“… Our true immortality is the seamlessness that is without beginning or end for it is always Here-Now …” ~ Joan Tollifson

tropical sunset true immortality tollifson

Joan Tollifson uses the backdrop of her mother Dorothy’s death to talk about : the show that is “finished yet never finished” … the “waving of the ocean” … that which is “gone forever {yet} totally present”“nothing is ever really lost” … the story of “the light that is seeing only itself everywhere” …. the “living actuality of this moment” … that which is “totally obvious {yet} utterly mysterious” … the “pathless path from Here to Here” … the “only actuality there is” … the “aware presence in which the whole universe is contained” … that which has “no beginning and no end” … the “ever changing process inseparable from everything else in the universe” … that which is “gone forever and {always/still} right here”

Death: The end of self-improvementWe began this multi-part series with the opening chapter Dissolving … and continue with this part 2 … excerpted from chapter one (titled Stepping Through the Mirror) of Joan’s recently released book Death: The End of Self-Improvement.

Continuing the dissecting of “death,” Joan also talks about “our true immortality” … “the seamlessness that is without beginning or end” … That which “cannot depart from itself ” … That which “has never been absent”the “felt spacious openness at the very core of our being” … the “recognition that is very ordinary and always already here” … She captures the essence of Rumi’s poem I’ve been knocking on a door. It opens. I’ve been knocking from the inside.”

So, as always, we suggest you … take a pause … read … reflect … pause … reflect some more … read … and see what is revealed!

All italicized text (except for the block-quoted parts) is from Death: The End of Self-Improvement by Joan Tollifson and is published here with her (and the publisher New Sarum Press’) generous permission.

Here are all of Joan’s posts on Stillness Speaks … and her website – full of deeply insightful and valuable content for your journey.

The day my ninety-five-year-old mother Dorothy died, we blew bubbles over her bed, her Lift-Off Bubbles, we called them. It was an extraordinary day, full of love and joy, laughter and tears. It was her last party, and she died just as the sun was setting. She lifted off, nothing to nothing, dust to dust, ashes to ashes, a snowflake evaporating in a fire. I sat with her cooling body, holding her bony hand, touching her face, her forehead, the curve of her ear, all these familiar landscapes I knew so intimately over so many years. Although we called them her Lift-Off bubbles, it was utterly clear that there is no one to lift-off and nowhere else to go. The Dorothy Show is finished and yet never finished, for it is inseparable from the whole universe. The bubble of apparent encapsulation bursts, and now Dorothy is everywhere and everything, sparkling in this new November sunshine, dancing in the leaves. Each life is like a bubble, and when the bubble pops, there is no more imaginary separation. The space inside the bubble is the same as the space outside the bubble, as it always was. The bubble itself was nothing but space bubbling. Each bubble is brief and fragile, but immensely beautiful. Floating, shimmering, wobbling, billowing, bedazzling, and then popping. Oh, how I adored my mother’s smile, her voice, her face, her nose, her hands, her sense of humor, her light, all the wonders in her eyes—the Dorothy Show, ephemeral and precious. Pop! Gone now, and always right here.

What Happens Next?

The temple bell stops—
but the sound keeps coming
out of the owers.

~ Basho

Our loved one who has died was never a separate, fixed, persisting thing. They were a waving of the ocean, and they are both gone forever and totally present right here—in our hearts, in our cells and genetic material in some cases, in our minds and memories, and in the whole universe.

I don’t believe that Mom and Dad and everyone else who has died are up there in some fairytale place called heaven, or down in some fiery hell, or that they have all been reincarnated intact in new bodies somewhere else. I think those are ancient myths that come in part from a desire to assuage the fear of death, and in part from an intuitive knowing that there is actually no-thing to die. But such myths all make and perpetuate what I see as a false assumption, namely that there is a persisting self or soul that exists as a separate, discrete, independent, continuous “thing.”

The individual waves in the ocean are never the same from one instant to the next, and they aren’t ever really separate from the other waves or from the whole ocean. Even in the midst of waving, the water that was briefly part of one wave moves on to be part of other waves. The boundaries are imaginary. The waves have never actually been anything other than a movement of the ocean. Nothing is ever really lost.

waves tollifson

The “me” who fears that “I” might disappear has never had any real substance or continuity. It is a thought-form, a mental image, an idea that disappears many times in any ordinary day when we’re not thinking about ourselves or looking in the mirror. And even the first impersonal sense of being present and aware vanishes completely in deep sleep, and no one is leftover to miss it. When the bubble pops (or the snowflake melts), it doesn’t reincarnate as a new bubble or go to bubble heaven. It vanishes back into the bigger whole from which it came. The movie is over, but the ripples of it continue infinitely.

The bodymind is nothing but thoroughgoing impermanence. It never really holds still in any fixed form. It only seems to do that if we don’t look too closely. And it is never actually separate from the environment in which it exists. It wouldn’t be here without sunshine, air, water, food, all of its ancestors and everything that nourished and sustained them. In short, without the whole universe being as it is, this bodymind could not be here. This bodymind is a continuous process of smaller forms dying and being born. It is not the same bodymind from one second to the next. It is in perpetual exchange with its so-called environment. The boundaries are as imaginary as those between one wave and another. Like waves or whirlpools, all the apparent forms we see are ever-changing patterns that take shape briefly and then dissolve.

In death, this pattern of activity that we call “Joan” dissolves back into the larger field, the wholeness from which it has never actually been separate. We fall easily into attempts to pin down that ineffable wholeness as being this or that—primarily “consciousness” or primarily “matter.” Ultimately, whatever-this-is defies all attempts to grasp it and nail it down, for it is not an “it” in any way whatsoever. It is this, right here, right now. What is this? No word-label-concept, no explanation, no metaphysical theory or philosophy will ever contain the living actuality of this moment. The actuality itself is at once totally obvious and utterly mysterious. It is utterly beyond all attempts to control, understand or make sense of it. Nothing we say about reality is ever the truth. The words can only be a map, a pointer, a description, an approximation. Don’t get stuck on the words.

Identified as the separate “me,” we inevitably feel insecure and incomplete. We don’t like uncertainty and feeling out of control, so we keep trying to grasp what we believe will save us. We try desperately to make sense of everything, to nail things down, to get a grip, to get control. And yet, the faster we run on the mental treadmill of thought, chasing the proverbial carrot of Ultimate Understanding, Total Happiness and Complete Mastery, the more confused, desperate and miserable we seem to become.

What truly satisfies the longing of the heart is right here, never absent, but often overlooked because we are so busy looking for something else or trying to make sense of it all conceptually. The so-called awakening journey, the spiritual path, the pathless path from Here to Here, is about waking up now to what is obvious, immediate, simple and never hidden in any way. It is about discovering what brings forth happiness and what brings forth suffering. It is not about belief or philosophy. It is actually about letting go of all the answers and beliefs, and waking up to the inconceivable immediacy and simplicity of this very moment—being just this moment, the only actuality there is, and perhaps discovering the jewel at the very core of our being, the aware presence in which the whole universe is contained.

hummingbird this moment tollifson

And far from being a long and complicated undertaking, this is always already fully accomplished whether that is recognized or not. But we may apparently have to go on what seems to be a long and complicated journey before we really understand what that means and how simple this is, and before the willingness shows up to simply relax and let go into this utter simplicity.

What Revealed Itself When Mom Died

Dorothy was dead, and this alive presence filled the whole room and the whole universe. All imaginary dividing lines were erased. Like a wave in the ocean, she had no beginning and no end. My mother was an ever-changing process inseparable from everything else in the universe, a process that continues, not only in all the beings whose lives she touched, but as the movement of the whole universe, for there is nothing that is not touched and brought forth by everything else. The spark of life that we see, recognize and love in the beloved is the light that is seeing only itself everywhere.

As I sat with my mother’s cooling body, I saw that when conditions changed—when organs wore out and stopped working, when the stars and the galaxies and the subatomic particles and everything else in the universe shifted—suddenly the Dorothy Show no longer manifested. Inside Dorothy, her unique Movie of Waking Life came to an end, and outside of Dorothy, the happening each of us knew as Dorothy ended forever. Inside and outside, it was like the end of a favorite TV series, like the last episode of The Sopranos. And yet, the ripples continue infinitely. In a very real sense, nothing had died because no separate, independent thing had ever formed in the first place. Death is at once the ultimate boundary from which there is no return, and at the same time, no boundary at all.

There is no end and no beginning. There is simply one seamless, boundless movement that is always Here-Now. Dorothy is gone forever, and yet, Dorothy is right here.

canyonlands milky way seamless tollifson

What do we even mean by “Dorothy”? Any idea or image we have of a particular person is a mental abstraction, a conceptual reification of ceaseless flux, inseparable from the consciousness in which it appears. “Dorothy,” as any kind of persisting entity, was a creation of smoke and mirrors rather like the illusion of continuity and narrative created by the pages of a flip book, or the frames in a movie appearing in rapid succession. In reality, each moment is absolutely new. No-thing persists over time. Time itself is a mode of perception, a construct of consciousness. Consciousness divides up what is actually a dimensionless whole into apparent parts existing in what appears to be space and time. The brain is a pattern-maker, and in this movie of waking or dreaming life, there are apparent patterns, such as a whirlpool, a waterfall, a symphony or a person, but these “things” are never anything but continuous change that never departs from Here-Now. Dorothy was an activity of the universe in the same way that a wave is an activity of the ocean.

Our true immortality is not in fighting off death and keeping the body alive forever, nor is it in some individual “soul” or separate unit of consciousness called “me” that leaves the body and either goes to heaven or reincarnates in a new body. Our true immortality is the seamlessness that is without beginning or end for it is always Here-Now. Just as the eye cannot see itself, the hand cannot grasp itself, the fire cannot burn itself, and the sword cannot cut itself, so we can never find unicity or totality as any kind of object because it has no other, no opposite. There is no way to stand outside of it and perceive it. It is all there is. It cannot depart from itself. As Rumi so beautifully expressed the miracle of awakening: “I’ve been knocking on a door. It opens. I’ve been knocking from the inside.”

To discover this, to see through the mirage of separation, is to pass through the gateless gate. The gate is said to be gateless because when the illusion of separation and duality is seen through, when the bubble of apparent encapsulation pops, when you see that both time and space are a kind of illusory construct, you realize that you were never not Here, that this has never been absent. It is clear that there was never anyone apart from this who passed through any gate. Nothing was ever lacking, and nothing new was found. The gate was imaginary. But at the same time, there is an undeniable difference between knowingly realizing this and being confused and entranced by the story of separation and lack, which is why there is said to be a gateless gate rather than no gate at all. As the Advaita sage Nisargadatta put it, “Your begging bowl may be of pure gold, but as long as you do not know it, you are a pauper.”

Thought is inherently dualistic. It divides, labels, categorizes, and explains reality. This is a useful function in many ways, not to be discarded. But it can also lead to immense confusion and unnecessary suffering simply because we tend to mistake our thoughts and the stories they spin for reality. By shifting the focus of our attention from thinking to presence itself—sensing, feeling, awaring, being— and by spending time in silence and stillness, we may come upon a felt-sense of spacious openness at the very core of our being, a space in which this whole universe is held. And when we enter deeply into any apparent form with open attention, that form reveals this same spacious presence, this same ever-changing formlessness and absolute immovability. I’m not talking about some exotic, mystical, psychedelic experience. I’m pointing to a recognition that is actually very ordinary and always already here, although commonly overlooked in favor of the solidity of our conceptual maps. Awakening, as I mean it, is simply a shift of attention (now) from what we think is happening to actual present experiencing.

~ Joan Tollifson


Stay tuned for the continuation of this chapter … in the next part … on “unbroken wholeness” and more …

Again, here’s Part 1: Death: Dissolving

All italicized text above (except for the block-quoted parts) is from Death: The End of Self-Improvement by Joan Tollifson and is published here with her (and the publisher New Sarum Press’) generous permission.

Images (edited & Logo added): 1 & Featured) Sunset on tropical beach. Legian beach. Bali island, Indonesia by deltaoff, 2) Cover page from Joan’s book, 3) Beach Ocean coastline with dawn light reflections of scenic blue pink yellow colors on cirrus clouds by ChrisVanLennepPhoto, 4) Hummingbird (archilochus colubris) in flight with tropical flowers on colorful background by bolina, 5) False kiva with beautiful Milky Way Clear Night Sky Canyonlands National Park by kwiktor. All are purchased from depositphotos, for use only on our website/social channels (these images are not permitted to be shared separate from this post).


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