Thursday, November 17, 2016

Joan Tollifson - The key...

artist unknown


If we truly want to end suffering and be liberated on the spot, at a certain point, like Jesus on the cross, we must move from our self-centered drama and the seductive storyline of “Why have you forsaken me?” to the open surrender of “Thy will be done.” That shift is the key to the resurrection and the light, metaphorically speaking. Holding on to anger, to resentment, to bitterness, to being right, to despair or self-pity, or to needing any particular outcome—that is suffering. (And if anyone had real justifications for holding onto stories of abandonment or mistreatment, Jesus certainly did!).

The key to being liberated on the spot is two-fold. First, it involves a shift of attention—a shift out of entanglement in and identification with the thought-stream—and into open awareness or presence—a shift from thinking to sensing and awaring. And secondly, it involves a surrender or opening of the whole bodymind, a dissolving of the felt-sense of separation, encapsulation and duality, a melting into the spacious immediacy of undivided, boundless awareness, a felt-realization that everything is seamless, undivided, luminous and inseparable. And let me stress, this is actually the natural state that is already present, although it may be clouded over and unnoticed, but I’m not pointing here to some exotic psychedelic experience that comes and goes. Rather, this is a noticing and a realization of what doesn't come and go, what is ever-present regardless of the experience that is arising.

When I speak of shifting from thinking to awaring, I’m not saying that all thinking must end. Functional and creative thinking will continue intermittently as needed, and even a certain degree of harmless mental gum chewing may happen at times without causing any real problem. What we’re waking up from or shifting out of is the ceaseless mental noise and the kind of useless, habitual, obsessive, compulsive, me-centered thinking that gives rise to and perpetuates suffering: I’ve ruined my life, you’ve ruined my life, I can’t do anything right, you can’t do anything right, the world is going to hell, I wish I could be happy, I need another drink, I should stop smoking, what if, yes but, if only, maybe someday, I had it, I lost it…and on and on. These thoughts are painful and destructive. They may also be pleasurable in the kinds of ways that any addiction is initially pleasurable, but ultimately, they are painful and destructive. They don’t serve us.

We can’t force ourselves not to think these thoughts. That’s just more thinking—thoughts battling with thoughts (as in, “I need a cigarette” battling with “I should stop smoking” – both are addictive thoughts that create and sustain the sense of “me” at the center of this drama – and that “me” is the fundamental addiction and the root illusion).

So instead of doing battle with thoughts and trying to suppress or control them, instead, we simply need to SEE these thought-patterns, to be aware of them as they show up. Awareness is the great solvent. The more clearly these thoughts are seen as thoughts, and the more clearly we realize that the true “I” is not the thought-stream or the mirage-like thinker (the separate little me who seems to be at the center of the story authoring the thoughts, but who is itself just another thought)—the more clearly that is realized, the less power these thoughts have to hypnotize us. They lose their believability.

So what I’m pointing to here is not thinking about thoughts or analyzing them, but simply awaring them—seeing them for what they are, being aware of the thought-stream and not entranced by the story thought is telling. Awareness doesn’t fight with thoughts or resist them, but it allows the attention to gently and naturally shift out of the abstract thought-realm and into the aliveness of sensory experiencing: hearing, seeing, smelling, touching, tasting. If we are awash in anxiety or depression, what happens if we stop and simply listen openly to the traffic sounds and the bird songs…if we notice all the colors and shapes and the beauty of the light… if we feel into the body as pure sensation and energy...if we feel this open, spacious, awaring presence that is being and beholding it all, this awaring presence that is unbound and unlimited, this presence that we are?

Surrendering is an opening of the whole bodymind, a dissolving of the solidity of the bodymind, a letting go into boundlessness. That doesn’t mean we lose all sense of individuality—we still have a functional identification as a particular bodymind in the play of life, we still have appropriate social and psychological boundaries and a unique personality, and so on. We don’t walk in front of buses or forget our name or become invisible. But all of that is appearing (intermittently, as needed) in a larger context—the open space of awareness. It is recognized that the true “I” to which we all refer is ultimately this unbound awareness that is being and beholding everything. In other words, we are not limited to the bodymind, and the bodymind is not really a separate, solid, autonomous “thing.” In fact, there is no real boundary between “awareness” and “the body.” The words seem to divide what is actually seamless and whole. So we don’t need to deny the body or the person or relative reality, but all of that is appearing in a much larger context, and all of that is really very ephemeral and fluid and ungraspable.

There are many other words for surrender: dissolving, opening, relaxing, softening, melting, letting go, resting, allowing, welcoming, not-grasping, stopping. What matters is not the word or some idea of this, but discovering this for oneself experientially. No one can do this surrender for us, and no one can tell us exactly how to do it. It’s like riding a bicycle or swimming. It can’t really be explained. Someone can help us get to the threshold—and they can maybe offer a few helpful pointers—but ultimately, how to ride or swim or surrender is a discovery we each have to make for ourself.

Once we’ve discovered this shift, it’s just a matter of doing it again and again, or more accurately, doing it now. And of course, the word “doing” is misleading because it suggests something too forceful, whereas surrendering is almost more of a not-doing. It’s more like we stop doing something that we have been doing—a kind of tightening or grasping or seeking relaxes, and there is a letting go, an opening—allowing everything to be as it is, not resisting anything and not trying to get anything. It’s like falling asleep—you can’t make it happen, but there are things you can do or not do that will help to allow sleep to happen. And here, instead of falling asleep, we’re falling awake. But again, the words can only point to what must be felt into and discovered experientially firsthand by each of us.

Is surrender a choice? I can’t say yes and I can’t say no. If we think we can “do” surrender on command, as an act of personal will, we will be greatly frustrated and disappointed—and subject to guilt, shame and blame. If, on the other hand, we cling to the belief that we can’t do it, that there is no choice, that we can only wait to see what happens, then we will be foolishly disempowering and ignoring the power and the absolute response-ability that is right here—awake and aware—being and beholding everything—and we are not other than that. So is it possible—right now—not to get stuck on either side of a conceptual divide that isn’t really there in direct experiencing? In other words, what happens if we don’t cling to an ideology, a belief or a formulation (e.g., that there is freedom and choice, or that there is no freedom and no choice)? What happens if we let go of all these descriptions, ideas and beliefs? What if we let go of everything that can be doubted? What happens if we simply stay with the living reality itself, right here, right now, just as it is?

That’s the great discovery. We discover, or consciousness discovers, how to end the trance of suffering, how to be liberated on the spot—not forever after, but HERE / NOW.

It’s relatively easy to make this shift in a quiet, pleasant setting…on a meditation retreat or in nature. It’s more challenging when we’re in physical or emotional pain, when we feel anxious or depressed, when we’re arguing with a loved one, when we’re in a war zone (literally or metaphorically), when we’re sick or under stress, when our buttons are being pushed, when the world isn’t going the way we think it should. And sometimes this shift doesn’t seem to happen right away. Sometimes the power of old habits wins out for awhile. We get lost in anger, depression, resentment, self-pity, self-righteousness, worry or whatever it is, and we overeat or light up or watch too much TV or get into an argument or whatever we do. It happens. And yet at some point, we wake up. The habitual movement ends. And then the challenge is to focus on right now, not on the story of how “I just failed again.” Because these apparent failures are not personal—they are movements of the whole universe. So can we love ourselves and the whole world in all our beautiful imperfection?

That unconditional love (or awareness) is big enough to include everything. Awareness is actually always awake, always allowing everything to be as it is. It never rejects or hates anything. And it is never really harmed or destroyed by anything that appears to happen in the dream-like movie of waking life. All the apparent darkness and all the apparent getting lost is always happening (or appearing) in this bigger, vaster context. It is really nothing other than that. To realize this is to be free from suffering. But pain is an unavoidable part of life. As I’ve said before, being nailed to a cross is going to hurt no matter how awake you are.

Being awake isn’t about ignoring or dismissing relative reality, and it’s not a protective shield against feeling pain or heartbreak. But it’s also quite different from being swept up in reactive emotion-thought, hypnotized by beliefs and storylines, and stuck in endlessly self-perpetuating wars (on any level). Being awake is a vulnerable, sensitive, open-hearted aliveness. Life presents us with endless opportunities to wake up, to let go, to open, to dissolve—to be liberated on the spot. We may find that this opening is the greatest gift we can give to ourselves and to the whole world. It is the end of separation, the end of conflict. We may discover that love is infinitely more powerful than hate, that awareness is more healing than all our ideas, and that nothing is ever how we think it is.


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