Academic Musings, Life Musings, Spiritual Musings

The Nondual Academic: Revolutionary Self Love

This is the 3rd post in a 12 week series of essays on doing academic work from a nondual, spiritual perspective.  The idea is to open up a new conversation about academia, social responsibility, compassion and the ego.  Most Sundays, I’ll share my reflections on a variety of topics related to writing, researching, teaching and mentoring in the light of teachings from Hinduism, Buddhism and Christian mysticism as well as my own experiences

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Today’s post is about self care and self love.  It’s inspired, in part, by the FeministWire’s recent forum on Black Academic Women’s Health.  This isn’t a side issue without academic relevance: it’s fundamental.  Loving, accepting and caring for the Self is a prerequisite for my being able to show up in the world (and in my classrooms) with equanimity, peace of mind and strength.

To love one’s Self beyond the ego is a revolutionary act.  In the video, I share some of my tools and techniques for self-care as well as the nondual spiritual perspective that informs these “rituals of love”.  I cover everything from skin-care, hair-care, aromatherapy, body image, exfoliation, self-massage, make-up, meditation, supplements, working out, the whole nine yards.  I also touch on a common (and serious) physical ailment among many academics and working professionals: Repetitive Strain Injury.

I’m not so happy about how often my eyes roll back in my head, looking like I need a close encounter with the Exorcist, but hey, it is what it is. The really cool thing? You get to see me in a do-rag. (If you want to skip the beauty segment and hear my rant reflections on body image, spirituality and well-being, jump to 20:52.)

Some takeaways:

  • SELF LOVE BEGINS WITH SELF ACCEPTANCE: “Your body is the cloak God slipped into in order to know Itself.”
  • SELF MASSAGE IS EXTREMELY IMPORTANT – I cannot recommend the Theracane more highly.  I’ve used it since graduate school to help with daily aches and pains from typing when getting a massage from a professional, or a lover/friend isn’t possible.  Yes, it looks like a sex toy and/or a torture device, but your back, neck and shoulders will be forever grateful.
  • SELF CARE DOES NOT HAVE TO BE EXPENSIVE OR TIME INTENSIVE: Many products I use cost $1-$5.  It takes me about 30 seconds to do my hair everyday and another 30 seconds to do my makeup.  ONE MINUTE.
  • SELF LOVE IS THE BUILDING BLOCK FOR LOVING OTHERS: “You find that there’s a beauty and a Godliness and a divinity and a sexiness and a sensuality and a gorgeousness about every kind of body.  Disabled bodies, broken bodies, big bodies, skinny bodies, big bellied bodies, flat chested bodies.  Look at the diversity of how God likes to cloak Herself.  It’s fucking awesome.  It’s amazing.  And so if you can show up in the world having laid the foundations of self acceptance, self love — projecting that same level of acceptance and okayness to everyone you encounter . . . can you imagine the kind of love we can all make together?”


As I say in the video, I feel pretty strongly that it’s absolutely pointless to go to the gym unless you fucking love yourself first.  Before you love yourself  you have to accept yourself.  In order to accept yourself, you must see yourself. So here’s a practice I developed to experience increased body acceptance, awareness and appreciation.

Body Love Ritual 

  1. Find a quiet, private, safe place.
  2. Take a chair and put it in front of a full length mirror.
  3. Get naked.
  4. Stand in front of the mirror.  Pay attention to your breath.  Without forcing, simply focus your attention on the inhale and exhale.
  5. Look at yourself.  Behold every inch of your body.  Observe the thoughts, critical and kind, that come to mind.  Let them be.  Don’t try to change them.  Just pay attention.
  6. Now sit down in the chair.  Keep looking.  How do you feel now?  Let your eyes roam from your toes to the top of your head.
  7. Now imagine your body is the Buddha’s body.  Or the Christ’s.  Keep breathing.
  8. Imagine God decided to craft flesh that looks exactly like yours. Let yourself absorb the reality that your body is already divine.
  9. Sit and breathe in the realization of your own divine perfection.  Revel in the awe at the fact that every atom in your body originated in the Big Bang.  Imagine everything in the universe that had to happen in order for this body to exist.
  10. When you’re ready, do something nice for your body (moisturize, stretch/yoga, self-massage) and put your clothes back on (or not . . .)
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Life Musings

Making Peace

Photo from my trip to Jerusalem in 2011. Found this very moving.

Everyone’s talking about “the conflict” in Israel and Gaza.  Meanwhile, most of us struggle to resolve the largely insignificant conflicts in our everyday lives.  I always see what’s going on “out there” in the world as a reflection of what’s going on “in here”.  Gaza is a mirror.  If we can’t assert compassion, love, acceptance of self and others on a daily basis when the stakes are low, how can we ever expect entire nations to make peace when the stakes are perceived as incredibly high?  If we are ever-ready to defend the microscopic terrains of our little egos, why do we marvel and scratch our heads when groups of people feel compelled to defend their land and their dignity, no matter the cost?  I’m simply amazed that folks who can’t get along with their in-laws nonetheless feel justified in getting on their ideological soap-box about politics and war.

It’s hard to believe, but I was actually in Israel and the Palestinian territories almost exactly a year ago.  I traveled to Jerusalem as part of a research team of sociologists studying stigmatized groups in the U.S. (African Americans), Brazil (Blacks) and Israel (Ethiopian Jews, Arab Israelis and Mizrahis).  You can learn more about that on-going project here and here.  This was my first trip to the Middle East, a voyage that changed me in ways I’m still processing.

Graffiti on the “security barrier” built by Israel in Jerusalem.

As I reflect on the harrowing news coming in from the region – a familiar and in most ways unsurprising story – I know for sure that there can be no lasting peace in this world unless we all figure out how to make peace in our everyday lives.  This is not an abstract or philosophical point.  Nothing could be more pragmatic than your commitment to practicing peace.  I’m not saying that one must be the Buddha in order to have a political opinion, engage in activism or resist domination or violence.  But we have to be just as committed, indeed more committed, to creating peace in our individual lives as we are to bringing about justice and reconciliation. For me, peace-making has been an integral dimension of nondual spirituality.  Pre-2012, my life was full of drama.  Because I was (unbeknownst to me) entirely identified with my ego and sense of individuality, my overall perspective was quite negative.  My greatest source and repository of drama was a dysfunctional romantic relationship that I finally ended after years of deeply unconscious, mutually-traumatic conflict.  But there were also many other little pockets of discontent.  I was easily offended and often angry. Someone was always getting on my nerves.  My shit list was maxed out.  I frequently spoke ill of others and had frenemies who enjoyed gossip.  It was a pretty awful way to live, but at the time, I didn’t know how things could be otherwise.

Took a mud bath in the Dead Sea after visiting Jericho in Palestine.

Fast forward a year.  I’m far from perfect, but the experience of peace in my daily life has gone from “almost never” to “the vast majority of the time”.  This does’t meant that I’m constantly singing Kumbaya or that I never get into arguments or fire up with anger. But arguments and strife are fairly rare occurences for me now.  And when they do happen, the key difference between then and now is that I see the ego.  I sense (and sometimes laugh about) my mind’s urge to be right, the desire to be noticed, admired, the ego’s need to feel superior. In the past, I was so wrapped up in the ego that I did not even understand there it was operating in my life.  [See Eckhart Tolle chit-chat about this aspect of the ego here].  I felt totally identified with my thoughts, my emotions and my narrative–the story of “me”.  My transformative encounter with God and conscious experience of nonduality has allowed me to identify with the presence, the space, the no-thing-ness within which my existence (and everything else) unfolds.  As a result, either in the moment itself, or immediately thereafter, I am able to observe my thoughts and feelings rather than become fully absorbed in them.  Not only does this create peace in my life by reducing my stress and lowering the volume of mental noise, but it also spontaneously produces compassion for everyone else as I consciously realize that the boundaries between us are illusory.

Now when someone upsets me, I express whatever feels appropriate in the moment — but I don’t do so with the unmitigated and unapologetic cruelty that I used to feel justified using in the past. An angry, unconscious ego always feels justified.  Now, when I feel wounded, I notice the feeling. I know that I am not the feeling.  I may hurt and suffer terribly.  My ego may feel that I’ve been terribly wronged, disrespected or mistreated.  But now I am not automatically driven by the pain or the anger.  The reaction is not quite so knee-jerk and automatic.  There is greater space, more distance — an observation of what is happening as it happens.  When negative thoughts arise about someone, the very awareness of those thoughts also dissolves the self-justification of the ego.  When I think of that guy who treated me poorly, the thought might come: “Wow, what a jerk!  I hate him.”  But as I notice that happening, that very awareness itself serves as a wake-up call.  It’s as if the awareness sets off an alarm: “Ding! Ding! Ding! Your Ego’s showing its ass again!”  And, as Eckhart Tolle and Mooji and everyone else who knows this truth says: once you see the Ego, it ceases to really be an ego.  That is, the Ego only really functions as such by fooling you into thinking you are it.  When you see that it is just an illusion (when you experience the truth of this) then it loses its power.  I might still tell that guy to never talk to me again, but something in me also asserts compassion and love for him, knowing that he and I are really one – and we’re both just doing our best.

I’ve also been making peace in very small ways. I used to be terrified of all bugs and insects. I would kill them (or, more likely, enlist someone else to kill them) with impunity. It first occured to me that there was something wrong about this when I started attending Buddhist meditation classes. But nothing changed in my experience – nor the experience of the poor unfortunate insects who dared cross my path – until I really began to feel more presence and stillness in my life. I didn’t make a decision to stop killing insects. It just happened. One day I woke up and found I was no longer afraid of them. And if fear did arise, it still didn’t have the kind of hold on me that it used to. Instead of squashing spiders and insects, I save their lives and liberate them, assuming Zora doesn’t hunt them down first.

You can’t make peace if you aren’t at peace.  For me, that means cultivating full, total, radical acceptance of my Self.  Accepting my Self means letting go of the illusion that I’m the little story, the illusory narrative, that my ego has contrived.  In so doing, I generate compassion for myself (the suffering of this imagined ego) and compassion for all living beings.  Awareness — conscious attentiveness to the present moment — inevitably leads me to see that we’re all the same.  When I hurt, I am reminded of the hurt I have inflicted on others as well as the universal pain we all feel when we forget our own Divinity.  What I know now, for sure, is that awareness is a pre-requisite for peace.  The first step is always consciousness, whether it’s in the Middle East or the middle of your daily crisis.