joy of nothing: “…That there is nothing which can be attained is not idle talk; it is the truth. You have always been one with the Buddha. ~ Huang Po

joy of nothing: “… Just be. Feel the aliveness of presence itself …” ~ Joan Tollifson

one with buddha po tollifson

Ah! … the exquisite joy of nothing at all … available in every moment of the day … and yet very very elusive for many … which is the reason why much has been written about it – the mystery of life’s paradoxes 🙂

Here’s Joan Tollifson on this joy of nothing: “… Have you ever taken time to simply look deeply at something that is utterly commonplace? The bark of a tree, the twisted shape of the branches, a leaf, a cloud. … If you look deeply enough… What you thought was familiar and ordinary turns out to be utterly new, ever changing, boundless, and extraordinary …”

Indeed, the ordinary becomes extraordinary if one is “open” to what is … some say it’s a matter of shifting one’s perspective ever so slightly … bringing in “pause” and then “re engaging” with whatever is around us … and behold, the joy of nothing at all becomes palpable … though, again, not always (at least for many).

Joan suggests that meditation is the joy of nothing … a joy that’s readily accessible because “… Every moment, just as it is, is meditation …” … and that … “… Meditation is about resting in the absolute, which just means the sound of the traffic, the sensations of breathing, the tightness in the shoulder, whatever is …” … but again that “readily accessible” part is tricky … and is not seen (or experienced) as such by most …

awake in the heartland ecstasy of what is joan tollifsonSo, today, in this part 5 – of our multi-part series exploring the 2022 edition of Awake in the Heartland: The Ecstasy of What Is (original edition 2003) through chapter excerpts – Joan takes us on a deep dive into this topic via the next sub-chapter: Meditation: The Joy of Nothing At All  … that will hopefully let us see why meditation is joy of nothing … and why/how this joy is quite accessible, despite the challenges …

… in 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.

Meditation: The Joy of Nothing at All

The spiritual life (true meditation or satsang) is not something we do occasionally at a special time and place. It is rather our whole life, or put another way, it is this moment right now. It is not a method or a technique. It requires no special posture, location, or surroundings. It can happen anywhere, under any and all circumstances. Every moment, just as it is, is meditation. Actually, there is only one timeless moment. This is meditation.

joy of nothing meditation tollifson

There is truly nothing to attain. And yet, whenever that is not seen to be so, there will be suffering. It isn’t “you” doing it. It’s an impersonal appearance, like the weather. It, too, is the One Reality. But it will hurt.

In the absolute sense, there is truly nothing to do about it, other than what you do. You will do whatever you do. You won’t be able to do anything else, except what you do. Whatever you actually do is perfect. It is exactly what is needed. Getting dead drunk for several years was an important and indispensable part of my own path. You never know what is needed; you can only see what is apparently happening. The mind will have lots of better ideas for what you could or should do instead. It will provide elaborate criticisms and justifications. It will strategize, take vows, and make plans. And still, you will do whatever you do. The “you” is a mirage, an optical illusion. Actions happen, including thoughts, but there is no individual entity at the controls. Whatever you do is your practice: meditating, watching TV, getting drunk, mowing the lawn, biting your fingers, listening to the traffic.

sunset your practice meditating tollifson

The notion that something is a mistake, or that something needs to be other than it is, is simply that, a notion. Any intentional “practice” runs the risk of perpetuating the illusion that your true nature is not fully present now, that “you” could ever be separated from it, that “it” is something to be achieved or acquired.

At the same time, just about anything else you do is also likely to reinforce that illusion, and at least meditation is aimed at seeing through it, which most other activities are not. Doing nothing is sometimes misunderstood as “you should not do anything,” as in, you should not meditate or engage in any form of intentional activity. This “not meditating” is just as much a doing as deliberately “meditating,” and is equally rooted in the idea that something is needed (in this case, “doing nothing”) in order to somehow improve. If you cling to “doing nothing” as if it was something to do, you have missed the point, which is also perfectly okay, and not “your” doing! Doing happens by itself. “Doing nothing” points to the recognition that there is nothing that “you” need to do, or can do other than exactly what happens. That might be meditating, and it might be swigging scotch.

If you get stuck on one side or the other of any apparent duality, you have missed the whole truth. The problems are imaginary, and yet the suffering hurts. As my first Zen teacher Mel Weitsman put it, “You are perfect just as you are, but that doesn’t mean there is no room for improvement.” The mystery is too subtle for any position to take root. The truth is in groundlessness.

Meditation is about groundlessness. Formal meditation is an artificially simplified space where you can pay attention to what is. What we call “artificial” is actually as natural as anything else. It all comes from the same nowhere. Meditation is about resting in the absolute, which just means the sound of the traffic, the sensations of breathing, the tightness in the shoulder, whatever is.

traffic tollifson

What is takes no effort to achieve, and in fact, cannot be achieved. It is. Any effort to achieve it is rooted in the assumption that this isn’t quite it. And the falling away of that effort cannot be achieved through effort. In fact, that falling away does not even need to happen. The very notion that it needs to happen is the same illusion. If effort appears, then effort appears. There is no problem with that, unless you have the idea that this effort “shouldn’t” be here, that it has to be eliminated. In fact, nothing needs to be eliminated. If the efforting hurts, simply relax. It really is that simple. If you don’t relax, then be tense. No problem. Meditation allows everything to be as it is.

We could say that true practice is wherever life takes you. It might involve getting dead drunk for a few years. It might involve a rigorous formal Zen practice. It might be art making. Or therapy. Or body awareness work. Or an intimate relationship. Or getting a job. Or quitting your job. It might be spending time in prison. There is no single right way because there is no way at all.

If you want a practice, I’d say listen to the traffic, the birdsong, the barking dogs, the leaf blowers, the cicadas, the wind, whatever is appearing. Feel the body: the sensations, the energy, the breathing. When thoughts arise, notice that they are thoughts. The habit is to automatically believe them, take them seriously, get involved in them, and become absorbed in the dramas they create. Instead, begin to see thoughts as nothing more than meaningless mental noise. Question the reality of what the thoughts tell you. Notice that the personal stories and dramas you think about are no more serious or real than television soap operas. Let go of every belief, every idea, every aspiration that can be let go. What remains? Give up every answer that arises. Just listen to the traffic, the birds, the wind. Feel the body. Allow everything to come and go. Hold onto nothing. Simply be.

joy of nothing be friends having fun tollifson

If this sounds depressing or disappointing, I would suggest it’s because you are listening to the mind, and not to the traffic, the birdsong, the barking dogs, or the leaf blowers. When you really listen to these ordinary sounds, you hear God. And I don’t mean you hear anything other than what you are hearing right now.

Enjoy the miraculous sound of running water, the miraculous sound of traffic. Instead of tuning in to your thoughts, tune in to what is. That can happen in any moment of an ordinary day. Enjoy drinking a cup of tea without doing anything else. Just enjoy the tea. Smell it, see it, taste it. Be completely devoted to it. Don’t get too precious about it, turning it into a practice and trying to “do” it perfectly, or trying to “do” it all the time.

Experiment with sitting in a waiting room, or on the bus, or on an airplane without your Walkman or your cell phone or your laptop, without reading a magazine, without knitting, without doing anything. Just be. Feel the aliveness of presence itself. There’s nothing unspiritual about reading a magazine, gulping your tea, or imagining your next holiday while you are washing the dishes. Letting all this go now and then is just something to play with. It won’t get you anywhere. It’s just pointing you home to where you are.

Take walks in silence. Leave your cell phone and your Walkman behind. Go alone. Feel the wind. Smell the flowers. Or the fumes. Enjoy every leaf, every building, every piece of trash. Walking is wonderful and costs nothing.

creek running water what is presence tollifson

Have you ever taken time to simply look deeply at something that is utterly commonplace? The bark of a tree, the twisted shape of the branches, a leaf, a cloud. The back of your own hand, a fork, a spoon, a telephone, a lamp. Can you look at something ordinary and familiar without knowing it, in the same way you might look at an abstract painting, enjoying the shapes and colors and gestures of it, the dance it is doing? If you look deeply enough, what is it? What you thought was familiar and ordinary turns out to be utterly new, ever changing, boundless, and extraordinary. The shift is not in the object; it’s in the quality of the seeing. Again, I’m not suggesting you rush around “doing” this in a self conscious way. But perhaps it will invite you more and more, the simple wonder of everything.

I speak of listening or seeing, but what I’m talking about doesn’t depend on the senses. Someone who is blind and deaf can listen and see in the way that I mean it. I’m talking about alert presence, awareness, open attention. The senses, and the entire body, are a vehicle for that listening, but the essence, the source, is prior to the senses, prior to the body, prior even to consciousness. What I’m speaking about is effortless; it is already happening. Simply notice that this is so. Tune in to the silence, the spaciousness, the emptiness that is everywhere. In this listening presence, “you” dissolve. All separation dissolves. Only pure being remains, only listening.

~ Joan Tollifson


Stay tuned for Joan’s … continued exploration of the joy of nothing with more excerpts from Meditation: The Joy of Nothing at All

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Tapping into the joy of nothing allows us to meet life AS IS deeper and deeper … which naturally helps us realize our oneness leading to 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) Composite of a) A beautiful insightful look woman’s eye with the effect of space in front of the eyes  by Viculia and b) Buddha face close up by vgorbash, 2) Cover page from Joan’s book – New Sarum Press 2022 edition, 3) Beach with rocks and blue water at sunset by cesartorres, 4) Beautiful Sunset Colors Coastline Allerdale District Cumbria Sun Setting Shore by MNStudio, 5) Heavy traffic moving on the road in twilight, Kuala Lumpur by olesiabilkei, 6) Four african friends having fun outdoors by ASphoto777, 7) Autumn forest small creek by khoroshkov. #2) provided by Joan for free use on our digital assets. All (except Joan’s book cover image) are purchased from depositphotos, 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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