As I've wandered around in the wild country this past week under varying types of weather conditions, I've been thinking about the importance of maintaining and experiencing two complementary types of mystical unity or nonduality.
On the one hand, we have a vertical unity, in which all things emerge like echoes out of the vast sky-like spaciousness of awareness (as in Wilderness Insight Meditation) or from the endlessly-deep canyon of the divine embrace (as in Wilderness Contemplative Prayer). Here, the distinctions between things tend to melt or disappear as they all become simply different instances of a higher or deeper Reality.
The problem occurs when people view this as the only type of unity. This is where "spiritual bypassing" arises, when the reality of suffering - personal, racial, gendered and environmental - is simply swept under the carpet in favor of a homogenous nonduality, which actually isn't really a real nonduality at all. In actuality, I am convinced, nonduality occurs not through identifying ourselves solely with the melting of "the ten thousand things" into the One, but in inhabiting the space BETWEEN the One and the Many, where we are then able to watch spellbound as all things arise magically out of the One and then return to It, only to emerge once again in never-ending succession.
The second type of unity is more horizontal. Here, the distinctions between things are valued not as separating and alienating the ten thousand things from one another, but as contributing complementary aspects to a single, multi-faceted Whole. Here, the Buddhist Net of Indra comes to mind, where each being is like a jewel tied into one of the nodes of a vast Net, and where each jewel serves simply to reflect every other jewel in its own unique way. We might also think of the universal "Body of Christ," where, as St. Paul says, the hand can't say to the eye: "I don't need you," and vice versa. The Web of Life of Chief Seattle also fits here, as does the two-way horizontal mirroring of mind and world in the philosophy of the Transcendentalists (like Emerson and Thoreau). Here, for example, the human personality becomes vast and transpersonal in taking on the ego-transcending multi-billion year history of the Earth, while the Earth becomes personal and intimate in knowing and celebrating Itself within the awe and wonder of the human being.
However, a problem occurs when we are tempted to see the distinctions occurring within the Web as the dominant reality, and then begin to treat them as separate from one another. This is what so frequently occurs in our current academic liberal arts climate, where groups become pitted against each other, and where unkind insults like: "You're sexist . . . privileged . . . racist . . . oppressively heteronormative," OR "Your experience of suffering as a woman . . . or as economically disadvantaged . . . or as an African American . . . or as an LGBT person . . . or as a man . . . or (speaking to Nature) as an endangered ecosystem - is not as real or as valid as MY experience and does not need to be taken into consideration" - become the order of the day. Here, people fail to see that each category considered as an "oppressed group" or as "oppressor" is in reality a part of a wider (and endlessly sacred) reality, where each is actually a part of all of the others and is needed by the others (and vice versa) if ANY of us is to grow personally and spiritually.
In this horizontal type of union, we actually NEED the distinctions, for they contribute a sense of surprise and wonder to our awareness when we see how the things that at first appear separate are actually an integral part of one another, in a wider nondual web! Here, both the distinctions AND their higher union are held in continual tension.
In vertical unity, the unity itself tends to predominate. In horizontal unity, the distinctions take up more of our time and attention. For a rich and full spiritual life, we need BOTH vertical and horizontal forms of unity, and we need to maintain BOTH the reality of the distinctions and their melting - or fitting as component pieces - into a larger Whole.
For those of you who find the masculine/feminine polarity helpful and enriching, we might say that vertical unity is masculine, while horizontal unity is feminine. And for those of you who DON'T find the masculine/feminine polarity helpful or as a vital part of your experience - well, it can best be jettisoned . . . :)
Photos: Peaks of the Never Summer Range, as seen from the 12,000 foot ridge above Montgomery Pass in the Rawah Range, CO, May 5, 2016; New willow leaves, backed by a snowy Palisade Mountain, Big Thompson Canyon, CO, May 2, 2016; Bellvue Dome and lakes, looking toward Wyoming from Lory State Park, CO, May 3, 2016
For Spiritual Direction or Workshops, please visit: http://www.resourcesforspiritualgrowth.com/
Stephen Hatch, M.A. is a spiritual teacher and photographer from Fort Collins, Colorado. His approach is contemplative, inter-spiritual, and Earth-based.