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Blog #16


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

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


April 23, 2022:

Not Holding on to Anything

Out of some unfathomable, formless, unnamable, ungraspable, inconceivable intelligence-energy-potentiality, the seemingly solid and coherent movie of waking life magically appears. For the newborn, it probably isn’t solid and coherent at all. But what comes to be regarded as a substantial, coherent, persisting, objectively existing material world “out there” that “I” was born into and am now looking out at—this present experiencing—is actually more like a Rorschach blot in disappearing ink. This becomes increasingly obvious the more closely we tune into the living actuality of present experiencing rather than focusing attention on our conceptual maps and learned ideas about it.

We can’t ignore or dismiss all of these learned ideas and conceptual maps, many of which allow us to function within the play of everyday human life. But we can discover that many of these ideas and beliefs actually make functioning more difficult, and that even the functionally useful ones are only conjectures and over-simplified abstractions of an ineffable actuality. That realization helps us to loosen our grip on apparent certainties and approach things more openly, not getting so easily fixated or stuck on any position and recognizing that our current views are approximations at best.

This loosening the grip of certainty doesn’t come easily to humans. There seems to be a deep, primal urge to understand, to grasp, to control. In its more functional forms, this is a survival instinct that serves us well, but in many ways, for human beings in our increasingly complex and ever-more abstracted contexts, it becomes a source of endless frustration, confusion and disappointment. We want to nail down what this whole happening is, why it’s here, why we’re here, what we are, what the purpose of it all is, what happens to “me” after death, and so on. And, of course, a host of answers are provided by religion, philosophy, science and various other perspectives.

But we can notice that all the answers can be doubted. We can’t really get outside of this happening to look at it objectively. And even when we seem to be outside of something looking at it objectively, science has now discovered that the very act of observing influences and in some sense creates what is observed, so the appearance that “we” are outside of any “it” isn’t really accurate. All the answers turn out to be only conjectures and over-simplified abstractions of an ineffable and indivisible actuality.

But we don’t like uncertainty. We desperately want to know what this life IS, and we want to believe it is fundamentally benevolent and positive. We want to feel secure. And religion and spirituality are happy to supply comforting ideas and beliefs. We are told by supposedly awakened beings that this is all primordial awareness or pure consciousness or unconditional love or radiant presence or God or the Self or Brahman or the Tao or Unicity, and these labels give us a sense that we’ve nailed something down. We’re told that fundamentally, all is well, that the totality is fundamentally good, and that feels comforting.

And, for sure, it is possible to have deep experiences of unity, Oneness, unconditional love and the fundamental okay-ness and perfection of everything. But as soon as we start carving these experiences out of the whole range of experiences, putting them into words and giving them names, they become increasingly abstract and untrue. Before long, they turn into beliefs, and then into dogmas, and eventually into doubts.

But if we drop ALL the labels for whatever-this-is, and ALL the ideas about what it is and what we are, and if we relax into simply BEING this present experiencing here and now, just as it is—we may find that in this open groundlessness, in holding on to nothing at all, there is a wonderful freedom and joy.

Maybe it’s safer and more accurate to say simply that there may be a relieving absence of the thought-generated angst of trying to figure everything out and get a grip. But maybe even that is saying too much. Because saying anything at all about possible results is always potentially dangerous in that it can so easily trigger the whole imaginary problem of thinking that this isn’t it, that something more (or less) needs to happen, that something needs to be clarified, figured out or more fully experienced—that “I” am in some way lacking and not fully “there” yet. And, of course, ALL of that is right back to the old habitual move of trying to control and grasp and understand and “get” some kind of solution. So in dropping all the labels, ideas and beliefs, we also need to drop any expectation of results.

And in letting ALL of that go, what has been found here, again and again, is that when the grasping mind relaxes and stops trying to understand or “get” this, or have any particular experience, or feel any particular way—when there is just being here as present experiencing, however it is showing up, the imaginary problem dissolves and there is the utter simplicity of just THIS: the sounds of traffic, the taste of tea, dewdrops sparkling on the grass, breathing, and the spaciousness, luminosity and aliveness that permeates it all.

Of course, in hearing that, the problem-solving mind that identifies as a deficient self instantly wants to know how to make that relaxing and letting go happen. So if that thought pops up, as it may, is it possible simply to SEE that thought for what it is—an old habitual thought with no actual veracity or power? There is no entity here who can “do” relaxing any more than we can “do” falling asleep. But in simply SEEING and becoming aware of the thought-patterns and bodily sensations that create the tension (and the feelings of deficiency and lack), that contracted energy can relax on its own and those old thoughts can lose their believability.

There are meta-thoughts as well, thoughts about the thoughts, thoughts that tell us that this other thought, or the tension we feel, is unenlightened and wrong, that it’s “my” problem, that it needs to dissolve in order for “me” to be okay, and so on. And there are those thoughts that try to evaluate whether “I” am experiencing the “spaciousness and luminosity” that someone else described. Can ALL those thoughts be seen as simply old habitual thought-patterns and not as reliable sources of true information? It may be discovered that nothing needs to dissolve for present experiencing to be just as it is, however it is. Because any thought about how to DO this is predicated on the belief in future time, and what is being pointed to is always exactly right now, in the recognition that THIS is always already fully accomplished.

THIS is at once ungraspable and inconceivable, and yet utterly obvious and unavoidable. It is ever-changing and yet ever-present, right here, right now, never hidden in any way. It is the sound of the fan, the taste of food, the sensations of breathing, the smell of rain-drenched earth, the coo-coo-coo of the mourning dove, the red of the blossoms, the warmth of the sun, the ache of grief, the release of laughter, the darkness of deep sleep, the sound of the alarm clock, the reassembling of the apparently coherent movie, the thought-bubbles popping up and dissolving, the sensations of walking, the sounds of the shower, the feel of water on skin, the feelings of tension and the feelings of relaxation, the moments of delusion and the moments of clarity—the whole amazing dance of whatever-this-is doing what it does.

And for the record, I’m not saying we shouldn’t use all those words like God, awareness, Consciousness, the Self, etc.—I often use them myself, and they can be beautiful and evocative pointers—but when we find ourselves tangled up in confusion and doubt over them, or believing in them (and gripping them tightly) as Truth Itself, then it can be very freeing to drop them all and to simply BE here as what remains, without trying to grasp or understand THIS in any way whatsoever.



April 29, 2022:

Finding God in Unexpected Places

On Tuesday, I had my long-dreaded, long-postponed colonoscopy / sigmoidoscopy combo. I’ve had several sigmoidoscopies since my surgery and treatment 4 years ago for a stage 3 anal cancer. But this was the first colonoscopy since the one they did the day after they found the tumor on a rectal exam back in late 2017. I’d had many colonoscopies of the normal kind in the years leading up to that. But when you have an ostomy, they provide you with a special ostomy bag for the colonoscopy prep that is absurdly gigantic, and when you do the laxative prep the night before the procedure, the poop gushes out of the stoma (the end of your intestine that has been re-routed to come out on your belly and empty into a bag). The whole prospect of having to apply this strange, unfamiliar bag, not knowing if I could get it on successfully one-handed, followed by a night of poop gushing out of Otto (as I call my stoma), not knowing if the bag would stay attached or if I’d be covered in poop, had all sounded so nightmarish and terrifying to me that I had put it off for 2 years.

As is so often the case with the things that terrify us, the prep was a breeze compared to what I was expecting (admittedly a low bar)—but actually, it was a rather marvelous night. It had been much anxiety, procrastination and worry for a very long time over nothing. A good lesson in Mark Twain’s famous line: I’ve been through some terrible things in my life, and some of them actually happened.

It did entail fasting for 2 days before the prep, and then a two-stage prep that involved sitting in front of the toilet for 8 hours the night before the procedure emptying the giant bag over and over and getting almost no sleep—and then the anesthesia and the procedure itself the next day (I woke up twice during the procedure, and went back down again both times)—so I am still rather tired and wiped out, but basically fine. While sitting there at the toilet being totally cleaned out, I was awash in simple Presence and saw God everywhere. It was actually a profoundly deep time.

And the news was the best possible. Colon, anus, rectum all clean—no sign of cancer recurrence and no polyps. And this is the last time I need to do this. Hallelujah!

The whole thing—from the fasting, to the mystical night at the toilet seeing God shining in the toilet paper holder and in the swirls of liquid in the poop-stained bag, to the journey in and out of conscious experiencing on Propofol (the wonderful anesthesia that I love)—all seems to have jolted me in some mysterious way into a deeper place of Silence and Presence and Simplicity and Gratitude.

Leaving me once again amazed by how we humans, myself included, can manage to turn what is so simple and obvious and totally available into something complex and seemingly absent or not quite here yet, and how we can endlessly look to the future for what is right here in our own being, and how we can get so easily lost in our opinions and ideas and so easily irritated when things aren’t going as we think they should, and how we can be so terrified of imaginary problems. And all the while, GOD (the Beloved, the Promised Land, the Home we seek) is nowhere other than HERE-NOW in this one bottomless moment that we never leave, this simple Presence that we are and that everything is—this luminous aliveness shining forth everywhere in everything, this singular “I” to which we all refer prior to name and form, this whole marvelous happening, including the moments of apparently being lost and the delight in being found, again and again, right here in plain sight.



May 5, 2022:

Waking up boils down to something very, very simple—being Here-Now, present and aware. In one sense, we can’t not be here, present and aware, as this is the very nature of reality. But attention is often absorbed in the dream-world of thoughts, stories, ideas and beliefs—a world in which we seem to be a separate encapsulated self, caught up in a drama of fear and desire, past and future. This hypnotic entrancement in an illusory world is the source of our human suffering, confusion, conflict, unease, and doubt. This mental dream world is very seductive, much like an addiction, but also like an addiction, it is ultimately unsatisfying and painful, and we long to wake up, to let go, to relax.

Waking up can only happen Now. And it doesn’t mean we never get lost again. But over time, we begin to see more and more clearly how and in what ways attention is pulled into the dream-world, and as that clarifies, the seductive and hypnotic grip begins to lessen. It may show up again and again for as long as we live, but what matters is not being free always or forever but NOW.

In simple awake presence, we discover the beauty in what is most ordinary, and we begin to SEE directly the nature of this living reality—the fluidity, the present-ness, the wholeness, the boundlessness, the aliveness—and that seeing informs and acts on us. Instead of trying to mentally figure it all out, we let go of this efforting and relax into the simplicity of BEING this one bottomless moment, just as it is.



May 6, 2022:

Words divide a seamless actuality into many different seemingly solid and independent pieces. Hypnotized by words, we may get stuck on the binary idea that there is no place for duality in nonduality, or we may be caught up in believing that something conceptual, such as “free will” or “the self” or “time,” is either “real” or “unreal.” But what are we actually talking about? Reality itself is all-inclusive and inconceivable.

Everything is equally this singular awaring Presence Here-Now, whether it appears as me or you, dog shit or roses, what we call “good” or what we call “evil,” organic or inorganic, mind or matter—it is ALL this indivisible, seamless singularity. But singularity doesn’t mean uniformity. In fact, it is infinitely varied and diverse. And yet, as with the waves in the ocean, we can never actually find any solid boundaries, or pull any apparent “thing” out of the whole, or have one half of a polarity without the other. It all goes together—it all belongs.

And it INCLUDES the undeniable capacity to distinguish apples from oranges and suffering from joy—to feel the difference between action that comes out of divisive, ego-centered thought, and action that emerges from awake presence and wholeness—and there is a naturally arising interest in finding ways of waking up and alleviating suffering. ALL of this is something this wholeness is doing.

This wholeness, showing up as me and you, can discover the palpable difference between being lost in painful thoughts and being fully present to the sensory-energetic immediacy of this moment, the palpable difference between being caught up in some story about “me” and being awake to (and as) the spaciousness and openness of Presence itself. AND, paradoxically, we can also recognize that Presence is equally present as the present-ness of those painful thoughts and hurtful behaviors, that it is ALL one singularity in which all the waves are equally water and equally ocean, even as we can distinguish one from another and different qualities in each.

So there is a place for BOTH a pathless path of “being here now” AND the recognition that “all there is, is Here-Now Being.” There is a place for identifying and correcting mistakes, for practicing and refining our skills at something, AND for recognizing that even the apparent failures and mistakes are equally expressions or appearances of one undivided whole that cannot be pulled apart.

BOTH of these discoveries or realizations are aspects of what has been called awakening or liberation. To get stuck exclusively in either one of them to the exclusion of the other is to miss half the Truth. And yet, paradoxically, there is no way to actually miss the Truth since there is nothing else here except this one indivisible reality. A reality that paradoxically must include apparent division and duality and the capacity for discernment, along with the potential for transformation. It ALL belongs.

There is a place for BOTH being a particular unique individual person AND for knowing ourselves as the undivided boundlessness of this awaring Presence that has no outside or inside, no beginning or end, no center or periphery. We are BOTH the ocean and a particular wave.

There is a place for cultivating response-ability and exercising our ability, as Presence itself, to choose wisely, to discern what is healthy and wholesome and beneficial and what is painful and hurtful, and to choose presence over being lost in the dream-world. AND there is a place for recognizing that sometimes this ability to choose is absent, and that all apparent choices are a movement of the whole, and that there are ultimately no mistakes. Again, it ALL belongs. And no conceptual formulation, however elegant, can capture the living actuality.

So can we be aware of our tendency to turn the aliveness that is experientially realized into dead formulas and beliefs, to mentally freeze and concretize the living reality into seemingly solid positions, assertions and beliefs? Once we do that, we begin to argue over whether this is mind or matter, or whether there is or isn’t free will, or whether there is or isn’t a person here, or whether practices are helpful or only obstructions. But what are we actually talking about? Can we stop and be still and wonder? It gets subtler and subtler, the ways we divide things up and mistake our conceptual maps for the utterly inconceivable living actuality, a living reality which of course includes conceptualizing and mapping. So it’s not about throwing out the maps or trying to banish imagination and thinking—but simply SEEING when these are useful and when they become forms of unnecessary suffering.



May 8, 2022:

Early Summer Newsletter

It is raining this morning as I write this, a gratuitous blessing. The new green leaves are soaking it up. Rain drops are sparkling with light. Delicate sounds invite stillness and open listening.

The deepest joy comes from what is simplest and most immediate—it comes from the aliveness of Presence Itself. The more deeply we feel into this presence that we are and that everything is, the more it reveals infinitely subtle dimensions. This Presence, this immovable Here-Now-ness, is the common factor in every different experience. It is the immediacy, the vibrancy, the suchness, the aliveness, the radiance, the heart, the beingness, the IS-ness of what is.

Our attention is often absorbed in the world of thinking, the world of storylines—but in any moment of coming to our senses and waking up to presence itself, something shifts. There is a spaciousness, an openness, a stillness, a silence that is deep and profound. We see beauty everywhere. There is Love. Our problems no longer seem problematic. We find a quiet joy in simply being alive, being present. There is no longer a feeling of being separate or encapsulated, deficient or needy, worried about the future or fretting over the past. Everything is us, and we are everything, and all of it is no-thing that can be grasped, for this aliveness is marvelously empty of solidity or fixed form. There is space for everything to be exactly as it is, and space for the new and unexpected to arise. As a person in the play of life—a particular waving movement of the Great Ocean of Being—we are free to be exactly as we are—to be truly and authentically ourselves.

Wishing you all a wonderful summer, or if you’re on the other side of the spinning blue ball, a wonderful winter. With Love, joan


You can read the entire newsletter online HERE, and at the very top of that page, you can access my past newsletters and also subscribe. If you are a subscriber and did not receive it, your mail program may have sent it to your junk or promotions folders. You'll find information in the newsletter about possible ways to correct this.



May 10, 2022:

What does no-self and no-choice mean?

It doesn’t mean the person magically disappears in every sense never to show up again, or that there is no longer a bodymind organism with a personality and a functional sense of boundaries as needed. It doesn’t mean there isn’t the (choiceless) appearance of making choices and the need to apparently make all kinds of decisions in everyday life, nor does it negate the possibility of learning new skills and improving old ones. It doesn’t mean we are robots being pushed around by an alien universe. It doesn’t mean that we should “do nothing,” or that we should never express preferences or take initiative or speak in the first person or use the active voice or share parts of our personal story or care about our children and our dog and our friends or deny the existence of our personal life. It doesn’t mean not being seen (or not seeing others) as precious and unique beings. It doesn’t mean being dissociated, unfeeling, unemotional or dead. It doesn’t mean not living a full human life.

But who or what does all “my” thinking, feeling, choosing, acting and living? How do choices and decisions actually happen? And what exactly is a body, or a mind, or a person? How solid or substantial are these apparent forms that seem to exist and persist over time?

These questions invite us to discover what can never really be put into words or concepts, although words can certainly be used to describe or point to it. These are questions to explore directly, not by thinking about them or believing what anyone else says about these things, but by looking and listening and seeing and discovering for ourselves.

These questions are of a different nature than the questions posed to us in school. Meditative or contemplative questions are not looking for answers, although we can easily supply answers with the thinking mind. If we've been around the spiritual scene for any time at all, we probably know all the "spiritually correct" answers. What am I? "Pure Consciousness," we might think, or “radiant presence.” Or (if we haven't read very many spiritual books yet), we might say, "me," or give our name. Or (another "advanced" answer) we might say, "Nothing at all." Or, "empty space." Or, "The One Self." If we look at our computer and ask, What is it? We might say, "My computer," or we might be more sophisticated and say, "energy," or "consciousness," or "Oneness," or "emptiness" or “unform” or “Presence.” But notice right now that these are all words. Labels. Yes, they may be pointing to something that is not a word and not a concept. But the words themselves are not that to which they point.

It's relatively easy to learn the right answers, the right words – to talk the talk. But these questions are inviting something else entirely. They are inviting us to fall into the open space of not knowing. In the words of Steven Batchelor: “The penetration of this mystery requires that one not foreclose it by substituting an answer, be it a metaphysical proposition or a religious belief. One has to learn how to suspend the habit of reaching for a word or phrase with which to fill the emptiness opened by the question.” That emptiness, openness, groundlessness is where the aliveness is. The menu does not satisfy hunger.

So, in that spirit of open inquiry, we might look to see what we are referring to when we use the word “I”. Not by thinking about it, but by looking and feeling into it with awareness. On one level, in everyday life, the word “I” is often referring to ourselves as a person with a name, age, gender, life story, and so on. And that level has its reality and cannot be dismissed. But these are all things that have been learned. They rely on thought and memory. They are all over-simplified conceptual abstractions. As a newborn, we had no idea about being someone with a name, a gender, an age, a social class, a race, a nationality or any of that.

So, if we don’t refer to thought, memory or second-hand information, and we look to see what we refer to as “I” more deeply and fundamentally than any of that, it may be discovered that we are referring simply to the sense of being present, being Here-Now—not as a particular somebody, but as this boundless, seamless, unencapsulated aware presence.

This awareness or presence is no-thing we can grasp or see as an object. It is unlocatable: nowhere in particular and everywhere. There is nowhere in our experience where it is not, and nothing outside of it. If we look to see whether any boundary can be found between this awaring presence and everything that appears, we may discover it is all one whole seamless happening: awaring presence and present experiencing, the ever-changing appearance and the immovable aware presence (the Here-Now) that is ever-present.

Knowing ourselves as this all-inclusive, unbound vastness, we can play freely as the character in the movie of waking life, free from the burden of taking this role too seriously, free from imagining that we could actually get it wrong and screw up the whole universe. We can enjoy the play, as a play, and play in it playfully, playing our particular part with abandon. If anything, we are more alive, not less alive. We see the light everywhere, in everything. We’re not in any way dissociated, but we’re not lost in the storylines either or in the belief that we are a separate, encapsulated fragment.

Presence is unconditional love—it allows everything to be as it is, holds on to nothing, and sees beauty everywhere. It is total intimacy—no separation, no other. And at the same time, aware presence is not hypnotized by the mental overlay. It is free from the mental plotlines, free from beliefs. Thoughts will still bubble up, but they pass through without turning into full-blown movies.

If we watch as thoughts bubble up, we may discover that no author or thinker of our thoughts can actually be found. Are we in control of the thoughts that arise? Do we know what our next thought will be? Even if we seem to be "choosing" to think positive thoughts, from where does the urge and the intention and the ability to do this arise? Does it always work?

As we go about our daily activities, we might begin to actually watch, very closely, as choices and decisions and actions happen. If we’re making a decision, we might notice the back and forth thoughts that pop up making a case for this direction or that direction. Is there actually a “me” authoring these thoughts, or is that “me” simply another thought, a mental image, an idea? And can we make the decisive moment, when one side finally wins out, happen any sooner than it does? Investigate all of this not by thinking about it, but by giving it careful open attention with awareness.

It may be discovered that decisions happen and that we cannot pin down exactly how they occur or what sets them in motion. We have stories about "free will" and "determinism," but in the end, these are only conceptual models. Like the pictures in an anatomy book, they can never capture the fluidity and messiness of life itself.

This kind of meditative inquiry begins with letting all our answers and beliefs go, and not knowing what we'll find, always being open to the possibility of seeing something entirely new and unexpected.

Waking up is about seeing through the imaginary problems (the misconceptions) at the root of our suffering and confusion—not once and for all, but moment by moment, NOW. Any answer or solution that we pick up and stick to is a new problem. Inquiry dissolves all the answers.



May 14, 2022:

Exploring the Fundamental Tension in the Bodymind

I’ve found it interesting to notice and get curious about the undercurrent of restlessness or dissatisfaction that shows up sometimes in my experience and I suspect in that of most other human beings as well. We may find that this is sometimes quite strong and overt, and at other times, it is a very subtle, barely detectible undercurrent—a slight tension in the bodymind that is perhaps almost always there to some subtle degree, even in moments of pleasure.

It often manifests as the attempt to manipulate, control, change or understand experience. It might show up for some as an effort to identify as awareness and not as a bodymind, or as an effort to be mindful (to “be here now”) all the time. It might be the sense that something needs to happen, shift, clarify, drop away or be found. It might be a feeling that we can’t stand being here in this mind or this body or this situation. It emerges from a sense of separation—a sense of fundamental lack, of not being okay, of something missing or something frightening or threatening.

Nisargadatta described consciousness as an itching rash that comes upon us. Consciousness seemingly divides up the indivisible wholeness and freezes formlessness into apparently separate forms, giving rise to the sense of being an encapsulated separate self and the inevitable feelings of dissatisfaction, lack and endless seeking that follow from that. Buddha called it suffering, the delusion of being a persisting, separate somebody, driven by fear and desire.

Adi Da, a controversial America guru (about whom I have very mixed feelings), often posed the question, “What are you always doing?” He was pointing to what he called the self-contraction. And he said, "Your suffering is your own activity. It is something that you are doing moment to moment....You will continue to pursue every kind of means until you realize that all you are doing is pinching yourself. When you realize that, you just take your hand away. There is nothing complicated about it. But previous to that, it is an immensely complicated problem.” He also said, “The self is just like this clenched fist. Relax the fist and there is nothing inside... We are never at any moment in the dilemma we fear ourselves to be."

We often think so-called spiritual awakening is about getting something or finding the Truth. But it’s more about seeing the false as false, seeing through unnecessary mental activities, noticing and relaxing that metaphorical clenched fist in the bodymind. And we can’t actually “do” relaxing—that would be a contradiction in terms. In the seeing (i.e., awaring) of the tension, there is a natural relaxing that happens by itself—the storylines begin to lose their believability and their grip loosens. The clenched fist opens. It isn’t a willful efforting—it’s a relaxing, a letting go, an opening, a surrendering. It happens spontaneously. And it rarely, if ever, happens once and for all. It’s always about right now.

And sometimes, relaxing doesn’t happen. And then, it may be possible to notice that even the contraction or the tension is never really a problem—it is simply an impersonal energetic movement of this aliveness, a momentary dance that presence is doing. Taking it personally, giving it meaning, viewing it as “The Obstruction Standing Between Me and My Awakening” and then trying really hard to get rid of it, is all only a new meta form of the very problem it is trying to cure—a problem about the problem.

This efforting to get rid of effort, or trying to stop trying, is a common unintended side effect of otherwise potentially helpful pointers and practices such as recognizing ourselves as boundless awareness or impersonal presence, or “being here now,” or even attending talks by someone like Tony Parsons in which we are told that there is nothing to do and no one to do it. All of these things, when slightly misunderstood, can inadvertently feed into the very problem they are designed to expose or undermine.

The medicine that we need to cure a physical illness often has unintended but unavoidable side effects. For example, radiation treatments successfully and blessedly dissolved a cancerous tumor in this body that would have killed me, but it also caused some secondary collateral damage that continues to unfold (as they knew it would, and as I was told about in advance, and which was a price I was willing to pay).

In a similar way, spiritual practices and pointers can also have unintended collateral side effects or potential pitfalls. They can inadvertently reinforce the sense that “this isn’t it,” that “something needs to happen,” that there is someone here who needs to do something to finally be okay or complete or happy or enlightened. They can reinforce a dualistic sense of success and failure, okay and not-okay, a striving for future results, an endless evaluating of how we are doing, comparing ourselves to others, and believing that the speaker at the front of the room or the author of the book has something the rest of us don’t.

As with the radiation that cured my cancer, this doesn’t mean these pointers and practices are terrible and should not be used. It seems to be part of the journey from Here to Here that we inevitably stumble into various misunderstandings and their associated pitfalls (or unintended side effects), and then eventually (with luck), we wake up from them—or we don’t, and that, too, is simply how this dance is dancing.

Often different teachings serve as antidotes to the unintended pitfalls of other teachings. Thus, in my own journey, Toni Packer helped to dissolve some of the pitfalls inadvertently induced by Zen; radical nonduality helped to dissolve some of the pitfalls inadvertently induced by Toni’s approach; various Buddhist teachers and more encounters with Toni helped to dissolve some of the pitfalls induced by radical nonduality; and so on and on.

In one moment we need mindfulness meditation, in another moment we need Rupert Spira or Gangaji or Adyashanti, in another moment we need Karl Renz or Jim Newman or Peter Brown, and in another moment we need Robert Saltzman or Shiv Sengupta. It’s not about one being right and the other being wrong. It’s about pulling the most recent rug we’re standing on out from under us again and again and waking us up to THIS, right here, right now. The mind is infinitely skilled at turning rug-pulling and rug-less-ness into an imaginary new apparently solid rug upon which we can stand. Thus, waking up is not once-and-for-all, but always NOW.

So, you may find it interesting to give open nonjudgmental attention to the persistent sense of restlessness or dissatisfaction—feeling it in the body, that subtle or not so subtle tension, agitation or unease, and also seeing the thoughts and storylines that generate and sustain this unease. Not trying to fix or undo it or get rid of it, because that’s just more of the same efforting, but simply being aware of the whole thing—not thinking of it as a problem, but SEEING it as the neutral and only-possible expression of reality at this moment. This can be an interesting exploration, and if it invites you, I suggest approaching it lightly, with curiosity and interest, not in a goal or result oriented way. Allow it to do you, rather than you trying to do it—which is actually always how it is.

And remember, we are never really in the dilemma we imagine ourselves being in. The whole story of being lost, bound, incomplete, etc. is all imagination. There is no separate, independent, persisting person to be any particular way for more than a nanosecond. There is ONLY flow and nothing IN the flow. And paradoxically, the ever-changing flow never departs from the immovable instantaneous timeless immediacy of HERE-NOW.



May 18, 2022:

Meditation is like turning on a light in a previously darkened room. Openly, nonjudgmentally awaring whatever appears—thoughts, sounds, shapes, breathing, somatic sensations, feelings, subtle energies—this whole ever-changing happening, just as it is. Not trying to control or manipulate or change any of it, but simply beholding it all. Awareness is the unconditional Love that allows everything to be just as it is and that clings to none of it. Awareness is our fundamental nature.

Meditation provides a space for seeing how the mind works, how it creates unnecessary suffering and confusion, and for discovering where the joy is. Meditation is at once both relaxed and alert, effortless but not lackadaisical. It is relaxed in the way a bicycle rider or a long distance runner is relaxed. This delicate balance of alertness and relaxation, effort and effortlessness, must be felt into and discovered, in much the same way that we discover how to ride a bicycle or how to swim. No one can explain it to us.

There’s no need to worry about how often the mind wanders off into thought-trains, memories, fantasies and stories. Simply notice this. Discover what’s seductive about all of this, what’s pleasant and what’s unpleasant about it. Notice the particular habitual patterns of thought that show up again and again for you, whatever they might be: thinking about past or future, worrying, fantasizing, planning, going over and over past events, judging, evaluating, criticizing, comparing, spinning stories and telling them over and over—just SEE all of this, without judging it or trying to get rid of it. The light of awareness gradually (and always presently) reveals and dissolves these patterns, but they do tend to come back, and however often that happens, that’s just the way the mind works. It’s nothing personal. It’s like the weather.

At the same time, be awake to what else is going on Here-Now: the sounds of traffic, a bird singing, voices down the hall, sensations in the body, breathing, heart beating, a tingling in the toes, an airplane passing overhead—whatever it is. I’m using words to point to this, but listen and feel without labeling or explaining, simply enjoying it all as pure sensation. Yes, the labels may pop up, but let them go. Listen, feel, sense and BE without knowing what anything is, without needing to know, with no separation between the listening presence and what is heard—it is one whole seamless happening. Notice that.

Sense the spaciousness and the openness of the aware presence being and beholding it all, the aware presence that you most fundamentally are. Feel the boundlessness of it, the aliveness, the seamlessness, the infinite subtlety. Notice that is it everywhere and that everything is it. This aware space has room for everything. It includes everything. Thoughts, feelings and sensations are ever-changing and ephemeral, appearing and disappearing, but YOU never actually depart from the timeless immediacy of Here-Now (Presence-Awareness).

We begin to discover that fundamentally, it doesn’t really matter what shows up Here-Now, whether it is clarity or confusion, contraction or expansion, thinking or sensing, this or that. Trains of thought, restlessness, agitation, troubling emotions, old habits and compulsive behaviors are all just passing weather, passing shapes that consciousness is momentarily taking, ephemeral appearances in the immovable awaring presence that we are.

Like the events in a dream, these appearances are made out of consciousness and have no actual, substantial reality. They are never really a problem. Awareness, the boundless still-point of Here-Now, is ever-present. And like unconditional love, it is allowing it all and letting it all go—being and beholding it all. This is our fundamental nature that we can discover and feel into. This vast space is as unstained by the passing events as the screen is by the fires and floods in a movie, and it is simultaneously as intimate with all of it as the ocean and its waves—nothing is a problem. Nothing is separate. It all belongs. It’s all included.

What liberates us is not believing any of this as some nice philosophy, but actually discovering it. And that discovery is always NOW. It’s not a past event or a future hope or a permanent state that someone is always in—it’s NOW. And it’s never actually absent except apparently, in the thought-stories.

Meditation, we discover, is the very nature and the natural activity of awareness. Having made this discovery, we may still enjoy sitting quietly, doing nothing, formally or informally (I certainly do), but we also recognize that we can never truly leave meditation. Our whole life, NOW, is meditation. Emotions, thoughts, states of mind, bodily sensations all come and go, but awareness remains as the immovable space, the light, in which it all arises and passes away. This light is really all there is.

-- copyright Joan Tollifson 2022--

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