I grew up with trauma followed by 20 years of addiction to drugs and alcohol. Once I stopped abusing the drugs and alcohol, I looked for the answer to this most basic question:
“is it possible to live in this life without suffering?”
Most spiritual and therapeutic techniques I tried through the years made very little impact. I tried a lot of different things including positive thinking strategies, the Secret, 12 steps, religion and various forms of counseling and therapy. No matter the approach or modality, something just always felt off. These approaches either felt too “woo woo” or just plain ineffective. I’m not doubting that these various methods have helped others. They surely have. I simply couldn’t spend much time with these methods because they felt too intellectual, or not experiential enough. They just kept me in my head- and couldn’t penetrate deeply enough into my conditioning and my suffering. So slowly, each one was abandoned. There was only one approach, one practice that truly impacted the course of my life: “nondual teachings”. And ironically, if I use those words without the context of my own experience, they may sound the most “woo woo” of all! But they were the only thing that truly resonated with me. All that was left was the possibility of “awakening” touted by the nondual teachings.
But what does that mean? I get it. Those words can sound like pseudo spirituality, or at best even pseudo science. But if we take away those connotations and assumptions, we are left with something practical, powerful, and radically different than anything else I’ve encountered to “wake up” out of human suffering.
So let me break it down a little:
What do I mean by ‘nondual realization’?
I often say during talks that nondual realization isn’t “woo woo.” It’s an actual shift in experience and consciousness. It allowed me to see that the incessant thinking that dominated the majority of my mental landscape for so long had nothing to do with who I was. My true ‘self’, if there is one, is the presence- the stillness in which those thoughts arise. Nondual realization changed my relationship to thought entirely. I say this so that people will not dismiss these teachings or put them in the same compartment as other spiritual methods that are “woo woo” or ineffective. When the realization dawned on me, the impact was not just profound and powerful. It literally changed the course of my life. I left the practice of law. I left everything that no longer felt authentic for me. And I just began expressing myself from this newly realized nondual state. At first, it was just about expressing, the way a songwriter writes a melody over a chord structure. But it wasn’t long before I realized that, in expressing my own experience, I could also help others who were suffering like I once had suffered.
What do I mean by ‘awakening’?
That phrase can conjure up all sorts of ideas and impressions. Sometimes when we hear someone talking about being ‘awake’ or ‘enlightened’, the energy just radiates an air of superiority and ego. By ‘awakening’, what I actually mean is so much simpler than that. It just means seeing that the ego is not me and living in the present moment, instead of in my head all the time. The simplicity of this is so beautiful- and yet the actual experience of being in the present moment radically flies in the face of our conditioning. We are taught to identify with our thoughts on such a core level that to truly break free of that habit is life changing.
So what was it like to start ‘waking up’?
I wasn’t yet fully facing the fact that, as I was helping others, there were issues still arising for me that had not been resolved through the realization of presence. I had been such a good student of the teachings from the moment I was introduced to them. Everyday, all day, in the beginning, I was resting in awareness, noticing thoughts coming and going without indulging or believing them. I was feeling emotions directly, without thoughts on them. I did everything the teachings told me to do. And it worked! I can honestly say that the shift that happened in 2007 has stuck with me to this day. Even as I sit here writing this, presence feels like the foundation of my experience. I am living in the here and now.
When the Nondual Teachings Stopped Helping
But in the here and now, I noticed that certain thought patterns, triggers and addictive behaviors were holding on for dear life. New triggers were emerging too. Old trauma was resurfacing. I spent three years in a ferocious sex addiction, AFTER the awakening. And I told no one about it. I didn’t mention it in meetings, in books or even to friends. Shame kept me living alone with all of this. After all, if I am a nondual teacher, how could I possibly explain all of this? How could all of this be happening AFTER the awakening? Did I miss something? Am I not really awake? Those were all questions that arose at one point or another.
The truth is, the shift into presence was really just a beginning. It was the beginning of seeing everything within my conditioning that had been hidden and unconscious all my life. Yet, when I looked around for teachings that helped me understand this post-awakening process, I found very little help. In fact, most teachers seemed to shy away from even speaking about anything related to post-awakening issues. And some seemed to even lead people to believe that there is no such thing as a post-awakening process or embodiment. Obviously, then nondual teachings became almost useless to me. I turned away from them completely. Presence had become my experience. But that’s all those teachings could help me with. Most of the teachings were completely silent on trauma, addiction, etc.
Don’t get me wrong! After the shift, the suffering in my life decreased tremendously. The quiet stillness has remained the whole time. But certain triggers did not go away in that shift. I felt somewhat alone in trying to figure out where to find the answers to the post-awakening issues. No one seemed to want to talk about it.
Inquiry to End Bypassing
The inquiries that I and my team of facilitators have developed were the missing piece for me. Finally, with inquiry, I had a way to observe and let go of the triggers and other suffering that was continuing to arise. Life became a rich exploration once the inquiries were developed. I felt as if I was exploring my conditioning in a whole new way. And with inquiry, I didn’t have to bypass the triggers and traumas anymore. I didn’t have to just try to come back to presence when triggered. I found that coming back to presence in the midst of a trigger was actually making things worse. I felt stuck in presence sometimes, as a way of hiding from life. Instead, with inquiry, I learned to move through my suffering directly, rather than trying to hide back into the false safety of presence. If there is one thing I have learned it is that presence, by itself, is not the answer when it comes to these very sticky issues. Something else has to happen, a different kind of exploration. In inquiry, we explore our conditioning from the eye of presence. But we don’t use presence as a hiding place or a way to bypass these issues. Going straight into the issues skillfully with inquiry was the answer I had been looking for.
The Scam of Nondual Teaching
At the same time, I was meeting a lot of other teachers. I was having private conversations with these teachers about their experience after awakening. In some cases, teachers came to me for inquiry on issues that were popping up for them after the awakening. At some point, I caught onto the unintended scam of nondual teachings. It’s an innocent scam. No ill intent. But it’s a scam nonetheless. The scam is that all these teachers, including myself, were and had been dealing with post-awakening issues, but very few were talking about it (with the exception of Adya and a few others). Why was this being hidden from the public? Maybe because the real truth of life doesn’t sell. Maybe people would rather believe the fairy tale that a nondual realization always ends suffering completely and finally. Or maybe all these teachers were just dealing with plain old human shame, the same thing that kept me from sharing about my sex addiction or other issues. Regardless of the reasons for the scam, I saw it so clearly that I left teaching for almost five years. Very few YouTube videos. One retreat a year. I was literally gone from the scene because the scene felt “off.”
The ‘Fly on the Ass of Nonduality’
Now I’m back. But I cannot call myself a nondual teacher. What I do, and what my facilitators do, is NOT teaching. It is an exploration, an honest and authentic look and embracing of the human side of all of us. And this exploration is much much broader than what the nondual teachings talk about. It encompasses awareness for sure. But it also reaches into areas that the nondual teachings couldn’t reach for me. Namely, I finally had a way to put to rest the most stubborn patterns and triggers that had been arising after the awakening.
Instead of being a teacher, I’m more like the fly on the ass of nondualilty. Each time nondual teachers make a promise they can’t deliver, I want to point that out. I want to point out any lies that come from my mouth or from the mouth of other teachers. I am not doing this whistle blowing from a place of anger or upset. I’m coming from my own experience. I bought the lie just like so many others have, the lie that awakening is an event that ends all suffering. I am not here to lead people away from nondual teachings. In fact, the truth is just the opposite. I’m here to encourage more people to come to these teachings. But as they come, I’m metaphorically standing at the entrance, there to remind them to not believe everything they are hearing or not hearing from teachers. Don’t believe the BS. Yes, nondual realization is a profound and life changing thing. No, it is not the answer to all suffering.
In this way, I simply want to tell the truth, not only about myself but also about the teachings themselves. The only way I could even begin to tell the truth, as I am doing now, is through inquiry around shame. I looked at what it would be like if everyone knew the truth about my experience. And as the shame came up, it unhooked from me. It set me free to open my mouth, to be the fly on the ass of this scam.
If you are interested in the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, then join me in this exploration. Join me in changing the way we see this whole waking up game. Join me in embracing and sharing about our human experience and how we can use that experience to go even deeper into freedom, intimacy and authenticity. Or you can do what I did for many years: turn the other cheek, ignore what is being said here and believe in the fairy tale. I am choosing truth over fiction. Living in truth, for me, is not just the barenaked present moment that we experience when no thoughts or feelings are arising. There is truth to be found in what arises within awareness also, in our human experience. These arisings tell us what we are still believing, holding onto or identifying with. This is the real meaning of learning, to observe with the eye of inquiry, and to illuminate and unravel suffering.
These arisings (triggers, traumas, addictions, etc) are like doorways to real freedom, a freedom that even the nondual teachings cannot speak of, because they do not explore life in the way these inquiries do. That may be the answer to why so many teachings are silent on post-awakening issues. When teachers stop exploring their own experience, they have nothing to teach you. They have stopped being students. They have lost beginner’s mind. And they certainly cannot prepare you for what might happen after the awakening.
So how can you become more involved?