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Five Elements Meditation

five elements

Live Guided Nondual Meditation by Michael Taft

Streamed live on Feb 10, 2022


Hi sentient beings, you know, normally I make a list of beings you might be like; hello humans or non-humans or alien beings. Tonight, instead of making the list, although I guess I just kind of have made the list, tonight I’m going to just say hello sentient beings, beings with sentience, beings who are conscious, we could also say samsarins but I’m not going to assume that you are not bodhisattvas. I’m not going to assume that you’re trapped in samsara. So I won’t call you samsarin but I will say sentient beings. Hello, hello my earthly name, they call this earthly vessel Michael Taft, at least on this planet which is one way of interpreting the term earthly. And I’m here with you this evening or whenever you’re watching this to do some guided meditation. 


We’re going to do something really fun tonight so let’s jump right in. What I’d like to have you do is take your seat, your meditation seat and get ready to do the thing. So as usual I want you to–if you’re sitting in a chair–scooch away from the back of the chair, allow your back to hold up your back instead of the chair to hold up your back. But hopefully, you’re sitting on a meditation cushion, one that has your knees lower than your hips and that makes sitting up straight really easy so that you’re not doing it with so much effort. But you can also lay down. You can also stand. Just be comfortable and alert. And normally we do kind of a long section of resource gathering and sometimes, as you know, if you’ve been doing these meditations, I like doing the ones where we have an image for sitting. Sometimes we sit like a mountain. Sometimes we sit like an ocean, that kind of thing. Tonight we’re going to do a whole sequence of those so let’s just–we’re going to skip the resource gathering because in a way the whole meditation is resource gathering, okay? Or at least three-quarters of it. So we’re going to really be focusing on that part tonight. 

So just settle in and I want you to remember and bring up for yourself; why are you meditating? Why did you make the time to come here and meditate? What is your reason for meditating? Get that clear. That helps to bring a little more energy, a little more intention to the sit. So just state that aloud to yourself unless you’re in the room with other people then silently state it to yourself. 

And then what I’d like you to do is; let’s just spend maybe a few minutes just meditating on breathing. So we’re just going to do simple shamatha with the breath. Just to all join together here and to begin allowing the system to settle together, to kind of come together, to integrate. So what I want you to begin doing is simply breathing in and breathing out and in a very gentle light easy way following that body sensation of breathing in and breathing out we’re going to do this for about five minutes and then we’ll get going with kind of the main meat of the meditation here if you want to and only if it’s comfortable I’d like you to do deep belly breathing during this part, not like pranayama, but just deep belly breathing. And with long out-breaths, even if you don’t do the deep belly breathing, see if your out-breaths can be longer than your in-breaths. These are usually done through the nose, breathing in and breathing out through the nose but you breathe in and then long out-breath and one way to make this easier is to do the ujjayi breath, the Darth Vader breath. So on that out-breath, you do the thing that makes your voice do that–but of course, you’re not speaking but it’s the thing that makes your voice do that and you’re just breathing that way and that allows you to regulate the speed of the out-breath and you can make it nice and long. And of course, this goes without saying, don’t do it in any way that’s uncomfortable, you know don’t make yourself get out of breath or something like that. Do it in a way that’s easy, a way that’s healthy, a way that doesn’t strain the system.

Okay, so long and short in-breath or regular in-breath and then long, long, long, long, long, long out-breath. And you’re just staying with that. If you want you can use a label to help you stay with it so breathing in, breathing in and then breathing out, breathing out, breathing out, breathing out. And really feel that in-breath and feel that out-breath. So let’s do this for a little while together. And just stay with that feeling of the in-breath and stay with the feeling of the out-breath really allowing it to settle everything and allowing you to feel integrated and collected and grounded.

Okay. Good, and now just for a moment, like one minute, I want you to just open up to the already existing naturally present vast spaciousness of your own awareness. So just relax as open awareness, not forcing it to be open but allowing yourself to just notice that awareness itself is naturally boundless vast open at ease bright clear, and so on. And just notice that for just a little while here.

Okay. Good. Now we’re going to go through a five-element meditation here. That’s going to be the start we’ll do a little bit after the end but we’ll start out with a five-element meditation so we’re going to begin and I want you to sit like a mountain. So this is of course the earth element and the earth element in this way of thinking about elements. Again, these are the traditional elements, so there’s just five: earth, air,  fire, water, space. And so we begin with earth. Sit like a mountain and so I want you to feel–tune into the sense of tremendous groundedness, tremendous stability, to a sense of integration and cohesion, right? So sit like a mountain there’s this kind of immovability. And so with this earth energy, we feel our scattered mind becoming unscattered and collected. We feel our kind of like maybe energies that are all over the place coming into cohesion. The earth element has that sense of gravity, things coming together and clumping and stabilizing and becoming integrated and solid. So sitting like a mountain also has this sense of permanence and stability and even nobility, right? So begin by sitting like a mountain–whatever that means to you. And let’s work with that element first this earth energy, this sitting like a mountain is great, as I said if you feel scattered or you feel off balance just tuning in to the pull of gravity and the solidity and stability of the earth element. Remembering the body has a lot of earth element and it’s very soothing and stabilizing, very collecting and connecting. So just notice how good it feels to sit like a mountain; the earth energy.

Okay. Very good. That’s sitting like a mountain; the earth element. Now we’ll go to the next element in order and that’s the water element. And so the image here is to sit like an ocean, a calm ocean. And when we sit with the water element, we feel the sense of calmness, we feel the sense of fluidity and we feel a deep sense of peace and comfort and ease. Water is effortless.

Okay? And of course, it’s a vast ocean of water, and of course, your body itself is mainly water, right? It’s mostly water and the blood moving in your veins can be considered water, there’s the lymph, there’s all the various fluids but even our mind has a water element of this sense of deep fluidity and peace and ease and comfort and effortlessness. So now sit like an ocean tuning into these qualities. So just notice the soothing comforting qualities of this water, the fluid ease-full effortlessness of it, and, of course, the vastness of the ocean of water.

Okay. Good. So we sat like a mountain with the earth element and then we sat like an ocean with the water element. The next element is fire. Remember last week we sat as fire and the image here usually I would use is the sun. If you want you can use the sun like a ball of fire or you can use something pleasant like a campfire or a fire in a fireplace. Whatever works for you as an image of fire. And fire is a wonderful element to meditate as. It’s the essence of joy and creativity and inspiration and of course, fire is very purifying, and it’s very mobile, right? So it has this real sense of creative joy, creative inspiration but also a sense of purification. So sit as a fire and also feel that warmth and the comfort of fire, right? It’s very wonderful. So enjoy the fire element either as like a campfire or even something like the sun.

In the history of meditation practice, fire has been a really important element, a really important image, again for purification but also the whole idea of meditation is sometimes compared to a fire. It’s the fire in which we burn off the impurities or burn off the dross leaving this tremendous energy of fire, the joy of fire, and the warmth and comfort of fire. So sitting as a fire is very powerful.

Feeling the joy of that fire meditation we now move to an even lighter so to speak element which is air. So with air, I want you to imagine being wind, a gentle breeze, or even a strong wind, and the air element is all about movement. It’s about flexibility. Again, if we imagine this kind of boundless wind with a sort of energy of movement, energy of change this is very powerful–especially if you feel stuck or you feel depressed or you feel down–this energy of air is very uplifting. It’s very–it gets things moving again. And of course in tantrism, in yoga, and so on this is the element that we would call prana, right? The element that we would call chi or lung it’s the really important element for a lot of spiritual practice, a lot of meditation practice. So sitting like the wind and feeling that movement and change and flexibility is very impermanent. Just like the fire–really impermanent feeling element and this gives you the ability to change. It gives you the ability to move and also energizes the whole body in a really pleasant way. So let’s notice this energy of air. So meditating like the wind. When we tune into the energy of air, when we meditate like the wind, this brings a lot of equanimity because we are flexible. We can handle whatever is coming up because we have flexibility and the ability to change and move. So the wind element can–and meditating like the wind or the air element–it can bring a tremendous sense of equanimity, even with all the movement, all the change, there’s this feeling of like, “yeah, we can roll with that.”

Okay. Good, that’s the air element, meditating like the wind and now let’s do my favorite meditating like space, like infinite unbounded space, the fifth element in this tradition. And when we meditate like space we are noticing that there is boundlessness there’s room and there’s a real sense of openness and acceptance of everything. We can notice that space is special, right? All the other elements exist in space, and arise in space, and pass in space. And space is the closest element to just pure awareness itself. So meditate like vast boundless space and notice that there’s just room, there’s just enough room for everything, and we can handle whatever’s arising because there’s just so much openness. Space is accommodating, right? Everything in the world, whether it’s good or bad, or big or small, or hot or cold, or whatever it’s all given space, right? It has enough space to be. So space has this tremendous quality of accommodation and openness and a kind of–again, just a kind of a sense of room for everything. So now, just sit like space, like vast spaciousness. Notice how peaceful and how much ease it brings to sit as this vast space, just allowing everything, being with everything, totally open, totally free vast space. 

Okay. Good, now let’s move from the five elements directly into awareness itself, which remember is very much like space. I always say vast spacious awareness, right? So in other words we let go of these elemental ideas, we let go of any visualization or any imagination and just rest in our nature as vast spacious awareness. Now, what’s the difference between space and awareness? Space is non-conscious but awareness, of course, is what consciousness is. It is conscious, but in every other way it’s very much like space, so it’s vast spacious but awake. It is awake. It’s aware. It’s experiencing.

So now I want you to just sit as awareness itself, not engaging with anything, not grabbing on to anything, simply resting as your deep nature, which is awareness itself; wide awake, quite aware, bright and clear. Remember, the idea here is to not get involved with anything. Awareness itself allows for everything, allows all the elements, allows for thoughts, allows for feelings, allows the world to arise but it is not involved with anything. So if you find yourself getting involved just drop that, come back to just resting in your nature as vast spacious awareness. Awareness itself is like a mirror, everything is reflected in it, but none of the reflection, none of the things reflected actually disturb the mirror or change the mirror in any way. There can be every kind of scene going by. There could be a nighttime scene, a daytime scene, lots of people, no people, forest animals, cityscapes with skyscrapers, all that. All reflected in the mirror and the mirror is uninvolved with any of them, unchanged by any of them, and yet perfectly reflecting, perfectly clear. So sit as vast spacious awareness with this sense of unaffectedness, this sense of uninvolvement.

Okay. Good, now within this awareness notice that space is there. Space is arising. The element of space is there. There’s room, there’s spaciousness, there is accommodation, right? So we have space there and also notice that the element of air is there, the movement, the change, the wind, the sense of the ability to unstick. That impermanence is there and also, of course, the energy of wind, tremendous energy. So within awareness, there’s the space, there’s the air, and then there’s the fire element–that kind of joy and inspiration and creativity, the warmth and the purification of fire, okay?

We can feel the air that we’re breathing with our body. We can feel the warmth of our body, right? We can feel the space in our body that allows the warmth and the air that we’re breathing to be there. And then we feel the water element, right? We feel our blood and we feel the fluidity of our body and also this sense of comfort and ease and that real sense of effortlessness of the water. And then there is the earth element, the stability, our bones, and our weight, and that sense of cohesion and groundedness and connectedness and stability and solidity that is so characteristic of the earth element. So within awareness, all these five elements are present and just sit with that now. Feeling them integrate, feeling them interact in an ideal manner. They’re just flowing into each other and changing into one another and balancing so that we have, just up within ourselves, a perfect harmony of these elements. 

Good. Now let’s let all of these elements come together with a sense of joy and inspiration and a sense of freedom and openness and movement and a sense of connectedness and a sense of ease and openness and beam out love and joy to the whole world, beaming out, radiating out a sense of inspiration and creativity and aliveness to the world, beaming out a sense of healing and strength to the world, and beaming out a sense of equanimity and openness and accommodation to the world. So really, really just feeling how all of these five elements arising within awareness are just streaming out to the entire universe, to the multiverse, to every sentient being in the multiverse, to whom all these meditations are freely given, we beam out this joy, this healing, this sense of peace and ease, creativity, inspiration, groundedness, openness, the ability to change, the ability to purify. We’re wishing the whole universe and every being in the universe, the whole multiverse, and every being in the multiverse, we’re wishing them well, including ourselves. I want you to just radiate out, beam out, flow with that energy now.

Okay. Good, let’s end the meditation now.

Dharma Talk

That was a nice meditation, right? It’s good to connect with these elements. So allow your body to get comfy and move and stretch and feel yourself moving. The body loves to move, even though in meditation, when we’re doing this kind of meditation, I’d like you to remain very, very, very still, when we’re done meditating then we get into the joy of movement, at least a little bit. Feel, allow your body to just do what it needs to do, don’t get in the way, don’t prescribe what you think it should do, but feel into what it wants to do. And maybe have a drink of water. The white one is water, so we will have some water here. There’s a little bit of lemon in it too. That’s very nice. 

And so let’s talk about this for a minute. So, of course, even though I’m calling these the elements in modern English these are not elements, right? Elements are things like beryllium and cobalt, but in the ancient way of speaking, these are the element’s ancient meaning of the term. And of course, these terms change over time, like, for example, the term planet, right? Now it has a very specific meaning, not the sun or the moon, a planet is a very defined thing. But originally planet comes from the Greek word planetos which just means something that’s moving in the sky. Because planetos means wanderer, something that’s moving in the sky, and specifically it meant stuff that’s moving against the background, the supposedly fixed background of those stars. So originally the meaning was much more open just like the word energy, right? Now it’s got a very specific definition, highly precise, mathematical, blah blah, but of course, in years and centuries gone by we could use the word energy in a much more open way. The definition is a lot looser, and the same with elements. So I’m using an earlier, looser definition that has–it’s a little bit more like what we would now call states of matter, right? So there’s solid and liquid and gas and that would be earth and water and air, right? And then there’d be fire, the energy, right? And space is still the room for it to happen. It’s like space, space-time. 

So that’s kind of a fun semi-translation of how we could think about what we mean by these elements now, but of course, it’s more of a way of thinking about some different states of mind, some different states of our own internal space, and maybe even the external space. Again, with these states of matter,  you know the problem is now there’s new states of matter like plasma and superionic ice, all kinds of stuff that don’t really…you know, people keep discovering these states of matter so it doesn’t really fit the five element scheme either. So we’re just going to say the five-element scheme is its own thing, right? It’s its own imaginary way of considering the world and it’s actually quite a pleasant way and a useful way and kind of a creative and interesting way to think about things. When we do–you know each time when we start a meditation, very often we only do one of these, so I wanted to have a meditation tonight where we do all of them together and feel how they integrate and also feel how they exist within awareness itself. And that’s a powerful thing. 

If we were doing traditional practices like tantric style practices, we use the elements in very specific ways. If we’re doing–even further back, like shamanic practices, we use the elements in a different way. If we’re doing non-dual-like meditation traditions, we can even use the elements in a third way, right? And we did some of that tonight where–notice when we went to awareness the elements are there but now we’re not using them as kind of states of mind, we’re saying there are things that are arising within awareness itself. And so there’s kind of different ways to–or we could say different levels at which we’re engaging this idea of the ancient elements, or this more open way of thinking about elements. 

And of course, there’s even using them psychologically like–oh, I feel depressed so I’m going to meditate on air because that gives me freedom and movement and you know it kind of loosens things up because depression can feel like a kind of stuckness. Or–I’m feeling sort of flat and dull and uninspired so let’s bring in some fire element because that’s inspiration and creativity and it’s got energy. Or–I’m feeling all scattered and my brain is in 600 places, oh hey, let’s bring that earth element that has that cohesion and collectedness and stability, you know. Or–I feel like I’m working too hard and everything is difficult and so let’s bring in water. The water element, which is effortless and has that sense of ease and comfort. Or–everything’s just too up in my face, I’m anxious because there’s just too much going on and there’s no time to respond and everything’s too…and so let’s bring in the space because in the space there’s just more than enough room for everything to happen. So that’s kind of a psychological way to work with these. There’s you know there’s just so many levels and so many techniques and so many ways that we can play, creatively play, with this idea of these five elements. 

So I’m not suggesting that this is the one true way of viewing the world or something, but it is a wonderful way to work, and it’s very good for meditation, very good also psychologically, you know, too as a metaphor. But also as sort of like properties to take on. We can see where we’re imbalanced and take on these elemental properties at least as an imagination exercise. 

So there you have it; some five-element meditation and if you go way back, I haven’t done this for a while, but if you go way back to the mandala meditation that we have done in the past on these YouTube videos we can make those work together too. That becomes very interesting where the–remember we have the mandala with the five quadrants, well there’s a reason it’s five quadrants because those quadrants match elements and we can take on those properties as well. So it gets really interesting. It’s kind of a thing to help organize our practice, but also just a fun way to play with life and to play with experience, right? So there you have it.

I think the point I was making while we were meditating that I want to come back to is that space is kind of the super element. All the other elements arise in space and then awareness is outside of the elements but it’s most like space. But of course, it is also conscious. So we can say all those five elements, even though the four elements arise in space, all five of them arise in awareness and we can–just like everything–experience itself is arising in awareness. The sense of our personality, the sense of our body arises in awareness. The sense of stuff happening outside; arising in awareness. So all of that comes back to everything arising in awareness and if we go much more deeply we can say even all the things arising in awareness are not separate or different from awareness, right? So there’s a much deeper teaching available there as we start to learn to contact awareness.

It’s funny when I say contact awareness because what is it? My question, this is my koan for you; what is it that contacts awareness? I often use that phrase, hey we’re contacting awareness or we’re stabilizing our contact with awareness, but if you think about it deeply, who or what is contacting awareness? And when you do that, and of course the kind of typical answer the easy answer is; well I am. But what do you mean when you say I? Because of course, the teaching here, at least part of the teaching, is that you know typically when we say “I” we mean my thoughts and feelings and maybe my body, but really deeply my emotions and my thoughts, that’s me. Because you could, for example, lose an arm in an accident and that would be tragic, so part of your body’s removed but really your thoughts and feelings are still you, right? You’re not–you wouldn’t think of that as changing the essence of your being no matter how much it changed your life. So even though we do tend to think of the body as us, even more deeply we think of the thoughts and emotions as us. But this is one of the first things you learn in meditation; the thoughts are just changing and moving all the time, those can’t be you, the emotions are just changing and moving all the time, that’s not you. So who is you? Right? Who is you? If anything it’s the awareness in which the thoughts and feelings are arising, and of course we–there’s problems if we try to settle on awareness as a solid thing but where, in fact, it’s empty. But still there’s a big move to see oh when I say, “I’m connecting with awareness,” we kind of have to get it but it’s awareness that’s connecting with awareness. And awareness was never separate from itself. 

So when we quote connect with awareness all we’re really doing is relaxing into what’s already there. That’s why I kept saying our natural, already existing being as awareness, right? That’s always there, all we do is relax into that. You don’t make that happy. You don’t really connect with it. You don’t somehow become aware of awareness, you’re already aware. That’s the essence of your being. If there is an essence, it’s awareness itself. Funny because essence is another way of talking about elements but I mean in a different way, right? 

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