Rodney: Thanks for writing. And I’m happy that the blog and books resonate with you.
Q: To give you a little background about myself, I was first introduced to nonduality almost 20 years ago. I read the works of Tony Parson, Jeff Foster, John Wheeler and a few others. I attended several nondual retreats in England, Canada and the US. I wrote daily about my insights with respect to nonduality. "Intellectually" there appeared to be an understanding of nonduality, but the direct experiencing of that understanding seemed to elude me.
Rodney: That’s beautifully put. You are clear about how an intellectual understanding of nonduality does not equal to a direct knowledge of awareness.
Q: For at least 18 years, there was such a desperate desire to "awaken." However, over the last few years, that desperation has gone. Every morning, I walk in nature for 1-2 hours; and during that time, I look for the separate self, and it simply cannot be found. There is only present experiencing which itself is seen as a present expression or appearance of awareness. All experience becomes expansive. During those walks, if self-centered thoughts arise, they too are seen as temporal expressions of awareness, and they tend to dissolve pretty quickly as most present experiences do.
Rodney: Those are things with which I can fully empathize, from the powerful experiences to the “desperate desire to awaken.” Your morning nature walk, through the stillness of pines, should provide stellar opportunities to become alert to the pauses that are naturally occurring throughout your day.
Q: But you see, there are other times in every day when a strong sense of self arises, which invariably produces suffering. In those moments, there is a powerful sense of being defined by those thoughts and emotions. Occasionally, if I look for that separate self who is supposedly suffering, it can't be found and the self-centered thoughts tend not to linger.
Rodney: But why bother to even look? It’s a given that this separate self won’t be present at that time, except—ironically—in your particular search for it. Then it’s right there again, as you! I'm not saying never to look for this reoccurring "me." I'm saying that just one search for it tells you that it isn't continually there. So you needn't go looking for it at any other time.
Q: Yes, but there are still many times when it doesn't occur to me to look for the separate self, and I’m simply enjoying those peaceful moments. And then, after my walk, suffering, in some form or the other, returns. Both you and John have said that sometimes it takes talking to someone who is self-realized to help clarify what maybe is not being seen.
Rodney: When you look for this separate self, it can’t be found. Why? Because it’s not a concrete thing; it isn’t even there for an extended period of time! A sense-of-self comes and goes; that’s all it does. The same applies for an emotion: It arises and disappears. It appears to remain because of your memory of the previous feeling. But that memory is just a new thought, an assessment of or response to the previous emotion. So yes, feelings and sentiments—happy or not—are merely forms of thought. They are part of our body and mind functioning. When they arise, they are there. There is really nothing to be done with them, except to see them for what they are. Even those who are self-realized have feelings. We just don’t—to quote Nisargadatta—take “full delivery” of them. And that applies to feelings of joy, as well, of course! You see, having emotions aren’t the problem. It is your attachment to them that causing the suffering.
Q: That’s a great point, Rodney. Yes, I want the joyful feelings and not the angry ones.
Q: That reminds me of a related experience. Years ago I told a friend—while walking through majestic, aromatic pines on a quiet mountain trail—that I had a deep love for nature, but that "I couldn't have it."
Rodney: Right, you can’t own it, control it, or summon it to do your bidding.
Q: I was right in the middle of a beautiful forest, and it appeared to totally elude me. At that moment, it felt as though there was a solid wall between me and the very nature I seemed to cherish so deeply. Many years later, I discovered through direct experiencing of the absence of a separate self, that That which I actually am, IS the very expression or appearance of nature as it is being presently experienced. And it was suddenly clear that there was no getting any closer to nature than being the very expression of it!!
Rodney: Actually, you can be closer to it: By knowing its essence. But in knowing that, you harbor both closeness and detachment. Why? Because you then know that, in no uncertain terms, all there is, is awareness. Nature, however fathomless, is an appearance in That. And yet, you can have a profound appreciation for all of it, from the mountains and deserts, to the shores and oceans. But just to be clear: Your body/mind is an “expression” of presence. You, however, are presence itself. Fundamentally, you are nothing but that. You might want to reflect upon this as you are doing your daily nature walks. Or not. It’s more a matter of what feels right and comfortable for you. For when you are in a quiet place, or one with majestic surroundings, you are apt to be more open to the deep pauses that can occur at such times. It’s not a matter of saying or thinking that something is “Beautiful” over and over again. You have to first perceive your inherent stillness and beauty, which is closer than your own breathing.
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“Rodney Stevens is a writer in the tradition of non-dualism; an ancient teaching that the truth of our life is pure awareness. He writes with charm and eloquence and clearly conveys the sense that waking up to this truth is without striving and effort: it is the simple awareness of our true nature.” — Gavin Flood, Ph.D., Professor of Hindu Studies and Comparative Religion, Oxford University, U.K., and author of The Truth Within: A History of Inwardness in Christianity, Hinduism, and Buddhism.