Trump, Biden and meditation: staring the nondual in the face

Politicis is in crisis, polarisation is leading to harmful unproductive divisions. Nonduality is the only solution

Trump and Biden cannot both be always right or wrong, so what’s happening?

By the time you read this, the US 2020 election will probably be over, but it is only after the crisis, the battle, where taking stock can begin. In most of the polls I saw, support for Biden and Trump was almost wholly polarised. In America as elsewhere, we face a political landscape where as much as 90% of the voting population holds opposite views on the same subjects. This reality, of course, defies all reason; polarised sectarian views can never represent the full potential of any situation. I guess most people realise this already. The reality of this level of partisan discipline is that at times, people are advocating policies which are against their own best interests. Such behaviour can only be fully understood from the perspective of human consciousness. External conditions, extraordinary people and times, cannot be entirely blamed for the way we create reality. It is at the intersection of the external world, and our consciousness that meditation technologies are of most use, both from curative and heuristic perspectives.

Let’s be clear; the object of this short article isn’t to promote any particular political position. I, of course, have my views about politics but that’s not an issue here. If we can agree that it is irrational to support a course of action that leads to harm for ourself and others, then the concepts of duality and nonduality may be useful to you. If you devolve your thinking, your rights, your self-determination to a politician (of any persuasion) you might want to look away now. The simplest way of understanding the extreme polarisation present in much of world politics is duality.

In terms of human consciousness, we constantly fluctuate between dual and nondual states. From our perspective, this presents as a completely normal and natural state. However, many philosophical and spiritual traditions have understood that the tendency towards dualism correlates with several problems, including mental conditions of unhappiness and suffering. There is a deal of neuropsychological evidence that supports this basic premise, particularly in terms of intrinsic-extrinsic network correlation. But there is a much simpler way of understanding the increasing duality present in public life; the metaphor of gods and demons. The idea that one politician is the complete problem or solution to complex issues is naive in the extreme.

Although I concede that some public figures appear to act out of self-interest and pursue agendas very different from mine, how can I imagine that they are always wrong and I (or my politician of choice) is always right? The polarisation that is influencing many people is ultimately self-generated. External conditions matter in the creation of duality, if you surround yourself with concepts of ‘enemy’ ‘evil’ ‘threat’ and ‘harm’, dualistic brain networks are likely to be more active. Alternatively, if you protect yourself from such extremes, maintain objectivity, your ability to make real choices is much greater. I’m not suggesting compromise or capitulation to the aggression of others. Instead, the best option is to keep the freedom to choose the most appropriate response in every situation.

Many of the most reliable traditional meditation methods target harmful dualistic mental processes. A desire to reduce tendencies to hate and division is not an attempt to create an impossible utopia; it is a concrete movement towards reducing suffering and harm—both for ourselves and others. I’ll repeat again; this is not a manifesto for inactivity and compromise, quite the opposite. Nondual training, in its fullest sense, leads to the abandonment of refuge in concepts such as political parties and institutions, concepts we know are flawed. What remains is reason and the ability to distinguish what is meaningful to us beyond simple partisan mantras.

Harm does exist; governments produce damaging polices. The lessons of nondual meditation are that until we address our own harmful and damaging tendencies, we may struggle to do more than simply react by entering the downward spiral of polarisation.

For a simple introduction to the nondual, try the nondual podcast.

Something all meditators need to consider, are you an island?

One of the most important concepts lost in the medicalisation of spiritual meditation is the balance between the needs of self and other. A key factor largely ignored by psychology.

What is meditation
What is meditation, and why are you doing it?

The use of meditation and mindfulness is now so widespread that generalised descriptions or advice are only relatively useful. At this moment in history, we have large numbers of people meditating in secular and religious contexts. And while there may be broad conceptual differences between scientific and spiritual forms, they also have several things in common. Most importantly, all meditation practised regularly is brain training; it is likely to lead to alteration in your brain function and structure. So all meditators should think about the method they practice and how they expect to change.

One of the most meaningful ways of evaluating the kind of meditation you undertake (and how it is likely to influence your brain and behaviour) is the thorny issue of duality. In general most spiritual forms of meditation are either nondual or at the very least not dualistic (If you are unfamiliar with the terms dual – nondual concerning meditation visit the short introduction at the Science of Meditation website). Breaking it down, the vital point to think about is, does your meditation practice draw you to thinking more about yourself, others or a combination of the two?

crowd reflection color toy
duality, self  or other

There is plenty of evidence that suggests using meditation to benefit yourself, and others offers significant health and wellbeing benefits. However, there is a growing trend to use meditation and mindfulness to focus on one’s own needs and concerns. The point of this short article isn’t to discuss the evidence for or against self-interest meditation. Instead, it is to highlight this simple division, common to almost all forms of meditation, dual or nondual.

The self – other duality discussed here is very common in meditation, but it is one of many ways that duality expresses itself in our lives. Its use will typically increase the focus on oneself (even in a nonjudgemental sense). Conversely, a nondual practice will engage the brain networks that maintain the awareness of our connection to and relationships with others. So next time you sit down to meditate you may wish to ask yourself (or your meditation teacher) what kind of meditation is this?