Nondualism and the Practice of Stillness

All great searches begin with the suspension of the statements "I know" and "I don’t know." This orients us in an attitude of listening. In fact, yoga may be described as the art and science of listening, and silence is the ground in which listening takes root and blossoms.

True silence, what I call Stillness, is not the absence of thought, feeling, or sound. Stillness is beyond the absence of objective silence. It is the essence of all that is. Stillness is always present whether objective reality is present or absent. This Stillness is the homeground in which all movement unfolds.

When we live in the attitude of listening, we live as the listening witness of all that arises. At first our search beckons us to examine the nature of the objects that arise in this witnessing: the objective world, our body, senses, and mind. When we spend time with these objects with an openness that does not presume to know what they are, their underlying nature begins to unfold. This simple activity forms the foundation of our search for Truth. Living this process brings the understanding that anything beheld in awareness, without anticipation or expectation, becomes purified of its grosser nature. As the process deepens, we may intuit the underlying essential nature of Consciousness that gives rise to all creation.

This truth is embodied in the ancient process of yajna. Often taken to be an external ritual, the fire ceremony is actually a projection of the internal process of purification through awareness. During the fire ceremony, objects that represent the five elements, such as ghee and flowers, are devotionally offered into the sacrificial fire. Symbolically, fire represents the purifying agency of awareness, flowers represent the distracting or flowering preoccupations of the mind, and ghee represents the mind as it is clarified of its outgoing tendencies that prevent realization of truth.

From the perspective of yajna, we place all that we take ourselves to be—body, senses, and mind—into the fire of awareness. We then, in the words of Heideger, "wait without waiting" to see what arises out of this process of purification.

Yajna is the process of meditation. This meditation, born out of listening, is a sacrifice wherein attention is constantly offered into the fire of awareness.

Living this attitude of listening and waiting without expectation brings a freshness and openness to our life. Our usual patterns of reaction, justification, comparisons, judgments, and defense are observed and understood to be what they are: our refusals to be with what is arising in the moment.

To be happy, we need to learn how to be with all that life offers in each moment. Otherwise we live in constant contraction and turmoil, wishing that life be other than it is. Living in an attitude of accepting brings deep relaxation and loving compassion toward ourselves and others.

Nondual Awareness
When we truly accept ourselves without reference to how we think we "should" be, the subtle energies that underlie our grosser nature become apparent. At this point of maturity, we spontaneously turn from investigating the outward nature of objective reality to inspecting the subjective identity of the one who has been witnessing all of these happenings. The seer, who we have taken to be ourselves, turns and inquires as to the very substance of itself. In this moment the seer and the seen collapse into pure seeing in which object and subject are understood to be made of the same substance. Now there is only witnessing, but no witness; seeing, but no seer. This nonconceptual, nondual understanding that the seer and the seen are one releases our underlying disposition of happiness, which is our native ground of Being. The realization dawns that we have, in truth, never been separate from or dependent upon anything or anyone. Happiness is what we are, what we have always been, and what we will always be.

The Natural Disposition
With eyes reawakened in nondual seeing, we now look back upon the objective world and realize that the substance of everything we see—objects, thoughts, and sensory impressions—is made of the same substance that we feel ourselves to be. The realization dawns that "What I am, all else is," and "What all else is, I am." This realization brings with it "the face of satisfied desire," the end of the search and the beginning of living free from fear, insecurity, and unhappiness.

Living this perspective brings freedom in action. Nothing is perceived separate from anything else. Where there is no other, there is no fear or loss. Truthfulness becomes the only way of speaking, and non-hurtfulness the only way of being.

This nonconceptual understanding may give rise to thoughtful descriptions in the mind’s attempt to grasp the nature of the realization that is ungraspable. We realize that the mind tries to name it God, Divine, Consciousness, but the description is never what is described. This orients us to living the understanding rather than intellectualizing it.

It is not difficult to know who we are, but it takes total devotion, patience, and constant vigilance. When we are really interested in something, we project all our energy into it. When we are in love, all our attention goes to the beloved. If we wish to be happy, to be fearless, to be loving, isn’t it worth our total energy, effort, and devotion? This is why I ask, "To what are we really devoted?"

The 15-century ecstatic poet Kabir captures the essence of what is required of us to realize the goal of meditation when he exclaims, "When the Guest is being searched for, it is the intensity of the longing for the Guest that does all the work. Look at me, and you will see a slave of that intensity." May we all be slaves to the search for our true Self.

Retreat Time
During a retreat we are free from our usual distractions. Outgoing energies are redirected into inward investigations of importance. The disciplines of yoga become yajna fires of purification. Hatha yoga purifies the physical body; pranayama, the subtle (energy) body; and pratyahara and meditation, the causal body. Sensations, the breath, thoughts, and subtle energies become pointers that refer us, not outwardly, but back to our home ground as Consciousness—Stillness.

During retreat, we have the freedom to watch our defenses and refusals to be with the "what is" of each moment. We can observe our competitiveness, comparisons, pretenses, anticipations, expectations, and judgments and place them into the fire of awareness. We can live in the understanding and accepting that what "I am, you are," and that what "You are, I am."

Living in the World
We then bring back to daily life all that we have discovered. Daily living continues the process of retreat to hone and purify our understanding. The realization that all is Consciousness permeates the fabric of our entire life and every situation becomes the opportunity for the ongoing integration of this understanding. Psychological integration and spiritual understanding merge to form the foundation for Self-realization in every moment. Now, living in the world or on retreat becomes one and the same movement.

Richard Miller, PhD is a clinical psychologist, author, researcher, yogic scholar, spiritual teacher, and founder of iRest Institute.

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