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What Oneness Really Is

When we closely look at the feeling of oneness as an ongoing substrate, that is, as an ongoing, seemingly eternal stream—often experienced by many as the bhakti feeling of ecstasy or bliss—we find that it hides an invisible dimension wherein this “all” or oneness becomes not only the great equalizer of egos but the great eraser of egos. In this way what we call “God” or “unity” or this sense of oneness, becomes a monolithic and homogenized experience which removes difference as a characteristic of the world-as-it-is. The “return to God” as an experience of this type of oneness exclusively is not what true nonduality—or wholeness—is. This type of oneness, so called, misses the fact that every aspect of creation is holy and that this holiness only becomes tangible when everything is left to appear in its place and in its own native condition. Other people don’t disappear in oneness. They are in fact highlighted as the most beautiful expression of God’s grace and the emotionally warm nature of true nonduality.

The idea of a substrate or ongoing stream of prior oneness—a sort of “eternal” or nirvana to which we must return by developing ourselves so that nothing—not even the existence of our own self—stands in the way, is very appealing. It speaks to those moments of peak experience where the self momentarily seems to disappear, freeing us from its constant chatter and suffering. This is very consoling. But mature spirituality demands that we be divine humans and not divine nothings. It may make some of us uneasy to say, but the ugly, the difficult, the impossible, must continue to be what they are and to manifest themselves fully for them to be revealed as simultaneously beautiful and show themselves as features of the great oneness that includes all its separate pieces just as they are.

If we look at those moments we have had an experience of what we believe to be oneness, we see that there is often an unstated belief in a kind of cause and effect that essentially says that the beauty we experience arises from the melting quality that this type of oneness seems to bring, a kind of mowing down of difference in favor of an homogenized state we begin calling “God.” It would be a blessing if we had a teacher in those moments who could point out the ongoing, universal stream of limitation, separateness, and difference which are the co-conspirators of oneness, and mark their beauty as well as their essential presence in anything that purports to be call an awakened understanding of wholeness. When we love separateness-in-oneness and the oneness-of-separateness, we have a chance to see what life is like when there is nothing to defend or destroy.

From this perspective, we can begin to see that the so called “eternal” to which we were so attracted, exists because the temporal exists, and we lose the idea of a prior “wave” or heaven or even underlying consciousness that is separate from the moments of time that are responsible for, and the holder of, the oneness we seek. The idea of the eternally enduring substrate to which we must find our way back, the great “eternal” that exists when we have cleared away all differences, always leads to a need to separate the pure from the impure and allows us to create spiritual realms where the material world—which is the holder of all of this beauty and the defender of difference—is downgraded to something less than the spiritual. When we trust that the beautiful and good arises from the inclusion of things-as-they-are and put our efforts toward subduing our tendencies to make reality conditional upon our beliefs and thinking, we have a chance to return to our self-illuminated state, the state of being in God.

Try this:

Glance out your window.

What do you see?

Count how many “I’s” there are.

It’s impossible really because there are so many, but immerse yourself in the world of “I’s”:

The I’s of the clouds, the I’s of the trees, of all the leaves, of each leaf and each cell in each leaf. Of each person you might see, each blade of grass. The I’s of the stones. The birds. If you are in a city, there are the I’s of buildings. The I’s of each mineral in each brick.

You can’t hold them all. But you can walk through it with your I.

Do that in your imagination.

Notice what happens when you walk your I through the world of I’s.

What happens?

What changes?

If you are subtle, you’ll feel your body change. Your breathing changes. Your nervous system changes.

You don’t need to be too contemplative or psychological about this, to try to figure it all out.

Just acknowledge that the world is filled with I’s and that you walk through it with your I, one I among many I’s.


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