The Ground of Being - Choice or Choicelessness?

In an interview with John Welwood, Buddhist practitioner who coined the term spiritual bypassing, he was asked what the value is being able to become aware of  consciously focus on the "ground of being." His response was:

"We gain greater access to what's running us. And with awareness comes choice.  Choice and freedom. Freedom to choose differently if I want. "

Yes, it's all too common in Neo-Advaita and also some other nondual traditions, to say that after you have an awakening to "the ground of being, there's a loss of the sense of there being a "doer," of agency, and "choiceless awareness" is a very coveted (and misinterpreted) state of perception in these circles often portrayed as a sign of and end goal of awakening. This loss of "doership" and choicelessness are positioned as only positive, and while it is indeed positive for us to loosen our grip on thinking we can, and trying to control everything, I've always felt that the most valuable gold of dropping our attention beneath the activity of the mind, and focusing fully on what some call "the ground of being," is how it can help us not erode our sense of choice and agency, but how it can so powerfully help us to be more of a conscious agent of change! These states of what some would call "nondual" consciousness, in which we are able to see with clarity the nature of our habitual conditioned patterns of thought and how they cause us suffering, invite us to uncondition those patterns but not stop there, instead to step into your power to choose in order to consciously recondition new ones in place of unconsciously created ones.

Tragically, instead of promoting the positive transformation that this new possibility of choice / change offers, Neo-Advaita chooses to seek out these states as a means to an end of deconstructing thinking patterns for good, seeking an illusory final end to the "ego" altogether, with self-reflective thought being high on the list of what Neo-Advaita promises to stop in its tracks for good...... ​                                                                                                                                                         
Of course this is enticing when our thought patterns are unhealthy and causing us so much suffering! But we see it all the time, that people in this community, and other ones as well, that so many of those who claim to be free from reflective thought ought to have chosen to use nondual consciousness as a tool for skillfully transforming their patterns of thoughts and behavior (instead of thinking those would just go away with spiritual practice and "Realization") because instead, their unhealthy ones stay intact often beneath the surface, getting acted out in nefarious ways - how many more times do we need to hear about a spiritual leader falling from grace when we find out they've psychologically abused, sexually assaulted, engaged in shady financial dealings, etc.? As many times as it takes for these communities to wake up to the fact that "you can have access to expanded states of consciousness and still be an asshole."

And why? Precisely what I described above. Instead of harnessing transcendent, nondual awareness to heal mental unhealth and often disease, they choose to spiritually bypass it, which clearly only works temporarily until one is "shadow attacked" by what they thought they'd risen above/beyond. As Jason Shulman notes, "by relating to the absolute alone—even though this is an important experience to have—the egoic problems of being an individual tend to  fade and even disappear,  giving the student  the idea that all is well. Well, all is not well. And why is that? Well, he says, "In deep contact with the absolute-alone, the ego disappears... instead of being healed." This was a big moment of clarity for me, realizing how just because a pattern of thought dissolves in contact with "the absolute alone" or the ground of being alone, and seems to have been eradicated, many of them have not been, and you will discover that when they've been unexpectedly triggered by an external situation, often inter-relational.

We often find that contrary to what we imagined, meditation and nondual consciousness has not, and cannot make us invincible, and as long as we are human and engage in society and with other people, we are vulnerable to everything from insecurity, doubt, guilt, anger, and when these buttons are pushed, those patterns of thought and emotion leap back up to the surface. From where? Under the floorboards of our consciousness, where they've either been repressed or simply not been activated in a long time (in many cases because we've tried to renunciate what triggers us) deceiving us into thinking we've seen the last of them. This happened to me on more than one occasion, and I had to face the disillusionment of discovering that no matter how spiritually developed I am, and how capable I am of temporarily dissolving the present moment inner experience of lets say, insecurity, within a fleeting state of consciousness, this does not automatically change how I will think and behave under difficult "off the cushion" circumstances, and that deception can actually hinder my ability to heal those habituated patterns. We dealt with the conscious symptoms which are just the tip of the iceberg, and left the rest of it intact beneath the surface, pleasantly "out of sight." 

I thought of myself as a sort of superhero when I could feel that I was above and beyond most of my unhealthy relationship patterns, that I'd gained this status from Neo-Advaita and "absolute" consciousness, so when a budding relationship triggered a flood of old conditioned thoughts and behaviors, it was a painful, shocking fall from grace, realizing I was just as human, wounded, and vulnerable as everyone else. I'd just found a way to sublimate it with my superpower of dissolving everything into the "absolute" that seemed to reduce the entire manifest world to an expansive empty void, or expanding awareness out into infinity to miniaturize whatever felt painfully significant. That, along with new beliefs around everything being just an illusion, which would invalidate my reactions and whatever might be triggered. Seeing anything in the "illusory" world of form as anything more than a flimsy, insubstantial "appearance" would be egoic and unawakened, and of course, a source of suffering.

I thought of that triggering relationship as Superman's phone booth and was reminded of the Ani song verse:

"I used to be a superhero, no one could touch me, not even myself. You were like a phone booth I somehow stumbled into, now look at me, I am just like everybody else."

This was a devastating blow to my heart, my spiritual ego, my entire spiritual path. The truth is that unless we live a renunciate life, these phone booths are all around us in the inter-personal world, and we are all, no matter how spiritually evolved we are or think we are, going to stumble into them, and this is one of the best things that can happen, ideally sooner rather than later on a non-dual path, so that you can save yourself the mistake of continuing to bypass your wound-driven patterns and perhaps realize you might have wanted to spend less time seeking "choiceless awareness" as an end goal, and harnessed it instead to consciously change those patterns and condition healthier ones in their place through deliberate inner and outer action.

We have to take responsibility for changing a future that will arise from wound-driven patterns perpetuated. Yes, other people suffer when we neglect to do the work that makes us psychologically healthier. So it's not just for our own sake that we can't keep doing this, but for each other, for children, and the next generation that bears the burden of what the previous generation wasn't able to face, process, and heal. We all know that our parent's un-dealt with issues have had a negative impact on us, and that many of those issues were handed down to them from their parents which were handed down to them from their parents...Our suffering and psycho/emotional disfunction tumbles down through history, just as it has since the beginning of humanity. Pretending that serious psycho-spiritual problems are just illusions, and eroding the sense of there being anyone there who cares about doing anything about them, is truly tragic. It's devastating to hear supposedly "spiritual" people tell others that unhealthiness, wounding, doesn't need to be skillfully reflected upon so that we might heal it, because you shouldn't want anything to be different than it already is. Wanting that, of course is supposedly egoic and will make us suffer. That's right, it hurts to face the reality of our wounding and vulnerability, and that's why it's harder to do that than to dissolve into emptiness and self-erasure. And that's why our egos, and these self-rejecting spiritualities so desperately need to choose self-compassion to say yesour wounding is worthy of being healed because we and all of humanity are precious.

What spirituality can do is inspire us to use skillful self-reflection in combination with powerful expanded states of consciousness that can make it easier to be with, not neglect the discomfort, so that we can develop that self-compassion needed to engage in the sacred work of healing and growth. And so these awakenings to an anesthetizing "ground of being" and "choiceless awareness" don't continue to be (understandably) coveted narcotics for our woundings, sold on the spiritual market, with "no-doership" presented as freedom and a signal of the ultimate spiritual state, ensuring an endless perpetuation of suffering + denial which together ensure that humanity's wound-driven patterns are acted out ad infinitum.


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