“woman hiding behind black curtain” by Nik MacMillan on Unsplash

A Brief Glimpse of Reality

About seventeen years ago, I had a series of experiences that I called spiritual. These experiences went on for years, at least six years. Some of them seemed to involve the revelation of what I called the fundamental nature of reality, a revelation for nobody; there was no self in those revelations.

Soon I found myself back in this “normal,” dead reality, with memories of that much more real, true, and alive reality. Though I felt calm, part of me also longed to return to the all-encompassing unconditional love. I spent years searching for a way back, but I came to realize that trying to get back to that was the surest way to prevent myself from getting there, but I didn’t really understand why. I didn’t give up the search, I just meditated less: two hours per day instead of four.

What I called the fundamental nature of reality is sometimes also called non-duality, the Tao, the void, or perhaps “the peace of God that surpasses all understanding”. A glimpse of it is sometimes called Satori. Many people have had glimpses of this; it’s very normal; it’s natural. This non-duality is not special and neither are glimpses of it.

After those glimpses, I knew that this wholeness, this unconditional love, was all that was, but I could not perceive it. Somehow it was hidden from me, and I embarked on various endeavors to try to change myself so that I could perceive this truth all the time.

Recently, I started a concerted search on the internet for people who continually experience reality as this non-duality. I discovered a surprising number of simple, ordinary people who are clearly truly awake. These are bodies which can honestly, and without doubt, say “there is no individual inside this” [points to this body] “and there is no individual inside that either” [points to that body]. There is truly no one here.

At the end of this article, I have included links to two people who I believe to be awake. I have been listening to their meetings on YouTube for a few weeks now, and I recently went to an in-person meeting with one of them. Being able to speak with people who actually understand what’s going on has been very comforting to me. Even if their message is one of wonderful hopelessness, I feel relaxed and calm listening to them talk. I feel relief. They speak of what I know to be true.

The message is not a teaching: there is no one to be a teacher and no one to be a student. The message is not prescriptive: there is nothing to do, nobody who could do anything, and there is no time in which it could be done. The message is simply descriptive: All there is is this, nothing appearing as everything.

It’s commonly said that the self is the cause of suffering. For some reason, the deeper ramifications of this never hit home in the way they do now. It’s now clear that the self is the only illusion. The illusion of self is a sense of separation. It’s totally not true that there actually is separation; reality is everything and nothing all at once [claps hands]. This [looks around] is no separation. The illusory sense of separation distorts everything that appears to happen, making it seem that there are other separate selves, including separate people and objects.

All that is happening right now is unconditional love appearing as nothing thinging. When you look at your hand, that’s unconditional love appearing as nothing handing. That’s actually what it is. But the self rushes in, grabs the perception and essentially says, “This is just a hand, my hand, connected to me.” Even though you might think that hand is “alive,” it looks dead, the same way the floor looks dead. Everything seems to be dead because it’s not being seen as it really is. When you look at the floor, it looks like a floor, but it’s actually unconditional love appearing as nothing flooring. It’s nothing and floorness all at once [claps hands]. It’s totally alive. Everything is alive.

I could never find what imprisoned me before, what kept me away from this wholeness. I couldn’t find it because I am the prison. How can the prison find the prison? Even if I could break out of this prison, I would be taking it with me. And reality is actually true wholenss, so there’s nothing to find. The illusion of self is an illusion of separateness. It cannot be found.

Not only this, but the nature of separateness is to seek for this wholeness. The self seeks for what it isn’t, and it can never find what it isn’t. The self keeps finding what it is: separation. It seeks wholeness in relationship, power, money, experiences, food, substances, knowledge, and meditation. Though it might experience some momentary satisfaction, it always comes up lacking and it goes on seeking.

The self is seeking. The self is the prison. The illusory self is the only thing that hides unconditional love. There’s nothing wrong with this. Wholeness also appears to arise as separateness. While everything sings “not two,” the self miss-hears the words of the “not two” song as “everything is separate”: me and you, this and that, good and bad, hot and cold. It’s actually me and you [claps hands], good and bad [claps hands], hot and cold [claps hands]. Not two.

Those glimpses I had in the past: those are just non-duality appearing right now as memories about itself (no memory remembering). The self rushes in and takes ownership of those thoughts and effectively says, “These are my memories of the fundamental nature of reality”. The idea that one day I might be enlightened is non-duality appearing right now as a thought about itself (no thought thinking). The self rushes in and takes ownership of that thought. It effectively says, “This is my thought about future enlightenment.” Re-framing non-duality as happening in the illusory past or the illusory future is another way that the self tries to keep it at a safe distance.

This non-dual, unconditional love is appearing as whatever it is. It can appear as anything. This unconditional love is perfect stillness and perfect silence appearing as all of this. It’s completely not understandable or knowable, yet it’s happening, and the appearance seems to keep changing (in the timeless timeing). The self, not able to perceive the empty-silent-stillness that underlies everything that appears to be arising, frantically works at stitching together this unknowable chaos into what, to itself, seems like a coherent narrative. But it’s never satisfying because it’s not true.

It’s like when you wake up from a dream and you see that everything seemed to make sense in the dream. In the dream, you seemed to have a past and a future, and everything that was happening made sense. When you’re awake, it’s clear that it was completely delusional, self-referential nonsense. The unnatural state of being somebody is a dream that nobody wakes up from. What is left when the dream ends is wholeness, but for no one. This is true.

This story of my life is completely fabricated. My past, my future, what I am, what I understand, what I know, my purpose, and my identity. All of this is nonsense stitched together from completely unrelated strands of isness that appear separate to the self, arising from an is-not-ness that the self cannot perceive. The self is grasping at threads of separation and frantically trying to weave together what it hopes is wholeness. Meanwhile, wholeness is all there is.

The self is terrified of death, but it is already dead. It never even was. The self is terrified of no longer existing, so it seeks wholeness, but in wholeness is its end. So it avoids true wholeness. It rushes one way and another, never truly wanting to find the home that it feels it lost, by its nature never able to find the nothing-everything that is home. It’s totally trapped. It has nowhere to go and nowhere to hide. It has to continually try to hide and re-hide inside itself, to hide from itself. It truly seems to be in a checkmate.

There is an infinitely thin patina on the surface of reality that is the knowledge that the illusory self thinks it has. Meanwhile, the depth of unknowable reality is infinite.

Even after all of that was written, there still seems to be the illusion of a separate self here that thinks it’s looking around and seeing separation. I am not enlightened and I never will be.

Two Awake People: Jim Newman; Tony Parsons