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January 12, 2024


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I do find the way Joan Toliffson expresses these matters to be to be quite clear. Her words are not wasted, everything is relevant and to the point – quite refreshing.

Here, she describes what I regard as the core of the matter – the penchant of thought to: “. . . figure this out -- label everything, categorize it, explain it, understand it, analyze it, capture it, frame it, get control of it.” In other words, to turn every thought (and perhaps experience) into a series of concepts.

In my view, much of our mediation practice gets involved with chasing some goal, usually projected by thought, thought that is saturated with ideas that we have accumulated from various sources as to what we should get if we practiced well. Such thoughts of course arise in meditation like clouds of butterflies flying by and at some point, getting involved with one – and then another instead of just watching the happening.

Toliffson goes on to say: “What satisfies that deep longing of the heart is the falling away of the at-tempt to make sense of everything. Of course, this doesn't mean we don't still make relative sense of things in a functional way in daily life.”

She writes that in seeing this “The illusory bubble pops.” Seeing this thought/conceptualising habit seems to me to be all there is with meditation – whether siting practice or during everyday activities – where thought does not dominate leaving just an awareness, a clarity.

A.R. sensibly wondered on a previous post if Toliffson was: “… alluding not merely to intellectual understanding but to experiential realization --- IF --- then the obvious question that further suggests itself is: Does she speak from her own personal experience, from her own experiential realization? Or is she merely parroting teachings, from Zen, and/or Theravada, or whatever other tradition/s?”

Perhaps you can’t separate them easily – if at all. It seems to me that intellectual understanding (being thought), is akin to experiential realisation in that acutely being aware of the thought process is experiential. It’s just that (I believe), such seeing does not provide any extraordinary or tumultuous enlightenment experience – which may be the result of hyped-up stories, desires and beliefs. It’s just a realisation of what is actually distracting us and causing ‘conceptual confusion’ as Toliffson puts it.

In fact (I wonder), if one suddenly becomes acutely aware of the stillness beyond thought, then perhaps it may seem like an enlightenment?

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