The Nonduality Highlights
Sunday, March 30, 2014 – Editor: Dustin LindenSmith
I have always enjoyed podcasts which involve people telling personal stories. There are a few well-established storytelling podcasts online like Snap Judgment and RISK!, but one of the originals and best is called The Moth, which features true stories, told live on stage, without notes. In a recent episode, electrical engineer Carl Pillitteri describes his first-hand experiences with working at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power generating station in Japan, three years ago this month, on March 11, 2011.
It’s hard not to be touched emotionally by listening to the account of his regular work day adjacent to the turbines in that particular power station at the moment when that particular earthquake’s impact was felt. Imagine yourself in a situation like that, with the raw immediacy of those events as they unfolded around you. Any of your usual petty anxieties would be fully subsumed by the profound presence and hyperactive awareness you would feel as the physical world that surrounds you begins to crack apart and explode. Even now, a few years after those events, Pillitteri has trouble keeping his composure while telling his story:
Cheryl Abrams is a relatively new voice in nonduality, and is herself a single mom of four who blogged in February about her recent and ongoing divorce, all in the context of nonduality:
The thought experiments I’ve always found the most interesting are those in which you apply a nondual interpretation to a personal situation that’s particularly challenging or sticky for you. In Cheryl’s case, she riffs on what it means to look beyond her sense of an individual ‘wronged self’ in the context of her so-called relationship with her ex-husband. She also reflects on the perennial nature of your own sense of disappointment about a relationship when things don’t go the way you wanted them to — over and over and over again. And then she goes deeper than all that by asking you to ask yourself how real this so-called person called “you” even is in the first place.
It’s true that there is no “I” and there is no “me”; but you cannot live without the “me” until you learn to live with it. You cannot live without the life that you’ve made until you learn to live with it. In other words, you can’t see that you are no thing until you see and admit that you are everything. Once you see this, you no longer have to search for yourself. The constant reminders are no longer necessary. I don’t have to look anymore, he doesn’t have to look anymore. There is nothing separating “me” from “my life”; they are the same. There is no “relationship” because there is not “two”. And I see that there never was.
On a recent episode of the excellent Fitzdog Radio podcast, host, comedian and comedy writer Greg Fitzsimmons interviews his occasional sidekick, the comedy writer and TV producer Mike Gibbons, who is himself in the midst of separating from his wife. They have two children in the pre-teen/early teen age range, and the divorce proceedings are being described as surprisingly amicable. Mike attributes this in large part to his wife being a professional psychotherapist, along with all of the professional help they’ve received throughout their separation.
Greg describes how a mutual unnamed friend of theirs has been experiencing a divorce of his own. “No matter how healthy your relationship is, there’s a fair amount of your energy that’s entangled in it…” He goes on to describe how now that their friend isn’t in a relationship anymore, he has access to a new wellspring of energy that used to be tied up in his previous relationship.
Mike tells of how he’s asked his therapist to keep him honest about experiencing his emotions as he proceeds through this separation from his wife. “I will shut off and move forward,” he said. He also admitted to experiencing a certain euphoria at the prospect (and now reality) of dissolving this dysfunctional relationship he’s had with his wife for so long. He appears to worry a little that his conscience might be trying to tell him something important about how much he’s enjoying himself right now as a newly single man.
These pieces have all made me reflect on marriage and relationships in general, and on whether applying a so-called “nondual outlook” to relationships can have a noticeable benefit. My wife and I got married nearly 18 years ago, and we first availed ourselves of the services of a relationship counsellor within our first year. We were both in our early 20s. At the time, I recall feeling slighted by her because she was not taking my lofty spiritual aspirations and practices seriously enough, nor did she appear to have any interest in pursuing them herself. Instead, she was totally absorbed in the work required to get through her first two years of medical school, while I lay on the couch having an existential crisis about how much moral support I felt like she was giving me about my meditation practice and my lack of available outlets for creative self-expression.
Now, if you detect some mild retrospective disgust at the depths of my own self-absorption from such a young age, you’re right. I didn’t even HAVE a regular meditation practice at the time! It’s embarrassing for me now to admit how much attention I’ve demanded from my wife over the years due to what I now think of as my emotional immaturity and lack of accurate context for my personal problems. The first image that comes to mind for me is that of a petulant, unapologetic child who demands the attention of his parents under the threat of dissolving into a mortifying public tantrum in the middle of the grocery store.
Lately, however, I’ve benefited enormously from applying a nondual outlook in my interpersonal relationships with my three young children and with especially with my amazingly supportive, patient and understanding wife. Even just by taking as the starting point that we’re both on the same team, we’ve radically transformed our relationship. This is especially important when you look at the sum total of married life with young kids generally: it’s a heap of challenging work just to make the household run properly, let alone smoothly. If you don’t have a willing partner in that basic task, you’re going to have some real problems in the relationship.
I suspect that most moms out there probably tend to look at their marital and other relationships from that logistical, practical perspective first — especially if their life circumstances are challenging in any way (which many are). For modern, middle-class and upper-middle-class families, it’s a peculiar luxury we have to indulge in the worry that your partner isn’t meeting your needs: 150 years ago, you’d have been too worried about whether or not that year’s crops would fail or if your family would have enough food to last through the winter.
Of course, this notion of whether or not you’re getting your own needs met also comes directly out of looking at your relationship from the perspective of what “you” are getting out of it. Applying a simple, nondual outlook to the relationship as a whole can bring all of those supposed differences into stark relief. I mean really, who is this “you” that you’re spending so much time and energy defending all the time? And why are the needs and desires of that “you” more important than those of your partner?
But of course, all that is easy for ME to say! I would really love to hear from any readers who have experiences or reflections to share about how a nondual outlook may have affected their interpersonal relationships. It’s a topic that touches most of us here each day, I’m sure.