Joan Tollifson- Quoted from her Facebook page
I used to imagine that someday I would arrive. I’d be fully enlightened. I’d never again bite my fingers, lose my temper, feel insulted, get upset, or experience dark moods. I’d be a wonderful, generous, kind, compassionate, loving person—all the time. I’d always be “present” and “aware,” never again “distracted” or “lost in thought.” Words of wisdom would flow ceaselessly from my mouth. In short, I’d be perfect. I would have arrived. I’d be okay at last. I could finally relax.
For a long time, I was very sure I hadn’t arrived yet. Eventually, I felt that I was close, very close—in fact, it seemed that sometimes I was fully there, in this place of boundless and selfless perfection and certainty, but then I’d find myself seemingly back in the Joan Show, flawed and imperfect, full of unenlightened emotional reactions and doubts, my mind wandering hither and thither. And again, I’d be convinced that “this isn’t it,” that “I’m not okay,” that “something more, better and different needs to happen.” And I imagined (and hoped) that one day “I” would stabilize permanently in the enlightened state. My “me” would be gone forever, never to return, and I would experience only a sense of open, spacious, boundless presence.
Eventually, I noticed something fishy about this whole set-up. Who exactly was this “I” who was trying to get rid of “me”? Were there two of us here? I also began to notice more and more clearly that this whole quest for Final Enlightenment was all about this phantom self, which I’d already discovered was unfindable and mirage-like, that wanted to improve itself by having no-self. Hmmm. Actually, this was pretty funny. I also noticed this search was also all about a “there” that never arrived (or never stayed put if it did seem to arrive) because, in fact, there was always only Here.
And while Here-Now is ever-present, the way it appears is ever-changing. It became clear that no experience lasts forever, and that any SENSE or EXPERIENCE of open spaciousness with no self-center was only another passing experience, one which I was referencing as “there” or “enlightenment.” But whatever momentary form present experiencing takes, it is always empty of any substantial or abiding shape, and it is always simply this present immediacy, which can never really be pinned down.
It began to dawn that no experience is more or less “THIS” (the Holy Reality, the One and Only) than any other experience, that there is no finish-line other than Here and Now, and that however far I appear to travel, I never depart from this one bottomless moment. There is no “there” outside of this, and there is no “me” apart from this present aliveness who could ever lose or attain it. The whole quest for Final Enlightenment was like a wave searching for and hoping to find and then finally stabilize as the ocean.
I also spent many years trying to be someone else—trying to be Ramana or Eckhart Tolle or Nisargadatta or Toni Packer or Tony Parsons or whoever else I thought was profoundly awake and enlightened and in some way vastly superior to me. I compared myself to these others and inevitably found myself defective and lacking. They seemed to have something that I didn’t, or else they had apparently lost something that I still had.
But eventually, I came to see that in this play of life, I’m being called upon to play Joan Tollifson, not Nisargadatta or Mother Teresa or anyone else, and at the same time, “Joan Tollifson” is no-thing that can be pinned down or separated out, and actually, “I” am the whole show and all the characters and the whole universe. Nothing was ever actually missing or out of place, and none of it was personal. It no longer mattered if someone else apparently had less frequent me-thoughts or less me-identity or less delusion than I apparently did—we were all indivisible expressions of one undivided whole, like waves in the ocean.
It didn’t matter anymore what the present moment looked like or how it felt. Of course, there were still preferences, desires, aversions, disappointments, and so on, and there was still a natural desire to wake up from suffering, but all of this was included, and none of it had any actual substance or persisting form. There is no final anything. There is ONLY this, even if it sometimes seems otherwise.
And then, there was that old nagging question: What IS this? Was “THIS” mind or matter, or what exactly was it? It seemed that “I” needed to find the “right” answer to this perplexing question. After all, “I” didn’t want to be clueless or fooled, especially when so many others seemed absolutely certain that they had The Right Answer. Why did I seem to feel doubtful and uncertain?
But wait a minute—this was only that same old mirage of “me” seemingly apart from “THIS” trying to grasp “it” in order to secure some kind of advantage (control, security, prestige, certainty) for “me.” The question itself (What is this?) doesn’t really make any sense. That separation been subject and object is always illusory, and THIS is not an object that is “out there” somewhere, and whatever this whole happening is, it is totally impossible to step outside of it to pin it down or figure it out. All there is, is present experiencing, whatever we call it. And beyond that, we are clueless. And this isn’t really a problem.
Life itself—present experiencing—is utterly obvious and unavoidable, yet totally inconceivable and ungraspable. It is showing up in infinitely different ways, in multiple fractal or holographic dimensions, in countless shapes and colors and textures. It includes sensing and imagining and thinking and perceiving, day-dreaming and mindfulness, being born and dying, the movies of waking life and the germinal emptiness of deep sleep—the whole seamless and inseparable happening with no inside or outside, no beginning or end. Just this, as it is.
Perfection is always already here, but this is not the perfection we imagined. This is the perfection that includes everything, even apparent imperfection, even feeling separate and being lost in The Story of Me with all its endlessly changing twists and turns. This all-embracing and all-inclusive perfection could be called unconditional love: it has room for everything to be just as it is, and it sees only itself everywhere. It recognizes that everything that appears is a kind of evanescent dream-like kaleidoscopic Rorschach blot vanishing as soon as it arrives.
That doesn’t make it something “unreal” to ignore or transcend. Rather, it opens the possibility of enjoying and BEING it in a whole new and more playful way.
And it opens the possibility of holding our interpretations of what’s showing up much more loosely and tentatively. And although the interpretations are always questionable, the living actuality requires no belief at all. It simply can’t be grasped. But neither can it be avoided. In short, this is it, just exactly as it is.