Many Roads to Here & Now

by Joan Tollifson

The ever-present, ever-changing, nonconceptual actuality of the present moment is effortlessly presenting itself right now. This bare being is nondual, undivided, boundless, and without obstruction. But we don’t always seem to be experiencing life in this boundless and unobstructed way because our thoughts and conceptualizations tell a different story.

In reality, even thinking and conceptualizing are an inseparable aspect of this undivided, nondual happening, but it is only in the stories and ideas that thought generates that we seem to be an encapsulated entity fighting to survive in a fragmented world. This delusion is suffering. It’s a mirage with no real substance, but it seems quite real.

In some way, all nondual and spiritual teaching is either a response to this suffering, an attempt to wake up from this delusion and confusion, to see the mirage for what it really is, or else it is a celebration of the Holy Reality that is Here / Now, and often it is both. Meditation teachers, retreat centers, books on radical nondualism and websites such as this one spring up in response to our confusion and suffering much in the same way that various chemicals, hormones, endorphins, antibodies and the like spring up in the body in response to infection, pain or injury. And/or these nondual and spiritual expressions spring up as an act of devotion to the Heart, an act of love and celebration like singing and dancing. And it’s all part of the natural movement of life, happening effortlessly by itself.

There are many different approaches to waking up, many different roads to Here / Now. Of course, paradoxically, we are never not Here / Now, since Here / Now is all there is. But since we don’t always realize that, various roads appear, including the roadless-road that offers nothing to do, and that simply insists uncompromisingly that there is nowhere to go and no one apart from this-here-now to go anywhere else.

The thinking mind loves to categorize and rank everything. We’ve got Zen Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism, Vipassana, Advaita, neo-Advaita, radical nonduality, the Power of Now, and on and on, and there are little wars happening on the internet and in social media between “neo” and “traditional” Advaita, or between “sudden” and “gradual” approaches to awakening, or between “be here now” teachings and “this is it” teachings. We identify with a label or a category and then have pissing contests to see who is more nondual than who. But when we wake up to the simplicity of this moment, just as it is, we see the beauty and perfection of everything being exactly the way as it is. We no longer feel compelled to convince the Zen folks that chanting and bowing are unnecessary, or to tell the “be here now” folks that there is no way not to be here now, or to tell the radical nondualistis that practice is as natural as the wind.

Liberation is never really about finding or picking up an answer or a solution, but rather, it is about seeing through the imaginary problem.

What are some of the other common approaches to seeing through the imaginary problem that show up in Buddhism, Advaita, and other kinds of nondual teachings?

One approach is to encourage an awareness of the thoughts and stories that are the basic building blocks of suffering and confusion, and especially the root thought-story that “I” am an independent, separate self authoring “my” life. As we begin to see these stories as stories and as we become aware that thoughts are nothing but conditioned ideas, they lose their power.

Another approach to waking up is to shift attention from thinking to sensing (hearing sounds, seeing shapes and colors, feeling sensations in the body). In bare sensation, there is no dualism, no story, and no self. There is simply this ever-changing, seamless happening. What we think is solid and persisting reveals itself to be ephemeral and insubstantial flux in which nothing exists or persists apart from everything else. If you go deeply into anything that appears (any emotion, any sensation, any form) with awareness, there is nothing there but movement, and at the core, infinite space, empty of form.

Another common road to awakening is to give attention to the space of Here / Now, the context within which everything is occuring. We discover that we are not a discrete unit of consciousness encapsulated inside a body, but that the body, the mind, and this whole universe is in this aware space that is what “I” truly am. Awareness is boundless. It has no location, no owner. All locations, all characters, all events, all experiences appear within it. Awareness beholds it all. And awareness is not separate from what appears within it; awareness is the very substance or nature of what appears. Awareness is like the mirror that is present as every reflection, or the screen that is equally visible (or invisible) as every different scene in the movie, or the ocean that is the water in every different wave. Awareness is the boundlessness, the seamlessness, the wholeness, the emptiness of everything. If you try to grasp awareness, if you look backwards to see what is aware of being aware, you find nothing that can be grasped, and you find everything. You cannot deny being present and aware. It is obvious and unavoidable. Here / Now is the groundless ground, our True Nature.

Another approach to waking up is to consider that everything (awareness, sensations, thoughts, stories, neurosis, suffering, enlightenment – the whole show) is an undivided event that is nothing but continuous change. This seamless and boundless happening is the One Reality (God, Brahman, the Self, Unicity, Consciousness) showing up in endless variations or disguises. There is nothing outside or other than this One-without-a-second. Every thought, every urge, every desire, every intention, every action that happens is the activity of this One Reality. Nothing is not this. Any sense of being a separate, independent entity in control of its own thoughts and actions is an illusion, and what we consider mistakes or distractions are none other than this One Reality. There is only this. By observing carefully, we can see directly that everything is happening by itself, effortlessly, as one seamless movement, and we can see that all of waking life is a kind of dream-like appearance that vanishes moment-to-moment into thin air. Nothing stays the same. Even things that look solid and persisting such as mountains or skyscrapers are actually disintegrating and moving. No form has any discrete, persisting, independent, objective existence. Nothing exists without everything it apparently is not, for like a hologram or the jewels in Indra’s Net, everything is made up of everything else, and every part contains the whole. Unicity is all there is.



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