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Recovering from non-duality

Updated: Jul 1, 2019

non duality had become a convenient new way to avoid my pain. pain had played such a large role in my life, the option of suicide was a constant companion for me (and i didn't necessarily see it as suicide, but as going back home). i felt deeply ashamed by it, how pain was so much a part of my life. i shunned myself, i thought of myself as pariah because it seemed like i was addicted to pain, glorifying it in the name of self pity.

i also lived in a culture where being easy going, happy, and positive were coveted attributes, which my siblings seemed to wear without effort. but from a very early age, i remember there was a sadness deep inside me that scared me. it so consumed me during the wee hours of the night, that i would plead and negotiate with god, demanding that he bring me back home. i looked at my time on this earth as an obstacle to tolerate before i could finally return to my real place.

i was ashamed of who i was, i couldn't speak about the feelings. instead, i acted it out. i cried. i fought. i demanded. i was angry. eventually i shut down. i didn't want to be shunned and rejected, i didn't want to be left because i couldn't just keep it down. i didn't want to make noise, i didn't want to make a fuss, but at the same time, i couldn't stop myself from acting out in it. i didn't know how to navigate through the web of emotion, and instead i found ways to hide, to mask.

the ways i chose to hide changed over the years. at first, it was masturbation. the pleasure of this peak state took me away, and it worked for awhile. the shame that came with it though, had rotted and ate away at my sense of morality and i was in conflict all the time. i hid, i tried to stay hidden, in rooms, different hiding places in the house, terrified of being discovered. 

i began to find other ways of disguising. i created a persona so that no one would see. i retreated inside myself. shame was like a ball and chain and it became my new constant companion. in order to hide it, i needed to project an image of perfection. i had to get straight a's in school, nothing less, and in order to ensure i did, i began to cheat. my body had to look perfect, and in order to ensure i never gained weight, i stopped eating. i controlled, i purged. and when acne started to take over my face, i made sure i had all the tools to hide them, and i would never let a soul see me without the cover up.


eventually, hiding became a new way of being. the only problem with hiding, is that i was terrified of getting caught, and i knew for a fact that if anyone saw through the mask, they would see the ugliness behind it, and run.

i wanted to run away from myself, most of all. if only i could escape my mind, my body - if only there was a way of doing it without taking my life. then maybe i could be safe. it was no surprise that i discovered alcohol. it was instantly the most effective tool i had come across to manage the pain. when i drank, i didn't have to think, i didn't have to hide, i didn't have to feel. i could shut down, tune out, and all the shit that i suppressed inevitably would emerge when i was drunk. at the age of 16 i became a black out drunk.

by the age of 21, i knew i that if i didn't stop i would either end up in jail, or dead. but i didn't know how to stop. i was so tired and i couldn't imagine living this way for even a day more. i decided to take leave from school, and during this time off, i decided to attend a retreat at a silent monastery.

during my time there, i had a glimpse of something different. something beyond me. outside of the monastery one day, i was gazing out onto the fields and then silence. i was no longer 'there.' the thoughts were gone, the pain was gone, and all there was was this presence, this intelligence, and it was everything, it was me, it was the trees, the sky, the monastery, the animals, the farmer. the only feeling that was there was love, and it seemed to emerge from this totality of intelligence that was everything. i had a glimpse of that which appeared to be infinite. i felt like i was home.

only it wasn't a free ticket. i didn't stop being me after this awakening. and although i stopped drinking, the pain didn't go away. only now, i was onto a new solution. i discovered the spiritual path, but unfortunately, i approached it in the wrong way. the layers didn't come off, and i wasn't yet ready to look. now that i'd discovered the infinite truth of what we are, i thought that the key was to find some way to remain in that state. and i thought that i could do that by going beyond my rational mind.

i started meditating and listening to non dual teachers and discovered ramana maharshi. the message of our infinite nature seemed to align with the experience i had at the monastery that day. yes, i am not my mind, not my body, not these feelings, nor these thoughts. the message of there being no 'person' that exists was a perfect new mask. and now, pain had become truly pariah, it had become a measurement of my failure on the path of awakening. and i had to outsmart it, outrun it, somehow.

now, i had developed two extremes, and the middle ground was no more. i was either 'that - the infinite intelligence' or i was buying into the falsehood of the 'personal identity.' i wanted nothing to do with my pain. i came to loathe it, to deny it had anything to do with the real me, and no matter how long i meditated, and how many silent retreats i'd attended, or spiritual teachers i listened to, the pain didn't go away, but instead, found new ways to reveal itself.

in spite of all my efforts to ignore and rationalize, the pain would rear its ugly head with a vengeance. i was either trying to keep up a spiritual persona, which to me meant being 'above and beyond this reality,' or i was acting like a monster. my melt downs came out most viciously when i was in a relationship. as soon as they began to chip away at the exterior mask, as soon as my defenses started to go down, the pain would come up, and the disgust and fear, terror that would accompany the pain, was so immense, so terrifying, that the only choice i felt i had was to attack, or be eaten alive by it.

so i got really good at running. i'd move to a new place. i'd lose myself in another person. i'd lose myself in work. i'd lose myself in the teachings of non duality, in various thoughts and spiritual philosophies. i told myself that it was just a matter of time that the false would fall away, and i would wake up for good. and because i was so ardently denying my humanity - i couldn't acknowledge any one else's either. i didn't want to engage in anything that was personal because it wasn't the ultimate truth, which, as a seeker of truth, was the only thing that really mattered.

in this state, i discovered the true meaning of isolation, separateness, loneliness, judgement. i could barely converse with people, i could barely look anyone in the eye. i was a shadow, waiting for the sun to rise. i was in a relationship that seemed to become a constant trigger for the pain, and i was afraid that my pain would destroy me and everything around me.

i knew that i couldn't keep running, but was also too afraid to face myself. i decided go to my guru's ashram, which was ithe safest place to escape. i spent three months at the ashram, and there i began to heal. i ended up meeting a group of people there that saw through my mask and didn't leave my side until i began to acknowledge my feelings, my story, my personality, my fears, my wounds.

it was at this time, that healing began to happen. i had to put down the non dual teachings. because the tendency i had to misuse the essence of the message was too strong. i couldn't keep seeking some idea of truth by denying the reality of my humanness, my human story. i couldn't bypass the pain, the messiness, in the name of spiritual growth. i had spent years running, suppressing, denying, rationalizing, blaming, projecting, hiding, clinging...i had spent 10 years as a 'seeker' on the non dual path, and what it only served to give me was a free ticket to relinquish the responsibility i had to own my processing of pain.

and yes. it was time to face my oldest enemy - the pain. For me, the key was this - to allow myself to go into the pain in order to find my way out of the pain - no matter how terrifyingly painful it might feel. I had to acknowledge the loneliness, the feeling of powerlessness, shame, judgement, fear, resistance. I had to begin to allow the feelings to be there. yes, loneliness. yes, fear. i had to begin to believe that it was not going to destroy me, that if there was anything at all i had learned from my spiritual path, was that i would be okay, no matter what. i had just enough faith to start opening my heart to other possibilities, to the possibility of surrendering to something that i could not outrun, could not control, and could not understand. 

as i continue on the path of meeting myself with more honesty and compassion, and reflect upon the journey i have had so far, i see that i had been pursuing spiritual growth at the expense of actual healing. but what i have come to learn, is that when i reject and run away from the pain, rather than fully meeting it, rather than surrendering to it, it gets a lot worse.

denying the darker side of my own humanity has been a destructive and lonely path. and in this denial, i wasn't giving myself the chance to see that i have the power within me to heal and to find safety within myself, my whole self. i am learning that when i stop running and become willing to simply accept each and every piece that emerges- then i can begin to see the divinity in it, even in the darkest hour, and truly begin to wake up.

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