In many if not most spiritual teachings (including, ironically, those described as non-dual), the message is more often than not portrayed in terms of opposed frameworks. For example, self vs. no-self, freedom vs. bondage, limitation vs. unboundedness, conceptual vs. non-conceptual and so on. However, while such frameworks may have some conceptual reality and even value, our direct experience seems to encompass both sides of the seeming dualistic divide.
Take the great spiritual bogeyman, “the self.” A sense of being an individual, a person, a unique self, separate from other unique selves is unquestionably something that is experienced. There is no denying the felt sense of individuality, the feeling of being a subject encountering a world of objects. And yet, when we go to find this seemingly substantial thing called a self, we come up empty-handed. We feel bounded. And yet no clear boundaries can be found, no lines dividing this from that, or self from other. The self-sense is experienced but no substantial self can actually be pinpointed or located. All that can be found is a dynamic flow of thoughts, feelings, sensations, memories (and even those elements that constitute what we call self cannot themselves be found to exist either, at least not as bounded, clearly identifiable or discrete “things”).
So, we experience the sense of being a separate, unique, individual. And yet, when looked for the phenomena (of self, separation, etc.) cannot be found to exist. I call it the magic show of phenomena—things appear to (and from one vantage do) exist. And yet they cannot actually be found when looked for. Experiential phenomena are “here” at the same time NOT here. I guess the fairest thing we can say is that phenomena (including the self) neither exist nor don’t exist. In other words, the world is non-dual (i.e., “not-two”). It’s not that there either is or is not a self. That’s dualism. It that there is both the presence and absence of a self. This seems, to the dualistically-inclined conceptual mind to be an unresolvable contradiction. And yet it is precisely our experience. We seem to exist as separate selves but no separate self can ever be found. Here but not here, existence and non-existence co-occurring simultaneously. It’s the same with our myriad states of mind—fear, joy, sorrow, bliss—like rainbows, they appear with great vividness but when looked for, cannot be found to exist, at least not as we imagined.
Think of the self like a point in the sky—distinct, a localization of experiencing but at the same time, indivisible from the rest of the sky. Unique waves… yet simultaneously, the vast and boundless sea.