Nonduality insists that the one reality of this universe is consciousness, that everything from the body to the universe itself is but a dream. Just as this thought stirs the thrill of freedom, I receive a cancellation notice from my insurance company who has dropped me because they did not receive the check I sent them. Since the point of insurance is to ensure this dream is protected and continues, should it matter? Why insure things that are here today and gone tomorrow?
There is a saying, “When the barn burns, you once again see the sky.” In this context, the barn represents that place where we store for the future. With our focus on the barn and our constant need to add to its contents, our attention is drawn away from the beauty of the sky, the here and now. Jesus made this same point with his parable of the rich fool:
“The ground of a certain rich man brought forth abundantly. He reasoned within himself, saying, ‘What will I do, because I don’t have room to store my crops?’ He said, ‘This is what I will do. I will pull down my barns, and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. I will tell my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years. Take your ease, eat, drink, be merry.”‘ “But God said to him, ‘You foolish one, tonight your soul is required of you. The things which you have prepared—whose will they be?’ So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:16-21).
The point is pretty clear. If your peace of mind rests in what you have rather than in what you are at the spiritual level, your peace is conditional. As long as your material experience is flush with goods, you have peace. If this world is disturbed, so is your peace. Where your heart is, there your treasure is as well.
While we know this in an absolute sense, we are shocked by our insurance company’s cancellation notice. Suddenly we are vulnerable, naked, unprotected from the unknowns of the world. When the now-uninsured barn is struck by lightning, we stand in numb silence as our world goes up in flames. What now? How am I going to handle this? How will I survive? Am I to conclude that it doesn’t matter because it’s all just a dream? The soul’s existence, after all, is not dependent on the body, the planet or even the universe.
According to the tenets of nonduality, these are simply constructs of the mind that will come and go. Matter doesn’t matter. Only the soul matters. And yet here we stand, surveying it all through the eyes of a body that requires shelter, clothing and nutrition. We took on this body and all its many needs. Are we to treat these as if they do not exist?
Having experienced hunger, pain, the stifling fear of an uncertain future, the bite of cold and the debilitating power of smothering heat, it is difficult to pass off the material world as a mere dream. Yes I know I am not my body. I am a spiritual being going through a human experience. Neither am I the car I drive, but when the engine light comes on, is it wise to take the advice of my mother’s mechanic and simply cover it with a piece of duct tape?
The Complete Soul insists that the soul is now complete, no further evolution required. How do I reconcile this with the fact that my awareness is deeply embedded in a self-image that is anything but complete? If I am doing this all to myself, then how do I stop doing it? How do I get to that place where I can truly separate spiritual fact from material fiction, and remain in the peace of spiritual fact as the river of material fiction flows by?
Two summers ago, Beth and I took a 2,000 mile round-trip on our motorcycle. Cruising along on a beautiful back road in Kansas, we were suddenly confronted with a sign: Road Closed. A few yards beyond the sign, the pavement was gone. It was a Sunday and there were no road crews there to explain. Even if they had been there, the road was still gone.
There were two options. One was to turn back and take a 75 mile detour. The other was to follow an extremely pot-holed gravel road that bore a large orange sign affirming the fear of the driver of a fully loaded, passenger-carrying street bike: Rough Road Ahead. Scary and depressing visions erupted. A street bike does not glide over gravel. It swims through it, and the swimming sensation is not conducive to the peaceful, carefree ride sought by the lover of smooth pavement. What the dirt biker seeks out, the street biker avoids at all costs. But here it was, spread out before us. Just a dream? Yes, but of the nightmare variety.
After much deliberation, I decided to go for the gravel. Not knowing how long it would last, I eased into the experience tense and apprehensive. In a relatively short time, however, I began to get the hang of that swimming sensation, which was not as bad as I had imagined. Two turns, countless potholes and three miles later we were back on smooth pavement. The ordeal was over.
Actually the ordeal ended before we reached the pavement. Somewhere in that experience I decided to make peace with the gravel road. I realized the road itself had no power to instill fear. The experience of fear was my choice, my decision, my mental and emotional construct that I put up as a barrier to my peace. To say the gravel road was but a dream only offers a partial explanation. My fear of the gravel road was the most influential illusion. Confronting it, I awakened from that particular dream. In the span of a mere three miles, I transformed from a biker who feared and avoided gravel roads to a biker who could navigate one free of fear. Where did this biker come from? Was he not there all along? The Complete Biker! Do I feel another book coming on?
The temptation here is to assume that the soul is incomplete and we need gravel roads to evolve our greater potential. We can actually have fun and draw much inspiration from this approach. When I am confronted with a fear, I am to respond by drawing from my depths a fearlessness I did not know I could experience. We must, however, be careful with this assumption. From the moment I encounter the problem to that moment I confront and overcome it, the soul remains the same. What actually happens is that my awareness moves from a self-image that possesses only a limited arsenal of weaponry capable of destroying the enemies of my peace to one who is greater than the appearance. In other words, I bring into the field of my awareness the truth of my complete soul. This is different from the manufacturing of power and strength. This is tapping the power and strength that has been available all along.
To say that I did not take on a body for the lessons my soul needs to learn is not to say there is nothing to learn. What is critical to our spiritual understanding is the truth that behind the myriad of challenges we face, there is but one lesson, one thing to remember: the soul is complete. By taking on a body and a material environment, we step into the realm of Newtonian physics where two-wheeled vehicles interact with gravity and gravel in ways different from four-wheeled vehicles. To reach the carefree experience of the four-wheel operator, the two-wheel operator must undertake an education the four-wheel operator may forgo. The life, love, power and intelligence of the soul from which we draw is not increased. What increases our understanding of how we apply the soul in our interaction with the material.
Our experience in the body is indeed temporal, our perception of the material truly a dream. But it is a dream we have agreed to experience. We could have turned around and taken another route, but we chose this particular gravel road. Our choice was not a requirement of the soul, a needed series of lessons to learn so the soul may be more today than it was yesterday. Those experiences that make you a better person do not also achieve the impossible feat of making you a better soul. The soul can be no better, no more complete than it is right now.
It is this understanding that allows us, whether on gravel or pavement, to experience this incarnation, not so much as a dream, but as an adventure of bringing who and what we are at the deepest level into this experience we call life.