Escaping Dualism

Quite often I hear of impassioned pleas to transcend or improve upon the current ways of thinking that have trapped us into a nightmare world of ecological devastation and human suffering. However, seldom do I hear folks address some of the root causes, and far, far too often there is that impassioned argument against a problem or threat. These are all forms of dualistic thinking, and when we fail to recognize that, we fail to strike at the true root of the problem.

This will not be a complex philosophical post, though it sprinkle examples of some arguments here and there, and use terminology assuming the reader will be at least somewhat familiar with the topic. Failing that, the reader might wish to pause and research the lingo used for their own edification. Regardless, the argument should be able to stand on its own without recourse to many outside sources/references.

Caveat: There does seem to be something indulgent about assigning the problem to an idea, or an ingrained worldview, rather than an actionable issue directly responsible for the suffering of others, be they human, non-human, or more-than-human. In my defense, I can only point out that actions launched from a faulty foundation are either doomed to fall trap to the erroneous assumptions present from the start, or to operate solely within a limiting paradigm. I’d argue that it is necessary to take the revolutionary step of properly aligning one’s worldview with Nature, which is decidedly not dualistic, before taking bold action. All acts, then, become revolutionary because so few great movements in our history have emerged from this essentially bio-centric point of view.

Now that the waters are properly muddled with all sorts of intersecting terminology, let us begin at the root, which itself contains an aspect of the problem. In this case, the singular point of departure guarantees a contrast with any other possible points, establishing the dualistic paradigm from the outset. It is more fruitful to our cause to deny any one given starting point, but to assert any and all of them equally valid. Thus, where we begin matters little. All other points become milestones along the winding path we weave through thinking and each stand on their own in relationship with all the others. This is precisely how Nature operates: approaching every situation from multiple vectors in a complex system of interrelations, each at least somewhat dependent on the other for definition and expression.

Thus, we can look at the many binary opposites apparent in dualistic thought and lay them out together, without ranking any one higher than the other, merely expressing the relationships among them. We can resort to the “primitive” and assess the arrangement of life/death, night/day, good/bad, pleasure/pain, and so on. Under a dualistic framework, the next step in our analysis would be to assign values to each according to our cultural programming. Even if we were to regard the many differences possible within the cultures of other peoples, we would still be trapped within dualism by the assignation of values to each pair of opposites.

In contrast, what complexities unfold when they are considered at the same level, expressing only the multitude of relationships between them? We can speak of how life is generally carried out in the daylight, where one can work toward achieving pleasurable ends and avoid pain. This we would generally call good, if not hedonistic. But we could also tell of the pleasures of the night–the cooler weather, the intimacy of fire and other body’s embrace–and the mysteries that arise from the darkness. Therein lie the myths of old that still rule our lives when we gaze upon a star-filled night sky, or the changing phases of the moon. By freely associating the aspects previously contrasted, we receive a richer story that is many times more faithful to natural lives as they are lived.

And yet, already we can sense there is an aspect of dualism that is manifest in considering many different things apart, even if in relationship to each other. If the power of dualistic thinking comes from the separation of opposites, then what role does mere separation play in the foundation of dualism? I argue: an important one. In order to separate one thing from another, its qualities must be contrasted, and thus made dual at some level. This is where we truly begin to escape dualism, even beyond the boundaries set out by Nature’s wisdom. To erase the qualifying differences between things, ideas, and moments, one instead enters into a space without differentiation and without time… only to find the entire exercise was dualistic from the start (escape/entry).

Nonetheless, this sort of mental state is plausible, especially when considering the data of neurobiology in regards to meditative states and its effects on the brain. While much of the results show only how a brain meditates–the trap of dualism, limiting experimental design and thus rendering limited results–there is much to be said toward validating mystical experiences across different cultures. Nirvana for the Buddhists, unio mystica for the Westerners–these are nonetheless suggestions of a mental space beyond duality that is achieve by either the emptying of mental contents or the heightened focus on a specific religious symbol to the exclusion of all else.

It is possible to imagine what happens at the achievement of such a lofty mindstate: Whether all else has been left behind, or only the religious symbol remains, there is still one thing in existence. The question for the mystics, then, is how to escape beyond this final moment of beingness, encapsulated in either Self or God. The answer, to my undisciplined mind, seems to acknowledge the futility of the exercise itself. All things are always present; even within God, there is still a point of view separate from what is experienced. But while the exercise of achieving such exalted states of mind might seem useless if they are, in the end, circuitous, there is one final wisdom to wrest from it all.

That is, we are already enmeshed within the wonder-of-it-all. We are already beyond Self one with God, we just have to go to great lengths to shed the binary thinking that traps us in a dualistic world. In essence, we have to unlearn how to be human and remember how to be divine. When we take that leap, however it is done, we find that there is no night separate from day, no life separate from death, and no body separate from spirit. These things are the Unity of Being we have always sought, already within and all around us.

From this vantage point, there are no enemies, no obstacles, no sad goodbyes, and nothing is ever lost. All things already are within the moment, in all possible moments, and within each and every thing that makes up life.

What harm can we then do to all our selves within this state of being? What solutions can be found in thinking this way, consistently, for a prolonged period of time? What suffering is there that is not shared and healed and overcome a million times over?

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