We all find our way to meditation and philosophies like nonduality for similar and different reasons.
As our practice evolves, it’s natural for questions to arise and to want to translate nondual teachings into practical understanding that feels fitting for our modern lives.
In the post below, iRest Founder, Richard Miller, PhD offers four illuminating answers to questions we’ve wondered about and perhaps you have too.
A note on the term “Being”: Being is not conceptual. It’s a state to be experienced firsthand. It’s helpful to have had an experience of Being to more deeply understand the answers below. If you’re new to iRest or nondual meditation, this free course will guide you through accessible practices that support such an experience.
1. What does neuroscience reveal to us about meditation?
Through neuroscience we know there are four main networks in our brain.
The default network is where we create a sense of past and future. It’s where our I-Me-Mine separate sense of self exists. It’s also where negativity bias and negative looping thoughts occur.
When trauma is present this default network is turned on along with the limbic system and amygdala and people can’t step out of it. They’re caught in recursive loops and can’t maintain context.
When we practice meditation, recursive thinking is turned off. We step out of survival mode, and we can see things more directly. We’re able to pay attention and stay present.
Another way of saying this is that when we meditate, the default network downregulates and the present centered network upregulates.
When we shift into a sense of Being, what we see in an MRI is our default network begins to calm down. This means you get more relaxed because beta waves reduce and gamma waves increase.
This burst of gamma waves correlates to having moments of insight not related to past thinking. On an MRI, it’s observed just before a person enters into a moment of present-centeredness, Being, and insight.
2. What practical exercises help us access this experience of not-self?
Feel your left hand for 10 seconds. Then feel your right hand for 10 seconds. Now, sense them simultaneously.
You just stepped out of your autobiographical self and increased gamma in your brain. You set yourself up for insight.
Let your attention feel itself equally everywhere, slowly. In front, behind, left and right, below and above.
When you let attention unlocalize you drop out of the default network and turn on the present centered network.
From witness to witnessing
What’s interesting here is that as you step into Being, or not-self, feel how thinking slows down but there’s still a subtle sense of “I am Being”.
There’s another level of self here. As we step into Being-Awareness and Awareness is folding on itself and is self-aware, there’s another subtle level of separation happening.
This is a subtle way we can keep separation in place. Even the slightest separation maintains a sense of suffering in us. Thus, moving beyond the witness into pure witnessing is important.
3. How does nondual meditation help us liberate ourselves from inner suffering?
In iRest meditation, we’re meeting ourselves at different levels of the self: Autobiographical, witness, below the witness, and as a very subtle sense of self-awareness.
There’s a moment during deep meditation and inquiry when the autobiographical self and the external world have fallen away. We’re sitting there in a deep quality of open, spacious Awareness.
There’s still a subtle self-commentary: “I’m still aware of this,” but there’s something else calling us here. As we traverse this experience, a timeless moment arrives when all sense of self drops away. We go somewhere where there’s no “I” saying “I am here”. It’s only in coming back, after the experience, that there’s a lingering perfume: “I just was where I am not”.
As we return with that perfume, all sense of fear, separation, and anxiety begins to break up and dissolve.
This is the possibility in your own meditation practice. Understand that when you’re sitting here with that subtle sense of self-awareness, there’s one more step.
Then, when you come back, watch the conditioned tendency to say “I was asleep” or “I was unconscious”. Is that true, or were you taken into not-self? Notice the state you’re coming back in. You come back in a very different manner.
Understanding and experiencing this equates to resolving the painful illusion of separation.
4. How is having an experience of not-self helpful for people with trauma?
From my perspective as a psychologist, nondual meditation shows people what’s not broken, what’s never been traumatized, and what doesn’t need healing. I want people to first experience this deeply. I want this to be our grounding. Then, we have the capacity to address what does feel traumatized or in need of healing. Now we can look at addressing emotions, thoughts, memories and other aspects that are preventing separation and suffering from falling away.
When we meet someone experiencing trauma who’s caught in their negative recursive looping and we help them have this experience of not-self, their autobiographical self begins to drop away. They begin to have insight into what’s going on within them.
In this moment of not-self, this moment of Being, there’s a reconnection to our authentic self (people with trauma can be disconnected from themselves) and a reconnection to the world. Here is where the process of healing truly begins.
As the autobiographical self falls away, there’s a sense of the witness deconstructing and we fall ever-deeper into the felt-sense of Being. A delightful sense of Being. Spacious. Outside of time. Familiar. Thinking slows down and we realize that Being has been, and is always here.
It’s important to recognize that Being is always here. Once you recognize this, you can begin to nourish it, all day long, each day of your life.
Being then becomes the stable, ever present ground from where people can truly heal.
It’s for this reason that, for me, switching from the default network to the present centered network is the first step of meditation, and when working with anyone, whether or not they have trauma.
Nondual meditation is based on firsthand experience with our deepest nature. Being is direct, preverbal, and inexpressible. Words can only point us towards the experience of Being and not-self. For Richard, sharing nondual teachings in a practical and accessible way is a true art and joy.
If you enjoy Richard Miller’s approach, consider joining him for his upcoming year-long course The Path of Nondual Meditation to deepen your firsthand experience.
As Self Falls Away, When Self Falls Away. A talk by Richard Miller. Watch the full talk here.