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A Useless Message
Selection from Painting the Sidewalk with Water

This excerpt from a chapter of Painting the Sidewalk with Water is a talk transcribed from one of Joan's meetings in Chicago sometime between 2004 and 2006:

The sound of rain is so magical, isn’t it? All those delicate, wet sounds – trickling, splashing, gurgling. Rain expresses everything I’m trying to say so much more elegantly and simply. We could sit here and listen to it. Or maybe we can listen to these words that pour out of our mouths in the same way we listen to rain, without expecting them to save us, without trying to understand them, without wondering what use they have or what purpose they serve, without analyzing and dissecting them, but simply with a kind of open enjoyment that appreciates them just as they are – playful sounds like rain. 

Of course, unless we’re hearing a foreign language we don’t understand, it is virtually impossible to hear words as pure sounds in the same way we can hear rain. Words instantly create a whole world in the imagination. That’s the beauty and the magic of words, that magical ability to materialize things in the mind, and this mental materializing happens as naturally as the rain.

If we have been meditating for a while, we may have the idea that the rain is something natural and good, and that thoughts are something unnatural and not so good. Rain is spiritual; thoughts are not. But is this true? Or is thought simply appearing here like everything else in the universe, all of it one seamless whole arising? Are thoughts, skyscrapers, moon rockets and cluster bombs any less natural than bird cheeps, ant hills, beaver dams and asteroids?

Can we see that the mental movies that words unfold in the imagination, the pictures they paint, are simply another appearance in consciousness that is essentially no different from the sounds of rain and the colors and shapes of this room? There’s nothing inherently problematic about words, thoughts or imagination. They can generate enormous suffering, but that suffering is as natural as viruses, bacteria, volcanoes, and tornadoes. The vaccines we create and the systems of yoga and meditation we invent are all part of nature as well. Thinking is part of how the universe is functioning, and seeing through the thoughts is also part of how the universe is functioning, and all of it is happening as naturally as rain. All of it is one seamless flowing whole.

I saw a cartoon once where there were two cavemen and one said to the other, “I’ve got a great idea. Let's divide the world up into little squares and sell them.” That’s thought. And we may think that real estate development was a good idea or a terrible disaster, but actually, it's just something humans do, the same way bees make honey and ants build hills and squirrels gather nuts. Humans sell real estate and pave over the planet.

The ants are doing their little job, the squirrels are doing their little job, and human beings are doing our little job. And we really don’t know the larger purpose of our little job, if there is one, or how our being here and doing what we do fits into the whole universe any more than the ants know any of that about their little job. We think we’re a whole lot smarter than the ants, and relatively speaking, we are, but we’re still totally clueless when it comes right down to it. The parasites and viruses are doing their jobs, the cancer cells are doing their jobs, the hurricanes and black holes are doing their jobs. We can evaluate and judge and label some of these activities disease and some of them health. That is part of what this thought process does – it sorts, evaluates, judges, ranks, organizes and categorizes, and that’s useful in many situations. It’s a survival system. It’s part of what is happening, and it is as natural as the earth circling the sun. 

We can’t grasp this happening or pin it down. The sound of rain, the listening silence, the aliveness of being here – it speaks for itself. Everything is unicity speaking – the chairs, the clouds, the squirrels, the rain, these words, the words of George Bush, the bombs falling on Iraq, the airplanes hitting the Twin Towers – the whole show is unicity speaking.

-- copyright Joan Tollifson 2010 --

This chapter is copyrighted material excerpted from the book Painting the Sidewalk with Water: Talks and Dialogs about Nonduality, currently published by New Sarum Press. Please do not repost without permission from the publisher. Thank you!

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