Non-duality, zen, advaita, meditation, enlightenment, awakening — what's it all about?
It is the dissolution of every answer to that question. Waking up now to the immediacy of pure sensory experiencing — the cheep-cheep of the bird, the whoosh-whoosh of the traffic, colors and shapes, smells and tastes, ever-changing sensations in the body — breathing, heart-beating, tingling — and the open awareness beholding it all.
If we put aside everything that can be doubted right now, what remains? The knowingness of being here and the bare actuality of present experiencing are impossible to doubt. What can be doubted and argued about are all the ideas, interpretations, formulations and explanations of this living reality — the abstract maps drawn by conceptual thought — the stories and beliefs about it.
Can we find an actual boundary in our direct experience where "inside of me" turns into "outside of me"? Or is the boundary of an idea or a mental image, like the line on a map between two countries? What do we find if we look inside for the thinker-chooser-experiencer that we've learned to think of as "me," the separate self? Do we find an actual entity, or do we find only ever-changing thoughts, memories, sensations and mental images? What is seeing all of this? Is that perceivable? Does that have a shape, a size, an age, a gender, a nationality, a life situation, a boundary? Is it possible that what everyone refers to as “I” is the same unconditioned, unborn, boundless awareness — this all-inclusive, ever-present here/now, which we never actually leave?
Awakening is a simple shift of attention from the thought-story-belief in encapsulation, separation and limitation to the boundless and seamless wholeness in which all the thoughts and stories appear and disappear. It is a shift from identifying exclusively as “me” (the person) to recognizing that “I” am actually the impersonal, unbound awareness in which the person appears and disappears.
Pain is an unavoidable part of life, but suffering can fall away. Suffering is what we do with pain and painful circumstances — thoughts and beliefs, false ideas of limitation and identity, ways we resist what is and seek happiness where it cannot be found. Is it possible to choose freedom over suffering? The separate self that we think is making choices is actually a powerless mirage, but is there another possibility? When the separate self is seen through, when consciousness dissolves into the awareness that is beholding this entire drama, does any suffering remain?
The deep longing of the heart will not be satisfied by intellectual explanations, beliefs or philosophies. What we long for is not "out there" somewhere. It is right here at the very core of our being. This vastness, this no-thing-ness, this openness, has never been absent, although it may have been overlooked. It is not nothing in a nihilistic sense. It is vibrantly alive, luminous, full of energy. The pathless path or direct path is simply seeing through delusion, relaxing the grasping mind, opening the heart and dissolving into the groundlessness, the aliveness, the sacredness that is right here, right now.
Joan Tollifson is a writer and teacher who lives in Ashland and offers monthly meetings here. She has roots in both Advaita and Buddhism, but does not identify with any particular tradition. Her main teacher was Toni Packer, a former Zen teacher who left the tradition behind to work in a simpler and more open way. She is the author of "Bare-Bones Meditation: Waking Up from the Story of My Life" (1996), "Awake in the Heartland: The Ecstasy of What Is" (2003), "Painting the Sidewalk with Water: Talks and Dialogs about Nonduality" (2010), and "Nothing to Grasp" (2012). For more, go to www.joantollifson.com.