The following are selected posts from my Facebook page (1/7/22-4/17/22):
The posts are arranged chronologically with the most recent on the bottom:
January 7, 2022:
How can we actually experience the truth that everything is an indivisible whole and that we are not limited or encapsulated in the ways we imagine—not merely as a belief or a comforting idea, but as our lived reality? Isn’t this the aspiration behind true spiritual practice—to realize, to actualize, to embody and to live out of the openness, aliveness and freedom of unconditional love, to be awake here and now to the deepest truth, to wake up from the trance of unnecessary suffering?
Of course, in the absolute sense, there is no way not to embody or experience the One Reality. Even the experience of apparently being lost, separate and confused is none other than this wholeness appearing as fragmentation. And in the absolute sense, of course there is no path from Here to Here because we can’t ever be anyplace else, and wherever we go, here we always are, and “we” and “Here” are actually indivisible.
And yet, we don’t always realize this. And so, we have many ways of exploring reality, seeing through illusion and discovering truth. And I’m all for such things as meditation, silent retreats, working with teachers, and whatever else works for each unique individual, hopefully focused on right now and not result-oriented. Because chasing after enlightenment, peace, love or joy is one of the best ways to keep it at bay. And in unconditional love, nothing is left out. Even the difficult experiences are welcomed.
It is an illusion that any separate person abides permanently in some pleasant experience of impersonal boundlessness. It is equally illusory that any separate person ever leaves the One Reality. Experiences always come and go, like the weather, but Here-Now is ever-present. Chasing permanent experiences is a hopeless endeavor.
It is more helpful to notice that ALL experiences—whether of unity or separation, happiness or anguish—come and go in this placeless immediacy or timeless eternity of Here-Now. And to also notice how the phantom self seemingly comes into existence with a thought such as, “I still go in and out of awareness. I want to abide there permanently.” This “I” who supposedly goes in and out of some experience or state that is being called “awareness” is a mental image, a bunch of thoughts, memories, stories and sensations. It has no actual existence. Nor does the imagined future or the remembered past to which that thought-sentence refers. In reality, there is simply this one bottomless moment, just as it is. It never departs from itself and it never stays the same.
Response to a comment:
It might be more accurate to say that we don't exist in the way we think we do. Certainly in the undeniable dimension of everyday reality, there is someone called Kate and someone called Joan. But the bodymind we call Kate or Joan is nothing but thoroughgoing flux inseparable from its environment, and the "me" who seems to be thinking "my" thoughts, making "my" choices, performing "my" actions, and so on cannot actually be found. It is a mental image, a bunch of thoughts, memories, stories and sensations.
January 22, 2022:
What draws one to the spiritual or religious life? We often attribute it to suffering and the search for a cure, or to the desire for certainty and security in an uncertain world—and all that can certainly be true. But the attraction can also arise from a very different place, as it did for me.
As a child, I felt the sacredness of life. Although I wasn’t raised in a religion, I was drawn to religion. I had a deep sense of God (a formless, boundless, seamless presence that felt like love, aliveness, profound intelligence, wholeness and infinite potential permeating everything). I sensed the love that was pouring out everywhere, the love at the heart of our being, and the beauty. Of course, I didn’t have any of those words or ideas back then to describe what I was feeling, but in reflecting back, those words seem to describe the felt-sense I had of what I called God. I also had a natural sense of curiosity and wonder and a love of nature, animals and people. I read books about religion and felt drawn to Buddhism. I also resonated with Jesus and what he taught. I even made up my own religion during my quiet time every day. I knew from early on that spirituality in some form was going to be my vocation.
We can’t really explain why any of us are drawn to the things that draw us. But in some sense, I feel that love is what draws one to spirituality—love for the world and for the heart of things. One may be drawn to this by what one senses in the natural world, or in the vastness of a cathedral, or in the appearance of a Zen monk, or in the image of Jesus on the cross or the Buddha sitting in silence, or in religious rituals or styles of architecture that awaken something in us. Maybe it is what we feel in the Catholic Mass, in Gregorian chants or Hindu bhajans, in the bright colors of Tibetan Buddhism or the bare simplicity of Zen—or maybe it is the infinite richness and subtlety of sitting in silence, doing nothing, listening to the rain and feeling the breathing. We may not be able to articulate or name what we sense in these various things, but we feel something deep and true that attracts and calls us.
Along the way, many things may be part of this attraction—a philosophy or an ethical perspective that resonates and that seems to make sense—or maybe the feeling of devotion or gratitude that arises, or the mysterious currency of lover and beloved (not one, not two) that shows up everywhere in so many different forms, or the childlike curiosity and wonder that wants to taste everything, or the longing to let everything go and be utterly free. Maybe it is something we glimpsed while on a psychedelic drug, or in a profound act of lovemaking, or in the world of art. Perhaps it is an evolutionary pull, like the caterpillar unknowingly being drawn toward becoming a butterfly.
What propels this continuing interest and absorption in spirituality now, at age 73? Love, wonder, curiosity, devotion, a sense that this is what matters most, although paradoxically, it recognizes that nothing matters in the most wonderful way. Yes, there is also an interest in being free from suffering, and by suffering I mean the thought-constructed overlay on top of pain or painful circumstances that makes it worse than it needs to be. There is an interest in seeing through the false self and its hurtful delusions and addictions, and at the same time, there is the relieving and joyous possibility of being at peace with both my own apparent imperfections and those of the world. There is a love of on-going exploration, learning and discovery about this whole happening called life or the universe or consciousness or being human and being the whole universe and being no-thing at all. It’s an endless playground, at once playful and serious and open.
What draws you to this? How did it begin? How is it moving now? Perhaps these are fertile questions to contemplate and explore.
January 28, 2022:
In nondual spirituality, paradoxes abound. In my view, there is a delicate and important balance between the recognition that “this is it" and that "no improvement is needed" on the one hand, and the reality that life-changing insights, shifts, resolutions and transformations can and do happen, and that there are ways of inviting and cultivating these transformations—whether it be through meditation, contemplative inquiry, or listening to radical nondualists who tell us over and over that “this is it" and that nothing needs to happen.
In the absolute sense, everything is perfectly placed just as it is—including the things we consider unjust, horrific and evil. But at the same time, part of how reality seems to function is through our human ability for discernment and our impulse toward transformation. We can’t ignore either side of the seamless coin.
The "ordinary mind is the way" spoken about in Zen doesn’t mean settling for a life of confusion and unnecessary suffering or no longer caring about the pains and injustices of the world. But the liberation we long for is not somewhere else. It is truly right here now. And it includes everything—even the things we don’t like, and even our urge to change those things.
Hence, we speak of the pathless path and the gateless gate, the path that goes nowhere (aka now-here, Home, this placeless place where we always already are, this one bottomless moment—right here, right now).
February 8, 2022:
Relaxing into Groundlessness without a Map
Pain and painful circumstances are an unavoidable fact of life, but many of our thoughts, beliefs and storylines generate unnecessary suffering on top of that, making it last longer and feel infinitely worse. Whenever we can be with pain and painful circumstances without that added overlay, or at least without believing it, it makes a huge difference in our everyday lives.
In many forms of meditative work, we learn to notice these habitual patterns of thought, to question their believability, and (for moments at a time) to drop out of that thinking and story-telling mode and into open, spacious, aware presence, i.e. nonconceptual experiencing (feeling the breathing, hearing sounds, seeing shapes and colors, feeling somatic sensations, etc. without labeling or interpreting). Labels and other thoughts usually continue to pop up, but they become less and less believable. They pass through more quickly. We come to see them as just another waving of the seamless ocean of being, without getting caught up in the content of their messages.
As we see through a misery-inducing thought, such as “My life sucks,” we may be tempted to pick up a more inspiring, comforting, feel-good thought instead, such as “Everything is God.” And that’s okay if it happens, but maybe it’s possible not to pick up ANY thought, and to simply be present in (and as) this ever-changing bottomless moment just as it is, without needing to label, categorize, analyze, understand, improve or make something out of it. Simple being. Without calling it anything. Without knowing what it is or why it is.
Conceptualizing is one of the many things the universe is doing, and it has its place in human functioning of course. But it has also generated a lot of unnecessary suffering. We humans have many ways of conceptualizing (or mapping) the living actuality, and some maps are obviously more accurate and more helpful than others. Thinking (and believing) that “Everything is God” is going to feel way better than thinking (and believing) that “My life sucks.” And it can be immensely liberating and helpful to utilize different conceptual maps or descriptions that draw our attention to different aspects of reality that we may not have noticed, and “Everything is God” is one such map. I’m not saying it’s bad—I’ve thought, said and written such things myself and undoubtedly will again.
But there is a deeply entrenched tendency to mistake the map for the actual territory, to carve out bits of a fluid actuality, mentally concretize and solidify them, and then think they are real “things.” Soon we begin to identify with whatever model we have constructed, and we argue with others who have different models about whether or not there is free will, or whether practice is a help or a hindrance, or whether nothing matters or everything matters, or whether this is oneness or multiplicity, or whether there is a self or no self, or whether we are a person or boundless awareness, or which is primary, mind or matter—as if we are talking about actual “things” that really exist and can be separated out from one another, and as if only one side of these imaginary conceptual divisions can be true.
But there is another possibility, which is to relax into groundlessness, into simply being here, without needing to know if this is “mind” or “matter,” without landing on either “free will” or “choiceless happening,” without knowing if the universe is “friendly” or “unfriendly,” without calling it “God” or “subatomic particles” or “radiant presence” or “pure potentiality” or anything at all, without reaching for answers, without landing anywhere. Simply being present and aware, not knowing what we are or what this present experiencing is—not trying to figure it out, grasp it, pin it down or get hold of it in any way.
Initially, this seems scary—like a plunge into uncertainty with nothing to hold onto. It feels a bit like jumping out of an airplane without a parachute. But as someone once said, the great discovery is that there is no ground to hit and no-thing to hit it. We discover to our great surprise that it is actually enormously freeing not to know, and not to need to know.
In simple bare being, holding on to nothing at all, there is a natural sense of wonder and an openness to surprise. Instead of being certain we know “what this is” and “how it all works,” we are simply open, present, aware, awake. This simplicity of being is actually very relieving, because anything we grasp is always unreliable and doubtful, so even if it feels good momentarily, it eventually leaves us back in uncertainty. But groundless presence, or present experiencing, just as it is, is effortlessly present and impossible to doubt. It requires no belief. It needs no name. It simply IS. In this simplicity, both certainty and uncertainty have disappeared.
February 12, 2022:
Fun, Enjoyment and Play
I remember the sheer enjoyment of listening to the rain while sitting in silence during my first long Zen retreat. And certainly there were many moments of fun, play and enjoyment during my years in Zen and while living at the meditation retreat center founded by Toni Packer. But a lot of Zen practice was about sitting through excruciating pain for hours on end. And in Zen, and then with Toni Packer, I regarded what we were doing in meditation (and in the application of it to our lives) as a serious endeavor. Toni even called it “the work of this moment."
Some years later, during a Feldenkrais training, I was delighted when the teachers suggested we ENJOY this process of awareness through movement. It was rather like the moment when my mother, on her 80th birthday, told me that life was about having fun. Fun!!?? Wow! That would never have occurred to me. It seemed like heresy. In my view at the time, life was about doing the right thing, finding the Truth, undoing your dysfunctional conditioning, improving yourself and the world, becoming more enlightened—and all of this was serious work.
Although I’m often appreciated for my sense of humor, I can obviously get way too serious! One of the things I loved about Tony Parsons when I met him years ago was his wonderful, irreverent sense of humor, along with his message that everything is fine just the way it is. And one of the things I enjoy now about the radical approach taken by Peter Brown is his emphasis on enjoyment and play, and the way EVERYTHING is included.
These kinds of radical expressions of nonduality aren’t about purifying, improving, acquiring or eliminating anything. They simply point to the recognition of the always already fully present actual condition of this experiential presence or present experiencing here and now, just as it is. And they recognize the unresolvable, protean, dream-like nature of what appears in our unique movie of waking life.
That movie is like a Rorschach blot in disappearing ink—and in recognizing that, it becomes impossible to take the whole show as seriously and as rigidly as we do when we believe it to be a solid, substantial, observer-independent, objective world “out there,” and when we believe ourselves to be a separate, independent “me” with free will who might “do the wrong thing,” “ruin our lives” or “damage the world.” What a huge relief to realize that all such erroneous moves would literally be impossible! No wave can go in a direction other than that of the ocean.
When I humorously titled my last book Death: The End of Self-Improvement, I wasn’t negating the potential for genuine transformation or evolutionary unfolding, or the possibility of engaging in such things as social justice work, psychotherapy, yoga, meditation, and so on. I was pointing beyond the kind of self-improvement that is rooted in a feeling of deficiency and separation, hypnotized by the illusion of free will, and obsessively engaged in endlessly seeking a better, happier, freer, more enlightened “me” in the future. That, of course, is a fool’s errand. Not because change and transformation can’t happen, but because the deficiency is imaginary, as is the one who seems to have it—and the awakening being sought can only be discovered right now, and what is discovered has never actually been absent.
Maybe we would all do well to lighten up. Perhaps the pathless path is one of enjoyment and play. It might even be fun. Maybe even the misery of pretending we are lost is fun. Maybe the universe (or God, or YOU, or the One behind all the masks) is having fun, painting pictures and erasing them, playing dress up, getting lost in stories and waking up from them again. Maybe there really is nothing to accomplish and nothing that needs to happen. Maybe it’s really true that THIS IS IT—right here, right now, as it is.
The actuality of present experiencing is undoubtable, obvious and unavoidable. But what it is or how it functions the way it does can never be fully grasped, pinned down or squeezed into a formula. And it doesn’t need to be! Freedom is in freefall and groundlessness, not in hanging on tightly to some formulaic mental certainty. The living actuality doesn’t hold still. It’s alive. It never resolves into anything solid or persisting. And nothing can stand outside of this boundless and seamless whole to understand it in any kind of objective way. It’s not an object. It’s not “out there.” It’s right HERE. No gap anywhere. It’s a marvelous dance, a dancing emptiness, always totally immediate and fully realized—impossible to lose, and thus impossible to attain.
February 15, 2022:
In Rupert Spira’s marvelous “camera lens of consciousness” illustration (listen here starting at 36:43), he says: “When we go to sleep, it is a defocusing process, a relaxation of consciousness. As consciousness relaxes, the forms become looser and looser until consciousness goes back to the knowing of its own being.” Or we could say, it goes back to primordial awareness, the infinite potential or intelligence-energy that might be called God, germinal darkness, unicity, zero, or whatever word you like. It goes back to what is prior to experiencing, prior to the waking and dreaming states. And then, as we seemingly move from deep sleep through dreaming and then into the waking state, what really happens (in Rupert’s language) is that consciousness narrows its focus—it seemingly locates itself in a particular individual as an individual mind, which is the only way unicity can experience itself, by seemingly dividing itself, and it then experiences itself as a multitude of seemingly individual minds—but they are all at their root the same singular consciousness. It’s a holographic, fractal display like the jewels in Indra’s Net.
Even if we prefer the materialist perspective in which everything is made of matter, the more deeply science explores matter, the more it seems to find empty space and nothing substantial, and it seems that only when the observer (consciousness) looks at it, does this seamless field of energy collapse into something apparently solid and discrete.
Either way, what we perceive as “the world” is not “out there” somewhere, fully formed and simply waiting to be seen. And either way, both mind and matter are aspects of an indivisible whole—they are word-labels or conceptual abstractions in which human thought has carved various conceptualized things out of the whole, and then seemingly concretized them into substantial, discrete things (e.g. “awareness” and “the content of awareness,” or “mind” and “matter”). And then, in the dream-like movie of waking life, the characters can argue over which comes first, the chicken or the egg. But there is no egg without a chicken, and no chicken without an egg. They are one event. Likewise, whatever this whole happening is, it isn’t really broken up in the ways that we perceive and then conceive it to be. The “things” that seem to exist (chickens, eggs, consciousness, matter, energy, etc.) all turn out to be unfindable and unpindownable. We can’t actually find a place where one “thing” ends and another begins. It seems like we can, until we look closely.
But this could all just be a bunch of philosophy to believe in or argue about. What matters, at least from my perspective, is experiential, not ideological. Having a good map is helpful, but what matters is the territory itself. What matters is the immediate, direct recognition of our boundless nature, the felt-sense of spacious presence—the aliveness of it, the energetic quality of simply being here, present and aware, inseparable from everything. That, and being able to see, and see through, how thought creates the self-image and then identifies as the separate “me,” and how it creates imaginary problems and tries to solve them, looking for love (or happiness, or peace, or joy) in all the wrong places, i.e. everywhere except Here-Now, in this immovable, unlocatable, timeless immediacy that we are.
February 19, 2022:
The present moment, here and now, is simple. There is simply present experiencing (awaring presence), just as it is. These and all other descriptive words pointing to this are always after the fact and inevitably fall short.
But presence itself is effortlessly present, obvious and unavoidable. You don’t have to do anything to make it happen. It cannot be attained because it cannot be lost. Nothing exists outside of it.But presence itself is effortlessly present, obvious and unavoidable. You don’t have to do anything to make it happen. It cannot be attained because it cannot be lost. Nothing exists outside of it.
Concepts can point or describe—they can be helpful, like a good map can be helpful. But the living reality is alive and ever-fresh. It can never be captured by thought or packaged into concepts. It can only be lived. Thoughts and concepts are THIS, too, of course. There is nothing that is not this boundless aliveness.
If you’re looking for this, you are presuming it to be absent, and you are trying to “get it” as something in particular, some “thing” that is apparently outside of you and apparently not fully here right now—some special insight or experience that you’re not presently having—something other than the ever-present utter simplicity of this one bottomless moment, just as it is.
What we are seeking is closer than close. It is the looking itself and everything that is apparently seen—all of it one whole undivided happening: sounds of traffic, taste of tea, breathing, colors and shapes, textures and sensations, tinglings and vibrations—this unfathomable listening presence being and beholding it all—one whole boundless, seamless aliveness that is ever-changing without ever moving away from the timeless immediacy of Here-Now.
Nothing is outside of this unicity (Here-Now). It is all there is. There is only THIS. And THIS is not a “thing” that can be grasped (i.e., this but not that). It (or more accurately, it-less-ness) is no-thing-ness showing up as everything. No-thing-ness is not nothing, but it never forms into something separate and persisting—it only appears to, and only if we don’t look too closely.
We can’t ever see unicity as an object. Unicity can only see itself by apparently splitting and dividing itself, initially into subject and object, and then into the ten thousand things. But the divisions are never actually there. It is one whole seamless presence.
But again, words can never capture present experiencing or awaring presence. So instead of trying to see this, or get it, or experience it, or understand it, simply BE it—which we actually cannot not be. THIS is always already fully accomplished, effortlessly, right now, just as it is. There is no way not to be it. Even searching for this is nothing other than unicity pretending to split itself into the seeker and the object of the search—but both are made of this same presence, the same no-thing-ness, and the whole search is like an adventure in a dream.
February 24, 2022:
Life is beautiful and sometimes excruciating and horrific beyond comprehension. And yet, it goes on—forming and unforming and informing itself. Light bathing the trees, mountains rolling like waves, clouds breaking open—the sorrow, the cruelty, the bewilderment—the love—the delicacy of morning light on a leaf and the immense healing of being on the phone with a friend in the middle of a very dark night, laughing at the marvelous relief unexpectedly hidden inside the recognition that we have no idea what to do, that we are utterly and magnificently clueless—
not knowing what the hell this is or why it is, only that it is—and at the center of everything, no-thing at all, the Open Heart, vast emptiness—
flowering into the ever-changing dance of this moment, one seamless happening, all of it in perfect synchronicity and harmony—each movement, each moment perfectly what it is.
Message from my Spring 2022 Newsletter (3/8/22):
Every moment offers a wonderful possibility for simply being this living reality and for exploring and enjoying its infinite textures and dimensions. In describing what is, we can use beautiful, evocative, poetic words such as God or the Beloved, or we can use more neutral words such as Consciousness, Awareness or Presence, or we can use everyday words such as dog, cat, kitchen sink, flower, cloud, war, peace—but we don’t really need to use any words to explore and enjoy both the utter simplicity and the infinite complexity and diversity of exactly what is.
We simply need to come to our senses, open our eyes and ears, see and listen, taste and touch. Feel the sensations and the energy throughout the body and all around us. Feel the presence. Feel the spaciousness, the boundlessness, the aliveness of this presence that we are and that everything is, allowing it all to reveal itself to itself in ever more subtle and wondrous ways.
In any moment, we can notice the ever-changing infinite unfolding that never actually persists in any particular form, the way it all evaporates instant by instant, and the way it has no actual substance or existence outside of this awaring presence being and beholding it all.
We can notice the way this infinite variation all shows up as one whole seamless moving picture that never moves away from the timeless immediacy of right here, right now—this one bottomless moment.
And we can notice that EVERYTHING is included, that awareness allows everything to be just as it is, and that it holds on to nothing. Awareness is like unconditional love in that way: open, free, all-inclusive, at once empty of everything and full of everything. And without words, there is no “awareness” or “content of awareness”—there is simply THIS, just as it is—an infinitely diverse seamless whole.
This living reality includes what we like and what we don’t like, what we think is spiritual and what we think is not spiritual, what we call war and what we call peace. It’s all here, all at once, and the beauty is in the wholeness, the way it all goes together and can’t be pulled apart, the inseparability or nonduality that is all-inclusive.
March 10, 2022:
To someone who said he is not an awakened person:
There is no such thing as an awakened person. Why? Because no separate, independent, persisting “person” actually exists (or persists) to be permanently in any kind of special state that supposedly only some people are in. All states come and go. But right now, there is undeniably awakeness here—meaning, there is undeniably aware presence and the indivisible flow of present experiencing, ever-changing but always right here, right now. Yes? What more are you expecting or imagining is needed?
March 12, 2022:
In our quest for security and control, we search desperately for explanations and answers, for something to hold onto, some “Ultimate Reality” that transcends the messiness and vulnerability of human life. Perhaps we long for some fully enlightened teacher who can give us the Highest Truth, the Real Deal, the Ultimate Answer, or who can maybe zap us once and for all into some totally secure Awakened State where we can abide forever after in heavenly bliss.
But the security and control we seem to find in such ways is never really reliable, for it is inevitably shadowed by doubt and uncertainty. When that shows up, we scramble to put our doubts to rest, to believe in the answers we have found, or else to find new and better answers, or perhaps a new and better teacher.
But counter-intuitively, in my experience, it is in holding on to nothing at all that we find some measure of real peace, freedom and ease of being.
This is not the freedom to do as we want, nor is it the peace we imagine might come if only the world were behaving as we think it should. Rather, this is the freedom for everything to be just as it is, and the peace that isn’t arguing with how it is.
There is simply what is—and we recognize that however we try to capture it with words and concepts, it cannot be nailed down or boxed up. And the great liberating discovery is that it doesn’t need to be! It’s an amazing relief to finally not know what this is, or how it all works, or what should happen next.
There is the simplicity of being here, as we are, doing whatever life moves us to do in each moment, not needing it to be more or better or different from exactly how it is.
March 17, 2022:
Lover and Beloved: The Great Dance of Creation
Some people wonder, if there is only undivided nondual unicity, then when I occasionally speak or write about praying, who or what am I praying to? And who is the Beloved in Rumi’s poems? And in Centering Prayer, when they begin with “consenting to God’s presence and action within us,” isn’t that dualistic? Aren’t all these examples dualistic? Who prays and to whom are we praying?
Well, I can’t speak for Rumi or the creators of Centering Prayer, but when I pray to God, I am praying to the deepest dimension of my Self, the One Self, the Heart, THIS infinite boundless being that has no other. I am both speaking and listening. Speaking (and writing) can often help us listen to and hear ourselves. This awaring presence that I AM (and that everyone is) is opening to its own deepest and subtlest dimension and dissolving into that. We could say, God is re-turning from the joy of creation and imagination, and from the adventure of playing the part of Joan, to the germinal darkness, the pure potentiality, the no-thing-ness, the emptiness, the listening silence at the heart of everything. The wave is returning its attention down to the deepest (silent, still, dark) dimension of the ocean. The small self is conversing with Big Self (not one, not two).
The words might be expressing gratitude, and thus bringing attention to all our blessings, or they might be bringing attention to suffering beings, holding them in the light of awareness, wishing them well. Or they might be an expression of some aspiration or intention, some longing or inmost request of the heart—again, expressing and listening, hearing oneSelf.
Nondual unicity can only experience itself in apparent duality, in polarity and multiplicity. And thus we have the great mystery of Love, the lover and the Beloved—not one, not two, and that current or currency in which apparent separation melts away, the crucifixion becomes the resurrection, the prodigal son returns Home, the bubble pops, the divine hypnosis ends, the apparent bondage is realized to have never been real, the imaginary problem dissolves along with the one who seemed to have it—not once upon a time, not once and for all, not forever after, not someday in the future, but NOW.
If we ask, who is praying, we might just as well ask who is ordering a cup of coffee, and then wonder if enjoying a cup of coffee is dualistic. The enjoyment wouldn’t exist or be possible without the manifestation of apparent duality, in which coffee is something particular and different from lemonade or any other beverage, and in which the drinker (the lover) is apparently different from the coffee (the Beloved). In the act of drinking, the lover dissolves into the Beloved.
And, when we look deeply, we discover that, while the apparent differences are undeniable and real, there is never really separation. The coffee and the drinker have been coming together since the Big Bang, and in fact, they have never actually been separate, any more than the different waves on the ocean are really separate from one another or from the ocean. They ARE the ocean waving in infinitely varied ways while never departing from itself.
Some nondual teachings like to dismiss this marvelous waving as merely an illusion to be ignored. But I prefer to appreciate the wondrous dancing and waving of this universe, not knowing what it is or how it got here, but marveling at its seemingly infinite dimensions and possibilities. Thus, I enjoy praying and drinking coffee and writing posts on Facebook and hanging out with the extraordinary dog down the hall. Lover and Beloved in endlessly new variations, enjoying this life of unrestrained devotion. Devotion to the whole show in both its complexity and its simplicity. Enjoy!
March 25, 2022:
Blossoms blowing past my windows all day covering the walkway with white petals. Rushing water in the creek, dancing light rippling and swirling. Two mourning doves walking in single file across the roof, bobbing as they go. An ant traversing a rusty pipe. A wave of sadness passing through the bodymind. Little green leaves beginning to appear on the first bushes and trees. A single finger poking the computer keys, words spilling out onto the liquid screen. All of it one whole unfathomable happening—ownerless, borderless, seamless.
Wars being fought, Gregorian chants being sung, the joy and the sorrow and the way it all goes together and can’t be pulled apart—all of it a fluid momentary creation, undeniably real and yet completely unpindownable, unresolvable, ungraspable.
Is it possible to wake up NOW to the immediacy, the aliveness, the wonder of this ever-changing moment, just as it is, without needing to label and categorize and explain it in any way at all? Or maybe just to SEE how this labeling, categorizing and explaining happens by itself, and maybe to see it without being pulled in and hypnotized by it, and maybe even to notice that this conceptualizing and storytelling is itself an unresolvable, ungraspable waving of the shoreless ocean, like the ant traversing the rusty pipe and the blossoms blowing past the windows like snow and the single finger tapping the keys and the little black shapes called words spilling out and opening up in you.
Where is the boundary between inside and outside, between me and you, between joy and sorrow, between one moment and the next?
March 31, 2022:
Turbulence: A Story
Recently I’ve been embroiled in a murky situation involving a number of people, a situation that pushed any number of highly charged and deeply rooted buttons in my own psyche. There was an obsessive involvement in the drama, the taking of positions and then letting positions go—along with waves of anger, hurt and fear. There has been self-righteousness, defensiveness, regrettable behaviors and huge sorrow—openings and closings and changes of mind and heart.
At the same time, various other dramas have been unfolding on the world stage. The war in Ukraine was center stage for weeks, occupying the airwaves and everyone’s minds, and then suddenly, that obsession was replaced by Will Smith slapping Chris Rock at the Oscars, with everyone weighing in on social media.
Some people thought Will was right on, standing up for his wife, others thought what he did was shocking and terrible and traumatizing to everyone. One fellow, whose award Chris was up there to announce, was upset because Chris called him a white guy when he’s actually South Asian. Some folks speculated about what would have happened if Will had been white, while others wondered how it would have gone down if Chris had been white, and still others imagined the outcome if they’d both been white. Or maybe if one or the other had been a woman, or a transwoman, or an old person, or a deaf person, or a one-armed person, or a lesbian with one eye, or a person with cerebral palsy, or someone everyone knew was terminally ill, even though we’re all terminal. And of course there was the joke that provoked it all, apparently poking fun at a bald woman by comparing her to another nearly bald woman. So many arguments and fiercely held opinions float around these days about what jokes are okay to make—some people thinking Dave Chappelle was abusive to trans people and others hating Hannah Gadsby and still others thinking anything should be okay to joke about in any way whatsoever.
In the days before the Oscars, I had been so triggered by one of the people involved in the murky situation in my own life that I had a complete meltdown late one night—filled with rage, I acted it out by cursing and making noise and firing off an abusive email to someone I felt slighted and shut out by. So when I saw Will hit Chris a few days later, it seemed like just another moment in a very familiar human story in which we are all implicated. It barely registered on my already off-the-charts Richter scale.
And now the dust has settled in my mind, and I’m wonderstruck by all of us with our various cherished and often wounded identities (South Asian, black, white, gay, woman, trans, old, disabled, bald, enlightened, unenlightened), identities that we protect and defend, and our old wounds that get triggered, and the pain we feel when a loved one is being insulted or hurt, and the doubts about one another that can bubble up, and the anger, and the fear, and all the myriad ways we mishear and misremember and misinterpret and misunderstand—and the astounding truth that what appeared to happen in every moment of all these events, from the personal to the global, was a momentary, fleeting, inchoate, ungraspable dream-like play of consciousness that had no essential, inherent, observer-independent reality—that all of it was an activity of this whole universe doing what it does—that no two of us saw the same movie—and that none of it can ever actually be resolved into the neat and tidy categories and narratives that thought spins out.
The past weeks have been, for me, a crash course in all the ways we hurt ourselves and each other because we give solidity to what isn’t solid—because we imagine separation where none exists—because we feel that we are cut off from the whole, that we are someone who is fundamentally unworthy and deficient and unsafe and under attack. Some spiritual folks claim to be beyond all this, no longer touched or troubled by any of it. But I cannot make such a claim. I feel the fury that can arise when I feel disrespected, misunderstood, disliked, judged, blamed—and under the fury, the deep pain, the sorrow, the fear. And in the wake of that, in me and everyone else, all the different and conflicting ways we have each learned to cope with the unresolvable, uncertain and often painful nature of life: attacking or defending, playing nice and keeping silent or roaring and punching and never shutting up—and the obsessive nature of how the mind works on it all, with the body humming along—tension, contraction, energy, power—what an amazing swirl it all is.
We humans (or whatever this is that we all are) seem moved to untangle and heal it in one way or another. Writing this is one such move. And we all have so many different strategies. Some want to engage and talk it out, some want to fight and argue, some want to retreat and hide. If I want to engage and you want to hide, I may all too easily interpret your withdrawal as meaning, “you don’t love me,” and if I keep trying to engage while you are trying to hide, you may all too easily interpret that as an assault by someone who doesn’t respect your boundaries. How easily we misunderstand the motives of others and of ourselves, how quickly we make up a story and believe in it. Why I did what I did. Why you did what you did. Why Will did what he did. Why Putin did what he did. Why Biden said what he said. And then the regret. And the guilt. And the blame. And the shame. And the need to make amends, to forgive and be forgiven—and when that doesn’t happen, the question of whether it is possible to simply be with an open wound, without a bandage, without moving at all in any direction. But movement happens anyway, ceaseless movement.
We have so many modes of healing and untangling: psychotherapy, bodywork, prayer, meditation and all the ways of seeing life that bring us out of the dark morass and into a place of greater sanity or acceptance…or maybe even love.
So much love in the midst of it all. The spring flowers blooming everywhere, the blossoms scenting the air and blowing off the trees, the hillsides greening up, the temperatures warming, and the way it all runs together—the war, the awards show, the joke, the slap, the murky situation, the meltdown, the regret, the moves made to untangle and heal, the love. Maybe all of it is love trying to find a way home to itself, to that open tender place at the heart of everything that is at once totally vulnerable and completely indestructible, that place where everything is included and there is space for all of us to be just exactly as we are, which is never the same way twice.
Response to a comment:
Someone posted this comment: Imagine the timeline where Smith walked up and hugged Rock, and then told him that his wife's baldness was due to a disease, and did it feel right to be making a joke out of that? How would that have impacted the collective consciousness? We do have choices in this realm, and our choices help determine our reality, both individually and collectively.
As I see it, free will and choice is an illusion. In each moment, we do the only possible at that moment. We sometimes SEEM to have choice, but the more closely we investigate, the more clearly we can see it for an illusion. The "me" who is supposedly authoring my thoughts and choosing my actions simply doesn't exist. We can think that it would have been better if what you describe had happened instead, and it certainly seems that way, but life is as it is, and in some way, what we regard as mistakes and horrors are all part of it. Perhaps the way it went down ultimately—in the long run—served the totality more than a seemingly more wholesome way would have—we really don’t know.
Response to another comment:
As I see it, EVERYTHING is a happening of the whole. But when there is open aware presence without entrancement in the thought-sense of being a separate encapsulated self, our actions come from Wholeness and also from a different part of the brain. We naturally behave in wholesome ways. When the “divine hypnosis” (the thought-sense of being “me”) takes over, action comes from fragmented thinking, from the illusion of separation, and from the most primitive parts of the brain. We may apparently be able to choose which of these dimensions of our being takes over in any given moment, and that ability can apparently be cultivated in many different ways, but in the larger sense, both “the choice” and the cultivation are a matter of grace.
That doesn’t negate the potential usefulness of having aspirations, but these too arise choicelessly, as does our ability or inability to carry them out in any given moment. In my experience, in spite of years of spiritual, psychological and somatic work of all kinds, in spite of deep insights and profound awakenings, and in spite of our best intentions, failure (choicelessly) happens at times. The divine hypnosis overcomes us, the old conditioned habits reappear and take over for a while, and we behave in mean-spirited and unskillful ways, as happened for me that night I described in my post, and as it obviously did for Will Smith at the Oscars.
This happens to supposedly “awake people” all the time because the whole notion of “awake people” is an oxymoron—no such persisting “person” exists to be permanently in some state of perpetual awakeness. What awakening wakes up to is ever-present, yes, but the felt-sense of being that and/or the entrancement in old patterns comes and goes—thus truly embodying or living from Aware Presence is a never-ending, always NOW, unfoldment. Or at least, that’s how I see it.
As I see it, reality cannot be boxed up in any formulation. Both “free will” and “choicelessness” are ultimately conceptual abstractions of a living, breathing reality that cannot be grasped by concepts. They function as pedagogical pointers, each useful in different situations. I find the moral outage at Will Smith (a stand in for myself in my many moments of bad behavior) to be ignorant (i.e. ignoring reality), unhelpful, hurtful and lacking in both insight and compassion. That’s not to say that what he did, or what I did, was okay. It doesn’t mean there won’t be consequences—there always are. It doesn’t mean we can’t aspire to do better. But to imagine that either of us had a choice in that moment shows a lack of insight.
Some people believe that awakening to Presence is a one-time event, that once one wakes up to being that impersonal boundless awareness, one can never fall back into the sense of being “me” and into old conditioned habitual ways again. But for many (and I suspect most, if not all) of us, the process of awakening is not a one-time event, but a never-ending, always NOW process that involves many setbacks and failures. Understanding these setbacks as “the way it is” in that moment when they occur frees us from guilt, shame, and (in the case of others) blame, self-righteous moral outrage and desire for vengeance. Sometimes, having an idea of responsibility and an aspiration or intention of doing better going forward may apparently be useful. But above all, I find waking up from the trance of separation only ever happens NOW, in this moment. And sometimes, in spite of our best intentions, that’s not what happens.
In the end, the whole movie of waking life is a kind of dream-like appearance, and yet, here it is. And so, we do as we are moved to do, playing our part in the only way possible.
April 9, 2022:
We tend to think that we have to “do” waking up, that we have to figure out the nature of reality, that we have to make something happen (because this can’t possibly be it). But so-called awakening is more about giving up this whole effort, letting go, relaxing, dissolving, surrendering. Letting GOD do us, instead of us trying to do God.
And by GOD, I mean the Universe, Primordial Awareness, the Heart-Mind, the no-thing-ness of everything; the germinal darkness or pure potentiality out of which everything emerges and to which it returns; the ever-present Self, the One without a second; the unnamable, unknowable, unexplainable groundless ground of Now-Here that is at once most intimate, closer than close, limitless and boundless; the emptiness, impermanence and aliveness of all that appears. GOD is at once what we are and also more than we can ever imagine. God is the Ocean and we are the wave.
As the wave, we imagine that we are separate and independent, solid and persisting, broken off from the Ocean, ever in danger of dying and no longer existing. But this is all delusion and the unnecessary suffering and confusion it brings. To awaken is to wake up from this entrancement in a false narrative and all that comes with it. This awakening never happens in the past or the future, but always only NOW. It happens not by grasping the Truth, but by letting go into not knowing.
Surrendering requires a leap of faith—not once, but again and again, NOW. This leap is giving up the pretense of control, not knowing what the outcome might be, trusting that something much deeper and bigger than the thinking mind is actually running the show and always has been—that this never-ending awakening is happening from a dimension prior to and subtler than conscious awareness, and that everything in our life is somehow part of it.
Someone, I forget who, said that GOD was gradually colonizing us, gradually taking us over, taking us in, dissolving us into Itself. And we, as the thinking mind and the apparently separate self, cannot engineer this. It requires falling into groundlessness, letting go of everything, not knowing. Being still. Being present. Being exactly this, Here-Now. Listening. Opening.
As they say in Centering Prayer, it means consenting to God’s presence and action within us, allowing GOD to enter and take over completely. This is really our only job, this letting go, this re-turning Home. Again and again, and always right NOW, it means relaxing the mind-body clench that is hanging on for dear life, desperately trying to “get it,” always judging, comparing, doubting, second-guessing, blaming and shaming. Let it all go—that is the invitation that is constantly on offer, the possibility and the great challenge of a human life. It is like dying—dying to the known, dying to all our ideas, dying to who we think we are, dying to what we think we need to become.
To be awake is to be open. Empty. Alive. Awake to the ever-present-ness that is never actually absent.
April 14, 2022:
Keeping It Simple
Here-Now, present experiencing, THIS one bottomless moment, just as it is, THIS is utterly simple: the sounds of the washing machine, the taste of oatmeal, the sensations in the knee or the belly, the breathing, the thought-trains and mental movies appearing like bubbles and eventually popping—THIS whole happening, just as it is, is simple, obvious, unavoidable, and effortlessly present. It is ever-changing and yet always right here, right now. Without thought, it has no inside or outside, no beginning or ending. It is without meaning and without any need of meaning, although thought may spin comforting or scary stories of meaning or meaninglessness. But the actuality simply IS as it is.
Thought and imagination spin all kinds of stories ABOUT this—scientific stories, spiritual stories, psychological stories, apocalyptic stories, hopeful stories, moralistic stories, horror stories, comforting stories. Thought and imagination routinely take the raw material of sensation and perception and weave it into ideas that come to seem like reality itself. In one sense, of course, these are real—they are real fantasies, real imaginations, just as a dream is a real dream. But when we mistake the CONTENT of our imagination for something that actually exists, things get murky.
For example, we can experience the sense of being a vast field of boundless awareness in which everything, including this bodymind, is appearing and disappearing. But even to describe it as I just did with those words is already moving from the bare experiencing into conceptual abstraction and reification. Before long, we have the IDEA (and soon the BELIEF) that boundless impersonal awareness is our True Nature. Then practices are invented to notice and confirm this and to help us abide in the sense that this is our true identity. We begin trying to identify as boundless awareness and eliminate any sense of being a particular person. Soon this has morphed into an entire philosophical belief system such as Advaita Vedanta.
To take another example, we can notice that we can never experience anything outside of experiencing, and we call this experiencing “consciousness,” and we conclude that consciousness is all there is. That may be true, but now we are convinced it absolutely IS true. Then we have so-called materialists, who think the brain produces consciousness, and so-called idealists, who think consciousness precedes the brain, arguing with one another over which view is correct. Which comes first, the chicken or the egg?
But what are we even talking about? If we come back to the utter simplicity of present experiencing here and now, without thinking about it, without trying to conceptualize it and figure it out, in the raw experiencing of colors, shapes, sounds, sensations, and so on, there is no brain, no consciousness, no awareness, no mind, no matter, no boundless field, no separate me—for these are all word-labels, ideas, abstractions, conceptualizations of a living reality that can’t actually be pulled apart or pinned down in these ways. And if we’re honest, we don’t really know what THIS is or how it got here or where it’s going. We are utterly clueless. Present experiencing, as raw experience, is undeniable and impossible to doubt—being here now is impossible to doubt. But what this “being” is—whether it is a person or a brain or an infinite boundless field, whether it is mind or matter—this we cannot really say. In fact, even to wonder what THIS “is,” is already a movement of thought trying to pin the ineffable living actuality down and concretize it conceptually into some inherently existing, persisting THING that can be grasped.
We have the latest, sometimes conflicting, scientific theories—but history shows that these are often overturned and revised. And we have various experiences, including so-called spiritual experiences of all kinds. These may include experiences of oceanic oneness or boundlessness, kundalini events, samadhi states, kenshos and awakenings of all kinds—but all experiences come and go. Even the first sense of aware presence vanishes every night in deep sleep. And when the ungraspable fluidity of ever-changing present experiencing morphs into “an experience” that “I” once had and can now remember, “it” has already been frozen and abstracted and pulled out of the ineffable it-less-ness of thorough-going impermanence and made into some-thing seemingly substantial, persisting and graspable.
But again, if we come back or wake up to the utter simplicity of THIS, here and now—this one bottomless present moment just as it is, which is no way at all that can be pinned down—we might discover that there is nothing wrong. Yes, there might be a pain in our knee or a terrifying event on the subway or bombs exploding around us, but there is no problem of the kind that drives spiritual seeking and apparent finding and believing. There is simply what’s happening, just as it is, including responsive action, all of it (even the apparent efforts) happening effortlessly. On a practical level, there may be things “wrong” that need fixing, such as a flat tire, a clogged drain, a global pandemic, a social injustice or a blocked artery. But the whole story of a deficient self who needs to awaken and get enlightened simply no longer exists.
Life itself is where the aliveness is—and it includes the whole range of human experience—and we may discover we don’t need to add anything extra. We don’t need an explanation of how it all works or what it is. We don’t need to have any special spiritual experience or figure out the relationship of the brain to consciousness. It’s so much simpler than all that, just being alive.
April 17, 2022:
I’m all for intelligent meditation and other undertakings that help us see how thought operates and that help us come to our senses and wake up from our habitual, deeply conditioned hypnotic entrancement in unnecessary conceptual muddles and the suffering of feeling separate and deficient.
I’m all for exploring the nature of reality and for discovering the many dimensions of consciousness and the many different ways the brain can function. Humans have a capacity, much of it undoubtedly untapped, for a wide range of experience and modes of perceiving and functioning, from the mundane to the most subtle and transcendental, from left brain functions to right brain functions, from cerebral cortex to reptilian brain, and all the many possibilities of aware presence in transforming body and mind. All of this is wonderful to explore.
It’s entirely possible, in my view, that waking up from the deeply conditioned sense of being encapsulated, separate entities in a fractured world, and opening into to the felt-sense of being seamless and boundless presence, and learning to use our brains and our capacity for awareness more effectively is all a crucial step in our evolutionary development, a way of moving beyond the ego-driven, conflict-ridden aspects of our humanness that cause so much suffering, and that seem to be leading us to extinction. This possibility is, of course, only speculation—it is not something we have any way of knowing, but it certainly seems possible that this might be so. But I’m always more interested in how this unfolds NOW in my own life than in speculation about the future. And I can definitely discern the palpable differences in my life when I am coming from open aware presence in contrast to when I am caught-up in what Joko Beck called “the self-centered dream.” AND I can also appreciate that BOTH of these are impersonal appearances, empty of substance, both equally an expression of the indivisible whole.
It’s immensely freeing to discover that the “me” who seems to be in control of “my” life is a kind of mirage that vanishes when we look for it. In other words, ALL of this exploration, discovery, learning and transformation that I’m talking about happens by itself. Our interests and abilities, along with our so-called will-power and intention, arise from an unfindable source prior to conscious awareness. Life is doing us, not the other way around. And yet, we have the appearance of making choices and having intentions and aspirations, and so, we do our best in each moment in the only way possible.
In my view, BOTH choice and choicelessness are valid pedagogical pointers, each useful in different situations. Reality itself cannot be captured in ANY formulation. And in my view, the suggestion to, “Allow everything to be as it is,” AND the recognition that, “Everything always already IS allowed to be as it is,” are BOTH valid and potentially liberating pointers. For me, it was helpful many years ago during a guided meditation when a teacher said, “Allow everything to be as it is,” and then began naming things—thoughts, sensations, restlessness, boredom, traffic noise—and saying, “And this too…” It was helpful in letting go of the resistance to many of these things and the habit of thinking they were distractions, mistakes or sure signs of being an unenlightened loser. And then, at another moment, it was helpful to hear a different teacher say, “Everything already IS allowed to be as it is—here it is, just as it is.” That cut through any lingering idea that “I” was supposed to “do” allowing. It was already done! In the same way, I see BOTH the instruction to “be here now” AND the message that “all there is, is being here now,” as useful pointers.
In all these instances, it need not be either/or. It can be both/and. In my view, both/and is true nonduality. Nonduality includes and transcends duality, just as the absolute includes and transcends the relative, but BOTH have a reality that we do well not to ignore. And while there is no separate, independent doer of our actions, thinker of our thoughts, or maker of our choices, at the same time, we have the sense of making choices, and in that choiceless functioning, remembering to “be here now” or to “allow everything to be as it is” can be helpful moves to apparently make. AND, it can also be enormously liberating to fully grok that everything already is allowed to be just as it is, and that we can’t ever actually not be here now.
So, again, I’m all for whatever helps in the moment to cut through delusion, expose illusion, and wake us up from unnecessary suffering and confusion. There’s no single right strategy. Sometimes we need ultimate medicine, sometimes we need relative medicine. As the great Zen Master Joshu said many centuries ago, “A clay Buddha cannot cross water; a bronze Buddha cannot get through a furnace; a wooden Buddha cannot get through fire.” In other words, different approaches or different tools are helpful in different situations and useless (or even counter-productive) in other situations. It’s always good to know the strengths and weaknesses of whatever particular pointer we are using, and not to get fixated on any one way of approaching things or any one way of expressing the inexpressible.
-- copyright Joan Tollifson 2022--
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