JOAN TOLLIFSON·TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 26, 2019
This piece is not meant to be read quickly as information for the thinking mind. I suggest reading it slowly, meditatively, pausing along the way to listen, sense and feel into what is being said.
Is it possible to simply be present in this moment without trying to do anything, or get anywhere, or get rid of anything that’s showing up? Just being here, plain and simple. No need to explain what’s happening, or understand it, or figure it out. Not judging whatever is appearing or comparing it to something else. Just BEING this whole inconceivable and ungraspable happening Here-Now, exactly as it is.
Hearing the traffic sounds, breathing, feeling sensations throughout the body, seeing colors and shapes—one whole seamless happening. Can you feel that?
Is it possible, right now, to experience this undivided hearing-seeing-sensing-tasting-smelling-touching-breathing-awaring-presentness without labels or storylines, only the naked non-conceptual happening itself?
Just seeing, with no conceptual division into “a seer in here” and “something seen out there”—just the actual undivided seeing. Just hearing, with no conceptual division into “a listener” and “a sound being heard”—just the actual undivided hearing. No separation. No gap. One whole seamless happening.
And when thoughts pop up, as they almost certainly will, can it be noticed how they create a virtual reality in the imagination with “you” (the imaginary person, the self-image) at the center of it all? Can it be seen that these thoughts and images are simply conditioned blips of energy and not objective reports on reality? These, too, are simply another movement in this seamless happening, but the pictures they paint and the stories they tell are fantasies. However, they can seem very real, more real even than our actual direct experiencing. We have a deeply ingrained habit of mistaking the map for the territory. We live much of our lives in map-land without even realizing it.
Notice how seductive these thought-generated headlines and storylines can be, how believable they can seem, how easily they can hypnotize and mesmerize the attention, how captivating and addictive they are—and yet, how utterly ephemeral. Try to grab hold of a thought! What is it? It’s like a flash of lightning or a wisp of smoke. It’s nothing at all!
Is it possible to simply let the thoughts come and go, not holding on to them and not pushing them away, simply seeing them for what they are?
And if the attention does get pulled into a storyline or a train of thought, eventually there is a natural waking up. It happens by itself. Something is here prior to the thoughts and stories, upstream from them, as it were—a bigger context within which they appear. We can call this bigger context awareness, but naming it is inherently misleading, for it has no objective qualities, no borders or limits, no place where it begins or ends. It is not a thing. It is like vast space. Awareness is beholding and illuminating everything, including the thoughts. It has the capacity to see the false as false, and to recognize the dream as a dream, because awareness is intelligence itself—not the kind of intelligence we measure with IQ tests, but the intelligence that holds this whole universe together.
No need to take any momentary entrancement in thought personally or see it as a failure. It’s just another movement in this whole happening belonging to no one. It comes and goes in this bigger context, this awaring presence that we are beyond name and form. Awareness is beholding everything, including the body-mind-person we usually take ourselves to be. Awareness is the unbroken wholeness that is present behind and within every changing scene of the movie.
Notice how awareness is naturally always allowing everything to be as it is. Awareness allows thoughts, perceptions, sensations, storylines, everything perceivable and conceivable—the whole world and the entire universe—to come and go. Awareness even allows resisting and seeking and contracting. It allows war and peace, joy and sorrow. It allows the mental movies, the thoughts and beliefs. Awareness resists nothing. But it also clings to nothing. It has no judgements. It doesn’t take anything personally or give it added meaning. It simply beholds it all. Awareness could also be called unconditional love.
In this vast space of awareness, nothing needs to be seen as a distraction or a problem. Awareness is not trying to get into any special state or have some spectacular experience.
If trying (or seeking, or resisting) does show up, is it possible to simply be aware of how it feels in the body to try (or to seek, or to resist)? Trying not to try, resisting resistance, or seeking the end of seeking, is just more of the same. But simply illuminating it with awareness allows it to dissolve by itself. And we can also explore what is driving this trying-seeking-resisting, and to what does it refer. Isn’t it always the self-image, the story of “me” who supposedly lacks something, “me” who seemingly needs to get somewhere, or get rid of something, or become a better somebody, a better “me”?
Can this phantom “me” who seems to be living my life, thinking my thoughts and making my choices actually be found? Does it actually exist? Or is it nothing more than a kind of mirage generated by changing thoughts, memories and sensations—a dream-character in a dream? Look and see!
Notice that no one is doing any of this. It’s all happening by itself—reading these words, looking, seeing, thinking, awaring, sleeping, dreaming, waking up, seeking, not seeking. Are you choosing your desires, your interests, your urges, your opinions, your preferences, the things that attract your attention? Even apparently deliberate decisions, if you watch closely as they happen, arise choicelessly—the back and forth thoughts arguing for one choice or the other, and then the decisive moment—watch and see if you can find anyone who is in control of this whole unfolding process. Can you make the decisive moment happen any sooner than it does? How exactly do you perform such voluntary actions as raising your arm? And from where does the impulse to do this arise? You can’t say!
There are endlessly changing experiences, endlessly changing weather. Nothing stays the same even for an instant. And yet, consciousness or presence is the common factor in every different experience. And awareness (or unconditional love) is beholding it all.
The words seem to divide it up, but this is simply to call attention to different aspects of the undivided living reality. The words are a kind of helpful map. But don’t get stuck on the map. Use the map, and then put it aside. There is really no such “thing” as awareness or consciousness or experiencing or energy or intelligence or the universe or me or you. It’s one whole undivided and inconceivable happening, happening to no one. Notice that this is so.
If pain shows up, whether it is physical or emotional, is it possible to go right into the bare sensations in the body, without the labels and the storylines? Simply feeling it, exploring it—not by thinking about it and analyzing it, but by giving the bare, sensory-energetic actuality of what we are calling “pain” complete, open attention. In open attention (or awareness), there is no separation, no gap between a thought-constructed, imagined “experiencer” and a thought-constructed, imagined “experience”—no storyline that “I” am being “attacked” by “pain”—there is simply undivided, impersonal, nondual experiencing. What happens to the pain when we stop thinking about it and instead go right into the very core of it, experiencing it as pure energy and sensation, with no separation between “me” and “it”? Explore this when pain, or anything unwanted, shows up.
In many moments of any ordinary day, there is no thought-sense of being “me,” a separate self encapsulated in a body, independent of its environment. There is simply seeing, hearing, acting, doing—and then suddenly a thought arises (e.g., “I shouldn’t have said that,” or “I’ve missed the boat all my life,” or “I’m not awake yet,” or “I have so much to do,” or whatever it is), and instantly, this thought creates the mirage of “me” and “my problem,” and that mirage can seem so real. But how real is it?
Right now, can you sense into the simple fact of being present, being aware—the simple fact of present experiencing, prior to any stories or interpretations of what it is? Who (or what) are you if you don’t refer to thought, memory, imagination or anything you have learned second-hand? Can you notice that the body, the thoughts, the self-image—everything we think of as the person called “me”—appears and disappears in this vast space of awareness? Does this open awaring presence have a name, a gender, an age, a race, a diagnosis, a political viewpoint, a financial status? Does it have any boundaries? Does it have any problems? Was it born? Will it die? Or is it always right here, right now?
What is it like, consciously being here not as a separate object in a world of other separate objects, but as this open, spacious, boundless, awaring presence being and beholding everything? In awareness, there are no boundaries, no divisions. And maybe there are no actual boundaries anywhere.
See if you can find an actual boundary between inside of you and outside, or between the body and the world, or between awareness and content. Really look and see. Is there any actual border? Isn’t it all an indivisible, seamless happening? Yes, there are relative boundaries (like the skin), legal boundaries, healthy psychological boundaries and so on, but the more closely we look at any boundary, the more we discover it can’t actually be found or pinned down.
Notice that whatever season, stage of life, or time of day is showing up, it is always Now. Now is timeless, ever-present. There is nothing before Now or after Now. There is only Now. Notice this obvious but often overlooked fact. You cannot leave Now. Even memories and future plans happen Now. When the past was happening, it was happening Now. When the future happens, it will happen Now.
Notice also that whatever location shows up, whether it is New York or Paris or the airport or the plane flying from one city to the other, every place and every step of every journey always appears Here in this unlocatable immediacy or present-ness where you always are. There is nothing outside of Here.
You can never leave Here-Now. Here-Now is what we all are prior to name and form. It is our True Self, our original face before our parents were born.
Here-Now, Awareness, Presence, Vast emptiness, nondual unicity—many names for this undeniable knowingness of being here now, and this undeniable present experiencing, prior to any labels, interpretations, formulations or stories about it. Simply the bare happening itself, ever-changing, and yet never moving away from this ever-present (dimensionless) still point, right here, right now.
The sounds of rain, the whooshing of traffic, the cheep-cheep-cheep of a bird, the sensations of breathing, tingling in the toes, the aroma of food cooking, the taste of tea, the indescribable red of the flowers on the table, the sudden flight of birds across the white sky, the sunlight on the wall, the thoughts and the awareness of the thoughts—all of this is effortlessly presenting itself.
Awareness and bare experiencing are here before, during and after thought names all of this and conceptually divides it up into awareness and content, subject and object, this and that, here and there, now and then, time and space. Reality is one, undivided whole. Yes, it appears infinitely diverse and varied, and yet, Here-Now (presence-awareness-consciousness) is the common factor in every different experience. Everything is absolutely unique, and in another way, everything is absolutely the same. Reality is full of paradoxes.
This nondual unicity includes names and words, stories and thoughts, dreams and imaginings. It includes the mapping of reality, the abstracting and formulating, the planning and remembering, the conceptualizing. Nothing is left out of reality. Nothing is not this. Nothing is outside of this.
This nondual unicity includes apparently being a person in the play of life, but it isn’t limited to that appearance or encapsulated inside that ever-changing form. And no form is separate or persisting—everything that appears is impermanent, changing, interdependent and indivisible from everything else. Unicity cannot be grasped as an object, for it is not an object. Nothing can stand outside of it. It is everything and no-thing, but never anything in particular. It is 100% present everywhere at all times. It is all there is. To paraphrase an ancient statement, unicity is like a sphere, the center of which is everywhere and the circumference of which is nowhere.
The words are pointers. But if we let go of all the words, THIS is still here, effortlessly being just as it is. The mind wants to “get it,” pin it down, understand it, box it up in a formula and possess it. But THIS cannot be gotten or pinned down or possessed, for that would be like the hand trying to grasp itself, or the eye trying to see itself, or the sword trying to cut itself.
Can you feel the freedom of having nothing to grasp, the freedom of groundlessness, the freedom of not knowing what any of this is or why it’s here, the freedom of not needing any answers, the freedom of simply being this inexplicable dance that includes beauty and horror, joy and sorrow, birth and death, relative and absolute, everything and nothing?
How is it to simply BE just as you are? What a relief! Nothing to attain. Nothing to eliminate. Nothing to become. Nowhere to go. Simply what is, as it is, which of course includes everything we call the life journey—growing up, getting an education, having a job, falling in love, raising a family, paying the bills, meditating, searching for enlightenment, feeling confused, arguing with your partner, getting sick, feeling better, doing the laundry, growing old.
Each moment in this journey is a miraculous gift, an expression of the whole. And part of what makes it beautiful is the impermanence and fragility of it, on the one hand, and the timeless eternity and indestructability of it, on the other. How ephemeral that whole journey is, how imaginary in a way. Where is yesterday or thirty years ago? Where is the child you once were? Where is the world of your childhood? Where is the last second? And yet, here you are, the eternal, infinite, unborn, undying, Here-Now.
Every night in deep sleep, and finally at the moment of death, everything perceivable, conceivable and experienceable disappears completely. Even the first bare sense of being present and aware is absent. What remains? Only this unfathomable darkness out of which everything emerges. In that darkness, no one is leftover to worry about whether I will wake up in the morning or be reincarnated or go to heaven after death. All such questions, and the one who is concerned about them, have blissfully dissolved.
Awakening is often spoken of as dying before you die, dying to the known, letting go of everything, holding on to nothing, falling into groundlessness, surrendering into the arms of God, which is only a metaphor for losing the illusion that you are ever actually separate from this unbroken wholeness.
Awakening is not a past event that happened once upon a time to me, making me now an awakened one. That is a delusion. Nor is it a future possibility that might come tomorrow, for tomorrow never arrives. That is only a fantasy. Awakening cannot be postponed. Awakening is now or never. Awakening is simply waking up to (recognizing, embodying, knowingly being) THIS that is utterly inescapable, completely obvious, and fully present right here, right now—the Original Face, the True Self, the One and Only behind all the masks. And here it is, showing up as traffic sounds…as snow falling…as a crumpled cigarette package…as the feeling of loneliness…as a toothache…as laughter…as the family dog…as a good movie…as deep sleep. Just this!
The questions posed throughout this article are not questions to answer with words or stories. The statements made are not ideas to be taken on (or argued against) as beliefs or as a philosophy. Rather, every statement and question in this article is meant to invite a kind of meditative inquiry, an open exploration or contemplation, and the direct discovery of what cannot be put into words. No words are ever quite right. Don’t get stuck on the words or in the map. Go where the words are pointing. And notice, this is precisely where you always already are: Here-Now.