What if someONE told you that the essence of your being, your true nature, is happiness itself?
What if someONE told you that your essence and happiness are synonyms, as they refer to the exact same direct experience of our shared being, the experience of limitless divine, spiritual love?
What if someONE told you that the idea of separation is just an illusion, that we are all ONE, and that by being a part of the universe, you ARE the whole universe of divine creation?
Let that sink in – it sounds simple and is, yet, so powerful!
And, more importantly, what kind of answer would you provide spontaneously? Does this fundamental truth resonate with your inner being, or do you believe that happiness can only be achieved if you reach for something outside of yourself, that happiness is always conditional in some way? Are you profoundly convinced that “there is a peace and a contentment that is available to us, that we can tap into in all places and at all times”, or that the experience of ultimate freedom is dependent on external goals or objects?
And here we are – right in the middle of some mind-blowing pieces of wisdom, provided in this episode by Steve and his wonderful guest, who refer to nothing less than some fundamental questions that relate to the core of our being. So, are you ready to learn more about (divine or spiritual) love?😊
First, let me solve the riddle in the introduction for you. This “someONE” who provides the thought provoking content for these questions is Steve´s amazing guest Dr. Kyra O´Keefe, Ph.D. Dr. O’Keeffe, is a speaker and an educator with quite an impressive background and high accolades in academia, which reflects her deep love for “learning, constantly growing, improving and finding truth”. She passionately studied in order to understand how the human mind works – Educational Neuroscience at Harvard University, earning a masters degree there, and then receiving her Ph.D. in Learning Sciences at Stanford University. This is where she also taught before she experienced a spiritual awakening, and left university to immerse herself fully in the understanding of the ancient wisdom that is inherent in the principles of non-duality (or Advaita). (We will get to that topic in a moment).
To me, it seems as if Dr. O’Keeffe´s research and her path in academia also prepared her in some way for what was about to come. Intriguingly, in her dissertation, Kyra focused on the performance of the separate self in the American educational system, in short – the ego, also witnessing the mental health crisis at universities as the lived reality in the world view of separation, while her recognition that our being is actually shared calls us to overcome the old paradigm of separation to reach greater levels of peace and happiness.
Admittedly, I love these conversations at the intersection of science and spirituality, and this deeply insightful and intimate conversation between Steve and Dr. O’Keeffe lifted me up so much, and I felt so light as if I was a non-physical being, as if I was floating around. Therefore, I cannot wait to share the learnings that I gained from this interview. At the same time, I will use quite a few quotes, simply as Dr. O’Keeffe´s way of expressing her insights is nothing less than beautiful, I would even use the word poetic. I hope you enjoy them, too.
Now, let's get started. For some of you, the concept of non-duality might be rather unknown – it has been to a great extent for me –, and it might as well seem quite abstract. Thus, it is the perfect topic for an academic like Dr. O’Keeffe as Steve suggests.
Hence, in the following, I will provide you with some context about the ancient pillars of non-duality, but also how it all started for Dr. O’Keeffe – namely, with her motivation to find truth in her personal quest to happiness, peace and fulfillment.
Seen from the outside, Dr. O’Keeffe had it all, and among many other things, she had a thriving career in academia, but to her “something was missing, something was lacking,” and she had the feeling that she continually needed “to get more, to be more, achieve more, in order to be fundamentally okay.” In order to find an exit to her own (often subtle) suffering, she describes the motivation for her journey as developing an “intense fire” to find a different solution.
This desire was also fueled by what she calls a very humbling experience, that she was teaching classes at university about how to cope with stress and how to find happiness and, yet, she did not know a practical solution to the problem. So, she took Einstein´s quote to heart that we cannot solve a problem from the same level of consciousness that created it, left academia and went deeply within to search for answers inside of herself – first, in the stillness of the forest, and soon after guided by Rupert Spira and Francis Lucille, the latter of which introduced the ancient principles of non-duality to her and also induced her awakening.
Wow! The start of O’Keeffe´s journey became my first aha moment. I think that many of us can resonate with that feeling of not being (good) enough, not having enough, not doing enough (I surely can), that has been imposed on so many of us by our Western society´s narrative and its ever-present demand for self-optimization, productivity, perfectionism, and competition. However, does it make us truly happy? Does it make us happy to spend our lives between endless to-do lists, and always accompanied by the feeling of steady shortcoming compared to others? Well, my personal experience is that it doesn´t.
Within all that noise outside of us, within all these societal and family expectations, most of us tend to forget, that we are human BEINGS, and not human DOINGS, and that it is rarely the things outside of us that can create lasting happiness. I don´t deny though that they might create some short-lived pleasure, yet, for me personally, the taste of success often faded very quickly, as the next goal was already waiting to replace the former one almost instantly. Often, I would not even take time to relax for a moment and celebrate.
And the way we have been living for the last decades particularly in the Western world, which has been (majorly) according to the principles of the old paradigm of separation and competition, of course took its toll – on us personally, also speaking of our mental and physical health, on the quality of our relationships and, not to forget, on our beautiful mother earth. And just to give you a glimpse into the feelings of the earth as a living being: the spiritual teacher Dr. Michael B. Beckwith, Ph.D., once shared that he had experienced the suffering of the earth in a lucid dream, and refused to go to sleep for several days, as it was so painful that he did not want to experience it again.
So, all of this doesn’t sound too optimistic for the continuation for us earthlings as a species, but hold on: despite of all of the noise that is happening right now on our beautiful blue planet, is there a reason to be positive about it or at least hopeful?
The good news is that Dr. O’Keeffe is offering a solution to the “polarization of different perspectives” and “the disharmony” that she witnesses in today´s society, and she explains that we hold the key to happiness, ultimate freedom and contentment already in our hands – we might just not be aware of it. That is good news for sure!
And it is this key, as Dr. O’Keeffe explains, that keeps her hopes high that humanity can actually manage its time-critical transformation that will enable our survival – from the old paradigm of feeling fundamentally separate from one another, sometimes even feeling separate from our true self, and from mother earth, to a new paradigm, which is the “recognition that our being is actually ONE”.
You might have guessed by now what this magic key, this magic ingredient is, right? The force that transforms worlds, and the strongest energy on this planet to transform and heal, or in one word: (divine, spiritual, and all encompassing) LOVE. Wow! Really take that in please.
Now, where does non-duality come into play, and how do we come full circle to the idea that the experience of our shared being, in other words – love, and the happiness that we experience by that is a synonym to other essence?
The foundation for all of her work has already been laid in Dr. O’Keeffe´s childhood. Looking back, she always had this deep love for people, animals, and nature, and it has always been a fundamental part of her essence, even if she could not quite put words to it at that time. It has lived inside of her from her childhood onwards, which she spent immersed in nature, and it has been a guiding star for her ever since. And, circling back to the beginning, this great love for all of creation in combination with her deep desire to learn, grow and find truth has carried her all the way through to academia and eventually to spirituality and non-duality.
So, what does non-duality mean exactly? Dr. O’Keeffe explains that to her it is the recognition that in any given moment “there is only one reality and you are that! That is the base axiom.” This reality is also not limited in any way, it is “infinite and eternal, and it is also the source of peace, happiness, freedom, beauty, love.” So, it´s really about “coming home to ourselves, the self we are already.”
And here is the cool thing about it: She emphasizes very strongly that there is nothing you need to do, seek or achieve; you don´t need to (constantly) improve yourself, or implement practices, techniques or disciplines in order to get to know yourself as “you are that already.” She invites us to open up to the possibility that getting back to our true self doesn´t require any effort – in short: zero effort! The process can be started with simple questions like: “What am I, or who am I, or what can I know with absolute certainty?” Some easy practices that might assist you to go inward, to practice self-inquiry and find self-knowledge are meditation, satsang, having a conversation about truth with a friend or with a spiritual teacher. Steve also added breathwork as another way of experiencing all encompassing love, joy and ultimate freedom.
Wow! I can totally relate to that. From my experience, my darkest moments resulted from experiences where I felt completely separate from my own source connection, dis-connected so to say in a very deep sense of the word, from my own self, but also from other human and spiritual beings. Dr. O’Keeffe calls this phenomenon “psychological suffering” and describes it as the “emotional distress that arises as a result of believing that one is a limited, separate entity.” For me, in these moments I felt very alone and disheartened.
On the other hand, there are moments where I feel very connected with my inner being, for example, when I spend time in nature and take in its beauty, when I dance, when I pray or meditate, or when I am engaged in deep, meaningful conversations with like-minded friends, or when I feel that I made a difference in somebody else´s life.
Steve mentioned in the interview that it might provide us with some challenges to relate to the fact, that e.g. you are one with a bird that is singing, or with a flower, or a dog strolling around. And, for sure, our mind will try to play tricks on us. Therefore, what might be useful to understand the concept of non-duality better are analogies. To me, Dr. O’Keeffe´s metaphor that we are all little waves in the ocean of essence, but we ARE still the ocean, resonates most, and paints a very calm and soothing picture in my mind.
I also love that it is an analogy that includes nature, as for me experiencing the silence of a forest, the warm sand of a beach or the beauty of a flower provides me with a lot of joy. That said, it is just beautiful to see that we all have different ways that make us feel present in the very moment, and connected with our true essence, and, in this way, with the whole of creation: for Steve it is watching a beautiful sunset or swimming in the ocean, and for Dr. O’Keeffe, and Steve and me also, it is dancing.
As Dr. O’Keeffe puts it, you can recognize these precious moments of non-duality when you express yourself freely, when all the outside distractions, all the seeking of the mind, all the longing for something outside of ourselves (this is the old paradigm, right?) falls away, and when you are enjoying the pure experience of your being in the present moment, and maybe feel joyful or even deeply grateful about it.
And by now we have laid the foundation to really understand the beautiful saying from the beginning: “The word true self and happiness are synonyms.” Let me sum this up with another precious quote by Dr. O’Keeffe: “It means that in every moment of our everyday lives within which “we are glimpsing the beauty of our shared being all the time, in moments that we label as moments of happiness, freedom, love, understanding, peace, ultimately they are all the same – singular, timeless experience of our self, just sort of shining through different scenes in the movie of waking life.”
Now, I don´t even know where to start with all that I have learned so far! Maybe, I start with us – humanity: just imagine what it would be like to live in a world that is guided by the principle that our being is shared, that we are ONE – ONE with nature, ONE with our fellow citizens on planet earth, ONE with any bird, any tree, any flower or any other being of creation on this planet. The consequences for both our personal lives and also for society would be mind-blowingly positive. I am right now getting the picture of a transformational earthquake or an erupting volcano!
If we take divine love seriously as a society, there is no more room for aggression, because the earth is our home and all of its resources belong to mankind and need to be equally distributed. Man-made borders and territories might cease to exist, as we don´t own the earth, how can we? And who are we to decide which pieces of land are ascribed to particular nationalities or tribes? There is no more room for hunger and poverty, because if we love our fellow beings, then wealth needs to be distributed in a way that provides food, shelter, medicine and education for every human being on this planet. We need to create a world where every human being can lead a decent life, and consequently, to be able to develop their gifts to share them with the world.
Yes, I agree that this might sound far off at this point, even though if it feels good to dream about that vision. So, first things first: let´s have a look at our personal lives and how we can embody and integrate non-duality there as this is our personal sphere of control.
The first example that comes to mind is treating ourselves and other earthlings with kindness. Yet, if we take the concept seriously and want to walk our talk, it will affect every single area of our lives. For example, if we want to start treating animals as another expression of divine love, then we surely need to stop eating them. Period. I have to admit, that I have been struggling with this one, as I feel that my body system needs some dairies and eggs at times, even though I very rarely consume meat. With regard to honoring and protecting Mother Nature, all of our consumption decisions need to be in alignment with our values, and we need to make conscious choices every time we buy something.
Moreover, on a more macro-economic level, do we produce things just for the sake of mere consumption (do we, for example, really need, e.g. dry food for pets in a champagne bottle for Christmas, using up energy and resources?), or do we focus on entrepreneurial endeavors that innovate and invest in eco-friendly technologies?
Yet, most importantly, any relationship starts with the relationship we have with ourselves, right? We need to look into the mirror, gaze deeply into our own eyes and start to reconnect with our essence, find out who we truly are and then start, step after step, what we came here to do. We need to get to know ourselves at the most intimate level. In a way, we need to become children again, who are very aware about oneness, and just live it. And we have become aware of the magnificent creation that we are, we need to learn how to LOVE who we truly are and start to follow our own, unique path, and creating our own footprints, just as Dr. O’Keeffe did.
This might not come easy. You might need to jump into the new, leaving the old behind, even though you might not know exactly what is about to come. You might need to learn new things again or move to a different place. Now, I know from personal experience that this can take a lot of courage as your unique path might lead you somewhere, where none of your ancestors or family members have ever gone.
However, it is very much worth the effort, as – and I cannot emphasize this often enough – any interaction with other beings is a reflection of the relationship we have with ourselves. Thus, if we pursue and do what we love, that makes us feel free and joyful regularly, when we experience this flow-moment of connection with the universe, our essence, experienced as joy, happiness, peace, beauty or contentment, when we dress the way we love it, when we nourish our bodies and souls through exercise and meditation, in short – when we practice LOVE towards ourselves, then we will be kind to others as well, and live a purposeful life, making a difference on this planet by sharing our gifts with the world.
Isn´t that a beautiful vision?
Petra Nikol is a Berlin-based writer and coach with a background in management science. One of her greatest passions is to uplift readers and listeners around the globe by spreading positive vibes. Petra loves dancing, travelling and any kind of adventure, yet her most favorite pastime is to connect with kind souls from all over the planet to learn, grow and heal together.