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Equanimity Amidst Chaos


Guided Nondual Meditation with Michael Taft

Streamed live on Feb 17, 2022

Introduction: The Chaos Begins

Well my hair’s messed up and the internet is messed up and everything’s messed up and yet here we go! We are live and we’re gonna do it, we’re gonna do it messed up. So, hopefully your life is less chaotic than mine is at the moment, just this afternoon. But maybe it’s not, maybe you’re feeling chaos too and we’re gonna work with that, right? That’s all fine. Let me just see if I can get this video set a little bit more the way I want it to be and we’ll work from there.

All right, so whatever kind of being you are, if you’re watching this you’re probably in a sentient being of some sort in one samsara or another and so chaos and upset and things not being the way you want them to be; things being maybe the way you want them to be, but now you’re worried about hanging on to them the way you want them to be… and so on. 

You know stuff happens, and as you know a big part of this way that we’re learning here, the way that I’m presenting meditation teachings, is that we are noticing our already existing Buddhahood, our liberated aspects. And it’s funny you know, as a teacher I talk to people, lots of people, every day about their meditation practice, every day for decades now, right? A long, long time. And one of the main things I hear with people who are good at meditation is, like, “I… everything’s going good but I think I’m going to back up and work on my concentration. I want to work on my concentration to get things more stable.” And of course, this is a very good thing.

Concentration is great, it really helps and that mood of like, “I’m gonna go back to basics and get my concentration together,” that’s a good mood – nothing wrong with that. But as you can guess I’m going to say, but, but actually it might not be the most important thing. It might not be the most important thing. What is the most important thing? Well, concentration is important, but what is even more important? Well, we might say love or caring and kindness and compassion, and that’s true. That’s at least equally important to concentration and yet even love and compassion and kindness; we could talk about that as having an aspect of equanimity in it, and that’s what I would say is even more important than getting your concentration together is getting your equanimity together.

So tonight we’re going to work on equanimity, okay? Because it, you know, if you think about what you might want out of your practice one of the main things people want is, you know, for all the problems to go away. But guess what? This is samsara, so as long as you’re in a body, as long as you are here problems never go away. It’s not like you’re going to reach some place where you never get sick and the world is never fucked up and your hair isn’t messed up and you know things are out of order and everything’s breaking. That’s just the nature of this place and no matter how awake you get, no matter how liberated, it stays that way because that’s the nature of this place; this is the saha world, this is what it’s like. And so even your fully liberated Buddha-self doesn’t change that, but what it does change is how you relate to it and how you relate when you relate to it in a certain way of openness; in a certain way of feeling like everything’s okay even as screwed up as it is. And you’re not checked out, you’re not checked out into some kind of dissociative state, or bypassing but rather you’re really with the stuff, understanding how screwed up it is, understanding how chaotic it is, understanding how messed up your hair is, or whatever, you’re totally clear about that and yet you’re okay with it. That’s called equanimity, right? 

And think about it. Would you rather have the ability to concentrate really well or the ability that, no matter what happens, no matter how screwed up everything gets, you can be—even when your emotions are screwed up—even when you’re filled with rage or despair or whatever, the deepest part of you is just okay? Everything’s okay. Would you rather have that or would you rather have good concentration? I would go for the first one, right? That’s equanimity, that’s like the real Buddha nature coming forward, right?  I can work with this, there’s enough room, there’s enough space, there’s enough love, there’s enough compassion. That everything’s okay, even when it… on the relative level, on the samsaric level, it’s really not okay. Some deep part of you is still cool with even the way you’re freaking out right now. So that’s equanimity, right? It doesn’t mean that you always feel peaceful and your mind is always filled with beautiful thoughts. Equanimity is when even when your mind is filled with chaos and rage and despair and your emotions are all over the place, this deep part of you is still okay, right? That’s real equanimity and that’s what we’re gonna work on.


So let’s set up our meditation and of course as usual we’re going to start with some concentration stuff; some samadhi practice, some shamatha practice. But, I want you to think of it as just kind of settling the waters, we’re getting in the groove, we’re letting everything kind of–I don’t like translating shamatha as concentration anyway–I like translating it as, you know, collecting together, as gathering, as integrating, as grounding, like that. 

So sit in your meditation posture and, I haven’t said this in a long time, so I’ll just remind you that during this hour-long meditation I want you to be still. Don’t move, do not move your body, be really, really still. You’ll see me drinking my tea and so on and that’s because I have to talk and I have to work with a computer so I’m moving a little bit, but when I meditate I don’t move at all and I want you to also learn to sit still for an hour, okay? 

So remember, we’re getting in a posture where we feel good, we can lay on our backs as long as your lower back is flat on the floor with your knees up, or if you’re sitting you want your knees to be lower than your hips and so your lower back has got that nice little curve in it and it makes your head pop up. But it’s like a kind of really gentle, really easy, the most effortless possible erect spine. So just find that spot again, it’s much easier with your knees lower than your hips – that spot where your spine stays nice and upright with just the minimum effort. You’re not putting in a lot of muscle to keep it upright. If you are it will be really hard to stay in the posture but if you sit properly you’ll notice your back just stays upright and it might kind of wiggle like a sapling in a gentle breeze, but it’s very easy to stay upright and it makes the top of your head – the highest spot on your head – kind of lift up, your chin tucks a little bit.

Your shoulders and arms are totally relaxed, totally relaxed. Usually we’re gonna let them rest in our lap like this [demonstrates Dhyana mudra] but you could also have them on your knees – resting on your thighs either palms down or palms up [demonstrates palms up and down with thumb and index finger touching to form circle] but they’re resting on the thighs. 

You’ll see in clip art where people are meditating with their elbows on their knees and their fingers up in the air and it looks really cool for a photograph but it’s a really dumb way to meditate, so never meditate like that!

Have your hands resting on your thighs, and so from there I want you to just tune in to what it’s like to be you right now. Just check in with yourself, everything that’s going on, everything you’re feeling, everything you’re thinking, how your body feels, how your emotions feel, just what’s the general weather report? And, whatever the weather report is, I want you to just be okay with it. You know, like, “okay, this is the weather report right now, we’re not really going to change that.” So just tune in for a minute, do that for me. 

Okay. Good, now what I want you to do is just sit and breathe, you can breathe naturally and normally, don’t change your breath this week but I want you to meditate now like an ocean. Okay, it’s a big, big ocean, very deep. There may be lots of waves on the surface but compared to how deep that ocean is the waves don’t even bother it. And so you’re just this enormous vast ocean, all fluidity, it’s very comfortable being the ocean. Remember last week when we did the five element meditation? Water is comfortable, it’s ‘flowey’, it’s fluid, it feels good, it doesn’t resist, right? So feel that really fluid, yummy aspect of being this vast, vast, vast ocean but also notice that thoughts going by, emotions going by – all that are just rippling waves on the surface of the ocean in the deep, deep, deep water of the ocean. It’s just very still and very calm and feels great, okay? 

So tune into being an ocean and then you’re just noticing the wave of the breath passing on the surface of the ocean and the ocean is just noticing that breath-wave moving through it, okay? And that’s how I’m going to have you meditate for the next little while here, so let’s get going with that.

Remember, you’re just a vast ocean. It’s so big, the ocean is so wide and so deep you can’t even find the bottom, you can’t find the shore. It’s just an infinite ocean and the waves are moving on the very surface of the ocean but the ocean itself is so deep and so wide that the waves do not disturb it in any way. And one of these waves is just the breath-wave coming and going, coming and going and we’re hanging with that breath-wave, we’re noticing it coming and going and I want you to particularly notice when the in-breath comes to an end, when the out-breath comes to an end. Put a little extra attention on that and just allow these waves to come and go without interference, but really noticing them.

Good, so that’s just a little bit of shamatha to kind of gather our energies, to kind of collect the mind into a more stable place, a slightly more stable place. Just kind of like shifting from the regular day into our meditation a little bit.

And so now continuing to meditate like an ocean, your vast, vast, vast ocean. There aren’t even any shores anywhere, there’s no bottom, it’s just a vast ocean; incredibly vast ocean of awareness. And now what I want you to meditate on are just the ripples, not just the breath but ripples of thought moving across the ocean, ripples of emotion moving across the ocean; the motion of emotion moving across the ocean. And any body sensations moving, rippling across the ocean – notice that these are truly happening – they’re moving across the surface, they’re rippling, maybe in different directions and all that., but compared to the vastness of this infinite ocean of awareness they’re completely minor. There’s so much room for all

this thought, there’s so much room for all this emotion, there’s all so much room for all these body sensations, there’s so much room for the sound or images that are going on in the world that really these ripples don’t bother this vast ocean at all. It’s like a drop in a bucket, it just does not disturb the deep peace of this ocean of awareness.

Okay, so I want you to just actually focus on the ripples, focus on the thinking without trying to change it, without getting involved in it but really noticing it happening. Focus on the emotions that are moving through the body, focus on the sensations. In other words, everything that’s arising, you’re paying attention to it, you’re not ignoring it or pretending it’s not there. You’re not trying to change it, you’re not trying to control it but neither are you uninvolved – you’re actually paying attention. This ocean of awareness is aware so it’s aware of these ripples but I want you to notice that they’re just like wind in the sky, they’re just ripples moving through a vast infinite ocean and they don’t disturb the deep peace of the deep ocean at all

So tune into that now. 

These thoughts, these emotions, these body sensations, the sounds and sights of the world and everything else – smells, whatever, tastes – they’re all just these ripples on the surface of this vast ocean of awareness and they do not bother it in any way. They don’t need to be changed, they don’t need to be controlled, they’re utterly beautiful simple arisings that pass over the surface of the ocean and do not disturb the deep ocean in any way.

What kind of practice is this? This is emptiness practice, right? It’s just another way of doing it. So this is emptiness practice, we’re not ignoring the waves, we’re fully aware of the thoughts, fully aware of the feelings, fully aware of the arising of everything and yet at the same time we notice that it’s utterly, utterly not disturbing the deep peace of awareness and at the same time it’s not different than awareness, right? So just let these ripples move across the ocean of awareness and we’re very aware of each ripple and yet noticing that it doesn’t disturb the peace in any way. 

Okay good, now remaining as a vast ocean of awareness, boundless ocean of awareness. There’s no shore, there’s no bottom, it’s just an infinite ocean of awareness; ‘flowey’, comfortable, at ease, undisturbed by anything. 

Now let go of the vipashyana practice, the emptiness practice, and instead just rest as the ocean. The waves are still there, there’s still thoughts, there’s still feelings. There’s still – the whole world is arising in awareness – of course, but we’re not engaging with any of it. 

Just show the awareness to itself, let awareness be aware of awareness – that’s it – and notice that it’s effortless because awareness is already aware. 

So, in other words, we’re doing dropping the ball. So anytime you get involved with one of the ripples on the surface of the ocean you just let go and sink back into the deep ocean which is utterly awake, utterly aware, utterly relaxed; boundless, vast awakeness without any effort. Each time you get involved just let go and come back to resting as the ocean of awareness without any effort. 

If there’s any sense that something, you know, big is going to happen here or you’re waiting for something to happen, let go of that entirely. This is wonderful, this is awareness resting as awareness, this is resting in the true state, right? Just awareness aware of itself, utterly undisturbed and uninvolved. With any ripples, any thoughts that are arising, you’re just not engaging them at all. Any feelings that are arising, not engaging them at all. They’re still there, they’re ripples on the ocean, but this is the deep ocean just aware of itself. 

Now you might notice your thoughts getting really confused or you may even feel like ripples or waves of confusion are on the ocean, that’s okay. The water of the deep ocean of awareness is always perfectly clear. If the thoughts get jumbled or confused, that’s fine, it doesn’t make awareness confused. Or you might feel waves of, like, fatigue. You might suddenly feel like you’re drifting or falling asleep, those are just waves on the ocean. Awareness itself, the awareness of the deep ocean is bright and clear and wide awake; bright and clear and wide awake.  So the ripples of fatigue are just… again, those are body sensations and so on, they’re not anything we’re involved with. So you might feel confusion or you might feel fatigued, you might feel bored like waves of boredom, you know, like “when’s this going to end?” Again, that’s all just ripples. The vast ocean of awareness is clear and bright and undisturbed and it feels so good to just rest in itself. It just rests in itself, aware of itself, by itself. Anytime it starts to get involved with thoughts or feelings it just relaxes back into being this vast, boundless ocean.

Notice that even the sense of doing a meditation is just a ripple on the surface of this infinite ocean of awareness that is not disturbed by anything.  Even the sense of being somebody doing something is just a ripple on the ocean that does not disturb the ocean in any way. Even the sense that something’s supposed to happen, or anything like that, it’s all just vanishing ripples on the surface of the ocean. The deep, deep boundless waters of the ocean of awareness are not disturbed by that in any way. They’re perfectly still, perfectly clear, perfectly bright and wide awake without any disturbance of any kind. The waves come and go and the ocean is not disturbed. 

The vast ocean of awareness does not come and go. The vast ocean of awareness is not something you can create or make stronger or bigger or clearer, it’s always been there, it will always be there. The vast ocean of awareness is bright and clear under all conditions and it is not bothered by anything. This is the meaning of equanimity, the vast notion of awareness is peace, is stillness, is equanimity. Even with all the ripples on the surface it is not disturbed.

For so long you’ve thought you are the thoughts and feelings of the ripples on the surface, but if you’re anything at all you are this deep ocean of awareness that can be aware of those ripples sometimes but right now is just aware of its nature as peace and stillness and wakefulness, undisturbed by anything. 

Now, this vast ocean of awareness simply resting in itself, aware of itself. From this place we’re going to shift, and we’re going to shift into feeling joy for all beings everywhere, feeling love for all beings everywhere, feeling tremendous kindness towards all beings everywhere and streaming that out – this ocean goes everywhere. 

So huge waves of love and joy and wishes for health and strength, all rippling out, rippling out, rippling out, rippling out to all beings everywhere!  A feeling of tremendous vitality and energy rippling out towards all beings everywhere. A feeling of friendliness and togetherness and belonging and sibling-hood, brotherhood and sisterhood and being-hood rippling out to all beings everywhere.  

Tremendous joy, tremendous kindness, tremendous health and healing. Tremendous sense of belonging and friendliness and friendship and together-hood, rippling out towards all beings everywhere. Really feel that really strongly, spreading out in all directions, reaching all beings everywhere in the multiverse. 

Okay? Good now let’s end this session of meditation.

Dharma Talk

Allowing your body to move at last after an hour. Allowing yourself to move and stretch and allow your body to feel good. You can wiggle your fingers and toes, wiggle your ears, whatever is fun and amusing for you to get that body moving again. Allowing your body to feel good, have a drink of water or whatever. 

But of course, the vast ocean of awareness does not change, it was not something you were creating with the meditation, it’s not something that you cultivate, it’s not something that you make happen. It’s always there, it is what you are, it is your nature. And so even when we stop the meditation practice, it’s still there. The vast ocean of awareness that is undisturbed by anything is always there. Now, when we’re highly identified as thoughts and feelings, as emotions, my precious emotions, my important emotions, my emotions, my emotions; how I react to everything is so sensitive and so important. When we’re highly, highly identified with that we get really caught up and we get tight and we get knocked around. 

It’s like we’re a little bobber, right? You know what a bobber is? Like if you’ve been fishing—a fishing bobber or like a cork—you’re just a cork being whipped around on the waves. 

Same thing if you’re all caught up in your thoughts, “oh, everything is just my mind, I’m just my thoughts. If I’m having bad thoughts I’m so identified with those and they’re so real and concrete that I am bad thoughts.” 

From having great thoughts, “oh, this is the best thing in the world, now I’m great thoughts. Oh, I need to hang onto that.” 

Again, you’re just a cork or a bobber being whipped around on these waves. And you can do this because the waves are not separate from the ocean. Awareness is somehow not different than thought, different than emotion. Thoughts and emotions are made of awareness, right? So you can zero in on those and pretend that that’s who or what you are. And that’s what we’re trained to do throughout the course of our lives and so we’re kind of trained into being whipped around on these waves. 

But for every minute of our life, every second you’re alive, what’s really there is this infinite vast ocean of awareness which is, of course, empty. 

Just like everything else, it’s not a thing, this is just an image. But awareness, this vast ocean of awareness is always there and when you let go of being identified with those thoughts and tightly gripped onto them, and they’re so real and so important, and you let go of being tightly gripped in the emotions and hanging on to them and you’re trying to manipulate and control them, “I want to feel these good emotions and i don’t want to feel these bad emotions.” When you’re caught up like that, when we’re caught in these thoughts and feelings we get knocked around, right? It’s the opposite of equanimity, the ups and downs are super intense and really important and we’re always struggling against them and it’s always a problem. 

But the truth is, again, what – if we’re anything at all, right? We’re also this vast ocean of awareness that is never disturbed by anything. There’s no need to control or deny or suppress the thinking, or even make it good. There’s no need to control or deny or suppress the emotions or to try to only have good emotions. None of that is necessary because the vast ocean of awareness is perfectly fine with whatever arises, it’s totally accepting with whatever arises, it’s totally undisturbed with whatever arises, it cannot be bothered by anything that arises. It’s not like you can have a thought that’s so bad it will just evaporate the ocean. It’s not like you can have an emotion that’s so bad it can freeze the whole ocean. It seems that way if you’re really tightly hooked into these thoughts and feelings but that’s not what really happens; the vast ocean of awareness remains bright and clear and awake and undisturbed by anything no matter what.  

So again, even when the thoughts and feelings are super disturbed, so it’s not somehow like trying to make it so – you know the sort of – I don’t know, I’ll just use this really ‘judgy’ word, okay? I’m gonna be really judgmental and say the really immature way of thinking about your spiritual practices, “oh, when I get good at this meditation I’ll be even through everything and this evenness by, you know, everything will be cool and nothing will disturb me.” But what we mean by that, in an immature way, is my thoughts and feelings will remain undisturbed, right? The thoughts and feelings that I think I am will be smooth sailing… But that’s not what it’s like at all. That’s not what is and if it’s starting to get that way – sure okay your thoughts and feelings are a little smoother fine – but if you need them to be smooth like that your practice is going backwards, you’re just getting more rigid and more caught in thought and feeling and trying to control it and make it smooth. “Oh yeah, when really bad things happen that are terrible I’m just smooth, my thoughts and feelings are smooth. When really wonderful things happen, oh, my thoughts and feelings are just smooth.” That’s called being dead, right? Or being checked out, being numb, being dissociated. Being… You know, that can happen, sometimes a little bit, but if that’s your normal state – you are utterly lost, okay? That’s, that’s not what we’re doing here. That is a very immature view of practice. I am using a ‘judgy’ word – deal with it.

The mature view is quite different, it’s that thoughts and feelings can be as loud as they want, they can be as upset as they want, they can be as angry or full of despair, so sad, or as fearful as they want or thoughts can be really dark or really awful. Or all of those things can be wonderful, you can be filled with joy and happiness. And no matter. That doesn’t affect this awareness in which all those things are happening, it doesn’t affect it at all. 

Now that’s, that’s a very different view. That is a very different view, okay? And you say, “Well, how do I notice this awareness?” Well, how do you know you’re having a thought right now? Something’s – I mean it’s not a thing – but something’s aware of the thinking. Notice I said, aware. Something’s aware of the thinking, that awareness is the awareness. How do you know you’re having a big emotion or any emotion? Well, you know you’re having an emotion because you’re aware of it, that’s the awareness. 

Awareness is happening all the time, that’s how you know you’re alive, that’s how you know you’re having a thought, that’s how you know you’re having a feeling. So get this, the thoughts are changing all the time but you’re continuously aware of them, the awareness is always there. The feelings are changing all the time but you’re continuously aware of them. The awareness is always there. You’re moving your head around the world, the vision of the world is changing all the time but the awareness is always there. Sounds are coming in your ears all the time and they’re always different, yet the awareness is always there. It’s impossible to stop being aware. 

Okay, the awareness is always there. There may be certain special states in which awareness blips out for periods of time but even then I would contend that there is a deep, deep, deep awareness of what’s going on. 

The awareness is always present, so in other words thoughts and feelings in the world will always change, they can be big and small and we’re not trying to change that. Rather, we’re just resting in this bright, clear—I’m totally still—awareness that is the basis of everything, right? It’s not separate than thoughts and feelings but rather it is the ground out of which thoughts and feelings arise. Just like thoughts come out of the waves, come out of the ocean. And it’s also the ground to which thoughts and feelings return, just like waves go back into being the ocean, okay?

So the way I’m talking about this you can start to feel like awareness is a thing and I’m calling it an ocean and an ocean is a thing. But, awareness itself is not a thing and so don’t make it into a thing, like “oh I’m over here looking at that thing called awareness.” Don’t do that. Awareness is aware of itself by itself, it doesn’t need someone to stand outside it and pretend to look at it. Who’s doing the looking? Awareness is doing the looking. So that whole move of standing outside it and feel like you’re looking at awareness? That’s not it. Don’t make it into a thing, it’s not a thing. It’s just aware, okay? 

So this is the equanimity I’m talking about and this equanimity is already there – I’m going to sneeze hang on. Am I going to sneeze? It’s almost there, it’s almost there. Maybe not, I’ll put the… oh maybe, oh I can’t tell. Well, that happens, it happens. I lost my train of thought… the train of thought is that – the awareness, the equanimity is always there. 

The equanimity is the basis of your being. And so we’re not somehow cultivating this stillness or building equanimity like we’re building up money in a bank account or something. The equanimity is infinite and it’s already there. And you just relax, you just return, you just recognize this awareness and this equanimity that’s already present. And once you recognize it, you just rest. That’s it. Recognize the awareness that’s already there and rest. Recognize the equanimity that’s already there and rest and if you get caught up in the waves, just the minute you notice that, recognize and just come back to being the ocean of equanimity that’s always there and just rest. The waves do themselves, thought and feelings do themselves, taking action in the world does itself. It does itself, awareness simply notices, without any effort.

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