Self as Representation and Presence

In recent years, the term “nonduality” has become increasingly used in Western spiritual circles. This paper discusses the use of this term – which means that reality is essentially one and undivided – with respect to a particular school of nonduality, Advaita Vedanta. The question is asked, if all is not ultimately divisible, how is it that we as humans generally feel separate and even alienated from the larger whole or Self?

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About Tom Gibbons

Tom Gibbons, MSW, is a psychotherapist and an attorney and a long time student of the Diamond Approach. He has also practiced in the traditions of Buddhist Mahamudra and Advaita Vedanta.

His website is

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8 Responses to Self as Representation and Presence

  1. Jen says:

    I found this to be a sort of a guide to spiritual awakening using modern psychology, which makes sense for Westerners, who may lack mountain top or have families. I found it very helpful, as it answers some of the questions that arise in nonduality, such as what happens to our self in awakening, and what is ego anyway? It also integrated ancient concepts such as Maya and Atman in the Indian tradition, along with some ideas on how to live from a nondual point of view. Worth reading!

    • Tom Gibbons says:

      Thanks, I’m glad it was helpful to you. It can be very confusing translating eastern scriptures and practices into the western approach to life, and basically we’re winging it, seeing what works and what doesn’t. I like though that unlike some eastern traditions, we talk about our experience, spiritual and otherwise, openly. I think that is a strength that allows us to better integrate these ideas and experiences.

  2. Thank you, Tom, for such a lucid cartography of self and especially your conclusion of how personal identity gets its life from Presence. Thank you, Undivided, for sharing Tom’s insights with us.

    • Tom Gibbons says:

      Thank you so much for your thoughts Gail. I especially appreciate your use of the word lucid. I was trying to understand, for myself as much as anyone else, the place of ‘ego’ in the face of nondual experience, and everyday living. Yes, its absolutely true that we don’t have selves in the way we typically believe we do, but at the same time, here we all are, what to make of this!
      I always liked the Zen story of the student who approaches the master and tells him that his self has fallen away and that he is enlightened now, and of course, the master hits him on the head with a stick which makes him very angry, and the master asks him, ‘who is upset now?’

  3. Kate Fletcher says:

    Thanks Tom for writing such an articulate lending to my constant confusion and understanding of non-duality, in relation to my practice in psychotherapy. As my training was in Object Relations theory, I found this so helpful to deconstruct what I ‘know’. I will read this over and over to digest it fully. I am very grateful to you for your writing.

  4. Tom Gibbons says:

    Hi Kate, yes it turns out object relations can help us understand what is going on with the whole ego identity/non-duality question. A good place to look for further reading are A. H. Almaas’s books ‘The Void: Inner Spaciousness and Ego Structure,’ and ‘the Pearl beyond Price.’ He goes into all this in considerably greater detail with some bells and whistles of his own!

  5. James O'Hern says:

    I read your paper all the way through without once encountering a break the flow. Your writing is clear and precise, different perspectives deftly woven into the tapestry of your arguments. Bravo!  

    I was particularly taken by the part early on dealing with “unaccounted pre-egoic”. The difference between infant experiencing the Dynamic Ground but doesn’t know it, contrasted with spiritual wholeness realized or achievable as an “awakened” adult.  You did a masterful job of weaving attachment theory and explanations of meditation and inquiry into the fabric of transpersonal psychology.  

    I would hope that you find a way to share this with others outside your professional field as it truly deserves a broader audience.

    Jim O’Hern

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