From the shores of the Mississippi River in the 1800’s you could hear the melodic voice of the leadsman at the front of every riverboat. He would call out, “Mark twain!” as they floated past. The safe passage depth of 12 feet for a riverboat was the second (twain) mark on a lead-weighted rope dropped into the river.

Safe passage is a natural human desire. By taking the pen name, “Mark Twain,” Samuel Clemens implicitly made this promise to his readers.

The spiritual seeker also yearns for “safe passage.” They stand on the shoreline of duality, weighted down with the baggage of a separate illusory self (a “character”), hoping for something better.

Safe passage on the river we call “the experiencing of living” also requires a certain depth, but it is not a measured depth of water. Rather, it is a depth of active understanding regarding our own fictional character that we believe ourselves to be.

A simple, but crystal clear understanding is all that is required for the spiritual seeker to shift into the place of safe passage we term “conscious awakening.” Without that understanding, the promises that spirituality offers will be much like the sirens’ calls of Greek mythology: leaving one’s hopes and dreams continually dashed upon the rocky coastline.

This article will examine what is required for the conscious experiencing of Oneness on this river we call the experiencing of living. We will cover the following:

  1. The Character
  2. The Clearing
  3. Abiding As Oneness

The Character Hears the Call

The spiritual seeker stands on the shoreline of duality like everyone else, but for reasons unknown, we are called to seek a “better way.” It may arise from suffering, or some pure aspiration, or a genuine quest for a more authentic experience of living. Some find this inspiration on their own. Others find it in the teachings or teachers they happen across in the course of their lives.

Spiritual teachings promise wonderful new ways of being, ways that are filled with love, compassion, wonder and gratitude. All of this sounds great to the seeker. And there are many boats along the shoreline of duality that promise passage to this envisioned realm.

The seeker, still believing themselves to be a separate self (e.g., a Bob, a Mary, a Sally, or a Gary), jumps into one of these rowboats of newfound spirituality. And then they begin to row (sometimes very hard) to reach a depth of understanding where “safe passage” occurs for the poor, suffering, separate self.

The problem is that this fictional separate self, by its very nature, is anchored to the shoreline of duality, along with all of its baggage. The Bob-Mary-Sally-or-Gary can row and row their own imaginary separate self forever and make no progress.

The key for the spiritual seeker is to begin to experientially understand that there truly is no “character,” and that, moreover, it is only this belief in a separate self that prevents their conscious awakening.

If the rower remains a separate self anchored to the shoreline of duality, then no foundational shift in the experiencing of this-here-now can occur. And because there is only ever the continual this-here-now, the only thing that can change is the perspective from which it is viewed.

The Character Becomes Suspect

This rowing of the anchored boat can continue for a lifetime. As a matter of fact, this seems to be the case with the vast majority seekers. You may have noticed there are millions of fellow seekers right alongside you, enthusiastically rowing away.

And there are always new oars or new rowing techniques, or even entirely new rowboats to try out. It can be all-consuming for the character, and often distracts the seeker from investigating what is actually keeping them tied to the shoreline.

But there will be a few seekers who through sheer luck, or grace, or exhaustion will begin to suspect that something else is going on. After all, the promised experiential results of all the wonderful teachings aren’t really that complicated: love, bliss, compassion, gratitude, etc. So why aren’t they happening?

If we consciously desire these ways of being, why can’t these separate selves with whom we so identify just manifest them? If the character, the illusory separate self, had any actual say about our experiencing of living, wouldn’t those peaceful, loving ways become our steady experiencing quite early on in our quest for safe passage? It’s a reasonable question.

With no clear answer, suspicion grows about the character.

Some begin to consciously question the belief in a separate self. For others the doubt is felt more as an intuition, which then grows to the point where genuine investigation into the actual existence of this Bob-Mary-Sally-or-Gary character ensues.

With a bit more grace tossed into the equation, that investigation will lead to some type of nondual teaching that provides the seeker with a shocking realization that the character, the separate self, “the grand assumption of who I am” doesn’t actually exist…and that the belief in that fictional character is what has kept them tied to the shoreline of duality this whole time.

This occurs when there is a deep experiential understanding that the character never actually existed, which leads to the experiential understanding that you have always, already, only ever been Oneness.

I use the term “experiential understanding” for a reason. If a seeker says, “I understand these nonduality concepts intellectually, I’m just not having the experience,” then they have it backward. You are always the experiencing of Oneness. If you feel that you are not experiencing it, then this can only be because you fail to grasp the basic truth that This is it.

The Process of Clearing

Everything changes the moment the seeker finally sees through this false and illusory self we call the character. This depth of understanding allows us to see that our experiencing of living – this all-pervasive, perpetual pulsing of the present moment – is who we actually are.

Ahh…an experiencing as Oneness. Finally.

“This is it!” is expressed by some. “Oh, that’s all it is…” is expressed by others. Some have fireworks and parades, but such experiences are the exception and not necessarily helpful. In fact, they can be quite disorienting for the seeker.

When the character dissolves into the sands on the shoreline of a previously imagined duality, our experiencing noticeably changes. Suddenly, all those promised states of being – love, bliss, compassion, gratitude and wonder – happen regularly.

Once the seeker has had this conscious experiencing of being without the character, then, for the most part, the gig is up. He or she now has a depth of experiential understanding that allows for “safe passage,” and the game will never quite be the same again.

But we all have a lot of history with the character. Though we know there is no character (nor was there ever, and all of our experiencing was always as Oneness), we nevertheless re-identify as the character regularly.

Why? Well, because that’s what Oneness is up to. And these meat bodies also have decades of conditioning which doesn’t just dissipate overnight. We still react to triggers that evoke a sense of separation until we don’t.

We also fall into re-indentification because one of the character’s first impulses upon awakening is to claim this new experience for itself. It starts planning dualistic strategies to recapture that feeling. But the only thing preventing the sense of Oneness is the imaginary character itself, so this isn’t going to work!

Whenever you believe you are the character, you will not believe you are Oneness.

But Oneness, playing our character, who by definition is always anchored to the shore of duality, will still clamber into some boat, barking commands and rowing to get back to the Oneness experience. This persists until you, as Oneness, recognize that this is just Oneness playing around at being a character within Oneness. And then, again, the character drops away.

It’s a natural pattern, but one I was unaware of, having believed the common spiritual claim that “one seeing through” of the character was all it took to eradicate the imaginary self. This, of course, turned out to be false advertising.

Oneness has the boat-rowing character climb back on board routinely after we first experience “safe passage” into the deep waters of nonduality. Sometimes the character lands with a loud thud and wails like a three year old. Other times, discontent arises gradually, the character having climbed aboard quietly without notice.

Either way, “just noticing” is the key to loosening the character’s grip on your experiencing. There is no character with separate will and volition to do anything. Simply recognize that it’s Oneness doing whatever it happens to be doing. Sometimes a bit of gentle self-inquiry will also flush out the character for being the fictional but very effective problem-manufacturing, “should machine” that it is.

Over time, with the practice of self-inquiry and a good teacher who can reliably steer your experience back to Oneness, the character will make its appearance less and less often on this river known as “The Great Okayness.” And you will soon be amazed at how steadily you become more and more accustomed to experiencing yourself as Oneness.

Abiding as Oneness

As the seeker becomes ever more familiar with experiencing the safe passage depth of active understanding, they eventually become wholly identified as the flowing river of life itself. They become identified wholly as Oneness.

At the beginning of this journey, they thought they were a separate Bob-Mary-Sally-or-Gary illusory self seeking Oneness. But now they have realized they are actually Oneness who had simply been playing around as the character.

Identified as Oneness, the seeker flows as the river of life, which now includes the shoreline. How could it not, after all, since there is only Oneness?

The behavior patterns of a body and mind that were once considered to be governed by a separate self are now seen as just another expression of Oneness. Again, how could this not be so, if there is only Oneness? Even when the character occasionally becomes believable again, the seeker knows that it is just Oneness being Oneness.

We can even chuckle at Oneness still occasionally wanting to play the character. Abiding as Oneness in the depth of present-moment active understanding allows for safe passage through events and circumstances that the character would judge far from perfect. Even when disturbed, we know we are absolutely fine.

After all, if there’s only Oneness, how could any and all of it not be us?

So There’s Nothing To Do?

There is nothing for the fictional character to do, since the character does not exist. That is correct.

But there are things to be done! If certain results are to be achieved in our pursuit of the conscious experiencing as Oneness, then there are absolutely things to do to increase the odds of that happening.

Undoing the identification with the imaginary character that blocks our experiencing as Oneness is the primary task of the seeker. Things done in that pursuit are the things to be done. Things done that aid in the eventual abiding as Oneness are also the things to be done.

Although there may be no separate “doer,” things are done. Things done to recognize the always-already-present-active-actuality of nonduality are no different from things done in any endeavor. Do you want cake? Then do the things that will likely result in you enjoying a delicious piece of cake.

Can It Really Be This Simple?

This is a simple process. But simple, as we all know, is not the same as easy or common. Seeing through the illusion of our separate self is one of the rarest of human experiencings. Without precision, this simple thing is virtually impossible.

The good news is that it doesn’t take decades of practice to see through the character. A skillful teacher can steer you into an experiencing of Oneness rather quickly.

The BIG news flash is that it is the clearing of the character that requires time and effort, not the awakening to Oneness. Having a teacher that understands this is also of vital importance.

Oneness Case Study

My experience with “conscious awakening” is both unique and commonplace. It was the standard “frustration before illumination” method.

I was on the spiritual path for a couple of decades and then finally discovered nonduality. As usual, this unit dove into all the teachings with great enthusiasm, but after a few of years the character known as Gary was exhausted and deflated – yet again.

So Oneness playing its role as the character quit spiritual seeking entirely. The idea was to just go live a “normal” life like everyone else. How hard could that be? Yet even though spiritual progress was no longer a goal (perhaps even an anti-goal), Oneness still had this unit reading its favorite nonduality literature every morning while drinking a fantastic cup of coffee.

It was just a great way to start the day. Again, no future benefits expected, only the pleasure of reading what I enjoyed reading. The character began fading away from sheer neglect.

After a little over a year of marinating goal-lessly in the bliss of my nonduality favorites, the character vanished gradually…and then one day it vanished all at once. Poof! Gone! Adios, amigos!

It was a singular and sudden event, with a feeling like welcoming an old friend, “Ahh, there it is…” followed by, “Wow, what a relief…” However, I didn’t know that clearing was required for abidance in this new way of being, so my experiencing as Oneness faded over time.

Many years later, the practice of clearing the already frail and painfully neglected “Gary” character (he was using a walker at this point) began through direct self-inquiry and finding a teacher who both understood the process and loved to laugh (laughter is a vastly underrated spiritual tool).

I’m not sure one is ever done clearing. Oneness does enjoy playing around as a Gary on occasion. But I mostly find abidance in Oneness these days (or in an even deeper place we’ll chat about some other time).

In Summary

Looking back, I can see, “It was Oneness all along!” What a surprise. I was always already it. And there never was a Gary. I cannot lie, from this location of Oneness, I do find it all a bit amusing. But, as Oneness, I often find Oneness amusing.

It’s impossible to see yourself as Oneness when you believe you are your illusory separate self. Each cancels the other out. It’s like looking for darkness with a flashlight. The separate self we call the character stands on the shoreline of duality yearning for safe passage. And safe passage is routinely promised by the well-intentioned teachers and teachings flowing through our experiencing of living.

But one must find teachers and teachings that are crystal clear about the need to see through the fiction of the character, or the seeker’s experiencing will remain tied to the shoreline of duality. They will row endlessly, seeking a nondual experiencing of Oneness, but remain anchored to duality by the fictional separate self they believe themselves to be.

It is only after seeing through the fictional character and then experiencing Oneness as who you are that the Clearing and Abiding as Oneness can take place.

The promise of safe passage by Samuel Clemens, a.k.a. Mark Twain, was easily kept as both he and his readers knew with certitude that his characters were purely fictional.

It’s a bit trickier for the spiritual seeker to have such certainty about the fiction of their own character. But rest assured, the journey to experiencing Oneness as your true nature, is as thrilling as any adventure ever undertaken by Huck Finn.

Of this you can be certain: Oneness never fails to entertain…