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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