Question: We’re in the middle of a global pandemic. Police are killing innocent black men and women right and left. The country is already in a cultural civil war. I don’t trust our government. How could I not be concerned with the state of the nation? It seems to have gone mad. Anymore when I watch the news, I feel like my heart’s on ice. I feel frozen with fear about the future. How do I even begin to see any of this in a positive light?
Michael Richardson-Borne: Please know it’s not necessary to see what is happening in this country in a positive light. You don’t get any “spiritual bonus points” for being in a good mood or spreading the story of “love and light.” The way the world is presenting itself to you right now is exactly as it should be. Keep your hands completely off what it is you are feeling and let what is there be there fully. What is present is never a lie. The only lie is if you tell yourself what’s present is a personal point of view that defines your absolute condition.
So, take a look right now and if your feelings (whether they are viewed as positive or negative) are personally felt, as real as the feelings are, you are still being deceived. It’s what I call being locked in a Separate Self. No amount of positive thinking will free you from this separation. Projecting contentment with your life situation does not help you remember who you are as the Impersonal existence of Non-separation.
In fact, you’re probably a step closer to remembering Non-separation in your more downtrodden state because you’re actively questioning the cultural symptoms caused by the belief in a Separate Self. From where you are, it’s just a matter of developing the depth of your questioning. Try this – instead of questioning the government, begin questioning your own form of self-governance. When did your self-governance take control? What is it that governs a mind and body outside of yourself? If autonomous action isn’t real, where does the need for self-governance come into play?
As you answer these lines of inquiry, the first thing to recognize is how all forms of governance require a relationship. Take a look at the way your question was posed – there is obviously a relationship between a self and the story of fear or between a self and positive and negative points of view. Ask yourself how this relationship was composed. When did this relationship first happen? What, exactly, are the elements of relationship in your internal experience that create your concern with the state of the nation? How did the internal split occur that forces you to be in relationship with yourself?
You’ve noticed racial separation. You’ve noticed there is separation culturally between political parties. You’ve noticed the country is mad. Why do you find a problem with these realizations? As I see it, cultural recognitions of this kind are the beginnings of a life guided by inquiry – a journey that can be one of great discovery for you. As you sit here, I’m literally witnessing you break free from one narrative and construct another. And it’s during this construction process where a great opportunity arises. I invite you to seize this opportunity right now.
Is it a new narrative based on positive thinking that you are looking to bring into being – or is there something else you are trying to remember that drives the longing for justice and a sane world? Do you truly believe that defining yourself with a new “positive” narrative will permanently thaw your frozen heart and stymie your fear? Or do you know deep down that this is just a cheap distraction until you find the road to the real solution?
The state of the nation is asking you a poignant question that cuts to the heart of the matter right before your eyes. Will you choose to remain in the cold world of separation? Or will you step into the heat of self-inquiry? Will you continue to look for haphazard flings outside of yourself to temporarily thaw the ice? Or will you seriously commit to discovering an Impersonal experience where there is no need to preserve the heart while you seek a place where it can truly be alive?
Q: But I want to get out there and protest, to let the government know the state of the country is not ok. It feels irresponsible to “navel-gaze” when there’s a real cause to support. Racism has been hanging over America since its inception. Now feels like the time to actually do something about it. If we pause to look within as you suggest, this moment might pass us by.
MR-B: Go protest. But spend your time as a protester resting in curiosity rather than personally pressing against a boundary as a declaration. Live as a question and observe how the widened space relaxes the limitations of being trapped in a life lived as a specific statement. After you make this shift from statement to question, notice how the negotiation for change becomes less about an opponent defending unfair systemic conditions and more about your personal approach to or point of view about why, who, what, and how. The opponent becomes irrelevant and the resistance lives as a set of unanswered questions that make their home inside of you. Negotiating for incremental change via strategies rooted in Separate Self statements is the same as chasing your tail. Let protest start with the Separate Self being a question and watch how the reversal of attention impacts the playing out of events.
So as you sit here, contemplate what it would be like to protest as a question. Contemplate what it would be like to shift all of your Separate Self stories from oblivious demands of separation to focused, civilly disobedient demands of “not separate” – and then move on to what will be perceived in The Culture of Separation as uncivil questioning of who is aware of the story “not separate.” What lives on the other side of this question is what I call Non-separation.
Q: So how do you define the word protest?
MR-B: Protest is righteousness within curiosity that has transformed into an unshakeable invitation to become what drives the immediacy of all outcomes directly into the next question of “what wants to happen” as the “hands-off” Impersonal movement of existence itself.
This is Non-separation. As many of you know, I always say locating Non-separation is the only revolution left.
Q: My husband, who’s sitting right here, always tells me to be calm because the world isn’t real anyway. Is that what you’re getting at?
MR-B: Do you believe the world is real?
Q: I do.
MR-B: Tell me about your experience of what’s real.
Q: I believe what’s in front of my face. I have no reason to doubt it. I believe my life is real. I believe what I feel and sense all around me is real. What is normal and real for me is what is normal and real for everybody I know.
MR-B: Except your husband.
Q: Right. But you know what I mean. I think he is in denial. He performs in the world just like the rest of us.
MR-B: Let’s ask him. Are you in denial?
Q: Hi, I’m Kevin. Nice to meet you.
MR-B: Hi Kevin. So, are you in denial?
Q: I don’t think so. There’s reality with a “big r” and then there’s reality with a “small r.” One is the source or reality. The other is an illusion or unreal. To get wrapped up in the affairs of the world is to play into the illusion.
MR-B: Who is it that remains free of this illusion? Who or what is it that doesn’t get wrapped up in the affairs of the world?
Q: Me, as the source.
MR-B: Ok, I understand.
In The Path of Non-separation, there are five ways to describe your answer. Each is a deeper layer of your identity, moving “downward” from personal experience to Impersonal Experience to Impersonal Existence, or Non-separation.
The first question to ask is if your “me” is experienced as a separate autonomous individual defining itself as “the source.” Are you personally experiencing the world, believing you are extracted from the whole, defining your personal experience by all of the stories you use to understand your meaning of “the source.” If so, this is what I call your Story Identity. Living as the Story Identity occurs when you are unaware that the mind is a collection of stories living as the total definition of your individual identity. Living as a Story Identity, you are trapped in your mind, in your imagination.
The way the Story Identity defines you can just as easily be a “spiritual” definition as anything else. When you identify as “spiritual” or other spiritual ideas such as “the source,” the common term used to describe this behavior is “spiritual bypassing.” Spiritual bypassing is when you believe the Separate Self is a spiritualized story of your own making – when you’ve convinced yourself that living as this story is the same thing as authentically being lived as the source.
If Story Identity doesn’t describe your total experience, the next place to look is your Original Story. The Original Story is the first story of individuality that happened to you – the personal “internal presence” or “mono-story” that is “covered” by the narrative of the Story Identity. In essence, your Original Story is “under” your Story Identity – it gives your Story Identity a foundation on which it can construct the particular stories of your Separate Self.
Many times experiencing the world as your Original Story coincides with the belief that “I am personally all that is.” It is this belief in being all things where a limited personal consciousness, the “I amness” if you will, can be confused as being the same thing as the source when it’s just the baseline of separative experience. When identified with your Original Story, you realize that you are the observer of all the mental objects that formerly made up the full spectrum of your awareness – but what you don’t realize is that the Original Story is just another object in the same separative awareness, a “singular” story that is needed to complete the composition of separation. So, your Original Story may be the source of personal experience, but it is not “the source.”
Next, when you become aware that the Original Story is also an object, you can begin questioning the solidity of the Separate Self in its entirety – you can begin asking what the Original Story is “resting in.” This kind of inquiry is what I call “living as a question.” Living as a question transforms all of the “statements” of your personal narrative into a focused curiosity that is continually asking, “Who’s aware of the story of the Separate Self?” Sticking with this question until you break through to its answer leads you to experience what I call the Impersonal or Impersonal Experience – a less contracted sense of being that no longer holds the personal world as real.
Many times, the initial arising of Impersonal Experience is called “the absolute” because it seems “more real” than what you called the “the affairs of the world” – which is usually referred to as “the relative.” Since the Impersonal is what the world of the Separate Self rests in, it is assumed that the Impersonal or absolute has an implicit value that is higher or of greater significance than the relative.
This assumption results in the intentional separation of the Impersonal from the illusion of the manifest or what was once thought of as “the real world.” Just as the Original Story can be mistaken for “me, as the source,” Impersonal Experience as the separated absolute can as well.
Clinging to the belief in being the separated absolute, the absolute is thought of as “the real reality” even though it is still a subtle personal experience – what I call personally impersonal instead of the deeper experience of the impersonally personal. This first level of realization of the absolute continues until you recognize you are dividing the source from the real world as if it were possible.
When you recognize the division you are imposing on the world is an error, a second kind of Impersonal Experience eventually presents itself – one that views the absolute and relative as “non-dual.” This non-dual realization means the absolute and relative are now “not two” and therefore both unreal as a non-dual Impersonal Experience where the relative has completely dissolved into the absolute.
If this is where you live, you have no choice but to claim the affairs of the world are unreal – the only “thing” that has any sort of reality for you is a pure Impersonal Experience where nothing in your life is separate. The belief can be described as, “I am both the absolute and relative impersonally, neither of which is real.”
It’s here where the source is mistaken for an expression of non-duality, an Impersonal Experience that is “not separated” – where there’s still a hint of doing the living, as impersonal as this living may be. Having this depth or degree of Impersonal Experience leaves you at the doorstep of Non-separation.
Take note of this. These two experiences of the Impersonal are as deep as your answer “me, as the source” and claim that “the world is an illusion” can go. After the Impersonal, it’s a delicate jump to Non-separation where the relative is, once again, perfectly real but being lived rather than doing the living. As Non-separation, getting wrapped up in the affairs of the world is what I call Applied Awakening.
Thanks, Kevin. Now back to you, Nisha. Any other questions?
Q: If the world is real, aren’t you upset with the state it’s in? How are you okay with ignoring it?
MR-B: If you recognized what was happening in this room, you wouldn’t ask that question.
What you don’t see is that you are involved in the true protest right now. You are protesting the very root of the system built on the belief in a Separate Self. It’s this protest that will take you to the solution for racism. Nothing else will get you there.
What you don’t see is that I am protesting with my every breath. You are sitting in as revolutionary an atmosphere as you will find – and you think it’s a place to “navel-gaze,” a place that is disconnected from the revolution.
But what you will experience in the streets is what is disconnected from the revolution. You must first know what the world is in order to protest and transform it.
Like I said, being lived as an invitation to Non-separation is the only revolution left. Any other type of rebellion lived into being by a collection of Separate Selves will merely bring on the next iteration of The Culture of Separation.
What I’m inviting you to do is locate Non-separation as a revolutionary act and then let the protest naturally unfold from this realization. A protest spontaneously enacted from the remembrance of your true being is Applied Awakening – which is the solution you are seeking.
Q: This all just feels like too much to handle. No wonder my heart chooses to feel like it’s on ice.
MR-B: I understand. Please know your feelings are not wrong in any way. Please don’t judge them as something you shouldn’t be feeling or that you’re in a bad place when it comes to what you may think of as your spiritual path.
Many times, self-inquiry begins with the type of experience you’re describing. It takes this kind of pain to rattle the Separate Self enough to get it to pay attention – and to question if there is another way to approach your experience of life.
When I was in college, I worked as a “heart holder.” My job was to assist in cardiac surgeries by holding patients’ hearts in position while the surgeon attached vein grafts during bypass procedures. I usually joined the team surrounding the operating table about mid-way through the procedure after the heart had already been brought to a stop and a kind of slushy ice filled the chest cavity. When I was ready, the surgeon would reach into the open chest, grab the heart and position it – then take my hand and plunge it into the ice until my fingers wrapped around the heart just the way he wanted.
Obviously, my hand would be shocked to attention by the cold, and after a very short time, it would begin to ache. And at that point, I had a choice. I could protest the fact that the surgeon hurt my hand by placing it in the ice. Or I could work with the pain myself, seeking to discover what was on the other side of my suffering.
So, while my hand was adjusting to being frozen, I remember meditating on what I thought of as “the collective heart of humanity.” I would focus on being part of a global pulse, I’d feel my heart beating and know it was the same life as the heart I was holding. As I did this, at some point, my hand would “merge with the scene” and the pain would subside into a pure focus on the external world. This is what I now call being in the “Surface Moment” – the first step in The Path of Non-separation.
If I may, I’d suggest sticking with your inquiry into The Culture of Separation and question how and why the world gets ahead of itself when it comes to protests. Recognize that force from the place of weakness isn’t power from the place of depth. Recognize that force is unsustainable while power from the depth of Non-separation is unshakeable.