Talk Series: Non-duality
By Sharon Grussendorff
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Stained-glass window from the Church of the Holy Spirit

"Prophecy and Gospel are rooted in a contemplative and non-dual way of knowing—a way of being in the world that is utterly free and grounded in the compassion of God." - Richard Rohr

Non-duality has become a regular catch-phrase in spiritual circles, and can sometimes be bewildering and alienating. However, I have found that this theme offers profound insights and depths to our spiritual journey. It was the first theme that we covered in the Living School of Action and Contemplation, and I find that I go back to it again and again as an important grounding.

 

In this series, we will explore non-duality from a Christian contemplative perspective, while drawing on the wisdom of other traditions that offer richness and fresh insight to this area of exploration. I have to admit that it is with some trepidation that I approach this theme, as I so quickly feel out of my depth when talking about these profound, unitive mysteries, so some of the videos that I will be sharing are talks by other teachers that I have found helpful along the way.

  1. Talk 1: Who am I?

  2. Talk 2: Who belongs?

  3. Talk 3: Presence and non-duality

  4. Additional Talk: Centering Prayer and Non-Dual Awareness

 

Talk 1: “Who am I?"

Opening music:

Be still my loveDavid Kauffman
00:00 / 05:05

Guided quietening and opening prayer:

Opening prayer
00:00 / 05:42

Guided self-inquiry practice:

Who am I Guided Practice
00:00 / 06:00

Questions for reflection:

  • What do I mostly pray about? What is this telling me about where I am finding my identity?

  • Is there anything that I can think of that has not changed at some point in my life?

  • Who am I? What is my natural face? What has always been here, regardless of what comes and goes? Hold these self-inquiry questions open, not only in your prayer times, but as you move through your day, and find your own way of living into the vast mystery of who you are in your deepest essence.

One thing alone

One thing alone I crave, namely 

All in everything 

This One I seek

the only One do I desire

What or Who this One is I may not say

can never feel 

Nothing more or less is there to say

For the One is not simply in all

the One Being is over all 

YOU are my GOD holding me within my very SELF

 -- Dame Catherine Gascoigne

Psalm 27:4 paraphrase
One thing I ask of the Beloved; for this I yearn:

to find my deepest dwelling place in Heart of Love all the days of my life,

to gaze on the beauty of the Beloved,

and to flow into life from this fountainhead of Love.

"The ocean pours through a jar, 

and you might say it swims inside the fish! 

This mystery gives peace to your longing

and makes the road home

home."

-- Rumi

Ending prayer:

As an ending, I invite you to pray for all those who are suffering as a result of the present war. Thich Nhat Hanh invented a beautiful word that expresses our union with one another at this deep level of selfhood – inter-abiding. And so as you listen to this song “Abide with me”, let’s hold all those who feel terrified and helpless in our hearts in prayer, in our inter-abiding union with one another and God.

Abide with meLibera
00:00 / 03:21

Lyrics

Abide with me, fast falls the eventide

The darkness deepens Lord, with me abide

When other helpers fail and comforts flee

Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me

 

Swift to its close ebbs out life's little day

Earth's joys grow dim, its glories pass away

Change and decay in all around I see

O Thou who changest not, abide with me

 

I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless

Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness

Where is death's sting?

Where, grave, thy victory?

I triumph still, if Thou abide with me

 

Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

 
 

Talk 2: “Who belongs?"

Inclusive last supper 6.jpg

Image by Cerezo Barredo

We live in an increasingly opinionated and divided world, with an ever-widening distance between opposing viewpoints. Modern media is fuelling our conviction that we are right and "they" are wrong, and this too often results in violent conflict. We need to keep hearing the beckoning of the heart of God, and this is what we will explore in this week's theme "Who belongs?"

Begin with listening to the following chant as an opening prayer:

Open my heartAna Hernandez
00:00 / 03:32

Guided heart-opening practice:

Guided prayer: Softening the heart
00:00 / 10:06

Daily Practice:

The practice of non-duality and opening of the heart is not just theoretical, in other words, it's not just a matter of changing our beliefs to be more inclusive. Rather it involves a vigilant awareness in our daily lives of any circumstances where our hearts tend to harden towards others, and then actively and prayerfully making the choice to soften and open our hearts instead of reinforcing those prejudices with commentary and self-justification. You could then allow this attitude of open-heartedness to overflow in some form of compassionate action if this feels appropriate.

For further reflection:

Below are some readings from the talk and an additional poem for your reflection:

 

Luke 4:14-30

Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.  He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners  and recovery of sight for the blind,  to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”  

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” 

All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked. 

Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’ ”  

“Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown.  I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land.  Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon.  And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.” 

All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.

James Finley:

There are those who hold that one religion is the true religion, and almost always when this occurs, the religion happens to be their own. There is in the absoluteness of view a lack of humility, which closes us off to the way God works in the hearts and the lives of other people in ways that are different than we are accustomed to. Humility liberates us from such notions – this is why humility is so paired up with wisdom. The wise person is the humble person – they know so deeply because they know the limits of their knowledge. The limit is actually the rich fertile edge along which all that is new keeps appearing. In Thich Nhat Hanh’s language, this is to realise that every view is wrong view when it’s held as the only view that’s the true view.

Rabbi Yael Levi:

The Pesach story lifts up what our souls know:
Oppression and violence rise from fear and arrogance and the unwillingness to open our hearts to the experience of others. It is fear and arrogance that brings about the enslavement of the Israelites and it is the hardening of the heart that keeps them and the Pharaoh in bondage.
 
With everything that is happening in our world, it is easy for all of us to fall into the habit of hardening our hearts. As we do, it becomes more difficult for us to respond to
each other with patience, understanding and compassion. With hardened hearts, we can’t fully appreciate life’s blessings or respond well to life’s challenges.  
 
And so we practice: 

  • Every moment we are able to resist the urge to harden our hearts to our own pain and to the pain of others, we resist oppression.  

  • Every time we are able to act with compassion rather than anger, we step out of the flow of violence.  

  • Any time we find the strength and courage not to be ruled by fear, we loosen the bonds of slavery.

  • Each moment we pause to embrace each other and the world with love, our hearts open a way into the expanse.

 

James Alison:

God looks an awful lot less religious than most people expect and very often is seen in the collapse of religious things  ...When the real thing is there, the effects it produces are simply not commensurable with any normal human tit-for-tat. ... Jesus says in effect, “I’m going to use my death to love all perpetrators even more.” And that’s what we expect from grace.

 

A Community of the Spirit, by Rumi

There is a community of the spirit.

Join it, and feel the delight of walking in the noisy street and being the noise.

Drink all your passion and be a disgrace.

Close both eyes to see with the other eye.

Open your hands if you want to be held.

Consider what you have been doing.

Why do you stay with such a mean-spirited and dangerous partner?

For the security of having food. Admit it.

Here is a better arrangement.

Give up this life, and get a hundred new lives.

Sit down in this circle.

Stop acting like a wolf, and feel the shepherd's love filling you.

At night, your beloved wanders.

Do not take painkillers.

Tonight, no consolations.

And do not eat.

Close your mouth against food. Taste the lover's mouth in yours.

You moan, But she left me. He left me.

Twenty more will come.

Be empty of worrying.

Think of who created thought.

Why do you stay in prison when the door is so wide open?

Move outside the tangle of fear-thinking. Live in silence.

Flow down and down in always widening rings of being.

Ending music:

Heart Of The HeavensSarah Compton
00:00 / 03:51

Lyrics

Lonely desert below

Barren soil ‘neath the sky

Only death in the wind

Every echo is dry

Hills and valleys on fire

Mere memories of life

Parched and thirsty by day

No relief in the night

Hunger cries in the heart

Groanings reach up, touching heaven

Buried hopes start to tremble and breathe again

Deep longing is heard

All waiting will cease

For the Heart of the heavens is love

 

The sky smiles on the earth

Releases living rains

Great clouds of mercy empty

One gives, one gains

And both are satisfied

The desert and the sky

For the Heart of the heavens is love

 

Such tears of grace pour

Streams swell into a river

Wonder of divine reflection

The needy and the giver

And both are satisfied

The desert and the sky

For the Heart of the heavens

The God of the heavens

For the Heart of the heavens is love

Additional Talk: Christianity and Unknowing, by Richard Rohr

If you have the time, I encourage you to watch this talk by Richard Rohr, where he touches on the dangers of dualistic self-certain thinking, the importance of unknowing, and the Trinity as a non-dual Divine Dance. In typical fashion, Rohr delves into deep spiritual truths in his delightfully humorous and light-hearted way.

 

Talk 3: “Presence and non-duality"

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"The spiritual life can only be lived in the present moment, in the now. All the great religious traditions insist upon this simple but difficult truth. When we go rushing ahead into the future or shrinking back into the past, we miss the hand of God, which can only touch us in the now." - Cynthia Bourgeault

In this talk, we will explore this practise of presence, and how our typical dualistic consciousness keeps us from living in the present moment.

Begin with listening to or singing along with the following chant as an opening prayer:

In this momentBri Stoner
00:00 / 03:52

Practice for returning to presence:

Guided practice for returning to presence
00:00 / 06:39

Follow this guided practice with listening to the following piece of music:

Every Breath Is YoursAlana Levandoski
00:00 / 03:59

Sacred reading:

Read the following two poems slowly and listen for any lines that strike you or shimmer for you. 

 

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase ‘each other’
doesn’t make any sense.

– Rumi

 

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Lyrics:

Every breath is Yours, Beloved,

Every breath is Yours.

I give myself to You, Beloved, 

The self that I thought I was;

I give myself to You, Beloved, 

The self that was false and lost.

Every breath is Yours, Beloved,

Every breath is Yours.

Who is it moves in me, Beloved,

Whose hands and feet are these?

Who is it moves in me, Beloved,

Whose heart beats, who breathes?

Every breath is Yours, Beloved,

Every breath is Yours.

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There are so many gifts
Still unopened from your birthday, 
there are so many hand-crafted presents
that have been sent to you by God. 
The Beloved does not mind repeating, 
"Everything I have is also yours." 

Please forgive Hafiz and the Friend
if we break into a sweet laughter
when your heart complains of being thirsty
when ages ago
every cell in your soul
capsized forever
into this infinite golden sea. 

Indeed, 
a lover's pain is like holding one's breath
too long
in the middle of a vital performance, 
in the middle of one of Creation's favourite
songs. 

Indeed, a lover's pain is this sleeping, 
this sleeping, 
when God just rolled over and gave you
such a big good-morning kiss! 

There are so many gifts, my dear, 
still unopened from your birthday. 

O, there are so many hand-crafted presents
that have been sent to your life
from God. 

– Hafiz

Practices for being present:

Below are a few suggestions that you might find helpful for practising becoming present:

Stepping into presence

A simple exercise that you can do when you find yourself caught up in thinking is to stand still, becoming aware of the feeling of your body and your feet on the ground. Then very slowly take a step, and as your foot lands on the ground say quietly “I am here”, or “I am home”. You can do this for a few steps, anchoring yourself in presence and being with each step.  

 

Am I breathing? 

From time to time ask yourself the question: “Am I breathing?” This immediately puts you in touch with the sensation of your breathing, which helps with letting go of whatever the mind has been busy with, and anchors you back in the present moment.

 

Body awareness exercise (based on an exercise by Anthony de Mello)

  • First quiet yourself through bringing your awareness to different sensations in various parts of your body. Sharpen your awareness by picking up even the subtlest sensations, not just the gross and evident ones.

  • Now gently move your hands and fingers so that your hands come to rest on your lap, palms facing upward, fingers joined together. The movement must be very, very, slow, like the opening of petals of a flower. While the movement is going on, be aware of each part of it.

  • Once your hands are resting on your lap, palms facing upward, become aware of the sensations in the palms. Then become aware of the gesture itself: this is a gesture of prayer to God that is common to most cultures and religions. What meaning does this gesture have for you? What are you saying to God through it? Say it without words, merely identifying with the gesture.

10-minute exercise with your senses

Find somewhere to sit where you are comfortable and relaxed. In this exercise, you will spend two minutes focusing on each of your senses. It will be helpful to have a timer with you that you can set for 2-minute intervals.

 

Sight - Spend 2 minutes just looking at what is around you. If your mind wanders, gently let go of the thoughts and bring your attention back to what you are seeing. Try not to name anything, or to think about how beautiful or ugly it is, just look.

 

Sound - Spend 2 minutes just listening to the sounds that are around you. Start with sounds that are nearby, and then gradually notice the sounds that are further away. If your mind wanders, gently let go of the thoughts and bring your attention back to what you are hearing. Again try not to name anything, or to judge the sounds in any way, just listen.

 

Touch - Spend 2 minutes becoming aware of what your skin is feeling. You could feel the texture of your clothes against your body, or the ground under your feet, or the breeze against your skin. You could also get a sense of the temperature that you are feeling, and become aware of how this feels to your body. If your mind wanders, gently let go of the thoughts and bring your attention back to becoming aware of your sense of touch.

 

Taste - Spend 2 minutes becoming aware of what your mouth is tasting. At first you might think that there is no taste, since you are not eating or drinking something, but after a while you should notice a subtle flavor in your mouth. Spend this time being aware of this flavor. If your mind wanders, gently let go of the thoughts and bring your attention back to becoming aware of your sense of taste.

 

Smell - Spend 2 minutes becoming aware of any odours that your nose is sensing. If you don’t notice any odours, try sniffing the grass, or a nearby flower. If your mind wanders, gently let go of the thoughts and bring your attention back to becoming aware of your sense of smell.

For further reflection:

Below are some readings from the talk and some additional readings for your reflection:

 

Pema Chodron:

When we cling to thoughts and memories, we are clinging to what cannot be grasped. When we touch these phantoms and let them (thoughts and memories) go, we may discover a space, a break in the chatter, a glimpse of open sky. This is our birthright—the wisdom with which we were born, the vast unfolding display of primordial richness, primordial openness, primordial wisdom itself. All that is necessary then is to rest undistractedly in the immediate present, in this very instant in time. And if we become drawn away by thoughts, by longings, by hopes and fears, again and again we can return to this present moment.”

 

Richard Rohr:

Non-dual consciousness is about being present to the Presence of God in yourself and beyond yourself too. Presence is an experience, not just an idea in the mind. In fact, the mind of itself cannot be present. The mind can only reprocess the past, judge the present, and worry about the future. Only some form of meditation will teach you how to move from an egocentric, fear-based life to a love-based life.”

 

Time is limited, and the abundant water is flowing away.

Drink, before you fall to pieces.

There is a famous conduit, full of the Water of Life:

draw the Water, so that you may become fruitful.

We are drinking the water of the Spirit

from the river of the speech of the saints:

Come, you who thirst!

Even if you don't see the water,

Like a blind person, bring the jug to the river and dip it in.

~ Kabir Helminski

 

Your longing for Home is sacred. 

Your burning to play with the Beloved is holy. 

Just one pause. 

And behold the wild grace that is always, already here.

~ Matt Licata

 

Kabir Helminski:

"Presence signifies the quality of consciously being here. It is the activation of a higher level of awareness that allows all our other human functions—such as thought, feeling, and action—to be known, developed, and harmonized. Presence is the way in which we occupy space, as well as how we flow and move. Presence shapes our self-image and emotional tone. Presence decides whether we leak and scatter our energy or embody and focus it. And presence determines the degree of our alertness, openness, and warmth. ...

Presence, like all essential human faculties, is not sourced in our individual personalities, but in the ground of divine reality. It is the presence of the Divine reflected through the human being. ...

Presence is the point of intersection between the world of the senses and the world of the Spirit. May we never cease to discover its beauty and power."

Ending music:

 

Additional Talk: Centering Prayer and Non-dual Awareness, by Cynthia Bourgeault

I encourage you to watch this talk by Cynthia Bourgeault, given at the Science and Non-Duality (SAND) Conference, where she gives a very helpful and clear description of the method and inner work of Centering Prayer, and how this facilitates non-dual awareness.

Centering Prayer Practice

For those of you who would like further information about the Centering Prayer practice, this link will take you to a short video where Fr Thomas Keating briefly outlines the guidelines for Centering Prayer. You might like to use the following guided practise for centering prayer (20 minutes), or simply set a timer for yourself. I encourage you to try to practice this on a daily basis, as it is only when we regularly practice letting go and returning to presence and openness to God's presence that we begin to notice the effects and begin to have a shift towards a more non-dual awareness.

Centering PrayerGuided Prayer Practice
00:00 / 20:29

Ending song:

Be still and know Jeremy Riddle
00:00 / 02:24
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