Heart of Centering Prayer

Nonduality as a Shift in the Structure of Perception

“Clearly there is a big shift in perception that takes place between 'dualistic' and 'nondualistic' levels of consciousness, resulting in these signature experiences of oneness and an unboundaried, flowing sense of selfhood. But what if this shift is not primarily about what one sees but how one sees? That it betokens not so much a new level of conscious attainment as a permanent shift in the structure of consciousness itself – as it were, a rewiring of the “operating system”?

… It allows us to look at the concept/experience of nonduality not through the lens of personal spiritual attainment but through the lens of continuing evolution of consciousness.

According to this way of looking at things, the “lower” levels of consciousness (first and second tiers on Wilber’s maps, up to and including the integral level) all work with increasingly sophisticated refinement of the classic binary hardwiring – “perception through differentiation”. The brain sets up the perceptual field with an implicit “inside” and “outside” (with one’s innermost sense of identity squarely at the center of the inside, holding down the post of “I”). The world swirling around outside is then navigated by breaking it up into finite bits (known as ‘descriptors’, or individual characteristics), which are then manipulated through a set of standard binary operations – ‘more/less’, ‘better/worse’, ‘good/bad’, and so on. In this operating system identity is conferred by what differentiates you from everything else, and to be ‘self-aware’ means to be able to stand outside yourself and reflect back on yourself, or to be able to navigate your way forward to backward along the arrow of time through your memory and imagination. This is the fabled ‘self-reflexive consciousness’, the mind that brought the Western world into existence – the “I think, therefore I am” mind upon which the foundations of modern civilization rest. And it is, to be sure, a wonder, an extraordinary evolutionary breakthrough. But it is not all there is, nor is it even remotely the endpoint." (pp48 - 49) Cynthia Bourgeault