendergast says, we are “Freed of the role identity, we are more authentic, transparent, available, and creative in the moment… We discover total freedom in the midst of our conditioned existence.” And Peter Fenner: “We aren’t compelled to make everything meaningful. It is also possible to just be with what is, without needing to understand it or make it significant. We can be present to what is, without creating somewhere we have come from and somewhere we are heading.”

Some of the Nondual Qualities include (Georgi Y. Johnson, 2017)

  • Authenticity
  • Balance
  • Beauty
  • Being
  • Clarity
  • Compassion
  • Connection
  • Ease
  • Friendliness
  • Discernment
  • Humility
  • Peace
  • Inspiration
  • Purity
  • Relaxation
  • Stillness
  • Trust
  • Truth
  • Wholeness

 

References:

‘The Sacred Mirror: Nondual Wisdom and Psychotherapy’ by John J. Prendergast, Peter Fenner, Sheila Krystal (2003) link

‘Nondual Therapy: The Psychology of Awakening’ by Georgi Y. Johnson (2017) link

 ‘Living the Life That You Are: Finding Wholeness When You Feel Lost, Isolated, and Afraid’ by Nic Higham (2018) link