A very common experience that many human beings share is the sense that there’s something lacking in their lives—yet most people aren’t quite able to pinpoint what it is. They may have a healthy family and all the necessary material comforts but they still have an uneasiness, a niggling feeling that something is not quite right. Often they believe that the sense of deep contentment they long for is just around the corner and will happen when the next challenge on the horizon is resolved, whether that’s a different job, a child reaching a different stage, or their relationships with the people around them just being a bit different than they are.
Why is this sense of dissatisfaction so common when a significant proportion of people on earth, especially in western countries, now live in almost unimaginable luxury and safety compared to how humans lived in previous centuries and millennia, and of course compared to how many people around the world still live today?
Our minds are dualistic. They create a sense we are a separate, individual human being that is born and will die. And because we don’t want to die, worry sneaks in.
The simple answer is that it’s due to the nature of our minds. Our minds are created to be dualistic, which means they create a sense in each of us that we are a separate, individual human being that is born and will die. And because we don’t want to die, a sense of worry sneaks in because we’re dependent on so many different things for our survival that we don’t have control over.
Being dualistic also results in the mind creating a sense of opposition between things. It continually functions to discriminate between right and wrong, true and untrue, good and bad, yes and no, liking and disliking, happy and unhappy, black and white. And then, because we are so strongly identified with our minds, believing essentially that we actually are our minds, we feel as if we ourselves are tethered to a rollercoaster of thoughts and emotions.
Of course, this mechanism of the mind is useful in lots of ways. The fact that it can distinguish between water and poison and then direct the hand to pick up the water is pretty helpful! But our complete identification with the mind also leads to a lot of suffering and an inability to be satisfied with things as they are, because the mind’s nature is to want to be busy, to keep looking ahead, anticipating what might be around the corner, deciding who and what to trust or to fear, like a skittish gazelle with one eye constantly on the look out for the lion.
When we identify with the pure Being, we recognise that we are the observer of but no longer the victim of the mind’s antics.
In simple terms, the path of non-duality or advaita vedanta offers a solution to this phenomenon, because it allows us to recognise ourselves as the eternal, indestructible, undivided Being, rather than just the ever-changing mind and body. And when we identify with the pure Being, we recognise that we are the observer of but no longer the victim of the mind’s antics.
But there’s often a gap between starting to intellectually understand that you are this unchanging Being and actually experiencing the freedom and doubtlessness that comes when we live, think and act from the state of Oneness. And that’s when spiritual practice—or sadhana, as it’s called in Sanskrit—comes to the rescue.