Death: The End of Self-Improvement

Death: The End of Self-Improvement

By Joan Tollifson

Published by New Sarum Press

This book celebrates the great stripping process of aging, dying and spiritual awakening. Beautiful, poignant, at times humorous, transcendent, messy, down to earth, refreshingly honest—the book explores death, and more importantly, being alive, through a rich mix of personal stories and spiritual reflections.

Joan writes about her mother’s final years and about being with friends and teachers at the end of their lives. She shares her own journey with aging, anal cancer, and other life challenges. She explores what it means to be alive in what may be the collapse of civilization and the possible extinction of life on earth due to climate change. 

Pointing beyond deficiency stories, future fantasies, and oppressive self-improvement projects, Joan invites an awakening to the immediacy of this moment and the wonder of ordinary life. She demonstrates a pathless path of genuine transformation, seeing all of life as sacred and worthy of devotion, and finding joy in the full range of our human experience. 

The book is about fully embracing death, and therefore life, whole-heartedly and relaxing into the total disintegration and loss of control that growing old and falling apart—and living and loving and being awake—actually entail. It faces the sometimes painful and often messy realities of aging and death without turning away. But at the same time, it sees the beauty in the mess and the hardship. Joan’s view of spirituality includes all of life. Hence, the book includes many things often seen as "unspiritual" or even unmentionable, everything from vaginal dryness to anal cancer. The book points to the transcendent right here in the ordinary actuality of this moment, just as it is.

Available from Amazon in paperback and kindle editions:


Local bookstores can apparently special order it through Ingram, the distributor. 

Sample pages available here:

And on Joan's website:

Joan: Non-dual spirituality as I mean it is a perspective that sees all of life as sacred, i.e. worthy of devotion, full of wonder, inconceivable and ungraspable. This kind of spirituality is about direct experience, not belief or dogma. It is focused on Here-Now, not on some imaginary future. We're not trying to get somewhere or get rid of anything. Everywhere is a sacred space—the traffic jam, the office, the toilet—and everything is the Holy Reality. 

This kind of spiritual path is pathless and immediate, focused only on being awake Here-Now, awake to direct experiencing and to presence itself. We habitually tend to overlook direct experience in favor of our conceptual maps and beliefs, endlessly trying to nail everything down and figure it all out mentally. Awareness sheds light on these conditioned tendencies to grasp, seek, resist, defend, judge, compare and control. It illuminates how these tendencies create the thought-sense (and the illusion) of separation, encapsulation, fragmentation and personal autonomy. It reveals that the self we think we are is a mental image, a story.

By attending to just this, by being simply the aware presence that we are, it becomes clear that reality is seamless and boundless, that there is no inside and outside, no before and after, no separation, no gap, no self or not-self. The pathless path is a seeing through, an undoing, a letting go into the radiant darkness, the not knowing, the groundlessness that is ever-present and ever-changing, the living actuality Here-Now.

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