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Just This! Nonconceptual Presence

Thought loves complexity, trying to work everything out conceptually. For most of us, it's our go-to mode. And it's addictive. But the non-conceptual actuality of this immediate and ever-changing living reality is simple. Here it is!

Imagine for a moment that you are newborn (which actually, moment to moment, you are), and imagine that you have never learned or heard words such as “awareness” or “consciousness” or “mind” or “matter” or "brain" or “awakening” or “God” or “dualism.” Imagine you are simply here, wordlessly, without any labels or conceptual frames at all for what is happening. What’s here?

Take a moment to really explore that before reading on.

Notice the aliveness of present experiencing—sounds, colors, shapes, movements, bodily sensations, breathing—not those word-labels, but the wordless actuality to which the words point. Notice the constantly changing nature of experiencing, the way each moment disappears as soon as it appears, the way it all happens effortlessly as one seamless whole. Notice how experience is completely ungraspable.

Notice also what is ever-present, the immediacy of present experiencing, the present-ness of it, the immovable Here-Now, the spacious awareness in which all appearances move and out of which they are made. Notice the vast openness, the all-inclusive nature of this aware presence that you are and that everything is. Notice that your body and your thoughts and the story of “you” as a person appears intermittently in this aware presence in the same way that chairs and tables and dogs and cats and the sun and the moon and the whole universe appear Here-Now. Notice that you (unbound awareness) contain it all. Before you think of having a name, or a shape, or a story, you are already here as this aware presence, this vast openness, this whole unfathomable happening that we call the universe. Notice that this is so.

Intermittently, this boundless presence seems to solidify into an apparent world of separate objects believed to be “out there” and a “me” who seems to be “in here,” encapsulated in a body, looking out. Consciousness becomes hypnotized by its own creations—by this sense of limitation, encapsulation and separation—and by stories about “me” and “the world.” Attention becomes absorbed in this dream-like movie of waking life, The Story of Me and The World, in which “I” am seemingly on a journey in time and space, perhaps stuck in confusion, anxiety, depression, despair or compulsive habits, trying to get somewhere, and trying to fix the world. Perhaps this “me” is even on a spiritual journey, trying to become “awakened” or “enlightened,” or trying to abide permanently in some imagined “non-dual, no-self” state of consciousness—and it all revolves around “me,” this imaginary self who seems to be “unenlightened” or “stuck in duality.”

Notice how this narrowing down happens, how consciousness moves from open spaciousness into these mental movies and into this sense of being limited, encapsulated, separate and deficient. Feel that tight, narrow, dense, enclosed energy, that sense of being small and vulnerable and deficient—the feeling in the body of resisting and seeking. Feel it as bare sensation. Notice that ALL of this—the movie stories, the central character, the apparent situations, the sensations of tension and contraction and lack—ALL of this is simply another appearance in (and of) the vastness, another changing shape this indivisible presence momentarily takes—all of it a composite of changing sensations, thoughts and images, a dream-like creation of consciousness that vanishes completely whenever the focus of attention shifts. See how, even in the darkest moments, the openness that includes it all never really goes away. Consciousness is the ever-present groundless ground, appearing as every shape and size, being and beholding it all.

Whenever there is confusion or seeking, return to what is impossible to doubt. What do you know beyond all doubt? You know that you (as this boundless aware presence) are here, that present experiencing is showing up. You cannot doubt present experiencing and aware presence. It requires no belief. It is inescapable and obvious, this ever-changing and ever-present actuality of just this. It may seemingly be overlooked when the focus of attention becomes absorbed in the conceptual map-world and the stories that we so easily mistake for reality. But without thinking, if we're simply here, what reveals itself?

Once again, don't look for an answer (a label or a concept), and don’t try to see “something” in particular or have any special experience other than whatever is showing up. Just be here, effortlessly awake to what is.

Notice that nothing is outside of this awaring presence. The body appears here in consciousness, as does the whole universe. The sense of limitation and the sense of expansion both appear here. Thoughts and feelings appear here. And everything that appears always shows up right here, right now. We never depart from Here-Now. Now is eternal (timeless), and Here is infinite (dimensionless and unlocatable). Whatever time of day it is, whatever season, it is always Now. Whatever location or apparent journey shows up, it always appears Here, in this present immediacy.

This aware presence includes everything, even the ever-changing sensations and thoughts that we label “contraction” or “anxiety.” It includes narrow focused attention and wide-open unfocused attention. It includes all of apparent time and space. It includes the appearance of self and other. It includes contracted energy and expanded energy. It includes concepts and words and mapping. It includes thinking and sensing and imagining. It includes experiencing and the absence of experiencing (as in deep sleep). This vast awaring presence includes it all. It IS everything, and everything is it, and “it” is not an object.

You can also notice that everything belongs, that everything is allowed to be as it is. It IS as it is—obviously! Awareness (Here-Now) is like unconditional love—it accepts everything and clings to nothing. And, like the reflections in a mirror or the events in a movie or a dream, none of what appears has any actual substance or independent existence. It seems to when we think and talk about it, when our attention is focused on the conceptualized map-world. But the things we can name and seemingly separate out from everything else (“chairs,” “tables,” “me,” “you,” “anger,” “fear,” “the body,” “the world,” “gender,” “race,” "awareness," "consciousness," etc.) are always over-simplified abstractions, frozen images reified out of an ungraspable moving actuality that can never really be divided up or pinned down. These word-labels are all concepts—concepts that are so ubiquitous that we easily mistake them for reality without noticing that we have done so.

Of course, mapping (thinking and conceptualizing) is something this vastness is doing, and this map-world is nothing other than this awaring presence showing up as maps and concepts. But the maps are never the territory itself, and they can never re-present the living actuality. They only describe or point to it. Maps can be functional and necessary—we can’t get rid of them, but it can be noticed that they easily create the illusion of substantial, independently existing, separate things. Whereas in reality (in actual experiencing), everything always arises contextually, in relationship to everything else, as one whole indivisible and ever-changing happening. No-thing can actually be separated out or resolved into any final, fixed form. Nothing holds still in reality, except the stillness of presence itself, the immovable “still point” of Here-Now, this timeless immediacy in which time and space appear to unfold.

And magically, everything that appears dissolves as soon as it appears. Everything is appearing and disappearing instant by instant. Every moment is fresh and new. We never step into the same river twice, and we are never the same person for even one instant. Our thoughts and memories create the illusion of continuity where none actually exists. We’re never really in the bondage we imagine ourselves in.

Pain and painful circumstances are unavoidable. Life can be painful. But the ways we suffer over the pain and difficulties that life presents, that may be optional. Spiritual awakening, which only happens now, and never to “me,” is the discovery that we are already free. Not free to do whatever we want. Not free of all pain and difficulty. But free as this vastness that has no limits and that is always already whole and complete, just as it is.

Many words have just been used to point to the living reality, and to the possibility (in every moment) of waking up from imaginary problems and recognizing what is already whole and complete, already free. But don't get stuck on the words. They are only pointers. Hold them lightly and let them go.

People have thought and argued endlessly about what this living reality is. But asking what this is, is asking for a label, a concept, an explanation. And that’s always one step removed from the living actuality itself. It simply IS, as it is. No words can ever capture it. Consciousness, awareness, presence, matter, atoms, molecules, quarks, brains, neurons, energy, intelligence, God, the Tao—these are all words. Concepts. Ideas. Formulations. They may point to something nonconceptual, but no word or concept can re-present THIS that is presenting / being itself, just as it is—and the living actuality cannot be broken up or resolved into any of these conceptual formulations.

The words are empty of any actual substance. They are like playful nonsense sounds. If we were worrying about whether this living actuality was blinkinpoop or flizzlezip, it would be obvious how silly our worries were! And so once again, can we let go, if only for a moment, of all these concepts we have learned? And then, what remains?

Is there an efforting to have some "correct" experience of this, to see it "correctly," to grasp it in some way?  If any of that is happening, simply notice that movement of the mind, and feel the tension in it as bare sensation. Notice the (imaginary) “me” at the center of all that efforting, the "me" who is seemingly separate from "just this," seemingly "not quite there yet," seemingly lacking in some way—the “me” who seemingly needs to grasp or clarify or experience something in order to finally be okay. See that this "me" is nothing but a mirage-like creation of thoughts, sensations, memories, stories and mental images. It is a dream character in a dream.

Is it possible, just for a moment, right now,  to relax all the thinking and grasping, to let go, to fall open, to simply BE this present happening that requires no belief and that cannot be doubted—this aliveness that is here prior to thinking (and also during thinking, and as thinking, and after thinking—but that can never be captured by thinking)? Is it possible to simply be here? Just this, exactly as it is.

Actually, it is impossible NOT to be here! There is no "wrong" experience. However it is showing up, it is always this one presence, this unicity that never departs from itself. There is no “you” apart from this to get it wrong, just as no wave in the ocean can go the wrong way, or leave the ocean, or be anything other than an activity of the ocean. There is no “you” who needs to find this wholeness or embody it or attain it or experience it. You ARE it. It is all there is. This is it! Just as it is!

Once again, imagine for a moment that you are newborn, that you have never learned to categorize and label things. Forget everything you just read. Imagine you are simply here, like a baby, wordlessly, without any ideas or words or conceptual frames for what is happening. Allow yourself to be here, if only for a moment, without knowing anything, simply awake to the absolute wonder of it all.

And notice that this can never really be lost, even in the midst of thinking and dreaming, for all of that is this same undivided presence morphing into endlessly different shapes, all of it happening effortlessly by itself. Any sense that "you" are separate and need to manage it all is simply another momentary moving shape with no actual substance or inherent reality, all of it as impersonal as the weather.

So relax! (or tense up!) And enjoy the show.

-- copyright Joan Tollifson 2021--

You are welcome to link to this article or to quote brief passages as fair use, but if you wish to re-post the whole article or a long excerpt anywhere else, please ask permission first, give appropriate copyright credit to Joan, and be sure to include a link to this website with your posting. Thank you!

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