true meditation: “… True meditation as I mean it is simply awareness … meditation is an invitation to be aware, to be still, to be present …” ~ Joan Tollifson

true meditation be still aware tollifson beach

Joan’s quote is part of her unpacking of sitting quietly … which we began in part 1 of this multi-part series on the 2023 edition of Joan’s book: Painting the Sidewalk with Water: Talks and Dialogs about Nonduality (originally published in 2010) … and in this post – part 2 – she continues that unpacking by delving further into what is, present moment, being present, silence, stillness, and awareness … which naturally leads to the essence of meditation … and lets her make a compelling case that true meditation is indeed awareness …

Painting the Sidewalk with Water: Talks and Dialogs about Nonduality Joan TollifsonThis series is part of our ongoing content offerings that are substantive previews of books via chapter excerpts.

… Part 1 is the initial excerpt of the chapter titled Why Sit Quietly? … (recap: each chapter opens with a short talk by Joan followed by Q&A with the audience) … and …

… This Part 2 offers the remaining excerpts of that same chapter until Joan’s talk ends and the Q&A begins …

All italicized text above and below is from Painting the Sidewalk with Water: Talks and Dialogs about Nonduality by Joan Tollifson (2023 edition by New Sarum Press) and is published here with her and New Sarum’s generous permission. A PDF of the Table of Contents is available for download at the bottom of this post.

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

True Meditation Is Awareness…

Being silent is a space to look and listen and to begin to appreciate and enjoy the wonder of simple things like the breeze and the chirping of a bird and the sound of traffic, and to discover and see through subtler and subtler layers of conceptualization.

true meditation being silent tollifson quetzal

Seeing is not thinking. It’s seeing the thinking as thinking, being aware of the thinking. Awareness is upstream from thinking. A thought pops up like, “There’s got to be more to life than listening to the traffic.” That’s a thought. It tells a story, delivers a message, or draws a conclusion, and the truth of that story or that message or that conclusion can be questioned. There’s also an awareness of that thought, a seeing of the thought as a thought. That awareness is outside the thought-realm, prior to thought. Awareness is not bound or limited by the imaginary map-world that thought creates. Awareness is unconditioned, unbound, free. There could be a second thought commenting on the first thought, such as, “I shouldn’t be thinking,” or something like that. Awareness is seeing that thought as a thought. Awareness is always without judgment or preferences. Judgments are always thoughts, and preferences are impulses rooted in hereditary or conditioned tendencies of the organism. Awareness sees judgments and preferences.

True meditation as I mean it is simply awareness. It’s not about thinking and trying to work all this out conceptually with analysis and rumination. That doesn’t mean we try not to think, or that we aim to banish thought completely. It simply means that meditation is an invitation to be aware, to be still, to be present. To stop, look, and listen. To be what we always already are – aware being. Meditation is not about thinking our way to clarity. It’s about seeing the false as false and waking up to the simplicity of what is. In silence and stillness, we begin to notice this ever-present Here/Now and we become consciously aware of being aware. Eventually the boundary between meditation and the rest of life melts away and we see that awareness is always present. Meditation isn’t about correcting what is showing up, or fixing it, or manipulating it, or changing it, but simply beholding it, as it is. Meditation is a way of being awake to present moment actuality. Simply this, as it is.

silence stillness aware tollifson stone village

Instead of our habitual attempt to get what we want or to get rid of what we don’t like, meditation is an invitation to not move toward anything or away from anything, but simply to discover what actually is – even if it’s something we find unpleasant or painful or something we think is “not very spiritual.” Instead of trying to get away from it and get to something better, what if instead there is complete openness to what is? Openness is the heart of true meditation. This isn’t some grueling task I’m talking about. It’s the opposite of a task. It’s not doing anything at all. It’s not seeking a result. It’s what Here/Now is–the open space of awareness beholding everything just as it is.

So I would recommend sitting quietly if this invites you, if it interests you. You don’t have to be sitting, you can be lying down – sitting is not the essence of it. And you certainly don’t need to [be] in any special posture. You can be in a recliner or on a park bench or on an airplane or anywhere at all. You can move when you feel like it – you don’t need to be motionless, rigid or bolt upright. There is a natural stillness that occurs by itself, and a naturally open, relaxed and grounded posture that the body finds. There are no special hand positions. You don’t have to close your eyes or open them or keep them half closed or anything in particular. This isn’t about forcing your mind to stop thinking and focus instead on your breathing. It isn’t about visualizing deities or repeating a mantra. It’s nothing more or less than being silently present, doing nothing other than being here. And if this attracts you, as it does me, then I encourage you to take time and make space to be still, to do nothing, to simply be aware, to explore and enjoy the present moment, exactly as it is.

beholding as it is tollifson awareness waterfall forest

Suggesting this is a kind of heresy in some corners of the nondual world these days, but something quite wonderful can happen in stopping our busy activities and being quiet. And, as I said, we don’t need to call it meditation, and it’s probably better if we don’t. All I’m talking about is being present, giving attention to what is – hearing, feeling, sensing–seeing thoughts as thoughts, being here without judgment, without an effort to get somewhere else. And if judgment or effort comes up, seeing that. Nothing needs to be eliminated. That, to me, is meditation. Nothing fancy. No bells and whistles. No correct or incorrect hand or eye positions. No lotus posture or meditation cushion required. Simply present moment awareness.

This can happen anywhere, anytime. You can set aside a time and space for it, but it can also happen spontaneously – in your car while stopped in a traffic jam, at the office between clients, on the bus as you ride to and from work, at home as you drink your morning coffee or while you fold the laundry. Whenever it invites you.

Eventually, you notice that awareness is always here, even when you are talking or working on the computer or watching a movie. Awareness always has been here. It is what “Here” is. It is what you are. It is never absent.

true meditation awareness here you tollifson sunset

But when you’re talking to somebody, dealing with screaming children, working on the computer, or watching a movie, it’s much easier to lose sight of that and to become absorbed in and entranced by the ideas, stories, narratives and beliefs that thought, language and imagination create, and especially the story of “me.” As we interact with others, so many conditioned patterns and emotions can easily get triggered. We can so easily feel hurt or threatened or belittled, we can get angry or defensive, envious or jealous – all those human reactions that we all know so well. Human interactions can get messy and murky very quickly. That’s why it can be very helpful to make time and space in your life on a daily basis for being in silence, doing nothing, simply being present, aware, awake to what is. It can be just ten minutes or five minutes.

And you may find that there are many, many situations in daily life, such as being on a bus or a train or a plane, or in a waiting room, when we habitually busy ourselves with magazines, books, ipods, snack food we don’t really want, and so on. But maybe, if it interests you, you might explore what it’s like to simply be, doing nothing, simply being present. At first this may seem scary, like being naked in some way, but you may find that it is quite enjoyable. And you may discover that there are many moments in the midst of an ordinary busy day when it’s possible to stop all outward activity and be still. Instead of checking your email one more time or filling that time with some kind of busy-ness, what happens if for one moment you simply stop and do nothing? Breathing, hearing the traffic sounds, watching the clouds in the sky or the shadows on the carpet, simply being.

Not because it’s “better” to sit silently than to check your email, not in order to improve or get enlightened, but for no reason at all. Without seeking any result. You may find that there is tremendous beauty in the most ordinary sights and sounds, and you may discover that in doing nothing, all your problems and doubts and all your confusion disappear.

~ Joan Tollifson


Click here for the free, downloadable PDF of the Table of Contents.

Stay tuned for  … more/other chapter excerpts from Joan’s Painting the Sidewalk with Water …

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Images (edited & Logo added): 1 & Featured) At the Beach by jomagne143, 2) Cover page from Joan’s book – New Sarum Press 2023 edition, 3) Resplendent Quetzal – Pharomachrus mocinno bird in the trogon family, found from Chiapas, Mexico to Panama, known for its colorful plumage, long tail and eating wild avocado, green and red  by phototrip, 4) Panoramic view of the stone village with stone houses at dusk. Santander, Santillana del Mar by josemiguelsangar, 5) Beautiful waterfall in forest at sunset  by Pilat666, 6) Sunset scene by kamchatka. #2) provided by New Sarum Press for free use on our digital assets. All (except Joan’s book cover image) are purchased from depositphotos, or 123rtf or YAYImages. 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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