by Pastor Doug Kings
Last week I shared with the Zoom book group a video titled “Nonduality and the Mystery of Consciousness.” It sounds very esoteric and complicated but it’s actually not. In fact, that’s point of the video. And the speaker, Peter Russell, knows about complicated: he’s a Cambridge educated theoretical physicist.
The subtitle of our current book is “The Way of Christian Nonduality.” Russell was speaking before a group called Science and Nonduality. So, you might say nonduality is a thing. I Googled the word and it found almost two million results (about 100,000 more than baseball!).
Nonduality is derived from the Sanskrit word advaita, which literally means “not two.” Advaita refers to the Hindu teaching that ultimate reality is a unity, a teaching common to many spiritual traditions. Beneath the multiplicity of forms in which reality is expressed there is an underlying Oneness.
Different traditions have different names for this, but Christians would call it simply God. Thus Paul says in Acts that God is “the one in whom we live and move and have our being.” Twentieth century theologian Paul Tillich says simply that God is “the ground of being.”
Our immediate experience, however, is not oneness but an almost overwhelming diversity. Our senses and brain perceive a mindboggling array of things which we can barely keep up with. But it is the central belief of nearly all spiritual traditions that there is a unity underlying the diversity, that we can come to know it, and that doing so is the path to enlightenment, peace, and salvation.
That sounds like lots of hard work, but as Russell says in his presentation, it’s turning it into work that creates all our problems. In fact, the consensus of the spiritual traditions is that “there is nowhere to go, nothing to do, no one to be.” Our essence is one and when we see it, we have recognized the Oneness of all reality.
Our experience, however, is far from oneness, as reflected in comments like, “I’m going in too many directions at once. I can’t keep up. What day is it? I don’t know who I am anymore.” Our dreaming, planning, frustration, anger, disappointment, worry, anxiety, grief, etc. all whirl inside our heads as we try to keep track of our roles, responsibilities, and relationships.
Yet however crazy it gets we know that in the midst of it all, somewhere, is what we call “I”, myself. When we say “I need to get centered” we mean we need to get back in touch with our true self, with who we really are, with our unity.
This is the original purpose and meaning of yoga: to come back together, to join, to end our separation, to find our inherent oneness. In Indian tradition yoga leads to nirvana, which literally means “blown out”, exhaled, as when we say “ahhhh” and settle into a warm bathtub. Notice that when we breath out we relax but when we inhale, we become tense, tight. If we hold our breath long enough, we pass out. Then our body relaxes, and we naturally exhale. To find ourself, we need to let go.
Russell quotes one teacher who says, “Yoga is ceasing the whirling of our mind-stuff and letting it settle.” Imagine pouring water into a jar of sand. The sand mixes with the whirling water and nothing you can do will make it clear. All you can do is wait for the water to stop spinning and the sand to settle to the bottom.
This is the goal of meditation, a type of yoga. You can’t stop your thoughts, but you can develop the skill of letting them settle. Or as the late contemplative monk Thomas Keating said, thoughts are like boats on a river. You don’t have to climb aboard and go down the river with them; you can just watch them float on by.
The revealing question of meditation is: Who is thinking the thoughts? Who is on the riverbank watching the boats go by? The teacher quoted by Russell goes on to say that when the mind-stuff stops whirling, “Then there is abiding in the true nature of the knower.” Then we are at our center; then we experience our true self, our “I.”
Some call this experience being itself. Some say it is pure consciousness. But as Russell says, there really are no words to describe this experience. It is simply a sense of our essence, our fundamental self and our inner peace. And notice, Russell says, this is not “some amazing cosmic experience but just this ‘ahhhh.’ It’s that simple.” Russell goes on:
In my own journey, almost year-by-year, it’s like “Oh, it’s that simple. Oh, it’s that easy. Oh, it’s that obvious. How could I have missed it?”
We miss it, he says, because our minds get engaged in looking for “something” out there, when what we need and want is always here, now. Or to use his aphorism, “Seek and ye shall not find.” And hearing that, I think Jesus would have laughed at the play on his own words and said, “Yes! Yes! He gets it.”
As I said above, to find ourself, we need let go. Jesus said, “In order to find your life, you have to lose it.” Through its history, Christianity has mostly interpreted that as a call to a great spiritual or moral struggle. Yet losing is the opposite of effort; it’s simply letting go. Jesus said, “My yoke is easy; my burden is light.”
Jesus also said, “You are the light of the world. Don’t hide it under your bed!” If we let our whirling minds settle, then we will find the light that has been shining within us all along.
Blessings in your life and ministry.