It has been said many times that yoga means union. Ultimately this means that the subject object relationship evaporates and there is only this. The seer and the seen are one. With language like this, lofty notions of absolute non-duality come to mind, and for most of us, that is a bridge too far. We are mired in our daily interactive selves where transaction rules. We find ourselves heaved about by our narrative self, in exchange with others who are also in their own tumult. It just seems so far from the union of yoga.
One thing about our minds is that it sees everything as very dual by default. And if we only perceive the world through the mind’s eye, then it’s no wonder than merging with the ultimate appears as some far-fetched aspiration fit only for rare souls.
But actually things aren’t as polar as that. Life is subtle in how it shows up, and we need to learn to discern those subtleties. The trick is to wedge our perception into that space between the experience itself, and the mind’s interpretation which follows quickly thereafter. Living consciously means not taking things for granted, and really focusing our attention on our pure experience, to investigate for ourselves.
Going back to the seer, if we ask, “who is the seer?” We would immediately respond with “me.” We are so habituated with identifying ourselves with our personality and our inner narrative that we never question it. Well now is the time to look again.
Try a little experiment – sit comfortably and take some deep breaths, relaxing further into each one. Now close your eyes and listen. Does it feel like sounds are just arising in space, or does it feel like the sounds are out there and there is clearly a separate thing inside your head that is hearing? Mind the mind, it will jump in with an answer but that is a habituated answer. Set the mind aside and really feel into your intuition. Now, try the experiment again with vision. Open your eyes and feel into the pure experience of seeing. Does it feel like what is seen is simply there in space or does it feel like everything is out there, and there is clearly a thing inside your head that is looking? Again, don’t jump to the logical answer. You are capacity for experience and then there is the mind, discern the pure experience.
For many, this experience will not change how they think they perceive the world. But there will be some who will say that yes, sounds just show up. Vision just shows up. They are simply aware, and without constant reliance and direct attention on their personal self, it somehow disappears momentarily. Well, that right there is the beginning of nondual perception. It’s very subtle so we don’t notice it and dismiss it. Nondual perception doesn’t have to mean that you are the tree you’re looking at. We need to set aside our beliefs and lofty enlightenment ideas because these are holding us back from trusting and acknowledging our actual clear experience. Seekers often look for flashy experiences that they latch onto as personal trophies; more so the case for those who aspire to the “direct path.” However, research* shows that for most people, awakening happens incrementally in a subtle progression that is often not even noticed. We need to nurture the subtle experiences, sink into the sensations without mental analysis, and give ourselves the permission to accept these clues as steppingstones on the path.
* Refer to the work of Dr. Jeffrey Martin
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