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The following are selected posts from my Facebook page:

The posts are arranged chronologically with the most recent on the bottom:

October 13, 2019

The Tired Old Myth of Final Enlightenment and Permanently Awakened People:

I don’t think of awakening as a state or condition that someone “abides” in, and I don’t think in terms of permanently awakened people. For me, the word awake simply points to the recognition that we are not limited to the bodymind; that there is only this immediacy Here-Now—at once ever-present and always changing; that nothing is outside of this unbroken wholeness, including the thought-sense-story that something is; that nothing that appears has the substantial, persisting, objective existence that it seems to have; that everything is happening choicelessly by itself as one indivisible whole; that this undeniable living reality is at once totally obvious and unavoidable (here it always is!) and at the same time utterly mysterious and unresolvable if we attempt to grasp it or pin it down. In my experience, that recognition is rarely, if ever, a one-time event that permanently wipes out all apparent confusion and delusion forever after. 

I spent a number of years desperately seeking some kind of permanent, total, Final Enlightenment. Thankfully, that search fell away—not in a dramatic way—but it was simply noticed, more and more clearly, that this search was all about “me” and some imaginary “there” that “I” might reach in some imaginary future. It was much ado about nothing, in other words! 

Confusion, delusion, identification as “me,” and all the myriad things that can follow from that—such as anger, defensiveness, feeling hurt or upset—can and do still arise in this vastness. I continue to enjoy hearing, reading and talking with other “teachers” (or non-teachers), and I continue to find it interesting to explore this living reality. I’m no longer seeking some endgame enlightenment or some final perfection for Joan, but I am still moved to discover where there is delusion, fixation or identification, and to open, again and again, to the larger reality.

I’m personally quite tired of the finish-line model of awakening or enlightenment. I’m tired of teachers acting like flawless superstars who have left all human fallibility behind and transcended to some error-free zone of purity and perfection. We're all waking up together as one whole happening.

October 19, 2019

Finding the Sacred in the Ordinary:

A friend at Springwater, the retreat center founded by Toni Packer where I was once on staff,  was cleaning out the closets there recently and came upon a spiral-bound xerox copy of Awake in the Heartland: The Ecstasy of Ordinary Life, that I had given to Toni for her feedback. My friend mailed it to me. I wish I’d kept that subtitle—I had forgotten it. I changed it in the published version. But I like that old one: the ecstasy of ordinary life.

Many spiritual teachings emphasize a kind of detachment from the messiness of ordinary human life, rising above it, transcending it, rejecting any sense of being a person. I prefer a different approach, one that honors both the transcendent and the down-to-earth, the personal and the impersonal, the pure and the messy, the light and the dark.

I see the messiness of ordinary life as the Holy Reality and suggest going ever-more deeply into it rather than away from it. Liberation, awakening or enlightenment (as I understand them) are not “out there” in some special elevated state, but right here in this present moment. This approach avoids any pretense of being “beyond it all” and cuts off any search for an exotic future somewhere else.

Of course, by “going deeply into the ordinary,” I don’t mean being deeply lost in all the stories, beliefs and conceptualized situations that we often think of as ordinary life. I mean being fully awake to the actuality of this moment—the immediate, energetic, sensory aliveness and present-ness of Here-Now, just this, as it is.

And how is it exactly? The more closely we look or feel into the bare actuality of this moment, the less graspable and the more mysterious and wondrous it reveals itself to be.

Being fully alive as this present happening, this hearing-seeing-sensing-breathing-moving-thinking-awaring-being, we find that Here-Now, present experiencing, has no boundaries and no seams. This amazing happening includes the intermittent sense of being a particular unique person, but it isn’t stuck there or limited to that. There is no effort to be identified as one part of this happening and not as another part, nor to push anything away, nor to make something special happen. There is simply this present experiencing, just as it is: the sound of traffic, the cheep-cheep of a bird, an ache in the knee, a passing thought, the taste of oatmeal, sweeping the floor, changing a diaper, phoning a friend, cooking lunch, driving to the office, working on the computer, watching TV, sitting in deep meditation – just this. Nothing more, nothing less. The Holy Reality is right here, hidden in plain sight, in the apparently ordinary.

In Zen, tremendous attention and care is given to every seemingly mundane detail of ordinary life. Sweeping the floor, pouring tea, cooking rice, and cleaning the toilet are sacred activities, to be approached with the same loving care and attention that you would give to your dearest beloved.

What if we regarded every object we touch, every person we meet, every task we undertake as God? What if we realized that it is God moving as us, that there is no separation, that we are the whole universe? How would this change the way we function, the way we feel, the way we treat ourselves and everyone and everything around us?

October 23, 2019:

If it seems that presence is not always here, what is it that we are calling presence? Is it a particular experience that we can describe and remember and compare to other experiences? If so, then it will come and go, as all experiences do by their very nature. The experiences that happen in deep meditation, on retreat or at a satsang, will be different from the experiences that happen at the office on a busy day, at home with screaming children, while watching a thriller on TV, or when lost in a daydream-fantasy. But something is the same in all these different experiences. They all happen Here-Now. They all appear in awareness. They are all movements of the same presence, consciousness or immediacy.

Thought (claiming to be “I”) keeps asserting, “I’ve got it, I lost it, I need to get it back, I’m abiding in it, I’m not abiding, I’m a loser, I’m awake, I’m not awake,” etc. If we stop and check, we can discover that presence-awareness is here before, during and after all those thoughts. It is the ever-present groundless ground (the no-thing-ness) appearing as everything, the indivisible wholeness of Here-Now.

We usually focus on the figure and not the ground—the storylines, dramas, situations, and problems. That all has its place, and it’s never actually separate from, or other than, the ground. Stories are wonderful (I love them!). But it can be interesting to give open attention to the ground itself, to presence, to groundlessness—to notice what is the same in every different experience.

It can also be interesting to dive deeply into the actual textures of this ever-changing present moment—the amazingly rich colors, shapes, sounds, smells, tastes, bodily sensations. And what is the actual texture of thoughts, daydreams, fantasies, and mental movies below the narrative? Something to explore.

Of course, we can use words in different ways. As always, it’s helpful to find out how words are being used. There is certainly a profound and palpable difference between being lost in obsessive, me-centered thinking and simply being present and aware (“being here now”), and if thoughts arise, seeing them as thoughts and not as objective reports on reality—not being hypnotized by them, not believing them. If that kind of open attention and clarity is what is meant by presence or “being aware,” then it does come and go.

Although actually, it might be more accurate, even then, to say that open aware clarity is ever-present, and what comes and goes is the hypnotic entrancement in thoughts and stories.

Response to a comment:

Experientially, any sense of being present and aware disappears every night in deep sleep, although in that case we wake up if we smell smoke or hear an alarm, so some awareness obviously remains, simply without any experiential qualities, or at least none we remember. When we're dead, we don't wake up if the alarm goes off. Something is no longer there, at least, not as that particular (ever-changing, never really anything in particular) bodymind. And yet, awareness is right here, beholding the dead body, in the guise of other bodyminds. It is as if the bubble has popped, but the space inside and outside remains, and even the bubble was simply space bubbling. "Space" is a word here for what cannot really be captured by a word for it is the no-thing-ness and the everything-ness of all there is, the total impermanence and the seamless indivisibility. In the end, there's a huge not-knowing, perhaps because the eye cannot see itself, but there's also an intuitive certainty that the very notions we are talking about are somehow flawed, and that "nothing" is as much an idea as "something." And so, we try to express all this, but words are never quite right. If we try to parse it all out on the level of intellect, thought, logic and reason, we will miss the heart of the matter—at least, that is my experience. For some, intellect, thought, logic and reason are all that matters. For me, the real jewel is beyond that. I wouldn’t disparage intellect, thought, logic and reason—they are all valuable tools, and very useful for challenging beliefs and unseen (false) assumptions. But it doesn’t end there.

Mortality is both real and unreal in my experience. We cannot land on either side to the exclusion of the other. And no, I don't believe in reincarnation or heaven, that's not what I'm pointing to. I'm pointing to what Buddhism calls emptiness, interdependence, no-self, impermanence, and what Advaita calls the Self. They may seem like opposites, but follow them all the way and, in my experience, you end up Here-Now, ever-present, ever-changing.

October 25, 2019

Not Getting Fixated on Half the Truth

In my experience, this living reality has many ways of seeing itself, and they may all be real. But because of the binary nature of our thinking process, we tend to easily get stuck on one side of what is actually a purely conceptual divide between two polarities, polarities that only exist relative to one another. We lose sight of how they work together and depend on one another, how both have a part of the truth, how neither is completely true.

Examples of this abound. Some people get stuck on non-duality, as opposed to duality. Some get stuck on absolute truth, as opposed to relative truth. Some get stuck on one or the other side of these pairs: choice/no choice, practice/no practice, self/no self, spiritual/material, transcendent/down-to-earth, ever-present/ever-changing, progressive/conservative, and so on.

Can life be both totally real and also dream-like and ephemeral? Can mortality be both real and unreal? Can death be both utterly final and totally non-existent? Can the person we apparently are be both an undeniable reality and a kind of mirage-like phantom? Can it be equally true that history really happened and that nothing actually happened? I say, YES!

Our binary minds can’t handle the paradoxical nature of reality, the way it can’t quite be pinned down or captured by any thought-concept, the way it shape-shifts and refuses to hold still.

Many different perspectives feel true to me: science and spirituality; the world of everyday life (politics, family dynamics, cancer treatments, economic realities, climate change, and so on) and the world of vast emptiness; Buddhism (which talks about interdependence, emptiness, no-self, thorough-going impermanence and change) and Advaita (which talks about the immutable Self, the unchanging, ever-present Absolute), and so on. Maybe we don’t need to choose. I find when I go far enough to the west, I’m suddenly in the east. When I go deep into impermanence, I’m suddenly in seamlessness, and always Here-Now. When I explore form, I encounter emptiness. Anywhere I land is partial, not quite the whole story.

Maybe reality is multi-faceted, multi-dimensional, layered, holographic, fractal. Maybe it only seems paradoxical because we want to pin it down. That’s how it seems to me.

We get easily identified with and fixed on viewpoints and positions, which we then defend and argue over. But what are we ever actually talking about? We think we know, but do we really? That’s not a question to answer, but to live with.

-- copyright Joan Tollifson 2019--

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