An Apparent Non-Dual Dilemma: the person and the Self

Updated: May 8, 2019

How do we fuse nurturing experiential knowledge of the Self as that which is infinite and without limits, and express that understanding as the person who acts?

This is a question at the heart of the desire that arises from the experience of our essential nature; the desire to truly live and express the understanding that we are inseparable from all others - to express that Truth, that Love and that Beauty - in all that we do.

Does this mean we all have to become some version of a non-dual teacher who is literally expressing that very articulation in order to live it out? No.

Is the problem the very fact that we are trying to live out a philosophy, which by nature unavoidably makes us live for the ideal that the non-dual understanding refers to in our minds? Rather than the actual underlying experience in our One heart that we all share, which is the experience - and not belief - from which this philosophy is thus articulated?

Maybe this is because it is not even about the philosophy at all, and attempting to answer such a dilemma caused by making the non-dual experience into a philosophy is a futile exercise?

Nevertheless, I will still attempt to resolve this so called ‘dilemma’.  However, this will not be an exercise in philosophy that seeks to resolve the paradox in order to quieten an academic mind. Rather this will be a contemplation that adds to our life something a spiritual contemplation can do: provide us with guidance and simply return us to what we already know.

This is my task.

Why do we think we need an answer to this ‘problem’ ?

Without an answer that can truly guide us on our spiritual quest, we risk living on the edge of what I believe I have been experiencing for a while now: what I call, “hiding or escaping into pure consciousness”.

In my experience with the direct path of spiritual self-enquiry, it has been so easy to obsess about the experience of my essential nature in order to not need to worry about believing in myself and my capabilities as a person.  I thought that if I could just get rid of the belief in that person all together, all that would remain is the experience of I AM shining through as the peace, love and happiness that I, the person in ignorance, would be chronically seeking in all my activities and relationships.  Of course, that experience of ‘not believing in myself’ is suffering and so I think there is some usefulness in investigating the nature of the ‘I’ that is suffering and does not “believe in myself”. Meaning to see that there is in fact no ‘I’ that is suffering, and in fact no ‘I’ that believes in ‘myself’ - the person - but rather, all that there really is to the ‘I’ that I am, is the experience of being aware: the experience of the peace, love and happiness of my essential nature, which I am ultimately seeking as the result of my ‘believing in myself’.  I think you get the idea.

However, what about when I come out of self-abiding or self-resting in the Sacred Presence within and want to work on my business? (this whole Nondual Waters thing!!) And what if I can’t help but have my worth completely wrapped up in the whole thing because it is my most soulful work and everything I produce comes straight out of raw vulnerability? What if people reject me completely?  Not believing in myself and whether the content I have put out is good enough or not etc...all of these limiting thoughts that are trying to keep me safe, are reinforcing the belief in the separate self - thereby keeping me in suffering, which only serves to keep me in inaction.

So do I just give up and retreat to my meditation cushion and practice self-enquiry?  Or do find a way to believe in my personal ‘self’ (that in my ‘non-dual understanding’ I know is ultimately illusory) so that I can take action in the world on the very inspiration that came from spending time in the Truth of my impersonal essential nature?!  You can see the irony here right?! I like to think of God - from the point of view of pure awareness in us - laughing at the drama we are experiencing with this apparent conflict. So, anyways, which one do we do?

We’re non-dual thinkers, so we do both!  We need to master both if we are going to live the artistic tapestry of our life that we wish to create in alignment with the divine action within - with our inner calling or spiritual vision.

This is a breakthrough for me because on my journey so far, since I discovered this sort of spirituality I have spent far too much time ‘hiding away’ in the impersonal self.  (Which one comes to realise is not actually resting in the impersonal self at all. But that’s for another discussion.)

If you are here too, know that its okay!  It’s part of the journey.

It could be useful to notice that our conflict here may also come from the old pattern that we’ve tagged along with us into this work that spirituality is about living in some absolute non-altering state of peace, bliss or fearlessness.  This is a myth. However, it is one we fall into over and over again. Again, this is okay too.

It can be strange on this path because there are times where we are so grounded in the vastness in which the mind and the person we are in the world are seen, and see that here - in the essential and irreducible nature of ourself - there is in fact no movement, no change, no alteration and no conditioning.  This is our self knowing its essential nature as eternality of course there is nothing to worry about here!

However, our life is not to just sit in there and escape the world is it?  Even many great masters like Ramana Maharshi, Paramahansa Yogananda, Jesus Christ just to name a few, you hear stories about them resting in their essential nature in prayer and meditation for years even, but did they stay there forever? No!  Of course they didn’t. Otherwise we wouldn’t know about them! The fact is, they too lived back in duality.

So I think so many of us after a while of resting in non-duality then egoically think that life in the duality of love and fear, happiness and sadness, peace and chaos and all the other infinite dualities that give this creation its form, must also be non-dual, and so we get disappointed when obviously it is not!  We get disappointed when that experience of unending peace, suddenly appears to end!

However, the ‘we’ that gets upset is just the ‘we’ that exists in the mind - where mind is the totality of appearances both internal and external - and thus understands things only dualistically.  It does not want to accept the duality that it sees as a fact of experience before it, as a person in the world after having had some paradigm shifting experiences of non-duality.

We then, understanding the inspiration to express the deep understanding of the essential nature of reality as non-dual in expressions of Love and Beauty, become instead what I’ll call religious or fundamentalist non-dualists trying to convert Reality as it appears to us in our duality into non-duality.  

We thereby miss the entire point of the teaching and all of its liberative power along with it.  

If you take an honest look, have you ever been trying to impose non-duality or oneness in the mind - as a concept - onto your experience of being in the world, which is always dual?

When we do this we become walking vessels of resistance to all that is worldly and that the person we are in the world has to deal with, by hiding behind our batman cape of non-duality, and probably deep down unable to help thinking that we are superior to other minds because we know that Reality is non-dual, “unlike all of these fools who are stressed about work and final assignments!”...

Therefore our task if we are at this point is to take a deep courageous inhale and turn back into the adventure of duality that is the world, and live it from the point of view not of non-dual awareness, and escaping challenges that arise by resorting to internal comments such as ‘the I that is a person is not real’ so who cares or ‘I am just a witness’ so I don’t do anything…but instead live it again as a person - with our heart grounded and fully engaged with what is in front of us.  

Our heart’s courage to be fully present and vulnerable in the world, is the living expression of the non-dual understanding.

The movement from duality to non-duality is hyped up as the great quest of enlightenment!  We think of ourselves as warriors as we walk the path-less path back to ourselves and feel unbelievable when the veil of ignorance gets removed with each blissful insight and we feel spiritually accomplished.  But I’d like to call the B.S. on this because it really isn’t the quest for the courageous - which is quite unfortunate for me! LOL

If you can take this in, some tragic beauty reveals itself to you.  The real, and basically only spiritual quest you have and can actually walk on, is the one you tried so desperately to run away from by getting into spirituality in the first place: the movement from non-duality to duality, from pure Spirit to its expression as the world in all of its ups and downs.  The movement from the eternal peaceful bedrock of pure awareness, to the dangerous adventure of the person. From the bottom of the ocean to the unpredictability of the waves.

I’ve heard many spiritual people like to complain in a wise tone “that I am not really from this world”.  Then why are you here then? You thinking your existence is a mistake is a silly story to suffer about!

This is the truly divine dance.  When you can do this you are now truly walking the path.  This is it guys...this is the much harder task of being present to your life in Love amidst all of the discomfort and chaos!  This is bringing the Kingdom of Heaven down and letting “Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven”! Expressing the gifts of the non-dual understanding not from your non-dual safe house of perfect pure awareness but with your bare hands and feet in the muddy shores of the world.

Express the Love and Sacredness that you find in non-duality not by obsessively trying to live from the silence of your thoughtless state, but from the heart of your naked body as you look in the bathroom mirror as the judgements begin.  Can you truly get to know the person that you are in the world, now that you have awakened? Or are you just going to keep turning away to your ‘real and divine self’?

The fact is guys, we have to face the duality from the duality, with our faith and heart sourced, in non-duality.  The truth is that nothing about us, the person that we are in the world, has actually changed at all after awakening to our essential nature and the nature of Reality itself.  Let that sink in!

We like to think that we are climbing a ladder of enlightenment or perfection and that we are becoming more and more ‘spiritual’ the more our experience of ourselves and reality change.  But that’s just it, our experience changes. The person that we are does not actually change because we have awakened.  ‘We’ do not awaken!  We are awake-ness itself, just becoming conscious.  Ignorance of what we always were, are and will be, goes and nothing actually changes. All that is, is just not distorted anymore by ignorence. It does not change in the sense that our ego likes to think: that we’ve become more spiritual and thus more worthy or better in some way.  We are still just a person amongst persons, a thing amongst things.

So at the end of the day, let’s become masters of our personal lives and endlessly deepen the knowledge of the non-dual experience that merely tells us where we have come from and where we will return.  Let us make it a well of faith, and return to the masses ever so grateful to be a Human.

One of my favourite non-dual teachers from the Christian tradition is a Catholic Franciscan called Fr. Richard Rohr.  A phrase I remember reading of his expression of the non-dual understanding is that he said something like “Love is your ability to deal with paradox”.  That seems about right.

Once we realise what we’ve been discussing here in this blog and move back from non-duality to duality, and we return to writing our story that is our life, then being a person in the world who leaves a mark on this planet is about being someone who has loved truly fiercely.  And the actions that expressed that Love are what we are mostly remembered for.  Again from the Christian tradition, the person Jesus is a great example! But in light of our contemplation this far, imagine yourself in the mind of a person like Jesus, or anyone who Loved so fiercely that their very actions spoke of non-duality or oneness without them needing to speak or teach at all as I do in a lot of my work.  Do you not think his mind is able to operate in such a way that tolerates the paradox of non-dual Self knowledge and the duality of personal and world experience at the same time?

Of course he did and he expressed it as “I and the Father are one”; what I essentially am and what the ultimate nature of reality is, are one and the same. This ability to hold paradoxes together is known by many Christian mystics and contemplatives as the ‘contemplative mind’, and as Richard Rohr has translated, this is the ‘non-dual mind’.

I’ve come to realise that it's not so much about seeing or looking for the non-duality that is hidden within a duality ‘that is really non-dual’ - which is again just our spiritual ego looking for an experience - but rather it is about holding the knowledge of the non-dual in our hearts, at the same time as honouring the duality and the multiplicity of fresh diversity that is creation: from the moving mood of our lover to the waves in the ocean.

Losing ourselves completely in the duality without forgetting about and being inspired by the non-duality of it all.  This I think is the task of tasks that awaits us after awakening and frees us from the need to be ‘spiritual’ and thinking that this will somehow give us a life full of extraordinary or transcendental experiences.

By losing ourselves in world we let her take us on an adventure of ups and downs, and by returning to our non-dual home at the end of the day we can rejoice in reflection and cry tears of gratitude as we re-remember that we never left God’s cradle.  Waking the next day to do it all again, but this time with something new to explore.

This is the Beauty of the Infinite One’s sacrifice that let’s Him/it unfold into a multiplicity of infinitely new experiences, by self-imposing on Himself/itself limitations so as to be known in the finite.

This tennis match between inwards and outwards, non-dual and dual, this is what seems to me to be living the non-dual understanding as a person in the world.  Not thinking about the teaching and trying to let it influence your decisions or how you feel about things, but totally forgetting the teaching both in self-resting in the Self and courageously acting in our personal adventure that is our gift. The teaching is just meant for guidance; it’s the signpost that we need to follow and then forget about so that we can let Experience herself be our teacher and true guide.

This will be certainly a big challenge for me as I have come to see myself as the ‘non-duality guy’ given what I do...but writing this post has been such a gift and I hope it has served you too.

Bottom line is, my advice to myself is learn to live in the world as a happy person just as much, or perhaps even more than my being able to rest in the Self of the Universe.  Go back out into the forest. Jump back into the dream and from time to time you can plug in to its Source and rest back into your non-dual home of unconditional peace, love and happiness.  But become the kind of person no matter what you do in life, that returns to that non-dual experience, whatever the means that take you there, with the intention that it allow you to live LIFE more fully as the PERSON that you are, rather than use it to escape some aspects of the duality that you don’t like.

All of us, spiritual seekers, if we are sincere, know this escape far too well.  

If you resonated with this contemplation then you probably already knew this, and I’m grateful that I could remind you :)

Do share any insights, feelings or thoughts (disagreements are welcome!) in the comments section below!

With love,


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