May 2021 Dialogue

Ernie, Part I
(subsequent parts to follow):

Hey Annette, I was just having a look at your blog. I happened to google Bob Adamson tonight, which brought up a few names and memories for me, and then I hopped on your site.

I began my non-duality search back in 2002, more or less when a lot of teachers were popping up online. I remember going through intense suffering and confusion at the time. I spent a fair amount of time reading and watching Wayne Liquorman and reading some of Ramesh. I came across your radio show as Allin Taylor in 2005. I remember a few of those episodes, including the ones with John Wheeler and Stephen Wingate.

I arranged to meet Stephen Wingate at his home in Arlington, MA. I remember sitting there for two hours one afternoon while we talked non-duality. He told me that I was "very clear." All of these teachers more or less came under the umbrella of Nisargadatta, of course. It is just so interesting to see the trail of connection and all of the teachers.

I remember a real calm over my life [at that time], a gracious acceptance of everything in the moment, life being determined by cosmic forces, and my individuality essentially being nonexistent and impersonal. I sold most of my spiritual books, since I had internalized and integrated the messages of consciousness awareness. I called off the search! And I actually remember having an email exchange with you in what must have been the first version of your site.

Then life went on. We had a baby, and over the years, the stress built up, the child turned out to be quite a challenge, I ended up being the sole breadwinner. Life grew stressful, there was so much emotion and difficulty, and no way to contain it in the way I envisioned non-duality would allow me to.

At the end of 2015, I googled your site for no particular reason. I read a post by you about the coldness of contemporary non-duality teaching, something I had felt as well. I still had all the cravings. My body and mind for so long had been disregarded as merely phenomena in the transactional reality, with no independent existence of their own, and I felt like I simply had to let it all play out and pay no mind. I was just acting super-stoic and impersonal with everything. But in reality, there was no direct addressing of my issues.

How do I overcome fears? How do I get my body and mind to be in harmony? The non-duality teaching is that the body and mind are unreal, and that one should take a stance in awareness. All of that is quite logical. But over the past year, it became incredibly clear to me that I was totally unprepared for the turbulence of the pandemic. I began having panic attacks and chronic anxiety, accompanied by depression. As have many. And so I realized that all of the intellectual understanding of Vedanta and non-duality had clearly not been integrated. My body and mind had simply not effectively integrated the teaching in accordance with Nididhyasana [assimilation, integration].

So for the past year I have turned to Western Buddhist styles of meditation, including lovingkindness, open awareness, and other forms. Actually, my body and mind really do need healing. And I see that was true even before the pandemic. I'm a very cerebral person, and I think I had been really ignoring the heart.

So all of this is just to, in some way, respond to your own writing about your journey, which weirdly, or maybe not so weirdly, rhymes with mine at various points. I'm quite grateful that you have put yourself out there over the years and I have benefited from that. I'm not sure where all of this leads for me. I find myself at a curious point in life. A year of punishing isolation and way too much enclosed family time! Even though I know all this to be objects of awareness, there is still work to be done to deal with the karma of my body and mind. And so it goes.

Anyway, it was pretty neat to see some of your reflections about your path, and to recognize myself to some extent in that.

My response:

Hello again, after all these years! Our stories do indeed have a lot of touchpoints to each other. And your conclusion, after all this time, that there is still work to be done with the karma of your individual body and mind, is the same conclusion I came to. My need to follow that call is resolving now in an unexpected way. More on that in a minute.

I kept thinking, back then, that I wasn’t done with Nididhyasana, and that if I were just more diligent about that, I would finally have peace. I got manic about it, and got really into the weeds reading Paramarthananda and other heady Vedantins, which I would not recommend to anyone. My mind would not rest. I was not in a good place. And then I finally just crashed.

I, like you, fell deeply into trouble with panic attacks and depression, but this was years before the pandemic. Mine was triggered by a house fire, fear of being totally incapable of handling the chaos that ensued, a bout of pneumonia, and most importantly, feeling like all my Vedanta and non-duality had utterly failed. I felt like I was falling and had no safe place to land, at all. I had no spiritual mooring, after all that I had done, for ten years!

And what started to become apparent very quickly was how much my body and particularly my heart were crying out to be acknowledged. You really nailed the problem when you said you had been ignoring the heart. Bingo! But that’s a dilemma for us cerebral types. Although our emotions connect us to what it is to be human, it’s not all roses, right? Those of us who somehow became cerebral types probably had, and have, pain associated with deep emotions, and so it’s hard letting the heart speak its truth.

Once the heart starts to clamor for attention, we can do one of two things – we can continue down a path of devaluing emotions, or we can cautiously step into those feelings that make us human, and see if we can somehow make our individual humanity flower. Of course, this has everything to do with relationships. And this includes our relationship with God.

I can’t really speak to Buddhism or how those practices might help you. I personally got tired of the whole eastern thing, and I moved west, ideologically. The Judeo-Christian sensibility is ideally suited to the westerner’s questions of being human, having emotions, and finding our life’s purpose. Because in that tradition, there is an open-ended goal of following the spiritual longing which resides in every human heart, towards a great and greater receptivity to the divine. I like this line I heard on a podcast: “…the delicious sense of eternal adventure into the mystery of God.”

In my mind, this is almost the exact opposite of non-duality. I’m sure many westerners have found what they were looking for in the non-dual teachings, but I found them to be life-denying and soul-killing. Because it wasn’t the right path for me, I found myself in a very dark place. I wouldn’t allow myself to nourish the human being, and it turns out that the human being that I am was created by God, and has the opportunity now to use mind, body, and heart to feel what that means.

I might be butchering Thomas Merton here, but he said something like, Contemplation is finding that place where I am being constantly created by God in every moment. Almost sounds non-dual! There are certainly places of resonance between east and west. But Merton was a Trappist monk, as you know, and so a devotee of God, and obviously also a man who understood himself to be a person.

So I’m looking into Catholicism, much to my own shock. I’ve never really even considered myself a Christian. But so far, it’s feeling like a place where these deep longings might finally be satisfied.

I kind of feel like I didn’t do your fabulous letter justice. So I’d love to keep up the discussion, if you do. Thank you for being in touch. It’s lovely to hear from you after all these years.

Ernie Part II here and Part III here.