The teaching of nonduality, as Joan Tollifson writes in the first sentence of Painting the Sidewalk with Water, is the pointing out of the perfection of “what is, just as it is.” One could say that dualistic thinking is our oldest habit, built into our minds and language and lying at the heart of our suffering. Ironically, as we walk the spiritual path that we hope will release us from suffering, we bring our dualistic mind to the path itself, assuming that awakening must be far away from the highly dissatisfying present moment and present person.
But what can we do about this conundrum? Nondual teachings appear within all spiritual traditions as a balance to the striving we bring to the spiritual life. I imagine the nondual teacher as a compassionate can-opener, helping us understand that there is actually no can to be opened, nor anyone opening the can, and anyway, the can has always been opened.
Joan Tollifson, trained in Zen and Advaita, is walking in the path of the compassionate can-openers. It’s a tricky thing to use our dualistic language to free us from dualism; ultimately there has to be a leap right out of ideas and language. Tollifson leaps again and again, inviting us to leap with her into the radical trust of “what is, just as it is.”