Mindfulness is the practice of being aware of the components of our experience. When we are mindful we are "present" to what we are feeling, thinking, what our sensations are, what our physical movements are. Mindfulness is a practice where we learn to observe these components without trying to manipulate, judge or alter them with the intention of developing this observational capacity within ourselves over time. We begin to come out of living our lives solely through "our heads," and to live with continual awareness of these components of our experience. As we do that more and more, we might find we are less swayed by the vicissitudes of experience that characterize our day to day lives. Mindfulness has become a staple in the medical and mental health fields for helping people to learn observation without judgment, which has been shown to help individuals in a variety of experiences (such as chronic pain, stress, anxiety, symptoms of PTSD, etc.) This practice can be a tremendously transformative practice for those who make it a regular part of their lives.
Nonduality in a way isn't a system of practice or belief. Despite the idea that it is more challenging to talk about than mindfulness, as an approach it too has garnered significant attention from spiritual practitioners, albeit on a lesser scale. As a system it does not have the same scientific studies behind it as the practice of mindfulness does, perhaps because it is notoriously hard to pin down conceptually. To be sure, "non-conceptual" is often a term used synonymously with "nondual."
However, I would guess that over time as nonduality continues to percolate in secular cultures it will become increasingly accessible. So what is nonduality?
As I said nonduality really can't be called a system of belief, and some might even say that it is not a practice. Don't let these ideas fool you though, because there are definitely specific ideas that are associated with nonduality and correlative practices.
While in mindfulness we bring our attention to the awareness of the components of our experience, in nonduality we bring our awareness to awareness itself.
Some people can start to get confused here. They might say, how do we do that?Well, the thing is that in nonduality we don't do anything, because awareness itself is never missing. So we just notice awareness!
Again our conceptual minds may come in and say, well that's nice and all but how do I do THAT!?
From a nondual perspective again there is nothing we need to do, and we can recognize that the nature of our conceptual minds is to try to understand, and figure stuff out . These minds try to conceptualize everything that they can. In Buddhism, there are actually six senses, the sixth being cognition. If we can understand cognition as a sense, then it is easier to just expect that our conceptual mind just does what it does- it thinks, interprets, conceptualizes, thinks, interprets, conceptualizes!
This is in no way a problem in nonduality. Yet it is important to distinguish that nonduality, or what has been called nondual awareness is not a thought, and it has nothing to do with thoughts. In fact this is why I use the term "non-conceptual," interchangeably with nondual. So although nondual awareness is not a thought, perception, experience- and here is the kicker- it is not the ABSENCE of any of those things. In other words, nondual awareness doesn't imply that we have no thoughts whatsoever. Instead it implies that we recognize that what we are referring to as nondual awareness is a non-thought.
In the nondual tradition I have trained in, practice is associated with continually distinguishing non-conceptual awareness from conceptual awareness. Why would anyone care to do this? In nondual traditions the direct apprehension of nondual awareness is synonymous with enlightenment because when we are identified with awareness itself there is no one to suffer, and presence itself is totally, absolutely, inherently complete. Here there is nothing missing, and nowhere further to go.
If you are interested in learning more, check out my personal website at
www.scottmenasco.com. For anyone that references this blog post, I will give 25% off of an initial nondual coaching session with me.