“… This aliveness is always here. We don’t have to work to get it. It is ever-present. Seeking enlightenment is a form of postponement, postponing what can only be realized now …” ~ Joan Tollifson

aliveness here now tollifson sunset

Ramana Maharshi said that self doubt is the last obstacle … to freedom …. liberation … awakening … and one of the “very easy to miss” ways this obstacle manifests itself is through the “Yes, but …” experience …

We hear and read – endlessly  in some form or another – that it is here and now and you are already That which you are seeking etc etc etc … and yet somehow, mysteriously and inexplicably we get caught up in questioning that simple – and profound – Truth … by going into “Yes, but” … which is the subtlest of traps where we may “think” we are exploring deeper but instead are giving-in to distraction …

Joan Tollifson posits that one way out of this trap is to meet it head on, i.e., “wear out” or exhaust or sap these “yes, buts”  …

Painting the Sidewalk with Water: Talks and Dialogs about Nonduality Joan TollifsonSo, today – in this 1st post for 2024 – we offer Joan’s thoughts via excerpts from the chapter titled Wearing Out The “Yes, Buts” … in the 2023 edition of her book: Painting the Sidewalk with Water: Talks and Dialogs about Nonduality (originally published in 2010) …

This post – part 5 – is the conclusion of our multi-part series taking a deep dive into Joan’s book via chapter excerpts …

…in  Part 1 Joan starts answering Why Sit Quietly? … (recap: each chapter opens with a short talk by Joan followed by Q&A with the audience) … and …

… in Part 2 she continues her unpacking of Why Sit Quietly? by delving further into what is, present moment, being present, silence, stillness, and awareness … which lets her make a compelling case that true meditation is awareness …

… in Part 3 she shared her insights into the question How Free Are We? …

… in Part 4 she explores the pathless path through suffering by considering the question: Can We Get It Wrong? …

All italicized text above and below is from Painting the Sidewalk with Water: Talks and Dialogs about Nonduality by Joan Tollifson (2023 edition by New Sarum Press) and is published here with her and New Sarum’s generous permission. A PDF of the Table of Contents is available for download at the bottom of this post.

Wearing Out the “Yes, buts”

The heart of the matter is so very simple. But we become entangled in our complexity, our sophisticated confusion. We compare this teaching to that teaching, this enlightenment story to that enlightenment story, this blog to that blog, and we get more and more confused. Notice the difference right now between all that mental complexity and this aliveness that is right here – listening, hearing, breathing.

This aliveness is always here. We don’t have to work to get it. It is ever-present. Seeking enlightenment is a form of postponement, postponing what can only be realized now. It all boils down to the simplicity of what is, this that is always already realizing itself.

simplicity what is tollifson autumn river

Participant: How do I wake up to that?

Joan: By noticing how you deny that this awakeness is already present, how you postpone, how you look elsewhere. Asking that question, for example, is a form of postponement and denial. That very question creates the mirage-like problem that it pretends to be trying to solve. See what the mind is doing–how you are looking for a strategy, something to do, to get somewhere else. Because when thought asks, “How do I wake up now?” – the question paints the picture of a “you” who is not awake yet, and “the now” to which it refers is actually in the future, right? So, see how the mind does this. Waking up is simply seeing that this problem is imaginary. There is no one who needs to wake up. Nothing needs to be any different from exactly how it is…


We wander around seeking some big experience or some final answer, trying to get this all sorted out. And in all of this seeking, we miss the boat in some way. We overlook the obvious. We do this until we don’t. At first, we don’t even realize we’re doing this. But eventually, we know. We become sensitive to it, awake to it. But even then, it’s very hard to let this go. It’s like any other addiction or compulsion. It’s habitual, it’s familiar, it’s comforting, it’s entertaining, and we’re afraid of what will be here if we stop. And as with any other addiction or compulsion, any effort to stop is part of the addiction, part of the compulsion. That, too, is a movement away from what is, rooted in taking the imaginary problem seriously.

exactly how it is tollifson hummingbird

We hear over and over that the truth is right here, that it is not outside of us, that there is nowhere to go and nothing to get, that we already are what we seek, that ordinary mind is the way. And the thinking mind says, “Yes, but – ” So, in a way, we have to wear out those “Yes, but’s.” The so-called search, or the so-called pathless path is simply wearing them out.

Of course, some of us try adopting non-seeking as an ideology or a belief system, and we run around saying that we have stopped seeking and there is nothing to get, but that doesn’t work if it is only a belief. We become closet seekers, like secret drinkers. So, if seeking shows up, rather than denying it or trying to repress it, simply watch it. See it for what it is. Question the beliefs and stories that underlie it. Look for the “I” that needs to find something or get somewhere. See if this search is really bringing happiness.

There is an awakening in a way, something to see through and undo, but the paradox is that when you see it, you realize it has never been absent and you have always been seeing it. You discover that you are it, and you always have been. Even the seeking was it. There is no separation between you and the One Reality. There never has been.


Unicity …

Participant: How can I know that unicity is all there is? How can I be certain of it beyond doubt? How can I realize or experience it? How can I know if it’s true? It sounds possible to me, but I don’t feel the certainty that you seem to feel about it.

Joan: The only thing of which I am completely certain is being here now. This present moment is beyond doubt. When I look for the “I” in “I am,” nothing is found. When I look deeply into “this” (presently arising sensations), there is nothing solid, only ceaseless movement, inseparable from the awareness in which it appears. Either way, I find only the immediacy of boundless presence, seamless being. Every night in deep sleep, even the barest sense of that disappears. So when these “how can I be sure?” questions come up, I would recommend dropping everything you can possibly doubt–every belief, every conceptual model, every description, every map, every ideology, every philosophy – and then discover what remains.

as it is here/now tollifson sunrise medieval street spanish villageThat is the truth. The utter simplicity of what is, as it is.

If you’re looking for something, you’ll only feel frustrated. The mind wants to see unicity as a particular object, grab hold of it, experience it, possess it, pin it down. It wants to “get it.” But the present moment (the absolute, unicity) can’t be grasped or gotten. And it doesn’t need to be grasped or gotten. It is all there is! Liberation is simply the absence of this grasping and fixating and seeking. Or maybe even more accurately, it is the absence of any concern about grasping, fixating or seeking.

What remains is a wide open space where nothing is a problem. There is no place for anything to land or to stick. Everything is as it is. This is freedom. It is what Here/Now is, our True Nature. It is what remains when the whole universe dissolves.

Doubt and uncertainty is actually a very fertile place. It is the falling away of illusions – false certainties and false beliefs. Of course, it is a tremendously uncomfortable place until we stop running away from it. It is very tempting to fill it up with new beliefs – or with comforting or exciting experiences, substances or adventures. A new project, a new love affair, a new drug, a new religion, a new teacher. Those things can all be delightful, but they never quite deliver the certainty and the freedom that we are seeking. The hangover, the broken heart, the doubt, the disillusionment is always waiting in the wings like death itself.

When we finally let go into the void that we so fear, we find it to be amazingly peaceful, relaxing and joyous. The actuality of this moment is not scary at all.

But the survival mind tends to pop back up. “Where am I?” it asks, trying to reorient itself. “Have I really got it?” It’s an old habit. Suddenly the fear and the doubt and the confusion come pouring back in. And we search again for something to fill the hole of uncertainty. It can seemingly take time to wear out the mind. But it only takes time when we think about it before or after the fact. The reality is always Here/Now.

reality always here now tollifson children on street

Participant: I really get this when I’m here or on a retreat, but in daily life, I totally lose it.

Joan: Anything you can get will eventually be lost. Waking up is the discovery of what can’t be lost, what remains when all your ideas disappear. It’s not something. It’s the no-thing-ness of everything, the groundlessness of Here/Now.

You may have some very beautiful experience on a retreat, but it doesn’t last. The bills still have to be paid. The floor still needs to be vacuumed. We still prefer flowers to weeds, and when a rock drops on our foot, it still hurts. Multiplicity and particularity keep showing up. Messiness shows up. This bodymind character shows up and has to go to work and do the laundry and take out the garbage and relate to its rebellious children. Limitation keeps showing up. Headaches, acid indigestion, murky weather, broken plumbing, disturbing news. And we keep telling ourselves, “I’m not Joan. I’m the emptiness. I’m nothing. It’s all One.” And we try very hard to keep seeing that it’s all One, that we’re nobody, that nothing is happening. And we keep feeling doubtful and longing for certainty.

And then we stop trying to escape and the bubble breaks. That imaginary separation dissolves. There’s simply what is, as it is.

It has always been so.

~ Joan Tollifson

Click here for the free, downloadable PDF of the Table of Contents.

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

Stay tuned for  … more from New Sarum Press (teachers like Joan Tollifson, Jean Klein) … and Shambhala Publications (Ken Wilber, Rumi, Thich Nhat Hanh & more) …

Images (edited & Logo added): 1 & Featured) Tropical sunset by goinyk, 2) Cover page from Joan’s book – New Sarum Press 2023 edition, 3) Autumn river in the mountains by mihai_tamasila, 4) Ruby-throated Hummingbird At A Flower by steve_byland, 5) Sunrise view of a Medieval street in Spanish village Sos del Rey Catolico by Dudlajzov, 6) Children running with shopping bags by AllaSerebrina. #2) provided by New Sarum Press 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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