“Awakening is never about achieving something that isn’t right here, right now.”
“Truth is not in the future, but Now. Not hidden, but obvious and unavoidable. Not in concepts, but in actuality.” This post concludes Joan Tollifson’s profound seven part series, the Simplicity of What Is. If you missed the earlier installments, read them now: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 Part 4, Part 5 and Part 6.
If you find yourself looking for “the Whole” or trying to picture it, remember that boundlessness is nothing in particular. If you find yourself thinking that “awareness” is actually something (a Blank Screen, an Empty Container, or a Mirror), notice that these are all mental images, conceptual ideas, subtle imaginary objects. “Awareness” is a word that points to the seeing that is never divided into seer and seen. Are you trying to see what that is? Can you see the joke in trying to do that?
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. The whole appearance of waking life is insubstantial and ungraspable. The mind keeps trying to get a grip. It wants answers, certainty, a place to stand. What is this Whole Thing? The mind wants to understand. Thought imagines that “you” can step back and take a look at yourself, at Totality. But no matter how hard it tries, the eye cannot see itself. You already are what you are seeking. You always have been. There is no possibility of separation. You can’t not be what you are.
Experiences come and go. This is not about having a special experience, a big event, a final breakthrough, or a psychedelic vision of some kind. It is not about regaining any previous experience or achieving something you’ve read about or imagined. All of that is in the world of dream-like appearances.
Simply notice that everything (mental movies, dreams, perceptions, thoughts, waking life, mirages, the I-illusion, apparent duality, time and space, chairs, tables, expansion, contraction, meditation retreats, traffic jams, everything) is without substance or continuity. It all appears and disappears right here. Here is always here. It’s always Now. Even memories of the past, fantasies about the future, and thoughts of elsewhere can only appear Here and Now. Awareness is present, whether it appears clear or “clouded” by thoughts. In deep sleep, the entire universe disappears. All words and ideas disappear. Even the sense of awareness or presence disappears. The whole quest for understanding and awakening disappears. You (as anything perceivable or conceivable) disappear. There is no “you” left to notice that “you” have disappeared! Nothing perceivable or conceivable remains.
Out of this vast emptiness, dreams arise, and then the movie of waking life. Wave after wave crashes on the shore, and the ocean remains. People-ing is something that the universe is doing, in the same way that the ocean is waving. What is born and what dies? Boundlessness cannot be captured by the mind. Something is happening here, but it can’t be grasped by thought. And it doesn’t need to be grasped or explained! You can’t find boundless unicity because you are boundless unicity. There is nothing other than boundless unicity. You contain the whole universe and the whole universe is showing up as you.
Awakening is never about achieving something that isn’t right here, right now.
Ordinary present awareness. The shape of these words, the hum of the computer, the sound of the traffic, the listening presence, the sensations that appear and disappear. Only thought divides it up and tries to figure it all out. And that very movement of thought is itself only energy and vibration, another appearance, mental weather. No-thing at all.
So what to do? Effort or no effort, practice or no practice? The question is like a cloud floating across the sky. Practices may appear or disappear, efforts may happen or cease happening. Either way, there is only this one present moment, just as it is. So-called meditation (in the truest sense) is not about going anywhere or achieving anything. It has nothing to do with special postures, techniques, results or experiences. It is simply effortless awareness, awake to what is. It is the direct discovery that there is no meditator and no possibility of stepping in or out of the boundlessness of Here and Now. When that is seen, the whole concept of “meditation” falls away. What remains is not a new belief system, but rather, eveything, just as it is.
So, if you’re feeling confused, trying to figure out whether or not you have free will, or whether or not you exist, or whether or not you should meditate or do nothing, or whether to believe this teacher or that teacher, simply wake up right now from these mental conundrums. Stop. Look. Listen. Hear the traffic, the birds, the wind. Feel the breathing. Nothing special. Simply the extraordinary miracle of what actually is.
All that (apparently) stands in the way is the story that this isn’t it, that something more or less or different is needed. You can’t make that story disappear because that very effort is part of the story, as is the “you” who longs to be free of the story. The stories and the illusion of encapsulation can only be seen for what they are, as they arise, here and now. If they are not seen through, then it may appear that “you” are lost or bound or in trouble. But is there really a “you” who is lost? Is the screen ever burned by the fire in the movie?
Words and concepts are complicated; reality is utterly simple. You can’t eat the menu or live in the map, and these words are an invitation to see through all beliefs and ideas, even the very subtle ones from Advaita or Zen or this text. Truth is not in the future, but Now. Not hidden, but obvious and unavoidable. Not in concepts, but in actuality. When all that mental clutter of seeking and trying to figure everything out and trying to get somewhere is seen to be nothing at all (and nothing personal), when it is clear that you are beyond all appearances, and that all appearances are nothing but you, the One Mind, then there is no one left to awaken. This can be called liberation, but why call it anything?
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.