“Reality can’t ever be captured in concepts” -Joan Tollifson
“Is it possible that the peace and well-being we seek…cannot be found or satisfied by answers or attainments or experiences of any kind?” Continue Joan Tollifson’s exploration of life’s universal questions in Part 2 of this seven part series The Simplicity of What Is. If you missed it, read Part 1.
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?
And what is that?
It is nothing you can take hold of conceptually, and it’s not any particular experience (as opposed to any other experience). It is the beingness, the present-ness, the knowingness, the IS-ness of this moment — this that is undeniably present beyond all doubt, requiring no proof or belief, impossible to deny — before and after and even during all the grasping and searching and experience-seeking. The words (beingness, knowingness, IS-ness, presence, awareness, experiencing, consciousness) are only pointers. What they point to is nothing you can get hold of as an object. In fact, there really are no solid objects because everything is thorough-going flux. This no-thing-ness (or undivided wholeness) is all there really is.
And this no-thing-ness is vibrantly alive, aware, conscious, awake, present. The grasping, searching and thinking may seem to destroy the wholeness of being or the spaciousness of presence-awareness, but can anything really destroy awareness, or the present moment, or beingness? Doesn’t everything appear Here and Now, in this vast space of awareness? And doesn’t everything appear altogether at once as one diverse but seamless whole?
In a sense, consciousness (or at least waking and dreaming consciousness) is the apparent dividing up of seamless and boundless unicity into apparent multiplicity and limitation. In the simplicity of bare perceiving and sensing (prior to thought and conceptualization), there is diversity and variation, but not separation or dualism. That dualistic illusion arises when conceptual thought further divides, reifies, and tells stories about conditioned perceptions, solidifying the abstract “things” it has (conceptually) created. This makes it seem that the world is made up of separate, independent fragments (including “me,” the apparently separate self encapsulated inside “my body”), forms that seemingly endure and persist over time and that exist “out there” somewhere, independently of consciousness. These forms are not real, of course. They are conceptual abstractions that exist only in thought and imagination—and to some degree in conditioned perception (if we don’t look too closely).
But if that mirage-like picture of reality isn’t seen through, if it is believed and taken seriously, then the result is suffering. We spend our lives chasing after mirages, battling against phantasms, and trying to survive as a form that never really exists in the we think it does. Zen, Advaita and other forms of non-duality are all about waking up from this entrancement and suffering. But it isn’t “you” who wakes up and then becomes “an awakened person.” The very notion that there is someone who needs to wake up from delusion is part of the delusion! The problem of bondage only exists in the thought-created movie world of imagination. The whole problem is a kind of mirage. What’s real is never absent, and what seems to obscure it is never real.
If we turn our attention to bare perceiving and sensing, we can discover that everything is a fluid and seamless whole from which nothing actually stands apart.
There is diversity and variation, but not separation. Everything shows up together as one whole picture (one whole moving picture), and we cannot find an actual boundary where inside (subject) turns into outside (world). Everything perceivable is an appearance in and of consciousness. We never actually experience anything outside of consciousness. Everything appears Here / Now in this field of conscious awareness. This can become obvious as our most immediate experience in every moment—an experience we are actually never not having, although we may seemingly be ignoring it. Awareness or presence (Here-Now-ness) is the constant factor in every experience.
No words (including these words) can ever capture the actuality of this one eternal present moment. It can be talked about and pointed to in various different ways, but anything we say about actuality is never actuality itself. We may nod in agreement upon hearing that; nevertheless, we habitually tend to mistake the map for the territory, the concept for the actual. We then get into endless debates and confusion over imaginary dilemmas such as whether there is or isn’t free will, or whether any kind of spiritual practice is worth doing or not, or whether the world is real and deserving of our attention or only a dream-like illusion that is best ignored. This mind-spinning goes in circles leading nowhere.
Reality can’t ever be captured in concepts (like free will or no free will, self or no self, this or that). Whatever you say is never quite right. No word or concept is ever complete enough. If you say that you can’t learn to ride a bicycle because there’s no you to do it, or no free will, you’ll be foolishly disempowering yourself. And yet, if you look carefully at who or what is riding the bicycle or “choosing” to do so, you won’t find anything or anybody, nor can you really explain how exactly “you” do this bicycle riding.
We can argue endlessly over who rides, and whether or not they can freely choose to do it, or whether instruction and training is necessary or only a hindrance, and we can discuss the mechanics of bicycles and bicycle riding, or tell stories about legendary riders of the past, but finally, no amount of description or prescription will tell you how to ride a bicycle or how it is to be riding one. Talking about it, reading about it, watching others do it, or debating about who does it best, is not the same as simply doing it. Of course, enlightenment isn’t quite the same as riding a bicycle, but as in bicycle riding, it’s the actuality that matters, the territory itself and not the map. Discussing enlightenment (or awakening, or liberation), thinking about it, imagining it, or seeking it as a future event are all map-events…
But enlightenment is the territory itself, that which is Here / Now, ever-present and ever-changing. Of course, paradoxically, even the map (as a map) is also the territory, just as there is something real in every dream and in every illusion. What is it that is real? This reality is inescapable and unavoidable. It is absolutely simple and immediate and impossible to actually lose.
In the upcoming posts of this series, Joan Tollifson continues her exploration of this inescapable and unavoidable reality which is impossible to lose. 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: 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.
Images: (all edited and logo added) 1) White Lily, by werner22brigitte, CC0 Public Domain, 2) Hdr Sky, by Reclusearnab, CC0 Public Domain, 3) El Mirage Lake by Lisa Drummond, CC0 Public Domain, 4) Rose, by Photoman, CC0 Public Domain 5) Water, by Munfuthel, CC0 Public Domain, 6) Bicycle, by Pexels, CC0 Public Domain.