Open and Free – Joan Tollison, September 17, 20
For one moment, is it possible to let the past and the future drop away, and to drop all the words, concepts and ideas that have accumulated (awareness, consciousness, mind, matter, enlightenment, awakening, choicelessness, free will, spirituality, and so on)… to let all this go, along with our life story and all our present concerns, is that possible?
And if it is, what remains?
Don’t go to thought for an answer to either of these questions. Go to your own immediate direct experience.
Let any effort to “get it” fall away. The question of what remains is not looking for an answer in the form of “the correct word” or “the right idea.” It is inviting something else entirely, a falling open. So let go of all the answers, all the words, all the ideas, all the stories, all your opinions and identities and beliefs.
If you feel yourself straining to figure this out as if it were some great riddle, or maybe trying to experience something special, let all that go. This is simplicity itself—simple, simple, simple.
Rest in not knowing anything, simply being. Being no-thing at all.
Again, this is something to explore experientially, not something to think about.
You may find that what remains in the absence of all else is an indescribable emptiness, a groundlessness, a no-thing-ness. And this no-thing-ness is not a dead nihilistic void; on the contrary, it feels vibrantly alive and full of everything.
If we had to put it into words, it might best be described as simply an open aware presence or an aliveness that is omnipresent, indivisible, boundless and free.
And the more closely and carefully we attend to anything that shows up here—a thought, a memory, an emotion, a chair, a table, a friend, a tree, a cloud, a sound—the more we discover it to be unpindownable, unresolvable, impermanent, and inseparable from everything it apparently is not.
We discover that the past and the future are unfindable, non-existent, and that what we call the present moment is disappearing as fast as it is appearing, gone before it even arrives. And yet, it’s always Now—this one bottomless moment from which we never depart. We’re always Here, in this placeless immediacy or present-ness. Now is timeless, eternal, ever-present. Here is infinite, without size or shape, like that proverbial sphere the center of which is everywhere and the circumference nowhere.
If heard only conceptually, this can all sound very philosophical—a bunch of metaphysical ideas to ponder and then agree with and believe or argue about and doubt. But what I’m pointing to here is not in the realm of thoughts and ideas – it’s in the realm of experiencing or being. It’s non-conceptual, ungraspable, and yet at the same time, absolutely unavoidable and always right here. No words are ever quite right. The words are only pointers or descriptions—evocative at best, but always only pointers to something ineffable.
Words like no-thing-ness, emptiness, no-self, no-choice can sound bleak and life-denying if heard only as ideas, and especially if those ideas are misunderstood. But when we discover directly and experientially what these words are pointing to—the naked beingness Here-Now, the non-substantiality of everything, the absence of any real separation, the non-existence of the one who supposedly “should” be in control, the listening silence pervading it all—that discovery and realization is joyous and freeing—it brings forth a sense of relief, of a burden being put down at last—there is an openness, a quality of wonder and unconditional love, a deep appreciation for the infinitely unique and ever-changing ways in which this pure potentiality, this radiant emptiness shows up, and how it all instantly dissolves without a trace.
This isn’t about denying our humanity or the person we seem to be in the play of life or the whole marvelous, kaleidoscopic unfolding. Everything can be here in this vibrant stillness—thoughts passing through, sounds, people, movement, events, the whole universe. But there’s a bigger context, something infinitely subtler, more intimate, emptier in the best way, totally free and unbound.
This is what Here-Now IS, the ever-present groundlessness of being—empty of any persisting form. It’s not other than the breakfast dishes, a cup of coffee, the laundry, or anything else. It’s always right here. But it’s not limited to any thing or any place in particular. It’s omnipresent, everywhere and nowhere. It’s what we are, what this is, most fundamentally. It’s the emptiness, the presence that is the common factor in every different experience—and it is the instantaneous dissolving of all experience.
It is the emptiness of emptiness—the letting go of all the words and pointers and concepts that have just been used, the absence of any final view or any ultimate place to land—the groundlessness of truly not knowing anything, of being here without holding on to anything at all.
Again, this isn’t something to believe or disbelieve or to think or reason about or try to figure out and grasp. It’s something (no-thing at all) to discover or realize directly. How? By simply stopping—not forever after, but now, in this moment—being still, listening, letting all the words and concepts and ideas go, giving up completely.