“… Awareness …is only here now. It is total, unconditional acceptance of what is …”

“… tune in to the silent stillness of pure awareness that is here before and after all objects …”

“… Every moment, just as it is, is meditation …” ~ Joan Tollifson

awareness what is tollifson

“… In the last year, I’ve stopped sitting formally, but I still sit quietly in my armchair whenever it arises naturally. There isn’t any sense of holding still or deliberately “meditating.” All attempts to cultivate awareness and “be present” and get something (like “enlightenment”) have fallen away. There’s just what is …”

Refreshingly simple – yet profoundly true – observation on meditation, awareness and what is, isn’t it?

Even though these are part of Joan Tollifson’s opening remarks in the chapter What Exactly Is Spirituality? they also offer a glimpse into her views on meditation … which we began exploring in part 5 (chapter Meditation: The Joy of Nothing At All) … then continued in part 6 … and now conclude in this part 7 … of our multi-part series on the 2022 edition of Joan’s book Awake in the Heartland: The Ecstasy of What Is (original edition 2003). The parts 5, 6, & 7 together comprise the entire Meditation chapter.

In this part 7 (also a conclusion of this multi-part series), Joan offers some suggestions … to delve deeper into what is through simple yet powerful experimentation with silence … to consciously investigate upset, or the everyday difficulties that are “wake-up bells” … to consider the doorways into truth that illuminate illusion exposing it for what it truly is … and, finally to recognize the profound gifts of awareness because it “… beholds everything in the same way a mirror reflects images, without judgement or preferences. …” … and it helps us see that “… Every moment, just as it is, is meditation. …”

awake in the heartland ecstasy of what is joan tollifsonIn Part 1, we set the stage for the series with the 2022 Preface and the first two sub-chapters – A Sea of Jewels and This Is It

… in Part 2, Joan posits that you are the present moment … via the sub-chapter of the same title … and goes further by asking if it is possible for us to find a boundary …

… in Part 3, Joan masterfully unpacks the illusion of separation by taking us on a deep dive into the question Who Am I? … in the sub-chapter of the same title …

… in Part 4, Joan dissects the elusive topic of illusion with a deep dive into the question Is The World Real?

All italicized text above and below is from Awake in the Heartland: The Ecstasy of What Is by Joan Tollifson (2022 edition by New Sarum Press) and is published here with her generous permission.

AND, Here are all of Joan’s posts on Stillness Speaks … and her website – full of deeply insightful and valuable content for your journey.

“… When all efforts to improve and get somewhere fall away, what remains is the traffic, the birds, the breathing, the listening presence, the empty space in which it is all happening, awareness itself: the simplicity and wonder of what is. …”

awareness what is tollifson sunset

You might find it interesting and enjoyable to take a day or two, or even a week to be in complete silence. Turn off the phone, pretend you’re out of town, leave your computer off, don’t read or write or listen to music or watch TV. Do absolutely nothing. Just be alive. See what happens. If you can’t do this in your own home because of family or housemates, there are many retreat centers now where you can go and do your own self-retreat. It’s also possible that your family or housemates might be willing to let you do this in their midst, and they might even be interested in joining you.

Allow yourself to be completely unscheduled, to discover the organic rhythm of every hour, every day and every moment. Don’t impose anything. In doing this, we are not retreating from life; rather, it is an intensive exploration of what we ordinarily ignore.

You may find that it is an enormous relief to let all the noise and busyness go. Most likely, you will also encounter some difficult moments. You will be faced with the empty hole that we try desperately to fill with activities and substances. Instead of running away, this is an invitation to dive right into the center of this apparent hole. You may discover that the hole and the diver are both a mirage.

busyness tollifson

If you are finding yourself getting attached to peace and quiet, and beginning to regard everything else as a distraction, let that be a little wake-up bell. Nothing is actually a distraction. It is what it is. But if we have the idea that what is should be different than it is, we call it a distraction. Dividing the sacred from the mundane is missing the point. Everything is sacred. There are no distractions, no mistakes, no obstacles. If we feel like something is a distraction or a mistake or an obstacle, we are believing our thoughts, and resisting what is.

Years ago, when I was leaving a Zen sesshin (a week long silent intensive), the teacher said, “Now the real sesshin begins.” Real satsang can happen anywhere—in a traffic jam, at the office, in the supermarket. It can sometimes seem easier to realize the truth in a quiet natural setting, but if we imagine that we need any particular setting, or that there is more truth in one place than another, we are limiting the truth and missing the essence.

Awareness Beholds Everything …

Sometimes we think that spirituality is about being calm and blissful, and losing our temper is something else. But actually, life gets most interesting and most juicy at precisely those moments when things seem to be getting the most difficult. These are also little wake-up bells. They tell us we’re holding on tightly in some way to the illusion. They are doorways into truth. They are sacred moments.

doorway tollifson

The next time you’re upset, or you find yourself being critical of someone else, perhaps it’s possible to be interested in what is happening, to observe it. This is the last thing we want to do. We want to be right. We want to wallow and gossip and chew on old bones. But slowly we begin to realize, or at least get a glimmer of the unreality of these dramas and the suffering they create. We begin to wonder if there’s another way. We develop a willingness to question our story. And we discover that when the story ends, there is love. Our lives change.

So the next time you’re upset, instead of getting lost in the drama, see if it’s possible to tune into the bodily sensations. Feel the tightness in the chest, the shoulders, the jaw, the throat, the stomach. Experience it with infinite curiosity and patience. Let it unfold. If the storyline starts running, notice it as a story. Notice how compelling it may be, how we want to keep going on with it. Is this story really true? What happens to me, to my relationships, to the world when I tell this story? What would life be like without this story? Do I really need this story? Do I really believe it?

Notice how mechanical the whole upset is. Something “pushes our buttons” and the story begins to run automatically. Thoughts trigger emotions; emotions trigger more thoughts. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle. There’s nothing personal about it. It’s a pattern. The awareness that sees it is not mechanical. Awareness is free. If the buttons get pushed, and the anger explodes, awareness is unharmed.

self perpetuating cycle pattern tollifson

The force of habit wants desperately to go outward, toward past and future, toward objects, stories, and results. If we try to force that to change, or sink into self-hatred and despair when it doesn’t, that’s all just more of the same. This isn’t about self-control and becoming a perfect person. To simply be aware of the movement of conditioned habit and reactivity, to see it, to learn about it, to do nothing about it, to let it be as it is, that is a whole new way of being. That’s already outside the habitual loop.

Awareness beholds everything in the same way a mirror reflects images, without judgement or preferences. Awareness has no limits, no boundaries, no gender, no age, no point of view, no agenda, no qualities of its own. It does not belong to any body. It includes everything and sticks to nothing. It is unconditional love.

galaxy cluster SMACS 0723 NASA awareness beholds everything tollifson

I’ve offered a number of suggestions in this chapter: sitting quietly, taking time to be in silence away from your usual busyness, paying attention to upset. I want to emphasize again that these are not intended as a recipe for enlightenment or as guidelines for a spiritually correct life. These suggestions are merely pointers to what is. You won’t achieve anything by following them. There is nothing to achieve.

If you have been meditating for many years, I encourage you to recognize what never comes and goes, and to stop pursuing it in any specific or exclusive experience. If you enjoy meditating, by all means meditate. But if you are separating meditation from the rest of life, recognize that every moment is meditation. Give up the whole concept of “meditation.” Give up attaching importance to any particular state of consciousness, however “enlightened” or “unenlightened” it seems.

~ Joan Tollifson


Stay tuned for  … for more relevant topics via excerpts from new books: Talking Zen by Alan Watts,   The Shamanic Bones of Zen by Zenju Earthlyn Manuel,   The Tibetan Yogas of Dream & Sleep by Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche,   The Mysticism of Sound and Music: The Sufi Teaching of Hazrat Inayat Khan,   Heart Open Body Awake by Susan Aposhyan,   several Jean Klein books (Beyond Knowledge,  I AM, Living Truth, Who Am I,   Be Who You Are), conclusion of Gurdjieff’s In Search of Being, … and lots more …

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The continued embracing of true meditation in our daily lives … naturally opens us to more compassion and more kindness towards our global human family … and in that spirit let us minimize (& hopefully dissolve) the current humanitarian crisis unfolding in Ukraine … by helping in whatever way we can … and to that end here are some options:

1) NPR: Want to support the people in Ukraine? Here’s how you can help

2) Washington PostHere’s how Americans can donate to help people in Ukraine.

3) Go Fund Me: How to Help: Donate to Ukraine Relief Efforts.

4) USA Today: Want to support the people of Ukraine? These apps and websites can help you send money.

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We are all facing financial challenges but IF your situation allows you to donate and help then please do so …


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Images (edited & Logo added): 1 & Featured) Autumn mountain river by Roxana, 2) Cover page from Joan’s book – New Sarum Press 2022 edition, 3) Amazing colorful sunset at the sea with philippine boat by Aidman, 4) Multitasking businessman by alphaspirit, 5) Mysterious entrance by Elena Schweitzer, 6) Abstract fractal background with a spiral, vector illustration by nzdzeni, 7) Webb’s First Deep Field is galaxy cluster SMACS 0723 by NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI. #2) provided by Joan for free use on our digital assets. All (except Joan’s book cover image) are purchased from depositphotos, or 123rtf or YAYImages. All are for use only on our website/social channels (these images are not permitted to be shared separate from this post).


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