Reality Is Simple

…………and infinitely complex.

Joan Tollifson, September 3, 2023

Reality is very simple. It’s just this. The sound of rain, the taste of tea, the sensations in the body, the cool breeze on the skin, the sound of the airplane passing overhead. Not those word-labels, but the direct experiencing to which they point. This simple experiencing is ever-changing and yet always right here, right now.

Of course, reality also includes words, thoughts, imagination, the use of language, artificial intelligence and everything else. It isn’t limited to bare sensory experiencing. And while the map is not the territory it represents, at the same time, mapping is something the territory is doing, and both map and territory are equally momentary shapes of present experiencing—so while the map and the territory are not the same, in another sense, they are also not different.

What appears is infinitely varied, infinitely complex, and yet it shows up as a seamless whole that never departs from this immovable aware presence, this one bottomless moment here and now. Here-Now (aware presence) is the common factor in every different experience. The moving pictures and the stories of waking and dreaming life are complex, but presence itself (being here now) is simple and uncomplicated, open and spacious, accepting everything and clinging to nothing.

Every morning, the movie of waking life starts rolling—thoughts show up, conversations happen, the News appears, neurochemistry and hormones do their dance, looking at social media happens, emotions and sensations arise. Reality seems complicated and fractured. Forms seem to solidify, along with identities. We have the sense, intermittently, of being “me” and not “you,” of being “here” and not “over there,” of believing and identifying with “this” and not “that.” Strong opinions arise and seem unquestionably true. Apparent “others” see what is supposedly “the same world” or “the same situation” very differently, and this often unsettles and upsets us. Feeling threatened happens along with arguments and conflicts and sometimes reconciliations. Urges and interests show up, storylines, ethical questions. We seem to have various problems that need to be addressed—a broken door, a bad knee, a flat tire, a sick dog, a difficult co-worker, another war, a host of injustices, a pandemic. There are great dramas and apparent tragedies. At times it can all seem terribly serious and feel very heavy and unbearable. We may seem to be stuck in quicksand, lost in a maze or crushed under giant weights.
All of this is in many ways like a dream—it’s always dissolving and vanishing, never entirely pindownable, constantly shape-shifting. The movie of waking life is the dance of infinite possibilities, a multi-dimensional magic show that can be seen from many different perspectives, ALL of it ephemeral and happening to no one—meaning that the main character (the thinker-chooser-observer) is a kind of mirage. And this mirage-like character is not in control of how it all moves.
One moment we seem to be vast impersonal space, no-thing at all, pure consciousness, and another moment we seem to be a character in a movie, or sometimes different characters in different movies. Waking life gives way to night dreaming—and the no-experience of deep sleep, in which everything disappears—and then it all magically reappears, apparently the same world as the day before, and yet actually it is never the same way from one instant to the next.
We feel alternately energetic or tired, passionate or bored, calm or agitated. We fall in love, we get divorced. Babies are born, people die. Empires rise and fall. Solar systems and galaxies come and go. Pain happens, pleasure happens. An infinite kaleidoscopic array of ever-changing experiences in which everything is passing away as soon as it appears. No separate or persisting things ever actually form, and yet this utterly convincing world of apparently solid and separate ‘things’ is undeniably showing up, all of it happening right here at zero distance—even the appearance of time and space, past and future, here and there is ALL appearing right here in this timeless immediacy.
Thought draws lines around what is actually fluid and inseparable, thus creating ‘things’ out of no-thing-ness. It labels these conceptual creations and puts them into categories. The baby sees only colors, shapes, textures and movements—one whole happening. The adult sees tables and chairs, mothers and fathers, teachers and students, awareness and content, meaning and purpose, good and evil. But it’s all one undivided happening, even the labeling, the categorizing, the formulating, the mapping, the evaluating, the planning, the remembering, the problem-solving—everything is included.

Thought claims ownership, assigns responsibility, parcels out credit and blame. “I did it,” or “You did it,” or “They did it,” or “He should have done it,” or “I could have done it better, if only….” And ALL of this happens effortlessly and choicelessly. The apparent author-thinker-chooser-decider-actor-doer is a mental image, a neurological sensation, a thought, a memory, an idea. It all arises by itself.

We have a spiritual story: “I” must get rid of “me.” This is a great game! Nothing is trying to get rid of nothing so that nothing can be a better nothing. What fun! How sweet! What an adventure! Maybe we should go to India, or take up meditation, maybe that will help!

And ALL of that apparently happens. Our trip to India, the hours of meditation, the hope, the disillusionment, the promise, the despair. Thought says, “I got it!” And then it says, “I lost it!” And then it wonders, “How can I get it back and keep it?” It’s a wonderful movie, happening to no one. And it all happens effortlessly and choicelessly, even the apparent “choice” to meditate, even the apparent “effort” of following the breath or labeling the thoughts or making enough money to pay for our trip to India. It seems so amazingly complicated, and thought says, “I have to make this happen and do it right, because if I don’t, I might ruin my life and not survive as this form that I’m very attached to being.”

But no form survives even for an instant, and that is actually true freedom. And no matter how complex and difficult and divided up life seems, it’s always just this. Never the same way twice, and yet always this one bottomless moment, ungraspable and unavoidable. Utterly simple at the core, infinitely complex on the surface. Thought, memory and imagination can re-play what appears to be “the same thing” over and over, creating the illusion of continuity and a persisting self at the center of it all who seems to be stuck or unstuck, confused or clear, guilty or innocent. But that’s all a story, an imagination, super-imposed over the utter simplicity and emptiness of presence-awareness and the ever-changing fluidity of present experiencing, right here and right now.
So, is there anything to do? Yes! Whatever we’re doing! Perhaps life will move us to sit down and do nothing, to be here nakedly, without ideas or beliefs or identities of any kind. Perhaps we will be moved to explore the nature of reality—maybe with science, or maybe with meditation, or maybe by traveling around the world. The thought-sense of being “me” will show up intermittently as long as we’re alive, and sometimes consciousness will be hypnotized by its own magic show, and sometimes everything will feel dark and heavy. And like everything else that appears, it will pass.
Love to you all….

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