The Pathless Path through the Gateless Gate Here-Now
(or, The Utter Simplicity of What Is)
Nonduality points to what is already full present. Reality isn’t something absent that must be sought after and attained or figured out and understood. On the contrary, it is utterly simple, obvious and unavoidable. Reality is all there is. We seemingly overlook it by believing that "this isn't it," and by seeking it elsewhere. Lost in the abstractions of thought, the conceptual maps that we habitually mistake for the territory itself, we feel deficient, insecure and lost. And so, we search for what seems to be missing. Actually, there is no need to search or practice or make an effort to arrive at the place where we always already are. It's more a matter of noticing and seeing through and letting go of all the unnecessary efforts we are making and all the thoughts and ideas we are believing.
Right now, let go of all the words you’ve learned to describe what’s going on here: consciousness, awareness, mind, matter, energy, etc. Just let all these words go. Be here wordlessly.
Also drop all the ideas, explanations, formulations, conceptualizations, conclusions and beliefs that have been acquired: everything is consciousness, it’s all one, there is only God, there is no God, everything is a brain creation, mind is here before matter, matter is here before mind, consciousness is all there is, it’s all a dream, everything is made of subatomic particles, there is no self, I’m a woman, I’m a success, I’m a failure, I’m black, I’m white, I’m smart, I’m stupid, a person is only a mirage, my problems are real, all problems are unreal, evolution and history are real, the past really happened, nothing ever happened, it’s all an illusion, there is only now, everything is changing, awareness is unchanging, there is free will, there is no free will, etc.
For right now, let ALL these ideas, explanations, formulations descriptions, conceptualizations, conclusions and beliefs drop away.
There is no true or definitive explanation or description of what this is. We can call what remains consciousness, experiencing, presence, beingness, or what is. We can say it’s a dream, or it’s an illusion, or it’s reality, or it’s sensations, or it’s a subatomic-intergalactic movement of energy with atoms and molecules and planets and suns and black holes and brains and intestines and evolutionary development, or we can say it’s the Divine Lila. But if we drop ALL these words, concepts, labels, explanations and descriptions, what remains?
If you’re still trying to “get” what remains as some kind of definitive conceptual formulation or label—the “correct answer” as it were, notice this familiar old habitual movement of the thinking mind, this mental movement to “get a grip” or “locate yourself” and “get the answer.” This functioning may be useful and essential when you are figuring out which bus to take, or which answer to give on a school exam, or in many other practical life situations. But as a response to the direct recognition of nonconceptual actuality that is being invited here, it’s not functional at all. So if you can, let that grasping movement relax. Be here without knowing what this is or how it all works.
Also notice if you are trying to have “the right experience of this,” or any kind of special or particular experience. Notice if you are looking for some result or outcome—some big breakthrough or awakening maybe, some decisive clarity, some final resolution to the great question mark of life, the great mystery: What is this? Instead, simply be here, without any purpose or intention, without expectation, without words, without knowing what all this is, without needing to know, and without needing your experience to be other than exactly how it is.
Hear the sounds (traffic, wind, birdsong, barking dog, children playing) but without labeling them. Feel the bodily sensations (breathing, heart beating, tinglings and vibrations, pain, warmth, coolness) but without labeling them. See all the colors and shapes and movements in the same way you might enjoy an abstract painting. Simply be here, much as a baby might be here, present and aware, without words, ideas, thoughts or explanations.
Of course, I’m not suggesting we should try to be in some thought-free state 24/7, or that we should strive to permanently banish all words, thoughts and ideas. Words, ideas, explanations, formulations, conceptualizations and beliefs all have their place, and they need not be a problem when they are seen for what they are. They, too, are part of this whole undivided happening, but they can create immense suffering and confusion if we mistake the labels and the storylines and the conceptual formulations for reality itself. Yes, these storylines, labels and concepts are aspects of reality—it’s ALL included—but to really SEE that, we need to break the hypnotic spell of belief in their content by occasionally putting them all aside and discovering or noticing or waking up to what remains in their absence.
You may notice how spacious and freeing this is, this wordless, nonconceptual, aliveness that remains, how relaxing and enjoyable it is to simply be, to not know what anything is, to not need anything to be other than how it is. Or maybe you notice fear, restlessness, boredom or resistance. Whatever shows up, notice that these are all just passing experiences, whether they feel expanded or contracted, pleasant or unpleasant, calm or agitated. Notice that awareness is allowing it all to be just as it is.
If there is what we call fear, restlessness, boredom or resistance, you might explore what these experiences are made of—notice the thoughts driving and sustaining these experiences, notice the “me” at the center of them, feel the bare sensations themselves, go deeply into the sensations with open attention and see if there is anything solid, substantial or persisting in them. In the thought-story, these mind-states seem very real and solid, as does the “me” who seemingly has them. But look and see how substantial and persisting any of this actually is.
The pathless path of waking up now, which I would describe as immediate and not progressive, is simply to recognize this simple wordless presence, this open unknowing, this simple beingness that is always here-now, and also to see (in any moment it happens) how confusion arises, how suffering happens and what these experiences are made up of—the thoughts, the sensations, the storyline. See the identification as the personal self when it arises, the way we seemingly shrink down into being this little encapsulated me. In functional situations, that momentary identification as a person is not a problem—you answer to your name and so on. But notice when it’s not actually functional, when there is the thought-sense of being this little me who is supposedly thinking my thoughts and making my choices, the one who seems to be inadequate, deficient, confused, lost, uncertain, insecure, in need of guidance, not quite fully “there” yet, and so on.
See how that misidentification as a separate person brings with it the feeling of being small and deficient, separate and insecure. See how the mind then begins seeking and grasping, and how unsatisfying that is. Notice the tendency to defend the self-image, even to defend the reality and substantiality of our suffering. See if this apparent self can actually be found, if it has any actual substance, or if it is simply a bunch of ever-changing thoughts, sensations, feelings, memories and mental images. Notice the awaring presence being and beholding it all, the impersonal presence that is unencapsulated, boundless, limitless, unobstructed and free.
Notice that this awareness, this presence is actually always present, even in the midst of thinking and imagining and identifying as a person and feeling lost and confused. We never actually leave Here-Now, this infinite, eternal, timeless immediacy that is all there is. Stop and check any time it seems otherwise, and notice that this is so. Notice that you are this presence, this awareness, this whole happening. There is no actual boundary between inside and outside, between subject and object, between body and environment. Look closely and see that this is so.
As stories of past and future arise, recognize that this is happening Now, that the past has actually vanished completely, that the future is only a fantasy, that you are always Here in this immediacy, this present-ness. Notice that Here-Now has no boundaries or limits, no before and after, no beginning or end.
Isn’t it to this infinite and eternal awaring presence, this undivided unicity, this Here-Now that the word “I” most deeply refers? Is it possible that everyone shares (and IS) this same “I,” each with a unique point of view, a unique movie of waking life, but all happening in and as the same limitless awaring presence, the same vast intelligence, the same undivided energy?
Notice that everything is happening by itself, choicelessly, even apparent decisions and choices. We are always doing exactly what life moves us to do in every moment. And then, before or after the fact, thought, identifying as “me,” takes credit (or blame), or worries anxiously about possibly getting it wrong.
Notice how easily words reify and divide, seemingly turning even “awareness” or “presence” or “consciousness” or “unicity” into an object or a particular experience. Words such as these are pointing to something that can never be objectified. Every experience is impermanent—if it came, it will go. But unicity or awareness or presence is not a passing experience, although it includes and is EVERY experience. But it is not limited to any particular experience, and it is not an object we can stand outside of and see or grasp. It is the utter simplicity of right here, right now, just as it is—this whole happening—everything, without exception, included.
The words I’m using are only tentative pointers. What liberates is opening to the non-conceptual actuality itself. No words can ever capture that. So once again, let go of all the words used to describe what’s going on here: consciousness, awareness, mind, matter, energy, unicity, etc. Drop all the ideas, explanations, formulations, conceptualizations, conclusions and beliefs that have been acquired. And simply be what it is impossible not to be.
And then, the dance of form—the movie of waking life—will continue, and it will include thinking, conceptualizing, remembering, imagining, story-telling, and intermittently playing the part of a particular person, someone with preferences, opinions, interests, tastes, inclinations, tendencies, and so on—but all that can be seen for the inexplicable, inconceivable, ungraspable, unresolvable play that it is. It can be held more lightly, more playfully. Even occasionally getting lost in the story and caught up in the swirl of emotion-thought is no longer a problem. It’s not personal. It’s not some Cosmic Mistake. Consciousness or intelligence-energy or whatever we call this whole happening apparently enjoys experiencing many different things. It enjoys stories. It enjoys the game of hide and seek. It enjoys getting totally absorbed in a movie, and it enjoys waking up again. Have you noticed? This seems to be in our very nature as consciousness. Nothing is actually an obstacle or a problem for the totality. The clouds never damage the sky, the reflections never damage the mirror, the fire in the movie never burns the screen—and in the same way, all the varieties and extremes of experience never damage unicity itself.
We taste this truth every night, when all our dramas and concerns and experiences disappear completely in deep sleep. All the words and explanations, all the questions and problems are gone. The one who seems to be at the center of the story, the one who cares about figuring all this out and getting somewhere and being somebody and doing it right—that one disappears as well. Nothing perceivable, experienceable, or conceivable remains. What a relief! And we’re not terrified of this nightly disappearance—we look forward to it!
And then, out of this darkness, waking life appears—this utterly inexplicable, amazingly rich and marvelous play. Enjoy the dance! Enjoy the show! See how ephemeral and transitory and protean and infinitely rich and unexplainable it all is. See how it is all made of this awaring presence. Enjoy BEING what you cannot not be. Just THIS, exactly as it is.
When the desperate, angst-ridden seriousness of seeking and trying to figure it all out falls away, there is the simple enjoyment of each amazing moment: the sounds of traffic, the taste of tea, the color red, the changing sensations in the body, the smell of garbage, the sudden flight of birds across the winter sky. Each of these is a whole universe, and the whole universe is in each, and each vanishes instantly without a trace, and what remains cannot be put into words.
Reality is all there is.
-- copyright Joan Tollifson 2019 --
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