Nondual Zen Article:

I Am, Dark and Light

nondual title

I Am, Dark and Light
by Kathleen Sutherland

I experienced a dramatic mood swing recently: several days of deep, dark depression, followed by a great surge of relief and joy, and a feeling of love for all and everyone. Remembering my true nature, I didn't let either mood sweep me away. Instead, I took the opportunity—especially during the dark spell—to explore what it was that had not changed.

In the past, I have fallen into the trap of thinking that if I'm not happy and serene, then I am not awake or clear. But this time I reminded myself that awareness is that which neither comes nor goes. A mood can neither deprive me of nor change my true nature. The only thing that can seem to cut me off from my true nature is believing thoughts that tell me this is so.

So in my darkest hours, what was there that had always been there, regardless of any temporary experience or fluctuations of mood?

My answer was the sense of being. It was still there. I was still there. This helped me to see that I was not the one experiencing the dark mood. I was the one watching the experience. And I was okay, no matter how unpleasant the emotions arising felt to the character, the separate self. I wasn't jolly about it. The suffering continued. But the ability to take that critical step back gave me a lot of strength and comfort. I cannot lose clarity unless I spin a tale that I can do so, and then believe it.

When the mood lifted and the opposite feeling, the sense of elation, swept in, my first instinct was to relax back into the separate self and simply enjoy it. The crisis is past, I’m back to happy, who needs awareness? But then I considered that it might be more instructive to step back from the good mood, too (for Lord knows, it wouldn't last!), and again inquire, what is it that has not changed? In what regard is this experience exactly the same as that of those dismal hours?

I knew not to mistake this improved mood for regained clarity. Awareness is not a mood. Look for that which has remained the same. And so I discovered that the constant between the dark and light moods was, once again, the sense of being, the witnessing. It is always there, and always quite calm, watching whatever arises. So I stepped back from this bright mood and rested in the “great okayness.”

You might wonder, wouldn’t I prefer to be elated rather than just okay? But in stepping back, we have both. Stepping back from the mood adds the element of peace. I know this current happiness will wane. Perhaps a dark mood will follow, or a neutral one. By not fully identifying with the bright mood (or any mood), I am more aware and accepting of its transitory nature. This preempts the thought, “How can I hang onto this?" I know that I don't need to cling to it. It’s not mine; it will come and go of its own accord.

I will still enjoy it, just as I still suffered even upon stepping back from the dark mood. But it is good to feel more anchored in something I can rely on, something which does in fact belong to me—my Self. I am not that which comes and goes. I am always here, always clear, no matter what emotions arise. The fact is, I am simply inescapable. The most I can do to create a sense of separation or cloudiness is to turn my attention away from that ever glowing presence, and then believe the fable that it is gone.

But it only takes one glance, a moment of attention to attention, to dispel that illusion. I’m obvious, I’m everywhere. I am: dark or light. I am always here, always clear. I am the unborn, unbound and untouched.