“Liberation is the aliveness and immediacy beyond belief. Liberation is when all the answers, explanations and positions disappear, and what remains is the open mind of not knowing.” ~Joan Tollifson
“Joan Tollifson’s writing points to the ever-changing, ever-present living reality Here / Now. Her bare-bones approach is open, direct, immediate and down-to-earth.” In this seven part essay, The Simplicity of What Is, Joan explores “the imaginary problems that we think are binding us and waking up to the aliveness of this moment, just as it is.” (from Joan’s Bio) Read this Introduction to get an overview of her work.
In the opening installment of this series, (Part 1) Joan exposes the way our every-day mind functions: “the thinking mind looks immediately for answers. We seek out authorities and adopt their views. We cling to ideas and explanations, and seek bigger and better experiences.”
Tollifson lays out the terrain in which our mind wanders, hungrily seeking answers to life’s persistent and universal questions: “What is life all about? Does it mean anything? Where are we looking for happiness or liberation? Do we have free will? What is enlightenment and how can I get it? Can anything be done to free ourselves from depression, anxiety, compulsive behavior, wars, holocausts, prejudices? What is spiritual (and what isn’t)? What happens when we die?”
“But the thinking mind doesn’t know when to stop thinking or when thinking is useful and when it isn’t. And so, as we grow up, we live more and more in a conceptual world trying to think our way to happiness. We lose touch with the immediacy and wonder we had as children.”
In Part 2 Joan questions what reality actually is, and how and where we look for it. She poses more pertinent questions. “Is it possible that the peace and well-being we seek (that longing at the root of all our more superficial desires), cannot be found or satisfied by answers or attainments or experiences of any kind? Is it possible that the very search for it “out there” is precisely what prevents us from noticing that what we are seeking is the very essence of Here and Now?”
Tollifson answers: “It is nothing you can take hold of conceptually, and it’s not any particular experience”.
Part 2 takes a close look at the essential here and now: the being-ness, Is-ness, present-ness and knowingness of any given moment. Words, definitions, concepts are constructs that distract and confuse us about what’s real “.…dualistic illusion arises when conceptual thought further divides, reifies, and tells stories about conditioned perceptions, solidifying the abstract “things” it has (conceptually) created.”
Joan invites us to, “turn our attention to bare perceiving and sensing. When we do just that, we can discover that everything is a fluid and seamless whole from which nothing actually stands apart.”
In Part 3, Tollifson focuses on words, reification and self-definition, exposing the limits and falseness of the western dualistic world view…
“You may consider yourself a free-thinking, anti-authoritarian type, but this tendency toward dogmatism, fundamentalism, and authoritarianism can take subtler and subtler forms. It’s easier to see it “out there” than it is to see it in oneself. Faced with uncertainty and insecurity, we want answers and reassurance. It’s easy to slide into believing something, and then into identifying with those beliefs, and then into defending them to the death (literally or metaphorically). Belief is always shadowed by doubt. Let go of everything that can be doubted, and see what remains. What is beyond doubt takes no effort to maintain.”
Part 4 continues the exploration of the ephemeral and fleeting “me” that “appears and disappears with the boundless field of awareness.” Tollifson writes, “Everyone wants to hear their story. And above all, we want to know how this same wonderful thing can happen to me! Is it possible to see that this is the same old story about me?”
Referring to our quest for spiritual growth and ultimate enlightenment, Joan turns this “me” concept on its head… ” there has never been a separate person to get enlightened. And however many times the mirage of encapsulation appears, it is always only a mirage. And it isn’t “me” who wakes up from this mirage because “me” is the mirage! In fact, it isn’t “me” who does anything.”
In the fifth installment (Part 5), Joan Tollifson widens her discussion to include boundless awareness that includes all things….
“When you look for the knower or the knowing that knows that “I am here,” or when you look for awareness or boundlessness, you find nothing that you can grasp, and yet, you find everything! You know that you (as presence-awareness) are here, and you know this with absolute doubtless certainty.”
Much of spiritual practice focuses on seeking boundless consciousness. But this ultimate awareness is ungraspable, only glimpsed or experienced when the “I” loosens its mental grip, even though the boundless is omnipresent within the grasp…
“Boundlessness is actually omnipresent—it never really leaves us, even in the midst of grasping and seeking, for even the grasping and seeking is an activity of the same indivisible boundlessness, just as waves are an activity of the ocean. Boundlessness is the ever-present reality in spite of whatever form it appears to take, never because of any form it apparently takes.”
“As soon as we have words like “Oneness” or “Emptiness” or “Awareness,” the word instantly creates the mirage-sense of an object, a separate thing. But that object isn’t real, it is conceptual, and it isn’t what these words are pointing to. Boundlessness is inconceivable, and yet it is visible everywhere, as everything…Boundlessness points to the formlessness of form. How solid is anything perceivable or conceivable (any form, any image, any idea, any memory, any sensation, any thought, any emotion, any event, any object, any experience)? Where is your childhood or yesterday or a minute ago or the last second? On close inspection, everything is dissolving second by second.”
“Liberation is the aliveness and immediacy beyond belief. Liberation is when all the answers, explanations and positions disappear, and what remains is the open mind of not knowing.”
Joan stresses that liberation, truth, boundlessness, is here now – nothing more than the simplicity of what is.
We are honored to publish this guest post series authored by (& copyright of) Joan Tollifson with her permission. The text content of this series (without all the images here) was previously published (as a single post) on Joan’s website, titled: The Simplicity of What Is.
See Joan’s brief BIO, that is in lieu of her teacher page on Stillness Speaks, which will be added shortly … and as is typical of our teacher pages, it will provide a comprehensive view about Joan’s background, and work. She is the author of four books with a fifth one in the works.