Dealing With Anxiety: Part I

A colleague of mine, Jeff Warren, has written an interesting article on the “nondual scene”. You can check it out here. This inspired me to organize some thoughts I’ve been kicking around for a while.

As a kid growing up in LA, I had the great privilege to attend both American public school and Japanese ethnic school. (Over a half a century later, the Japanese school I attended still exists; check it out here.) At Japanese School, I was a member of the Kendo club. My kendo senseis were incredible—mostly old-time Japanese military types—in a sense, modern-day samurai.

During a club event, someone gifted me a hachimaki (headband) with three very simple kanji calligraphed on it. I could read the kanji and understood what each meant individually. But I couldn’t figure out what they meant collectively. I queried several native Japanese speakers but no one was able to give me a decent explanation. The three characters were:

< 入 meaning “enter.” meaning “not.” meaning “two.”Later in life, when I got involved in academic Buddhist studies, I finally found the locus classicus for the phrase. It appears in the Chinese translation of the Vimalakīrti Sutra. It’s an exhortation to “enter nonduality.” Within the context of sword fighting, that would mean to enter in a state where there’s no separation between you and your opponent.

To “enter nonduality” is equivalent to eliminating separation, but it’s hard to get a tangible sense of how one would go about eliminating separation for real. It’s easy enough to intellectually accept the notion of non-otherness or to be emotionally moved by it. But those ideas and emotions will pretty much evaporate as soon as “other” breaks into your house, or deeply betrays you, or harms a loved one. So how do we tangibly go about the endeavor of achieving industrial strength nondual awareness—the kind that doesn’t evaporate when things happen in the real world?

Here’s one idea.

Consider fear. When there’s separateness, there’s suffering due to fear. Is this true in reverse? Is it the case that when suffering due to fear goes away, so does separateness? Apparently so. And, conveniently, working through the sensory experience of fear is a very tangible endeavor—one brings concentration, clarity, and equanimity to the body sensations of fear until they break up into a flowing energy. In other words, when mindfulness passes a certain critical threshold, the fear “particle” reveals its wave nature. It is precisely at that point that separateness goes away, revealing the primordial oneness that was always there.

So working with the fear family of emotions (fear, anxiety, nervousness, angst, worry, phobia, etc.) represents a tangible way to go about the enterprise of achieving nondual awareness.  (For specifics, check out Chapter 1 The Way of Thoughts and Emotions in the manual and this video playlist on working with emotions from the Shinzen Interviews Youtube Channel. )

Now let’s look a little deeper. I think it’s useful to distinguish two levels of nondual awareness:

NONDUAL   l        versus       NONDUAL   II

Nondual I is the non-separateness of inside and outside I just described. It comes about when we experience oneness of Self and Scene. (In this context, Self means the inner world of Mental Image, Mental Talk, and Emotional Body Sensations. Scene means the outer world of Physical Sights, Physical Sounds, and Physical Body Sensations. See manual pp. 21-34.)

Nondual II comes about when one experiences the oneness of Self/Scene with their Source. The Self/Scene is the world of sensory form. The Source is Pure Consciousness devoid of form.

Above I described one possible way to make Nondual I a tangible enterprise. But how about Nondual II? How can we get to the state where Form and Emptiness are one? One way to make that endeavor tangible involves working with the “Two Doings”—Expansion and Contraction (see “What is Mindfulness?” pp. 40-46):

Each of the trillion somethings of daily life is directly touched by the Two Doings that mold it in real time. But those Two Doings continuously come from and return to the One Nothing. Thus, the Two Doings represent an unsevered umbilicus that connects the myriad momentary forms with the One Timeless Source.

To experience this connection consistently in daily life is to achieve Nondual II.

For more specifics, check out: