Guided Nondual Meditation with Michael Taft
Streamed on March 31, 2022
We’re live. Hello everybody, just making sure ‘do not disturb’ is on. We don’t want to be disturbed. Who wants to be disturbed? Wouldn’t that be nice if your mind had a ‘do not disturb’ switch? Just turn it on and then you never feel disturbed by anything. That’s what we’re learning to create in a way with our meditation, a mental ‘do not disturb’ switch. So that’s good. Welcome to tonight’s guided meditation, as you know I’m Michael Taft and you are whoever you are. And we’re here tonight together to meditate.
So without further ado let’s hop on in. So begin by settling into your meditation posture, as always this is sitting nice and upright with an alert posture, okay?
Comfortable, comfortably alert, we want our body to be happy and relaxed but also upright. If we’re sitting, not leaning against the back of a chair, not leaning against a couch or something, you’re using your back to sit up, okay? And this–you can make this really, really easy by having your knees much lower than your hips like maybe you know a few inches lower than your hips. And then you’ll get that nice curve in your spine, your back goes up straight and just stays there, okay?
Otherwise, you can meditate lying down. I recommend having your knees in the air if you do that and your back flat as long as you can stay wide awake. Staying awake is really, really important. You can also, if you’re having trouble staying awake, meditate standing up. But regardless, once you get into your meditation posture I want you to stay there. You will see me during the meditation if your eyes are open and you’re staring at the screen, which I don’t recommend. Don’t stare at the screen. If your eyes are open, just kind of meditate looking somewhere else. But either way, I want you to stay still. And if you’re looking at the screen, you’ll notice I’m not staying still, I’m taking drinks, I’m working with the computer sometimes and so on because I’m running the meditation and I’m speaking so I have to drink some liquid. So do as I say not as I do and please remain nice and still in your meditation.
Okay, so let’s begin meditating and what we’re gonna do tonight is begin by taking on the mood of–what do we want to be the mood of? Let’s meditate again as the sky, okay? So just be the sky and just picture this vast spacious sky. And the properties I want you to kind of resonate with and sort of express in your meditation are that spaciousness of sky and the boundlessness of sky. You can’t really find the edges of it, the edges are nebulous, so there’s a boundlessness, there’s a spaciousness, there’s room in the sky, and nothing bothers the sky. There can be clouds, there can be lightning, there can be birds flying through it, there can be jets flying through it, but the sky fundamentally is not bothered by any of that. There’s so much room in the sky and the sky is always perfect. It’s not bothered by anything that’s happening in it. So the mood I want you to begin with for tonight’s meditation is to be like the sky. So just take that in for a moment, meditating take on the mood of the sky; spacious, accepting the skylets, everything arrives within it and it’s fundamentally undisturbed by all that. It’s boundless.
Okay, so we take on these properties of sky-like mind or being like the sky and just take that in and imagine that you are nothing but sky, the sky that is spacious and boundless and fundamentally accepting of everything and fundamentally undisturbed by anything. It’s all good with the sky, there’s room for it all. So just feel that now. It feels good.
Now, of course, on the earth the sky is filled with air, so let’s let go of that visualization
now and just begin our breath meditation. I’m going to start out by meditating on our breath and to begin with we’re just going to simply breathe. Breathe completely normally, don’t change your breath in any way. And I just want you to be aware when you’re having an in-breath and when you’re having an out-breath, that’s it. If you want to you can use a label like breathing in then on the out breath breathing out. That’s it, just stay with the breath in the simplest most elementary manner. Let’s start there.
So just keep settling in, relaxing, being vast and spacious like the sky, even though we let go of the visualization, we’re still having that sense of feeling relaxed or feeling open, feeling spacious, everything’s good. And just stay with the breath. Breathing in you just recognize that you’re breathing in. Breathing out we recognize that we’re breathing out, so hang with that.
Good. Now if it’s more comfortable for you, just stay with this kind of breathing, if on the other hand, you want to do some light pranayama style breathing, then what I’d like you to do is two things; you’re taking deeper breaths, not super deep, but deeper breaths with longer exhales so the exhales are longer than the inhales, only do this if this feels comfortable for you, and then, if you want to; make the exhale really long, you can do your ujaya breath, right? Where you make that sound in your throat by tightening your throat on the out-breath. So you breathe in kind of deep and then out-breath nice and long. Now, this should feel good. Don’t do it if it doesn’t feel good. Take a nice deep in-breath, take in that life-giving oxygen, and then do a long out-breath. Don’t do it so long that you end up having to yawn or take in extra air again. It should feel really nice but we do the breath because it allows us to let that breath go free, that out breath go for even longer, but you don’t have to do the yoga breath, you can just do longer out breath if that feels good. And if the long deep inhales and long exhales don’t feel good, then just breathe normally.
But what we do–we do the deep inhale, long exhale–and then what I want you to do is not only do you know when the in-breath is happening and when the out-breath is happening but I want you to notice the end of the in-breath and notice the end of the out-breath don’t change them. Don’t, you know, manipulate it but just notice that moment when it ends. So let’s do that now.
Okay. Good, now I want you to just stick your attention right on that breath, so you’re noticing every moment of the breath from the beginning of the in-breath through the entire in-breath to the end of the out in-breath, the beginning of the out-breath the middle of the upper at the end of the out-breath. Just stick your attention right on that and really, really stay with it. Don’t miss any moment of the breath. If labeling helps you to do this, that’s great.
Okay. Good, so that’s our shamatha for now. We’re going to switch directly to vipassana–which means to notice the emptiness of something, in this case, what I want you to notice is the emptiness of thoughts. So we go from meditating directly on the breath to meditating directly on thinking. Thoughts are arising in the mind but we notice something really fascinating about thoughts; they’re not really objects like billiard balls or ashtrays or clocks or something, they are just kind of events that pass through the mind. You can’t really define the thought–when it starts, when it ends, what it’s made of, what its boundaries are–it’s just sort of this moving thing that passes through the mind and you can never pin it down. You can never define it. You can never really find it and so this is the aspect of thoughts that we would call emptiness. Sometimes, if I say I want you to notice the emptiness of thoughts, people think what I’m saying is that you don’t have any thoughts or that your mind has stopped or whatever. That’s not what I mean, I mean you notice that thoughts are just some activity passing through awareness.
Remember, when we’re meditating like the sky, thoughts would just be, you know, some clouds moving across the sky kind of fast, or maybe something like the wind in the sky, they’re not really solid, real, important things. They’re just moving, changing activities that don’t really bother the sky in any way. So I want you to notice this emptiness of thought now. The minute you get caught up in a thought–now you’re not noticing its emptiness anymore–you’re taking it as real. You’re grinding on it. You’re thinking about it. So remember, what we’re doing here is resting as sky, and just noticing thoughts and allowing the thoughts to either on purpose noticing their emptiness or allowing them to just be empty.
Okay, so let’s begin working with emptiness of thought. If this really makes no sense and it’s super hard and you’re totally confused and you’re just thinking, thinking, thinking, then just go back to meditating on your breath, that’s totally fine. Thoughts are just like wind in the sky. It’s not that they’re not there but they’re not really separate from the sky. So we’ve got this vast sky with these thoughts moving through it. So we’re not trying to stop thinking. We, in fact, welcome all thoughts but we see their emptiness clearly. The sky is not disturbed by the thoughts. The sky doesn’t really change when the wind moves through it, it’s still the sky. And we’re not caught up in the thinking, we’re not adding anything to the thinking, we’re not trying to follow the thinking, we’re just aware that it’s there and noticing its emptiness.
Let’s just expand this a little bit to notice that everything that’s arising in the mind is empty; thoughts are empty, again, they’re like wind in the sky, they’re there but not there, they’re there but they do not disturb. But even emotions–any emotions we may be having–are empty too, they’re there but not there. The sense of our troubles, the sense of the things we’re involved with, the sense of being bound up, all of it–in experience. And events, all of that is just empty, right? It’s like wind in the sky. So notice the emptiness of thoughts and feelings and of even being an object called you. There is no object called you. That’s empty, that’s wind in the sky, notice that now.
If it’s a thought, awareness is just aware of the thought and it dissolves into the clear empty sky. Eventually, it’s an emotion, awareness is very aware of the emotion and it just dissolves into the clear empty sky. We’re not trying to dissolve it or trying to make it go away but we’re just noticing that it was empty from the beginning. It’s just like ripples in the sky, wind in the sky, it’s not separate from the sky, but neither is it not there at all. So just notice that, no matter what arises, it passes in the mind, and in between arising and passing it’s just a kind of a ripple. It’s not really a thing. And so thoughts and feelings and even our sense of self are simply empty.
Good. So I want you to notice that your mind itself is empty, right? It’s just like a vast spacious sky of awareness, it’s got room for everything, it accepts whatever arises, thoughts move through it, feelings move through it, the sense of self moves through it, but all of those are just wind in the sky. The sky itself is utterly, completely open and empty, open and accepting, open and clear. So notice the traditional metaphor for how the thoughts and feelings and all these things that normally move through your mind are; they just don’t have any–when you see their emptiness they just don’t have any grip anymore. It’s as if there’s this metaphor that says a thief comes into your house at night but can’t find anything, there’s nothing to steal and so the thief just leaves, right? So the thief came in but there was nothing to steal, so the thief left. In the same way, thoughts might come into your mind, thoughts come into the sky of awareness but there’s nothing for them to stick to, so they just eventually just kind of sail away. Emotions come into the mind, the sky of awareness but there’s nothing to stick to, there’s nothing to grab, to grab onto so they just eventually sail on their merry way. And even the same with the sense of being of self, being me with all my problems and stuff, that comes into the mind but there’s nothing for it to grab onto so it just sails on its merry way. And more thoughts come and more emotions come and more sense of self comes but there’s nothing for them to stick to because we fundamentally see that the mind is inherently empty. It’s just a vast boundless sky of awareness.
Okay, now the next step here, once we see that our mind is empty, thoughts are empty, emotions are empty, even our sense of self is empty, there’s just this clear sky–now the next step is to notice that the sky is not nothing, right? The thoughts are not nothing, they’re there, they’re just empty. Feelings are not nothing, they’re there, they’re just empty. Sense of self is not nothing, it’s there, it’s just empty, and furthermore, there’s this sky. What’s the sky in this case? It’s this boundless awareness, it’s the thing that knows the thoughts, it’s the thing that knows the feelings, it’s the thing that knows the sense of self, but it’s not separate from them at all. It just knows. It’s the knowing. It’s not a knower, it’s not a person, it’s not a personality, it’s not a thought or feeling, it’s just a sky of pure awareness, and this awareness knows itself because it’s aware. Now what I want you to do is rest as this awareness which you already are. You’re not doing anything to be aware, and no thoughts can make you more aware, and no feelings can make you more aware, and no nothing can. So just see the emptiness of all that and rest as bright, clear, wide awake awareness that is not particularly involved with anything. Let that happen now.
Notice that this is not nothing. This is even not just boundlessness or openness but it’s awake, it’s aware, it’s crisply awake. No one is doing anything to make this awareness happen. It’s just there, it’s always there. So just rest as this awareness. Notice the brightness, the clarity, and don’t get involved in any particular object. If the thought arises, we just let go of it. If emotions arise, we see their emptiness, we just let go of it. If we start to contract or grab onto anything, just relax and come back to just being an open sky. Don’t grab the bird, don’t try to grab a cloud, don’t try to grab an airplane, they’re all just moving by but we’re resting as sky, bright, clear sky and all these events are just like wind in the sky. I want you to notice that we’ve been talking about two things; this spaciousness and the awareness, right? There’s this vast space and it’s aware but they’re not really separate, there’s a union here, the union of space and awareness, the union of this vastness and openness, and awareness will just rest in that union now. There’s space and it’s aware. Anything that moves through it is just some…just a ripple, it doesn’t affect the openness and it doesn’t fact affect the awakeness, or the awareness, in any way. Don’t grab on. Can you just simply rest as spacious awareness with this union of space and awareness? And if you can’t, and suddenly you grab onto something, all you do is relax, and the grabbing fist relaxes naturally and opens, and whatever you grabbed onto just falls out. And we just come back to resting as this union of space and awareness that’s always there, that’s naturally there with no effort.
Another way of saying the same thing is that if thoughts are arising they too are just spacious awareness, emotions arise they’re nothing other than just aware space, a sense of self arises, it’s just the same vast spacious awareness that is awake, that is alert, that is clear, that is bright, that is vivid. Everything is just this vast space that is awareness. And awareness and space are one. They are not different, space and awareness are one. Rest as vast spacious awareness noticing that everything that arises is just more of a spacious awareness with no doing, with no grabbing.
Now this space of awareness, this awareness in vast space is naturally joyous, it’s naturally kind, it’s naturally warm and loving. And so let the sky of awareness just radiate its love, its kindness, its joy, its friendliness out in all directions. The sky has no boundaries, so just let this joy and kindness and love and caring and compassion just radiate in all directions everywhere. Really feel that kindness, love, compassion, caring, flowing in all directions from the sky–sky which has no center in the sky, which has no boundary. Joy and peace and bliss and compassion radiate in all directions, to all beings of every sort everywhere. Let’s feel that very, very clearly now. Very good, so let’s end the meditation there.
Feel free to gently move and stretch or just wiggle your fingers and toes or move your face around or whatever feels good. You want it to feel really good. And have a drink of water,
wet the proverbial whistle with some water and allow your body to just feel that natural goodness like it does.
Okay, so it’s really important that we learned that the stuff that we’re normally tuning into is fine, right? We can tune into our daily world and work, do our work. We can tune into our relationships and be with others and enjoy that. We can tune into the beauty of the natural world and benefit from that and play with that. We can play, we can love, we can work, we can do all these things and yet, how we do them matters. The normal way that we’re taught to do them is by being engaged with them. I’m going to fuse with my thinking, and engage with my thinking, and even like pretend that I am my thoughts. And then I’m like kind of glomming into thinking and then I am my thoughts. Or even, more preciously, more deeply, I believe I am my emotions and I’m gonna glom into every emotion that arises, and just be that emotion. And there’s my sense of self, who I am in the world, and what others think about me, and if my boss likes me, and thinks I’m great, and if the internet thinks I’m cool because I post pictures of doing cool things, and that kind of sense of self in the world. I’m going to glom onto that, and when it goes up a little bit I’m going to feel that, and when it goes down a little bit I’m going to feel that. And we could just keep moving around with these different changes, right? The thoughts are continuously changing, (I’m turning on some lights here) the emotions are continuously changing, my sense of self in the world is continuously changing, and that changingness if I’m glommed into it, then it’s just like being a tennis shoe in a dryer, right? It’s just all day long and as much as you try to control that it’s just gonna keep turning and turning and turning.
In the kind of traditions of South Asia, or the Asian spiritual traditions, we would call that state samsara, right? The wheel of suffering is just like turning and turning and it just never stops, kind of having this nature of just being. It’s never what we want it to be, it just turns and turns, and it’s always wrong, and so that’s the Eastern spiritual, the quote “Eastern”… the Asian word is samsara. But in the west, the traditional vision is a tennis shoe and a dryer, right? A stinky tennis shoe and a dryer, just kind of gha-gha-gha-gha bump, and so that’s what we’re taught to do, that’s how we’re taught to live, to glom on to thoughts, to glom on to feelings, to glom onto our sense of self. And that’s going to result in us just bouncing around, bouncing around, bouncing around, and every one of those bounces hurts.
And so sometimes people say, well, we want to stop the thoughts, and we want to only have good emotions, and we want our sense of self to be this, you know, sort of a positive thing. All of that is unnecessary, you can do that, you can go into a deep meditative state, especially if you go into a retreat for like three months or six months or a year and do you know your…you’ll get to a place where you have no thoughts all day long and that feels good, it does, sure, because you aren’t…there’s no thoughts to glom onto. They’re just not there and so it’s not painful in that way. Or you know, we can work on trying to only have positive emotions by being in our special you know room all the time with our beautiful things and you know…but these ways of working are fragile, right? If you need a meditation retreat to get your thoughts to go to zero, the minute you come out of the retreat the thoughts spin up again and guess what, you haven’t learned to not glom onto them. As soon as they’re–when they weren’t there you just couldn’t glom on, but when they’re back you glom on again. So that retreat experience vanishes very quickly.
Same thing if you’ve got a setup to just feel good, because you’ve got just the right flowers and just right incense and you always feel good when you’re in that room. And that way the minute you leave the room, you’re glomming onto emotions. And boy, the big one, as soon as someone says, “Oh, I like the thing you said on Twitter,” you know we glom onto that, and we feel good. Or you know you say something on Twitter and someone you respect is like, “Oh my god, that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard,” now your sense of self goes down. We’re glommed onto it. We feel terrible. So these situations are just the situational glomming of thoughts and feelings and sense of self.
It comes back, it comes back right away if we’re doing practices that are trying to just calm it down. It’s important that we learn to not glom on and if we learn that, then it doesn’t matter how much thought is happening, it doesn’t matter what kind of feelings are happening, our social situation in this sense doesn’t matter because we’ve learned to not be it, right? We’ve learned that it’s empty, it’s not a thing, and therefore it’s not an identity. All those things are happening but they’re happening in this vast space of awareness, and it’s a vast space of awareness, and that vast space of awareness is not something we can glam into either, but we can rest as the vast space of awareness. Okay? We rest as bright, clear, awake awareness and that we can rest in. And when we’re resting as awareness, awareness is not a tennis shoe and a dryer, it’s a vast sky that is always peaceful, that is loving, that is joyous, that is really bright, that’s really awake, and then if there are thoughts happening? Great. If there are other emotions happening? Great. If there are social feelings happening? Great, right? All that is fine because we’re resting as this natural awareness and it’s spacious, there’s room, there’s room for everything to happen.
Now people can think that this awareness is super special, but like I’ve been kind of yelling at everyone about for several weeks now, it’s not a special state. It’s always there, okay? You don’t have to, you know, make a special awareness happen. It’s always there. People feel—I often
hear like, “while I was, you know, trying to make my awareness vast…” and it’s like—no, it’s already vast! It’s always vast. You don’t do anything to make awareness vast. That’s its nature.
Or, you know, “I was trying to have more awareness” and it’s like, you know, that’s an English phrase, and we know what that means, like, “I want to have more awareness about my eating,” it just means to pay attention to it. So that’s a perfectly normal way of speaking but in the way we’re talking now, in this awareness that we’re describing, you can’t make more of it. It’s always there and it’s always all the way on, right? So it’s already vast, it’s already spacious, you don’t have to somehow make it spacious. It’s already aware, that’s its nature, that’s what it is. Let me put it another way, you know if there’s space, then it’s already aware, and if awareness is already aware, it’s naturally spacious, right? There’s nothing to do, furthermore, as we’ve seen, the person who thinks they’re doing anything at all is empty anyway. We’re doing these meditations, but the deeper we go into the meditation the clearer it is that there’s that the sense of the self doing it–that’s empty too. Doesn’t mean there’s no meditation, meditation is happening but no one’s doing it, and it’s just kind of naturally unfolding. Awareness rests in itself, awareness is spacious and very wide awake and at rest. Arrests, it’s the opposite of a resting, it rests in itself absolutely without any effort at all.
Okay, so we do make efforts to do this shamatha part of our meditation, where we’re just trying to calm things down a bit to make this easier to notice. And we do make effort in our vipashyana to see the emptiness, see the emptiness, see the emptiness, but eventually, we see the emptiness of effort, and then we just rest as vast spacious awareness. Now if that gets clogged up with a bunch of feelings that you’re glomming onto, don’t fight, just come back to resting as spacious awareness. If you can’t do that, if that’s too hard, every time I try to rest I’m still caught up in the thoughts and feelings, okay, back up, do the vipashyana on emptiness, notice the emptiness of the thoughts and feelings over and over and over. If that’s too hard just go back to meditating on your breath, that will chill things out a little bit, you’ll feel a little more relaxed and open, so that you always know what to do, okay?