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Awareness Is Not a Special State

not a special state

Streamed live on Mar 24, 2022

Guided Nondual Meditation with Michael Taft


Hello everybody! Welcome to tonight’s guided meditation, guided nondual meditation. Tonight we’re really going to work on the nonduality with me, Michael Taft, coming to you live from the Bay area of California, unless you’re watching this at some other time in which case I’m not live anymore, but welcome everyone. Let’s see, did I cut myself? Yeah, that’s what happens when you shave. All right, we are going to dive in as usual. Why goof around? Instead, we’re going to just begin meditating and tonight is going to be, I think, a really powerful one, quite a powerful meditation and hopefully, you’re ready.


So let’s begin, what I want you to do is take your seat and as usual, this means that you’re sitting with your back upright. The top of your head is sort of being gently pulled upwards. Your spine feels super straight and just right, like balanced in that spot where you’re not putting in too much effort to keep it upright. In fact, if your back is balanced in just the right spot it will feel almost like it’s just floating up. It really helps to have your knees lower than your hips if you’re sitting down. You could also be standing or laying down. All of these postures work. And you know some people like to put their chins out like that when they meditate. So we want to have our chin mildly tucked so that the back of your neck is nice and open, top of the head kind of being, almost elevated upwards. And this should feel really nice. 

From there what we want to do is begin with our opening visualization. This is a way of sitting and tonight we’re going to sit like a mountain, okay. We’re going to sit like a mountain. We haven’t done that in a while. What do I mean when I say we’re going to sit like a mountain? I mean we’re going to tune into our sense of groundedness, our sense of stability and in fact a stability so complete, that it is, we call it immovability. The idea is that this mountain is so vast and so ancient, it is immovable. It cannot move in any way. So I want you to tune in to sitting like a mountain. Imagine in front of you right now a universal mountain, a mountain that’s unbelievably high we can’t even say how high, and that slopes down so wide that it’s just incredibly vast. 

This mountain is cosmic in scale and this mountain has been here since before the beginning of time and it is grounded. As I say it cannot, it doesn’t feel knocked around by the winds of fate. It doesn’t feel like it’s some kind of paper bag blown around by the breeze. It’s the opposite sensation. It feels rooted and stable and it has the sense like I say of cosmic vastness, but also of immovability. So I really want you to see that mountain now and you might see it almost like a kind of a super Mount Fuji, right? Where there’s a sort of, this beautiful slope to this, volcanic sides of the mountain. The cone has a wonderful slope to it, a gradual slope, and the sides are sort of shimmering blue and the top is this brilliant white shining in the high atmosphere. So beautiful, beautiful mountain granting you this sense of stability, of immovability granting you boons, granting you a sense of your own cosmic immovability, your own groundedness, your own rootedness, your own stability. 

Picture that very clearly. And now on an in-breath, I want you to just take that mountain inside or to put it another way, you dissolve and become the cosmic mountain of perfect immobility or immovability and that feels good to sit that way. It feels perfectly balanced as I say it feels rooted and stable. Your roots go down to the core of the universe. Your top goes up to the top of the universe and your sides gradually swoop out to the far boundless, non-edges of the universe. So this is sitting like a mountain and so now from here what I want you to do is begin to do slow, deep breathing if that’s comfortable for you. If it’s not that’s okay, breathe however you want. 

But if you want to you can do slow deep breathing and with the slow deep breathing, you’re doing long exhales. The exhales are longer than the inhales. So we breathe in nice and deep. I’m breathing in. I’m breathing in. My belly’s expanding. And then on the exhale, breathing out, breathing out a very long exhale till it feels like it wants to breathe in again. And then nice big in-breath and then exhale, exhale, exhale really long slow out-breath, out-breath. Maybe, you know, twice as long as the in-breath. Something like that. Again make this work for you. Don’t make it uncomfortable. Make it an incredibly good feeling, comfortable, feeling in-breaths and out-breaths. 

If you want to, on that out-breath you can do ujjayi breath. So you tighten that thing in your throat, the thing that makes your voice go from this kind of voice, to this kind of voice. That thing right there and you tighten that on the out-breath, so it makes you sound like Darth Vader, but it lets you regulate that out-breath to allow it to be even slower and go even longer. Again make sure it’s comfortable, don’t get to the spot where you’re yawning and needing more air, have it work for you. Okay so, and while we’re doing this on the in-breath you’re saying breathing in, breathing in and you’re feeling that air expanding the body, and then on the out-breath you’re saying breathing out, breathing out, breathing out, breathing out and feeling the air leaving the body in the body instead of expanding it’s contracting. Okay so, in that contraction of the out-breath and just really really feel that and I want you to pay special attention to the end of the out-breath. Just notice it. Okay so let’s do that together for a while.

Good, so continue breathing and meditating on breathing. During this section, we are attempting to relax. This long slow out-breath really helps to down-regulate so that we can feel quite a bit more relaxation. But also where, besides relaxing we are attempting to stay collected, stay focused continuously on the feeling of the breath in the body. And one thing that really helps us to do that is to make sure we notice the end of the out-breath because sometimes that out-breath will hang there for a minute. Like you get to the end of the out-breath and before the beginning of the in-breath, there’s some time there where the breath just hangs there. And that’s a really easy spot to lose your concentration, to lose your collectedness, to lose your stability. But remember we’re meditating like the cosmic mountain so we’re very stable. So as part of that stability, we just notice particularly the end of the out-breath. So let’s keep going with this.

Good, let’s add a mantra in here, a classic mantra for this kind of work. So on the in-breath, you say to yourself “om” like “om” on the in-breath. And then at that spot where the out-breath ends, or sorry where the in-breath ends, you say “ah” like “ah what a relief, ah.” And then for the out-breath “hum.” And then we just pause between, there’s no mantra between the end of the out-breath and the beginning of the in-breath. We’re just noticing that spot particularly. So in-breath, om, end of the in-breath, ah, out-breath, hum. Now you’re not singing this out loud like I’m doing, you’re just doing it mentally. So that’s a mantra with three seed syllables, three syllables om ah hum. 

Okay, om ah hum, what a beautiful mantra. That ah is just totally good, totally letting go, total relaxation. Okay good, now continuing, what I want you to do is to begin the technique called dropping the ball. If you know how to do it just go ahead, otherwise I’ll explain how to do it. So we’re imagining that the mind is like a hand and so every time your mind grabs on to something it’s like the hand grabbing onto something. In this case, the image is a ball like a rubber ball. And so when your mind grabs onto a thought or your mind grabs on to a feeling, or your mind grabs on to something that’s happening in your environment, you’re like grabbing onto it with your hand. And what I want you to do is if you notice that happening you just relax the hand and let the ball fall okay? So that’s called dropping the ball. 

Now you’re not grabbing on purpose, you keep the hand relaxed if you can. But if the hand grabs on to something, it gets involved in an argument in your mind with your partner whatever. Oh geez, they said this, and I said that and so that’s like the hand grabbing and grabbing onto that ball. And so if you notice that happening, you just relax the hand and let the ball drop over and over and over okay? So we’re going to do this for a while here. I’ll just keep going back and giving you further instructions, but that’s the whole instruction in a nutshell. If you notice you’re caught up in a thought, just relax and let the thought go okay. If you notice you’re caught up in anything, just relax and let it go and come back to simply resting, simply being. When I say rest I don’t mean sleeping. Just simply being. Now it’s really important that you don’t struggle with this relax and let go okay that’s it. Let’s go. 

There’s a couple things I should probably add here. One is that you can do this with eyes open. In fact, it’s quite a bit better to do this with your eyes open. If that’s really uncomfortable for you then go ahead and do it with your eyes closed, but it’s better with eyes open. It’s better to just sit with your eyes relaxed, open but relaxed, not focusing on anything, in particular, your eyes are soft, your gaze is soft, but your eyes are open and you’re not fixating. You’re not sticking them on a point, you’re allowing them to move and you can blink. And all that. Don’t do anything weird with your eyes. Just like any other time when you have your eyes open. So we’re not doing anything strange with them. It’s more like when you gaze at the horizon or the kind of thing where you’re just kind of looking at some trees in the distance in a very general way, very relaxed way, and they’re very far away. Your eyes are just gentle and open. so that’s number one.

The other thing is, we’re not doing any special breathing anymore. If you’re continuing to do that ujjayi breath and all that, you can just let all that go now. And each time you notice the mind is caught in anything, that hand has gripped a ball, then we just relax the mind, we relax the hand and allow the ball to drop of its own accord. We’re not struggling at all, we’re just relaxing and letting things go on their merry way. We’re not stopping them or controlling them, we’re just no longer involved. Let’s continue.

As I said I don’t want you to struggle with this at all. It’s not as if we’re like prying the fingers off the ball, okay. There’s no fight at all, zero fight happening. It’s just every time you notice you’re caught up, you just relax and rest. You just open the hand and the ball falls out naturally. There’s no struggle. It might be the case that, let’s say, you’re really caught up in a thought, the good hand grabs right back on, okay, just relax again. If you have to relax a hundred times in a row, you’re just relaxing. That’s great. There’s no struggle. There’s no sense of it being hard, okay. Just each time the mind contracts we just relax. Don’t fight.

Something that’s kind of interesting about this meditation, is there’s no focus object. We’re not focusing on anything. There’s nothing to concentrate on. That’s why this can often be called shamatha or meditation without an object. There’s no focus object. Anytime we get caught up in something, we’re just relaxing and allowing that something to float away, so to speak, to carry on its own business. But we are not engaging with it anymore. And when we let go we’re not coming back to our breath or coming back to some other object that we’re focusing on, we’re just coming back to sitting there relaxed, sitting there with the mind unclenched, with the mind relaxed. So don’t think that there’s something you’re supposed to focus on, rather if you find yourself focusing on anything, relax and just open. 

Each time the mind grabs onto something or gets caught up in something or contracts around something, we simply relax and come back to resting. When I say resting, remember I don’t mean we come back to being asleep. I mean we come back to doing nothing but we’re wide, wide awake. But when the mind is not contracted around something and it’s relaxed, that’s often just called awareness or being aware but not aware of any particular thing. Number one we’re not looking for something to be aware of and number two when it’s not any special awareness, it’s not an altered state, it’s the same kind of awareness where you’re just not really involved with anything, you’re just very awake, alert and relaxed. Your mind is open and relaxed. It has that vast quality so don’t make awareness something special. 

It’s just whenever you’re not caught up in anything, whenever you drop the ball, that’s what is then left. Without you doing anything special, that’s what’s left. You’re just aware now. You are of course aware when you’re caught up in the ball as well, but you can miss the vastness then, so when we drop the ball we just come back to the awareness that’s always present, without doing anything at all and it’s very very spacious, very free, very open.

Okay good, now just like I don’t want you to struggle to let go, I also don’t want you to hang on to the process of letting go like you’re looking for something to let go of or trying to make sure that you’re dropping the ball. I want you to drop that ball too. So hanging on to the idea that you’re meditating, just drop the ball. Hanging on to the idea that you’re supposed to do it in a certain way and trying to stay right with it, just drop the ball. Or trying to stay focused on whether you’re caught up in something or not, just relax, just drop all that and simply return to the already existing awareness. It’s always there and just rest, don’t struggle, don’t fight, don’t even meditate. Just drop the ball and then rest. 

Nothing to do, nothing to change, everything already complete, everything perfect, just the way it is. Anytime the mind contracts around an object, just relax, let it expand back to its natural openness without any effort at all. 

Very good. Now what I’d like you to do is come back to this visualization of, or mood of being a mountain, sitting like a mountain, an immovable mountain. And I want this mountain now to radiate to all the corners of creation, to all the corners of the universe, to radiate profound peace and stillness and profound kindness and openness and a profound sense of wisdom and caring. It’s radiating this out in all directions, effortlessly, easily. Tremendous sense of joy, a tremendous sense of caring, a feeling of openness, a feeling of stillness and groundedness and peace. And let’s just keep beaming this in all directions powerfully and beautifully and with great kindness and caring.

The mountain of awareness can continuously radiate love and joy and stillness and kindness and wisdom and peace to the entire universe without ever making any effort. Just absolutely natura, open and free. Absolutely without boundaries, absolutely without barriers, absolutely complete in itself, absolutely spontaneous and joyous. 

Let’s let go of that now as we end the meditation.

I want you to feel free to move and stretch. Have a drink of water. Allow your body to feel good and just come back to the room. Come back to the youtube room. Allow yourself to just feel good in your body and notice how that meditation has changed your experience. So there’s so much to say about this and I’m gonna just assume you’ve watched and practiced along with many of these videos so I don’t have to try to say it all because that would be impossible to jam it in here during our little dharma talk. 

Dharma Talk

But I will say a few things and one is that you know I teach this kind of nondual meditation all day long, right? That’s what I do all day and I do it every day and I’ve been doing it for a long long time, as well as practicing it. And something that I notice very often is that when I describe what we’re doing, if I say you know, I want you to just notice, come back to the awareness that’s already there or something like that. Just be awareness. Or if I say, god forbid, if I say you know, notice the vast spacious awareness that is always present, it leads to some interesting confusions. And part of them is just, part of it’s just linguistic. We’re just speaking English and I’m trying to speak in a very normal way so that it doesn’t sound all jargony or that I’m using bizarre language. 

But when we use language like that like you know, come back to awareness or notice the awareness that’s already there. It’s a really funny way of talking, honestly even though it sounds like normal English. It’s a funny way of talking in the sense that it’s not exactly accurate, right? It’s not exactly accurate because if I say come back to awareness the question arises well who is it that was away from awareness? What was it that was gone from awareness and what is it that somehow returns, right? That doesn’t even make sense because if it was gone from awareness there would just be a blank, there’d be nothing. 

So because that’s what’s there when there’s no awareness. There’s just no experience. So it would be like you were knocked out unconscious until you “came back to awareness” and it would be like waking up. But that’s not really what’s happening and that’s because we’re never actually somehow gone from awareness. It’s just that we’re constricting down onto an object. We’re constricting our attention down to an object or I should say, again language issue, I should say a seeming object, something that seems like an object, like a thought or a feeling or something in the world around us or whatever. Awareness gets really constricted and that’s what comes to the fore of our experience. 

But really of course it’s aware the whole time and furthermore, the vast part is there also the whole time. It’s just kind of bringing the tight part, the constricted part to the fore. Why is this important? Because what I don’t want you to do is say, I hear this a lot, like I dropped the ball, and then I looked for awareness. Well, my friend who’s looking, or what’s looking? That’s awareness, right? Awareness is what’s looking. So it’s not really the case that you’re dropping the ball and then looking for awareness. If you’re aware of a thought i.e a ball, if you’re aware of a ball, you’re aware, because of awareness. So the awareness is always there. All that’s happening is when we drop the constriction it’s returning to its already existing, naturally vast, open state without you doing anything right. It’s already aware. So it’s not like we have to, you know, make awareness big or come back and somehow try to see awareness. All of that is a confused way of thinking and it just makes it much harder than it is. 

My friend Ken McLeod, writing in his book, A trackless path, talks about his Tibetan teacher Kalu Rinpoche, whose whole instruction for this meditation was recognize and rest, or return and rest. And you can hear it’s the same instruction. Just notice that you’re caught up and just rest, right, let go. Now, nowhere in that instruction does it say make some big awareness happen, or hunt around for some awareness, with something else that’s not awareness that’s hunting for awareness. I mean all of that just confuses the issue. It makes you sound crazy when you say it. 

Or as an instruction it would, you know, it’s like no, there’s nobody, there’s never anybody somewhere outside of awareness looking at awareness. That’s not possible. It’s awareness noticing itself. It’s not even looking at itself because that would imply it was standing outside of itself looking back. That can’t happen. It’s already aware of itself. We’re just letting go of, kind of like, these congealed balls, of constricted attention. Okay, that’s it. You’re just relaxing the tightness of the mind, just letting it open and the awareness is already there. It’s always been there. It never went away and there’s nobody somehow outside of awareness who has to look for this special object called awareness. It’s not a special object. It’s what’s happening all day long, it’s happening. It’s how you know there’s anything, it’s how you know you feel a certain way, it’s how you know you’re having a thought, it’s how you know you think you’re even you. All that is just stuff happening in awareness. 

Awareness is prior to you, it’s prior to thoughts, it’s prior to feelings, it’s prior even to the world. It’s just there and it’s not a special thing, it’s not a special object, of course. It’s empty so it’s not even an object at all. But it’s not special, okay, so you don’t have to generate it. It’s always there. It’s always there. It’s always there. So when we’re not all caught up in something it just makes it easier to rest in that. That’s it.

Now another thing I want to mention, I’m trying to not mention everything, but another thing I want to mention, is that, notice no part of this meditation says you have to have any particular kind of thoughts. Or that you like good thoughts, happy thoughts, peaceful thoughts. We don’t care what kind of thoughts you’re having, except at the very end when we send out love and joy and so on. But in the meditation, it doesn’t matter what the content of your thinking is, because you’re not engaging with the content of your thought. So no matter what arises we’re just letting go and relaxing and that stuff can keep happening, but you’re not really engaging with it in any way. So don’t think you’re supposed to have a certain kind of thought during the dropping the ball part.

And number two and this is a big one, people think the thinking has to stop. No, the thinking can do whatever it wants. It can be thinking away as long as you’re not engaged in it, you’re not thinking on purpose, you’re not in there following a train of thought. It’s just following itself but you’re not really paying attention to it right. You’re just coming back to resting and being open and letting go. So you don’t have to have special categories of thought you know and neither does thought have to stop. 

Now what’s interesting is if you do this a bunch, you’ll notice that after a while, you know we sat for a good hour, you may have noticed that you’re thinking did slow down noticeably. And why is that? It’s because thinking is like a flywheel, a really heavy flywheel. It keeps going for a while but if you’re not engaging with it, it’s like you’re not giving energy to the flywheel, you’re not ramping it back up, winding it back up, pushing it so it keeps going. It will start to wind down. For thinking to keep going all the time you’re constantly putting energy into it, putting energy and putting energy into it. And when we drop the ball we’re not putting any more energy into it. We don’t care about it. 

So it’s really important to understand that I don’t want you to imagine that you’re supposed to stop thinking. And I don’t want you to imagine that your thoughts have to be special. Rather, I don’t want you to engage with your thoughts at all. Meaning, I don’t care what they are, I don’t care how many there are. Because to care about that is to engage with them. You’re just letting go, you’re just letting go. If you grab on again, just let go again.

Okay one last thing, I’ll quit haranguing you, like I said I could probably talk continuously for 24 hours about this but and never repeat myself, but another thing is that, gosh there’s so many things I want to say here. You’re not gonna reach some special state. If you’re reaching a special state, that’s not like a problem or an issue, but that’s not the goal. That’s just an accident. It’ll come and just like every other special state, it’ll eventually go. So you might find yourself really experiencing a lot of energy like your body starts really having a lot of energy and that can feel really good, super blissful, but that’s fine. But it will also eventually stop and that’s fine too because that’s not what we’re trying to make happen. 

You might find yourself feeling all your thoughts will stop and your brain will just feel like it’s stopped. Just like that. It just stops. And just sits there not thinking anything. And that’s okay. Great, that’s wonderful but that’s not the goal, okay? That’s not what we’re trying to make happen. We’re not trying to stop that from happening either, but that’s just another experience. That’s a special state. There’s other ones you can get into all kinds of weird altered states but none of that matters.

All that matters is that you drop the ball. Even when that happens, if you get all into this energy, just keep coming back to awareness. Awareness is resting and energy’s happening. Great. Or you get into like some super, trippy altered perception zone. Everything’s the world looks like it’s made of waves or something. This happens all the time, you know, so what? That’s not the goal. You just come back. You drop the ball. Don’t really give that experience any energy. But you’re not trying to get away from it either, but you’re just, okay that’s happening. Come back to just resting as the awareness you already are and always have been, right? No, we don’t engage with special states. When we do this dropping the ball meditation, it’s the opposite of a special state.

What’s a special state? It’s special. That means there’s other states that aren’t special and so states come and go. They come and go, they come and go, but awareness even though it’s empty, doesn’t come and go. It’s the opposite of special. It’s the most general thing you could ever experience. It is experience, so obviously, as the background, it’s the most general possible thing, so it’s the opposite of special. So you’re sitting here dropping the ball and you feel totally depressed and despondent and full of despair, okay well, drop the ball. Rest. Awareness is fine. You’re feeling super joy and magic and dancing bunnies are you know hopping around rainbows in your mind. Cool, drop the ball, just rest as awareness. Here, as I say, you’re involved in some kind of big fight in your mind with your relationship partner or with your work colleagues or whatever, okay well, just drop the ball, come back to being awareness. 

It’s the same move no matter what. And I say being awareness, but I don’t mean it’s an object right. It’s not an object. I just mean resting as awareness, okay. It’s the simplest thing in the world. Instead of involvement and thought and feeling where you think you are thought and feeling, we just relax out of that involvement, we relax out of that constriction, we relax out of the tightness, we let go, we open, we feel relaxed and at ease with whatever’s happening okay.

This is the real equanimity. The real equanimity is, I’m just relaxed and aware no matter what state of mind or state of emotion or state of body or whatever, okay. Doesn’t mean we don’t know what they are. It doesn’t mean you can’t eventually get in there and work with them and change them, but it’s important for us to realize that awareness is fine right now just the way it is. We’re never going to change awareness. We might change our thinking. We might change our feeling. We might change all kinds of stuff but we’re not going to change awareness. It already is complete. It already is perfect. It already is what it is. Notice that now. Drop in now. Drop the ball now.

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