Nondual awareness is one of the most wonderful states you can experience.
The good news is that achieving such awareness isn’t that difficult.
In fact, you shift in and out of it all day long.
The trick is to notice when you’re in it and then deepen your awareness of the state.
You literally want to create a feedback loop between your awareness of the state and its qualities.
That way, you can experience and enjoy nondual awareness much more often.
Of course, part of the puzzle depends on how you define nonduality.
So in order to make the tips I have to share impactful, let’s start with that question.
What Is Nondual Awareness?
Nondual awareness is essentially a state of concentration in which you see and experience things in the world as undivided. Some people say you see them as they “really are,” but that’s actually missing the point.
See, in a true nondual state, you can’t see things as they “really” are because everything is undivided. There’s no thought going on in nondual states, so nothing to distinguish the “real” from the “not real.”
Zhuangzi noted this important realization long ago. He wrote in his major work:
The knowledge of the ancients was perfect. How perfect? At first, they did not know that there were things. This is the most perfect knowledge; nothing can be added. Next, they knew that there were things, but did not yet make distinctions between them. Next, they made distinctions among them, but they did not yet pass judgments upon them. When judgments were passed, Tao was destroyed.
That’s a quick representation of nondual awareness in Taoism. It appears slightly differently in other schools. Let’s have a look at two major examples.
Nonduality in Advaita Vedanta
Advaita Vedanta sees ultimate reality as a single, undivided state that some people call “Self.”
This concept of Self says that consciousness permeates the entire universe. It is an ultimate reality called Brahman and experiencing yourself as this reality is held to be the “ultimate truth.”
As a “jiva,” or unit as Fred Davis calls the individual person, Advaita Vedanta considers you a temporary manifestation of Brahman.
In this thought system, your goal is to realize that you are not separate from Brahman. If you can do this, you will experience moksha, the highest state of spiritual attainment. (More on moksha below.)
Nondual Awareness In Zen Buddhism
Zen comes from China and Japan and emphasizes direct experience and intuition as the core means of attaining nondual awareness.
Zen treats ultimate reality as a state of unity and oneness. It is a useful philosophy to study because it sees these states as beyond words and concepts.
In fact, it is our words and ideas that separate us from living in harmony with the universe – including the notion that there is a universe at all.
This questioning of how our words and concepts cause separation is also seen in the works of philosophers like Nietzsche. He wrote in one of his most powerful aphorisms that we make a big mistake when we reify, essentialize or anthropomorphosize the universe.
Zen uses koans (riddles or puzzles) to help rid the mind of such problems through the sudden insights koans produce in practitioners.
As Gary Weber has shown in books like Happiness Beyond Thought, Advaita Vedanta is packed with verses that function like koans too.
The 3 Major Paths To Nondual Awareness
There are other schools that include nonduality either in part or whole.
But much more impactful is to see the ways that the major themes emerge across belief systems. As David Loy shows in his writings on nonduality, they all boil down to these three nonduality examples:
The Negation Of Dualistic Thinking
All doctrines of nonduality say that you are not divided from anything else. If you can train your perception to see and experience it, you will see all things as one.
You can experience this by “negating” dualistic thinking whenever it arises. I’ll give you some exercises that will help you succeed with this goal below.
For now, it’s important to realize, as Loy points out, that nonduality does not deny the dualistic world. It just seeks to go deeper and see how the perception of duality leads to certain effects. One of the major consequences of duality is suffering, and negating dualistic thinking can help reduce it.
Negation of Plural Worlds & Realities
Another way to think about nonduality involves thinking about the world and the universe as a single thing.
Even if you’re a fan of concepts like the multiverse, this is pretty simple to do.
Where is your idea of the multiverse?
It is in your mind?
Where is your mind?
In this universe?
Well, that would require this universe to:
- Exist separately from you
But if something is in your mind, how can it truly be separate from you? And if we have awareness of multiple worlds, they are conceptually connected as worlds, and so on.
You can quickly get into circular thinking with this form of negation, but the point is to realize that the very notion of one world existing at all is problematic. Dividing this world from other worlds is only more so and many practitioners of nondualistic thinking skip the debates altogether.
Negation of Differences Between Subject & Object
Drawing upon the world of George Berkeley, Greg Goode gives a number of exercises that help you experience a lack of separation from objects in the world. Standing as Awareness is one such book that is packed with interesting nondual routines to follow.
It’s not that you have to stop experiencing that objects in the world interact with one another. You won’t suddenly stop believing that cause and effect is a force in the universe.
But negating the idea that there are differences between the objects that you see in the world and you as the perceiving subject will help you experience nondual states quickly.
8 Ways To Experience Nondual Awareness
Now that we’ve gone through some of the major theoretical issues and conceptual paths to nondual awareness, let’s get into some exercises.
This list has no order of importance or priority. They are all good practices to experiment with and it’s good to rotate through them.
In fact, moving between exercises helps with learning through processes called interleaving and diffuse thinking. Give them all a try.
One: Memory-Based Meditation
There are many kinds of meditation.
But the type that helped me experience nondual awareness the fastest involved memorizing texts designed to help the practitioner achieve such states.
In Evolving Beyond Thought, Gary Weber extracted a number of useful selections from the Ribhu Gita for these purposes.
It is a classic nondual text and memorizing it for work in my meditation practice helped me immensely. I discussed it and recited some of it in this TEDx Talk:
Self-inquiry means what it says: asking questions about your self.
There are many ways to do it and many are quirky. Some of the classic books teaching the skill have titles that are even quirkier, such as Douglas Harding’s On Having No Head: Zen and the Rediscovery of the Obvious.
And you can start just as Harding suggests by asking as you’re laying in bed: Where is your head and why can’t you see it?
That’s getting at things in an indirect way.
For more immediate nondual awareness practice, you can ask questions like:
- Where is the world I see?
- Why do I think it is separate from me?
- Where is the line of separation between the world and myself?
- Where exactly is this thing I call “myself”?
When you experience just how difficult it is to answer these questions with any intellectual honesty, you will likely begin to experience a lack of separation between yourself and the world.
Three: Number Skipping
One of my first breakthroughs happened when I was following a Gary Weber exercise.
This one can be a bit difficult to wrap your mind around, but the basic idea is that you count from one to ten. Instead of counting the even numbers out loud in your mind, you “suppress” them.
If you’ve ever been told not to think of a red cat, you know how difficult it is to negate such an idea because you have to think about the red cat not to think about it. Number skipping is like that.
However, the exercise works because you start to experience the field of conscious awareness in which ideas like numbers and cats are formulated.
As a Zen Buddhist might say, exactly what happens to you is beyond name and form. But it’s a very rigorous nondual awareness meditation that leads to pleasant states once you’ve achieved them.
You can also try a related exercise I discovered in the books of Giordano Bruno. It’s called The Field:
Four: Read a Lot About Nonduality
Advaita Vedanta expert James Swartz says often that you need to keep reading about the philosophy you’re practicing.
As a memory expert, I feel he’s write. Even if things get repetitive from time to time, there’s usually some new angle or nugget in each new text you read that deepens your insight a little bit more.
And sometimes it can be a lot more as you discover major insights you couldn’t see because of a missing piece of the puzzle. You’ll also come across different terms used to describe the same thing, such as Persistent Non-Symbolic Thought.
Although that term ultimately means the same thing, thinking of it that way shines so much light on what is meant by nondual awareness. Which leads us to the next point.
Five: Read a Lot of Different Philosophies
As you saw above, focusing on nonduality does not mean you have to dismiss duality.
It’s also totally possible for us to negate the obvious duality in the world and accept it at the same time. In logic, the idea that two things can be true at the same time without contradiction is called dialethism or paraconsistency.
Let’s take a much simpler example: If I’m trying to quit drinking coffee for a health improvement issue, it’s perfectly possible for me to want and not want coffee at the same time without contradiction.
Nondual awareness is like this. You can be aware of all things being connected even as you feel the floor as being different from your body as you sit in a meditation. Due to how atoms work, your body isn’t really divided from the surface, but interacting with it due to proximity. The floorboards creak beneath you due to your weight and you hear it in your ears due to its sending vibrations through the air.
This way of looking at things is not really the paradox of nonduality. It’s more like seeing it from multiple, non-contradictory angles at the same time. And as The Field exercise above will help you experience, it’s all happening with you, and therefore not really divided from you at the experiential level.
Six: Read Literature & Watch Movies
There are many great stories that come packed with examples of nondual awareness.
In Hermann Hesse’s Demian, for example, Emil Sinclair experiences near the end of the novel a complete lack of free will. He realizes that his entire life has been filled with dualistic ideas of good vs evil and he has struggled to reconcile them. But as he says during his moment of enlightenment:
I was not there to write poetry, to preach or paint; neither I nor any other man was there for that purpose… There was only one true vocation for everybody – to find the way to himself. He might end as a poet, lunatic, prophet or criminal – that was not his affair; ultimately it was of no account. His affair was to discover his own destiny, not something of his own choosing, and live it out wholly and resolutely within himself. Anything else was merely a half-life, an attempt at evasion, an escape into the ideals of the masses… The new picture rose before me, sacred and awe-inspiring, a hundred times glimpsed, possibly often expressed and now experienced for the first time. I was an experiment on the part of nature, a ‘throw’ into the unknown, perhaps for some new purpose, perhaps for nothing and my only vocation was to allow this ‘throw’ to work itself out in my innermost being, feel its will within me and make it wholly mine.
Although it might not seem like it at first glance, this is pretty much how Neo finally defeats Agent Smith in The Matrix. He realizes that his destiny is to be the “One,” completely undivided from the division between reality and non-reality that Agent Smith and even Morpheus represent.
And as neuroscientist Sam Harris talks about in Free Will, the best any of us can do is tell stories about what happened as the witnesses of how reality is unfolding not in front of us, but with us. We enjoy a state of becoming along with reality.
Seven: Reflect On Everything
Often, people say, “don’t overthink it.”
But when it comes to experiencing nondual awareness, thinking is useful. Here is perhaps where we have the paradox of nonduality:
Nondual awareness is beyond name and form. Yet, words are in the field of consciousness and because they appear in awareness, can’t be divided from it.
I feel that regular reflection represents one of the most powerful activities. Neuroscientists are on the same page. As you’ve seen with the number skipping exercise, it’s possible to experience “empty containers” where numbers are supposed to be in a sequence.
And that’s great.
But you can also use words to reflect on what that experience is like.
And as you experience how those words operate in your mind, you can see how you truly aren’t divided from other people.
See, you didn’t invent those words. They were trained into you by other people. Millions, if not billions of people share the same language you do, and anytime you are communicating with them through language, you are not divided from them.
Just think of a time when you had a fascinating conversation with a person. You were totally united and it was the language you share that made it possible for you to connect so deeply through story, sharing problems or philosophizing.
That’s nondual awareness, and it happens to you more often than you think. Reflective thinking can help you recover those moments and enjoy them even more when they happen in the future. Which leads us to today’s final exercise.
Once you notice you’ve experience a nondual state, one of the best things you can do is to create a feedback loop.
One of my favorite ways to do this is to simple say in my mind: “deepen, deepen.”
For more on how deepening works, listen to the science shared by meditation experts Leigh Brasington and Shinzen Young:
It can be tricky getting started with this technique, but using the memory-based meditation strategies I shared above will help you improve your mind so that you do remember to use this practice.
You can also use the same deepening positive feedback loop when practicing kind thoughts so you reinforce the value of this practice in your life.
Making Nondual Awareness Last
Even in a world with no free will, you’ve been blessed with bumping into these ideas. You may have already listed a number of times you’ve experienced nondual states of awareness as you read this post.
How do you make them last?
Well, you don’t need free will to engage in an act of will. One such act is to keep a journal for your self improvement activities.
By doing so, you can train your procedural memory to keep coming back to the practices you set for yourself.
It really starts with making a decision to get started with all of the activities above. And then just stick with it.
And if you fall off the horse, practice the practice of getting back on that horse. Or what I sometimes call “stop stopping.”
If nothing else, don’t blame yourself if you can’t find a way to make progress. Get help.
Nonduality ensures that others have been stuck, and those who have gotten themselves unstuck can use the same language you speak to connect with you and help you out.
If you’d like my best ideas for building the discipline involved in establishing and maintaining nondual states, check out this free course:
These are the exact steps that helped me enjoy nonduality and I’m confident they’ll help you too!
So what do you say?
Are you ready to get out there and eliminate that sense of separation between yourself and the world?
Without a doubt, the world is within you. It’s just a matter of starting to see it.