Ellen Emmet: The Yoga of Non-Duality
“Our true nature is unchanging Awareness. It is the source and the substance of all things. It welcomes all experiences. Its reality is our shared reality, without limits and universal. However, many of us believe that Awareness is limited and personal. We feel ourselves to be located inside a limited physical body. This deep sense of separation is at the core of all psychological suffering.
Once we realize and abide in our true nature, the body, the mind and the world become our instruments to express and celebrate our innate understanding, our loving nature and our deep sensitivity to beauty. Nonetheless, on the way, many of us are called to embark upon a deep exploration of our most intimate and direct experience…”
Please join us as I have a chat with Ellen Emmet about Non-Dual Therapy, Authentic Movement and The Essence of Yoga.
I see you were invited to speak at the SAND 2012 Conference in Europe. Congrats! Tell us about that please. What will you be speaking about or presenting etc.?
Thank you! I’ll be offering a workshop on the body and non-duality. It will include guided meditation, experiential explorations of the body (yoga) and conversations. I hope these meetings will address this:
- That to become fully established in the non-dual understanding we must take a close look at our experience at the level of feeling, sensing and perceiving.
- The belief in separation lives in unfounded conceptual interpretations of our experience; that’s the level of thinking.
But it also and especially hides in less visible and irrational layers of feeling in the body. Some are simple intimate sensations that create the sense of being located inside the body. Others are more complex or subtler and very effective in giving a pseudo physical and energetic reality to the separate entity.
This level of exploration is often overlooked in the contemporary teaching of Advaita. It seems we are willing to look at our thinking in the light of our true nature but less open to offering our body to that very same light. Yet how can the body-mind be re-orchestrated by this understanding if unseen identifications are still operating at the level of feelings?
Both activities of investigating the mind and the body are sacred and natural. Neither come from a person. They come from the Invisible; they are the beautiful gesturing of Presence back towards Itself.
You state that Francis Lucille was your teacher from back in 2001. Can you tell us about some of the body awareness sessions and the many friendly encounters with Francis during those few years please? How did you find him initially?
Up until my meeting with Francis, I was busy seeking relief from ‘my’ suffering: The intense anxiety that coursed through my body or the heavy cloud of depression that enfolded me in a dark cocoon, expressed themselves through interconnected patterns of thinking, feeling and reacting. They were all I seemed to know or access of myself and they were not acceptable! So most of the time, I seemed to be caught in a repetitive cycle of avoiding, resisting and seeking.
Yet at the same time I can now see that there was a deeper more impersonal quest at work: a sacred quest. This one was motivated by the deep intuition of the Truth, which reached my mind and body in little glimpses here and there: in a meeting with a special friend, through the writings of enlightened beings, through dreams, in the dance…
Eventually this invisible thrust brought me to Francis Lucille. It was a sacred meeting. Through it the light of Presence shined bright and pure. During many years I was moved to spend as much time as I could with Francis, eventually moving to Temecula where he lives. In this company my body and mind seemed to become highly receptive to the highest transmission of non-dual understanding.
Living near him and other friends, cooking, joking, meditating, doing yoga, simply hanging out, returned me to the truth over and over. The transmission was direct and pointed to a permanent establishment in Peace, Happiness and Love.
During the body awareness sessions we were persistently, patiently and repeatedly pointed back to our true nature at the level of feeling and sensation.
The feeling of being a separate limited being was met at that level. It was investigated openly, fearlessly and seen clearly for what it was.
Up until then, the realm of the body had remained impenetrable, irrational, layered by half visible feelings and scary like the dark forest in which the children get lost in fairy tales. But now we were being guided into the darkness with a torch and gentle encouragement. We could discover in our own time that the big, looming shadows were not ogres but trees, and the witch in the hut was just a little old lady. Soon we could see the whole forest in the light of day and the world and the horizon beyond stretching infinitely in all directions. Eventually the body was known as unfolding sensation reabsorbed in its very substance: infinite, open Awareness.
It seems you have a rather unique [non-dual] perspective with your practice as a psychotherapist, can you please tell our readers about how you combine your background of Dance-Movement Therapy and Transpersonal Psychology as expressed via non-duality or therapy?
I don’t combine these in any pre-conceived way. It’s more like this: The non-dual understanding is my ordinary experience. It’s closer then close. It is the ultimate perspective at all times. It is a perspective that is global, empty, without preconceived ideas or agendas. Out of this openness, more relative perspectives arise to meet the circumstance.
Dance and movement were my first love. I was always moving and dancing as a kid, abandoning my body to music, running with the wind, rolling on the earth.
I also acutely felt and enacted suffering through the body, struggling with an eating disorder and sub-consciously projecting onto the bodily experience layer upon layer of stories and beliefs.
What drew me to Dance Movement Therapy was its acknowledgement (although often only theoretical) of the healing and at the same time the numinous and unitive wisdom that the direct experience of the body pointed towards.
I was in love with the joy that the body dissolved into when moving and dancing.
I delighted in a familiar sequence: First I was the mover, expressing her story, with the space all around and the earth underneath as the counterparts of this dance in duality. Then the attention would naturally shift to a more expanded place, the psychological content would make way to simple energy, motion without personal intention or volition yet full of its own emotion. The body perceived would become more and more subtle, weightless, dynamic, and the movement was free, woven in strands of luminous silence. It was the correct meeting of space and energy. I knew myself then as vibration of Presence, eventually dissolving back into pure, unmoving Presence.
These days in my work as a therapist, clients come who share this affinity and want to explore their experience through the body. Some of these clients have an explicit interest in non-duality. In this case the dance or movement of energy feels/knows itself as a gesture of Presence back to Itself.
Transpersonal psychology came later as a practical means to widen the scope of my work as a Dance Movement Therapist. At that time I had met Francis and did not feel a need to take on any particular theoretical model. However, it was useful to obtain more credentials and to gain some didactic knowledge of the contemporary theoretical models in the field of Consciousness Studies and Psychotherapy.
I’m really interested in the experiential yoga-movement sessions that you offer—can you take us through a typical “session” and or what is involved when exploring/helping people to recognize and welcome their true, direct and global experience.
The first thing that is established is Presence, our true nature. Our unlimited, open, real identity that knows no limitations and no other. Even though it may not be completely realized, we establish it as a possibility, as that which we are most interested in. We turn our hearts, bodies and minds towards this Presence.
The reason for this is that these body sessions are rooted in our love and devotion for the Truth. They are not objective or pragmatic explorations of states of the body, states of energy or vibration. They are not meant to point towards something or to achieve something. We are not meant to leave a session feeling more expanded, more relaxed, more this or less that… These sessions draw us back towards no-thing, just the empty transparent truth of what we are which translates as Peace, Love, Happiness.
Having established Presence we then venture into a deep exploration of the belief in separation at the non-rational level of sensation, feeling, and perception. We begin by listening to our experience of the body directly without the usual mediation of a concept, memory or image. We take our time, establishing the flow of sensation that is our actual bodily experience and we begin to see that it appears, as everything else does, in an aware space that is pure openness like the vast blue sky. We begin to feel/know ourselves as this Openness.
As we venture on in this loving exploration, we encounter those very sensations that seem to oppose this knowing of ourselves as Openness: sensations of being solid, heavy, compact. Sensations of being limited and separate from the earth or the space all around; sensations of being located inside a body part as a feeler, a mover, a thinker a doer, sensations of being identified with a bodily attitude: fearful, defended, victim, inflated.
As we allow deeper layers to surface, we encounter raw feelings of lack, insecurity, fear that are lodged deep in the tissue of the body, in somatic chains and constellations of energy.
We learn how to face such sensations and feelings directly at their own level. As we perceive them we realize that they are appearing and unfolding in ourselves as made of ourselves: a Presence that is transparent and loving.
With this realization comes a spontaneous movement of cooperation at the level of the body. It is as if each sensation gives itself to Presence; as if the global sensation of the body willingly dissolves into the space that it appears in. Whatever feeling/sensation appears that carries a sense of separate and localized ‘me’, it is offered to that which reabsorbs all ‘me-ness’ in itself and is the only real Me.
We do various exercises and visualizations that are gentle invitations for the feeling/sensing mode to realign it with our new-found infinite and transparent identity.
We explore weightlessness spaciousness, transparency and freedom, as the beautiful innate qualities of our true body.
We move while evoking qualities of fluidity, evenness, lovingness, and openness and as we try our very best we allow contractions, resistance and old habits of the body to surface and be seen.
The light that sees is always gentle, un-manipulative and allowing. In fact, it only and always sees Itself.
How does this differ from traditional yoga?
Traditional yoga was probably based on this essential understanding. But Yoga as I have encountered it is more concerned with an objective body however subtle. We may end up with a sense of being more expanded or transparent, but we still have a mistaken and objective identity as long as we locate ourselves within that envelope. In the yoga of non-duality, our body is the body of Presence. There may be sensations of course but no longer the felt belief of living inside a located envelope that contains an imagined limited Consciousness.
So when it comes to non-dual transmission, do you believe it’s something to learn and or more getting rid of learning or [past] conditioning? Can you give some contextual meaning here?
Transmission is that knowing of Self by Self. It happens outside of time and space, outside the realm of relative experience. It’s neither a learning or an unlearning. It’s more like being bathed again and again in understanding until your whole being is permeated with it. The learning and un-learning are a natural spontaneous unfolding. All you have to do is put yourself in the way of Truth. Your Self doesn’t need to learn or unlearn anything to know Itself. It knows itself directly and completely.
Since you are working with body movement, how do you treat or work with bodily sensations, feelings, touch and energy etc.?
I don’t treat them in any particular way. I’m open, allowing of whatever presents itself; sometimes curious if it feels that there are more layers waiting to surface, but never digging, pulling or manipulating. Sometimes I offer encouragement, reassurance or a boundary if it is called forth. In general however, the body knows how to unwind back towards its natural alignment of ease and relaxation all on its own. Especially when what is being pointed towards is the lovingness and openness of the space in which all experiences arise.
Are you able to help people who are experiencing pain or discomfort or do you work with such individuals? What about trauma or depression?
Whether my clients are interested in non-duality or not, they always come with some kind of suffering, psychological, physical or both. The help is given through the open friendly space that welcomes the feeling.
Sometimes an old trauma, a deep contraction needs some unwinding, some unpacking. The story needs to be told, tears want to flow, images want to take shape. These expressions are spontaneous offerings to the altar. And the altar is Presence, Consciousness… it doesn’t want anything or do anything. It is pure listening Presence. It takes everything back in Itself. It is the place where every knot originates and resolves. The therapist sometimes embodies the altar and sometimes points towards it. All this happens in unhurried time and open space.
In the end we are interested always and only in Awareness, so there is no fixed agenda or impulse to manipulate experience but rather a cooperating with the organic unfolding of healing. And by healing I always mean a realignment of body and mind with our true nature; nothing to do with the disappearance of symptoms although this may happen also.
If the client is a truth lover, depression, trauma and pain are easier to welcome. There is more perspective and less gravitas held within the particular constellation. The belief in separation which the suffering has captured and perpetuated in an energetic knot is understood and seen as such over time: I am a victim, nobody loves me, I’m no good, what’s the point… and essentially: I don’t want to die.
Within the loving vessel of the therapeutic relationship things unwind in their own time.
This love does not collude with the personal suffering. It allows the totality of the experience to be but remains abiding as impersonal, universal Awareness. It is both deeply compassionate and unwavering. Sometimes it takes the shape of mothering, advising, questioning, reasoning, playing or imagining. Sometimes it remains as open silence.
What would you say to people who believe that yoga or meditation is not needed and or is just a temporary experience? You know, the “there is no you” and therefore “nothing to do” types.
Maybe I would ask them: in this very moment, where do you feel yourself, ‘I’ to be located? Or, “In this moment welcome the sensation that appears with the label boundary between ‘me’ the body and ‘not me’ the space”… if they were willing of course. Then if such sensations/feelings were reported, I would say to them that as long as the feeling/beliefs were left unseen at the level of the body, these feelings would continue to be the agent of separate existence.
Or maybe I would simply share with them how it came about that I understood the place of the yoga and meditation in my own experience with Advaita teachers as my guides: Jean Klein, Francis Lucille and Rupert Spira.
It is never the person that engages in Truth related activity. Yoga and meditation are sacred experiences that point to the ultimate experience. As we engage with these activities, we sit for meditation, we attend a yoga session, and yoga and meditation as objective activities slowly dissolve, become transparent and disappear along with the meditator and the yogi.
There seems to be a lot of seekers who are ‘headstrong’ and or intellectualize concepts but who are not able to drop down in the heart and or experience body. How could you help them and or what would you recommend to them?
Something melts at some point if they are sincere seekers. I’ve seen people like that melt through the sweetness of the friendship shared at retreats for example, or through a conversation that is skillful enough to nudge them off the familiar path without threatening them to much. In a way you have to speak to the lover in them even if the lover is not yet visible. The lover is under the surface but alive and perhaps a little afraid for various reasons.
I wouldn’t have too much of an agenda with what needs to happen. Simply welcoming people and seeing the pure sensitivity and heart that they naturally are without even naming this, goes a long way.
How would you approach an individual session with someone who has never heard about non-duality and never practiced traditional yoga or meditation? I assume there are no special requirements in working with you…
No special requirements. I have clients who come because they just want therapy. After a while they realize it’s not the kind of orthodox therapy that they were expecting. It’s not that we speak of non-duality, meditate or do any yoga necessarily. Nevertheless they feel the quality of openness and they recognize the invitation to allow experience to unfold freely. This creates a space within them in which they can relax. It reveals a quality of not knowing and openness which at some point may express itself as an intuition of Truth.
There seems to be a lot of adaptation of various [Asian] traditions taking place with regards to teaching and folks writing about various subjects [enlightenment, awakening etc.]—especially online via blogs, web sites, videos, retreats etc. What are your thoughts on this flowering of non-dual expression that is taking place?
Yes! An amazing explosion has taken place particularly of course on the web. There is a very positive energy underlying this general openness to the perennial understanding. Undoubtedly it reaches now into the world in an unprecedented way thanks to people like you . However this huge wave brings all sorts of expressions and can be a distracting playground for the mind. It is for each one of us to navigate using our discrimination. The compass is of course the deep resonance with Truth.
It is for each one of us to navigate using our discrimination. The compass is of course the deep resonance with Truth. ~Ellen E.
Non-duality seems to be offered by more and more psychotherapists and various health care professionals. What do you attribute this sharing too?
I guess a lot of us started our journey as healers because we were interested in helping people to remedy their individual suffering as we ourselves had been helped. Later we discovered the non-dual teaching. By then perhaps, there was a practice in place and some years of experience working with others in a healing capacity. Once that therapeutic activity realigns itself with the non-dual understanding, it becomes a beautiful way to spend time.
Having just learned that you are married to Rupert [Spira]—what’s that like? Do you ever do joint-sessions or workshops? That could be very transforming with both of you combined at one retreat perhaps.
Being married to Rupert is a blessing and a miracle.
When I come with him on his retreats I teach yoga in the morning and make myself available for people. It’s very nice to be together with a group turned towards Presence. I’m sure the shape will evolve over time.
I go to a Qigong, chi kung, or chi gung (气功 or 氣功) (pronounced “chee-gung”) master in Chicago, where I live. Are you familiar with that? I thought you might be; given the similarities of movement, breath, energy balancing, awareness and such.
I’ve often thought that I wanted to explore Qigong. In fact I may one day. When I have witnessed Qigong or Tai Chi my whole body has responded directly. It said: Yes! That’s me. I am the flow and the unity of movement, breath, energy and space. This is how I express myself and heal myself. When I move like this I take my place in and as the universal flow…
Thank you for your time, is there anything else you would like to add?
Many thanks for the opportunity to share. And for your great questions!
Ellen met her teacher Francis Lucille in 2001. She heard and received the direct transmission of the non-dual truth in conversations, in body awareness sessions and during many friendly encounters over the next years.
Today she continues her practice as a psychotherapist, allowing her background of Dance-Movement Therapy, and Transpersonal Psychology to be permeated and to express the non-dual understanding.
In addition she offers experiential yoga-movement sessions exploring our true nature at the level of the body.
She is deeply committed to helping individuals to recognize and welcome their true, direct and global experience.
You can find out more info on Ellen and the many offerings from her website.