The Lie Of Abiding Nondual Awareness

A Stream In The Forest

A Stream In The Forest

SOMEWHERE HIGH IN THE SIERRAS, CA—I sat on a rock in a stream in a high mountain forest and—as is my birthday tradition—contemplated the knots in my life and what I was going to do about them.

On one of the banks, two chipmunks scurried about, darting in and out of the rocks, courting and playing and chasing each other. A bird, darker in color but similar in shape to a cardinal, flitted among the branches above, gathering twigs for a nest.

I raised my arms to stretch stiff muscles and instantly the chipmunks disappeared into a hole and the bird shot off into the air and in response She whispered, “Even animals have self-consciousness.”

I was surprised by this. Not Her whispers, but Her words: “Even animals have self-consciousness.”

I’ve occasionally mentioned something I call the self-contraction—how sometimes I get pulled out of the Vastness into my little me-me-me self. I’ve often said it is simply conditioning—like an old habit that is hard to break. Conditioning is what practically every spiritual teacher calls it.

But Her whispers indicate otherwise.

I’ve been wrong in calling it conditioning—like it is something that can be overcome with a little more practice. The self-contraction is not a conditioned habit that can be broken—it is a core and ancient part of our genetic code.

Chipmunks and cardinal-like birds flee when they sense danger. They have an instinctual sense of self-preservation—a very primitive sense of self… a sense of “me” separate from everything else. If they didn’t have this me-me-me instinct, they’d be eaten by the first predator that came along and their genes wouldn’t have gotten passed on.

Chipmunks and cardinal-like birds have a primitive sense of self. All animals do.

It’s not conditioning that causes the self-contraction. It’s instinct.

Don’t get me wrong, you don’t have to identify with the self-contraction—that’s really what enlightenment is—but enlightened or not, the self-contraction never goes away. It’s a part of—literally—life.

Which leads me to one of the most common myths about enlightenment…

Some (enlightened) spiritual teachers say they live in “abiding nondual awareness.” I’ve always had doubts about claims like that. Now I know why.

Self-consciousness is instinctual. The self-contraction (self separate from other… ie: duality) is a part of the genetic nature of all sentient creatures. Abiding nondual awareness doesn’t exist.

Temporary nondual awareness exists (I refer to it as Emptiness).

Integrated dual/nondual awareness exists (the Unity/Separation Paradox).

But abiding nondual awareness doesn’t exist—it can’t as long as you have a physical body with its genetically encoded sense of a separate self.

The, dare I say, lie of abiding nondual awareness kind of explains why most nondual teachers don’t blog about their day-to-day lives—it would be evident that their nondual awareness isn’t abiding.

(Note: I will be happy to retract this, hell, I’d love to retract this, if someone can prove—not assert, but prove—otherwise.)

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10 thoughts on “The Lie Of Abiding Nondual Awareness

  1. Hi Wayne,
    Love your discovery!! I have been contemplating similar questions. Like I can sustain periods of time where peace and happiness are present BUT as soon as I get an email of my son or my sisters sharing their current life affairs with lots of drama involved I contract, get worry and yes, start judging them for what I think they are doing “right”. Or when I get an unsolicited negative experience caused by “other” or objects, like my laptop freezing out or my internet signal disappearing or my landlord lying or many other situations…my “self” still reacts with all kinds of feelings…and then I say:well this should not be happening anymore since I believe I abide in nondual awareness! hahaha…I can say it does not take as long as it used to to reverse course, calm the animal down and respond to change my attitude BUT still happens.
    I have asked: why “enlightntened” teachers do still get married and have children? buy houses and all sort of things, and even when they say stop the search….they are continuosly involved in the teachings themselves!!being teachers and such things..having an ashram, a community…why not get the real I am one with All and live like a mystic like you? or me for that matter…I am a nomad, single and with a backpack with all my possesions…or I travel in my van like you from time to time…so I wonder who is who really???????? If the life of the organism is going to continue the same self-conscious behaviors as you say to preserve and sustain the life as the world has conditioned plus our genetic programming…so where is the gain really? Maybe the awakened ones are just using another state of mind to escape life as it is?????
    Much love and admiration,

  2. Wayne,

    I think you’re right. I doubt it’s possible for one to be in nondual awareness and simultaneously write about how “one” is in nondual awareness! The “one” writing must be in dual awareness because they’re writing about themselves. I’d say that the only kind of writing that can be from within nondual awareness would be stream-of-consciousness (i.e., James Joyce). However, the writing could only make claims from the third person point of view, so they couldn’t assert or argue that “they” lived in abiding nondual awareness!

    Aloha, Aliman

  3. Good evening dear
    As we travel along our journey we make judgements based on underlying concepts we often take as “given”. What other possibilities might you invision if someone had an altered genetic code? I don’t ask this as a hypothetical question. (I have never written to you before but tonight I heard the whisper of the universe so I listened )
    Have a sweet evening…

  4. Thanks for clarifying this Wayne. It seems to connect to your earlier post about “do I need a self”. I commented then that what could be called the ego process is evident as a principal of homeostasis or protection down to the atomic level (eg an atom wants a stable number of electrons). On a human level if someone covers your face with a pillow while you sleep you will wake struggling to stay alive. So in this sense perhaps you do need a sense of self. What do you think?

  5. I was wondering why is it that the chipmonks and the bird only flew away after you moved. They knew you were there. What is it in the animals, that we emit from ourselves, that make then flee. Do animals see our auras?Can they sense fear,anger emotion. Makes you think.

    • Bob, The explanation is likely more simple–that chipmunks aren’t as complex as, e.g., a deer. A deer would know you’re still sitting there even if you haven’t moved (e.g., through smell, and through it’s memory). Chipmunks don’t really have that same kind of apparati. They only key on movement. I walk up to meditate on the beach and the crabs scatter. Within 15 minutes of just sitting, the crabs slowly come back. If I move they scatter again.


  6. what happened? Wayne moved, the animals reacted? yeah?

    If you had an electric hob and you turned it on, and in about 10 minutes(maybe 20) you dropped your hand on it. Your hand will shoot off and your likely to yelp. You reacted but self didn’t react, self didn’t know about it until after you’d already reacted(I’m talking about ego-i-self). The sense of touch sends a signal up to the brain(where i think ego-i-self resides but not I-Self) along the way it got to a point at the top of your spine at the bottom of your neck where there is a junction for your nerves and something intervened sent a message to your arm lifting it up. At the same time messages for this junction where sent up to self so that self could be aware.

    It is genetically written into the body to protect it, to look after it and to pass it on. All these things relate to your root chakra(as far as i am aware), the root seems like a kind of anchor its about security, comfort and making sure you are safe in this mortal plain,survival. If you where to be a bird and a much large animal made a movement you where very unsure of the functions of the root is for you to fly away, survival.

    I’m not learnt on dual/non-dual teachings but as for reactions they aren’t you and they aren’t self or Self.

    summery i guess, you don’t need self to react and protect the body. I’ve also learnt i need to meditate on self-consciousness.

  7. Hi Wayne & All,

    I don’t think it’s provable whether or not abiding nondual awareness exists, because only a dualistic proposition could be provable (i.e. x, therefore y). Until we experience it, we have to take it on a faith and a knowingness that even higher states of enlightenment are possible — if extremely rare — because spiritual evolution is really the domain of subjectivity, not objectivity or provables.

    Yes, animals are self-conscious, but their instinct is to survive, not to live. Consciousness, experiencing form through the perceptual/dualistic mind of the animal, assumes that it is separate from life and has to acquire a source of energy from outside of itself. But life is prior to physicality. The ids/egos of animals do not really comprehend their own life or existence, but are driven to persist in physical form. As ancient as it is, it seems appropriate to call this drivenness-of-acquirement ‘programming’ or ‘conditioning’ since it is all based on an error of perception. Humans, obviously, inherited this error as one of the major bases of egoic consciousness, which is particular to animals, and not to plants.

    The continuous presencing of non-dual awareness through the physical body is probably just a matter of degree. The fact that you are still in human form and aware of another duality or paradox suggests that the limitation is resolvable whether or not the body survives the resolution. Though they are not provable, an inner knowningness seems to be hinting to us that higher, more permanent states of consciousness await our discovery and confirmation.

    Take care,


  8. I’m not saying you’re wrong about anything, but I’d like to point something out.

    To be mindful of your vessel, be that a bird, human or any other animal, seems kind of hardwired into the majority of all beings. The same instinct that drives you to dodge certain danger also applies when you have to eat when you’re hungry – you do what you can to avoid having your vessel weakened or damaged. Unless you’re one of those people who can sustain themselves on pure air, you have to eat. Eating because you’re hungry is also instinct, the same way trying to avoid danger seems to be an instinctive reaction. At the same time you can simply choose not to follow up on these reactions and starve or get punched in the face. But instinctive behavior is also based on the absence of prior learning or knowledge of specific things – instinctive behavior doesn’t tell you to not place your hand on a red glowing stove, it just tells you to get your hand the hell away from there as quick as possible. I’m not sure about you, but I did this once as a kid, and it sucked. Avoiding danger doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s an instinctive reaction, as you can learn to see the connection between specific patterns of action and events and decide whether or not to react to it. Who knows? Perhaps the birds took off because they had come to learn that it’s better to be safe than sorry.

    There doesn’t need to be a personal “self” there for you to be eating because you’re feeling hungry or dodging a punch because you know it sucks to have all of your teeth broken and your face completely swollen up.

    Being hungry doesn’t make me feel like a person any more than looking out the window does, and I don’t particularly feel like anyone special when I dodge snowballs being thrown at me either. Some level of self preservation happens either you’re aware of it or not. You go to sleep to restore lost energy and to prevent further exhaustion. You wake up because you’re unable to keep sleeping. There’s an instinctive reaction pattern to very much of what we usually spend our time doing every single day.

    As I said, I’m not saying you are wrong in your assertion – that’s not in my interest – but as long as we’re all playing this word game we can all come to conclusions that may not be true at all, no matter how much we believe them to be otherwise.

    Now, if instinctual reaction patterns are based on the existence of a perception of a separate self then there’s probably not a single “enlightened” being in this universe. “Abiding nondual awareness” and “instinct” are just words..

    And I’m not saying that any of this is true at all. This is just my word game.

    Keep playing 🙂

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