My Sweet Friendship with No One

Duncan Riach, Ph.D.
Sep 12 · 5 min read

We just got back from Europe, and we’re recovering from ten hours on a plane and an eight hour shift in timezones. Apart from spending time in central London and Paris, and with my family, we also went to a residential retreat at the beautiful Sharpham House in Devon (in the UK) with a person who convincingly claims that “there’s no one here.”

In the story of my life, after the fundamental nature of reality was revealed in December of 2001, things changed dramatically: my marriage and career fell apart and I spent decades searching for someone with whom I could discuss what had been revealed. I wanted help to make sense of it in relationship to my life and the apparent reality I experienced. How can all of this exist? I wondered while looking around me. Having absolutely no doubt that there was only one with no second, that there was no real separation, how was it possible that there seemed to be all of these things?

I understood that “the un-manifest” or “the absolute” had been revealed and that somehow what I experienced in my everyday life was “the manifest” or “the relative.” Somehow the un-manifest was expressing as the manifest; somehow the absolute was expressing as the relative.

When I started watching videos of question-and-answer meetings with Jim Newman on YouTube, everything he said resonated with what had been revealed in 2001. “This is the absolute-relative” he said, hands held out to refer to “what seems to be happening.” This made total sense to me and went a long way to answering my question. The absolute is not manifesting as the relative; the absolute is the relative. When the fundamental nature of reality is revealed, it is crystal clear that it is everything all at once.

According to Jim, the illusion of separation (the self) viscerally misunderstands what seems to be happening as being separate from it. This illusion of separation, this self, believes that it is real. This embodied belief leads to everything else seeming to be only real, whereas what seems to be happening is actually neither real nor unreal. What seems to be happening takes on a deadness as it is misperceived as consisting of separate, real objects existing in real time and real space. The illusion of separation, the self, then seems to seek for the wholeness that is all there is, necessarily never being able to find it.

At an earlier non-residential meeting with Jim in San Rafael, California, I attempted to describe the absolute that was repeatedly revealed in 2001 (it’s not possible to properly describe it or to even comprehend it). I wanted to know how that related to what he was saying. “What you’re describing is appearing as a memory of itself.” He immediately told me, which made total sense. Of course; I knew this, but I (my self) needed to hear it from someone else.

Jim has this quality of being able to answer questions immediately and consistently. He doesn’t come back with mysterious or bullshit answers, and he doesn’t avoid answering questions. He’s available by phone and answers questions for free. At the residential in Devon, while walking down the street in Totnes, I asked him, “Why don’t you charge people for those calls?” He immediately responded, “Because I’m not helping anyone,” which is totally true. There’s nobody to help and the message he speaks is descriptive and not prescriptive; it’s not intended to achieve any kind of outcome since nothing is really happening and what is appearing (the absolute-relative) is unconditioned, appearing only as it does with no need to appear any differently.

So after all this searching, long after I gave up searching in fact, I have paradoxically found this “teacher” who is not a teacher (there is nothing to teach, no one to give a teaching, and no one to teach to). He’s my friend; we get on like brothers; we make fun of each other all the time. I feel seen by him in ways that my parents were never able to see me, even though, paradoxically, there is no one there to see me. He seems completely normal, yet there is no illusion that there is someone there, or that there is someone anywhere. For him, there is no self in anyone, including in this body. This rings true even if, at least some of the time, it seems as though there is a subject that is experiencing reality as an object (which I know is impossible).

Every day during the four-and-a-half days of the residential, we met as a group four times per day. During one of those meetings, the subject/object split seemed to stop happening and it was clear that there was only what was happening with no witness. It’s not possible to explain what that’s like, and it’s not possible for me to even remember it right now (it’s not an experience and cannot be remembered), but it did have a quality of “oh yeah, of course.” Suddenly, I remembered that happening many times in meetings with Jim and at many previous times in my life; somehow, I had forgotten; perhaps, because the self could not make sense of those memories, it just ignored them. It was also clear that life had always been like that: everything appears exactly as it seems to, but without any subject/object split, for no one.

During a different meeting at the residential, I asked if Totnes (the local town) existed. He said, “The absolute [everything] is appearing as a thought of Totnes.” I started to ponder the idea that there is only what seems to be happening in its immediate sense, that all the apparent references to other places and times point nowhere. It felt impossible for the self to squeeze into what is happening without all the contextual baggage of its stories about itself. I said, “You know when Jesus talked about it being harder for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle?”

Jim responded, “The rich man is the self.”

“Such total poverty” I said, feeling how, even if it could, the self would have to jettison everything that makes it what it is, annihilating itself, in order to fit through what seems like the tiny aperture of what seems to be happening into a recognition that there is only perfectly satisfying wholeness.

“Yeah, this is absolute poverty for the self.” he responded, and we both started laughing uncontrollably.

Duncan Riach, Ph.D.

Written by

An engineer-psychologist focused on machine intelligence. I write from my own experience to support others in living more fulfilling lives | duncanriach.com

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