All of our suffering is the result of not knowing who we really are. And because we don’t know our true identity as a complete, perfect and untarnished extension of God, which is Love, we spend our days grasping for pleasure and avoiding pain. We see pleasure as desirable and good, and pain as undesirable and bad. Material wealth is good; poverty is bad. Being motivated is good; being lazy is bad. We have created these two opposing categories – the good and the bad – but somehow we hope that one day the world will offer us only the good and our lives will be free of the bad.
But how can we expect to avoid experiencing both ends of the stick – the good and the bad – while we live in this world of duality? We have utopian aspirations of “making the planet a better place” and, in Miss Universe fashion, we want “world peace” above all. If we understood the nature of the physical world, and the fact that it is rooted in duality, we would quickly see that our wishes for “peace and love and nothing else” make no sense. It is not our wish for peace and love that makes no sense, but our expectation that we can retain this world we created and within it have nothing but peace and love.
Put in extremely simple terms, duality means that there exist two of something, and the two are opposites. For example, day and night both exist and they are opposites. So are cold and hot; young and old; fat and skinny; healthy and unhealthy; pleasure and pain; love and hate; and good and bad. More importantly, duality also means that there is you and there is me, meaning that I am separate from you, and that there are qualities that I have and you don’t have and some that you have and I don’t. (I am a woman and you are a man. I am American and you are Indian. I am smart and you are not so much. I am a giver and you are a taker.) And if I see myself as separate from you, I most certainly see myself as separate from God, or whatever I want to call the higher power that created us both.
The original thought of separation, the thought that we could separate from our Creator and that we managed to do so, created this world of separateness, in which duality rules. How else could we convince ourselves that we separated from God, which is Oneness, if we didn’t make a world that seems to prove to us that duality, or twoness, is real?
The concept of non-duality is found in spiritual traditions that range from Hinduism, Buddhism, Sufism, Taoism and Christian Mysticism. Non-duality teaches that we are all one – not just connected but literally one – and that there is no difference between the Creator and the creation. A Course in Miracles tells us that only love is real, and that everything else is an illusion, a dream of twoness dreamed by the oneness.
So how does this help me in my daily life? First we start to see that there is a reality beyond this physical, manifested, dual world we have accepted as our only reality. The body belongs to the world of duality – there is a birth and there is a death. But if non-duality is true, then there must be a part of me that never separated from the Source. As the Hindu Advaita Vedanta tradition teaches, there is no difference between Brahman (Ultimate Reality/God) and the Atman (individual soul/one’s true self). One of the most powerful prayers A Course in Miracles offers is I am as God created me. In reality, there is no difference between me and you, and no difference between us and God, and there is only one of us. There is no good and bad, moral and immoral, pain and pleasure. What is there then? There is only the real and the true and that which in this world and in human language can only be pointed toward and described as love.
Once we understand how this world of duality came to be, we drop the ego’s lofty (and false) aspirations to transform this world into a place where only the good exists because we know that would be impossible. The world was created from a wish for duality, and will therefore always contain duality. There will always be good and bad, sadness and happiness, joy and grief, hate and love.
The question now becomes whether we can accept all the seemingly contradictory aspects of ourselves and the world. Can we embrace the full spectrum of human emotion, thought and experience, rather than striving for certain things and rejecting and fearing other things? Can we accept that we, and others, can be loving and ego-centric, generous and tightfisted, fearful and courageous, motivated and lazy? Can we put a little gap between our thought that something is bad and labeling it as bad, asking ourselves, maybe for the first time, what makes a quality good or bad?
When we compartmentalize, we limit ourselves. We are this, but not that. We are proud to be this, but ashamed to be that. Carl Jung said: I’d rather be whole than good. Of course, because being good is only one aspect of the human experience. We can’t accept one end of the stick and reject the other end, all the while insisting on carrying the stick in our pocket. We can’t accept the good and reject the bad, all the while insisting on keeping this world of duality as our only reality.
In the Yoga Sutra (11.47,48) Patanjali says: By relaxation of effort and meditation on the infinite arises immunity from opposite conditions. Drop your striving for this, while avoiding that, and accept every experience as part of the journey of being human, knowing that not one and not even all of your experiences define who you are. Meditate on the infinite, connect to that which is beyond duality within yourself. Ask yourself: Who sees through these eyes? Who is the I that notices these thoughts? By practicing this witness awareness, you will start to uncover your true self. (Uncover, not discover, because it is who you are already and who you have always been.) Once you get a glimpse of the true self, you become less and less attached to the duality of the world because you finally start to experience, as Jesus taught, how to be in the world but not of the world. Immunity from opposite conditions arises when you can experience everything in this world without being attached to either the good or the bad. And you can only do that if you know that your true self is untouched by either the good or the bad.