“The ever-present, ever-changing, nonconceptual actuality of the present moment is effortlessly presenting itself right now. This bare being is nondual, undivided, boundless, and without obstruction.” ~ Joan Tollifson
The ever-present, ever-changing, nonconceptual actuality of the present moment is effortlessly presenting itself right now. This bare being is nondual, undivided, boundless, and without obstruction. But we don’t always seem to be experiencing life in this boundless and unobstructed way because our thoughts and conceptualizations tell a different story.
In reality, even thinking and conceptualizing are an inseparable aspect of this undivided, nondual happening, but it is only in the stories and ideas that thought generates that we seem to be an encapsulated entity fighting to survive in a fragmented world. This delusion is suffering. It’s a mirage with no real substance, but it seems quite real.
In some way, all nondual and spiritual teaching is either a response to this suffering, an attempt to wake up from this delusion and confusion, to see the mirage for what it really is, or else it is a celebration of the Holy Reality that is Here / Now, and often it is both …
… Meditation teachers, retreat centers, books on radical nondualism and websites such as this one spring up in response to our confusion and suffering much in the same way that various chemicals, hormones, endorphins, antibodies and the like spring up in the body in response to infection, pain or injury. And/or these nondual and spiritual expressions spring up as an act of devotion to the Heart, an act of love and celebration like singing and dancing. And it’s all part of the natural movement of life, happening effortlessly by itself.
There are many different approaches to waking up, many different roads to Here / Now. Of course, paradoxically, we are never not Here / Now, since Here / Now is all there is. But since we don’t always realize that, various roads appear, including the roadless-road that offers nothing to do, and that simply insists uncompromisingly that there is nowhere to go and no one apart from this-here-now to go anywhere else.
The thinking mind loves to categorize and rank everything. We’ve got Zen Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism, Vipassana, Advaita, neo-Advaita, radical nonduality, the Power of Now, and on and on, and there are little wars happening on the internet and in social media between “neo” and “traditional” Advaita, or between “sudden” and “gradual” approaches to awakening, or between “be here now” teachings and “this is it” teachings. We identify with a label or a category and then have pissing contests to see who is more nondual than who. But when we wake up to the simplicity of this moment, just as it is, we see the beauty and perfection of everything being exactly the way as it is. We no longer feel compelled to convince the Zen folks that chanting and bowing are unnecessary, or to tell the “be here now” folks that there is no way not to be here now, or to tell the radical nondualistis that practice is as natural as the wind.
Liberation is never really about finding or picking up an answer or a solution, but rather, it is about seeing through the imaginary problem.
What are some of the other common approaches to seeing through the imaginary problem that show up in Buddhism, Advaita, and other kinds of nondual teachings?
One approach is to encourage an awareness of the thoughts and stories that are the basic building blocks of suffering and confusion, and especially the root thought-story that “I” am an independent, separate self authoring “my” life. As we begin to see these stories as stories and as we become aware that thoughts are nothing but conditioned ideas, they lose their power.
Another approach to waking up is to shift attention from thinking to sensing (hearing sounds, seeing shapes and colors, feeling sensations in the body). In bare sensation, there is no dualism, no story, and no self. There is simply this ever-changing, seamless happening. What we think is solid and persisting reveals itself to be ephemeral and insubstantial flux in which nothing exists or persists apart from everything else. If you go deeply into anything that appears (any emotion, any sensation, any form) with awareness, there is nothing there but movement, and at the core, infinite space, empty of form.
Part 2 of this series will continue to explore other approaches to awakening … so stay tuned …
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: Many Roads to Here / Now.
Below is a brief BIO for Joan, excerpted from her website, and 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:
“Joan Tollifson writes and talks about the ever-changing, ever-present living reality Here / Now. Her bare-bones approach is open, direct, immediate and down-to-earth. Joan is interested in seeing through the imaginary problems that we think are binding us, the stories of lack and imperfection, and waking up to the aliveness of this moment, just as it is. Joan has a background in Buddhism and Advaita but does not identify with any particular tradition … Joan is the author of Bare-Bones Meditation: Waking Up from the Story of My Life (1996), Awake in the Heartland: The Ecstasy of What Is (2003), Painting the Sidewalk with Water: Talks and Dialogs about Nonduality (2010), and Nothing to Grasp (2012). A fifth book that explores aging, dying and waking up is in the works … Joan is currently living in southern Oregon.”
Images: (all edited and logo added) 1) Narabeen Sunrise (Australia) by Nigel Howe, CC BY 2.0, 2) Iceberg with a hole in the strait between Langø and Sanderson Hope south of Upernavik, Greenland by Kim Hansen, CC BY-SA 2.0, 3) Nature by kretktz, CCO Public Domain, 4) see-through by jenny downing, CC BY 2.0, 5) Abstract by geralt, CCO Public Domain.