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Blog #14


The following are the most recent selected posts from my Facebook author page:
https://www.facebook.com/JoanTollifson.

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


October 18, 2021:

Self and self, I and me:

There is much confusion about what is meant by self, ego, no-self, Big Self, me, I, etc., and of course, people use the same words in different ways. 

Sometimes we all use the words “I” or “me” in a purely conventional way, as “I” am doing right now in this sentence, simply to refer to “me,” Joan Tollifson. But I’m talking in this post about a deeper or broader meaning of these words when they are used to point to “the false self” or “the True Self” in some way. And in order to talk about it, some conventional usage will also occur in this post.

In my lexicon, the words “I” and “me” have quite different meanings. I use the word “me” in much of my writing to indicate the false self, the “little me” who seems to reside inside this body. When I feel into where the word “me” takes my attention, I tune into a dense, heavy sensation in my chest, and there is a felt-sense, accompanied by a story, of being small, vulnerable, separate, encapsulated, limited—contracted in some way—folded in on myself. This is what I call the thought-feeling-sense of being a separate self. Although it may seem like a permanent feature, this false self is actually intermittent, and there are many moments in any ordinary day when there are no self-referential thoughts and when this mass of sensation is absent.

This separate self never really exists—it only ever seems to exist. That’s easy to confirm, because any time we explore this me-sense or me-thought or me-image, it turns out to be simply a mix of shifting sensations, thoughts, memories, stories and mental images forming into a kind of mental mirage that seems real but isn’t. The sensations are real enough, but there’s no actual “me” anywhere in those ever-changing sensations.

When I feel into the word “I,” on the other hand, something very different happens. I find nothing that can be singled out—instead, there is total openness, freefall, boundlessness, impersonal aware presence, no-thing-ness, Zero…there is no “I” to be found as anything in particular, and at the same time, there is everything—the entire universe! There is nothing that I am, and nothing that I am not. I am nothing and everything. This I has no shape, no location, no boundaries or limits, no age, no gender, no race, no nationality—and yet it shows up as every shape, every location, every age, every gender, every race, every nationality. This true-I (or Big Self) is all-inclusive wholeness or unicity. Everyone is this same I. It is universal. It is Consciousness Itself, the Self of Vedanta, the One without a second, Unicity.

In an even more subtle dimension of being, this shapeless, formless, True-I dissolves into that which is prior to consciousness, subtler than even the so-called I AM, that first impersonal sense of being present and aware. This subtler dimension can’t really be put into words, but we might say it is pure potentiality, intelligence-energy, light, the source of everything, the Ultimate Subject, primordial awareness, the germinal dark, the Absolute. But those are just words for what is truly unnamable and inconceivable.

And, of course, these dimensions I’m naming are not really separate—these are conceptual pointers to an indivisible actuality.

Once we put a word like “Self’ (or any other word) on that which has no opposite and no beginning or ending, the naming seems to freeze it into another noun, another separate something (this but not that), another object. This is why some approaches, perhaps best exemplified by the great Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna, aim to deconstruct EVERY possible formulation with which we try to grasp reality, and then carefully avoid reconstructing anything new, not even anything subtle like “consciousness” or “pure potentiality.” Instead, this deconstructionist approach invites falling open into groundlessness, emptiness and not-knowing.

But however we language it, the absolute Self is not a thing. The True-I is the no-thing-ness, the wholeness, the emptiness, the fullness, the aliveness of everything. It includes and transcends everything perceivable or conceivable. It is at once most intimate, closer than close, and also boundless, eternal and infinite (i.e., timeless and spaceless, aka, Now-Here).

The personal self (the ego or false self) means different things to different people. I view the false self as more of an activity than a thing. It doesn’t actually exist as a thing. It is sometimes called selfing—a verb rather than a noun, and I think that’s more accurate. Selfing is a kind of behavior, or a kind of mental mirage created by sensations, thoughts, memories, stories and mental images—or a contracted energy in the bodymind.

There is a functional sense of self that we need to survive—we answer to our name, we can distinguish between our fingers and the carrot we are cutting up, we know that we are in the New York and not London, that we are “Tom” and not “Bob”—that sort of thing. If this functional sense of location and boundaries disappears due to a brain injury, it creates very serious problems. We need that functional sense of self, and we need healthy psychological boundaries. None of that is the problem.

The self that is problematic is the mirage-like thought-sense-belief of being a separate, discrete, independent, encapsulated entity, cut off from the whole, with free will. This “me” is believed to be authoring my thoughts, making my choices, and having my experiences—it is the observer, the judge, the controller who is seemingly running my life. It is the self-image, the “me” that we believe is enlightened or unenlightened, a success or a failure, a winner or a loser. It is the phantom subject of sentences such as, “I’ve ruined my life,” or “I’m not good enough.” All of that is just a bunch of stories and beliefs about a mental image, a bunch of ideas and thoughts accompanied by physical sensations. And that false self is what can be seen through, and what can fall away more and more in this so-called awakening process. 

But being awake doesn’t mean we no longer have a functional sense of self, healthy boundaries, a personality, a so-called personal life, or various opinions, preferences, interests and talents. In fact, without the burden of the false self, our unique human expression may actually be much freer to be authentic, genuine and true to itself, rather than desperately trying to conform to social norms or be someone else. No-self isn’t about eliminating the human dimension of our lives and turning into a formless blob.

Ultimately, it is realized that even the false self is actually the Self (the One and Only) appearing as this illusory, contracted self. Nothing that appears is ever really a problem in the absolute sense. Whatever appears here, including the me-story and the sense of separation, is empty of substance or independent existence. It is a fleeting appearance made out of consciousness. And somehow, it all belongs, the light and the dark, the clarity and the confusion. It’s all included. It can’t really be pulled apart. It’s an ever-shifting dance.

So awakening involves both seeing through the false self, and then—paradoxically—recognizing that this, too, is simply this same undivided intelligence-energy or pure potentiality showing up as that mirage-like appearance. EVERYTHING is included. Nothing is “wrong.” There are no mistakes. Of course, relatively speaking, in everyday life, there are many apparent mistakes, and moving to correct them is also something this indivisible wholeness is doing—all of it a choiceless, authorless movement of the One and Only no-thing-ness.


October 19, 2021:

The Relief of Realizing that Nothing Matters

As I’ve mentioned in two of my books, my mother said many times in her last year, “It’s so freeing to realize that nothing really matters.” As I clarify in my last book, “My mother was an exuberant woman who loved life, loved people, loved animals, loved plants, and cared deeply about the world. She didn’t say ‘nothing really matters’ in a way that sounded nihilistic, despairing or cynical, but rather, in a way that sounded truly free. Joyous. The burden of accomplishing something—becoming somebody, fixing the world, doing the right thing—was dropping away. The need for a solution was dissolving.”

When we die, we release everything. The same is true when we go into deep sleep each night. But when we hear a statement like, “Nothing really matters,” we may find it sets off an alarm in us. “Of course things matter!” the mind may insist rather indignantly and with some fearful desperation. And, of course, relatively speaking, many things do matter.

But I’ve often reflected on all the time and energy that goes into being triggered and reacting to things that upset me—wanting the world to be as I think it should be, wanting people to behave as I think they should, wanting to survive, judging and resisting what feels threatening or wrong. Of course, there is a place for noticing injustices or problems that can be fixed and taking intelligent action, but often the upset is solely about getting personally worked up or getting into a totally useless argument with a friend—damaging myself in the process, maybe damaging the friendship, and not really fixing anything.

I’ve noticed how the false self needs an enemy to survive. Having something to oppose provides something to bump up against—a boundary, a skin, a barrier—and this reinforces the sense of a solid “me.” Now there’s me in here, separate and threatened, fighting to survive, and there’s everything I don’t like out there. It gives the false self a sense of reality and importance. If I wasn’t opposing anything, what would I be? Maybe no-thing at all, and at the same time, EVERYTHING, even the things I dislike. The ego doesn’t like that idea.

Through meditation and things such as The Work of Byron Katie, I’ve seen on many occasions how the things I dislike and oppose “out there” are very often shadow parts of myself. I’ve seen how believing my thoughts about these “enemies” feels tight, contracted, oppositional, self-righteous, angry, upset and agitated. Whereas if I don’t believe those thoughts, it feels open, spacious, free, peaceful. And yet, I’ve noticed that we often cling to our suffering, as if letting it go would somehow enable the things we feel are wrong to continue. But is that really true?

There are also the things about ourselves that we think really matter—it might be our appearance, or our success at something, or maybe getting rid of some neurotic problem. To use an example from my own life, if I take my fingerbiting compulsion personally as “my problem” and as something that means something about me, I suffer. If I recognize it as an impersonal movement of the universe, a meaningless bunch of sensations, a dream-like appearance in this movie of waking life, then it may still be a tense and painful experience, but I no longer suffer over it. I’m at peace with it. It no longer matters. It’s simply something the universe is doing, like any other natural event. The universe is momentarily tensing up and contracting—it’s nothing personal. And there’s no “me” trying to fight against it. Surprisingly, this often results in a cessation of biting, and it definitely doesn’t make it worse. And whether the biting stops or continues at that moment, this perspective always eliminates the suffering.

The same seems to hold true when I can see that all the things happening in the world that I don’t like are also impersonal activities of the universe doing what it does. I can see that sometimes, when we go to war with such things, we actually strengthen them. Look at how the political left and the political right so often do this with each other—opposing, triggering, solidifying, fixating, closing down, tightening up, exaggerating one another and themselves in the process.

It may be worth reflecting on this notion that nothing really matters. Not as a cynical or nihilistic turning away from life, not from a place of despair or resignation, but in a way that is incredibly relieving and freeing. We might even describe it as unconditional love—seeing as God sees—seeing the whole picture and knowing that in some deep way, all is well. Everything belongs.

For a final twist, one could also hear the statement that “nothing really matters”  as an affirmation that NOTHING (silence, space, openness, Zero, no-thing-ness, emptiness, spirit, presence, GOD) really DOES matter. And isn’t that in fact quite true? As far as I can see, open aware presence matters more than anything, and when I am grounded in that, as that, intelligent action or non-action is much more likely to follow than when I am lost in a storm of emotion-thought, identified as this tight little me-capsule desperately fighting against a universe gone wrong.


October 27, 2021

The Upheavals of Life:

Last night my landlady told me she’s going to sell the house, my apartment being an attached unit, which means I will probably have to move, although of course there is a chance that the new owners might let me stay, albeit probably at a higher rent. So for the third time since I moved to Ashland back in 2008, I have been plunged overnight into the great upheaval of housing uncertainty. Rents have skyrocketed here and places are scarce, especially after the fire here a year ago left so many homeless.

I didn’t sleep well last night. I was up at 3 AM, as I often am anyway because of back pain, listening to Gregorian chants in the living room. There is a deep sadness I feel, because I love this place and this neighborhood, and there is some fear and trepidation as well—packing and unpacking gets a lot harder as we age, as do the ten million things that go along with a move. But I have a deep trust in life, in what I call God, and I also know that compared to so many people on this Earth, I am enormously blessed and have had such little real hardship. I know that in one way or another, it will all work out and may prove to be a great blessing in the end. A friend, who has herself just been through this same upheaval, sent me Rumi’s beautiful poem, The Guest House (see below), and I am endeavoring to approach it in that spirit.

Please, friends, keep me in your prayers and in your hearts. And if any of you here in Ashland hear of a one-bedroom apartment for rent in the coming months, please let me know. (I’d even consider something in Portland, Seattle, Eugene, or some other progressive place in the US like Asheville, NC, although that kind of major relocation seems much less likely). Here's the poem:

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

​A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

​Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

​The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

​Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

--Rumi


November 7, 2021:

Vast Generative Emptiness

On the traditional Chinese calendar, they consider the equinoxes and solstices the height of a season, not the beginning. They give very different dates for when each season begins. Yesterday or today is the beginning of winter on the Chinese calendar, and I always find their dates spot-on. Here, we had frost last night and the rooftops were white when I looked out this morning. It was 32 degrees Fahrenheit, zero degrees Celsius—freezing. The air this morning is crisp and clear, and the last colored leaves are radiant in the morning light, the winter light.

“If you truly comprehend this Way that never sets out for somewhere else, if you enter into it absolutely, you realize it’s exactly like the vast expanses of this universe, all generative emptiness you can see through into boundless clarity.”

That’s the passage from David Hinton’s translation of the Zen koan “Ordinary Mind Is the Way,” in Hinton’s book No-Gate Gateway, that Henry Shukman reads in his talk on this koan that I shared a link to earlier this morning. Such a beautiful passage.

Such a beautiful morning, this first morning of winter. Last night we went off summer time, so the early mornings will get light earlier on clock time, and the darkness will come earlier at the end of the day on clock time. And as we move toward the Solstice, the days will continue to shorten in natural time.

I always relish the dark time, the cold, the stripping bare, the time of going inward—the time of silence and depth.

Of course, on the other side of this vast blue ball, it is the beginning of summer.

Whichever it is for you, I hope this new season is filled with abundant blessings and much joy. May we all be awake here and now to the beauty of this very moment, “the vast expanse of this universe, all generative emptiness you can see through into boundless clarity.”


November 9, 2021:

Today is the 17th anniversary of my mother’s death. We had an amazing wind and rain storm overnight. Powerful forces lashing the house, knocking out the power in one of my rooms. This morning, everything outside is washed clean. The last colored leaves are dancing on the branches and blowing off the trees. Roofers are removing a roof across the street. My own living situation remains up in the air. Impermanence, impermanence, impermanence. What a show! What a dance! Ever-changing moods and circumstances, this generative emptiness, bursting forth and dissolving.


November 12, 2021:

The Work of This Moment: An article about Toni Packer I wrote that was published in Yoga Journal in August of 2007:

Toni Packer stands in a cloistered walkway at the edge of a courtyard, watching raindrops fall on a purple blossom. It’s the post-breakfast break at her annual nine-day New Year’s retreat in California. Toni walks a little way, then stops again to look up at the sky. She listens intently to the hissing, gurgling rain.

A lively, white-haired woman who is now 70 years old, Toni Packer is a former Zen teacher who left the traditional aspects of Zen behind to pursue her passion for what she calls “the work of this moment.”

Her approach is as unembellished and ordinary as you can get. On her retreats there are no rituals or ceremonies, and nothing is required except silence. Toni talks about listening openly to whatever is here, without resistance or effort. Rather than relying on a traditional method, she prefers to start from scratch, on the spot. She has no system, no road map, no answers. Every moment is new.

On Toni’s retreats, there is a daily schedule of timed sittings in the morning and evening (interspersed with short walking periods), and an untimed sitting period in the afternoon. But all activities and sittings are optional; you can spend the entire retreat sitting in the courtyard, walking in the hills, or lying in bed. No particular posture is regarded as better than any other. Some people even bring big, comfortable armchairs into the sitting room.

Toni gives a daily talk, and people can meet with her individually or in groups throughout the retreat. She invites us to bring up anything we want, or simply to sit quietly together listening to birds or rain. When she gives talks, Toni speaks out of stillness. She’s listening as she talks, and the listening silence is the essence of the talk. The birds, the wind, the rain, the words, the listening together is one whole happening. An immediacy permeates every word. What she points to is simple: hearing traffic or birds, seeing thoughts as thoughts, feeling the breathing, listening to it all without knowing what it is.

This open being is not something to be practiced methodically. Toni points out that it takes no effort to hear the sounds in the room; it’s all here. There’s no “me” (and no problem) until thought comes in and says: “Am I doing it right? Is this ‘awareness?’ Am I enlightened?” Suddenly the spaciousness is gone and the mind is occupied with a story and the emotions it generates.

Toni Packer grew up in Hitler’s Germany, the daughter of two scientists. Her mother was Jewish, but her father’s prestigious scientific career spared the family from the Holocaust, just barely. At the end of the war, they discovered that their names had been added to the death list.

In Toni’s early years, she saw how crowds could be persuaded to endorse and carry out unbelievable horrors when stirred by a charismatic, confident leader and by the promise of salvation and security. Toni often speaks of how we so desperately want an authority, someone to protect us. She is adamant in her refusal to provide an illusion of protective, omniscient authority to those who work with her. She calls into question our longing for ideal people and magical solutions, and continually challenges people to test out everything she says. Her teaching is “something to be considered, questioned, wondered about, taken further.”

Toni’s family emigrated to Switzerland after the war, where Toni met and married a young American exchange student, Kyle Packer. After they returned to the States, the Packers adopted a baby, and in the late ’60s she and Kyle discovered the Zen Center in Rochester, New York, where Toni was soon teaching.

But Toni found herself increasingly uncomfortable with the traditional and dogmatic aspects of formal Zen practice, which seemed to her to get in the way of open listening. She came upon the writings of J. Krishnamurti at that time, and his questions and insights helped to clarify her need to work in a simple, open way.

In 1981, Toni left Rochester Zen Center along with a group of students who were working with her, and they founded the Genesee Valley Zen Center. Toni wanted to be close to nature, so the group purchased several hundred acres of country land and built a retreat center. The first retreats in rural Springwater were held in 1985, and in time the name was changed to Springwater Center for Meditative Inquiry & Retreats.

The Center, spare and without fanfare of any kind, reflects Toni’s simplicity and spaciousness. Located in a subtly beautiful landscape in northwestern New York, Springwater Center is a place where people come to be quiet, to listen and look together, to enjoy the weather, the wildlife, the community, and to simply be. Silent retreats are held throughout the year, and people come from all over the world to attend them.

A small resident staff lives at the Center year-round. Toni now spends half the year at Springwater and the other half traveling and offering retreats in California and Europe.

I’ve been working with Toni for the past decade. We first met at her California retreat in 1988, and since then I’ve gone back and forth between Springwater, where I was on staff, and my home in California.

As the retreat begins, it feels so good to unfold and relax into the silence. I see more clearly than ever how I have always searched for some big and final experience. I see how much resistance there is to simply being here. The mind is always so busy imagining what would be better that it rarely dares to stop its frantic search for something else.

I see how much I want to be loved; I feel a deep ache of loneliness. And then, when I turn to it, there is nothing there but thoughts, and the sounds of wind and water. A solitary orange plops down from the tree, landing in wet black earth and glistening leaves. Clouds blow past.

On a nine-day silent retreat, people go through an amazing succession of moods, emotions, and experiences, many of them quite disillusioning. We begin to see vividly how thought generates images of ourselves and other people that seem totally real, and how easily we can be hurt or offended. Someone in a group meeting reports feeling enraged when the person next to him in the meditation room, whom he had already been picturing for three days now as an “aggressive person,” moved her blanket over a few inches into what he perceived to be “his” territory.

It is in our relationships with one another, Toni says, that our buttons get pushed most easily and that we come up against the sense of “me” and “my territory” and “my way” being violated or thwarted. Relationships provide tremendous opportunities to look into what is at the root of all this hurt and conflict that human beings experience. Toni invites us to notice how things close down when we think we know a person, place, or activity.

What is it we are defending? Toni asks. For me, it seems as if my very life is somehow threatened when someone questions or seems to be defying “my way.” When I look into it, I see that it isn’t so much the particular opinion or way of doing things that I’m fighting for, it’s that sense of “me.”

Toni asks us to look and see if this “me” is really here. “There’s no need to think about myself in known ways,” Toni says. “No need to know about myself, to know how I’m doing, where I’m going, or what I am. No need to know or hold on to anything. There’s nothing to be afraid of in not being anything.”

Toni suggests that we listen to the stories we’re telling ourselves and each other, and notice how a single thought can generate feelings of depression, elation, anxiety, or bliss. She stresses the importance of fully seeing (and seeing through) the messy, unwanted material that we tend to regard as garbage (anger, fear, desire, confusion, uncertainty), and to look at it without judgment.

“This is immense work,” Toni says, “to sit with all the garbage without giving up.” We’re not here to “get enlightened,” to “end suffering,” to “annihilate the ego,” or to “awaken forever,” but rather to explore, listen, discover what’s here and what here is. Not once and for all, but this moment. And this moment. And this moment.

Toni says this work isn’t about getting rid of the garbage, or the sense of me, or the controlling behavior. Rather, this work is to see it all, to behold the awesome power of these habitual reflexive tendencies, and to discover that in this moment, in open listening, the reflexive habit doesn’t have to continue.

This listening awareness is intelligence; it takes care of everything. We don’t have to do it. In fact, “we” don’t exist (as some entity apart from the whole) except in thought.

But to actually see that no “me” exists separate from everything else, this is freedom. It’s subtle and arduous work, and yet so simple. Simple and immense.

I once asked Toni if she’d ever had one of those big awakenings where life turns inside out and all identification with the body-mind ceases. “I can’t say I had it,” she replied. “It’s this moment, right now.”

--from Yoga Journal, August 28, 2007


November 15, 2021:

Would you be willing to abandon, even for one instant, all teachers and teachings, all injunctions and practices, to simply meet what appears in each moment with no guidance or reference points to tell you what is true, or how you must live? What would it be like to no longer be identified with any conceptual framework or spiritual philosophy – not yours, not Buddha’s, not Jesus’, not anyone’s? How would it feel to live with no maps, no mental conclusions, no final destinations, to cease to refer to any notion in the mind about how life is supposed to be?

--John Astin, from This Is Always Enough

Responses from Barry Magid:

The last illusion, the last "map" is the fantasy of having no map, of seeing reality "directly" -- of "immaculate perception." Ours will always be a view from somewhere; we will not discover a secret method of stepping outside of all conditioning, all history, all interdependence.

The problem has a complex philosophical history, which I understand you're not interested in here. But it was Descartes who claimed we can never know reality directly and that the only thing we can be certain of is appearances -the reality of our thought and perception. I can't doubt that I'm doubting/thinking even though I can doubt everything about the content of my perceptions. At one level the map/territory distinction is useful to remind us that we always organize our experience -always have a map -which may be wrong and in need of revision --- but it creates the illusion that there is such a thing as perceiving the territory map-free, just "as it really is." We do not take in "raw" perceptual sense data which we then conceptually organize by our maps. Everything comes in as part of a conceptual package and there's no getting "behind" or around it. I'm thinking about doing a seminar up at the Barre center next year on Wifred Sellars and "the Myth of the Given" which prbably has me sensitized to the issue.

My responses to Barry Magid:

You and I seem to disagree about whether there is something we might call direct experience...I think there is, you (as I hear you) think there isn't. But what I mean by it has nothing to do with any fantasy of being a blank slate with immaculate perception. What I mean by this kind of direct experiencing is that we cannot doubt the bare presence (or appearance) of what is seen—not what it is, but that it is. And this undeniable presence or suchness is what I mean by the bare actuality of present experiencing. In the example I often give, I can doubt whether the object you appear to be holding is a gun, a phone, an avocado, an optical illusion, a hallucination, a shadow, or a floater on my eyeball—and my interpretation will inevitably be conditioned and possibly inaccurate, but I cannot doubt the bare suchness or presence of that shape. And, of course, even that shape is conditioned by many factors--I'm not suggesting otherwise. In any event, I never suggest we get rid of maps, only that it is possible (when it is) to discern the difference between the two. And so much of our suffering, as I see it, has to do with mistaking the map for the territory. This passage from John Astin seems to me to be an invitation to experientially drop all our authorities for a moment...to look freshly…and not some dogmatic statement that we can, must or should drop all our conditioning and pretend to be immaculate.

It does seem useful to me to distinguish conceptual ideas from direct seeing-hearing-breathing-sensing-awaring-being. And there is certainly a felt difference. But I see the danger in imagining that this direct perceiving is devoid of all conditioning or that it accurately reflects some objective, observer-independent external reality (if such a thing exists).

And I hear what you're saying, at least I think I do, about the danger of imagining a map-free "pure" reality. And of course, even to divide map and territory is itself a dualistic map. But to be clear, I am not suggesting that there is some kind of objective, observer-independent “given” reality that we can see directly, as it “really” is, unfiltered by any kind of conditioning or perspective. Obviously, our senses are conditioned by biology if nothing else, so even bare thought-free sensory perceiving is in some way conditioned—and, of course, once we’ve learned to see (or conceive) chairs and tables and dogs and cats, we can’t unsee them, or at least not entirely (we can look at familiar objects to some degree as abstract shapes, and we can discover that nothing really holds still or exists independently in the ways we think). My point, which I think you are hearing, is that what appears (visual images, sounds, tastes, somatic sensations, etc) is undeniably present—not necessarily as what it appears to be or what we think it is—and whether there is some external “reality” that is “behind” the appearance (whether that would be an objective world or a bunch of whirling quarks and subatomic events), we cannot ever know as far as I can see. But the bare sensory presence of “caw-caw-caw” (the sound itself) is undeniable, and it is different from the idea or interpretation that may instantly arise, “That is a crow flying over,” although that thought is also undeniably present as an experience. Where this affects everyday life is, of course, when we believe our ideas about each other and ourselves and the world, and when we lose touch more and more with the world of immediacy and presence and live entirely in a conceptual map-world. But I’m not suggesting we should or could live in some thought or concept free state of pure unconditioned perception. And I always appreciate your keen eye for "curative fantasies."

November 21, 2021

Housing Update

Some of you may be wondering what is happening in my housing situation given my earlier post about having to move. Financial help from several very generous friends has enabled me to buy a cozy 1 bedroom condo in a 55+ retirement community here in Ashland. I’ve never owned a place before, so at age 73, this is new territory. I’m in the middle of this process now, buying the condo while packing up to leave the place where I am—all of which is a rather unsettling and stressful whirlwind. But I’m immensely grateful to have a new home. I think being in a community will be good for me, a friend lives right down the hall, and owning my place will be a huge relief from the endless insecurity, uncertainty and financial liability of renting, along with the ever sky-rocketing rents and ever-dwindling vacancies here in Ashland. It will also free me from the ever-more difficult task as I age of packing up and moving every few years whenever the landlord unexpectedly decides to sell or occupy my unit. So, I’m enormously excited about this. My deepest thanks to all of you here on FB who have kept me in your prayers, kept your fingers crossed on my behalf, or sent good wishes my way in whatever form. I feel enormously blessed, deeply grateful and profoundly relieved. I hope all of you who are searching for housing will find something affordable that you like.


November 27, 2021:

What truly liberates is dissolving misunderstandings, seeing through delusions and letting go of beliefs, not picking up new belief systems and clinging to them as security blankets. When I talk about liberation, I’m talking about this moment here and now. Liberation as I mean it is never about yesterday, tomorrow, once-and-for-all, once-upon-a-time, or some permanent state that some phantom abides in forever after. It is only Here / Now. It is not a personal possession, nor is it the attainment of something new. It is waking up to what is and relaxing into being this moment, just as it is. Life cannot be captured in any system or formulation because it is alive, ever-changing, and nothing stands apart to capture it. And yet, here it is—just this—one whole happening that can neither be avoided nor grasped.


Response to a comment:

I don't really think in terms of a "shift in identification from the thought stream to awareness," although I know this is a common teaching and goal in Advaita. Who is identifying as what? As I see it, there is this whole happening, ever-changing and ever-present, and it includes ever-changing states of mind and experiences. Sometimes there is a sense of identity as this bodymind, sometimes there isn't. Sometimes there is a sense of boundless wholeness and spaciousness, sometimes there is a sense of conflict and division. Sometimes the focus of attention is open and expanded, sometimes it is narrow and concentrated. I don't find myself trying to keep things in one place anymore. And I am quite skeptical of people who claim they are permanently established in some state of pure awareness with no sense of being a person anymore ever, although I can't know what anyone else experiences, and frankly, I don't care! I have no interest in trying to identify as awareness.

But I'm all for “having the recognition of thoughts as thoughts” and “seeing the sense of identity” (as anything) whenever it arises. And I can resonate with the experiential perspective of everything arising in this boundless space of awareness, a perspective found in Advaita, Tibetan Buddhism, Eckhart Tolle, and elsewhere. The danger I see there is in reifying awareness as some kind of separate, permanent, unchanging, "real" ground of being or container in which the "unreal" appearances come and go. I've definitely moved away from that view, even while I can still appreciate the sense of open, spacious awareness. I tend now to see that there are many different ways of experiencing reality, and perhaps we don't need to make any of them into Ultimate Reality or The Answer.

Certainly, in the everyday relative reality, some people are more caught up in the delusions of thought than others...some are clearer...and so on, and in that sense, we can see differences between people. And we can certainly see how things have shifted in our own life, and we can imagine our life journey as a kind of progression. But this is always a story that requires memory, abstraction and imagination to put together, and that pesky "me" is always at the center of it. Still, it has some validity which cannot be denied.

-- copyright Joan Tollifson 2021--

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