A Simple Illustration with Profound Consequences

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.

Questions and Answers, Part 2

You wrote, “As a product of Consciousness, all people of all ages have access to this primary Source. All are capable of discerning its behavior and its relation to the realm of matter. The author of Genesis was no exception.” Are you saying you agree with the Bible’s account of creation?

I do not agree with the particulars of either creation story found in Genesis 1 or 2. I do agree with the author of the first chapter (composed some 400 years later than chapter 2) with his opening, “In the beginning God …” I am in greatest agreement with John’s account of creation. It goes into no detail about how creation unfolded, only that it began with the Word. These ancient writers obviously had little or no scientific background, at least as we understand science today. The strength of modern science is its ability to explain material processes. Its weakness is in its inability to acknowledge underlying Consciousness as the source out of which the visible world appears.

This inability has caused science to overlook some profound truths concerning the human condition. For example, an article from the New York Times states:

Over the past two decades, the use of antidepressants has skyrocketed. One in 10 Americans now takes an antidepressant medication; among women in their 40s and 50s, the figure is one in four.

Experts have offered various reasons for this but it is safe to assume that none of these reasons will be found in the Bible. Yet the primary reason that people suffer is clearly illustrated in the early allegories of the Bible. Humankind turned its attention away from its spiritual source in favor of following senses-based information as its basis of reality. The Garden of Eden is the soul. The fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil is the senses-based self-image. Though we live in one of the most prosperous countries on the planet, our belief that our status and identity can be drawn from possessions and accomplishments in the material realm has made us feel quite naked. We are attempting to live a happy life consciously severed from our spiritual source. We try to compensate for this by clothing ourselves in the “skins” of materialism and antidepressants whose side effects are often so numerous there is not enough room on the label to print them legibly.

I once counseled a suicidal woman who was on 21 prescription drugs. She had become a walking nuclear reactor. Doctors treated her as a machine that could be medicated to a reasonable level of self-worth. She told me that one day she decided to flush all her medications down the toilet. This was the day she marked as the beginning of her return to  the sanity of her own inner Garden. This does not mean that everyone should follow her lead, for medicines have their place. But these ancient writers had a spiritual insight into the human condition that material science, which includes medicine, could learn a great deal.

The Bible does not take into account the fossil record which clearly shows an evolution of living forms. The earliest known fossils (3.7 billion years) are simple celled bacterial forms. If God is behind it all, why did it take so long to come up with a human being?

The universe is obviously in no hurry. A notable point made by biologist Robert Lanza, who Time Magazine ranked among its 100 most influential people in the world, is that there are several hundred conditions in our universe that must be exactly correct to sustain life. A degree’s difference here or there would render it impotent. Lanza, like a growing number of other scientists, holds that consciousness is the key to understanding reality, that the universe is made by and for life, not the other way around.

What story would science tell if it started with the premise that consciousness predates matter and all those biological forms that have left evidence of their existence in stone? As I have already suggested, this story still might include something like a big bang, but with intention. It would not likely include an old man in the sky amusing himself with an unlimited supply of modeling clay. It could hold as intentional the action of the invisible exerting its influence on the visible, not unlike the artist who uses paint and canvas to express an otherwise abstract vision.

This new science would not have us looking billions of years into the past. That which ignited matter with life and its first wiggling organisms is very much at work still. There would be no reason for religion to continue recoiling under the threat of Darwinism. How refreshing it would be to move from the endless battle between science and religion to the science of religion. What an exciting partnership that would be.

In your first post, you wrote, “We long for freedom as a spiritual birthright. The soul that is our very basis of existence has known nothing but freedom.” Would you mind elaborating?

The desire for freedom is universal. Behind every single dream you have, you find the desire for greater freedom. Our desire for freedom at the level of the self-image is triggered by the fact that the soul is already free. We are simply echoing what is true at the core of our being. All living things share this desire and react to confinement with the single purpose of escaping.

A ground squirrel made its home beneath a ground-level deck that holds our hot tub. Rodents, being what they are, love to chew things in their spare time. The plastic insulation on wiring is particularly attractive to many of them. Knowing this, I decided to capture the squirrel in a live-trap and take him out to his natural habitat in the desert. His reaction to this momentary incarceration was predictable. He did not like it and he did everything within his power to end his captivity as quickly as possible.

Another way to trap a wild animal is with the enticement of food. Feed them enough and they will become dependent on you, willingly domesticated, a subject I explore in my novella, The Way of the Bighorn. Soon, the greatest punishment you could render is to set them free to fend for themselves. The desire to be free is still present, but it now translates into the assurance of a full stomach.

This would describe the self-image. At this level, our desire to be free is translated as a full stomach; i.e., a life filled with people, accomplishments and things. We measure our worth and our freedom by what we keep in the pantry. We still respond to this desire for freedom, but we miss the mark in its fulfillment. The soul is the bullseye. Shooting for anything less does not satisfy with the reward of freedom.

“The greatest irony of all is that we look at the door of our cell and see that it stands open. There are, in fact, no natural barriers between where we sit and where we intuitively know we can be.”

You say there are no natural barriers that stand between ourselves and our conscious connection with the soul. Because the majority of people are barred entry into conscious union with the soul, could we not consider the the self-image a natural barrier?

We should not confuse the terms normal and natural. The self-image is the product of the senses-based, intellectually driven imagination. As I point out in The Complete Soul, the imagination has the dual intellectual and intuitive functions. Intuitively, it acts in much the same way as the lens of our digital camera. The lens is the intake of raw light (intuition). Through the camera’s processor, an image shows up on the viewfinder, the intellectual, picture forming aspect of the imagination. Our intuition opens to the soul and feeds its information to the intellect.

This is the mystery of the Virgin Birth, where the “Son of God” is conceived and born through a virgin, Mary (intuition). Joseph, the intellect, is not involved in this awakening but plays the supporting role of bringing this child into the world of expression. In the development of the self-image, Mary is quietly put away. At most she becomes a house servant offering a few tidbits of guidance through the maze of materialism, adding a hunch here and a strong feeling there. Joseph is in charge. Even if he does respond to one of Mary’s promptings, he still takes credit for it. This describes our intellectually-based scientific and academic communities. Mary plays no part and has no place in the curriculum.

We turn out towering self-images left to fend for themselves as they move through their lives and careers in a desperate search to fill in the missing piece that is the soul. A few do, but most don’t. Mary is a scientific and academic anomaly that is either explained away or dismissed altogether. Our so-called great intellectuals have heads brimming with information but hearts often so empty that prozac becomes a viable piece of the success puzzle.

So while the self-image is not a natural barrier to an experience of the soul, it is certainly a normal, widely accepted barrier. When we place more value on an experience of the soul than we do on continually fortifying the self-image, we find that nothing stands in our way.

Questions and Answers

[Note: the following is commentary on questions raised and questions that may be raised on yesterday’s post. JDB]

You use the metaphor of the caterpillar and butterfly as a way of illustrating transformation. Aren’t you talking about a form of evolution?

No. The caterpillar does not evolve into a butterfly. It is a butterfly even at the caterpillar stage. Evolution might suggest the caterpillar becoming something different, a lizard, for example. Or it remains a caterpillar but takes on colors that provide better camouflage. The soul does not change. The self-image, on the other hand, changes all the time. It is a linear creation that exists in and is subject to time and space. The soul is eternal and is not subject to time and space. When people refer to soul evolution, they are referencing the belief that one day the self-image will become what the soul already is. As I pointed out with the caterpillar/butterfly example, the “I” of the caterpillar is the same “I” that is the butterfly. The I is the essence of this creature. If the butterfly should emerge from the chrysalis and immediately fly in front of a passing car, the I still exists, though not in the form of the butterfly. The I of the caterpillar and the butterfly is the same as the I of you and me. What is different is the capacity for creative expression (the faculty of imagination) in each creature. In other words, we share the common soul. This is why I said, “The soul is not ours to evolve. We are its.”

You wrote, “With only a few exceptions in terminology, I find the Complete Soul rests quite comfortably in this philosophical framework (nonduality).” Can you give some examples?

The nondualist usually uses the term mind or body-mind where I would use the term self-image or, body-based self-image. We appear to mean the same thing. I am more comfortable with self-image because the term image implies a replication of the genuine article. An image of a person painted by an artist, for example, is something very different from the actual person. Our self-image is our created replication of the soul. As in the case of the artist, regardless of how good a painter they are, they can never bring their image on canvas to life. We may say a painting is so life-like that it almost speaks to us, or it almost jumps off the canvas. Neither, of course, is true and neither is possible.

The self-image can study the works of spiritual masters and it can take on the demeanor and language of these individuals, so much so that they can convince the world they are enlightened. This is simply a self-image posing as a spiritual master. A spiritual master actually gives voice to the soul.

Jesus was called a blasphemer because he spoke from the soul. “I am the way, the truth and the life,” is not a statement any self-image can make, regardless of how spiritually polished it may be. Only the soul can make such a statement. If you were a caterpillar, you would not follow and study another caterpillar to learn how to become a butterfly. You would follow the same I the other caterpillar follows, the same I that is seated in every caterpillar on earth. Only in this way would you fulfill the soul’s activity as expressing as a butterfly.

The nondualist uses the term Consciousness to indicate the single, underlying, invisible reality behind all that we see. Awareness indicates consciousness. One of Rupert Spira’s suggested exercises is to simply be aware that you are aware. Most of the time our awareness is focused on some thing. I am aware that I am thinking about what to buy at the grocery store. I am aware that I argued with my spouse. I am aware that my paycheck was not as large as I expected. Engaging in the exercise of being aware that you are aware can indeed awaken you to the more universal experience of consciousness. When practiced by the self-image, however, it can also fall into an ineffective word game.

What the nondualist calls Consciousness, I would call God. And in fairness, they do not seem to shy away from this term. That point where God, the universal, expresses as the individual, I would call soul. As I’ve pointed out in past postings, the writer of John made the distinction between God and the Word. These are one and the same, but the Word is the creative aspect of God and is the maker of all created things. Because the Universal cannot enter into the personal and remain Universal, the soul/Word provides the mechanism for this to happen. The soul is the basis of this interface between the unseen Universal and the visible expression. In one sense, the soul is the prism that allows universal white light to be broken down and observed as a rainbow of color.

As I point out in The Complete Soul, I use the word consciousness to indicate the sum of our ideas. This is common usage in New Thought circles. In terms of their influence, the most important ideas are those associated with the way in which I see myself. Both the self-image and the soul generate consciousness. When consciousness is generated by the self-image, it is false because it reflects my understanding of myself from the basis of the body. Paul refers to this as the carnal mind or mind of the flesh. When consciousness is generated by the soul, it is true because it reflects what is true at the unchanging spiritual level.

The self-image can generate a consciousness filled with spiritual ideas. This would be like someone showing you a picture of a mountain and then you try to imagine what it is like to experience the world from this peak. You form concepts, some of which may be good. But these are immediately dispelled the moment you actually sit on the mountain. The self-image lives with a consciousness of perceptual replicas. The soul lives with a consciousness of direct experience.

Why do you consider the speculations of the beginning of life and the creation of the cosmos an important part of your spiritual understanding? We’re here. What difference does it make how we got here?

Every major world religion explores the notion of creation, of the ultimate beginning. Science, of course, has adopted this same practice. They justify their exploration with the importance of knowing where we came from. The same can be said of religion. Science says we came from matter. Religion says we came from God. Understanding both perspectives addresses the more pertinent question of why we are here. Why would this matter? Because our cosmology provides the context from which we live our daily life. If you adopt the context of orthodox science, you will look out at your world and say, “I am a product of matter. When my body dies, I will be no more.” With this attitude, you will live your life one way. If you look out at your world and say, “I and all that I see are a product of God,” you will live your life in quite another way. The materialist believes it is impossible for the consciousness, the soul, to survive the loss of the body. The nondualist holds that the survival of consciousness is not dependent on the body. The illustration usually used is the brain and body are like the television set. The programs transmitted by the set are not located within the television. The programming, like the soul, continues even if the television set is destroyed.

There seems to be a growing number of scientists with nondualistic leanings. What impact might this have on our understanding of ourselves and our place in the universe?

By all appearances, nondualists in all branches of science, including medicine, are a minority and will remain so for some time to come. While this has not always been the case, it certainly is now. Watch any of the latest presentations on how the universe came to be and you will see the latest discoveries couched within the parameters of this assumption: The universe came from matter and here’s how we now believe that happened. As exciting as science is, it will be even more exciting when it begins to explore the cosmos based on this assumption: The universe came from Consciousness (God) and here’s how we now believe it happened.

Orthodox science is a long way from even considering this premise, but if and when it does, the textbooks will all be in for some exciting new revision. An entirely new science, in fact, will be born.

To be continued …