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Blog #18

The following are the most recent selected posts from my Facebook author page:

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

August 1, 2022

Shouldn’t We Be Renouncing the World and Sensory Experiencing?

Several people have raised questions recently about experience and renunciation, wondering if I agree with the teachings that tell us to ignore the senses and tune out the apparent world because all of that is illusion.

As far as I’m concerned, the illusion is in mistaking our conceptual map of reality for the living actuality, including the belief that we are separate from the whole and that what appears has some kind of substantial, persisting existence. That, and our me-centered fantasies of personal attainment, our stories of success and failure, the sense of personal control—all of that is the illusion. All of our interpretations, beliefs and explanations (including this one) are illusory.

I’m not a religious scholar, but I would guess that variations on the notion that the body is bad, that we should be celibate and sleep on a bed of nails, live in a dark cave and wear blinders so we cannot be distracted by the flowers or the trees, are probably found in some form in all the major religions. Perhaps exceptions would be Taoism or Chan (early Chinese Zen), both of which I love, and both of which are very earthy, finding the transcendent right here in the cherry blossoms, the dog shit and the breakfast dishes.

These ideas of leaving the body and the world far behind have never resonated with me. I would never say I’m not the body. I would say, the body is not all that I am, nor is “the body” what we think it is (namely, a solid, separate, persisting, independent “thing”). I find that tuning into the sensory world (hearing, seeing, breathing, somatic sensations, and so on) is a powerful way of realizing the seamless, boundless, fluid, ungraspable, indeterminate, ever-changing, ever-present nature of reality. The more deeply we tune in, the more we find the silent stillness at the core of everything. And so much beauty and wonder is here to be enjoyed and so much gratitude and love to feel!

Yes, I also find it helpful to discover the spacious awareness beholding it all, but that can easily become a new dualism if we mentally reify awareness into some kind of separate “thing” that “I” am trying to identify as. Awareness and content can no more be pulled apart than the ocean and its waves. Waves are the play of the ocean. Aware presence, or what I often simply call present experiencing, is what Here-Now IS. And at its core, there is no-thing at all. But no-thing is not nothing! Tuning into the silent stillness of the Heart, feeling the spacious awareness beholding everything, enjoying and entering deeply into the sensory-energetic actuality of sounds, visual images and somatic sensations—these are not in opposition to one another. All can be enjoyed and explored.

Yes, in deep sleep, as far as we know, all experience subsides and only awareness remains. Or we could say, only the germinal darkness or the infinite potential or the intelligence-energy or the Mystery or the Heart. And yes, in a sense, the waking world is very much like the dream world, all of it a play in consciousness, a waving of the ocean of being. But the waves are beautiful!

Of course, I’m not advocating a life of addictive gluttony—that’s not what I’m pointing to when I speak of exploring sensations. And when I speak of experiencing, I’m not pointing to some form of experience mongering, when we crave certain experiences or collect experiences or mentally freeze certain happenings into “experiences” that we then label good, bad, enlightened, unenlightened, and so on. Experiences are like nouns (some objectified thing that has been artificially carved out of the flowing whole)—and they seem to refer to past or future. Experiencing is a verb—it is NOW. By experiencing, I simply mean this present happening, this awaring presence, doing what it does without ever departing from right here, right now. Just THIS.

As for how much attention we “should” give the apparent world, I would say this depends—there are no rules. If you are a parent, hopefully you give attention to your children. If you have a job, hopefully you give it attention when doing it. If you are a citizen of a town, a country, or planet earth, it may be helpful for you to give at least some attention to relatively reliable sources of news and information, so that you can vote or act intelligently. I’ve gone through periods of completely ignoring the news, and periods of taking in enormous amounts of it, and periods of being somewhere in between. I don’t think there’s a “right” amount of news. We each have to find out how it affects us and how much is too much.

But isn’t it all just illusion? Well, as I see it, conventional (or apparent, relative, everyday) reality and the actuality of emptiness (ungraspable impermanence, no-thing-ness, seamless interbeing, the dream-like nature of it all) both show up together in every moment, as do multiplicity and unicity, or form and emptiness. We might say that such apparent opposites are a bit like those optical illusion images that can appear to be a duck or a rabbit, or a vase or two faces, or an old woman or a young woman. Many people—probably most humans—see only one of these possibilities, even though the other is right there in plain sight, never actually hidden or absent. Awakening, as I mean it, sees both. But let’s bring it down to earth. If your child is running out into a busy street, it’s probably not helpful to dismiss this as “just a dream.”

Are the people fleeing the war zone real? As one teacher said, they’re as real as you are. And how real is that? That is a wonderful koan to live with, not to slap down some second hand traditional answer, but to explore for yourself, directly, here and now. Live with it, let it percolate.

August 2, 2022:

How simple can this be? This aliveness that is right here, right now—before we name it, before we think about it, before we divide it up with word-labels and try to figure it all out. This simple presence, unfindable but undeniable—the spaciousness, the stillness, the energy, the silence, the all-pervading love.

August 5, 2022

Musings on the Nature of Reality

We can’t stand apart from and SEE reality; we can only BE reality—and we can’t ever NOT be reality. Reality is all there is; and all there is, is reality. And actually, EVERYTHING we see (the apparent forms that appear in everyday life, as well as what we see in dreams or on 5-MeO-DMT, LSD, Psilocybin, MDMA or Ayahuasca, or anything we think or imagine) is ALL reality.

The notion of finding The True Reality, as if it were some particular “thing” that could be found and grasped at last, or the notion of stabilizing in some apparent state of consciousness that we think is “It,” is all a dream. All such fantasies presume we are some-thing apart from this imagined IDEA of reality.

Whatever THIS is (let’s call it reality), it is ever-changing, unresolvable, ungraspable and utterly un-pin-downable, yet it never departs from the present-ness and immediacy of this infinite and eternal Here-Now. It is always Just This, however it may appear. Our worst moments of confusion, upset, and so-called entanglement in delusion are no less reality than our most profound mystical experiences or moments of apparent clarity.

The one who seems to be HAVING these different experiences, the one who seems to be IN this or that state of consciousness, the one who hopes to REALIZE the Truth or STABILIZE in some particular experiential or behavioral state, the one who seems to go back and forth between “getting it” and “losing it,” or between encapsulation and boundlessness, that one is a mirage—it SEEMS to be there, but it cannot actually be found. In looking to find what “I” am, no-thing at all can be found, and at the same time, EVERYTHING is right here. I am at once no-thing and everything. There IS only no-thing-ness appearing as everything. Reality is all there is; and all there is, is reality. The ocean can show up in infinitely varied ways, but it never departs from being the ocean.

In the example I often give, if we think of Buddha and Hitler as different waves on the ocean of being, both are equally movements of the ocean, both equally water, but Buddha knows that, while Hitler is caught in the delusion of being an independent wave, separate from the ocean, out to conquer or control the other waves and purify the ocean. Their experiences and actions will be different as a result. But no “Hitler” or “Buddha” can ever really be carved out of the flowing whole as some static, persisting, substantial, independent, autonomous “thing” apart from the whole. “Buddha” and “Hitler” (like chairs and tables and dogs and cats) are always only conceptual ideas. We can call one of them “good” and the other “evil,” but BOTH are a choiceless movement of the ocean, inseparable from one another, and neither ever departs from being the ocean. The actuality is never really divided up—it is seamless. The perfection includes it ALL.

Within the dream-like movie of waking life, as dream-characters, we may seemingly be moved to make apparent choices and take actions of various kinds, and these may seemingly bring about various results. But this whole story has no more substance than the plotline in a dream, and the apparent “me” (the chooser-actor-thinker-observer-doer) at the center of this story has no more volitional ability or power to affect reality than a character in a dream. This is actually a wonderfully freeing realization.

And still, however ephemeral and substance-less it may be, this magical appearance is showing up—this marvelous and sometimes excruciating play. Trying to detach and shut it all out because it is supposedly “unreal” feels lifeless and dead to my particular sensibilities. But, of course, this apparent detaching (which can never really detach) is simply one possible move that reality is making, one possible dream-event that can appear to happen.

And meanwhile, this dream character here who appears to be typing this post right now seems to prefer a different possibility, a different way of dancing, which might be called love. But both detachment and love are equally movements of the whole, inseparable from one another, without any substantial, independent, persisting existence—they are simply different possibilities like clouds in the sky, shape-shifting, shapeless, disintegrating into no-thing at all. How real was any of it?

And yet, here it all is! The morning breeze, THIS cup of tea, the beloved dog trotting toward me, the green leaves, the wildfires, the wars, the child sex-trafficking, the floods, the droughts, the blossoming flowers, the falling leaves, the changing climate, the mass extinctions, the distant galaxies being born and dying—this whole amazing unnamable and ungraspable reality. What a magic show, what a dance, what a wild love affair—blessedly without meaning or purpose.

August 7, 2022

Thinking (as an energetic movement) is as formless and evanescent as sensing, but what thought does is to conceptually carve up present experiencing and then concretize or solidify all the seemingly separate pieces it has just created, including the imaginary "me." It creates objects, situations, storylines, narratives, headlines, explanations, problems, etc. But none of these apparently solid, independent, persisting "things" actually exist in the way thought suggests. They are abstract over-simplifications, and the map is never the territory it claims to represent. And yet, mapping is something the territory is doing, and in that sense, as a map, the map is as much the territory as what it depicts.

-- copyright Joan Tollifson 2022--

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