Joan wrote about her experience having been born in the 1940s and growing up with only one hand in her book, Bare-Bones Meditation, Waking Up from the Story of My Life.
Many years later, Joan discovered that her missing hand was a kind of gift–in that she was given a kind of ticket to “the secret rooms of people’s hearts where something is always missing or misshapen.” In childhood, Joan realized that she stood out with a disability that nobody was supposed to point out or talk about. Tollifson advocates a stripped-down meditation practice that is not dependent on any program, method, techniques, or specific practices. Joan writes,
“Meditation is seeing the nature of thought, how thought constantly creates images about ourselves and others, how we impose a conceptual grid on reality and then mistake the map for the territory itself. Most of the time we aren’t even aware that thought is taking place. Meditation is realizing, on ever more subtle levels, that it is. When conceptualization is seen for the imaginary abstraction that it is, something changes.”
I especially relate to this definition of meditation, as well as Joan’s subsequent observations that meditation is listening–really, really deep listening. There can be strength in accepting who one is, even (perhaps especially) when it’s not socially popular, such as being a disabled lesbian in the 1960s.
I can’t be helped but be touched by Joan’s life journey, filled with learning to face challenges with courageous dedication and commitment. I am deeply touched by the integrity and spirit it took for Joan to break through habitual thinking and truly walk her talk of becoming self-knowing and self-aware. It’s easy for most of us to become lulled back into complacency, resting on laurels of past spiritual accomplishment. It’s inspiring to see how for some people like Joan, fitting in simply is not an option–and meditative practice more than just something nice to do. It can be genuinely life-saving.
What Joan Tollifson Knows for Sure
I was pleased and honored to meet Joan Tollifson at the Science and Nonduality conference in San Jose, California. Joan gave a talk about “Being just this moment,” featuring aspects of her “bare bones” variety of Buddhism. It seemed fitting to meet with her in the gardens at the Dolce Hayes mansion, where we were surrounded by trees, flowers, and the occasional hummingbird. I was honored to ask Joan what she feels she knows for sure that most people aren’t aware of, that could greatly benefit the world. You can see her response to my question in this YouTube video.