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From Nonduality to Duality and Back

tat-tvam-asi-aum-i-you-sanskrit-mantra_designCarl Jung, when he was six or so, used to play this game with himself:

Often when I was alone I sat down on this stone, and then began an imaginary game that went something like this: “I am sitting on top of this stone and it is underneath.” But the stone also could say “I” and think: “I am lying here and he is sitting on top of me.”  The question then arose: “Am I the one who is sitting on the stone, or am I the stone on which he is sitting?” This question always perplexed me, and I would stand up, wondering who was what now.  The answer remained totally unclear, and my uncertainty was accompanied by a feeling of curious and fascinating darkness.  But there was no doubt whatsoever that this stone stood in some secret relationship to me.  I could sit on it for hours, fascinated by the puzzle it set me.

Childhood is, I suspect, our most philosophical age.  Throughout our lives, I think, we trace out a curious circle: we move from non-duality through duality and back to non-duality.  When we start out, I feel, we know no strangers: all is one and one is all.  When we are infants, there is no self and there is no other because self and other are one and the same.  We start out, my mind tells me, nondually.  This makes sense: Universe – objectively – is a seamless, nondual oneness.  But as we proceed to name and label its various forms and manifestations, the Universe is deconstructed into people, places and things.  We call this “acquisition of knowledge.”  Ancient sages would probably call this dreaming (maya).  When we are done with this existentially necessitated deconstruction of one-ness into many-ness, we start to reintegrate the pieces back into the whole.  With this detour of “knowledge” behind us, we start to return home, back to that nondual beginninglessness.

Some never complete this journey back to nonduality.  Some manage to make a few laps around this omnipresent center.  Jung, with his game, already at 6 years of age, seems to be trying to reenact the conceptual fog of nonduality that he had already experienced as an infant.  Like one’s own Zen master of old, he was entrapping his conceptual mind with a koan, a labyrinthian question that cannot be answered but can only be dropped as irrelevant.

I think we all do this in our own way – through religion, through science, through philosophy, through nature, through parenting, through art, through athletic flow.  (But not through pursuit of achievement or wealth – these are the divisive detours, however existentially adaptive they might be.)

Thirty years later I again stood on that slope [by that stone].  I was a married man, had children, a house, a place in the world, and a head full of ideas and plans, and suddenly I was again the child who  had kindled a fire full of secret significance and sat down on a stone without knowing whether it was I or I was it.

Yes, it takes a while to realize that the other you see is you too. Yet how easily we knew this in the first! And then we forget. And then we have to rediscover this again and again – we have to find our own way to remember the ease with which this nondual truth (that Self is Other and Other is Self) was so self-evident to us at some beginningless point.

Tat tvam asi! | |

ref: Memories, Dreams, Reflections, CG Jung



From Nonduality to Duality and Back

Pavel G. Somov, Ph.D.

Pavel Somov, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in private practice and the author of 7 mindfulness-based self-help books. Several of his books have been translated into Chinese, Dutch & Portuguese. Somov is on the Advisory Board for the Mindfulness Project (London, UK). Somov has conducted numerous workshops on mindfulness-related topics and appeared on a number of radio programs. Somov's book website is and his practice website is

Marla Somova, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Pittsburgh, PA. She is the co-author of "Smoke Free Smoke Break" (2011).

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APA Reference
Somov, P. (2019). From Nonduality to Duality and Back. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 22, 2019, from


Last updated: 26 Mar 2019
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