“… Presence is where juice is, in the aliveness of this one bottomless moment … the {pathless} path {through suffering} is not moving away from this moment …” ~ Joan Tollifson

pathless path bottomless moment tollifson sunrise bells beach

In our self realization journey – a journey with no end 🙂 – we inevitably encounter perplexing questions : can we get it (whatever the “it” is as the journey deepens)? OR {shudder :-)} did we get it wrong? … the questions, of course, arise as we grapple with suffering (our own and that of the perceived “others”) …

Despite the baffling nature, these questions are doorways … to deeper insights … to observations (stemming from reflections on the questions) that take us deeper and deeper … to clarity … and to seeing the true nature of suffering … to the eventual recognition (realization?) that the path through suffering is not avoidance or running away but being here … to paying attention … to being present to (or immersed with)  what is  without any mental assessments of any kind …

As Joan Tollifson exquisitely reminds us with laser sharp clarity:  “… The tricky thing about the path through suffering is that it is not a way out. It’s a way in. It’s a willingness to be with whatever is showing up… for all of eternity if need be, and “all of eternity” is only now. The path through suffering is not about going anywhere else. That’s the secret, the gateless gate, and the path is pathless. As soon as the thought of seeking something better pops up – getting rid of suffering, curing it – that very thought is suffering. The path through suffering is seeing that movement of the mind for what it is …”

Painting the Sidewalk with Water: Talks and Dialogs about Nonduality Joan TollifsonThis pathless path through suffering sounds simple but evidently is not so especially given the immense suffering all around us on this planet … so today, we take a mini dive into this topic with Joan via excerpts from the chapter titled The Pathless Path Through Suffering … in the 2023 edition of her book: Painting the Sidewalk with Water: Talks and Dialogs about Nonduality (originally published in 2010) …

Today’s post is part 4 of our ongoing multi-part series taking a deep dive into Joan’s book via chapter excerpts … and it explores this topic – of pathless path through suffering – by considering the question: can we get it wrong?

…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? …

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.

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

For the foreseeable future some (maybe even all or a majority) of our posts will be shorter than usual.

Pathless Path Through Suffering…

“… This isn’t about some final cure, finally fixing all our problems and being perfect at last. It’s about living with a spirit of wonder and wondering, looking and listening … No one is doing this looking and listening, and yet, you are doing it–not the phantom self, but the True Self – awareness …” 

awareness tollifson sunrise

And the {pathless} path {through suffering} is not moving away from this moment. Picking up a belief system is moving away. Getting hooked on spiritual experiences is moving away. Chasing enlightenment is moving away. Analyzing your problem is moving away. Trying to “be in the now” in the next moment is moving away. Thinking about not moving away is moving away. Thinking you “should” never move away is moving away.

The only place that is truly alive and real is this moment, regardless of whatever shows up in it, whether it’s grief, happiness, sadness, anger, addiction, depression, elation, bliss, fingerbiting, bird tweets–whatever it is–the aliveness is in the presence. Presence-awareness is the aliveness, the vibrancy, the freedom, the joy, the love that we long to realize. And more and more, a trust seems to develop in this simple presence. More and more, there is a willingness to let go of all the things we’re holding onto – all the ideas and beliefs and methods and techniques – a willingness to stop running away – a willingness to simply be present and trust in the groundlessness of being from which we are never separate. That is the jewel beyond all price. But we all have to discover this for ourselves.

simply be present tollifson quetzal

Can We Get It Wrong?

Participant: I once heard a teacher say, “You can’t get it wrong.” That idea freed me from judgments and desires.

Joan: Yes, beautiful–eventually we see that this wholeness of being includes everything, even fingerbiting and getting angry and feeling depressed and being lost in thought. It includes all the so-called setbacks, mistakes and failures. Unicity is all there is in spite of any shift that happens and not because of any shift. When we see fingerbiting or depression as another impersonal happening, like a cloud formation in the sky, then the whole self-centered concern with fixing it in order to fix “me” falls away. There’s no evaluation, no judgment, no need to get rid of anything. Fingerbiting or depression is not personal. It simply is. The sensations of fingerbiting are as worthy of attention as the most beautiful work of art. There’s no essential difference.

fingerbiting tollifson

When we really see that “it’s all perfect” or “you can’t get it wrong,” the belief that something is wrong drops away. That was my experience both in the kind of open, nonjudgmental attention that I’ve been describing this morning and also when I truly heard the message of radical nonduality. Something dropped. I was no longer opposing whatever was happening. I could see fingerbiting in the same way I might see a cloud or a tree. Biting my fingers was as worthwhile an activity as composing a symphony. It was another impersonal movement of the universe. It wasn’t a problem anymore. Even any idea that being totally present with fingerbiting in the way I’ve been describing this morning was better than resisting it or being totally caught up in it, even that idea fell away. There was no need left to do anything.

But simply believing that “you can’t get it wrong” as a philosophical idea doesn’t help all that much when the shit really hits the fan. Yes, we can say it doesn’t matter, and in the absolute sense, that’s perfectly true, but when you are suffering or causing suffering, there may be a natural interest in what I’ve been talking about this morning – giving attention to the actuality of that suffering, discovering how it happens, waking up from the hypnotic entrancement of habit, seeing through the stories and beliefs. It’s no longer the ego doing this in order to be spiritually correct or to get somewhere; it’s the intelligence of the whole universe acting through you. Unicity is inquiring, unicity is meditating, unicity is waking up. Saying that you can’t get it wrong or talking about life as a dream is one way of pointing to fluidity and impermanence. Buddha spoke of life as a dream, but he also offered a path through suffering, the path of awareness, the path of present moment attention, the pathless path of being awake.

~ Joan Tollifson

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

Stay tuned for  … the concluding post of this series on Joan’s Painting the Sidewalk with Water

Images (edited & Logo added): 1 & Featured) Bells Beach at Sunrise by filedimage, 2) Cover page from Joan’s book – New Sarum Press 2023 edition, 3) A small brook through sea sand with sky reflection at the morning by edi01.mail.bg, 4) Resplendent Quetzal on mossy branch by OndrejProsicky, 5) Woman biting her finger by AY_PHOTO. #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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