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Blog #14

The following are selected posts from my Facebook page (10/18/21-12/26/21):

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.


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 potential 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 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.

November 29, 2021:

When I speak of liberation, I’m speaking of Here-Now, not forever after. Liberation is not the freedom to do as we want, or to have the experiences we want to be having, but rather, it is the freedom to be as we are, and for life to be as it is.

The freedom to be as we are, and for life to be as it is doesn’t mean unresponsive stagnation or passivity. If a bus is speeding toward us in the street, we naturally move out of the way. If our car gets a flat tire, we fix it. If someone collapses in the street in front of us, we may offer assistance in whatever ways seem appropriate. If we see an injustice in society, we may be moved to do whatever we can to correct it. If we notice that we have disabling depression or some form of addiction that is causing great suffering, we may find a therapist, a recovery group, a spiritual teacher, or an effective medication to help us. All of this is the healthy movement of awareness. Awareness—seeing the situation clearly, as it is—increases responsibility (response-ability) and the capacity for intelligent action.

But what is absent in this kind of responsive activity when it comes out of awakeness is that we don’t get caught up in an overlay of self-pity, guilt, blame, outrage at “others,” if only’s, regret, and all the other myriad storylines that only increase the suffering for ourselves and others. Instead, there is the simple recognition that this is how it is right now: the bus is speeding toward us, the tire is flat, someone has collapsed, injustice exists, there is a pattern of depression or addiction here causing pain—without any overlay, without taking it personally, without giving it added meaning, without blaming ourselves or others or the universe for getting it wrong or for doing this “to me” (or to those with whom I identify).

Out of clear seeing, intelligent action (or non-action) happens naturally. And in wakefulness, we recognize that the results of our actions are not in our control. Life is as it is, and it isn’t always the way we want it to be or think it should be. And in some greater context beyond our limited views, it all belongs, it all goes together, and it cannot be otherwise in this moment than exactly how it is. Recognizing this is peace, even in the midst of turbulence.

December 1, 2021:

Spirituality cannot be approached logically and rationally, with the thinking mind, because true spirituality emerges from, and points to, a nonconceptual dimension that can only be truly heard and fully grokked with the heart or the contemplative mind.

That doesn’t mean we should throw rationality out the window, engage in magical thinking, take up foolish beliefs, or join dangerous cults. But if we try to “hear” the message of spirituality with the thinking mind, or understand it with logic and reason, we will miss the essence, the aliveness, the very heart of it.

Thinking and reasoning has its place, and doubt can be very helpful and important in many situations. But doubt and thinking can both on many occasions be disabling and addictive—a way of never fully letting go of our efforts at control.

If we tune in and pay attention, we can begin to discern when doubting and thinking are truly helpful and when they are a form of avoidance. In the latter instance, they are ways of holding on tightly to the illusion of being a deficient self desperately endeavoring to get a grip on reality in order to finally be secure and okay—and we want to be sure it’s the “right” grip because we don’t want to be fooled, hence the endless doubts.

But the truth is that we are not separate from reality, and there is nothing of substance to grasp and no one apart from the whole to grasp it. All of that is in the realm of imagination, although the body hums along with palpable tension, agitation and unease, which makes it all feel and seem very real. And to relieve our distress, our old habit is to think and think and think, and then try to believe, and then doubt, and then think some more. An endlessly unsatisfying hamster wheel.

On the level of trying to figure this all out mentally, we never find the certainty we crave, because nobody knows what anything is in the sense of knowing as abstract mental knowledge—knowing about things, knowing as second-hand information, one step removed. In that sense, if we’re honest, we are all utterly clueless. And we often cover over that yawning abyss with beliefs and magical thinking because it scares us. But when we take the leap of letting all the mental security blankets go, it is actually surprisingly liberating. The abyss was imaginary! Because, in fact, we do know the nature of reality directly in every moment and always with doubtless certainty, because we ARE it, and there is nothing outside of it, so this kind of direct knowing is immediate, knowing-awaring-being. THIS is obvious and undeniable. It cannot be doubted. We simply can’t pin it down mentally or take hold of it with any conceptual formulation.

And so, perhaps we can relax more and more into the openness of not knowing in the way the mind wants to know, an openness which can also be described as relaxing into the doubtless certainty of simply being, Here-Now. In this direct knowing (or being), there can be no doubt, while in the realm of knowledge (or mental formulation), everything can be doubted. The thinking mind doesn’t feel comfortable in direct knowing because there’s nothing to grasp, but gradually, that grasping mind can relax more and more, and there’s simply THIS, just as it is.

Spirituality points to the simplicity of being, the direct actuality of what is, here and now, the living reality before we try to pin it down intellectually and understand it. The intellect has its place, but above all else, the pathless path of awakening invites nonconceptual exploration and resting in the heart. Resting in the heart or opening to the sacred cannot be explained, but it can be discovered.

December 7, 2021:

Our most fundamental and undoubtable experience is the sense of aware presence, being Here-Now. This sense of impersonal aware presence is the common factor in every different experience, and it cannot be doubted, nor does it require any effort or belief. This sense of aware presence has sometimes been called the I AM, the knowingness of being here, present and aware, prior to any limitations such as name, age, gender, nationality, occupation, and so on. This “I” in the I AM is the universal “I” that we all have in common, not the individual person. This aware presence or True I is shapeless, formless, boundless, limitless, and omnipresent. It is what Here-Now IS.

The sense of being present and aware vanishes every night in deep sleep. Nothing perceivable, conceivable, or experienceable remains. And yet, in this germinal darkness, awareness is still present because if we hear a loud noise or smell smoke, we wake up. Of course, when the body dies, it no longer wakes up in that way. And yet, life itself goes on, and the bodymind has never really been separate from the whole. The universal I is unborn and undying, and in one way or another, this germinal darkness, pure potentiality, or intelligence-energy comes forth again and again as this radiant presence that we call the body-mind-world.

Nothing that appears has any independent, objective existence in the way we think it does. This appearance, including the person we seem to be and the world we seem to be in, is empty of substance, empty of any persisting form, empty of any actual boundaries. It has no inside or outside, no here or there, no before or after. It is a seamless, boundless, ineffable whole that is as impossible to grasp as clouds, whirlpools or waves. Even apparently solid things such as mountains and rocks are constantly dancing and evaporating, and if we look closely, this can be discovered. Whatever season it is, and however far we seem to travel, it is always Here-Now—this timeless, unlocatable, ever-present, ever-changing immediacy.

This appearance, this radiant presence, has many dimensions from the subatomic to the intergalactic, from the impersonal to the personal, from the absolute to the relative everyday world. All of these dimensions have their undeniable reality and also their emptiness, empty of any independent, separate, objective existence or any fixed and persisting form. But we can’t deny the apparent world. As someone once replied, when asked if the starving people in a famine are real, “They’re as real as you are.” And how real is that? Or, in what ways are we real and in what ways unreal? That is a question, or a koan, for lifelong spiritual exploration, not to be answered from the intellect but from the heart, and finding that delicate ever-shifting balance between relative truth and absolute truth is an ongoing dance. To be awake is to be open and not fixated anywhere.

December 12, 2021:

from my Winter Newsletter:
Holiday Greetings and Musings

Dear Friends,

Winter is a deep time, a time of darkness when everything is stripped bare, a season of death, and also a season of renewal as the light returns and the New Year begins. Some people love the holiday season, but for many, it can be a stressful time—shopping, traveling, being with sometimes challenging family members, or perhaps being alone and feeling an acute sense of loneliness as others appear to be celebrating and surrounded by loved ones. Winter in general, and the holiday season in particular, offer a marvelous opportunity for deep spiritual exploration.
If we find ourselves with challenging family members, for example, it can be a wonderful practice to simply be aware of how our buttons get pushed and to be present with the whole thing (thoughts, bodily sensations, powerful urges to react). Maybe in this space of presence, we find that we don't need to react in the habitual ways, or if we do react, perhaps we don't need to judge ourselves for being human. Is it possible to appreciate the many forces of nature and nurture that shape us all, often in such different ways, and to have compassion for those we find especially challenging to be around? Can we sense their pain, and perhaps find the beauty in them?
If we find ourselves stranded in a busy airport, stuck in traffic, or attending a party that we are not enjoying, we might see if it’s possible to find the beauty right there in that situation. That’s the challenge of life, as I see it, to find the beauty where we are, in the circumstances we’re in, and to focus not on what’s missing, but on what we have. Notice how the mind creates suffering by the thoughts and stories it overlays on top of the bare actuality: “This shouldn’t be happening,” “My holidays are ruined,” “These people are horrible,” “I shouldn’t have come here,” or whatever the storylines are telling us. Maybe we can notice that these are just habitual thoughts that are making us miserable, and of course, when we are miserable, we tend to radiate that misery to the world around us. What would it be like if we were radiating genuine joy and delight instead of misery?
If we find ourselves alone and feeling left out or lonely, I would invite the possibility of seeing this solitude in a new light, as a gift. In my life, I’ve often spent many holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving alone—and while it’s lovely to be with friends, as I sometimes am on the holidays, I’ve found it’s also lovely to be alone. Those big holidays tend to be very quiet days—little traffic, no business as usual, something different in the air. It’s a great time to walk or to simply enjoy being alive and present in the quiet. And once again, notice how the storylines show up (“I’m all alone,” or “Why wasn’t I invited?” or “Everyone else has a family except me,” or whatever the storyline is) and see if it’s possible to recognize these as simply stories that make us miserable—and to wake up to the beauty of this moment. We might notice and really see the view out our window, even if it seems like nothing special. Find the beauty in the ordinary. Tune into the heart and feel the warmth and the love of our own being. See if it’s possible to shift the focus from the storylines about what’s wrong or what’s missing to gratitude for the blessings of what’s actually here.

Something quite magical and transformative happens when we tune into presence, into the heart. We wake up (not forever after, but right now) from the trance of habitual storylines that bring suffering and confusion, and open instead to the spacious, boundless aliveness of presence itself. We could call it unconditional love. All attempts by the mind to grasp reality conceptually and formulate it drop away. There is simply being here, open and aware. To paraphrase something I heard recently, to give oneself entirely to this openness is to lose oneself in God’s presence.
And when we fail at this, as we all do at times, may we have compassion for our humanness, knowing we are all in this together, all of us both intrinsically perfect and complete in the absolute sense and also evolving beings in everyday life with plenty of imperfections and flaws. None of it is personal—it is all a happening of the whole.

It’s been a busy winter for me, as I’m currently in the middle of moving to a new place here in Ashland. But I did want to take a moment to wish all of you a beautiful holiday season and all blessings in the coming new year. And for those of you on the other side of the blue ball, may you have a wonderful summer. May we all take good care of ourselves and each other.


Just This, As It Is!

Morning breeze, sounds of traffic, taste of tea, smell of rain, thoughts popping up and evaporating, breathing, listening, sensing—no words or formulations can capture or contain this ever-changing aliveness. It is at once seamlessly whole yet infinitely varied, vividly present but evanescent and impossible to grasp, ever-changing without ever departing from the immediacy of Here-Now.
If we look closely at what seems solid and outside of us, or at the apparent self that seems to be authoring our thoughts and controlling our actions, nothing substantial or persisting can actually be found. The bodymind is an activity of the whole, just as every wave is an activity of the ocean, inseparable from it. The inner weather is as impersonal as the outer weather, all of it a spontaneous happening that vanishes as soon as it appears.

In any moment of waking up to this immediacy, it becomes obvious that THIS is whole and complete just as it is, that everything belongs and nothing persists. The traffic jam, the office, the toilet and the temple are equally holy, equally worthy of devotion (or loving attention).

The passing show of waking life, including the main character, is like a dream, without substance or independent existence. All dreams dissolve into emptiness. What remains? This that is prior to everything perceivable and conceivable, subtler than space, closer than close, limitless, boundless, unseeable and ever-present regardless of what appears or disappears cannot be grasped. And in one way or another, this germinal darkness (pure potentiality, intelligence-energy) comes forth again and again as this radiant presence that we call the body-mind-world. In this aliveness, there isn’t any inside or outside, just infinitely varied dimensions of one holographic, fractal, seamless whole which never departs from itself and never stays the same. Each moment is fresh and new, and yet it is always just this!
There is no finish-line here, no goal, no formula, no method, only this inexplicable ever-fresh aliveness.

December 15, 2021:

It is a very cold, dark, blustery winter day here in Ashland with huge snow flurries blowing through the air and strong gusting winds lashing the house and bending the trees. I’m greatly enjoying the wild energy of it.

December 20, 2021:

Waking up is a never-ending, present moment realization of what matters most.

Response to a comment about Peter Brown saying there is no hierarchy of experience:

Perhaps for you, that discovery is the most important thing! For me, it isn't about hierarchy, but simply a question for deep and rich contemplation, with no "right" answer. It's similar maybe to the question, “What do you really want?” And as I hear Peter, he isn't talking about having an intellectual belief that "everything is radiant presence" (or that "there is no hierarchy," or that "everything matters equally," or that "nothing matters," or any other conceptual ideology). As I hear him, he is pointing to a direct exploration (what Toni Packer called meditative inquiry, what some call contemplative exploration, and what Peter calls yoga--i.e., an exploration that isn't carried out by thinking, but by attending directly to the immediacy of what is, here and now). One of the discoveries that might be made in such exploration is that everything is radiant presence. That realization (not as an idea or a belief, but as a direct knowing right now) is indeed immensely liberating and might be the most important thing for you. And in my experience, noticing what is deeply liberating, noticing what feels most true or most real, noticing what matters most, encourages me to continue that exploration, that discovery, that never-ending (always now) living realization. Maybe the same is true for you, or maybe not. But the key thing here that I'm trying to invite is direct knowing, not ideology or belief, and an exploration carried out by attending directly to the immediacy of what is, here and now--not by thinking about it, but by knowing it directly. Words are never adequate or quite right, but perhaps you can grok what I'm trying to convey.

December 22, 2021:

Solstice Musings: The Height of Darkness, When the Light Returns

In open aware presence, everything is equally sacred, equally worthy of devotion or attention. The beauty, the sacredness, is in the awaring presence, the unconditional love being and beholding it all.

We might, of course, wonder how such things as slavery, factory farming, child abuse, rape, or the Holocaust could be sacred or worthy of devotion. This is an ancient question, this question of evil (where it comes from and how we relate to it), and in my experience, this question is one that deserves deep, lifelong contemplation, for it (like all the apparent misfortune in our lives) contains infinite riches. As Rumi put it, “Darkness is your candle.”

In the inconceivable aliveness and immediacy of Here-Now, no actual boundary between inside and outside can be found. Nothing can be separated out from everything else. Every apparent form, including the bodymind, is an activity of the whole, just as every wave is an activity of the ocean, inseparable from it. And in this ever-changing flux, nothing substantial or persisting can actually be found. And yet, each snowflake is utterly unique and unrepeatable.

This indivisible wholeness obviously includes the possibility for great cruelty and suffering. If we look into our own hearts and minds, we can discover that such darkness happens in all of us, albeit mostly in much milder and subtler forms than those mentioned above. When we explore our own capacity for unkindness and harm, we may find that it stems from losing touch with wholeness and presence, from turning away, closing the heart, being lost in thought and in the thought-sense of being separate. In such moments, we are like a wave that has forgotten that it is the ocean and that all the other waves are this same ocean.

This forgetting or losing touch with Reality comes from ignorance (ignoring) or not seeing clearly. When we really see a person or an animal, we don’t enslave or torture them. And when we really see the infinite causes and conditions that bring forth a slave owner, a factory farmer, a Nazi, a rapist, or a child abuser, we naturally have compassion and not hatred for the perpetrator as well as for the victim. We know that this is exactly where love is most needed.

And yet, so often we react by meeting cruelty with more cruelty, meeting hate with more hate, meeting forgetfulness of Reality with more forgetfulness and more ignoring of Reality. And as we all know, it’s not easy to meet cruelty with real love, or perhaps more accurately, to get to the place where this happens naturally and easily, which requires waking up (not forever after, but now) from the trance of separation and from holding tightly to our deeply entrenched sense of being a separate wave in a dangerous ocean full of “bad” or “wrong” waves.

Fake love is so dishonest that it sometimes feels even worse than hate. And real love can be fierce—it isn’t always sweet or gentle. True love can’t be captured in words, and yet we can feel the difference in ourselves when we are coming from genuine love and when we are lost in the trance of separation, blame, guilt, vengeance, hatred, fear and all the rest.

When we are awake, it’s clear that everything is equally empty of substance or independent existence, that everything is equally this same radiant presence, this indivisible wholeness. In this sense, it has been said that there is only God. And in recent years, in certain forms of nonduality, this has become the sole message, that there is “just this” (ownerless, choiceless, impersonal, no-thing-ness showing up as everything). And while there is a very liberating truth in this message, by itself, it can also be a way of turning away—a form of ignoring. Because while everything is one whole, that wholeness includes the capacity for discernment and making distinctions and the possibility of insight and transformation.

To take the example of Hitler and Buddha that I often use, both are waves on the ocean of being—both equally ocean, equally water. They cannot actually be separated out—they are interdependent aspects of one whole movement. But there is an important difference between them. Buddha realizes that he and Hitler are both the ocean, while Hitler is acting from the delusion of being a separate wave, out to conquer and exterminate other waves. Hitler is lost in the hypnotic trance of separation; Buddha is awake. And while these are both historical figures, I’m obviously using them to represent all the forces of ignorance and all the forces of light. It is perhaps most important to see them as different states of mind or ways of seeing, and to recognize that we all have both. No one is always deluded or always awake—in fact, no one exists as a solid, discrete, persisting entity.

Spirituality as I mean it is about seeing our inner Hitler whenever he crops up, not just trying to fight him “out there.” And of course, they are deeply related, inner and outer—in fact, they are not two. Spirituality is about waking up, being awake here and now. The light of awareness naturally dissolves delusion.

Awareness is unconditional love. It meets the darkness—out there and in ourselves—with love. It allows everything to be as it is, and it holds on to nothing. It allows everything to flow, to change. It sees everything clearly as it is. It illuminates everything. It doesn’t ignore the suffering or go to war with it. It meets it with love. It IS Love. It finds the beauty in the apparently ugly, the sacred in the mundane, the candle in the darkness. It recognizes that the manifestation can only appear in apparent polarities—that there will always be darkness, and that the darkness is in some way essential, like the grit that creates the pearl—but the Heart also recognizes a calling to wake up.

This is the awakening journey that interests me. And in this journey, which is always about Here-Now, there is no finish-line. Waking up is a never-ending, present moment discovery, realization and embodiment of what matters most.

And perhaps it is best not to label or define what matters most, but to leave that open, as an ever-fresh discovery in this new moment here and now.

December 24, 2021:

A Christmas Eve Message about Forgiveness and the Case of Kim Potter (a risky message):

While many were celebrating it as a great victory against racism and bad policing, I was deeply saddened by the guilty verdict in the Kim Potter case. The media has so totally distorted the facts of this case from the beginning.

Kim Potter was no Derek Chauvin, and this was no nine minutes of deliberately kneeling on someone’s neck as they slowly died. This was a fast-moving and scary situation in which split-second actions were taken. Kim Potter was, by all accounts, a truly good cop who really cared for the community, and who had never once fired her gun or her taser at anyone in her 26 years of service up to the day of the tragic accident. She wasn’t a bully or a racist cop. She made one horrible and tragic mistake, a mistake for which she has clearly had profound regret and remorse from the moment she realized what she had done. The police are human beings. Human beings make mistakes. It happens.

Many have wondered, how on earth can someone mistake a black gun on their right side for a yellow taser (with a black top) on their left? A psychologist who specializes in how seemingly incomprehensible errors like this can happen testified for the defense and provided what I thought was a very understandable explanation involving the effects on brain function and perception of both habit and stress. He talked about laser-focused tunnel vision and action errors that we all experience, but usually in harmless situations. Apparently none of this mattered to the jury.

Kim Potter said that if she’d been alone that day in the patrol car, she probably wouldn’t have stopped Daunte Wright at all, because expired tags were common during the pandemic. So, it wasn’t Kim Potter who stopped Daunte. It was her trainee, a black man who grew up in that neighborhood. He was the one driving the patrol car, and he was the one who saw Daunte signal one way and then turn the other. Then he saw the air freshener hanging on the mirror, and then he saw the expired tags, and he made the decision to stop Daunte—the black rookie cop, not Kim Potter. This was not a racist stop by a racist white cop out to harass young black men—that was a false narrative.

Daunte had no license, no insurance, an outstanding warrant relating to a gun, a restraining order against him from a woman, and the car smelled of marijuana. Because of the outstanding warrant, they had to arrest him. The rookie officer called for backup, and when it arrived, the rookie got Daunte out of the car and was attempting to handcuff him. But Daunte broke away, got back in the car, and was actively trying to flee. Daunte put the lives of two officers at risk, the two male officers who were leaning into the car trying to stop him and who could both have been seriously injured or killed if Daunte succeeded in speeding away. This was when Kim Potter made a split second decision in the heat of the moment. She did not intend to use deadly force. She hoped the multiple taser warnings would cause Daunte to surrender, and if the warnings failed, she hoped the taser would stop him. But Daunte Wright kept resisting. He actively caused his own death as much as Kim Potter’s unintended error did. But the jury apparently didn’t want to acknowledge that.

Perhaps they were intimidated by the current political climate. The BLM activists who were cheering outside as the guilty verdict was read were mostly ignorant of the actual facts, I’m sure. The media, along with various woke leaders, had fed them a grossly distorted version over and over again. They seemed to me like a hypnotized mob thirsty for retribution and punishment. And the prosecution? Well, they’re doing what they have to do, I guess, in the present over-zealous atmosphere. They’re not even satisfied that she might get 15 years in prison. They want her to get 20 years! She’s already lost her job, which was her lifelong vocation. She’s been maligned in the media. She’s had to move out of state. She’s had to go through this trial. And she has to live for the rest of her life with what she did. Isn’t that punishment enough? Apparently not for “woke” Minnesota. Talk about a mentality of vindictive vengeance and cruelty rather than one of compassion and forgiveness. Merry Christmas from the woke world!

The media endlessly portrayed Daunte as a young, innocent, great guy, or as an “unarmed black man.” He may have had a sweet side—I’m sure he probably did. But in fact, he had quite a violent history. He wasn’t armed that day, but the cops had no way of knowing that. They knew the potential was there.

Let me be clear—I’m against racism, racist policing, and police brutality. I’m all for intelligent criminal justice reform. I think the way many people, especially black men, have sometimes been treated by police is horrible. I’m against mass incarceration. I’m a progressive leftist. But I’m also deeply sickened by what the state of Minnesota and those twelve jurors just did. Two wrongs don’t make a right. And destroying Kim Potter doesn’t bring back Daunte Wright.

Will this verdict improve policing? Maybe. But maybe it will just discourage good people from becoming cops, drive a greater wedge between law enforcement and progressives, and further solidify and exacerbate the divisions in this country. I don’t think vengeance and hatred usually beget good results.

I’m sure I’ll get some woke folks piling on me for writing this and telling me what a great victory this is for police accountability, and what a terrible killer cop Kim Potter was. I try to avoid political posts, but I felt a need to speak out. I don’t plan to respond to comments. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, and maybe I’m wrong, but this is how it looks to me. It was, in my opinion, a sad day in American “justice.”

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas!

Response to a comment:

There is being awake to social injustices, sometimes now called being "woke," and there is being awake spiritually, awake to nonseparation and wholeness, awake from the trance of separation and encapsulation. As I see it, they are not separate, and when there is one without any trace of the other, it is usually problematic. But being awake in both ways can manifest in many different ways. Martin Luther King  and Ramana Maharshi being just two examples of people awake in both ways who manifested it very differently, and in both cases, beautifully. The term "woke" was originally used by African Americans (as far back as the 30s I discovered this morning), and then by anti-racists and progressives in general to mean being awake to social injustices. It has come to mean, in my mind anyway, a particular faction of the social justice world, one that I often disagree with. It reminds me of the anti-imperialist left I used to be in. It seems very dogmatic and self-righteous, and often seems out for blood. That's how I used the term 'woke' in this post. Anyway, in any human endeavor, and certainly in our evolutionary quest for both social awakening and spiritual awakening, there is infinite potential for limitation, misunderstanding, conflict, corruption, and in the worst cases extreme atrocities. And not just "out there" but in each of our minds.

Response to another comment:

Well, I don't see it quite like you do. I'm very much in favor of social, economic and environmental justice. And I think we share that. And the far right disturbs me way more than the far left. I think we also share that. But I don’t resonate with all the ways in which the struggle against racism is currently being formulated and carried out in the US by what seems to be a vocal majority of black and left activists, along with the support of much of the mainstream media, universities, schools and other cultural institutions. I find much of it disturbingly counterproductive and divisive, e.g. the rush to judgment whenever a black person is killed by police (as in this case), biased reporting in the media (as in this case), overblown reactions and desire for vengeance (as in this case), rage and rioting (as has already happened in this case and as would likely have happened more had the jury found her not guilty), divisive forms of identity politics, a cancel culture atmosphere where people are fired, de-platformed or branded as racists if they disagree, and problematic solutions such as abolishing the police. All of that reminds me very much of the faction of the anti-imperialist left that I was in decades ago, and that I finally walked away from because I came to feel it was seriously off the mark. I remain a progressive with left-leaning views, but I feel that it is important to emphasize our shared humanity and to work for justice in a spirit of love and inclusion rooted in compassion and with a deeper understanding of the roots of injustice and prejudice in the human psyche (as we may discover through such things as insight meditation). For me, the word "woke" has come to mean the kind of approach that is currently in vogue, and that I have many differences and disagreements with. Tucker Carlson and I probably agree on some of these things, although on many things, I strongly disagree with him and find his views dangerous and disturbing. Not all black people or progressive black people are into this "woke" perspective either (as I'm using the term). I don't stop using a word simply because Tucker Carlson also uses it. And whatever word I use, some people will misunderstand. But here's a conversation I resonated with a lot between John McWhorter and Andrew Yang on "Woke Racism".

PS to my post:

I've found myself responding to comments here, which was not my intention, and I hope I can refrain from doing so again. I need to focus on packing up for my upcoming move, not commenting on FB!!! Obviously, many people have strong feelings about these issues. Yes, police have often gotten off when they shouldn't have gotten off, and there is a long history of abusive policing and racist cops. No denying any of that. And now we are perhaps sometimes, in some cases (like this one, in my opinion), over-correcting for that in false ways. I suspect Potter will serve serious time. I hope not. But, we'll see.

I do wish the media would be more even-handed in their coverage of these issues, but that wouldn’t be as profitable for them. What I mean by that is that this was never a “racist police killing” in which an “innocent unarmed black man” was “shot and killed for having an air freshener on his mirror.” That was always a false narrative. I would have wished for a compassionate response to Potter and for a review of what might be done in policing to help prevent this in the future. But I also recognize that however much is done, mistakes will always happen. Human beings are not perfect, and police operate in very stressful and dangerous situations that require split-second responses. Those will not always be correct or perfect. But as i tried to express here, I see a big difference between Derek Chauvin and Kim Potter. And for the record, I wasn’t saying it was fine that Daunte was killed. It was tragic!  I'm simply expressing why the verdict and the entire criminal prosecution of Potter felt very wrong to me. Obviously, it felt very right to many people. People see things differently.

December 24, 2021:

Christmas Eve, Kim Potter, Take Two

In my previous post, I shared my response to the Kim Potter verdict. But there was way more to my response than what I shared. There was the emotional part—the shock upon hearing the verdict, which I really hadn’t expected, the anger and the surge of strong hatred I felt toward the jurors, the profound sorrow for Kim, the way the mind started churning over the whole thing in a kind of giant “NO!” – what Byron Katie aptly calls arguing with reality, and the suffering of that.

And there was the SEEING of all this, the recognition that I was upset and reactive, triggered and caught by this in some way—and along with that, the realization that I didn’t want to be caught or stuck in hatred and anger. There was the amusement of realizing I had just written a FB post the day before about the importance of love and not meeting hatred with hatred, and here I was, consumed by hatred. But, of course, you can’t just will hatred or any other powerful emotion out of existence. So there was sitting with it all, meditatively, feeling into it, exploring it, and slowly allowing awareness to dissolve the hatred.

Meanwhile, my inner lawyer showed up again and again, going over and over how wrong this verdict was, arguing with reality, making its case, and I felt both the addictive pull and the pain of that arguing and that underlying sense that the universe was “wrong” – that this “should not” be happening.

I felt the urge to write a post expressing my response to the verdict—it seemed important to speak out, and to speak up for this woman—and my inner lawyer was ready to get started on it—but my inner guru advised against it—don’t step into the muddy water of politics, my IG advised, especially not on Christmas Eve. Bad idea. But in the end, the writing flowed out. And I found myself posting it. And I’m glad I did. It was, for me, important to speak out against what I see as this kind of over-the-top woke-ism, and to speak up for this woman.

And then I found myself checking for responses, happy to see that some people agreed with me, which made me feel less alone, and also responding to those who didn’t agree, exactly as I had intended not to do.

And at the same time, there was a blizzard—snow was falling furiously through the air, the ground was turning white, a powerful winter storm was sweeping into Oregon. And many other things were also going on, inner and outer. And all the while, I was avoiding the boxes from the attic that now clutter my living room, the boxes I need to go through in preparation for my move, which is now less than a week away.

It is almost bedtime now. In the darkness outside, the snow may be accumulating or maybe not. And here I am back at my desk with words again flowing out. This time wanting to say something about the different dimensions of human life—the dimension of the everyday world in which there is no one else on this planet who sees everything exactly the way I do—the world where I will always be in some sense alone, and where there will always be conflict and disagreement because we each see from a unique vantage point through a unique filter. And we can’t turn away from this dimension—it’s part of human life. But it’s easy to be consumed by this dimension and lost in it.

And there are other dimensions, as we may discover through the lens of spirituality or nonduality in its many different forms. And in these other dimensions, everything is one whole indivisible happening that cannot really be pinned down, boxed up, conceptualized, formulated or grasped in any way. Here the storylines lose their certainty, and the apparent conflict is a seamless movement in total harmony. Here, everything that happens is perfectly placed and perfectly timed, and nothing is ever really being hurt or killed or damaged. Here there is only vast space, no center and nothing to hold onto. This dimension is not something to believe in, it’s a felt-reality that can be discovered and realized.

We live in all these dimensions, or all these dimensions are aspects of this whatever-it-is that we all are. And they are all here at once, like those Magic Eye autostereograms or those reversible figure drawings that can appear as a rabbit or a duck, or as an old woman or a young one. Suddenly it shifts.

And since I shared my thoughts from the more everyday dimension—thoughts that some of you liked and some of you didn’t—I also wanted to share a deeper layer of what went on here—the emotional storm and the awaring of that storm—and then the larger (or deeper, or more subtle) dimensions in which it all melts away into nondual inconceivability and unresolvability. And here, there is no more emotional upset, no more arguing with reality, no more need to win an argument. I still have my point of view in the everyday dimension, but something has shifted, opened up, released. Something that was caught is no longer caught. Something that was at war is now at peace.

Response to a comment:

Thank you for your beautiful comment. I find it endlessly fascinating that two people, or apparently two / apparently different wavings of the single ocean, who seem to have quite a lot in common and seem to be essentially “on the same side” of the political spectrum, can see certain current events including this one in such apparently opposite ways, each with such inner certainty that our way of seeing it is the right way, and yet each also able to open to that placeless place here and now where there are no sides at all, no stories, no right or wrong, and no attachment.

I also find it endlessly fascinating to see which situations grab my attention, upset me or feel important to me—important enough that I am moved to speak out, even knowing it will bring conflict. It often mystifies me. Does something in the situation trigger an old forgotten memory, am I identified for some reason with one of the characters in the story?

I find myself wading into these politically charged waters less and less often, but still occasionally moved to do it, to speak out on something that feels important. And afterwards, I find that nothing really matters, that all is well, just as it is. (And I don't mean that cynically or as a rejection of whatever we are moved to do).

When I taught English, I sometimes asked my students to write a paper on a hot button issue arguing for the other view from the one they hold, to be like an actor, inhabiting a different part, or like a lawyer arguing the opposite side. In those moments of being swept up, everything in me feels so strongly for one side and not the other in each of these hot button dramas. And in another moment, it can all dissolve in emptiness.

December 25, 2021:

Waking up to a snow covered world and a deep silence. All human activity seems to have come to a standstill, or as Jean Klein used to say, a still stand. Virgin birth, ever-fresh, Christmas morning. Snow erases and softens the hard lines and corners of the human-made world and the human mind leaving only stillness and silence. Gregorian chants now filling the silence, emerging from silence, songs praising God—the alive emptiness, the infinite potential, the great mystery, the wonder, the inexplicable radiance, the dazzling darkness.

December 26, 2021:

Mourning the passing and celebrating the life of Desmond Tutu. He was a man I deeply respected, a bright light in this world. He stood up for human rights on many different fronts, advocating and practicing a non-violent approach. He  favored restorative justice and reconciliation over retribution. He seemed to me to be a true Christian, following the radical path and example of Jesus. May he rest in peace, and may he continue to inspire us all to act from love and compassion.

-- copyright Joan Tollifson 2021--

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