About Nondual Inquiry
Of course some checking is helpful. There are times you might doubt whether the inquiry is even worth it. But try not to interrupt the inquiry itself in order to check your progress. For example, if you do the inquiry in the morning, save the checking for the afternoon. Checking every month is better than every week. After you reach a certain confidence that inquiry is for you, less checking carries you further than more checking.
Why is that?
Too much checking and self-monitoring is counterproductive whether you are doing nondual inquiry or learning ballroom dancing. Obsessive monitoring is based on wanting to be safe and secure. It also breaks the flow. It also creates another character like a subtle psychological camera-operator. This character will at some point also need to be investigated.
Let’s say you’re in dance class, and just learned a hard move in a tango step. Try not to immediately assess how your ballroom skills are coming along. Try not to imagine yourself rocking this move on the ballroom floor Friday night — if you do, oops! You’ve probably just missed the next move in class!
The Dalai Lama once said that it’s fine if you’d like to check the results of Buddhist practice to determine whether you’ve become wiser or more compassionate. “Sure, check! Once every fifteen years!”
Comparing Yourself to Published Stories
There’s another feature to the monitoring process. This is the search for wonderful enlightenment stories, and the inevitable comparison of your own experiences with what you read. “Do I measure up if I don’t see a blue pearl? If I don’t feel a cool breeze coming from the top of my head? If my body still has feeling?” It seems as though you have to have the very same bells and whistles or else you don’t have “it.” Projecting and comparing like this are almost irresistible. They are an extension of the seeking process in the first place, a desire to want to make an improvement, to want to arrive and reside in a secure place.
The Irony of Comparing States
There are two ironies about this visualizing, monitoring and comparing process. First, the result of the inquiry is never, ever what it’s expected to be. For example, it’s not as though the end is equivalent to a super-high degree of the various “progress indicators” (more peace, more love, less separation). It’s not a matter of degree at all. There’s a quantum difference between any point along the path, and the conclusion. Seen from “before,” comparison seems inevitable. But seen from “after,” there are no more comparisons or descriptions at all!
The other irony is that monitoring is not necessary in order to be done, or to know you’re done. It’s not like driving on the highway, where you’ll end up in the wrong place if you miss your turn. There will be no doubt when the inquiry is done. It’s not a matter of assessing progress through a comparison to images. Actually, if there is still monitoring, the inquiry has not ended. The end of this inquiry is also the end of self-monitoring.
Block 2 – Belief in the Independence of Physical Objects
Why is this a block? And what do I mean by “belief in the independence of physical objects”? I mean the belief that the desk or pencil pre-exists on its own, outside the scope of awareness. And that awareness uses the function of perception to go out and somehow reach the object, bringing the information back and into the scope of awareness.
What kind of a block is that? Who could have made that up! The belief that objects are really out there is as normal as brushing your teeth!
But the belief in the independence of physical objects is responsible for the lion’s share of our feelings of separation. For when we believe that objects are separate from us, we also feel separate from them. This separateness amounts to the fundamental duality between “me” and “not me.” Separation shows up as a belief and a feeling. The belief says “objects are out there, independent of my awareness,” and the feeling is a disconnected, cut-off kind of alienation, vulnerablity and suffering. Furthermore, this notion of separateness pervades the thought-world too. The notion of physical separation actually serves as one of our most powerful metaphors for “difference.” When we think of one thing differing from another (whether it’s “blue” vs. “green” or “me” vs. “not-me”), we most often revert to thinking of them in spatial terms. Things are different from each other, it is often thought, because they somehow occupy different spaces. When the metaphor is seen through, when it is seen that nothing like physical separation can be the literal truth, things don’t seem radically cut off from each other. I don’t see “myself” in terms of one location, absolutely cut off from “the world” supposedly occupying another location.
There are two reasons I came to notice this particular belief as a sticking point. First, when I began my nondual investigation in a systematic way, I happened not to have this belief. Years previously, it had dissolved with the help of one of the world’s great teachers (who worked relentlessly on this one point). So for my own nondual inquiry, it was smooth sailing past these particular rocky reefs. Second, having helped many others in their investigation, I’ve seen their journey hit rocks, and almost always in this same spot. It actually happens relatively late in the process of a person’s inquiry. Often when they think they are past mundane physical things!
The physical objects belief is related to the feeling that I am the body, or somehow in the body. We usually experience the world as a flipside of what we take ourselves to be. Normal as this belief is, it’s an impediment to nondual inquiry because it will always return you to feeling cut off from what you believe is not-you. This “not-you” includes what you take to be external, independent objects. And no matter how many global, oceanic or cosmically connected experiences you have, you will always return to feeling cut off from these objects that you take to be independent. And what seems more resolutely independent than physical objects?
Many people are able to feel globally connected much of the time, and have acquired the belief that they are awareness in a world of awareness. But the unexamined belief that objects exist outside of awareness will always bring about the sneaking suspicion that something is out there, cut off from me and unobserved by me. This can lead to various unpleasantnesses and anxieties, including the worry about whether I have chosen the right path, the correct inquiry. Part of the reason for this is that we think of things in terms of spatial metaphors. So in a vague way, we might think of a path and a goal as “out there” like physical objects.
So if the inquiry is taken far enough, you’ll bump up sooner or later against the question whether there are objects existing outside of awareness. It is sometimes helpful to tackle this one issue on its own.