A question that frequently, and naturally, arises in any type of transformational work is, “How will this change me?” “Will I be more effective?” “Will I suffer less?” People would like to hear that their lives will be richer, more harmonious, and that they will be better able to deal with challenging situations. It’s tempting for people to infer that such change will happen. People in Radiant Mind, Natural Awakening and parallel programs regularly offer personal accounts about how they feel more peace and openness through engaging in nondual work. They report how their relationships and communications improve, and their fears and anxieties decrease. People validate their participation in this way. New participants are comforted and reassured by such reports. Marketing materials often imply such things, “You will discover a space where there is more intimacy, openness and less struggle, etc.”
However, as soon as people are fully engaged with nonduality, we can’t promise anything. There are two reasons for this. First, the focus of our work is on nondual awareness. If we give attention to change at the conditioned level this throws us into time and casualty. This attention doesn’t create an entry point into nondual awareness. In fact, it distracts us from the unbounded panorama of pure awareness.
We can’t know how the infusion of nondual awareness within a mindstream will influence someone’s evolutionary path. Even here, in saying that nondual awareness influences how we think, feel and perceive, I am telling a story. I am moving away from the language of the unconditioned where there’s nothing to say, nothing to describe, where the nondual can’t influence anything because it isn’t a force or power or energy. It is nothing. I acknowledge that I am no longer talking from the nondual. I’m aware that what I am about to say can easily raise as many questions as it seems to answer. I preempt this by saying “I’ll give you my thoughts on this but it will be quite brief because this is just the way that I try to make sense of things.”
Wonderful things do happen when we engage in nondual work. People experience super-deep, super-smooth and totally effortless sessions of natural meditation. They are able to feel totally complete, even blissful, in the midst of illness, irresolution or environmental threats. My approach is to acknowledge these “side effects,” but not dwell on them. They don’t become a focus of the work. In fact, these types of effects arise more consistently and comprehensively when we don’t give them any attention.
People often attribute these changes to the work they are doing. It can be tempting to agree with them and to interpret positive change to the work they are doing. I listen to these reports with pure listening. I don’t reject them or accept them. I’ll say that’s great, but I don’t make a link between the nondual program and the positive changes that are happening.
It’s a trap to attribute such changes to spending more time in nondual awareness. We then begin to assess the effectiveness of nondual work in terms of changes that are happening at the conditioned level. But the unconditioned isn’t ongoingly revealed and presenced when we are anticipating and tracking changes at the conditioned level. When we anticipate and track changes, we are no longer engaged in nondual transmission.
The second reason I don’t make promises that people’s lives will improve is that I don’t know what will happen for someone, tomorrow, next week or next year. While I’m sure that nondual awareness only serves people positively, it’s impossible to know what’s going to happen in a person’s life. We can’t know what those challenges will be. Someone’s life may move from being peaceful and easy to becoming demanding and stressful overnight. This happens all the time. Everyday thousands of people are losing their jobs, needing to sell their home, welcoming a newborn child into their family, and dealing with the news of a terminal illness. The stresses involved in some of these experiences can last for months or years.
Engaging in nonduality doesn’t provide insurance against relationship problems, financial loss, illness or death. All we can confidently say is that the more time we spend in nondual awareness, the better we will be able to handle life’s challenges, no matter what they are. Once we’ve experienced unconditioned awareness, this healing experience percolates through the layers of our conditioning. There is a natural and effortless process, which is different for each complex being, and it happens in its own time. At times, this deconditioning can happen quickly, and then we might regress and find ourselves confronting something that has been deeply held within our conditioning. At other times, deconditioning happens slowly and steadily. The entire process may take more than a lifetime. We might never reside permanently in unconditioned awareness. We have no concern for this. We can simply let the process happen in its own way.
An excerpt from Natural Awakening: Advanced Nondual Training Manual written by Peter Fenner
Copyright © Peter Fenner, 2009-2012
Peter Fenner, Ph.D. is a spiritual leader in the adaption and transmission of Asian nondual wisdom. Pioneer in the development of nondual therapy, he created the Radiant Mind Course® and the Natural Awakening: Advanced Nondual Training. Peter runs courses, trainings, retreats and satsang telecalls and offers individual coaching sessions. His students and clients include Buddhist psychotherapists, psychologists, coaches, Zen masters, Sufi masters, Vipassana and Mindfulness teachers, Yoga teachers, psychiatrists, medical doctors, hospice workers, students of Tibetan Buddhism, followers of Advaita, artists and spiritual seekers worldwide.
Peter was a celibate monk in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition for 9 years and has a Ph.D. in the philosophical psychology of Mahayana Buddhism. Over a period of 40 years Peter Fenner has distilled the essence of traditions like Zen, Dzogchen and the Buddhist Middle Way, and adapted them to suit creatively our post-modern culture. He is the Director of Education of Timeless Wisdom.
The Radiant Mind Course (www.radiantmind.net) is taught in North America, Australia, and Europe, as well as the Natural Awakening Training, (www.nondualtraining.com.) Peter also offers retreats on 5 continents. He has presented his work at leading universities and institutions including Columbia, Stanford, CIIS and Naropa.
Peter Fenner has written extensively on Buddhist nondual traditions. His books and CDs include:
- “Radiant Mind: Awakening Unconditional Awareness” (Sounds True, 2007) translated in French: “L’Esprit Lumineux” (Almora, 2010) and in German: “Reines Gewahrsein”;
- “The Sacred Mirror: Nondual Wisdom and Psychotherapy” (ed. with John Prendergast and Sheila Krystal, 2003).
- “The Edge of Certainty: Dilemmas on the Buddhist Path” (2002) translated in French: “Le Fil de la Certitude, Dilemmes de la voie bouddhiste” (du Relié, 2001).
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