Nondual Zen Article:

Shape Shifting

nondual title

Shape Shifting
by Kathleen Sutherland

My practice theme for July was to see myself in all others and all things.

I’m not this body/mind. I am the absolute. And all body/minds are projections of Me. In that sense, I am everyone. So, I thought, let’s play with this. Let’s loosen this random but seemingly fixed identity as Kathleen, and experience Myself in others. This person walking toward me, how would it feel to be a man, to weigh over 200 lbs? Different. How does awareness feel in his dog? A little hot with all that fur, but I enjoy trotting along as a quadraped, snuffling the smells.

I am the sidewalk. There’s not a lot of awareness as cement, but I do feel solid and useful. I perceive this as thoughts in the mind of Kathleen; my cement “self” has no brain. But the locus of the experience is not relevant. We simply notice that it arises.

I am a tree. My leaves, 70 feet high, fluttering in the breeze, love to soak up the sunshine, delivering nutrients to me. I am the bug in the grass, which seems a great forest. I am the grass, quiet and still, but glimmering with life.

Now I return to Kathleen. It’s refreshing to feel less fixed in this locale, in Kathleen. It’s habit; I settle into her form by default. But I have enjoyed the forays into other forms that I’ve been taking this month. One current advantage of popping into others’ bodies is that this body is recovering from a rib injury. It’s nice to feel myself walking along, breathing freely, not even thinking of my chest area.

We already naturally identify with many others beyond our own body and mind. We identify strongly with our inner circle of family and friends. That is why we don’t mind doing things for them. We like helping and pleasing them. Their pleasure is ours. Seeing myself in all others just means expanding this circle a little wider. It doesn’t require any new skills, just expanding my identification to embrace All that is Me, which, of course, is all that I see, and all that I can imagine. All that is within Me, is Me.

Walking in the cemetery today, I notice how many times I have died. Goodness, I have been through a lot! Some of my lives were impressively long and well timed, like that of Salome Flavilla Foote (1900-2000), God rest her soul, and some were tragically short. It’s estimated that about 100 billion people have lived and died on this planet. As there are 7.5 billion alive today, I notice that I am more dead than alive. But this is no cause for concern. Despite my 107 billion births and 100 billion deaths, I am eternally unborn, unbound and untouched. I’m always here, wherever that is.

Meditating out on the deck this morning, I imagined myself as the chirping bird overhead. As I settled into my winged self, I noticed I was being answered by a far off similar call. I continued to call, listened for the answer, then responded. Of course, both ends of the conversation were me, but at that point, it was enough of an achievement to levitate from the earth-bound ape body up into the little feathery one in the tree.

As I heal from my rib injury, I notice I am not inhabiting just one body, even when I’m abiding in “Kathleen.” The pain lessens a little each day. This group of cells that constitutes the body and mind is ever changing: healing, strengthening, weakening, aging. Even without purposely projecting myself into “other” bodies, I am still continually shape shifting. There’s no center or stability to this “Kathleen.”

Walking through the park today, I thought it would be nice to feel myself as grass on myself as feet, so I slipped off my sandals. It was delightful for a few steps until I was stung by a bee. There was an immediate protective contraction back into Kathleen. But after I returned home and confirmed no major allergic reaction, I relaxed and reminded myself that I was stung by none other than me - the bee! Bee here now.

My friend Joyce in Rhode Island also practiced this theme with me this month. Here are her observations from one day. (She identifies herself as me (“you”) since we realized that we are each other.)

YYes, you do have a lovely life here. One of the things you do here is volunteer one day a week at a women's shelter. The house is for trafficking victims, both sex and labor trafficked. Today you took two of the women (one transgender) to the city park and zoo, which we skipped due to the exorbitant entry fee. But we went on a swan boat and had a snack and thoroughly enjoyed our sojourn. (The name of the house is Sojourner House😎.) You went on the city bus and really saw another side of life, out of your comfort zone and very interesting. We were so many different people riding on the bus and all those delightful children on the carousel. Truly an amazing day...and no bee stings. I'm not sure I approve of stinging yourself...

This reality is all about me. As I ate breakfast this morning, I consumed myself. As I breathe, I breathe myself. This sofa where I sit is me. The air and sofa are not sentient, thinking beings, but in a consciousness-only model, they are made of thought, and hence they are “aware.” They are part of the greater awareness. They are all me.

In a dream, is anything conscious? It is the dreamer’s consciousness which generates it all. It is illusion, but not other than the dreamer. I, my breakfast, oxygen, this sofa – none of these are directly conscious. All are being dreamed. All are arising from consciousness. Or, to take one step further back: all are arising from emptiness. What a beautiful expression of nothing!

As Joyce reflected: And what a dream it is!! During satsang today we had a thunderstorm here and the rain came down hard for at least an hour. I was the energy of the rain filled with its intensity and force and nourishment and earnestness. It was a great feeling....here in this dream!!

We are living the dream - as ourselves, as each other and as all that we see. It’s all Me. Such a simple and elegant way to be free.