A question that is very often posed to me is, “How will doing your practice change me?” “Will I be more effective?” “Will I suffer less?” People would love 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 project that such changes will happen. People in Radiant Mind and similar programs often offer personal accounts about how they feel more peace and openness through engaging in the nondual perspective. They report how their relationships and communications improve, and their fears and anxiety decrease. This is really beautiful.
However, the truth is that from a nondual perspective, 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 what’s happening at the conditioned level—feeling better, etc.—this throws us into time and casualty. And this attention doesn’t create an entry point into nondual awareness. In fact, it distracts us from the unbounded panorama of pure awareness.
Second, 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.
Wonderful things do happen when we engage with the nondual awareness. 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 as wonderful “side effects,” but not dwell on them. They don’t become a focus of the process. 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 what we are doing together. It can be tempting to agree and to interpret positive change to the space we are sharing. 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 Radiant Mind and the positive changes that are happening.
It is a trap to attribute such changes to spending more time in nondual awareness. We then begin to assess the effectiveness of abiding in the nondual 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 resting in unconditioned awareness.
Another 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 up ahead, in a someone’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 facing the challenges of broken relationships, 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 de-conditioning can happen quickly, and then we might regress and find ourselves confronting something that has been deeply held within our conditioning. At other times, de-conditioning happens slowly and steadily. The entire process may take more than a lifetime. It is unlikely that we will reside permanently in unconditioned awareness in this lifetime. We have no concern for this. We can simply let this wondrous process unfold in the inevitable way that it will.
Peter Fenner, Ph.D.
Peter is a leader in the adaption and transmission of Asian nondual wisdom worldwide. He is a pioneer in the development of nondual therapy and creator of the 9-month Radiant Mind Course® (www.radiantmind.net) and the 10-month Natural Awakening: Advanced Nondual Training (www.nondualtraining.com). He was a celibate monk in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition for 9 years and has a Ph.D. in the philosophical psychology of Mahayana Buddhism. He teaches in North America, Europe, Israel and Australia. His books include Radiant Mind: Awakening Unconditional Awareness (2007); The Edge of Certainty: Dilemmas on the Buddhist Path (2002); and The Sacred Mirror: Nondual Wisdom and Psychotherapy (ed. with John Prendergast and Sheila Krystal, 2003).