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Dialogue On Non Duality With Suzanne Foxton
Interview by Paula Marvelly
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  • PM.

    ‘Fill the sink, move the tap far left for some nice hot water, grab the washing-up liquid, nice big squirt, watch the bubbles rise. Lovely bubbles, each tiny surface a rounded rainbow prism…


    ‘Wash the knives first. Take up the knife, the biggest, the most dangerous, the most expensive, the most professional. Move the tap handle all the way down with the left hand; the sink is full. Look at the knife.


    ‘It changes. It stays the same.


    ‘The knife is perfectly itself. It is so knifish; it is life, knifing. Astounding. There was never a more perfect knife. It is just as it should be, as everything is. And grasping the knife on the floor crouching; yet nothing is crouching, there is just couching. Boundlessness, no body, no knife, and there is a vision of swirling infinite color, in space, the birth of a perfect rainbow galaxy, spilling into a black hole and recurring, destroyed and created, winking in and out, over and over again, instantaneously, eternally, and timelessly. All of creation both here and not here’ [The Ultimate Twist, p.4–5].


    The above quote is from your new book, The Ultimate Twist, but it does describe an actual event, whereby you ‘realized yourself’. What would you say is different now compared to life prior the ‘knife event’?

     

    Well, we have the disclaimer that the knife moment wasn’t important and it could have happened at any time gradually in the unfolding story, but the main thing that is different in my apparent life is that I am much more accepting, tolerant, of everything. It is a concept that everything happens as it must but my mind, ego, character goes with that; so whatever happens, which can even be judged as a bad thing, there’s little resistance to it. Very few thoughts come up along the lines that this mustn’t happen, this can’t happen, this shouldn’t happen.


    Now if something really bad happened to my children, get back to me on that because I might say something very different. But I really just think everything happens exactly the way it should. I feel it, I live it, I know it. It’s all-pervasive in my unfolding life.


    There’s nothing to run away from, there’s no reason to run away from things. I might not like them but in the not liking, not enjoying, being grief-stricken, angry, even fearful, there’s nothing wrong with any of these things. I’m even accepting of my own resistance. That’s the biggest difference.

  • PM.

    The big problem I find generally with this is that the knife event, for example, is made a point in time, as if one is moving from darkness to light or from one state to another but it’s not like that, is it?

     

    It is difficult to talk about the two things because they are quite paradoxical, but in one way there did seem to be that my life unfolding prior to the event was very resistant to everything – confused, fearful, feeling very much apart from, rather than a part of, everything and trying to run away from anything that seemed quite negative.


    Then there was an apparent point in time, and now it doesn’t feel like anything is that much of a problem anymore. I want to roll up my sleeves and get in there and live life and enjoy it, even in the not-so-nice bits. I want to relish it. There is also enjoyment of negative emotions as well because of the fullness and intensity of them.


    Also, as far as there being the other side of the fence and it’s all completely different, all I can think of to say about that is all that time I was in active addiction and making what could be judged as unwise choices – being very fearful, non-confrontational, not taking opportunities, that kind of thing – I don’t consider that to be wasted time. What I feel quite strongly about is the fact that there isn’t time, there is only this unfolding thing, and it’s always now that we are always in.

  • PM.

    Rather than a knife-edge between past and future?

     

    Right. There’s always this awareness, always this. But thinking in terms of time and memory, all those things don’t seem wasted or bad or wrong or uncomfortable or unpleasant. Perhaps a little regrettable but not wrong and not wasted.


    Joan Tollifson said something that I really like; she says all the hundreds of millions of causes and conditions always come together to make whatever is happening, happening. And so there are very few regrets about any of the stuff that could be judged as bad because conceptually, I know and feel quite deeply that there is nothing wrong or bad or wasted or undesirable. Duality by its very nature needs all those things to be here so that we can see, hear, taste, touch, feel; it all exists, it’s all necessary.

  • PM.

    People say that after ‘the event’, there is a realization that no one exists. Is that true? Also, if that is true, how does that feel?

     

    Well, I have to say I think that what that concept is pointing to is that the ego identity, character, or whatever you want to call it, is not so important, it’s not the be-all and end-all, it’s not the only thing, it’s not what you or I or anybody is. It’s just a convenient reference point and there’s nothing wrong with it inherently; it is only a construct. What we are is everything; it is the awareness of all that we seem to see or all that is happening. Awareness of the awareness; it’s all just one seamless interactive whole.


    The identity, going through life’s events with everything being dreadfully important, is perhaps not so much the case anymore. It is conceptual; the identity is just a convenience rather than the most important thing. Other personalities are now more fun and interesting and practical, rather than the only thing that matters. I think that’s what it means to me.

  • PM.

    The Traditional Advaita Vedanta approach can sometimes be extremely formulaic, pedantic, dogmatic; there sometimes appears to be no room to be oneself. However, the Neo Advaita approach can be too fundamentalist; there’s no subtle appreciation or concession for someone who is in turmoil. So I find a ‘middle way’ is needed – something quite simple and yet coupled with a maturity of understanding of the nuts and bolts of what’s actually going on.

     

    A Neo might say it doesn’t matter if nobody gets it because there isn’t anybody to get it in the first place; the suffering ego is the fallacy that can hopefully drop away. The traditional paths to enlightenment give very specific ways to get there and to do that. I think they are both valid. The middle way – it is a Buddhist term in fact – would be where I would think that my character is at.


    Sitting here existing, there does seem to be one obvious seamless whole and at the same time, I am enjoying the mechanics of it and am able to use the character and negotiate apparent illusory reality and dig in there.


    Post-knife and post-recovery from addiction and alcoholism, it’s still all the same stripping away of illusion and getting into the story in a positive way without too much incongruence. That would seem to be where I am.

  • PM.

    The fundamental difference it seems to me between traditional and Neo is that the traditionalists are saying that by employing certain techniques, they will lead you to know yourself. The Neo approach is saying there is nothing you can do, no practice or technique can help you; either realization arises or it doesn’t.

     

    Well, it can arise at the end of a lot of practice and techniques! Whether the two are linked, who knows?! It can’t hurt to simplify things, it can’t hurt to still the mind, it can’t hurt spending time just being, and being content with that, rather than having to ‘do do do’ all the time. There’s nothing wrong with all that.


    And if at the end of all that in the unfolding story, the mind is convinced that all the illusions are gone, and some sort of awakening event happens, then why not?

  • PM.

    You talk a lot about addiction in your novel, The Ultimate Twist, which is also based on your personal experience. What was it that compelled you to anaesthetize yourself, as it were?

     

    Even in the most pragmatic terms, it was just somehow being allergic to feeling anything vaguely unpleasant, having some idea that feeling something that is judged to be bad is unthinkable and undoable. I have no idea where that comes from; perhaps some sort of childhood conditioning, the need to be perfect, to be seen to be perfect, to be performing perfectly. With that kind of pressure, one implodes upon oneself, either by doing too much, or by not doing anything at all because you know you’ll fail.

  • PM.

    I guess everyone has a past that is full of challenges but there comes a point where that has to be accepted and let go.

     

    Yes, it needs to be disempowered; otherwise, you just carry on running away. I can say from personal experience and listening to people in 12-Step Meetings from every sort of background – completely normal, wonderful childhoods and really bad abusive childhoods – there’s very little rhyme or reason, except that most addicts and recovering alcoholics seem to have a strong moral sense and are outraged by their own behaviour when it goes against their moral code.

  • PM.

    I guess we all feel inadequate at certain points in our lives, myself included.

     

    Sure, it’s just that some people feel so inadequate or feel it so deeply or feel it so intensely that they need to ameliorate it somehow.


    The nonduality teaching ties in fairly well with the feeling of being separate from the rest of humanity and fearful of ‘others’. Certainly, with alcohol and having a drink, it generally takes away all those fears – you feel quite happy, you feel a part of everything. I think that someone who is addictive by nature will go chasing that feeling, over and over and over again, because they want to be a part of everything, they don’t want to feel separate. And that’s what a lot of seeking is all about.

  • PM.

    Would you say, then, that seeking is like a form of addiction?

     

    Well, it can be an addictive thing but what can motivate some addicts and alcoholics, which is the same thing that motivates seekers, is an innate sense that everything is one seamless whole but being unable to feel it deeply enough. There is the feeling of being very separate and wanting to feel as if everything is all One, wanting to feel it on all levels.

  • PM.

    That’s something I’ve not really considered before. We all tend to think of seeking as ennobling, that looking for 'The Truth' somehow makes people more special than others. I guess there has to be the realization that the truth can be very mundane and ordinary.

     

    Ummm, it can be. But it can be anything. A lot of people have the idea that it can be terribly blissful, almost an out-of-body, opiate-high feeling of lightness, a left-brain-not-working feeling, and then your body disappears and your body is at One with everything… But actually, it isn’t like that. Everything is just the same but now it is enough.


    Even in that can arise a little bit of boredom, a little bit of not enough, but it is not a sort of all-pervading sense of hopelessness that it is not enough and that something else will fix it.


    That’s a big thing for seekers in the nondual/enlightenment circles and for addicts – what’s happening is not good enough; either it can be even better or it’s terrible and needs to be fixed. It’s like what’s happening now is never good enough, never the right thing. In reality, it is always the right thing, even in discomfort.

  • PM.

    Sometimes there can be times when the mind is still, I feel good about myself. And then suddenly, a latent anxiety slips in via the back door, almost without my noticing it. It’s as if I feel more comfortable, even though I profess to not wanting it, when I am subtly living on high alert, ready for any impending emergency, disaster, drama.

     

    I know what you mean. Sometimes I feel like that, there is a tiny underlying anxiety but it has a lot to do with some sort of vestigial, slightly unhealthy people pleasing I feel.


    But I accept all that, I guess, because that is my character. I am talking about the unfolding story and nothing very deep. In the unfolding story, it is becoming less and less, like practice in reverse. This apparent moment happens and all this healthiness seems to be coming after, rather than having to get oneself in a beatified state beforehand. That’s what it seems like to me anyway.


    Also, it strikes me as biological survival instinct and it is a good thing that we have these anxious moments; otherwise, we would have been hunted by four-legged predators or whatever!

  • PM.

    May I ask about when you had therapy. How long did you have it for?

     

    About eighteen months.

  • PM.

    Was there a particular reason why you took it up in the first place?

     

    I had a sort of breakdown; I relapsed on over-the-counter codeine and alcohol. At the same, I was the Chairperson of the PTA [Parent Teacher Association], doing event organizing, and lots of other things leading up to that, throwing myself into everything and overdoing it, stretching myself too thin. It all came to a head.


    I had been in rehab before and I went back to the same hospital, but this time I wasn’t in for addiction, even though it was an issue, I just needed some quiet time. The same consultant who had seen me before was still there and he recognized the signs that there might be some unaddressed trauma.


    It was affecting all my behaviour. I had to look at my life very nakedly, acknowledge all the bad feelings I had about others and myself, and disempower them.

  • PM.

    In Advaita Vedanta circles, people often pooh-pooh therapy because it is believed that it is indulging the story, the ego.

     

    It can be; it depends on how good your therapy is, how good your therapist is.

  • PM.

    I’ve never had therapy but I was in a school that taught meditation in groups, and we were encouraged to discuss what was going on in the mind, so it was to all intents and purposes a form of group therapy, if you will.


    I guess you have to get the balance right. It may ultimately be meaningless and all part of the story, but psychological issues still have their place and exist on one level. So they need respect.

     

    Even the person hell bent on asceticism, of complete egolessness and desirelessness, one’s behaviour still comes into it.


    Some people do have certain issues with brain chemistry arising in awareness and could benefit from their bipolar or psychotic tendencies being addressed. If there is a nutcase with a knife, you might want to get the heck out of there.

  • PM.

    My feeling is if you really want to know yourself, there are lots of means whereby there can be a shift in understanding. There are all many levels – physiological, psychological, metaphysical…

     

    As a seeker, you have all those tools at your disposal. It’s like a candy shop and you can take them and use them as you want. In the unfolding story, it doesn’t hurt to know your character extremely well.

  • PM.

    When did you write The Ultimate Twist in relation to the knife event?

     

    It had been a while. The knife event was about three or four years ago and about eight months before I started my blog. I couldn’t make sense of it so I was trying to talk to people; I alienated my husband and my character in awareness does not like alienating people, so in order to get it out, I wrote it. And it’s turned into writing practice, trying to write well in very constructive terms.

  • PM.

    Do you have a favourite writer?

     

    Stephen King. He’s way too prolific – I think he must write in his sleep – but he is so practised; his prose is so smooth and seamless and it flows so beautifully. I almost don’t care if he is writing about horror or something else; it’s the way that he uses words in a subtle way and the rhythm is so beautiful. I aspire to writing like that.

  • PM.

    He did actually write a book, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. How did you find writing your novel?

     

    It came initially from two hundred thousand words of diary entries, written in long hand and during my therapy. I remember being annoyed by someone in a group therapy session and I wrote about her and it turned into all this vitriol about how I felt about me; and I was shocked that I felt so bad about me and hated myself so much, which I hadn’t realized before. It was another layer and I was keeping that from myself.


    So some of that was quite torturous but once it was out, I turned it into a screenplay, and then I turned it into a musical with about twenty-two songs. Then I met Julian Noyce, Publisher for Non-Duality Press, at a Tony Parson meeting and we talked about doing a book.

  • PM.

    You don’t actively promote yourself as a teacher. Is there a reason for that?

     

    I couldn’t do it even if I wanted to. The character Suzanne’s priority is family and with writing; that’s more than a full-time job. But some people are quite motivated by going around giving talks and what-not. I do the odd meeting; some people ask me.


    I don’t initiate them myself. I’m not the kind of person who is calm or charismatic enough to be a teacher.

  • PM.

    It’s a tough one; if we didn’t have teachers, particularly in the traditional teaching where the teacher-student relationship is very important, we wouldn’t know about any means for Self-knowledge. But I do wonder about the vainglory that can come sometimes with being a teacher.

     

    Right. But there’s a lot to be said about the dynamic of having a meeting or getting together with people, who just want to keep it very informal; there’s a real bonus to actual presence.


    In this day and age of Facebook and phone calls, texting and emails, there’s a vibrating dynamic energy when meeting people face-to-face. If nothing else, it is quite fascinating and interesting; it’s a little bit more of substance than writing something on a blog or in a book.


    You know, I always think to myself am I keeping everything in good balance? No matter what goes on, it all seems to be about living life, with all the same tools you had before but maybe used in a slightly different way, with a little bit more acceptance and a little less resistance. Even though that’s not necessarily the goal, it can often feel that way.


    ‘Everything that seems to arise is seeking. Working, raising a family, going to church, attending satsangs, going to therapy, writing a musical, dating, getting married, donating to charity, volunteering for a worthy cause, breaking and entering to fund the heroin habit, drinking to oblivion, lashing out in anger, trying to be a better friend/spouse/parent, saving the planet, trying to scrape through the credit crunch, devoting all your time and energy to caring for an elderly parent, getting through the chemo, grieving for your lost child; it is all the same thing. There is some nebulous goal at the end of it: this life of mine will work, it will mean something, I will feel good about it, I will achieve it with some modicum of grace…


    ‘The goal has been met, it is always being met. Whatever the story seems to be, however difficult life’s circumstances, or blessed, the goal is met. This is the goal’ [The Ultimate Twist, p.60].


    [Interview conducted Spring 2011]

 

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About Suzanne Foxton

Suzanne Foxton is a mother, wife, writer and artist who works and lives in Kew in the United Kingdom. She was born in South Bend, Indiana, USA.


Her debut novel, The Ultimate Twist, was published in 2011 by Non-Duality Press.


Blog: nothingexistsdespiteappearances