Suzanne Foxton, author of "The Ultimate Twist," is an occasional commenter on this blog. She has her own nonduality-oriented blog, Nothing Exists, Despite Appearances. (Tagline: "All there is, is this, exactly as it is")
That last sentiment sums up how I felt about her book after I finished reading it. I liked Suzanne's honesty and creativity. Yet my attitude toward nonduality was unchanged by her 116 well-written pages.
Knowing that she'd written a novella based on her own life, I was eager to learn about Suzanne's struggle with addiction and other problems that come with being human. However, I also was afraid that this would be one of those A Book About Me treatises which I find annoyingly self-centered.
My fear was misguided.
"The Ultimate Twist" doesn't have the feel of an autobiography thinly disguised as fiction. Rather, I was drawn into an engrossing story of a woman, Lucy, who is trying to defeat her inner demons, the therapist who guides her along a path of recovery, and her husband -- who tries to understand how nondual teachings reflect his wife's fresh outlook on life, yet keeps being put off by the blather he reads in All there is, is this, exactly as it is writings.
That's a nice touch, to have your main message undercut by a skeptical central character. In a short chapter also titled The Ultimate Twist, Lucy reads over her first attempt to describe how she now sees reality.
Awakening is so simple. Enlightenment, or whatever you want to label it, realization as some call it, is simply what you are, right now. It's no different than what is happening -- here, now. The thoughts that label whatever reality is for you, the thoughts that tell you that this isn't it, even they are it.
The feelings that seem to be discontent or frustration, they are it too. Those thoughts that tell you that it couldn't be so simple.. that it couldn't be any different than whatever it is you seem to have been experiencing all your life... they are what you are looking for.
The thoughts that say "How could this possibly be it? This is boring!" Well, the boring-ness is it too, as are the thoughts that label it "boring". Those thoughts are just what's coming up in what you are. What you are is here and now. What you are is everything.
What you are is not dependent on what your mind makes of it all. You will never be any closer to what you are than you already are. Those thoughts that it might be something different... those are it, too. Nothing is not it. Everything is what you are looking for. What looks is what you are looking for. Looking is what you are looking for. Here it is!
Well, I find sentiments like these almost equally balanced between infuriating and inspiring. So I resonated with Lucy's husband, Alistair, who was similarly repelled by and attracted to his wife's newfound insight that what is, is. Dude.
I wrestled with my "it is what it is" love-hate relationship in a recent blog post. My basic take on these five words is that if everything is fine just as it is, saying this is both deeply meaningful and utterly useless.
It's much like I felt after an Argentine Tango lesson a few weeks ago. Dancing with a woman I'd just met, I couldn't resist sharing some thoughts about the philosophy of leading and following in Tango.
But after I did that, I felt it would have been better if I'd simply shut up and danced. Doing is different from talking. Experiencing is different from analyzing.
I'm not saying that Suzanne shouldn't have written her book. There's a time to live life without comment, and there's a time to talk about life. My point is that I'm pleased with how my reading "The Ultimate Twist" left me feeling this isn't it, in much the same way as I'm pleased to realize that talking about dancing Tango isn't it either.
Not quite the same way, though.
Because Tango requires some conceptual knowledge before someone can dance it properly. You might be able to pick it up just by watching, but even then you'd need to recognize the nature of basic moves.
Nonduality, on the other hand, claims to be an all-encompassing approach to life. It isn't a skill, technique, approach, method, or whatever. Supposedly a nondual vision of reality leads to everything looking different. Or perhaps, just the same -- yet sharper, clearer, closer.
So I get confused when I read about nonduality. Suzanne's book left me less perplexed than usual, because she doesn't take this stuff as seriously as other "this is it" authors.
An interview with her in non-duality magazine does show, though, that Suzanne has a good grasp of philosophy. I just don't understand how the interviewer managed to ask so many questions, and raise so many issues, about a viewpoint which supposedly is amazingly simple.
Here's how the interview starts out. And arguably could have ended.
NDM: Suzanne, can you please tell me about your awakening, when this happened, how this happened exactly, why you believe this happened. What was going on in your life at the time?
Suzanne Foxton: Let me start by saying that the overwhelming quality of "my awakening" was the realisation that there is no such thing. That "I" couldn't "awaken" because there was no me to awaken, and what I had taken myself for was a whimsical fabrication, albeit a fascinating one. Within that paradox lies enlightenment, or whatever we're calling it today.
I could be wrong (the truest thing I've ever said). But this is how I'm coming to see nonduality, Zen, Advaita, and all the other teachings which propose that what we're looking for is what is doing the seeing:
Such is the natural reaction of those who persisted in banging their heads against a spiritual wall for a long time, and then had the bright idea, "Stop!"
Thus there isn't anything special about a nondual outlook on life. It's basically irreligious common sense.
What's apparent, is. What's not apparent, isn't. However, to anyone who once had a strong belief in something marvelous that exists beyond the physical, and strived mightily to realize it, having that dream dashed can be such a profound experience, it gets called "enlightenment."
Several years ago I blogged about a previous Argentine Tango lesson. Carlos, the instructor, didn't like how I was leading. He wanted me to experience what it was like to be the follower (usually, a woman). So he led, and I followed.
Or rather, tried to follow. Mostly I tried to anticipate what move Carlos wanted me to do. When I failed, which was every few seconds, Carlos would stop and say "No! That isn't what I led!"
I got a little frustrated. Then I got a lot frustrated.
So much so, I said to myself, "Fuck it. I give up. Carlos can do whatever he wants without me." At which point, after a minute or thereabouts of my relaxed I don't care'ness, Carlos smiled and said, "Yes! That's it!"
I hadn't done anything. All that I'd done is learn how not to do anything. (For a while, at least.) This is a big part of what makes a good follower in dance -- letting the leader lead, fully.
Likewise, a big part, maybe almost the entirety, of what often is called "spirituality" involves letting life be as it is, not trying to guide unguidable events, not trying to control what is uncontrollable.
When I tried to follow Carlos, I failed. Trying is inimical to following, just as seeking is inimical to finding. So long as someone is looking for what isn't there, the presence of what is here isn't fully realized.
I enjoyed Suzanne Foxton's "The Ultimate Twist." However, I didn't get anything from it in a wow, I never knew that before! sense. Reading the book left me unchanged, so far as I can tell.
And that, I suspect, will please Suzanne. Like she writes on the next to last page of her book:
Perhaps if there is nowhere to go and no one to get there, every obstacle dissolves.