Recently, I took a cycle ride by the river Thames in South-West London and stopped at a spot that means a lot to me. As a teenager, forty-five years ago, it was where I experienced my first ‘opening’. I was cycling then too, heading home from an afternoon playing table tennis at a friend’s house. As I swerved along the twisting riverside paths, I was suddenly overcome with a blissful sensation of what I perceived to be golden light coursing through my spine. My mind became quiet, a deep stillness and joy replaced my busy thoughts. It was as if my awareness was coming from a different place; I could observe my life but there was a distance to it, almost as if it was happening to someone else.
Openings such as these, which occurred sporadically over the following years, showed me there was another experience of life totally different to the one society and my parents had taught me. It felt like life was gently saying: ‘Here, look at this: there’s more to this life than the model that’s been handed to you.’
Many people have these transcendent experiences of what we might call ‘Oneness’, but what do they actually mean? What is the ‘more’ that they are pointing to? Forty or so years since those epiphanies by the river, I’d like to share with you my understanding of this metaphysical puzzle.
How Can Two Equal One?
Non-Duality tells us that we are one, and yet as sentient beings we experience the appearance of separation. I’m in this body, you’re in that body. My fingers are tapping on the keys of this laptop in front of me. This can be confusing: How can there be Oneness and separation at the same time? To put it mathematically: How can two equal one? It seems to make no sense whatsoever.
One way to understand this conundrum is through the concept of the Absolute and Relative levels. Put simply, the Absolute level is where energy exists in an unmanifest form, as a potential to ‘be’ something. As you can experience from that last statement…thinking about and understanding the Absolute level doesn’t come easy. It’s as if our equipment falls short; our brains can’t ‘contain’ the Absolute level in their thoughts. It’s like looking directly into the sun; our eyes just aren’t built to do it. Although language can never accurately describe the Absolute, we can however, by using metaphors and big words and concepts, such as ‘Being’, ‘Love’, ‘Oneness’ or ‘Consciousness’ – at least point towards a common, accessible understanding.
The Absolute level, this formless ground of everything, manifests as the phenomenal world in which there is time, space and form. In other words: There is a person called Jez with something to share. There is a keypad, there are fingers tapping on it and an article being slowly created on the screen. That reality, where there appears to be a me and a you, a writer and a reader and an article being shared, is the Relative level.
To penetrate the conundrum that Non-Duality presents, we need to understand that our existence as human beings spans both these realities. On the Absolute level, we are Oneness but on the Relative level, we appear as a person, an ‘I’ that is separate from the world out there.
The metaphor of the wave and the ocean is often used to illustrate this conundrum. The wave (the Relative level) looks separate from the ocean (the Absolute level) but, in fact, the wave is just a part of the ocean manifesting in a particular form. Is the wave separate from the ocean or one with it? The answer is: both interpretations are true, depending on the perspective you’re enquiring from. From the wave’s perspective, it’s obviously separate. From the ocean’s perspective, the wave is evidently not separate.
You and I are the waves. You and I, apparently two, arise from the Oneness. In other words: Two equals one. This is what we are continually forgetting and remembering. We’ve learned to focus on the ‘two’, and we have trouble with our perception of the ‘one.’ We are adapted to the Relative; our brains are used to seeing logical divisions of opposites in the world: black/white, up/down, day/night. Our minds know only ‘either/or’, so they say: “How can two opposing things be true at the same time? It’s impossible, either one is right or the other is right, ‘two cannot equal one!’”
The Natural State
We didn’t always operate like this; everyone on the planet has experienced that state of Oneness. In early childhood, before we learned to divide the world in this way and live as this idea of separation, we perceived and lived only through the perspective of the ocean. As babies, we didn’t have language to thread and conceptualise Oneness (as I’m doing in this article), we just experienced and lived it. To the adults around us, we appeared to be separate beings; to us, we were just part of everything that was arising. In this natural early state, there was no division between the Absolute and the Relative.
However, the longer we live in the world, the more we attune to the Relative level; our developing minds learn to name it and soon everything starts to become separate. Eventually we arrive at the decisive moment when we identify as the self (individuation); that’s when we apparently become separate too. From then on, through the development of our personality, we are attuned mostly to the Relative level, because what’s real to the personality is; mind, matter, thought and logic. This means we experience a division, a dissonance, between the Absolute and Relative levels, because we’re operating as if there’s only the Relative level.
We can pay a heavy price for this: In the amnesia of the truth that we are one consciousness, that we are love, we suffer the illusion of thinking that we are separate from love. This manifests as neurosis, worry, extreme emotional states, depression, addiction, self-hatred– all the usual suffering of the personality that we know so well.
Love is the bridge between you and everything. – Rumi
However, openings – such as the one I experienced by the river – can instantaneously penetrate all that suffering. Even in the middle of the drama that appears as part of the Relative level, we can have a direct and spontaneous experience of the Absolute presence of Oneness. This can happen in deep meditation, in the presence of great natural beauty or even in the middle of normal, everyday life. (I once had an opening whilst shopping in a busy department store, it was triggered by the gentle tone of the Indian cashier who was serving me.) We can call these experiences transcendent because they transcend the Relative level. We are suddenly, blissfully immersed in the Oneness, the stillness, the love of the Absolute.
However, openings and awakenings are like free gifts – just as quickly as they appear, so they slip from our grasp. (They are often called a mini-satori.) By the time I’d cycled home after my epiphany by the river all those years ago, the blissful sensation in my spine had dissipated; the opening was already a memory. I was delivered back to my normal life, including all the confusion and turmoil that is part and parcel of being a teenager. But I returned with a gift: I knew there was something more, beyond the emotional ups and downs of personality, beyond the rational, physical world of things and names. Beyond even the idea of me.
Those openings set me off on a journey, to discover what it is that keeps us from the ongoing remembrance and perception of the Absolute. It hasn’t been an easy journey as illustrated in my previous article. I have found that what obscures that perception is our identification with the personality – and the breaking down of that identification involves the exposure and releasing of the personality’s story and all its suffering. However, when we know – and can never forget – that we are simply Oneness in a particular form, there’s a synthesis of the Absolute and the Relative and the suffering of the personality starts to dissolve. Then, even as adults operating in the busy Relative world, we return to the natural state which we knew and lived as babies.
The Ocean and the Wave
Dressed in turquoise, froth and spray
I swell in fascination with myself.
I have somewhere to go –
I know that I will be happy when I arrive,
So I keep moving, I keep turning
I am a wave.
I am shouldered by others just like me,
All rolling in the same direction,
Each believing that someone up ahead knows the way.
And being so many of us
How can this be wrong?
The ocean becomes calm and still.
The momentum which gave me purpose,
The movement which defined me,
I subside, I dissolve,
I fall back into the ocean.
I am no longer a wave –
I am the ocean
The ocean is me.
This form rises up again.
The ocean looks the same, but everything has changed.
I do not strive to be different from how I am,
I cannot make myself any greater or lesser –
I can only be the form which the ocean gives me.
I cannot choose where I’m going –
I can only flow where the currents pull me.
I have no destination,
Everywhere is here.
I am the back and forth,
The up and down,
The stillness and the rage.
I am the wave and the ocean.
We would love to hear your comments below with regards to your direct experience moving from the perception of separation or duality into a deep knowingness that we are all One. We know how words and language can feel limiting here… perhaps a quote from a teacher or Master might help share the love?
In deep reverence to our connectedness, we wish us all a beautiful day …
I am not on the platform you spk off.Therefore by gods grace, i will continue to accept the authority of the vedas, srimad bhagavatam and Bhagavad gita and my teachers until i reach the state you are in. God bless us all, at least we are all trying! Thank you for the discussion.
First of alI tank you for the beautiful article as well as for the metaphor sea and the wave.
I occupy my mind by meditating about sentience. Not sapiency, sentience itself. I was born with an inner vision of connectivity. Like: we all are one, all matter is one.
In distressing moments, in turmoil, I seek my ways to triggering experiences like forest, the sea, nature,or even my inner core, the forest of knowledge I call it. There, in my spot outside the absolute world, I can find entity, a spiritual oneness, my sentience key. These moments are beyond precious, when I’m neither the wave nor the sea. I am water…
sEcrEts and dIcIng
BEyond the rainbow colors
and social framework games,
in empty liquid castle
of MeLTiNG crystal shapes.
BEyond the dual meaning
of matrix given names,
transpires subtle, lucid GRoKing,
unfolding no-thing ever sensed.
BEyond desired somethings
of every movie scene,
is glowing deeper LoNGiNG
for one eternal dream ~
in silence, wisperned SPHeRiNG
where breathing drops,
under any radar sensing,
BEyond forbidden stops.
the bug in me
is seed of you
BEyond us ~
in blackness diving
my homeness star
of golden light
BEyond sunRiSiNG ~
I love the comparison of duality to the ocean and the waves. This article helps to explain the inexplainable. The poem is beautiful and I can so Identify with it as a regular sea swimme. When I’m swimming sometimes I’m the ocean and sometimes the wave.
What’s the relative true? And absolute true?? What’s the different give me and examples, Thanks
When Hanuman was asked, “How do you perceive Rama (his lord) as?”
देहबुद्ध्या त्वद्दासोऽहं जीवबुद्ध्या त्वदंशकः।
आत्मबुद्ध्या त्वमेवाहम् इति मे निश्चिता मतिः॥
“Deha Buddhya tu Dasoham Jiva Buddhya Tvadaamsakah |
Atma Buddhya Tvamevaham iti me nishchita matih || ”
“Oh Lord, while I identify myself with my body, I am your servant. When I consider myself as Individual Soul, I am Your part. But when I look upon myself as the Spirit, I am one with You.” (Source)
Advaita, Visishtadvaita, and dvaita as realised by Hanuman.
And Srimad Bhagavatam 10.14.44
kiṁ kiṁ na vismarantīha
yan-mohitaṁ jagat sarvam
kim kim — what indeed; na vismaranti — persons do not forget; iha — in this world; māyā-mohita — bewildered by illusion; cetasaḥ — whose minds; yat — by which; mohitam — bewildered; jagat — the world; sarvam — entire; abhīkṣṇam — constantly; vismṛta-ātmakam — making one forget even one’s own self.
What indeed is not forgotten by those whose minds are bewildered by the Lord’s illusory potency? By that power of Māyā, this entire universe remains in perpetual bewilderment, and in this atmosphere of forgetfulness no one can understand his own identity.
It is nice to see through sastra. Words spoken by great rsis too.
Too make sure our own realisations are correct and also helps us cultivate devotion to god.
there is poem in the book ‘’Autobiography of a Yogi’ by Paramahamsa Yogananda where He was inspired to write a similar poem or a line which i remember ( Dont have the book handy to check)
“ …in the ocean of joy, a bubble of mirth am I”
Your poem reminded me of this line
God Bless in your journey towards Love
Thank you!! I have experienced similar moments during my life, most of them while just being still and observing in my outdoor space. Some occurred shortly after the unexpected passing of my son. I have learned that these moments cannot be forced for me, I experience oneness when I release and allow without any expectations.
“we can have a direct and spontaneous experience of the Absolute presence of Oneness.” Can we really? What you describe might be a knowing of the absolute as the absolute, but as an experience, you need an experiencer, so duality is created again. This is a fine but important point
In a non-dual reality Advaita Vedanta there can only be one reality ( Satya) otherwise there still will be the experience and then the experiencer, a duality.
I suggest you keep on studying the scriptures for a deeper understanding because I like the article and i feel you are on the right track. All the best, namaste swami Pujan
Thanks for this beautifull poem and wisdom. Yes: WE ARE ONE! AND SEPERATED!
I had this experience 52 years ago, I am 67. I asked and never received any indication that others had the same experience. I viewed it as a gift and let it be. I am beyond relieved to learn that I am not alone. I refer my event as “an open head experience.” I was reading Steppenwolf, put the book down, and immediately confronted by someone who If I had to, I could identify him in a room of 100 people. He stated “I want to teach you about the laughter of the immortals and the oneness of the universe,” I had the sensation of going thru a tunnel of lights and I could see how one thing was another thing and it became cumulative and it was all one, it overwhelmed me. I was 15 and thought if I told anybody about it they would think I was on drugs, which I was not. I did not talk about until my mid 20’s and was looked at strangely, so I let it go and much to my demise became earth bound.
Lovely prose and poetry! In the many transcendent experiences of my life I have learned that “Divine Division” is in truth “Multiplication.” One becomes two in service to “The Whole or Zero Point!” In the very act of “Multiplying” the “Division of Wave and Ocean” SERVES The World. It is a Cycle, which manifests infinitely as “One Eternal Round.” I participate in this “Cycle of Creation” by choosing to remain “Workways” with the The Ocean, The Waves AND The Wind. The “return” or “reset” to Zero (Stillness or The Whole) is the resolution, and reveals the beauty of the “Equation of Creation.” I believe it is always my choice, whether or not, to fully participate or perhaps resist the infinite “Cycle of Creation” and it is the knowledge of This Very Choice that informs my relationship with both The Creator and The Creation.
We talk of Love and we have some idea of what we are talking about— some common idea, based on similar experiences. But we’ve barely begun to talk about what Oneness means. This article is a significant step in that direction. Thank you Jez. Yesterday, after reflecting on this article, I composed the following: In our spiritual family, The Love Family, this is our symbol for God: O A circle.
But keep in mind that with “God” everything outside the circle is also God. Unity is unity.
Put a dot right in the middle of the circle and you have our symbol for love.
But picture it three-dimensionally — a sphere with a dot in the middle of it. The one dot in the middle relates equally with every dot that comprises the sphere.
Love is the energy that God shares with everything. As soon as the One becomes two, love is manifesting.
The awareness between any two points on the sphere creates the potential for experiencing Oneness — rather than simply being Oneness. Being Oneness is what God is.
The potential to experience that Oneness is within every one of us.
Greetings with graditude,
I loved your article. I have been practicing Divine Science and its exactly on track with the Oneness. I feel like my spirit has been searching for this along time and i got lost in addiction. Thru recovery meetings that meet at the Divine Science Church I have started my connection with the The Oneness. The part of the poem “I subside, I dissolve I fell back into the ocean, I am no longer a wave…….is what really resonated with me to feel the Oneness today. Thank you so much.
Many blessings to you,
Blessings to you all for being at one with your oneness. May I share a saying
‘I am you you are me we are 1’
We will only find Peace when our souls truly believe this about ourselves, then we will stop destroying Mother Earth.
We are all programmed in some way good or bad, humans have a choice, it’s simple, what’s yours? Or are you Human?
Love forgive and do good everyday to let the oneness shine✨Peace and Love to all ✨ jacqui from beautiful Northumberland in England
Hi Douglas, wonderful to hear that you are doing such beautiful work. I love the fact that you experienced the Oneness in the middle of such an extreme manifestation of separation in Vietnam – such is the great play of life. I would love to read an article about your work. Namaste and peace right back to you.
Beautiful – thank you.
I study the Noetic Sciences and adhere to New Thought theology. Both lead to the same understanding of connection and oneness. I had my first noetic experience (the experience of oneness) as a young Marine in Vietnam. My life has never been the same since the experience. Over the last 40 years, I’ve been a mental health counselor teaching others about the benefits of this experience. All of my clients are court-ordered into my practice for domestic violence. They attend my groups for 29 weeks. It is an honor and a joy to be the conduit of this experience and watching how it transforms my clients’ lives and the lives of their family members. Thanks for the article, Jez. I believe it is an important evolutionary step to us someday living together in peace. Namaste. Peace.
I sent the following words to my friend 4/14 2019
“Space and time, energy and material all blending in one, the illusion, the feeling of oneness with all. True love that leave you wondering about what’s really real”
I sent myself a copy to remember this moment, seconds
why isn’t the title “Is the Wave Separate FROM the Ocean”?
Beautifully written and thank you for sharing your story. I know this to be true in my heart. I also love this poem. Thank you.
so very true , how you explain the oneness and how you put these into words , it’s how i feel it too 🙂 Thank you
Thank you. This beautiful article reaffirms what I
I already know but easily forget. I need reminders that help me stay aware of the Reality of what is on a daily basis…..