By Adam J. Pearson
In his fun and profound talks, American nonduality teacher Paul Hedderman repeatedly points out that what gives unpleasant emotions the unbearable heaviness they seem to have is our tendency to frame them as “mine,” in a separate sense. We see them, not just as emotions happening, but as emotions happening to “me,” which are “my” problem. This way of thinking and perceiving inspires a great deal of resistance, which tends to amplify what we resist. As psychologists say, what we resist, persists.
When we detach the “my” from the feeling and simply see it as just a feeling, it feels much less heavy. When this happens, that feelings come and go without belonging to “me,” we can get a sense of being the awareness that observes the feeling coming and going.
This is the beginning of realization on the path of nonduality, whether we approach it through the traditions of Zen, Dzogchen, Advaita Vedanta or others. However, I have found that after this step, the mind tends to end up seeing things in yet another dualistic way: there seems to be pure consciousness as the context in which the feeling appears and a separate feeling as content appearing within it.
The Context vs. Content Dualism and its Dissolution
Context vs. content is the dualistic view at play here. This is yet another form of selfing, or the feeling of being a separate long-lasting, independent, entity because this way of conceiving and perceiving leads us to feel like awareness is almost a great or ultimate ego that is free from all of its content in a separate-feeling way.
Before, it felt like we were victims of “my” feelings, which were seen as beyond “my” control. Now it feels like we are retreating from content by abiding as its context. We detach from content, but then go on to attach to context.
This is not really a total disidentification; it’s a shift of dualistic identification from personalized content to an apparently distinct context. And it’s particularly hard to see that this is a dualistic way of perceiving because it’s framed as awareness is understood to be nondual. So, there’s an understanding of awareness being nondual, while a feeling of it being dual or cut off from its content is arising simultaneously. It’s very subtle.
Context is Appearing As Content
The download that came through here, though, which was inspired by a post by the Dzogchen teacher Jackson Peterson, was that this subtly dualistic mode of perceiving can be disrupted by seeing it differently.
It’s not that we’re the awareness that is the separate context of the content that appears within it. It’s that we’re the context appearing as the content. This is a subtle, but profound discernment. So, if the feeling arises of being Adam feeling angry at someone, then consciousness is appearing as Adam, as the anger, and as the someone “I” seem to be angry with.
If desire is arising, then consciousness is appearing as the desirer, desiring, and desired.
If shame is arising, then consciousness is appearing as the feeling of not being enough and as those who are compared with to arrive at that feeling.
If the anxiety is arising, then consciousness is appearing as the anxiety feeling itself, the feeling of being the ‘one’ who is anxious, and as the mental image of what we seem to be anxious about.
The same is true for all feelings. Even if there’s a strong identification with the idea of being the feeler of the emotion, even if there’s resistance to feeling it, and even if there’s a sense of being identified with the body feeling the emotion, we can still notice: consciousness is appearing as this.
Consciousness is appearing as Adam seeming to be the feeler. Consciousness is appearing as the resistance to the feeling. Consciousness is appearing as the identification. Consciousness is appearing as the selfing. Consciousness is appearing as the feeling itself.
Moving from Abstract Understanding to Concrete Seeing
This sounds so simple and obvious and we may have heard it a thousand times from Ramana Maharshi, Nisargadatta Maharaj, and other teachers, but when it really hits home, it’s incredibly profound. We can seem to feel intensely angry and resist that anger and yet as soon as we note that it’s consciousnes appearing as the anger, the angry “me,” the “other” we’re seemingly angry at, and the resistance to this arising, something shifts.
All of it suddenly feels a little lighter. And now, the feeling can flow through unhindered. Even if there seems to be hindrance, it’s consciousness appearing as hindrance. It’s the freedom of consciousness to appear as freedom and as bondage, as flowing and as hindered.
This all sounds great in theory, but so long as it remains just in theory, it has little to no impact on daily experience.
This is the key point: what actually and practically helps is to see it in constant application to the specific things that appear in daily life, from moment to moment.
The point isn’t to grok that consciousness is appearing as everything as an abstract idea; it’s to note the process as it’s unfolding as the people, actions, emotions, and thoughts that appear from moment to moment. This is what really makes it powerful.
Practical Nonduality Exercise: ‘Consciousness is appearing as ______________’
If you want to turn this insight into a fun exercise to play with, as your body action figure walks around throughout the day, simply note: “consciousness is appearing as _________” and fill in the blank whatever you seem to see, hear, or experience in any form.
For example, you might note that consciousness is appearing as cars. Consciousness is appearing as people. Consciousness is appearing as a body walking. Consciousness is appearing as breathing. Consciousness is appearing as thinking. Consciousness is appearing as stress. And so on with all that is seen, thought, heard, felt, smelled, tasted, and touched, moment by moment.
As a clarifying point, the word “consciousness” doesn’t matter so much. Substitute awareness, emptiness, God, or whatever else if those pointers resonate more. None of these words applies in any exhaustive, absolute sense, but each can be a useful pointing tool.
Note how the body responds to seeing each specific appearance as “consciousnes is appearing as this” and how the perception of feelings seems to shift.
In ‘my’ case, I notice that the heart rate slows down, the breath deepens, tension seems to release, shoulders unhunch, posture straightens and so on. It is as if the body feels a literal, physical weight being lifted off of it.
Heaviness lightens. The heaviest feeling in the world can seem to be arising but now it appears to have a lightness around it. And it can even seem to have a lightness within it, to be this lightness, as this deepens.
Conscious is appearing as _______________. We can seem to be awake to this happening or asleep to it. Being asleep to this fact feels tense, heavy, and unbearable; being awake to it feels relaxed, light, and bearable. Don’t take my word for it; I invite you to play around with it and see for yourself. If it works, great; if not, throw it out.
Part of a Series on Nonduality:
Beauty, Wonder, and the Invitation Home