We’re going to begin tonight by simply checking in with what’s it like to be you right now. So, just ask yourself the question, what’s it like to be me right now? Then, simply look. How’s your body feel? What’s it like to be that body right now? How’s your emotional world doing? Feel into that. How’s your mental life doing? Feel into that, and, to whatever extent it’s present for you, how’s your life doing right now? We are, in a very direct way, just tuning into our current experience, seeing it clearly, and then letting go of any need to change it. Letting go of aggression towards it and the idea that we want to make it different or better or something. Instead, just simply letting it be what it is. Let’s just tune into that for a while together, just noticing how you’re doing, and letting that be just fine.
Good. Now, without changing anything at all, or doing anything, just tune into the already there wakefulness that is present. The simple awareness that is there, whether you do anything or not. Just tune into that, setting aside, for the time being, engaging from the machinery of the mind, and instead, just noticing directly the simple awareness that is always present. If you’re wondering, “Well, how do I do that?” Well, that’s asking, how do you know anything is happening? However you know anything’s happening, that’s simple awareness itself. There it is. It’s that simple. There’s nothing to do to make it aware. It’s already aware. You can’t make it more aware. It’s already all the way aware, but there are some things we can notice about it.
Again, without really doing very much or changing it in any way, first of all we can notice that it’s very spacious. If awareness is currently really engaged with the machinery of the mind, it will tend to be rather non-spacious. When we set that aside, allowing the thoughts and planning and analysis to keep going if they want, but we’re not really involved in it or engaged with it. When we set that aside, we notice that the wakefulness itself, the awareness itself, is already very broad, very wide open. You can hear sounds from behind you and in front of you and above you and below. You can hear sounds in all directions. It’s already wide open. Light is noticed from all directions, feelings are coming from all directions. It’s broad, it’s wide open–we don’t have to make it wide open. Just notice that it’s already there, already spacious, and kind of panoramic. You can’t really “do” spacious and panoramic. If you try to come from the machinery of the mind and make it happen–I’m gonna open it this way and spread it that way–that’s still much smaller and tighter than if we just step back and just let it do its thing, which is naturally wide open. There can be a real urge sometimes to try to open it up. Instead, just step back. It’s already wide open without doing anything at all. Rest in this wakeful wide openness.
Another really interesting quality of this wakefulness is that it has a lot of energy. It’s wide awake. It’s very energized. One way we can play with that a little bit that’s interesting is just to breathe that energy directly into your lower belly. You don’t change your breath at all, really, but with each in-breath, you just feel the energy gathering in your lower belly. If you want to, you can see it coming directly in. There’s a hole in your belly and it comes straight in, or you can breathe it down if you want. With each in-breath feel that energy gathering in the lower belly and just feel how that’s obviously energizing to the system, to the body and mind. In a way, paradoxically, it’s also very grounding. Let’s just breathe into our lower belly for a while here from this very spacious place. We’re not really concentrating. We’ve got this already existing very spacious, wide awakeness, and we’re just lightly noticing that we can allow this energy to gather in our lower belly, below your belly button.
On the out-breath, you can feel it. This is a feeling that radiates out from that spot kind of magnetically, so to speak–a feeling of grounding and also energizing. Again, without trying to manipulate it, or control it, or move it around, you might feel the energy radiating out from that lower belly into your extremities, into the rest of the body, into the head, and so on. This tends to make the body more relaxed and in that relaxation, in that real pleasant letting go, we find a lot of stillness.
Maybe you’re having a really different experience than what I’m describing–and that’s okay. I’m just pointing to some things that you might notice.
Now, let’s move up, doing the same process of breathing into a spot, but now we’re breathing into our heart. From this very grounded place of the lower belly and maintaining a kind of strong footing in wide openness, just breathe into the heart on the in-breath. Feeling the heart opening up, energizing and unfolding, a flower opening up. On the out-breath it radiates out warmth; it radiates out a sense of being balanced; it radiates out kindness; it radiates out connection. We’re breathing in and out of the heart, and really noticing how that feels in the body, how it feels energetically.
Sometimes that place can feel a little blocked or shut down, but that’s okay. Just let it be the way it is, and notice that as we breathe in and out of the heart center, it tends to warm up. It tends to soften like butter, tends to naturally open a little bit, without us forcing anything or imagining it needs to be different. It just kind of relaxes open, at least a little bit. Notice how, as the heart warms and softens and opens, how that feels in the rest of the body as it radiates outward, as those sensations radiate outwards.
Good. Now let’s move up to the third eye, the forehead. Breathing in there directly through a hole in the center of your forehead. Breathing in and breathing out. Allowing the eyes to really relax, the face to really relax. Getting some sense of this clear bright wisdom energy building in the third eye center on the in-breath and then radiating outward on the out-breath. A real sense of clarity and lucid perception of seeing things as they actually are. As we breathe directly into this forehead center, energized with this wisdom and clarity, the machinery of thought just falls apart, and we just notice bright clear wide open awakeness in the mind. Then radiating out into the body.
Good. Notice, as we breathe into this space, and feel into that space, inside the breath, inside the energy in the forehead is just more space. It’s just wide open in there. We can feel that there’s just tremendous boundless openness right in the head. It’s almost as if there’s no head. If we let go of imagining our head–let go of imagining the structure, and instead just feel. What we feel is wide open spaciousness inside the energy. It’s very hard for any particular thoughts to grab ahold inside that tremendously wide open energized space. It’s just so relaxed and so open, and so free. It’s not really motivated at all to grab on to any thought, which collapses it down.
Just continuously letting go into wide openness, and then breathing this wide openness straight down into the heart, which is already warm and open. Now we notice in the center of that energized warm, kind, heart, is boundless space. Everything else is a mental picture of the heart. If we let go of, or don’t engage with, that mental picture, what we feel is wide openness, tremendous freedom and spaciousness in the heart. There are body sensations there but they’re not confining. Notice that the vast openness in the head is connecting directly with a vast openness in the heart. In a way it’s almost like a tube or cylinder of vast space connecting the two.
Good. Now we drop down, with this wide open, vast spaciousness, into the lower belly, noticing that, in that really energized, grounded spot, there’s just wide openness–the sky–and that that’s connected to the sky-like quality of the heart and the sky-like quality of the mind or the head. Feeling how awake and clear and bright that is, and at the same time, it’s simply wide open, very free, grounded, and relaxed.
We can breathe in directly through the top of the head, down through the forehead center, through the heart center, into the belly center. It’s just one massive open space. Then breathe back out, up that wide open channel. Even though we can still feel the body sensations, it’s as if the entire body is just completely transparent or utterly boundless, utterly without boundary–just a flow of energy in space.
Anywhere anything’s sticking, just let the space and energy open that up, without any effort. It’s absolutely effortless. It does it itself. Anywhere there’s any constriction, or crimping, or crunching, or tightening at all, just let the energy in space just release it. Anytime the mind hooks onto anything, just let the spaciousness just dissolve the hooks, without any effort, without any doing on your part at all. It just comes back into relaxed openness, wide awakeness, simple natural clarity and ease.
Good. Now, if there’s any remaining sense that you’re creating a visualization or trying to imagine something if any of that’s going on just drop all that. Any remnant of that kind of imagination, just utterly drop it, and notice that the spaciousness and the ease and the clarity is still there. It’s always been there. We’re just letting it shine forth of its own accord, without distracting. Utterly letting go of doing anything at all. Just rest as open presence. There’s no way to “do” open presence. If you’re trying to make it happen, that’s a dead end. You have to just let go of trying. What’s left is open presence, clarity, ease and spaciousness, without any doing at all.
If the mind contracts into a stream of thought or a fantasy, just notice that within that is tremendous spaciousness. It’s already awake, it’s already bright and clear and spacious, within even that. Being caught up in a distraction is a kind of doing, and all we really need to do is let go of that doing. Just come back to rest, and we’re no longer distracted. We’re back in clarity and presence and ease. All the attempts of the machinery of the mind just take us away from this. There’s no way to do this. You have to just not do.
Sometimes people make a big doing out of not doing. This is just not doing. Very simply, what happens is that the spaciousness is present, the ease is there, the clarity, the stillness, openness. It’s just all right there the minute we’re not distracting away from it with a bunch of doing. The surefire sign that you’re distracted or caught up in something is that you’ll feel the space contract. As soon as the space contracts, just relax, just let go, just stop doing, and the naturally, always existing openness of the space will reveal itself.
If you sit like this for a while, you notice something really odd. You might notice something really unusual, and that is that instead of feeling that you’re sitting there doing a meditation, it will feel a lot more like vast space and clarity and ease is manifesting a mind and a body. You can feel the body, and there are thoughts, and the mind, and there are feelings, and all that, but they’re kind of an expression of this open, clear, wide awake space. They’re almost appearing in it, made of it. So that, instead of being a person doing a meditation and tuning into some kind of awareness, awareness is vibrating into being a body and a mind that just does stuff. This body and mind that appears within and out of awareness is a joyous expression of openness. It’s a beautiful and noble manifestation from the very fountain of utter creativity, being recreated over and over again, moment by moment, into pure presence, pure beauty.
Furthermore, you may notice that this expression of space as body and mind doesn’t stop there. It radiates outward. This joyous expression of beauty and profundity radiates outward touching all other expressions, and all those other expressions radiate back to you. So even as this wakefulness, this wide open clarity and presence, bubbles forth into a body and a mind and a person, that bubbling forth can look back at its own source and just say thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.
Okay, very good. Let’s let go of the formal meditation there, although, of course, the meditation can keep going, since the wakeful space is always present.
Let’s just hop right in with any comments, reports, questions, things that you don’t understand that you want to direct at me, or things you want to say happened.
Questioner 1: I’m just curious if you could speak to when your mind is particularly chatty, but you’re not really clinging to the thoughts. Sometimes I’ll go down the rabbit hole, which is the more normal experience. But sometimes my mind is talking talking talking and it’s just bouncing, and I’m not really holding on to the thoughts. Could you speak to that?
Michael: It’s an interesting thing. One of the most common misconceptions is that we must stop thinking, or that if meditation is working, your thoughts must stop. Some meditations do that, but in this way of working we’re not. Remember, the very first thing I said is we’re letting go of the aggression towards the self. That means we feel we have to change what’s going on. We’re letting go of that: we don’t have to make the mind do this, or the mind do that. Some meditations are doing that, but in this way, if it wants to talk, it can talk talk talk talk talk talk, but we’re just not really paying attention to it. It’s like, okay, you go over there and talk, we’re going to rest as awake presence.
The talk doesn’t get in the way as long as you’re not grabbing onto it, attached to it, bound up in it. So sometimes I call that thinking thing the machinery of the mind. You can just set that down and it can sit there and still do its thing. It’s not getting in the way of anything. It only gets in the way if you can’t let go. If you keep grabbing onto every thought, then you’re doing the old tennis shoe-in-the-dryer thing.
All the spaciousness visualization helps to let that go, and again, letting go, meaning, literally, just let it run if it wants to run. We don’t have to stop it, we don’t have to control it, we don’t have to make it this or that thought. We just let it do its thing. It’s a very hands-off kind of approach. We’re not getting in there and manipulating and controlling.
Suzuki Roshi of the San Francisco Zen Center used to say, if you’re a farmer with cows, and you fence in the cows, the cows will break down the fence or jump over it. The real way to contain them is to give them a field so large they can never find the edge of it. That’s the idea. Working that way, what you start to notice, is that to really be involved in thinking is an activity. You have to grab on, and that is a kind of tension. If you learn to recognize that moment of cramping, it’s really easy to just not cramp. It’s a real physical flavor–you can feel it. It might not be physical, but it’s a feeling, so if you learn to recognize, “oh, I’m grabbing right there”, you just don’t.
Relax, and then the thoughts will run, or not, but you’re free, you’re just wide open. We have a mental model that we’re at the mercy of our thoughts and they kind of “have us,” but really, you don’t have to grab on. They might be looping, but you don’t have to hang on and go for the ride. It’s a real open way of working.
Questioner 1: Great, thank you.
Questioner 2: Hi. I wanted to ask about posture.
Michael: Sure, sit up straight.
Questioner 2: Okay, back pain will come and go, so should I just continue trying to sit up straight and strengthen my spine?
Michael: It’s a hard one, because maybe your core might be weak, so it is just a matter of getting used to having those muscles engaged. But, also we can do a thing; If I say sit up straight–everybody sit up straight–and just pay attention while you do that. You might notice that you get really tense in a certain way when you do that. Is it possible to find a spot where you’re upright, but it’s not tense? Sometimes we do that as an exercise. You sit up and kind of move around, not in an exercise way, but in an exploration way, where it’s balanced, where is it upright, but there’s almost no muscle tension. Maybe you’ve got some kind of structural tension going on, but as you play with that more and more over time, it starts to release those structural tensions, and you’ll find that you can just sit upright for a really long time, because there’s almost no effort involved. You’ve got a really good balanced spot.
When we’re sitting really really still, it’s got to be the most relaxed stillness–it’s never tight stillness. It’s just really relaxed. When you find real ease and spaciousness, the body just becomes very very soft, and very open, and very still, and it feels good to be upright, because the breath is so open, it’s so awake. So we’re finding this place that’s super relaxed and yet really awake and upright. If you’re trying to be kind of military upright–wrong direction. It’s a very relaxed and balanced upright. It’s tensegrity or something.
Questioner 2: Okay, thanks.
Questioner 3: I have this kind of mental process where some of my experience, maybe it’s tension…
Michael: Don’t fight the tension, then that’s double tension. I find some tension here and I got to attack it make it go away you know and so I’m gonna make those fingers relax–that’s exactly not what we’re doing, right? That’s aggression: “I’m going to change it,” and it’s a real habit in our culture. We’re going to take that forest and make it a mall, whether it likes it or not. We’re not doing that, it’s more, okay there’s some tension there, can I find the spaciousness and ease within it, even if it’s still tense? There’s already spaciousness and ease inside it, so we just kind of find that, and relax around it, relax towards it, and you’ll notice it starts to get softened already, just by removing our aggression towards it. Little by little, we’re just allowing, allowing, allowing, and if I’m allowing, this will start to open, but it also might take a while. Just to be really clear, while I’m sitting I’m not trying to force anything.
Questioner 3: I feel I have a process that goes around looking for tenseness and then I’m “oh, that process kind of is a tension.”
Michael: It’s its own doing doing doing doing; so just let go.
Questioner 3: … and then I’ll be lost in thought.
Michael: That’s a tension, too, right? So it takes a lot of tension to be lost in thought. You’ll notice, if you relax that particular tension, your mind goes open and very present. Then it’ll snap shut again, then just relax again, and over time the kind of habit of tension in the mind will just start to ease. It won’t be such a strong habit, and then ease some more. So at first when I say “your mind is just naturally open,” most people are, “no, it’s just sitting there, closed.” But did you ever see someone who’s been sitting in a chair pretty much all day long for a lot of years? They have a hard time. Their body’s real stiff. Our mind can be kind of stiff if it’s used to being tight, but you’ll notice even within that, there’s spaciousness and ease, even within that tension. We keep coming back to that and even that kind of habitual tightness will soften. Especially with the kind of breathing into it and stuff that we are doing. That really allows it to get supple, removes the stock tension pretty quickly, okay?
Questioner 4: There was a point during the meditation when we were coming down to the heart, as we were going down, I felt overwhelmed, but that feeling of being overwhelmed was in the mind, it wasn’t in the heart, it wasn’t anxiety.
Michael: Right, and it wasn’t in your belly either, right?
Questioner 3: Exactly, not in my belly. It was in my mind, but there was no association with the particular thought, and that made me want to disconnect almost because I felt as though it’s just too overwhelming, I just need to take a step back. Is that common in meditation? This is my first guided meditation.
Michael: Sure, sure, that can be pretty common although you have an uncommon level of clarity about it, so that’s good. You can use the belly and the heart as a resource because they’re not overwhelmed. So instead of “Oh, I’ve got to leave the meditation, I’ve got to get out of this,” you just keep feeling that groundedness and kindness and ease in the belly and the heart, and the feeling of overwhelm will soften and ease and go away. Essentially it’ll calm down.
A lot of times the mind is not used to not being caught up in thought, and it’s “whoa, where’s the ground, because I’m used to being tight inside the machinery, and if I if I’m not in my cage, where am I?” So it’s the overwhelm of freedom–you get used to it, and then it won’t freak you out anymore, okay?
Questioner 3: Thanks.
Questioner 4: I noticed with the particular wordage of letting it go or releasing it, I noticed my mind’s habitual tendency to see that as rejecting it or avoiding it. For example, with the posture, I notice every time that I come and sit on this particular form of mat, I would have chosen the chair but I didn’t really have a choice.
Michael: You can always ask for another chair, we have lots of them, so feel free, okay?
Questioner 4: Good. I’ll do that next time, because I noticed that a lot of pain arose in my body and what was rising was this part of me that was feeling rebellion of, “how dare you inflict pain on me in the name of freedom, or something.” I am curious about your thoughts on that.
Michael: There’s a lot to say about that, but I would say, next time, sit in a chair and don’t just sit in pain. If you must move, move. Don’t just sit there letting that be inflicted upon you. Even more deeply, outside the meditation, there’s plenty of pain that’s going to be inflicted on you by life, right? Cancer pain, and stuff that you can’t do anything about that’s inflicted upon you. So is your reaction to that just going to be, “how dare you?”? It might be for a while, right? Maybe for a long time, and that’s a totally good reaction.
But, eventually, it’s still happening; pain of being old, pain of difficult stuff happening in life, pain of friends dying, pain of relationships falling apart, pain of children moving away, pain of all the stuff that happens. It all gets inflicted upon us, and that’s not some kind of mistake of some kind. It’s tragic, but in another way of thinking about it, it’s just life. So we have to learn to sit with that, too. That’s why sometimes on purpose we do–we didn’t tonight–but sometimes we really work with the pain that comes up in meditation, either emotionally or physically, for that very reason: because in the deep end of the pool, that’s the stuff that meditation is really teaching us to work with; because rebelling against it doesn’t get you anywhere. It just wears you out. The stuff that can’t be changed. Posture we can change, but there’s stuff we can’t change, and that’s why this isn’t just “let’s all drift away on a cloud of pleasant fantasy,” we’re really learning to work with the pain that life brings.
So that question is important, and it’s what our practice teaches you. If you can find spaciousness even in pain which is definitely there, you start to understand how to work with this. So again, always, if you need to move to not be in pain, do that, but sometimes there might be other smaller pains that aren’t quite so overwhelming, that you choose to work with and begin to notice that they, too, are spacious and free and present. This goes in an interesting direction, a really powerful direction. So it’s a fundamental question.