Menu

Non-Dual Thinking: There Are Things We Don’t Know

“Nothing is either good or bad but thinking makes it so.” ~Shakespeare

It is not possible to grasp the infinite from a position that is finite. Seems like a good place to start.

“Dual” thinking, as I understand it, is the idea that something has to be “either/or.” That it’s either good or bad. Right or wrong.

Here’s another way describing it: The concept of up and down seems to make sense from an earthly or gravitational perspective, but if you are somewhere out in space, it suddenly makes no sense at all. There is no up or down.

The list of these polar opposites goes on and on, but they all have one thing in common—they are often laced with judgement, and the need for resolution.

I find myself doing it all the time—making judgements or assumptions about the people I come into contact with on a daily basis.

The waiter who doesn’t treat me as I deserve to be treated. The inconsiderate driver who cuts me off in traffic. The rude person on the phone that is completely unreasonable. My wife who has her own way of navigating through life.

Why don’t they see things my way, the way they are?

The fact is that dual thinking has become integrated in how I process things, and it is rooted in fear—fear of what I don’t know, fear of what I don’t understand, and fear of what I can’t control. A feeling of lack. Being right seems to quiet the screaming monkeys, at least temporarily.

And when I think in black and white, I miss all the shades of grey in between. Someone has to be wrong for me to be right. My relationships have suffered because they are stuck in “defending a position” mode.

I am so concerned about being right, of making sure that my viewpoint is heard, that I miss all the magic, learning, wisdom, and connection that are waiting to be discovered.

And if my relationships are based in this “either/or” way of thinking, is it any wonder that I continue to feel separate and isolated, from myself and others?

How can dual thinking represent “truth” when something can be right for one person, but wrong for another?

Truth is simply a matter of perspective, and no one person can be the judge and jury on that.

It is a very narrow, disrespectful, arrogant, and un-evolved way of thinking that I know does not serve me, or any of us. 

Nor does it serve communities, nations, and governments. We all know what happens. One group tries to overpower another group, to “convince” them that their way is the right way. And people usually die.

Richard Rohr, Neil Donald Walsch, and some spiritual practices look at it a different way—in a non-dual, unified, both/and way.

Is it possible for something to be “both/and” at the same time? Is possible that two seemingly contradictory viewpoints can co-exist? Does there have to be a winner and loser, or can the goal be continuation, and perhaps even evolution?

Richard Rohr describes non-dual thinking as “our ability to read reality in a way that is not judgmental, in a way that is not exclusionary of the part that we don’t understand. When you don’t split everything up according to what you like and what you don’t like, you leave the moment open, you let it be what it is in itself, and you let it speak to you. Reality is not totally one, but it is not totally two, either! Stay with that necessary dilemma, and it can make you wise.”

Paradox is usually like that.

There is also a wonderful quote by Werner Erhard: “There is something I do not know, the knowing of which could change everything.”

I love this quote because it completely shifts my narrow, limited parameters and clears the way for something much bigger. I already know what I know. What I don’t know is what you know. And that is surely a much more interesting and evolved path.

If we can acknowledge that in the grand (and not so grand) scheme of things, we only have limited information, that we know only a fraction of what there is to know, and that there is an infinite amount that we don’t know, it opens up a huge world of possibility, acceptance, and understanding.

What a relief to not have to be right! How much more interesting it is to change the dialogue, from one of exclusion to one of inclusion, where other viewpoints are welcomed and respected.

When I treat others this way, I feel the shift immediately in how I am treated. And it feels good. My relationships are not characterized by defensiveness, but rather by openness and authenticity.

I know I do not have all the answers, or really any answers for that matter. There are perspectives that I cannot even fathom (or perhaps remember). I know how relaxed and unencumbered I feel when I approach life this way.

If we as a species can begin to accept this, to interact in a way that does not require a winner and a loser, then it seems to me that more unity and a higher, more evolved consciousness will emerge. And many of our earthly problems would simply disappear.

I know that our collective survival depends on it.

Photo by h.koppdelanaey

About Jonathan Lareau

Jonathan Lareau is a seeker of new ways of being and understanding. He has left a life of routine and predictability, and is discovering what comes next. Jonathan blogs at www.servingothersblog.com, a collection of struggles, observations, thoughts, questions, and the odd eureka moment.

See a typo, an inaccuracy, or something offensive? Please contact us so we can fix it!
Announcement: Tired of feeling stuck? Learn to let go of the past & create a life you love with the Tiny Buddha course!
  • Za

    Hello, i did not read the whole article, because i am at work right now, but will read it fully when i get home. The one thing i have to point out is that the waitress is rude to you because she knows that most of her customers think dually of her, and she permits herself to act in that way because she can get away with it. Trust me i’m a bartender.

  • Liz

    My, I completely agree. It’s not about being this or that/right or wrong. It’s so much less about defending ourselves as it is about opening ourselves up to new perspectives and ideas. This post was so useful to me–I will be aware of where I stand in every conversation I choose to partake in.

    Thank you for a mind expanding message!

  • Great point Liz…thank you. Everything opens right up when we are not defending a position or trying to make someone see things our way.
    Jonathan

  • Johanna_Galt

    Excellent article! And I refuse to see how anyone could think otherwise. ;-p

  • Thank you Johanna!

  • Susan

    Beautifully stated. I have come to live in this new way in the past couple of years. I grew up being taught (as many of us are) there is right and wrong. Much of this teaching came from lessons I learned in church. Letting go, and moving beyond that, has become so freeing. I now see the universe as a magical, beautiful place.

  • Thank you Susan. Sometimes it is very difficult to practice, especially in the extreme, wen we are really tested. But we keep trying…

  • Bluventures

    Great article! I try to remind people that are angry with others that each side has their reality, or truth, but somewhere in the middle lies another truth.

    It takes so much more energy, productive energy, to have to be “right” than it does to just have your ideas and have a great conversation with someone, sharing ideas. That’s when that potentially wasted productive energy is used and both sides may even come up with new idea that neither side would have thought of until then. I love those kind of conversations. They are very exciting and I walk away with a big smile. Especially when that person was a stranger.

    Thank you for sharing your honesty about how this is a struggle for you and kudos for being able to see and understand not being right. Not an easy journey. One we all share in some way.

    Jacquellyn

  • Many thanks for the comment Jacquellyn. It is infinitely bigger out there, far beyond what we can imagine. I try to hang to that when I feel myself closing up.

  • Hi

    I agree that we should take in all view points and respect them, but what about views that support hurting other people? How could anyone accept a view that’s harmful to others? To me, something that selfishly harms an innocent/uninvolved person can’t possibly anything other than evil (unless it was accidental). How could I accept such an action as not having any evil aspect to it??

  • mark

    I can relate entirely to what is written. Once i try to explain my position on a circumstance or inquiry, i leave the place of paradox and enter this and that. I fully hear the words that are written and will take that approach. the only thing is i have found it is taken sometimes that i am being patronising or humouring someone. They would wish for a definite from me to relate to a someone that i appear to be, though of course i am, and also not.

    Thanks for the article 🙂

  • nondoodle

    enlighten me
    where can i find me
    under a bodhi tree?
    some say i am the tree
    fukcn crazy i saY
    maybe in one of those silent sits?
    but how boring
    not to say jack shit
    i was told that i must first die
    so i googled ”suicide ”
    to give it a trY
    but no method guaranteed enlightenment
    so i let that one flY bY
    maybe a guru or something will come through?
    the neo’s
    say there’s no one
    or nothing to do
    this made me laugh
    when i thought
    then
    who would wipe the pooh?

    http://nondoodle.com

  • Ryan Close

    I was asking myself if there was opposition between non-duality and the law of non contradiction. So when I got home I googled it and came to this blog. I was thinking to myself, isn’t it the case that those who believe that life or reality is non-dual obviously disagree with the concept that says that reality is dual. The law of non-contradiction tells us that two contradictory statements about what is real cannot both be equally true at the same time and in the same way. For example, “reality is dual” and “reality is non-dual,” cannot both be true at the same time and in the same way. This is a case of either/or thinking, and I guess “I just don’t get it” because I am “trapped” in dual categories or something. The examples you gave of dual thinking all had to do with how other people make me feel. But consider this example. You are trapped at the bottom of a well. Someone passes by and you shout up at them, “I am at the bottom of a well and I may die.” They are about to run for help when you shout, “of course, it is also true that I am not at the bottom of the well, and whether I may die or not is a matter of perspective. If you were in a distant galaxy, you would clearly see that death in a well is just as much true as up or down.” They shout down to ask which it is and you shout back, “it’s not an either or kind of thing, stop thinking so dualisticaly.” Why can’t both non-dualism and the law of non-contradiction both be true?

  • Rick H.

    Hello friend
    Thank you for this article. It’s seems to be a better way to thinki. Wanting to become more wise and skillful in my thinking habits. This article certianly seems to be part of the means to the end I am working towards.