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Blog #4


The following are selected posts from my Facebook author page (5/1/20--6/19/20):
https://www.facebook.com/JoanTollifson.


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


May 1, 2020:

POLITICS and SPIRITUALITY:

My two Facebook pages are primarily spiritual in nature, as are my books and the work I do—this is the main focus of my life. (For what I mean by spirituality, see the Home page of my website). I’m also a former political activist who cares about the world. I follow the News, and periodically, I post something political. I also notice that a lot of the political posts on Facebook are a mixed bag. On the one hand, it’s great to share information in this global and immediate way. But often it seems the posts are inflammatory and basically either preaching to the choir and sharing our righteous indignation at the “other” side…or else getting worked up by the horrible things “they” are saying. Political issues often involve life and death, of course (as is very evident now with the pandemic), and so not surprisingly, they can push deep buttons.

It’s always worth questioning the way thought divides this seamless totality up into these seemingly separate categories like spiritual and political. It’s also worth questioning the ways each of these categories is often looked down upon by the other.

In the spiritual world, politics is often a dirty word. But politics is really nothing more than how we organize ourselves as communities: families, tribes, organizations of various kinds (including spiritual ones), cities, states, nations, and globally. Politics is about how we make decisions that affect us as a whole. Because human beings are imperfect and subject to the pulls of greed, hate and delusion, these matters often become tainted by corruption and ill-will. And, of course, we’ve all seen plenty of that. Hence, the idea that politics is dirty. But there’s nothing inherently dirty about creating and maintaining a system where people participate in decision-making and agree on certain ethical ideas and courses of action. Of course, no two people have exactly the same idea of how things “should be,” so this inevitably involves disagreement, conflict, and in the worst cases, outright war. And no human system is ever perfect.

In the political world, spirituality is often seen as an escape. It is thought that by turning away from the world, spiritual people are allowing the status quo to continue—even if the status quo involves slavery, sexism, racism, animal abuse, environmental devastation, exploitation of workers, and so on. Spirituality is also considered rather woo-woo and all about unreal fantasies. (Of course, spiritual people may see the world of politics as unreal—merely a passing dream). No one is really apolitical, because even being apolitical or disengaged is itself a political position and has consequences.

Recently, I posted a review of a documentary I’d seen (Planet of the Humans, a critical look at the environmental movement from the left—from people who care deeply about climate change and environmentalism, but feel that what we’ve been doing so far isn’t really working). Anyway, I immediately began hearing criticisms of the documentary, so I took the review down. Then I put it back up, with links to both the documentary and some of the criticisms. Then I took that down because I found myself getting embroiled in lots of back and forth on Facebook and elsewhere over this movie, sometimes getting irritated, and feeling like it was not how I most wanted to use my time—and my feelings about the movie had become quite mixed and uncertain as well.

But this is an old koan for me, as you’ll know if you’ve read my books, this question of how these two things come together—spirituality and politics. And, of course, there is no one way. The mix is different for each of us. Ramana Maharshi and Martin Luther King Jr. both served the world in different ways, and neither was better than other (at least, not as I see it). So there is no one size fits all answer here. And my own “answer” keeps shifting and moving. For sure, over many decades now, I seem to be moving ever farther away from activism and a political focus, and ever more deeply into a spiritual focus. But that’s just how this life seems to be moving. Every life is unique.

Anyway, since this recent turmoil over the documentary, and given the deepening divisions that are erupting in this country in ever-more disturbing ways, with unmasked demonstrators armed with automatic weapons now massing inside state capitols, yelling right in the face of police, inches away, in defiance of the pandemic guidelines, demanding their right to get sick and to spread sickness as they please, not to mention the upcoming presidential election in this country—I have found myself immersed in this old koan (spiritual and political) in a new way.

So, in the next while, I’ll be sharing some things from a number of spiritual teachers that I feel relate to this question, not necessarily overtly. They offer a variety of different perspectives, ALL of which I resonate with. These sharings will include material from Christian mystic John Butler; Advaita sage Jean Klein; Zen teacher Barry Magid; Zen Master Lin-chi; nondualist and former Buddhist monk Darryl Bailey; singer/songwriter and long-time Zen practitioner Leonard Cohen; creator of the Yoga of Radiant Presence Peter Brown; and a passage from my own most recent book. In addition, the two videos I just shared of talks by Zen teachers Steve Hagen and Norm Randolph can also be included. Again, these are all people and perspectives that I resonate with and respect.

Anyway, stay tuned….. [for the links to all the things mentioned in that last paragraph, see my Facebook pages from April 29 thru May 11]


May 13, 2020:

Spirituality and Politics Revisited

Back on May 1, I posted an article about “Spirituality and Politics,” and at the end of it, I said I would be sharing some things I resonate with from different perspectives that would relate to this (not necessarily overtly). These sharings have included material from Zen teachers Steve Hagen, Norm Randolph and Barry Magid; Zen Master Lin-chi; Christian mystic John Butler; Advaita sage Jean Klein; nondualist and former Buddhist monk Darryl Bailey; singer/songwriter and long-time Zen practioner Leonard Cohen; creator of the Yoga of Radiant Presence Peter Brown; and a passage from my own most recent book.

As I said in my post back on May 1, politics is really nothing more than how we organize ourselves and live together as communities—how we structure an economy, what behaviors are permitted and what ones are not, and so on. And spirituality, as I mean it, has to do with an exploration, through our direct experience, of the nature of reality—and with a sense of wholeness, and a sense of devotion (awe, wonder, reverence, love) to the sacred, to that which is sacred or holy or whole in every experience.

As I pointed out in that previous post, in the realm of politics, no two people have exactly the same idea of how things “should be,” so it inevitably involves disagreement, conflict, and in the worst cases, outright war. And however good it might be, no human system is ever perfect. And when we’re dealing with social and political issues, as soon as we name them and begin to think about them, we are engaged in the world of interpretation and conceptual thought, which is always the world of delusion in the sense that it is never the actuality itself—it is always an over-simplified, fractured, reified, dualistic virtual reality.

So if we live ONLY in this political dimension, our life will almost certainly be full of conflict, frustration, disappointment, and misery. I think we all know what it’s like when we are completely caught up in and hypnotized by our thoughts and emotions over political issues. Take any issue that you care deeply about: economic inequality, access to affordable healthcare and education, racism, sexism, LGBTQ rights, abortion, reproductive rights, foreign policy, Palestine/Israel, climate change, the environment, the treatment of animals, vaccines, how we should respond as a society to COVID-19, immigration, gun control, you name it—when we are completely caught up in and mesmerized by our thoughts and emotions over issues we care deeply about, it’s very hard to listen openly to the other side and very easy to get swept away in self-righteous anger, fear, grief, hatred, confirmation bias, polarized thinking, and so on. It’s easy to become violent (in our thoughts, our emotions, our bodies). These issues can feel like matters of life or death, and our very survival (or that of something with which we identify) can seem to be (and may actually be) at stake.

But beyond our deeply held ideas of what is right or wrong, I think many, if not all, of us have experienced how both sides in a political struggle can be strangely like mirror images of each other. And we’ve seen how the best of intentions can lead to terrible outcomes (as in some communist revolutions), or conversely, how horrible events can bring forth good things (for example, the Vietnam war that shaped Thich Nhat Hanh and led him to be a world teacher). As in the famous old Chinese farmer story, things that we think are terrible can turn out to be gifts, and things we think are wonderful can turn out to be terrible. The worst things in our lives are often the things that lead us to greater strength, wisdom, humility, and understanding. Each of us sees things from a very limited perspective, and from that limited perspective, they look good or bad. But we don’t see how they are inseparably connected, as in the Chinese farmer story, to other outcomes. From the bigger perspective of totality or wholeness, there’s no way to separate the light from the dark.

So what did the various things I shared in these past two weeks offer in terms of how we might see and be with all the events of this world?

Some might have found the writings and videos I shared contradictory and irreconcilable, yet I resonate with all of them, perhaps because I hear a common thread, however differently it may be expressed.

And what is that common thread?  It is the bigger context to which they all in some way point, and the possibility of not being totally bamboozled by our thoughts and ideas and our limited views.

Some, like Jean Klein and John Butler, point to resting as awareness or Spirit. The perspective is transcendent. Others, like Barry Magid and Leonard Cohen, talk about being this moment, just as it is—very down to earth, everything included. That might seem very different from the transcendent. And yet, that simple acceptance of everything that appears IS actually BEING awareness! And while it might seem that Barry and Leonard are just saying that life is painful and that’s that, they are actually pointing to the acceptance of that, and paradoxically, when we embrace the darkness, it turns into light. They are finding the transcendent right in the midst of the full catastrophe of life as it is. Peter Brown and Darryl Bailey point to the ungraspable, inconceivable and choiceless movement or presence that is all there is, and in their different ways, they both invite a more nuanced exploration of what is showing up. They also both point out that this moment can never be other than exactly how it is, and that we will each do exactly what life moves us to do in each moment. All these different teachers point to something that is experiential and non-conceptual. They’re not talking about belief, intellectual understanding, philosophy, or getting the right idea about things. They’re all pointing to what is right here, right now—clear and obvious.

In our lives on planet Earth, we are confronted with many issues, many problems. As we live now with COVID-19, whatever that entails for each of us, and as we encounter (whether on the News or in person) heroic healthcare workers and first responders, mobs of armed demonstrators waving swastikas and Confederate flags, long lines of cars snaking toward food banks, people out of work, small businesses collapsing, mothers at home trying to be the teacher for multiple children, Donald Trump being Donald Trump, how do we respond?

Everything I shared invites us to behold all of this, to explore and be with it in a way that is not our usual conventional approach. It invites us to wake up (now) from that total involvement in the storylines that overlay all this, and to see the ways we are identifying, taking things personally, and how we are seeing it all from a limited perspective—and that we can never know the full story of how it all goes together. These various teachings invite us to perhaps experience these storms of emotion-thought as sensation, as energy, as impersonal and meaningless happenings in the flow of life, and to see beyond all our conceptual divisions: good and evil, right and wrong, superior and inferior, spiritual and political, relative and absolute, us and them. They invite us, in their different ways, to recognize a more subtle or all-encompassing dimension of reality.

That doesn’t mean we won’t still have opinions and preferences, or that we “shouldn’t” act or speak out about something if we are so moved. Withdrawing completely from any active involvement in political matters and being instead deeply engaged only in spirituality may be the perfect response for some people. But for others, there will be a deep pull to get into the fray and work to bring about certain changes within the dream-like movie of waking life. I’m calling it a dream-like movie, but it’s as real as we are in this moment, and this relative reality cannot ever be completely dismissed as long as we are alive in this dimension.

For myself, life seems to have been moving me away from any kind of activism and ever more deeply into spirituality (call it meditation, Zen, Advaita, nonduality, meditative inquiry, whatever name you like). But that’s just how it is for me. Everyone has a unique path.

And as I told someone in a comment recently, I find myself being more and more pulled into the experiential realm and less and less drawn to sit at my computer and write. That’s part of why I’ve been sharing so many things by other people rather than more of my own writing. I’m not writing much lately. This might all change tomorrow, but for now, that’s how it seems to be.

Thank you for listening.


May 14, 2020:

As a postscript to my post yesterday: I was born in the 40’s and grew up in the 50’s. It was a very different world back then for women, Black people, LGBTQ people, people with disabilities, and other minorities. If you were alive then, and if you were a member of any of these groups, you know what I mean. I’ve seen enormous positive changes in my lifetime in all these areas—HUGE changes. Also around caring for the environment and the humane treatment of animals and many other things. And some of those changes have had profoundly positive effects on my own life (as a lesbian woman with a disability). And I’m quite sure most of these changes would not have happened simply by everyone meditating. So, I’m infinitely grateful that there have been, and that there continue to be, people dedicating themselves to activist work. In the dimension of ordinary, everyday reality, it definitely matters.

I also see that people who devote themselves to prayer or meditation also have a HUGE impact on the world. It’s a much less visible impact. But once the seamless and energetic nature of reality is understood, it becomes obvious. As has been said, when I awaken, the whole world awakens.

And as I tried to express in my previous post, the things we consider horrible and unjust (slavery, war, genocide, racism, sexism, environmental devastation, factory farming, and so on) are all part of a larger whole and, as in the famous old Chinese farmer story, we can never know all the positive things that come from such evils, just as the crucifixion led to the resurrection (which I interpret mythologically, not literally, but it’s a beautiful pointer). In my own life, having one arm, struggling with addiction, and having cancer all presented challenges and were at times quite painful, but they have all been enormous blessings, albeit I would not have chosen any of them! 

In the ultimate sense, the more closely we look at any apparent thing, the more it reveals itself to be nothing solid, separate or graspable. The world around us looks solid and persisting, but both physics and meditation reveal that it isn’t. The actuality is more like freefall with no one falling and no ground to hit. But any formulation we come up with, including that one, for what’s going on here, at any level, is always a tentative approximation that never really holds up. Still, formulations are useful for functioning and communicating. But ultimately, everything we say is just gibberish. We have no clue what’s REALLY going on here, whatever that might even mean. Any yet, this living actuality is continuously presenting itself—ever-present, ever-changing, and utterly obvious. And it seems to me, from my experience anyway, that we can’t land on either the conventional or the absolute perspective. Because no matter how enlightened we are, no matter how much we see through the illusion of solidity and substance and separation, we still have to make a living, feed the kids, take out the garbage, and so on.

Response to a comment:

I have no idea what the future will bring. I think speculation is mostly a waste of time. I’m definitely not into holding out hopeful scenarios, and my own sense is that humanity is headed for extinction preceded by some pretty catastrophic times, which we’re already beginning to see. However, I might be wrong, and even if I’m right, I don’t see this as a tragedy. The larger reality is without beginning or end. And as you suggest, nothing can appear without polarity or duality—there is no up without down. While I’ve witnessed many wonderful changes during my lifetime, they are only wonderful from my perspective. To white supremacists and misogynists, they are terrible changes. And I’ve also seen some changes that are terrible from my perspective: the climate is warming, the population has quadrupled during my lifetime, many species have gone extinct, corporate power has grown, we’ve had a series of senseless wars, there have been genocides, Donald Trump is the president of the US, and so on. But as I’ve been saying, as in the old Chinese farmer story, we don’t really know how ANY of these (the ones we consider positive or the ones we consider negative) play out or how they fit into the bigger picture.

Response to another comment:

Yes, as you know, many people, like Martin Luther King Jr. and Sr. Helen Prejean, and many movements such as Engaged Buddhism and Christian Liberation Theology have combined spirituality and politics, or found them inseparable. At one point in my life, as I moved from activism to spirituality, this was very alive to me, this possibility. I don't find myself drawn to it anymore, but I'm glad many others are drawn to it, because I think political activism is at its best when it is grounded in a spiritual perspective and practice. And while I'm no longer an activist, I still follow the News, care deeply, and occasionally do jump into the political fray here on FB and elsewhere in conversation...and I vote. And I might also add that spirituality that denies the world or totally turns away feels off in some way.

Response to another comment:

It's a sweet idea, and if life moves you to do this, that's beautiful. But as I see it, we are not the independent agents with free will and choice that we've been taught that we are. We don't choose our personalities, our talents, our desires, our fears...we don't decide what sources of news seem trustworthy to us, or who we find attractive, or what we're most drawn to in life. We can seemingly decide to do something like what you suggest, but if you look closely, you'll find that the urge to do this arose by itself, as does your ability or inability to carry it out. I fully agree, there will never be a perfect world from our limited perspective, but my sense is that there is a perfection in the Whole.


May 18, 2020:

IS REALITY CHANGING OR EVER-PRESENT?

Someone asked me a question about Darryl Bailey and why he talks only about change and not about ever-present awareness. I responded, but thought my response might be of interest to others as well:

Somewhere in one of his books, Darryl says that change is also an inaccurate description. And somewhere else in one of his books, he says he used to think he was awareness, and then he noticed he couldn't really find that as any graspable "thing" apart from everything. 

No conceptual attempt to capture reality is ever going to be able to nail it down. "The Tao that can be spoken is not the true Tao." The map is not the territory. The word water is not water. There are many pointers (words, analogies, metaphors, descriptions, etc) that are helpful at different moments on the pathless path, but none of them is the Truth Itself. They are potentially useful in helping us notice a certain aspect of reality, but if we cling to any of them, they become obstacles. 

If we attend to our actual present experiencing (rather than to second-hand ideas), we find that whatever-this-is, it is BOTH ever-changing and ever-present or immovable (i.e., it is always Here-Now, always JUST THIS, and yet it never appears the same way twice). 

The great Buddhist teacher Nagarjuna said that the true understanding of impermanence is that there is no impermanence. Why? Because, as Darryl so beautifully points out, no-thing ever forms as a solid, separate, persisting entity. So there is no-thing to BE impermanent! Buddhism calls whatever-this-is "impermanence" and "no-self," and Advaita calls it "the immutable, immovable Self." Both are just conceptual formulations. Neither is the Truth. They are both just different maps. 

Apparent forms have no actual continuity at all; awareness gives the sense of continuity. But again, that's just words, just another pointer, another description. As Darryl says, “Ultimately, my descriptions are false too, but they invite you to step out of description, in order to experience a sense of freedom and well-being that is impossible to create or to understand." 

Reality itself is right here at every moment, just as it is--and yet, we can't ever put how it is into words, not really. But we can SEE it, and we ARE it, and we actually can't not be it, and it is always totally obvious and unavoidable. The confusion comes only when we try to capture it in the net of words. It won't be caught. And yet, here it is. You are it. There is only it. This is it. I hope this helps. 


June 3, 2020

My Prayer for a Beautiful World in Distress:

Introductory note for any of you who don’t follow US news: George Floyd was a Black man who was murdered by a white police officer during an arrest. The officer had his knee on Floyd’s neck for almost 9 minutes while Floyd repeatedly said he couldn’t breathe. Floyd was face down on the pavement and handcuffed at the time. His murder set off massive demonstrations (mostly peaceful) and also riots and looting in cities across the US. Demonstrations also occurred in London, Berlin, Auckland, and other cities internationally.

I’ve been wondering if I want to address the murder of George Floyd, or the riots that have happened amidst the largely peaceful demonstrations, or the pandemic that is still with us, or the mostly white men armed with automatic weapons screaming in the faces of police, demanding their constitutional right to work (and to infect others), or the cacophony of conspiracy theories and differing opinions that are clashing on social media and in the streets about all of this. Obviously there is a great deal of suffering happening right now, and many people are hurting in many different ways. Many are pushed to the brink economically and in terms of the stress they are under. I feel compassion for everyone on all sides—and yes, sometimes I too get triggered and feel anger and behave badly.

And yet, in the midst of all the horror, there have been some remarkable moments of human spirit: the police taking a knee (Colin Kaepernick style) in front of the protestors, police in some places joining and marching with the protesters, the man in Washington, DC who welcomed over 70 protestors into his home overnight when they were being cornered and tear-gassed, the Go-Fund-Me page for the Somali woman in Minneapolis who had used her retirement money to open a small restaurant that was destroyed by those who were raging and looting. 

Since I’m supposedly a nondualist, maybe this is a good time to share what nonduality does and doesn't mean to me and how it might relate to all this. As I see it, nonduality doesn’t mean we are all the same, or that we have no feelings or opinions or preferences, or that we live in some kind of blissful utopia, or that we avoid feeling pain by adopting facile beliefs that everything is okay. Nonduality doesn’t mean pretending that multiplicity and apparently opposite energies don’t exist. In fact, life can ONLY show up in polarities, variations and contrasts!

Nonduality means that we don't see up and down (or left and right, or good and evil, or relative and absolute) as enemies, or as separate things that can be pulled apart, and we don't imagine that up must (or could) defeat down, or that we could have only up and no down. Nonduality means we see the larger harmony even in the apparent disharmony, the way it all goes together as one inseparable and interdependent whole.

I’d say we need that perspective right now, that bigger view that understands both the Black community and the police, that understands the frustration and desperation that drives people to destroy and loot, or to mass inside state capitols with their automatic weapons and their swastikas. We need that bigger perspective that understands the old Chinese farmer story and the way things go together in mysterious ways—the way the mud brings forth the lotus and how the defect is where the light gets in. Maybe sometimes anger is a healthy thing, a necessary thing to wake us up. Maybe a global pandemic is also a great wake up call. Maybe we can see that we don’t actually choose which views seem right to us, or which news outlets seem credible to us and which ones don’t, or whether our fear and rage becomes so overwhelming that we find ourselves smashing windows or waving a Confederate flag.

I smashed up a whole house the last night I was a drunk, back in 1973. I know what rage feels like and how it takes you over. I get it. And I’m so deeply grateful that I was lucky enough to find a path to healing, and that I had the time and resources to pursue that. I’m not the author of 5 books about nonduality and awareness because I’m a better person than those guys with their automatic weapons and their “Don’t Tread on Me” flags, or those guys smashing and looting, or that police officer with his knee on a man’s neck for almost 9 minutes. It’s not because I’m better. If I were a desperate Black man without a job, tired of being profiled and threatened, I might be one of those looters. If I were a white man who had worked hard all my life and maybe fought in wars and came home with PTSD only to feel ignored and unheard, I might be out there with my automatic weapon and my Confederate flag. If I were a police officer having to make snap judgments about life and death and deal day after day with the ugliest things that happen in our society and a dangerous and stressful job, I might have my knee on someone’s neck.

I know there’s racism in me, even though I don’t want it to be there, and even though I’ve worked against racism, and even though I had parents who taught me racism was bad. Still, it’s there. I think we all have it. And we have sexism, and heterosexism, and all kinds of prejudices and stereotypes that we didn’t choose and in many cases don’t want and have worked to uproot, not because we’re bad people, but because we’re conditioned. It’s all the result of infinite causes and conditions, and none of us are in control of it. Whether we’re moved to do social justice work or take up meditation, or whether we’re moved to loot and smash or wave a Swastika flag or be Donald Trump doing exactly what he does—it’s all an activity of the whole universe.

My mother always said that we all need to love each other. She had friends of every race, economic status, social class, sexual orientation, political affiliation, age, gender, religion—she had friends from the wealthy suburbs and friends from the housing projects, friends who were Republicans and friends who were Democrats, and a queer one-armed daughter who was once in the radical anti-imperialist left. Every year on her birthday, my mother would invite about 80 people of every imaginable variety to a party in her not-very-big apartment, and amazingly, everyone would have a good time. That was my mother’s gift, the gift of love. Oh, I know she’d be disgusted by Trump. She could get angry! And she worked for many years in Chicago against police brutality. But her default position was always love.

It’s not easy to love our enemies, as Jesus preached. It’s not easy to love ourselves sometimes. It’s not always easy even to love our dearest friends or our partners or our children or our parents. Or the people who disagree with us on Facebook. Life is challenging, and some people get a really challenging life. I’ve been very blessed and I know it. But not everyone is so lucky.

May we all have compassion for every one of us being exactly as we are in each moment, and for the world being exactly as it is. May we forgive the world and each other and ourselves for disappointing or hurting us. May we find the path from hate to love in each moment, from judgment to openness. May we see that we are a Net of Jewels, each of us a reflection of all the others—that we contain multitudes. May we see that the world we see is like a mirror showing our own face. May we have compassion for that face with all its blemishes and defects. May we see its beauty and its wholeness. May we embrace it with love and recognize that it is never exactly the same way for even a split second. May the heart be open and free. May we learn to love each other and ourselves. That is my prayer.

Can a nondualist pray? Can a nondualist embrace the world with love? Who is embracing who? Who is praying to who? Who is speaking right now and who is listening right now? These are great questions, not to answer with facile nondual platitudes, but to live with and to explore in the deepest possible way, not knowing what we might find or what THIS moment might reveal. When we’re awake, we’re always being surprised! We don’t really know what any of this is, or why it’s all here, or what we’ll think or do in the next second. And we never know when our apparent enemy might turn out to be our friend, or our own Self in thin disguise.


Response to a comment:

We won't end violence; it's part of life. There are immense battles going on right now inside all of our bodies, and there is enormous violence in nature: hurricanes, earthquakes, tidal waves, wildfires, animals ripping apart their prey. Yes, there can certainly be improvements in human society, and in my 72 years I've seen many improvements. But I've also seen many things getting worse, which is the way it works. No up without down. And no two humans have exactly the same ideas of what is better and what is worse. And some of the problems in human society are biological in origin--psychopaths, for example, are apparently born without the capacity for empathy due to some kind of brain anomaly.

Yes, change does seem to come from the young...back in the 60's, when I was young, we fought for civil rights, women's liberation, LGBT rights, an end to the Vietnam war, etc. Many positive changes happened, but racism, sexism, heterosexism, exploitation and war are still with us.

Like you, I'm inclined to think humans are headed for extinction, but who knows, anything is possible. Whatever happens, I don't see it as tragic. It is all life unfolding itself as it does, and in each moment, it is the only possible, and the more closely we look, it is no way in particular and no-thing can be grasped.

Response to another comment:

A whole long dialog about this question recently unfolded after I shared a quote from Eckhart Tolle in which he suggested death is not tragic and many people got upset. I'll just say it may depend on what the word tragic means to you. To me, it carries a sense that something is utterly terrible, unnatural, and shouldn't have happened--beyond just sad, unfortunate or painful. But death is part of life, and many species have gone extinct in the past, ice ages and global warming periods have come and gone. Humans may be the main cause of the current mass extinction and warming, but we are an expression of nature, not an aberration. If we destroy ourselves and many other species, that's fundamentally no different than a swarm of locusts destroying crops and causing a famine...or an erupting volcano wiping out a whole town and everyone in it...or the cancer cells that nearly killed me a few years ago. I'm not suggesting we shouldn't do whatever life moves us to do in response...I treated my cancer, and I'm fully supportive of human efforts to address climate change and racism and sexism and economic injustices and reduce violence and so on. I've participated in many of these efforts. And I sometimes feel sorrow or anger or pain when I see people harming other people, or other animals, or the earth...or when I see the suffering from "natural disasters" like hurricanes and earthquakes. But it doesn't seem tragic to me. It seems like life doing what it does. Again, this may just be semantics.

Response to another comment:

You say: "the raison d'etre of anthropology is cultural relativism......the idea that no one's cultural value system is better than another." I think that absurd view has been soundly discredited, at least I hope so. No, the cultural value system of ISIS is not just as good as that of Norway.

Response to another comment:

As I see it, reality (or whatever-this-is) has many different dimensions and can be viewed from a multitude of different perspectives. "ISIS" and "Norway" (like "good" and "bad") are conceptual "things" that have been reified and abstracted out of the whole. We can't really pin down the actuality to which they point because it doesn't hold still and can't really be separated out from everything else that it supposedly is not. Both what we call "ISIS" and what we call "Norway" are equally manifestations of the whole. From the perspective of quantum mechanics, they are equally made up of energy, atoms, molecules, quarks, strings, empty space, etc. Both are equally manifestations of homo sapiens, worthy of anthropological study. But from the perspective of everyday ordinary human life, there are vast differences between them. One would torture and kill me and the other would allow me to live and thrive. As I see it, confusion arises when we mix up these different perspectives. If I'm comforting a mother whose only child was just murdered, it's probably totally inappropriate and unkind to speak to her from the perspective of absolute reality (no good, no bad, no birth, no death, no person, etc), or from the perspective of quantum physics. But that doesn't mean that only the usual everyday human perspective, which relies heavily on over-simplification, abstraction and interpretation, is the only reality. In fact, it is totally questionable! And realizing that can be very liberating. Not because you pick up some facile belief, but because you actually explore and discover this directly. That's what meditation and meditative inquiry is all about.

June 10, 2020:

To Make Whole, Be Whole: Reflections on What I Value and Don’t Value in Facebook Exchanges, and How I Personally Feel Called to Respond to Those and to the World-at-Large:

My dear friend John Butler, the Christian mystic, often recalls how, as a young man, he wanted to save the world, and he set out to do that. And at some point, he got one of those telegrams from God (so to speak), one of those inner messages, and it said, “To make whole, be whole.”

I love that message. I have it up in a little frame in my living room as a reminder (see photo I just posted). It feels like a pointer to exactly where I feel most deeply called to go, or maybe more accurately, to BE.  Of course, as someone will no doubt want to point out, wholeness is ever-present, and in the absolute sense, there is only that. But these words point to giving our attention to the wholeness, opening and surrendering into that. And more and more deeply, I’m feeling that this is the best way that I can serve the world.

As Rupert so beautifully expressed in the video I shared a few days ago, if we try to change the world from a place of separation and fragmentation, from a place that imagines the world is “out there” apart from “me,” we may achieve short-term results, but in the long run, we will reproduce the original problem in a new form because we won’t have gone to the root of it.

Some people think that if you spend your time sitting in silence, attending satsangs and retreats, or engaging in a spiritual practice, that you’re not helping the world at all. But that view ignores the field that we all are, and the way everything we do affects everything else. I feel Ramana Maharshi helped the world every bit as much as Martin Luther King, Jr. – just in a different way. We all have different callings, and they may change at different times in our life. For me, the calling now is toward silence.

I don’t necessarily mean a silence without words, although that may be part of it at times. But in the silence I’m talking about, writing may still flow. Words may still come. So, I’m speaking of something deeper than simply the absence of words.

Which brings me to the subject of Facebook. I’ve been having some stressful times on Facebook lately as some of you have no doubt noticed. Not with most of you—most of you are a great joy. I welcome genuine questions and sincere comments that feel alive to me. I enjoy some of the exchanges that happen. And as a writer, it’s great to be in touch with my readers in this way and to get instant feedback on something new I’ve just written.

But I find it tiring when people seem to want to engage in a lot of what I regard as mental discussion or debate. Maybe the questions under discussion would feel truly alive if we were actually talking to one another, face to face, and really listening as well, but reading them in Facebook threads, they feel very heady to me. I find that this kind of discussion serves to keep people (myself included) up in our heads, entangled in what I regard as useless thinking, mental nit-picking and philosophizing, trying to work everything out conceptually—all of which is what I’m pointing beyond.

Moreover, some of the comments I get (again, a tiny minority) feel disrespectful, patronizing, or antagonistic—often in subtle, passive-aggressive ways that may not be obvious to a casual observer who sees only one of them. Sometimes it feels like certain people (again, a tiny minority) are just pissing on my page, or looking for attention and wanting an audience that maybe they don’t have on their own page, or maybe trying to provoke an argument or a debate. Lately, I’ve had several men wanting to engage in long dialogs that felt very unproductive to me, and yet every time, I got hooked into engaging with them.

At times, I got irritated, frustrated and impatient. And whenever that happens, it’s a call for a deeper exploration, because these small conflicts and upsets are fundamentally no different from what plays out in the larger world as wars and genocides. That exploration, as I see it, is where the rubber meets the road on the spiritual path, and it’s a long and rocky road with many setbacks and failures (as John Butler made clear in his recent video that I shared yesterday). I often fall short.

I handled having cancer way better than I handle some of the people on Facebook who push my buttons. Each of us is challenged and triggered by different things. And any place where our buttons get pushed and we find ourselves being reactive is a great place for spiritual work. But that doesn’t mean that, as the curator of my pages, I can’t, shouldn’t, or won’t also take what feels to me like appropriate action if someone persists in (as I see it) hijacking my pages for their own agenda. I have deleted a number of comment threads in recent weeks that felt this way to me.

Admittedly, a comment that feels sincere and genuine and interesting to one person may feel irritating, disrespectful or meaningless to someone else. And on Facebook, without the benefit of body language, tone of voice, eye contact and the energy of actually physically being together, it’s very easy to misunderstand someone’s intention. Facebook is generally not a medium that evokes careful, meditative attention and the kind of open listening that might occur were we face to face talking together. This possibility of misunderstanding one another (on so many levels) is one of the many reasons why I don’t find Facebook threads a great place to have certain kinds of long, in-depth dialogs on subtle aspects of reality or trying to sort out emotional reactions.

But some people, a tiny minority thankfully, seem to enjoy criticizing and picking apart whatever is shared, debating the finer points of nondual philosophy, and sometimes commenting in a way that feels aggressive or disrespectful. I find these kinds of comments tiresome to read, and I don’t really want to subject my readers to them either—they feel to me like a waste of everyone’s valuable time and energy. I experience them as distractions from the post itself and what I hope it evokes. I know that many readers can’t help reading the comments and getting sucked in—they’re very seductive, after all—and next thing we know, we’re totally entangled in them, maybe even getting emotionally upset or feeling compelled to jump in ourselves. Whatever the original post was meant to evoke has long since been totally forgotten.
 
I know some of you feel the same way I do about all this, because I get private messages as well as the things people share openly, and I know many of you find some of these comments as disturbing as I do. Some people tell me I’m amazingly patient and compassionate with the occasionally difficult people who show up on my pages. Other people (often the people I find difficult) have said I’m an angry control-freak with underlying mental health issues. Well, I’ve never denied my human nature including my myriad imperfections, all of which I’ve written about quite openly, including the fact that I have a temper and can be defensive. I’ve often joked that I’m a control freak, and it’s not completely a joke. In many ways, it’s true!

But that doesn’t mean my sensibilities about where someone is coming from are necessarily wrong. And when a reader hasn’t seen all the exchanges that have happened with a particular person on my pages, they may not see what I see in what appears to them as a seemingly innocent comment. In any case, if people find me a nasty, horrible, controlling person, well, they can find me that. I certainly have that side. And if they feel it’s their job to psychoanalyze my faults on my Facebook pages, maybe that’s what they’ll do, as some have done. And they might not get a loving response from me.

But I’m trying to learn when to engage with comments and when it’s best just to be silent. Maybe you might even find it interesting to join me in this exploration. If we find ourselves feeling the urge to comment, maybe we can pause and really feel that urge as sensations in the body. What’s behind (or under) this sometimes powerful urge to do this? Can we drop below the mental level and FEEL the bare energy of this urge and the urgency of it? Where is it located in the body? How does it move and shift if we give it our nonjudgmental, open attention? If we don’t immediately act on this urge or try to suppress it, how does it reveal and unfold itself? Maybe, if only for a minute, we can just BE the totally alive sensory-energetic actuality of this urgency. Maybe we can also feel into the listening silence, the awaring presence that we are beyond name and form and opinions of any kind. Maybe we can be still, if only for a moment, and feel the bigger reality. Maybe we’ll notice that a bird is singing, or that rain is falling.

This is what I feel called to do more and more. Which brings me back to where I began: “To make whole, be whole.” I know I have often failed in this and will most likely fail again many times. But at my age, in my seventies, in the middle of a pandemic and two years out now from a cancer that very nearly killed me, I honestly don’t want to spend my time and energy, however much of it remains, engaging in what feels to me like superficial mental arguments and debates on Facebook. In fact, is that how any of us REALLY want to spend our precious time?

I’m not saying I’ll never respond to comments, nor am I saying that no one should comment—many of your comments are heartwarming and most welcome. And questions or statements that I feel are sincere are certainly welcome and may very well draw a response, hopefully from an open place and not a reactive one. But more and more, if it feels like someone is just mentally jerking off on my page, I may simply let it go.

Most of us take up a spiritual path initially because of our own suffering and longing to be free. We want to awaken and get enlightened. It’s all about “me” finally feeling okay and at peace in my own skin, and maybe recognizing that I’m not actually encapsulated inside this skin after all. In Mahayana Buddhism, they talk a lot about how we’re doing this spiritual work for the whole world, not just for ourselves. We’re doing this to save all beings. That can sound absurdly grandiose, or it can be a nice, feel-good idea that we use to cover up our actual self-centeredness. But when it really lands inside us experientially, it’s a powerful realization and a felt shift from self-concern to something much bigger, much vaster. We realize that waking up from the self-centered dream of separation, the dream about us and them, is truly something we are doing for the whole world, for all beings. Because we really aren’t separate! It’s not about “me” anymore.

To those of you who genuinely enjoy my pages, thank you for being here. I am truly grateful for your presence and your participation and your love. And as Rumi so beautifully expressed in the poem I shared part of (Borrow the Beloved’s Eyes), I’m also grateful for those who push my buttons, because without that, I wouldn’t see where I’m still stuck. I’m grateful for it all, although not always in the moment it’s happening.

And yet, however badly we seem to miss the mark at times, immediately, it’s a new world. Everything has shifted, and yet paradoxically, the heart of it all (Here-Now, boundless presence) is immovable and never absent. The spiritual path is only about right here, right now. And yet, at the same time, upon reflection, it seems to be a long unfolding with many twists and turns, and no end or beginning. Just this, as it is, and what my teacher and friend Toni Packer called “the work of this moment.”

And what is that? In Toni’s words: “The essence is to come upon a profound kind of listening and openness that reveals the intense power and momentum of our human conditioning, how we are caught up and attached to ideas about ourselves and each other, how violently we defend these ideas—not just individually but collectively—and how this defense keeps us isolated from each other and from ourselves. The other aspect of this listening is to come upon an inner/outer silence—stillness—spaciousness in which there is no sense of separation or limitation, outside or inside.” (from her book The Light of Discovery).

Postscript on Trolling:


I’ve learned a lot in recent weeks about internet trolling, and how people apparently do this for a variety of motives, e.g. because they enjoy provoking conflict, or to get attention, or to make money from clicks, or to smear someone they don't like, or for whatever other purposes. I have learned that the best policy is apparently to ignore them, because engaging with them is what they want. They often sound sincere and genuinely interested in the topic at hand—which is why I’ve often put up with several of them for far too long. But I’m learning. Recently, I have had several men, or possibly one man using various aliases and fake accounts, trolling me. They got very upset when I deleted their comments.

To be clear, I do reserve the right to curate my own Facebook pages as I see fit. This includes deleting comments that I feel are a distraction from the message I am sharing, or comments that I feel are disrespectful or hostile, or that I feel are simply ranting and using my pages for their own purposes, or that seem to be from people who are trolling my page—either to provoke conflict, or to get attention, or to make money, or to smear me, or for whatever other purpose. I never delete a comment solely because it disagrees with my views—there has to be more involved. But even if I did delete comments solely for disagreeing, I would see that as my right. Perhaps my judgments about all of this are sometimes wrong, but I can only do my best and follow my instincts and sensibilities, as imperfect and flawed as they may sometimes be.

I offer what I do freely and in the spirit that we are all in this together. I encourage anyone who finds my writing, or my personality, or my behavior, or the things I share, harmful to their well-being or not to their liking, to go elsewhere and find pages and people that they do resonate with. Life is short. Don’t waste it.

-- copyright Joan Tollifson 2020--

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