Halina Pytlasinska - Non–Duality
Interview with Renate McNay
Renate: Halina, we would like to know all about non-duality and what happened to you. What brought you to this space or place, where we all want to be? Where’s our home?
Halina: The ironic thing is that now that I’ve found this space, I realise that I was always there and we are always in this space - but it doesn’t feel like that when there’s the belief that there is separation. And non-duality really is about realising that there is no separation. There is no separation between you and me, the table, the room - everything in the world is one energy, and that is all that non-duality is. It’s how we are (whether we realise it or not) as apparent personalities, as apparent bodies in the world. That’s how reality is underneath.
Renate: So you would be... another word for this is… ‘enlightened’?
Renate: Would you say “I am enlightened”?
Halina: No [laughing]. Enlightenment is really a myth. The problem with non-duality, or the perspective that there is Oneness, is that it is beyond words. So we’re doing our best with words to get close to it, but we will never fully describe it with words. It is a myth about enlightenment that there can be a special enlightened person, or guru. There is no person to be enlightened! But there is the realisation that there is no separation. There cannot ever be an enlightened person; there is just the realisation that there is no separation.
Renate: So what was actually leading to your realisation? What happened in your life? Did you have a teacher? You were telling me on the phone that even as a child you had experiences of losing your identity, and that happened several times. How did you feel, and did you talk with anybody about it? Did it frighten you?
Halina: OK, well, as a child it felt as if I didn’t at times quite understand the game that everyone else was playing. It was as if the story of ‘me’, the identity, as in all small children, wasn’t really formed yet. As my sister was nine years older than me, I spent a lot of time on my own; I was brought up like an only child spending a lot of time playing alone with dolls and teddies.
And now and again there would be the sense that there was no identity. (My memory now isn’t the child’s voice - it’s the adult’s looking back.) It felt as if there was an expansion, an ‘expandedness’, and there was a sensation of being outside of the body, not ‘moving outside of the body’, but that what I was was outside the body. It was kind of a floating feeling and a feeling of formlessness. That’s very difficult to imagine, but there was no form. There was no skin that surrounded me and there was no ‘me’.
So those moments would come and go. I don’t know how long they lasted but, as a child, they seemed to last for a long time. In reality it was probably only a few minutes. And usually at the end of those few minutes there was fear about being this formlessness. It felt like I had to rebuild this identity by saying, “I’m a little girl and the people in the house at the end of the garden are my parents”, such that it seemed to happen. And as I got older and older, that identity became stronger and stronger. And in my teens I felt I wanted it to be stronger and stronger so as to be more of a solid person; but it never felt very solid, it always felt quite shaky.
Renate: So... did you actually go to your parents and say...?
Halina: No [laughing]. No, I never talked to anyone. It felt that it wouldn’t be OK to talk about it, and there were no words, really. There was nothing in the adult world that I felt I could relate to. It didn’t feel right to talk about it, it felt like just some sort of childish thing, so I never mentioned it to anyone.
Renate: And you said you became a seeker, a spiritual seeker, when you were twelve?
Halina: Yes. I was brought up in a Catholic household. I think you were as well? So, going to church was something that my family did, but I didn’t relate to anything that was going on in the church. So I rebelled, I think, and said, “I’m not going anymore. I don’t believe in this sort of God who is very angry with us and who wants to punish me”. I just didn’t feel that Catholicism was for me and so I stopped going to church. My parents were quite angry with me. And then as a teenager I started reading about other religions: Hinduism, Sikhism and Buddhism. In my later teens I was particularly attracted to Buddhism and I became a Buddhist in my twenties.
But that’s just the story about the character; none of it really relates to the fact that there’s no separation. It’s only a story, and there might be other stories in other people’s cases, but none of it is relevant to the fact that underneath there is just the One being. This is the story of Halina trying to find it, thinking that she’s separate.
Renate: Yes, I understand that. And yet you have a son who is nine years old...
Halina: He’s seven.
Renate: Oh sorry, he’s seven, and so you have to somehow build... help build his story. That seems to be a very important part... play an important part... and it enables us to live life in this world.
Halina: Yes. The story just goes on, and I think we were saying before that mothering goes on. What he is really, what everybody else is, is the emptiness, and there seems to appear a little boy and there seems to appear a mother, and the story and the characters just go on as before.
Renate: Yes, but... don’t you have to programme or condition your child to a certain extent? How can he otherwise go to school, or be ready for the world? You have to teach him certain things. This is right, this is not right?
Halina: There is no one here to programme him and there is no separate person there to programme, but the story of being a mother continues, so the teaching of how not to cross the road and look left and right happens. All those things carry on without there being a separate person.
Renate: Right, so how can he make his own judgement if you do not teach him how to do that?
Halina: Judgement happens, judgement just arises. It has in this case, in this mind-body [gesturing to self], and it does in that one [gesturing to Renate]. The only difference is that most people feel they are a separate person and that they are in control of everything that happens, and there isn’t that belief here. Life arises spontaneously so...
Renate: Yes, I understand that and yet your husband… does your son get a different message from your husband? I mean, you are spaciousness and emptiness...
Halina: And so are my husband and my son, and so is everyone. We are all that, whether we realise it or not, so there’s nothing... there’s nothing that is unusual or different here. There’s still a character and a story going on. The emptiness that he is may or may not resonate, he may or may not become interested in non-duality. Probably not [laughing]!
Renate: Why do you think so?
Halina: Most people aren’t [laughing].
Renate: [laughing] Right! So let’s go back. You said you were interested in Buddhism, you became a Buddhist and you were hanging out with nuns and monks...
Halina: That’s right.
Renate: ...and how was that?
Halina: It was great at the time, it was just like doing anything else really; they were a very nice bunch of people from a Thai Buddhist order. And I lived on my own at the time and felt a lot of support in the story of time; you know, in the story of being Halina, of being in a monastery. And when I wasn’t in a monastery I was in my life being a single woman, and partying and going to work and having friends, a social life, so...
Renate: So you said you had an affair with a monk?
Halina: I did [laughing]! Towards the end. I had a very bad back injury when I was thirty-one. I was disabled, out of work and just before that, I... I was seeking; I felt I was spiritually seeking. That word ‘spirit’ doesn’t really arise anymore because there’s no separation. But then I really wanted to feel at home and I thought about becoming a nun, a Buddhist nun, because a lot of my friends in the order sort of encouraged that. And I felt I couldn’t... I couldn’t become celibate [laughing] so I made a compromise. I thought I fell in love with one of the novice monks - or maybe it was just lust - so he came home with me, we lived together for a little while… And then my interest in Buddhism fell apart really after that [laughing].
I had a back injury and I couldn’t sit and meditate anymore and I wasn’t getting on very well with this guy that I was living with, and so... so that kind of just stopped, that sort of being a Buddhist. I just felt that it didn’t give me what I was looking for. I was seeking what I already was, but I didn’t know that at the time.
Renate: Did he go back to the monastery?
Halina: No, he didn’t [laughing].
Renate: [laughing] What happened then? You said you injured your back and you...
Halina: At the same time my sister died of cancer and I had a back injury; I was injured, out of work, I lost my flat and I had to go home and live with my parents for a while. That was quite a hard year or two. I became a little bit better and I managed to go back to work part-time and then I moved to London, I met my husband and fell in love and got married and had Jamie.
And still there was... You know, I was living in London, happy with our young child, but feeling that there was still something missing… So there was still a feeling of “Oh, if only!” At the time I felt I wanted to integrate what I felt was a spiritual sense with real life. Now it’s seen that life is integrated already - it’s just that we’ve split it off in our minds.
So I did a little bit of an Interfaith Ministry course that studies all the religions, but I felt that it didn’t give me what I was looking for. It taught that religions were about humanity and stories, and it didn’t feel I could find something beyond the story, the something divine that I was seeking.
And then a friend of mine, Richard Sylvester, whom you’ve met, told me that he had started going to discussion groups. Non-duality didn’t mean anything to me and I thought, “Oh no, not another guru! I’m not really interested”. Then one day Richard mentioned that he was going to see this man called Tony Parsons in Hampstead where I lived, and I said, “Oh, I’ll meet you for a cup of tea afterwards, but I’m not really interested”. And I found myself sitting in a discussion group room in Hampstead with Tony Parsons and immediately felt that what he said resonated with something.
I couldn’t understand what he said at all, but I kept going to meetings for about two years and my mind was battling and trying to wrestle with and grasp what was being said. But underneath all that, there was a resonance, there was a feeling of joy and expansiveness beyond the body, and that’s how it became an interest - it felt that what Tony was saying was what I had been seeking all my life and I wanted that.
So after I’d been seeing Tony I went to residentials and his Saturday meetings, and then there was a phase when I seemed to disappear for a day or so. During the meetings there was a sense of joy, a kind of a sense of bliss, but there was still a person seeking at that time and I wanted more of that bliss. Really what I wanted was the myth of enlightenment, or liberation. I wanted to free myself of pain and become a ‘blissed-out’ sort of empty person who would love everybody. That was what I thought enlightenment was [laughing].
Halina: And so I just wanted joy. I wanted this joyful feeling that kept me going to meetings.
What seemed to happen was that, as more and more time went on, pieces of ‘me’ seemed to be eroded; the idea of ‘me’ seemed to be wearing very thin over time. So there were days when I felt very different: as when there wasn’t such a great sense of ‘me’ and there was more just a feeling of this joy. That’s how I can describe it. Love is another word. It’s not a human love but it’s sort of being surrounded by love. And that would last for a few days and then ‘me’, the sense of ‘me’, would come back and I’d be devastated and searching again for this joy. That’s what I wanted: this blissed-out state. That’s all I thought I wanted.
And then, eventually, the periods of time when there wasn’t such an identity got longer. And I was having a Feldenkrais session with Roger Linden and we were chatting about this and he just suddenly said, “Well, there is no inside or outside”, and it was like someone had flicked a switch. And the room, and everything – reality - seemed to change. The floor seemed to be wobbling and suddenly there was a realisation that everything I thought was solid and separate in this world wasn’t like that.
Reality isn’t as it seems - it’s more like a holographic image. It’s created spontaneously underneath time; it all appears. So our past and our future are really all created spontaneously beyond time. And suddenly this was known! It felt as if, yes, the walls were wobbly and this illusion that ‘I’ was in a world and the world was outside ‘me’ changed. And the sense of ‘me’ disappeared more. There was a sense of being nothing. And so again the joy was there, and this immense feeling of love would descend and just be there for hours. It was very lovely and I got very fascinated by the feeling of wood, or slipping my feet into shoes… It felt wonderful and everything felt very lucid and very clear and very lovely. But again that was, you know… that’s just a sensation.
Renate: So during this time, when you lost your sense of self, what would happen when emotions arose? Would you become angry or would there be any other emotions?
Renate: ...and when they arose, how did you deal with them?
Halina: It’s still... the same as it’s become now. Emotions come and go and there’s no one there to claim them, to grasp them, so emotions… Anger comes up and then it goes away. There is no censorship, so fear, anger, all the emotions - pain, loss, sadness, happiness - all come and go.
Renate: So how do you see them? You just see them arising in the field or do you feel them arising inside your body? Where are these emotions?
Halina: Emotions arise...
Halina: Where [smiling]?That’s a good question.
Renate: Are you asking me [laughing]?
Halina: Where are they felt? They’re felt physically and emotionally, so they arise, but there is no locality, there’s no locality of ‘me’.
Renate: So, basically, let’s say you get upset or you get... You would not say, “I am upset”, you would say, “Upset-ness arises”?
Halina: No, I wouldn’t talk like that because nobody would know what I was talking about [laughing].
Halina: Everything goes on for this mind-body the same as before. Feelings just come and go but it’s seen that... It is as if there’s this body sitting here talking to you which is part of Oneness; that’s the sense that is there as well. So underneath the story in time, I see that there is a person apparently sitting there [gesturing to Renate], there’s a figure, there’s a character, a personality, and there’s a body here [gesturing to self]. But at the same time it’s sensed that there is no separation. These images arise in One being which we are; that’s the identity. So there’s really… Underneath isn’t the right word, but it’s the nearest that I can get… Underlying this world of space and time is this one energy, and that’s felt as the foundation.
Halina: And that’s the emptiness. So we are nothing and everything arising. So there is no sense that there’s a separation from everything in this room, or anything, when I move out into another space.
Renate: When you had your experience of the transition, was there an energetic component to this experience?
Halina: Yes, because when there’s the feeling of being the self in a body, that ‘you’ feels this is the skin[moving right hand over on left arm], is the boundary. So there’s an expansion out into everything. That’s an energetic expansion from being in a body, “Oh, I’m in here and it’s a bit frightening and the world is out there”. There’s a sense of being ‘me’, and then there’s an energetic feeling outside. That was the... the first feeling I had when I met Tony, this sense of expansion, that actually “I’m not in here, what I am isn’t in here” [gesturing to body]. So it feels as though there’s an expanded sensation. It’s very difficult to describe. So yes, there is an energetic shift...
Renate: I understand.
Halina: ...if that makes sense.
Renate: And was there restructuring of your mind, some sort of reprogramming or...?
Halina: [thinking for a while] No, I would say everything seemed to go on as before really, pretty much. I mean there isn’t as much… You know, my husband says, “A sort of lump of neurosis seemed to fall away”, and there’s some sense of being more at ease, but mostly it’s just… the personality… Halina, a woman in her forties, is still as she was before.
Renate: And how do you relate to people… did something change there? Was that the same or was it more impersonal or...?
Halina: The same, it’s the same. There isn’t any sort of… less love for, you know, my son or husband, or special friends. There isn’t a feeling of loving everybody, that doesn’t happen [laughing]. People who wind me up and irritate me still wind me up and irritate me. So that all goes on - it’s just seen that all that stuff goes on for no one. But it’s just as before - through this person.
Renate: So when this is still going on... and you don’t identify with the story… will the story come to an end? Will the story at some point unwind itself...?
Halina: With the death of this body, yes, that will be the end of this story.
Renate: Death of the body, not before?
Halina: No. What’s changed... The story still goes on. Awakening to the dream, awakening to the fact that there seems to be a world of time and space, awakening from it is death of the body [laughing].
Renate: But wasn’t this story - or the personality - created in the first place to help us to wake up?
Halina: There doesn’t need to be any help because we are... what we are is already awake.
Renate: Yes, but the way I see it, or I experience it, the story or our ego structure is always consciousness.
Halina: Your ego structure is?
Renate: Consciousness. It’s part of the whole thing, it’s within consciousness...
Halina: One being?
Renate: ...everything is consciousness and it’s just the lost part, yes, the part which disconnected somehow and is pretending it doesn’t know. In order...
Renate: It’s pretending it doesn’t know.
Renate: It has to play its role and create suffering and all kinds of things to push us. Wouldn’t you see it that way?
Halina: But there’s no one here to push. There’s just One... there is just Oneness pretending...
Renate: What is the story? Why is the story here?
Halina: Why not? We’re trying to find meaning and purpose. It’s like saying to a daffodil or a flower, “Why are you here?” It’s being life. Life doesn’t need a meaning or a purpose, or a goal or an objective, or an aim: life is life. But in our ego self, the ego needs a purpose and a meaning, because the ego tells us, “Oh, you know you need me to find your path, you need me”. So it’s very elusive and subtle. The ego kind of bumps itself on to the throne and sort of says, “Oh yes, I’ll help you, I’ll help you find the fact that you are just Oneness”, but that’s a story from the ego. All that is is just the ego telling the story.
Renate: Well, there were several times in my life when I experienced a lot of pain and suffering. When I really ‘allowed’ the pain, when I did not run away and was just sitting and holding this pain, there were so many times when the pain opened up and I came to the most immense beauty. This shows me that, inherent in the ego structure, somewhere deep down, it remembers where it came from. It remembers that it’s consciousness as well and it wants to go back.
Halina: And that’s the seeking.
Renate: That is the seeking...
Halina: It’s inherent.
Renate: ...that’s why we’re seeking. We know somewhere there’s freedom and it doesn’t let us rest.
Halina: The seeking is part of the idea of separation. They have to go hand in hand, they’re not finding… So as long as there is seeking, there’s not finding. That’s the story of the ego. As long as I think I’m separate I will be looking for something to make me whole. Yes, that is the story of the ego. So when there isn’t the feeling that there’s separation, then that type of seeking doesn’t exist. There’s still maybe wanting to go shopping, wanting this or that; but there isn’t a seeking to become whole, because it’s known that there is already wholeness. So that’s the difference, that’s what happens.
Renate: So when you say “It is known”, I understand it is known. How does the world appear for you now? Do you see everything connected or is it more like you ‘know’ everything is connected?
Halina: Yes, it’s difficult that word ‘knowing’ because we associate that with an intellectual knowing, and it’s not an intellectual knowing in that way. It’s a sense beyond the intellect really; you could say it’s a ‘not knowing’. There’s a not knowing, so the mind wants to know; wants to know, is it left forty-five degrees, or is it in front? That’s the mind. And when there’s the idea of separation, there’s an identification with mind and a feeling that the mind can find the way to set us free; that’s the idea. So as you said, when you were in pain there was the sense that, beyond the pain, beyond the story, everything’s really OK. That is what you were feeling: there was beauty that life is as it is. Even though it felt like there was suffering, there was also beauty.
Halina: There’s an ‘expansiveness’ and that’s all that there is. There’s a story and there’s the knowing, or the sense, that there is life that is beyond the story. The story’s very small, the character is very tiny; it’s not in control, it’s very, very much smaller than a grain of sand and it’s not in control of life. That’s the shift really: in the perspective and the energetic expansion of knowing, knowing that the character is interwoven with, and is not separate from, One.
Renate: Right. So when you say “I am Halina”, what does this ‘I’ refer to?
Halina: It’s a social protocol [laughing]. So it refers to this apparent mind-body and the character, the personality, and the apparent story through time that... yes… that still arises, but there’s a knowing that beyond that is the real identity; that what I am, what you are, is beyond that. So that play still carries on.
Renate: And are there moments in your life where you can be drawn back into the illusion?
Halina: No, it doesn’t happen, no. Of being separate, where there’s separation?
Halina: No it seems...
Renate: ...I mean for me, one of the most beautiful examples is, you know... I was raised Catholic, and I remember the story of Jesus when he was on the cross, and there was the moment when he realised… actually before he was on the cross… he realised what was going to happen to him. He said, “Father…” He didn’t say, “Can I get out of here?”, but something like that. There was a moment where he had doubts, but the next sentence was “Thy will will be done”. And so that’s where my question is coming from. Are there moments in your life when something happens to your family, to your child, or to yourself where you, for seconds, can be pulled into separation?
Halina: Into separation?
Renate: ...into the outer world? And then you remember who you are and...
Halina: No, that doesn’t happen.
Renate: That’s amazing.
Halina: You know, there’s pain, a lot of pain. I mean, there was major surgery last year; it really hurt. And I remember waking up and the first twelve hours were hell; there was screaming, crying and a lot of pain. But pain happens for no one, so you know somehow that coming with that pain is no doubt that there isn’t Oneness. I suppose there is…
Again, the story of Jesus on the cross is a story handed down over centuries and we don’t know what the guy really felt [laughing] because we never met him personally! There is the story of doubt – again. that’s the story of separation - but when there isn’t separation, when it’s seen that there isn’t separation, then there is no doubt.
That’s, in fact, the only thing [laughing] that can be relied on. There can be doubt about other things in the world: doubt that the train will arrive, or there might be worry and anxiety. My husband has a heart problem and there’s worry and anxiety about that. There’s ‘not knowing’ what’s going to be happening in the world; there’s ‘not knowing’ what’s going to be happening minute to minute; we just don’t know. All there is, is a sense that there’s Oneness; that’s the only thing that’s known.
Renate: There is one sentence that I find interesting that I downloaded from your website and... it’s actually from Tom Waites and it says, “If I exorcise my devils, my angels may leave too”.
Halina: Yes, because the...
Renate: What does that mean?
Halina: [laughing] …because in the myth of enlightenment… We talked about the myth of going back to being a Catholic; you know, ‘holy’ people - people who are very good… There’s the idea that in religious terms you have to be perfect, that only when you’re not angry and you love everybody is there liberation. And that is a myth, so that’s why I like that quote. Because sitting here [gesturing to self] is not a perfect person; very imperfect, very, very ordinary, not special at all, not any more holy or loving or giving, or anything. And I suppose that’s a Christian view: that you have to become a very wonderful person and only then is there a worthiness to be with the divine Father - who is separate.
But there is no belief here, so what happens is… it’s not really an acceptance but it’s seeing that there are character traits here that are neurotic, strange and mad, paranoid and all of that. So that still happens, that doesn’t all stop, you know. This idea that when you’re seeking for liberation… “Oh, I’m going to be this holy, calm person and I’m going to be really good” - that doesn’t happen. Or “I won’t feel any pain anymore” - that doesn’t happen. You know there is no blissed-out state that goes with this territory at all [laughing]!
Renate: So somehow all the blissed-outness is integrated and...?
Halina: That’s just an idea really, that’s a hope... Hope and despair go hand in hand with separation. Hope that life will get better. There’s no hope here, there’s nothing to hope for, life is as it is, and when there’s real pain… There’s no absolute despair either, so that was one noticeable difference. You know, there can be incredible pain and sorrow and sadness, but there isn’t despair, and there isn’t hope, because they belong to ‘wanting to be whole’ - wanting to be part of something that I feel disconnected from. That goes away with separation....
Renate: Do you have the feeling that what you did in your life was actually leading… all your searching was actually helpful...
Halina: No, not at all.
Renate: ...for your realisation?
Halina: No, not one bit.
Renate: No, no.
Halina: [laughing] It really feels that way, whereas on the other side… I’m doing this and I’m doing that and all the religious practice, or the spiritual meditation or whatever, none of that is helpful one bit to be what you already are. That’s why...
Renate: Yes, yes, but maybe for the realisation?
Halina: No. That’s already there.
Renate: OK [laughing].
Halina: You know, that’s all...
Renate: That sounds really hopeless [laughing].
Halina: It is absolutely hopeless, yes [laughing]. There’s no path to get there because you are already One. There is nowhere... It’s fine, you know, meditating; or helping people is fine. I’m not saying there’s anything against that, but there’s no need to be Oneness because that’s what all of us already are. So there’s no way... no path there.
Renate: We have to close, Halina, and I just wanted to ask you, do you have any final words of hope for us [laughing]?
Halina: [laughing] Well, a final word of hopelessness!
Renate: [laughing] For all the seekers...
Halina: Well, there’ll be seeking until there’s the feeling that there is no separation and there’s... there’s nobody sitting here saying that there’s anything to be found in liberation that is better than what anybody has in the story of time. Life is life, and your life isn’t going to change and get better by realising there is no separation. But seeking will - or will not - happen, and seeking happens in lots of different ways. Shopping is seeking, or trying to get a bigger house - it’s all searching to feel at home and it will go on until... until it doesn’t … And there’s nothing that the ego, the self that’s separate, can do about that, because it’s an illusion.
Renate: So till then, we have to just enjoy the journey [laughing].
Halina: [laughing] Just enjoy life. Absolutely.
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