The concept of nonduality is the very simple understanding that all the many apparent separate pieces of the universe rise from the singular reality of Consciousness. Attempts to characterize the nature of this underlying reality will be familiar to the student of Unity and other similar New Thought approaches. It is God, the one presence and one power in which all things live and move and have their being.
When it comes to the human condition and each individual’s relationship to God, there is a marked divergence in understanding in this spiritual community. Most metaphysical teachings of the West assume spiritual ignorance, experienced as feeling distant from God, is the result of an undeveloped soul. The soul is placed on a linear scale of time and treated as if it is engaged in a process of maturing. This has produced a kind of spiritual class distinction of young and old souls. Judging by the ongoing human struggle, attributed to soul immaturity, the concept of reincarnation is adopted to explain why we do not see more enlightened souls running around on earth. Every individual is traveling through one incarnation after another, all for the purpose of advancing the soul. What we do not learn in one lifetime we learn in another. A teacher like Jesus is held up as the brass ring of spiritual accomplishment. He represents the prime example of a mature soul to which we are to aspire. Nonduality does not share this model and to explain why, I’ll modify an example I used in The Complete Soul.
Imagine that we submerge ten sponges into an ocean. Each is completely saturated with water. The water inside the ten sponges is obviously the same composition and age as the water outside each sponge. Likewise, the water that permeates the various sponges is exactly the same. What is different is the degree of awareness each sponge has of the water. Most are so focused on their identity as a sponge that they do not think of the water in which they live and move and have their being as anything but an abstract concept. All things cellulose is the foundation of their understanding of reality and they spend all their time studying and thinking about its nature. Only one sponge understands that it and all the other sponges are permeated with this identical substance called ocean water.
This simple illustration is nonduality in a nutshell.
What stands between the unenlightened sponge and the water? Nothing. How much time is needed for the unenlightened sponge to become closer to the water? None. When the unenlightened sponge will begin to understand its relationship of oneness with the water is anyone’s guess. Are there any natural barriers that exist between the unenlightened sponge and the water? No. Are there any forces working against the unenlightened sponge to prevent its awakening to the presence of the water? Yes, there is one force that is working to prevent this awakening. This is the force of self-perception. The identity is grounded in the experience of cellulose. The unenlightened sponge touts the banner: I am cellulose that may one day enjoy a relationship of oneness with the ocean.
The enlightened sponge, on the other hand, understands itself as a point of awareness floating in its environment of the ocean. There is no point where the ocean water outside of itself leaves off and the ocean water inside of itself begins. It says, I am in the ocean and the ocean is in me, but the ocean is greater. I am not the ocean, but I am a point where the ocean is expressed as a relationship with a sponge. The sponge may come and go, but the ocean remains. I, therefore, am the ocean expressing through a sponge.
The unenlightened sponges have created an entire religion based on their identity as sponges. It’s about making life as a sponge more comfortable, healthy and prosperous. These conditions become the markers used to measure enlightenment. The enlightened sponge floats by and he looks so serene and peaceful, and they want to be just like him. And so they study, pray and meditate very hard on how to be a better, more peaceful sponge. Among themselves they argue about who is most enlightened. They learn to imitate the appearance of serenity and they carefully adopt the vocabulary of the enlightened sponge. They have great conferences that reinforce the belief that more and more sponges are fulfilling their potential. They greet one another with hugs and treat each other with greater kindness. They see the dawning of a world where all sponges do the same. Their growing numbers convince them that this long prophesied new age of enlightenment is drawing near. Sponge society is on the verge of a breakthrough. They are reaching the tipping point where more sponges than not will stop competing and will live in peace, mutual respect and love for one another. In other words, the day is coming when the ocean will absolutely saturate every sponge in the same way it has saturated the enlightened one.
Now, by this illustration we can see that such a hoped-for condition has nothing to do with time, spiritual evolution or any other factor deemed an obstacle to enlightenment. The difference between the enlightened and unenlightened sponge is not found in their actual state of being. It is found in their self-perception. One is the ocean expressing through a sponge, the other is a sponge who lives with the hope of becoming one with the ocean and its fellow sponges.
Think of the soul as this ocean water that flows within each sponge. When you think of this water in relation to the water flowing outside of this sponge, you see there is no difference. The sponge simply provides a unique point of awareness within the infinite context of the ocean. There are not many souls. There is but one. But this one soul expresses through many channels. There are many kinds of sponges, but there is only one ocean.
When we engage the practice of denial and affirmation, we deny (release) what is not true of the soul and affirm what is. What is not true of the soul is that it is immature and undeveloped and in need of many more lessons to grow in strength and stature. What is true of the soul is that it is complete, fully present and composed of exactly the same life, love, power and intelligence that is found in God. The soul is life, love, power and intelligence. We do not call upon or affirm these elements into being. We release our belief that the trauma we are presently going through indicates these elements are not fully present. Our attention has shifted from the peace of the ocean to the plight of the sponge.
We align our awareness with the truth that life, love, power and intelligence are present and they are, in fact, the very essence of our being. We would call the practice of this alignment prayer. However, the more important practice we would first engage is that of re-establishing our awareness in the ocean. This is meditation. Without this experience of the ocean, we pray amiss. Prayer becomes a mind game whose objective is to enhance the comfort of the sponge. We want the sponge to experience more peace, so we pray that those conditions that are upsetting to the sponge go away.
We first seek the experience of ourselves as ocean water, we then release that which is not true of the water and affirm that which is. What Paul called the mind of the flesh, we could call the mind of the sponge. The mind of the sponge is all about the preservation and comfort of the sponge. We want to shift our awareness to the indestructible truth of the water, to have in us the mind of the water that sets us free from the struggles of the sponge.
Many metaphysical teachings embrace the model of having to move from a point A to a point B to make our world a better place. Nonduality erases the notion of two points and makes them one. That one point is the realization of what is true of the soul: It is complete, it is present and it is the fulfillment of all we seek.