Joan Tollifson: It’s Hopeless: Talk and Dialog
Selection from Painting the Sidewalk with Water
You are already awake. And by you I don’t mean the imaginary separate individual. I mean this awake being that’s here right now – the boundless unicity that includes everything, everything ! The sunlight, the birds, the leaves, the traffic, the thoughts, the acid indigestion. Everything is the Holy Reality. There’s no possibility of being separate from this boundless unicity or losing it or not having it yet, because there’s no one apart from it to get it or lose it or find it or have it. The thought, “I’m not quite there yet,” is only a thought. And that thought and the melodrama it creates are themselves nothing but unicity.
We only have to turn on the television to discover that consciousness loves playing. It enjoys melodramas, horror shows, crime dramas, happy love stories, tragic love stories, comedies, adventure stories, car chases, wars – and it also enjoys turning off the television. It enjoys silence. It enjoys waking up from stories. It enjoys playing hide and seek. It enjoys finding and being found, and then hiding again, and again being found. It enjoys going to sleep; it enjoys waking up. It enjoys the play of birth and death, creation and destruction, appearing and disappearing, expanding and contracting.
Sometimes there’s clear, sunny weather – the wonderful feeling of joy and aliveness where everything is glowing and sparkling and bright and beautiful – and then other times the experience is one of flatness, agitation or upset – cloudy, stormy, overcast weather. And each of these sensations, thoughts and experiences is nothing but unicity. Even the thought, “This can’t be it,” is it.
There’s nothing to find. There’s only this [Joan gestures to indicate everything].
There’s no you that has to fall away or be dissolved. There are different patterns of energy that we call Joan or Ted or chair or rug or tree. But there’s no solid thing there, there’s no solid self inside these ever-changing patterns, there’s no separate, persisting object anywhere. It’s all one energy, one seamless flux.
There are preferences – we’d rather eat ice cream than cockroaches, we’d rather see peace on earth than the holocaust (or so we like to believe). Those preferences are also this same seamless flux appearing as cockroaches, as ice cream, as the holocaust, as preferences. If the mind is busy saying, “Yes, but… What if? Yes, but wait…What about…?” – that, too, is the same energy, questioning itself, exploring itself, discovering itself, unfolding and enfolding itself, forming and informing itself, tricking itself, enjoying itself. This entire appearance that we call “the world” or “the universe” has no substance. Try to find the thought that you had five seconds ago – it’s completely gone. Vanished. Earlier this morning is completely gone. Everything about it is gone. You might think that the kitchen table where you had your morning coffee is still there, but it is not the same table or the same kitchen or the same you from one instant to the next. It’s all a disappearing subatomic dance, a display in consciousness. Does “your kitchen” even exist when no one is conscious of it? Your whole life up until this second [Joan snaps her fingers repeatedly] is completely gone! Vanished. How real was it?
What is real Here / Now? This is a wonderful inquiry.
Everything is happening effortlessly on its own. The sunlight is happening, the seeing is happening, the hearing is happening, breathing is happening, movements of the hands are happening, these words are happening. And all of it is nothing at all. Every night in deep sleep, and actually, second by second, it all vanishes completely into thin air.
Participant: I find a restlessness with no particular content – it doesn’t want anything, but there is a restlessness that doesn’t want to stay there.
Joan: Stay where?
P: Here. With what is.
J: But there’s no way to leave here. What you’re calling “restlessness” is actually some mix of ever-changing neurochemistry, thoughts and sensations that gets labeled “restlessness,” and the label already has a judgmental, pejorative feel to it. And then a thought (posing as “me”) pops up and takes ownership of the restlessness (“This is my restlessness, my problem.”). That thought “takes delivery” as Nisargadatta used to say, it takes this “restlessness” personally. And that labeling and taking delivery and taking-it-personally also happens by itself, impersonally! And then there’s more thinking – comparing, contrasting, judging, strategizing: “This restlessness is not enlightened behavior…it feels terrible…I want that other experience I was having before, that blissful feeling of empty space – that was spiritual. I have to get rid of this restlessness because it’s taking me away from ‘here,’ where I’m supposed to be.” It’s all thinking, which comes out of infinite causes and conditions, and the whole picture it paints is completely insubstantial. There’s no “you” to do anything about any of this. It’s truly hopeless, which is bad news only to the mind that wants to do something about it. The problem is completely imaginary.
P: When restlessness arises, would you say to address it by just letting it –
J: Just see that right now the mind is looking for a strategy. There’s the assumption that this restlessness is a problem and we have to find a way to deal with it.
P: It’s hopeless! I am going to write that on the wall in big letters. It’s hopeless. That’s everything! If I would just stay with that.
J: But see, there it is again – the thought, “If I would just stay with that I’d be okay. I’m going to write it on the wall in big letters so then maybe I’ll remember that.” And even this strategizing is it, there is no escape from unicity.
Another P: What does it mean, “It’s hopeless?”
J: I mean that there’s no one who can do anything about this waking dream. There’s the thought that I want to get to someplace that I’ve heard about, imagined, or been to before, and there’s a strategy for how to get there. There’s a thought that, “If I just try hard enough, I can do it.” That’s hope. But the one who wants to do that is a mirage and the destination is imaginary. Hopelessness is only bad news if you imagine that something is missing or that something needs to be eliminated. Hope is all about wanting something other than what is. Hope is rooted in the notion that some things are “it” and some things are “not it.” Hope is a mirage chasing a mirage. Don’t take my word for it, but look and see.
P: I always have trouble with seeing that there’s just one whole and all of us individually don’t exist.
J: Well, there are different patterns here, different colors and shapes, different sensations. There’s no denying that. But what doesn’t exist is the solidity, autonomy, continuity and separateness of apparent forms. That is a mirage-like appearance created by conceptual thought. You can’t see the whole. Seeing can’t see itself anymore than the eye can see itself. Nonduality or unicity doesn’t mean same-ness. It means no separation, no autonomous parts. There is clearly diversity and variation here, but it’s one seamless whole. We’ve learned to draw boundary lines, to see and distinguish separate objects, and we’ve learned to identify one of those conceptualized objects as “me.” And then we think we’re inside that object looking out. But there’s a seeing that is bigger than all the objects. Awareness contains and beholds all the objects including “me,” doesn’t it? And in deep sleep, every object vanishes. Do the dream objects really exist outside of the dream? The senseless, objectless presence that remains in deep sleep is here now. It cannot be seen or known or possessed. It appears as people and trees and pencil sharpeners and bombs and flowers and thoughts and words and sensations and distant galaxies and black holes. This wholeness or emptiness is all there is. Nothing is separate from this.
Every object we can name is a mental concept, an abstraction, a reification of what is actually seamless flux. The boundary lines that apparently divide “me” from “you” are quite fluid and porous and arbitrary and notional if you look closely.
Objects (not just tables and chairs, but thoughts and emotions and “you” and “me” and “my mind” and “your mind”) don’t actually have the solidity that the conceptualizing mind gives to them. This is obvious when we look closely. Only in thinking about them do they seem to persist as solid, enduring, separate, independent things. But actually, you’re not the same person you were ten years ago or even ten seconds ago. Your chemistry has changed, your cells have changed, your blood has moved around, your thoughts have changed. And “your mind” is full of thoughts and ideas from “other minds,” and all of us in this room are breathing in and out, exchanging air and chemicals and subatomic particles and thoughts and vibrations of one kind or another. Where are the boundaries?
Relatively speaking, we can say we exist as separate individuals – that’s how it appears (if you don’t look too closely). And it’s not like that appearance is going to vanish and we’re going to forget our names and see some kind of psychedelic monicolor formless mush instead. No. But do you ever actually find anything apart from everything else that it is not? Does Joan ever exist or appear separately from everything that is not-Joan? Isn’t she defined and made visible only by contrast to everything else that she supposedly is not, and isn’t she actually, in fact, made up of everything else – air, water, space? Isn’t everything appearing here all together at once as one whole indivisible picture? If you look closely, where does inside or outside begin and end? Can you actually find this boundary line? Right now, in your actual direct experience, is my voice inside of you or outside of you?
P: But I can move my arm and not your arm. I can feel the headache in my head, but not the headache in your head.
J: “My arm,” “your arm,” “my head,” and “your head,” are conceptual ideas. The actual experience is of shapes, colors, movements and sensations appearing right here. No distance or separation at all. Right? This moving of my arm is something that happens here, but if we hadn’t learned to describe this happening as, “I move my arm,” then would it still seem that some phantom “I” is initiating it? I can’t move or feel the blood cells in my legs, and yet I’ve still learned to think of them as “my blood cells,” in “my legs.” So why should the fact that I can’t move your arm or feel your headache mean that your arm or your head is any less “me” than my blood cells? See, it’s all thinking, isn’t it?
The way we describe things, and think about them, and conceptualize them gets overlaid on top of the actual direct experience. It’s very, very subtle. These conceptual overlays are so familiar, so deeply conditioned, so ubiquitous, that it’s quite difficult to even realize we’re conceptualizing. And of course, we’re not conceptualizing – conceptualizing is happening. Again, the language creates confusion.
So of course, we’re not going to stop seeing what we call “you” and “me,” or stop being able to distinguish one from the other, or start imagining that “I” can move “your” arm. But can it be realized that “you” and “me” are images and abstractions that appear here in this vast undivided wholeness that has no owner and no location?
Don’t take this on belief, but if it is of interest, investigate it, not with analytical thought, but with awareness. Look deeply. Look carefully. See for yourself. It’s really quite effortless and simple. Simply be aware of your actual experience right now before you think about it. I’m not talking about anything mystical. This is obvious, right in front of your nose (so to speak), impossible to miss. Everything is appearing right here all at once, seamlessly. Everything is exactly the way it is and could not be otherwise in this moment.
P:(to the other participant who was having trouble seeing that everything is One) I found that by staying with my doubt something totally shifted and opened up for me. You stay with your doubt until you break through.
J: I don’t think she has to do anything. Nothing needs to be changed in order to be what you are. This is unicity right now. Experiences come and go. Unicity is present regardless of what shape experience is taking. There is nothing you need to do, nothing you need to break through, nothing you need to achieve or get beyond. You are the perfect expression of totality exactly as you are right now.
Participant who was offering advice: You’re right. Thank you. It’s amazing – that subtlety.
J: Everything is beautiful just exactly the way it is. Everything is the perfect expression, the only possible expression at this moment. It could not be otherwise. And all of it is empty of substance. It has no objective or inherent reality. It’s a dream-like appearance. It has no existence outside the dream.
P: How do you know that? How do we know our perceptions are accurate? How can we know things are as we think them to be?
J: Nothing is the way we think it is! And what do we mean by wondering if our perceptions are “accurate”? We assume that there’s some separate and substantial objective reality “out there” that we’re standing apart from and perceiving either correctly or incorrectly. That’s how we imagine and think of it. But our actual experience is simply undivided perceiving . Each of us apparently sees a totally unique world. No two are identical. And yet, like a hologram or the jewels in Indra’s Net, every part contains the whole. Your world contains me, and my world contains you. So when I point to the undeniable fact of pure perceiving, I don’t mean that the content of what is perceived matches some external objective reality, or that any kind of story or interpretation overlaid on top of that pure perception is true. I’m pointing to the undeniable fact of perceiving. That is undeniable, regardless of whether we think what is being perceived is a dream or material reality or a brain creation – those are all interpretations after the fact, and they can each be doubted – but the perceiving itself cannot be doubted. This present appearance, as it appears, cannot be doubted – the simple, bare fact of it, as it is.
All the words can do is try to undermine or demolish anything we think is true, any place where the mind is trying to land or get a grip. The words point to what is beyond words.
P: When things are speedy, I get more of a sense that I’ve lost it than when things are quiet. When things are speeding along and I’m resisting the way it is, that’s when I seem to get into more trouble.
J: All of that is what is , the speeding along, the so-called resisting, the so-called trouble, the quiet that comes after the trouble. It all appears Here / Now. One fluid, seamless whole.
Another P: With this approach there’s no room for judgment.
J: There is room for judgment, actually. There’s room for everything. [laughter]
P: There seems to be a coming back, though, a remembering.
J: Well, there are different experiences that appear. Sometimes there’s the experience of speeding and resisting and being angry and upset and sometimes there’s the experience of spacious, open, empty, quiet. And then there’s the thought that one experience is “it” and the other experience is “not it.” And thought claims that there’s “me” who is going back and forth between them, “me” who has to remember to come back to the “spiritually correct” experience and who hopes to someday be fully stabilized there, forever rid of the “bad” experience. But it’s truly hopeless. [laughter] There’s no one having any of these experiences. And no experience is permanent.
P: Sometimes that cuts it; sometimes it doesn’t.
J: What exactly is there to cut?
P: A resistance.
J: Is there resistance right now?
P: A little probably. Right then there wasn’t but then it started again. There was a millisecond of no resistance.
J: Well, if you work really hard, you may be able to expand that millisecond into a longer period of time. [laughter] This is it! This . Even the mind churning and resisting is nothing but unicity appearing as churning and resisting.
P: Is there any way to get there from here? There isn’t, is there? The only way is here. That’s the sense I get reading Krishnamurti and others, that there’s no way to get there from here.
J: There’s no there . Any there is in the mind. There’s only here. There’s only this. So any there that you are trying to get to, or any idea of “here” that you’re trying to get to in the future is hopeless, because it doesn’t exist and the one who would go there doesn’t exist. There’s always only this. It’s inescapable. You can’t not be Here / Now.
P: I think I can. [laughter]
J: That thinking appears Here / Now. It’s only a thought. See the absurdity of the story it tells – that somehow there would be this one little stray piece, Bob Jones, who somehow broke off from the totality.
Another P: As soon as I see “this is it,” my mind says, “What’s next?” I want to get away from this.
J: That’s part of what the mind does, it asks, “What’s next?” It plans and organizes and wonders, “What’s next?” That’s its job. It’s a survival function. And that movement of thought is the same emptiness, the same wholeness, the beingness. If there is an idea that what we are looking for is a place where the thought, “What’s next?” would never again arise, that’s a setup for disappointment and frustration. That’s giving that thought more power and weight than it actually has, as if that thought (“What’s next?”) is something alien and terrible that must be banished, something that’s not allowed to be. But if it pops up, then obviously it is allowed to be. It’s here! And then instantly, it’s over! Gone! Vanished! So if there’s a thought, “What’s next?” – so what? It’s not like the goal is to be sitting down motionlessly in a state of thoughtless emptiness for the rest of your life.
P: My mind says that the emptiness movie should always be playing in the background of whatever form is appearing. Would you care to demolish that?
J: “The emptiness movie should always be playing in the background of whatever form is appearing.” That sounds like a complicated, effortful thing to work on.
P: Always to remember emptiness.
J: Emptiness is inescapable. There’s no need to remember it. Any “emptiness” you can remember is only another object. This right here now is emptiness. Emptiness is all there ever is. Emptiness is not some special experience or special state that has to be remembered and then played in the background of every other experience. Every experience is emptiness. These words are emptiness. You are emptiness. There is only emptiness.
P: I don’t see that right now. The metaphor I use is figure and ground. I am all caught up with something going on and then I remember –
J: But there’s no “you” apart from “the ground” who is all caught up in “the figure” and has to get back to “the ground.” Those are all just concepts. It may have been a helpful conceptualization at one moment, a helpful map, but now it’s become a burden.
Let’s try a different map. You are the ground. The groundless ground. There’s only the ground, appearing as all the figures. The ground is inescapable. There’s nothing separate from the ground that has to achieve the ground. The ground is not a special experience that needs to be remembered and maintained. This present moment is the ground. Even the attempt to “get the ground to play in the background” is itself the ground, doing this funny little dance, playing tricks on itself. That’s a story, of course. Don’t take it too literally. The point is, the ground is not a separate something . It’s not a state or an experience. It’s not “out there” apart from you. The ground is all there is. You are That.
Another P: It seems that meditation brings about a sense of peace.
J: Meditation may bring about a sense of peace. It is also possible to meditate and get agitated. And it’s possible to be in a traffic jam or at the office and suddenly have that experience of peace that you might be associating with meditation, which is really simply a waking up from the dream world of thought into the simplicity of presence. But yes, there may be a relationship between meditation and peace or insight or clarity. But true peace is not actually the result of a cause. It is the natural state, the ever-present groundless ground of being, and maybe what meditation helps with sometimes is the dissolving of the cloud cover that makes it seem otherwise. But that dissolving can happen in or out of meditation, and even the clouds are nothing other than boundlessness showing up as clouds.
There may be a preferencing for an experience of peace over an experience of agitation, and a belief that the cloud cover is something alien that needs to be banished. There is nothing wrong with sitting down and meditating if you enjoy meditating, and if it seemingly brings about a certain calmness in the organism, or a certain insight into the nature of reality, that’s lovely. But the idea that calmness is the true spiritual state and that agitation or restlessness is unspiritual and off the track – and that there’s “me” who has fallen off the track – and if only “I” would be good and meditate more often, then “I” could be always calm and spiritual and on track – all of that is agitation! Which is perfectly fine. Nothing wrong with agitation. It’s an aspect of what is.
P: This approach of awareness results in peace and calm—
J: I’m not talking about an approach of “being aware” in order to get results in the future. I’m saying that awareness is the very substance of Here / Now, and that there is only this one eternal present moment. It is inescapable. You can’t achieve it because it is all there is. And in this one present moment, many things appear including both calmness and agitation. Certain activities appear to bring about calm in the story of cause and effect, and certain other activities appear to bring about agitation, but this kind of relative cause and effect relationship, if you look closely, is a conceptual overlay imposed after the fact. Reality itself is undivided. You can’t really isolate things out that way except conceptually.
P: It’s like putting one foot in front of the other, it just happens.
J: One foot automatically goes in front of the other, yes. It’s not like you have to make that happen – there’s no “you” to do that. It may seem that you have to do it if you’re in physical therapy after a stroke re-learning the art of walking, or if you’re a toddler learning it for the first time, but each action in this learning process happens effortlessly out of the whole universe. And it’s all a momentary scene in a movie or a dream. It has no substance, no continuity, except in the story.
P: How can you say that seeing is always happening? When you are caught up in an emotion, you’re not seeing it, right? Can there be different levels of seeing?
J: If there weren’t the seeing of what you are calling “caught-up-ness” as it was happening, it couldn’t even be reported afterwards. Without awareness, it wouldn’t even register at all.
P: But before that seeing one is caught up.
J: In that moment, caughtupness is what is appearing in awareness. Without awareness, it couldn’t appear at all. But, I know what you mean – there is that moment of waking up from some story or train of thought, realizing it’s a mental movie, seeing the story as a story, recognizing it as nothing more than thought and imagination, no longer taking it seriously, no longer being entranced by it. You’re using the word “seeing” to point to that moment of seeing through the illusion and waking up from the entrancement, right? But that shift, that waking up happens on its own. No one does it. There is no “you” who wakes up. There’s simply a shift in attention, waking up from a dream. It happens. A split second later, the thinking mind takes credit (“I woke up”), and begins strategizing about how to keep this expanded state of consciousness and repeat this waking up. The mind wants to divide everything up (good experience, bad experience) and take it all personally (my attention, my inattention), but it’s truly impersonal and undivided. And all of it, everything we can imagine and describe and remember and talk about, everything perceivable and conceivable, all the shifts and all the changes, all the awakenings and all the entrancements, all of it appears in awareness, which is another word for Here / Now. Without awareness, nothing can appear.
First P: What I tend to have to do is keep saying, “Just this, just this, just this, just this.” It would be good to have a tape recording in the background saying that.
J: That sounds really good. Maybe you could wear a little implanted headphone. [laughter]
P: It seems like I need that.
J: In order not to fall from grace?
P: Yes. [laughter] This is probably one of the steps to solving the illusory problem.
J: It is, because there is no “you” to fall and no where to fall. There’s only Here / Now.
P: I do need that.
J: The thought, “just this” may keep arising. The “I” that thinks it’s doing that is illusory.
P: Then what’s doing that?
J: What’s doing everything?
P: It seems like it’s a process, a short process, but a process.
J: It seems like a process in the memory, when the thinking mind constructs a story about it after the fact. What’s actually happening though, is that there is some sort of sensation going on that we call agitation, and then a thought arises, “Just this.” And then, as you say, sometimes that thought “works” and what arises next is a spacious calm feeling, and sometimes it “doesn’t work” and then there’s still the agitation. And then there may be another thought, “Damn, it’s not working. I’ll try again. JUST THIS!”
And then there’s even more agitation! And then at some point, the agitation is gone, maybe because there was some kind of waking up, seeing the agitation as just a bunch of thoughts, or maybe because your neurochemistry and hormone balance shifted, or maybe because you suddenly looked out the window and saw a beautiful bird fly past, but somehow, that shift happens, and then there’s an experience of calm for a moment, feeling the breathing and hearing the traffic or the birds without thinking about anything.
And then maybe the thought, “Oh, this is it! This is presence-awareness. This is emptiness. This is the ground. This is what I have to maintain. I have to hold onto this. I have to keep the ground behind the figure!” And immediately thought is off and running, wondering, “Have I really got the ground? Is this really it? How can I be sure? What is the ground anyway?” And then after awhile there is a noticing of agitation again, and again the thought pops up, “Just this!”
And in all of this, there’s an underlying thought-story that, “ I am doing all this. I am the one who keeps slipping into agitation. I am the one who has to keep reminding myself to be aware. I am the one who has to get the ground behind the figure. I am the one who has to make the waking up happen. I am the one who has to manage and control all of this, and I could botch it and ruin my whole life. And it appears that I am botching it some of the time. I am the one who is failing, the one who is unenlightened. But I have hope that if I keep trying, it will get better. Someday, I will be permanently established as the ground.”
P: You have the movie right. [laughs]
J: So it’s a movie and where is it all coming from? All the movies, all the thoughts, all the actions, all the trees, the leaves, the sun, the wind—
P: I want to turn off that movie.
J: Good luck. [laughter] Groundlessness has no problem with that movie. Only the phantom “me” in the movie has a problem with the movie. The movie character wants to escape from the movie. It’s another scene in the movie. Can you see the joke? There is nothing that needs to be liberated. To see that is liberation. And if it is not seen, then maybe there is agitation and drama. So what? It’s nothing but sensations and thoughts, all of it a momentary dream-like appearance, a scene in a movie, and then it’s over. The ground is always here, movie or no movie.
P: Social interaction can be distracting. Right away it sets up questions of who I am, who am I trying to impress.
J: When you say distracting, distracting from what?
Another P: From the ground. [laughter]
P: That structure builds up, though, and that is illusory.
J: Yes, it is illusory. It has no reality. Look closely at it, and nothing is there.
P: But I lose awareness of the present moment and become more and more obsessed with ego and thought and interrelationships.
J: Yes, and it’s very useful to see that, but then see that you can’t get any closer to Here / Now than you always already are. You are Here / Now. Everything appears Here / Now, including this so-called obsession with ego. Everything that appears disappears instantly, every moment. There’s no “you” doing any of it. There are simply sensations and thoughts, and all of it is unicity. Unicity is all there is.
P: Right, and that’s okay unless there’s a lot of contraction.
J: What’s wrong with contraction? It’s natural. It’s part of organic life. “Okay” and “not okay” are evaluations after the fact. You used the word “distraction,” and it’s interesting how we think of something as a “distraction.” If you have the idea that you want to be in a state of complete quiet, for example, and all of a sudden the lawn maintenance crew arrives and turns on their giant weed whackers and leaf blowers, then the mind says, “This is a distraction and it’s upsetting me.” And it is definitely a different and less pleasant neurological experience, but the idea that it’s a distraction comes from this underlying picture of how I want this moment to be and now it’s deviated. Something is getting in the way of my fantasy.
P: And then that idea of it being a distraction becomes more of a distraction than the sound. Sometimes I feel I will become really upset and I start worrying about that.
J: There are different experiences. There was calm and then there’s upset. That’s part of being alive; that’s part of organic life.
P: But it shouldn’t be this way.
J: Ohhhhhhhhhhh… [laughter]
Another P: But how do you know it should be this way? Because it is?
J: I am not saying it should be this way, but rather, it is this way.
P: Tomorrow I could experience some real fear. Where do I go with that?
J: First of all, right now, it’s a total fantasy. But if that happens, then it will be happening now. It will simply be what is appearing now, and you’ll see how it unfolds.
P: But who wants that?
J: Nobody. I would rather feel peace than fear, just as I would rather eat ice cream than cockroaches, but the fact of the matter is that sometimes I do feel intense unpleasant emotions of one kind of another.
P: I could suggest some techniques.
J: I’m sure everyone in this room already has a repertoire of things to do. And it’s all happening by itself, including using techniques or not using techniques. There is no one who can control this movie of waking life and there’s nothing inherently wrong with any of it. It may be painful or uncomfortable. Fear or anxiety may even lead to the death of this organism if it gets really bad, but even that is simply what’s happening. And truly, nothing is happening. What we truly are is deathless and unborn, beginningless and endless, infinite and ever-present.
P: The fear will eventually go away.
J: And you actually have no choice in the matter. If the impulse arises to apply one of your techniques, then that will happen. And if the impulse arises to do nothing, then the techniques won’t be used.
But notice how the mind is looking for a strategy, a way to deal with this thing that might happen tomorrow morning. It’s hopeless. When I say it’s hopeless, I don’t mean to say that this fear is going to be here for the rest of your life. I mean that there’s nobody apart from it to do anything about it. No one is in control of what appears.
And it only seems to matter within the context of the appearance. Hopelessness is actually very liberating. If we think, “I wish there were hope but, Oh God, there isn’t,” that’s despair, but to actually see that there’s no hope, that there’s no need for hope, that the ground is all there is, that there’s no way that you could ever lose it because you are it, that is very liberating.
P: But it is better to look at the disturbance rather than to look away from it, and that is hard because pain is painful.
J: There is no “you” to control what response to a disturbance happens. Sometimes looking at it and being completely open to it happens, and sometimes looking away and resisting it happens. There’s no you who can choose one or the other. It’s true that if the urge to open up to it arises, then the suffering may very well dissipate in that open acceptance, as opposed to what may happen if the urge to escape arises and you rush in and start eating lots of comfort food or drinking scotch. Then chances are you will experience indigestion and a hangover and a lot of other suffering. But there is no you who can manufacture one or the other of those experiences. And even the overeating and the hangover and the indigestion is all equally the ground. It is simply a different pattern of energy, a different appearance, a different shape, a different sensation. It’s less desirable to the mind in the same way that we prefer ice cream over cockroaches. We prefer peace over agitation. Although, interestingly enough, we do seem to have some interest in agitation. Hang around in peace long enough and the mind wants to turn on some crime drama or watch the News and experience a bit of agitation.
P: I want to be open to what’s here and not escaping from it.
J: Right now, what is arising is that thought, “I want to be open to what’s here and not escaping from it.” But tonight, a very different impulse and train of thought may arise. I find that sometimes I want to be open and sometimes I want to escape and close down, and I find no one at the helm inside of me who can choose what I want or what action will follow from that wanting. Whatever has the most energy in any given moment is what wins out in that moment. Every happening, opening or closing, is equally the ground, and all of it is a dream-like appearance. So I find that I’m not really that concerned any more with whether I am opening up or closing down. Yes, there is an interest in opening up that can arise here, and if the closing down is taking forms that feel harmful, a concern may arise and perhaps an interest in exploring the situation and uncovering what’s going on. But all of that comes unbidden.
Brain experiments show that the thought that appears to choose or intend an action occurs a split-second after the action has already been initiated in the body. “I’m going to bring my attention to the present moment” is an after-thought, describing what is already happening, initiated by no one, or we could say, initiated by the whole universe.
For a long time I was very focused on trying to “be present” and “open up fully” to the bodily sensations of fear and anger, and I was trying very hard to see the thoughts as thoughts and come back to the present moment and all of that. And that movement from thoughts to present moment awareness still happens, but without it being a big deal either way. It happens by itself. Actually, it always did. But it’s not seen anymore as this burdensome task that “I” must do to be a spiritual success. That overlay is gone. Opening up happens or it doesn’t. And I notice that actually awareness is present either way. Everything perceivable and conceivable happens in awareness including thoughts and so-called distractions. What is prior to everything perceivable and conceivable is here now, inescapable and impossible to lose.
P: So how do you get there from here?
J: By seeing how that question is creating the imaginary problem it is pretending to solve. By recognizing that you can’t ever step out of Here / Now. Let this moment be exactly as it is. Notice that you have no choice. It is as it is. Always. Even this absurd and hopeless search for “there” is nothing but thoughts and sensations appearing Here / Now. It’s just a passing show, gone in an instant. It has no owner.
Our time is almost up. So have we gotten anywhere? Have we improved? Are we closer to unicity now than we were before? Have we slipped further away? [laughter] There’s simply this, the rummmmmmm of that truck. That’s the Holy Reality, the Absolute Truth, no-thing at all. rummmmmmm.
— copyright Joan Tollifson 2010 —
This chapter is excerpted from Painting the Sidewalk with Water: Talks and Dialogs about Nonduality, published by Non-duality Press, and is from a talk and dialog held in Chicago.
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