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Non-Dualistic Thinking

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We spend much of our life trying to force everything into discrete categories. Am I an introvert or an extrovert?

Do I want to be successful at work or do I want to be satisfied at home? Do I focus on my self-care needs, or do I give unselfishly to others? Do I follow the rules or break them? Am I living in fear or acting in courage?

In Falling Upward, Richard Rohr wrote that the dualistic mind compares, competes, conflicts, conspires, condemns, cancels out contrary evidence, and crucifies with impunity. With comparison comes judgment and condemnation naturally follows. Dualistic thinking leads to a decision that one thing is good and the other is bad. Rather than seeing the whole picture, we see only a part of the story – that which affirms our view of the world and the story we have told. Forcing discrete choices with dualistic thinking is not helpful in most of life’s situations and may create turmoil in our relationships. 

Non-dualistic thinking, on the other hand, involves wholeness. We move away from either-or in favor of both-and. 

  • Sometimes I get energy by interacting with other people and other times a burst of energy follows a day of seclusion.
  • I want to be successful at work and satisfied with my home life.
  • I need to focus on my own self-care needs and give unselfishly to others. 
  • Sometimes “rules” must be followed and sometimes they can be broken.
  • And often times, I am terrified and I still find the courage to act.

Non-duality is incredibly important when we are in times of change or deep personal growth.

Real, lasting behavior change takes time; it does not happen overnight or over the course of a few weeks. When we get trapped into non-dualistic thinking, we see ourselves only as passing or failing, changing or not changing. In reality, sometimes we are going to be the person we want to be and act the way we want to act, and other times, we are not. We’re going to slip. We’re going to take two or ten steps backward. We are going to make mistakes. 

But failing does not make us a failure. We are imperfect human beings, who throughout the day are subjected to any number of external situations and environmental issues that impact our behavior and the choices we make. As we learn to practice present moment awareness, we’ll notice more quickly when we are getting off track so we can try again. Rather than scoring ourselves pass or fail, we see that we are doing the best we can given the situation and grade ourselves an “A” for our best effort. 

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