The Shimmering Dead End
Thoughts on the packaging and sale of nonduality


There have been several occasions when I’ve stopped to look at all this and thought, “does it even make sense to delineate a folk theory of enlightenment?” I can’t say I truly know that answer. But my explicit sense has little bearing on my implicit nature, which appears to be compelled to address these issues.

At a certain point in my life, I was able to see clearly that the ideas I had picked up about nondual enlightenment were wrong. Very wrong. Totally wrong. And it annoyed me. Then it occurred to me that maybe having those ideas were working to somehow prevent this very simple, extremely subtle shift in perception from happening. And that idea stuck.

I have no proof that what I’ve called “occlusion” actually occurs, but the nondual sage Nisargadatta bandied the term on occasion. And it makes a kind of neurological sense.

If you consider an idea, such as a set of expectations about nondual enlightenment, you’ve got to agree that it has a corresponding pattern of connection between neurons. Every time the word “enlightenment” enters your conscious awareness, that network of cells gets fired, and we have the experience of those images. If you’ve yet to come to your own nondual realization, those images have the effect of being proxies. Awareness goes with juice—if you ask me—and so if the juice is on those images, awareness will rest there. The source of awareness is occluded by the concept’s neurological effect. There’s only a micron more to go at all times, but awareness is used to present the image rather than the always present, closer-than-our-own-breath reality of itself.

That reality is the fact that we are only primordial, pure, eternal awareness. And it’s really no big deal, at all. We are always that, and always have been. You don’t get somewhere new, you see what was always here.

But such a tremendously big deal has been made of it. Huge. Monstrous. And that monster gets between us and our sun, which has always been who we really are. That monster is occlusion.

Quixotic flourishes aside, I must again say I have no proof any of this is true. I’m just going on pure gut feeling and putting it out here.


The folk theory of enlightenment is very simple to outline. Think of what it would be like to be God, the entire universe, or nothing, and you’ve pretty much got it covered. This system of ideas can be maintained as a feature of spiritual culture entirely by the brain’s automatic imaging capacities, no metaphysical philosophy is necessary outside of the ideas that we are ultimately God, the universe, or nothing.

folk theory of enlightenment map

The whole complex of ideas rests on the notion of “no ego,” but it is the primary metaphors of “empty,” “power,” and “purity” which anchor the folk theory in place, providing the root for three composite metaphors: the non-existent being, the powerful being, and the perfected being. The terms in red are transformations of identity, either of being divine, or of being non-existent. The black text shows some of the conceptualizations and imagery which make up the body of the folk theory. These are the occluding ideas of the folk theory, those notions which may actively prevent the recognition of one’s own nondual awareness.

Over the course of at least the immediate future, I’m going to be unpacking this map, as well as providing examples to show how and where the folk theory is operating in nonduality spirituality. Until then, have a look at the slides I presented along with my talk at the Science and Nonduality Conference.


Last Saturday, I presented a 45-minute talk called “The Folk Theory of Nondual Enlightenment” at the 2009 Science and Nonduality Conference in San Rafael, CA. Not too long after I arrived, it occurred to me that nonduality spirituality seems to be becoming the new “Secret,” especially now that we’re in the post-sweat lodge of death-era.

This is good news for a poor economy, but only more bad news for nonduality spirituality. It’s been taking a beating from the commercial Indian gurus for years, and now it’s about to be inundated with nondual therapists and all the bunk happiness and success hawkers who won’t be selling the “Secret” anymore.

In the rapidly developing economy of nonduality spirituality, ignorance is going to be the number one commodity, and with more and more teachers promising what will always only be a shimmering dead end, there’s plenty of need for discriminators in the community. I’ve appointed myself to the position of a discriminator. All are welcome to help.