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Reality Is Simple

(A revised 2023 version of this article can be found on Substack here.)

Reality is very simple. It’s just this. The sound of rain, the taste of tea, the sensations in the body, the cool breeze on the skin, the sound of the airplane passing overhead. In this simple experiencing, there is no subject and object, just undivided presence. Not those word-labels, but the seamless reality, the direct experiencing, to which they point. Simple, simple, simple. Just This.

Thinking shows up, conversations happen. We watch the News, check social media, go to work, interact with family and others. Emotions arise—and suddenly reality seems much more complicated. We have the sense, intermittently, of being “me” and not “you,” of being “here” and not “over there,” of believing “this” and not “that.” And this is how reality functions—it’s not a problem. It’s the Great Play, the dance of polarity. Opinions arise, storylines, ethical questions, differences of opinion, arguments, agreements, frustrations, disappointments, unexpected changes. We seem to have various problems that need to be addressed—a broken door, a bad knee, a flat tire, a sick dog, a difficult co-worker. And yet, ALL of this is also happening choicelessly and effortlessly—even the apparent efforts and choices we seemingly make.

Urges arise. Interests arise. Opinions arise. Stories arise. Decisions happen. Emotional weather passes through—happy, sad, fearful, angry, depressed, anxious, blissful, joyous. Different experiences show up—waking, dreaming, the no-experience of deep sleep. We feel alternately energetic or tired, passionate or bored, calm or agitated. We fall in love, we get divorced. Babies are born, people die. Empires rise and fall. Solar systems come and go. Pain happens, and pleasure. An infinite kaleidoscopic array of ever-changing experiences. And if we observe closely, they are all happening by themselves, effortlessly and choicelessly. And they all happen right here at zero distance. Even the appearance of “over there,” even the appearance of time and space, past and future, here and there ALL appear right here at zero distance—utterly immediate, no gap, no seer apart from what is seen, simply undivided seeing-being.

Thought draws lines around what is actually fluid and inseparable, thus creating “things” out of no-thing-ness. It labels these conceptual creations and puts them into categories. The baby sees only colors, shapes, textures and movements—one whole happening. The adult sees tables and chairs, mothers and fathers, teachers and students, awareness and content, meaning and purpose, good and evil. But it’s all one undivided happening, even the labeling, the categorizing, the formulating, the mapping, the evaluating, the planning, the remembering, the problem-solving—and it’s all happening effortlessly and choicelessly.

Thought claims ownership, assigns responsibility, parcels out credit and blame. “I did it,” or “You did it,” or “They did it,” or “He should have done it,” or “I could have done it better, if only….” And ALL of this happens effortlessly and choicelessly. The apparent author-thinker-chooser-decider-actor-doer is a mental image, a neurological sensation, a thought, a memory, an idea. It all arises by itself.

We have a spiritual story: “I” must get rid of “me.” This is a great game! Nothing is trying to get rid of nothing so that nothing can be a better nothing. What fun! How sweet! What an adventure! Maybe we should go to India…or take up meditation…maybe that will help!

And ALL of that apparently happens. Our trip to India, the hours of meditation, the hope, the disillusionment, the promise, the despair. Thought says, “I got it!” And then it says, “I lost it!” And then it wonders, “How can I get it back and keep it?” It’s a wonderful movie, happening to no one. And it all happens effortlessly and choicelessly, even the apparent “choice” to meditate, even the apparent “effort” of following the breath or labeling the thoughts or making enough money to pay for our trip to India. It seems so amazingly complicated, and thought says, “I have to make this happen (or I might fail and not survive).”

But reality itself is simple, no matter how complex and difficult and divided up and dualistic it seems. It is always Just This. Exactly as it is. Ever-changing yet always Here-Now, immediate and present, never the same way twice, yet always Just This.

-- copyright Joan Tollifson 2019 --

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