Pass the Mic Podcast Series is an unscripted group discussion born out of AcornOak’s belief in the power of many voices.
The podcast is about sharing different perspectives on a specific topic not only to help us expand our understanding of the world but also to explore new ways of looking at it.
This is the final episode of our first season. Throughout this season, we’ve disrupted our ways of thinking on many topics, and we thought that there were no better ways to end the season with an opportunity to challenge our sense of self.
Our twentieth episode discusses non-duality with Richard Sylvester to understand what non-duality is and how it can dramatically change our world view.
Welcoming Our Guest
We were honored to welcome our Richard Sylvester to discuss and share his perspective on this unusual topic.
Richard Sylvester is a humanistic psychologist, therapist, and lecturer. For 30 years he engaged with a variety of spiritual practices while training in psychotherapeutic techniques and teaching counseling. Richard is the author of five books. Confessions of a Seeker Adventures in Spirituality, Therapy and Belief is about his seeking years. His books about non-duality are: I Hope You Die Soon, The Book of No One, Drink Tea, Eat Cake, and Non-Duality Questions, Non-Duality Answers. Richard holds meetings about non-duality regularly in London and online.
Key Shared Insights & Perspectives
What Is Non-Duality?
Non-duality is a term from Sanskrit that means "not two" or "one undivided without a second" and is often referred to as Oneness.
Richard explains that non-duality is the possibility of seeing that there is no self. And because of that, it’s seeing the end of separation which embraces everything, the light and the dark.
For novices, non-duality is not just an experience, a philosophy, a belief or a practice--it is a way of being in the world.
What Is the Experience of Non-duality?
Today, the most common human experience is separation and we live in a world that appears dualist: on one side, the world itself; and on the other, the self that exists as separate from the world.
In the non-duality view of the world, our sense of separation collapses and we arrive at the realization that there is simply oneness and whatever is happening.
The separate self lives in a sense of contraction and non-duality could be described as a relaxation, like an exhalation of breath, from the pain of separation.
However, non-duality is not about a gain but about a loss, a loss of our sense of “I” which can be felt like “removing a tied shoe,” as Richard describes.
Non-duality and Our Society.
In the last 30 years, there has been an increased interest in non-duality, perhaps due to communication technologies spreading messages across an ever-wider footprint.
Non-duality, formerly considered a form of spirituality, is being ‘repackaged’ closer to the field of science, which attracts a new wave of people searching for a new meaning in life or a guidance system. Interest could also stem from the recent decline of trust in our society, as we are witnessing a widespread disintegration of long-held beliefs.
Why Is There Suffering in the World?
The question can only be answered by a story.
The story of Karmar, the story of Good and Evil, the story of “No pain, no gain”, the story of purpose, or the story of our natural evolution - are just some examples of stories attempting to make sense of our suffering.
Richard concludes, ”The fact that there are so many possible answers to one question in direct conflict with each other gives us a very good clue that it is a futile question to ask.”
The only thing we really know is: What exists, exists.
Our sense of separation creates a nagging feeling and finding relief is at the heart of our search for answers.
This feeling of discomfort is the root of all our questions around our position in the world and to get rid of it, we follow a religion, therapy, or create comforting stories.
In other words, all there is are stories of the mind that, as individuals, we are free to choose. “Noticing our beliefs and how we think the world works and that these are just stories is one common trait of seeing non-duality,” Richard said.
Do Free Will and Purpose Exist in the Non-Dualistic View?
In the view of non-duality, the idea of purpose and free will are just another story that the person creates, not because they don’t exist, but because there is no person and, therefore, free will and purpose dissolve.
As meaning-making machines, we are free to choose any meaning we want, which is another part of the illusion.
In non-duality, a thought comes up, a word comes up, and what arises, arises. The illusion of the Self doesn’t mean it’s not real, it’s just different than it appears.
How Does the Falling Away of “Me” and “I” Affect Our Relationships With Others?
The implication on our relationships can be many.
For one, a deep understanding of stories can trigger a loss of interest to be part of a story that holds a couple or a group together.
However, when one relaxes from their own seeking, it can improve relationships with partners and close friends. It can equally have no influence whatsoever and not be noticeable when one’s veil disappears.
Finally, the idea of non-duality and its quest can be threatening to others. There is something about non-duality that threatens the ego and Richard describes how some people feel the need to hide their non-duality views from their partner.
Non-Duality Changes Our Worldview.
How Do We Engage With the World?
When we understand the construct of reality according to non-duality, we are offered a different path to go beyond the idea of stories.
For non-duality, the search to heal separateness and discover wholeness is at the root of all human stories. And non-duality is, in a sense, the mother of all the other stories.
Richard concludes, “Our sense of separation is inevitable and that’s where all the stories start. In a way, we feel that something is wrong and can be put right.”
Non-duality is one of the most difficult things to comprehend. For non-duality, when opinions arise, they arise, when they don’t arise they don’t arise.
In the most simple words, Non-duality is: What is.
Oneness includes everything including all we like and dislike. In other words, one preference is no better than the other.
Feelings of calm and peace are simply a manifestation of oneness, the same way being passionate about a topic is also a manifestation of oneness.
As separate selves, we are like characters at work responding individually based on our own preferences about the world.
How Can Non-Duality Impact Someone's Life?
As a result of being loosely attached to our identity or sense of self, we can become more loving, and more compassionate with ourselves and with others.
However, Richard cautions, “Non-duality is not instrumental in any way, but the mind is a businessman always looking for a profit.”
Yet, we could notice that there are some common characteristics amongst individuals who understand non-duality in their desire for and satisfaction with a quiet life.
A non-duality worldview may bring a relaxation that can lead to being absolutely stunned by something simple like noticing the beauty of a tree for the first time.
Final Thoughts to Consider
Non-duality is fascinating because it challenges our identity and boundaries which are the source of all our conflicts in our personal and professional lives.
Today, when the world is on fire and people are at war with themselves and with others, non-duality can bring a different perspective on what life can be.
It seems that a sense of oneness can increase our tolerance with ourselves and with others. In a way, non-duality loosens the drive and ambition, which often rise from a sense of dissatisfaction, that spur busyness.
Therefore, a more peaceful approach to our existence can reduce our impulses to do mischief in the world and lead to a less destructive life. As Richards said, “If enough people were turned on to have simple lives, that might be enough to change our world.”
Finally, individuals who understand oneness can co-create more freely by loosening their sense of self and their identity resulting in a feeling of openness and warmth.
There is a feeling of freedom that comes from removing our burden of being a person as we end this deep discussion with Richard gifting us with this quote from an unknown author: “There is something of the breath of freedom blowing through non-duality.”