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Interview with Non duality magazine
March 2011

Berit Ellingsen


Berit Ellingsen is a Norwegian literary and speculative fiction author. She is also a science journalist and has worked as a game, film and music reviewer. Her fiction has appeared in The Harrow and Jack Move Magazine, and will be seen in the forthcoming anthology Growing Dread: Biopunk Visions, as well as in OverClockZine and SPLIT Quarterly. Berit admits to pine for the fjords when abroad. She is a fan of the teachings of Ramana Maharshi, Nisargadatta Maharaj, Bob Adamson, Harsh K. Luthar and Jerry Katz.

Her debut book, The Empty City, inspired by the philosophy of nonduality, is published online at and will be available in print and e-book formats in spring 2011. Half of the proceeds will go to the World Wildlife Fund.

NDM: Can you please tell me how you became interested in non-duality?

Berit Ellingsen: Although I didn't grow up in a culture where knowledge of Zen and Taoism was widespread, I have always been aware of those two philosophies, and been interested in them. When I did my master's degree in biology many years ago, I had a strong feeling it was time to find out more. I began reading a lot of different material, and found Harsh K. Luthar and Jerry Katz' mailing lists online. I read both "Be As You Are" by Ramana Maharshi and Jerry Katz' website on nonduality. At first it looked like very complex ideas, but there was just something about it that rang true. The idea that self-knowledge was open to everyone was something I found very radical and attractive.

Jerry Katz.  


Harsh K. Luthar


NDM:  When you became interested in Taoism and Zen, did you begin practicing Zazen (sitting meditation) or join a sangha (group) of some kind?

Berit Ellingsen: I went to a few meetings at the local Zen group, but I kept sneezing from the incense, which didn't go so well with Zazen, so I did self-inquiry at home instead. Self-inquiry was practical since it could be done while walking to and from work, doing the dishes, etc. Also, when I wasn't doing anything my mind would go into a very relaxed, objectless state, which I came to think of as a baseline, so I stuck to that as well. Harsh K. Luthar's and Jerry Katz' mailing lists were online sanghas that had many discussions and insights about nonduality and self-inquiry.

NDM: How long did you do this self enquiry?  Was it days, weeks or even years? Was it all the time or just part of the day?

Berit Ellingsen: Just part of the day, as I couldn't do it when I was reading textbooks or doing experiments. It may be possible to do self-inquiry when reading, but I wasn't very good at it, so I just did it when I had spare time and it felt important to do. I did it for some weeks. I had some glimpses of the Self but it felt a little forced. I thought things should happen naturally. I was lazy and found it easier to do nothing. The texts on nonduality said that when the Self has been intuited, the process would continue by itself, and I trusted that. The texts also said "You are the Self", and that made me wonder if I really needed to do anything.

NDM: So what happened then? Did this process continue without making any effort? 

Berit Ellingsen: That's what happened. Things like finding a job and doing the taxes were more problematic than nonduality. It felt like a process that couldn't be stopped. In fiction I have compared it to a black hole of no-thingness, the way matter doesn't go right into a black hole in space but circles it until the matter falls over the event horizon. At some point it was just going back to how I had always been, except for the times when I thought I should be one way or the other. I remember being exactly the same in my first memory as a kid. It was extremely relieving to find out.

NDM: So what did you find out exactly?

Berit Ellingsen: Everything takes place in a consciousness that is enormous. Thoughts and emotions, the mental processes, and all bodies and motion, appear in that consciousness, but the underlying consciousness itself remains unchanged and open, whatever happens.

The consciousness is a continuous sense of being, in that the concept of time falls away. And the consciousness is solid joy, for joy's own sake. In that, the mental processes and the objects that appear, are like a celebration of life, a celebration for no reason at all. It's like the ocean celebrating being water and having waves and everything else inside it.

For some it seems terrible that the consciousness, the ground state of being, is "no one" and "no-thing", which makes it seem like something robotic and impersonal. But the no-thing is life itself, just spontaneity and improvisation and what appears in the consciousness. And that's nothing that needs to be gained by doing this or that or going somewhere or eating certain things or not eating them. It's just self-recognition and it's there from the start, in childhood. It's what happens every day.

NDM: Can you tell me about this fictional book that you wrote. What is it about?

Berit Ellingsen: The Empty City is a short novel about nondual awakening, becoming comfortable with silence and letting go of the past. Connected themes are questioning your own beliefs and what you regard as yourself.

There's also a little about exploring dreams and abandoned urban places. The story is set in an unspecified city, and in dreams and images of the main character. It's told in short episodes that each describe a place in the city, a dream, a question, a memory or an event.

The novel is serialized here
( and will be available in print and various electronic formats later in the spring or early summer. A few chapters will be published by or have been submitted to literary journals online, and they have first rights to publish those chapters, hence the delay.

One of the nondual chapters will be published by literary journal SPLIT Quarterly ( on April 1st, so look for it there.


Berit Ellingsen


NDM: Why did you write a novel about this as opposed to the usual type of book that many others write?  About their realization story and so on?

Berit Ellingsen: I wanted to write a novel about nondual awakening, where that was central to the story. There's a lot of nondual nonfiction and poetry, but little fiction. I was curious to see if it was possible to write at all. Although the nondual awakening is a story in itself, it's a story of subtraction rather than addition, as opposed to most fiction. It also breaks with many conventions in storytelling, such as "the hero's journey", and that you have to have a character that believes him or herself to be a totally separate entity that learns and grows from their experience.

I wanted to break with those conventions and see if it was possible to do things in another way. At first it was difficult to have the nondual story "fit into" the conventions of fiction, but when I began experimenting with form and didn't try and pressure it into a certain story arc, I thought it worked better. It may not be a successful experiment, but it's been very learning to do, writing wise.

There is a discussion in various literary journals online about having stories with foundations from spiritual traditions that break with the common story norms. It's called "Lucid fiction" and it's not yet very common. But there is experimentation being done.

I have used nonduality in a few short stories as well, and hope to experiment more with nondual fiction in stories where that feels appropriate.

NDM: Do you see non-duality becoming more mainstream, as far as the media, films and television are concerned?

Berit Ellingsen: The last years there's been released a few short films, like Tom Bolton's Not To Be, that have nondual themes or are approaching them, and also a few major motion pictures, among them The Thin Red Line by Terrence Malick, and the first Matrix movie. I think we will also see it in Malick's upcoming film Tree Of Life. The words and stories of nonduality do appear in mainstream media from time to time, and it would be great to see even more of it.

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