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BARE-BONES MEDITATION by Joan Tollifson

BARE-BONES MEDITATION

Waking Up from the Story of My Life

By Joan Tollifson

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-517-88792-4
Publisher: Bell Tower/Crown

 Rather tedious ramblings of a middle-aged, handicapped lesbian trying to decide whether her spiritual home is a Zen center in California or a meditation retreat in New York. Tollifson, whose lack of a right hand made her an outsider from birth, says that by the age of 33 she had ``tried alcohol and drugs of every kind, sex of all imaginable varieties, several forms of therapy, and revolution.'' A radical feminist committed to revolutionary violence when she first encountered Zen practice, she soon became a resident of the Berkeley Zen Center and even pictured herself becoming a priest there. Before this could happen, however, Toni Packer, a New York teacher of a form of meditation lacking the rituals and paraphernalia of Zen, captured her imagination. Enthralled with Packer, Tollifson left Berkeley and entered Packer's Springwater Center for Meditative Inquiry and Retreats. From 1988 to 1995, the eight-year period that is the focus of this memoir, Tollifson ricocheted between these two centers, continually searching not just for a spiritual home but for the perfect one. To a nonpractitioner of meditation, her concern over whether it is better to meditate on a cushion or in an armchair seems petty, her hero worship of her teachers seems juvenile, and her repeated changes of mind about the form of meditation that is right for her become wearisome. What Tollifson skims over and what might have made an interesting story is her transformation from a drug-dealing addict and alcoholic living in bars to an ultraleftist dedicated to fomenting revolution and then to a sober and celibate meditator. Tollifson's life has not been an ordinary one, and if she chose to, she could undoubtedly tell an extraordinary story. A mostly dull, often repetitious exercise in self-indulgence.