Dualistic vs. Non-Dualistic Thinking

Have you ever doubted some of the long-held truths you were raised to believe?

“The task of the first half of life is to create a proper container for one’s life and answer the first essential question: “What makes me significant?”… The task of the second half of life is, quite simply, to find the actual contents that this container was meant to hold and deliver.” 

Fr. Richard Rohr

For the past decade, I’ve been on a journey toward freedom by giving myself permission to question, doubt, discuss and NOT have all the answers. But this has not always been the case. 

Growing up I was taught the truth, according to my parents and grandparents’ understanding of the truth. I took what they taught me as the Gospel truth. In other words, there was no disputing it, no questions welcomed, and little to no discussion invited. My parents and my church’s truth was my fallback whenever I faced a challenging situation or just couldn’t find an answer that satisfied my longing. This was a time of naivety and innocence. 

When we are young and as we grow and learn, we need clear boundaries in order to form healthy ego structures. Children especially need black and white instructions for their young minds to feel safe, protected and strengthened. During the first half of life, people are building their lives, their reputations, their professions, their families. They are accumulating “stuff” and all this effort and dedication creates a mind that judges, compares and keeps extremely busy. 


This busy mind doesn’t leave much space for intentional focus or deep questions.  The result is dualistic thinking. This happens when we think of things and those around us by categorizing everything in one of two ways: right or wrong, black or white, good or bad, nature or culture, mind or body, innate or learned, individual or collective. 

When we fall into these patterns of thinking, we leave little to no room for ambiguity.

I found myself doing it a lot—making judgments or assumptions about the people I came into contact with on a daily basis. When I think in black and white terms, I miss all the shades of grey in between. Someone has to be wrong for me to be right. Many relationships have suffered because we become stuck in “defending a position” mode. When I am so concerned about being right or making sure that my viewpoint is heard, I miss all the magic, learning, wisdom, and connection that are waiting to be discovered.

It wasn’t until later in my life that I began to realize some of those hard and fast “truths” just weren’t holding up for me any longer. I had questions, tough questions that didn’t have easy answers. I started to doubt some of the truths I had been taught. It was scary at times and often I felt like a sinner for just entertaining those questions. 


Just when I needed it most, a dear friend recommended Father Richard Rohr’s book, “Falling Upward-A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life.” Dr. Rohr wrote that we become more comfortable as we age and begin to realize there is a space between right and wrong, a space that is the very definition of faith, where there isn’t an apparent answer. 

Living in that space of ambiguity is known as non-dualist thinking. It’s our ability to read reality in a way that is not judgmental and does not exclude the part that we don’t understand. This teaching has brought me into a new place of freedom and trust. I don’t struggle as much as I once did.

When I am faced with a dilemma, I have learned to:

  • STOP what I’m doing
  • WAIT and spend some time in contemplation
  • TRUST that I will find what I need
  • WATCH for God in every situation and see what He will do

What a relief to enjoy conversations or thoughts without having to be right! How much more interesting it is to change the dialogue from one of exclusion to one of
inclusion, where other viewpoints are welcomed and respected, where curiosity is the norm. When I treat others this way, I feel the shift immediately in how I am treated. And it feels good. My relationships are not characterized by defensiveness, but rather by openness and authenticity.

Of course, this is just the tip of Fr. Rohr’s teaching. I highly recommend FALLING UPWARD for you to read for yourself…You’ll be so glad you did.

Ever on The Path Forward,
Coach Barbara
Stay in touch with Barbara & get
delivered to your