Nondual Guided Meditation with Michael Taft
Let’s begin. What I want you to do is just, kind of, settle back into your seat, your asana. I want you to just check in with yourself to see what it’s like to be you right now, feeling your body and your emotions and taking the weather report on your mind and your whole being. Whatever’s going on just let that be completely okay, even if it’s really unpleasant for now, just let that be just the way it is and that’s fine. So we’re checking in with ourselves, seeing what it’s like to be you right now, and however that is, is just right for now.
Good, and now I’d like you to just do a slight imaginal journey with me here and imagine that you’re sitting like an ocean, like a boundless, vast ocean. It has that beautiful placidity and relaxation of water, there’s zero tension in any part of it. It’s really loose and open. We’re not moving in any way anymore we’re simply resting as water, vast, open, and in this case, perfectly clear water. So just pretend to be sitting like an ocean whatever that means for you and see if you can find that sense of rest, that sense of relaxation, and ease, and some sense of real openness and clarity. And notice that attention or focus may be tight but awareness itself is like this ocean.
Awareness itself is naturally relaxed and at ease, naturally wide open and effortless, naturally clear. And allow awareness to notice, without effort and without focusing, without any attention at all, just allow this wide-open awareness to notice the rising and falling of the breath. If you want to you could even see it as a wave in the ocean but minimally, just let your already wide open, wide awake awareness just notice that the breath is rising and falling. Don’t put any tension on it, no tightness, no focus, just wide open, noticing that the breath, the wave of the breath rises and falls in the vast ocean of wide-open awareness. It doesn’t take any effort at all. It’s easy and relaxed.
I want you to just keep allowing awareness to notice that breath wave, again, without tension, without focus, just know that it’s happening. And you can keep it almost like the heartbeat or background of the practice. And as you’re doing that I invite you to do some physical relaxation beginning with your head and face. So just invite especially your face to just let go of any fixed expression or tightness or tension, not stretching or moving, but just allowing tension to drain from the face and be replaced with a sense of ease and peace in the face. So that you notice your forehead muscles relaxing a little bit and feeling kind of nice in your eyebrows and especially the tense muscles around your eyes release and relax, your eyelids let go, your cheeks and mouth and lips relax, and your jaw releases to the place where your upper and lower teeth are not touching. And just notice that that already brings a deeper sense of ease, a deeper sense of letting go that you can tune into. It doesn’t require any effort, it’s just a kind of letting go of effort, letting go of tightening on purpose, just releasing that.
And then, let’s do the same thing with our neck and throat, and shoulders, releasing any tension and replacing that with openness and ease, and space. Now what sometimes happens is: if people find tension in a place, they’ll start to fight it, and try to get rid of it and all that, and that’s not what we’re doing. It’s simply whatever you can notice that you can just let go, just let go and enjoy that. And anything that stays–wants to stay tense, then don’t fight it, just let it be the way it is.
If you find yourself getting drowsy, go ahead and open your eyes and sit up a little straighter. It makes it a little easier. You know there’s the muscle in your throat that if you relax, it makes your voice deeper. It’s just a kind of relaxation. So if you can relax that, go ahead and do that. And just feel now how your face and neck and throat and shoulders are. There’s just a little more ease. There’s a little more space. And allow your arms and wrists and hands and fingers to just go utterly limp, limp like wet noodles, zero tension. No need at all to do anything with your arms or hands or fingers. And notice how good that feels, you might even feel a little extra blood flow, or some tingling in your hands because of the relaxation. And so now just notice that the arms feel good and the shoulders and neck and throat feel good and the face feels good, or at least a little more relaxed, a little more open. And just tune into that as a kind of fundamental expression of the relaxed ease and openness of your already existing spacious awareness which is like a vast open ocean. Just tune into that. And drop now more deeply into letting go, noticing the rising and falling of that breath wave without any effort, and how good it feels to just release and open. Wide awake, very clear, very bright, and very relaxed.
If you can just release any tension in your diaphragm, in your belly, let that relax and be at ease. Your lower back region to around your kidneys just opens up, takes part in the breathing, lets go a little bit. And then notice, in the pelvic region, any tension there relaxing and opening, and your hips–your hip joints–releasing. Maybe your legs fall, just naturally fall open, just slightly more and your legs themselves become limp like wet rags, no tension of any kind.
And you notice how this kind of relaxed, tension-free openness brings you to a place of sitting still without any tension at all. This is the sitting still of letting go and releasing.
And notice how, as your body becomes more spacious feeling and open and releases and lets go, the core of your mind can just kind of relax and almost melt, maybe just melt into the ocean. So that the core of the mind itself is spacious and at ease grabbing onto nothing, holding on to nothing, releasing and opening, and letting be.
And let’s just sit with that together, wide awake, bright and clear, a vast ocean of awareness noticing the wave of the breath rising and falling without any effort. If you notice the mind grabbing onto something, just relax allow it to fall back open without any effort. And whatever it was grabbing onto just toddles off. Each time the mind grabs on, just relax, let that open, and let whatever it grabbed onto just go on its merry way.
The mind here is like a vast spacious open ocean, grabbing onto, hanging onto nothing at all, simply noticing the rising and falling of the breath without any tension or attention. Good, very good, now let go of even noticing that breath wave and just allow awareness itself to rest in itself, noticing the tremendous openness and ease of awareness. It’s already there, there’s nothing to do, it’s already present but also it’s tremendous stability. If, for whatever reason, that’s too challenging, just keep noticing the breath wave. Otherwise, we can use awareness itself as its own meditation object, simply resting in awareness of itself without any effort, it’s already aware, nothing to do.
Now, if I was a traditional teacher, I’d yell really loud right now but instead, I’m just going to ring this bell. We’re going to continue meditating but I’m just going to ring the bell once just to kind of brighten things up in here a bit. So bell’s coming. Let’s listen to that bell.
Good. Now we’re going to do something slightly more active. I want you to simply notice whatever emotions are arising, if any are arising, and notice that those emotions that are arising are empty. Meaning: they’re there, you can feel the emotion but it’s also kind of not there, it’s like a reflection in a mirror, or like a rainbow or a cloud. There’s a feeling tone of emotion that’s there and at the same time, it’s got a certain kind of nebulosity, which we traditionally call emptiness. And if there are no emotions there, then notice that feeling of emotional peace or rest, and notice the emptiness of that as well. So each time emotion arises of any sort, no matter how small, we’re just noticing its emptiness, very easily, very naturally. It’s not something you could grab and hang on to. It’s not something you could put in a box. It’s not something you could label and place in a display case, it’s continuously moving, changing, and in a way, almost like a reflection of an emotion–there and not there. Even though you know you’re feeling things, you can never really define it or pinpoint it or settle on a final description. It’s continuously moving and changing and nebulous. Notice that property of any emotions or moods or feelings that are arising. In our conceptual mind we want to make them into distinct things but if we’re allowing awareness to contact it freely and openly and directly we notice it is not a thing.
Good. Now continuing to do that, notice the same thing about any thinking that’s occurring, any kind of thinking. Thoughts are arising, but we can’t tell where they’re coming from, they’re staying for a little while, but continuously changing and then they vanish and we don’t know where they went. So, just like with the feelings, with the emotions, it’s very hard to say that a thought is a thing or something we can grab onto. And especially if you’re using thought constructs to try to guide your meditation, or do it right, or judge yourself about it, all of that is just the same thing; just the arising and passing of a sense of movement in the mind but nothing you can hang on to. You may try to hang on to it, you may try to rest in it but it never rests, it’s not reliable like that, it’s empty. Thoughts are like shining projections on nothing, just there, but also kind of not there.
Notice that now. It’s almost like in this vast open ocean of bright clear awareness that is very awake there are just ripples of thought and ripples of feeling, still just more ocean, not somehow different, nothing to hang onto. Now let’s do the same thing with any concrete seeming body sensations, all that discomfort in your legs, or some feeling in your back, or whatever is going on simply arising in awareness like ripples in the water, not somehow different than the water, not somehow able to injure the water or harm the water, there but not there. Thoughts, emotions, body sensations all simply like dreams, like clouds, like reflections in the water, there but also not there. Just let go, don’t hang on, there’s nothing to hang on to. If it’s tightening, just relax. Notice that the vast space of awareness, the ocean of awareness is undisturbed, it’s utterly at ease, open and restful regardless of what’s arising. Emotions are empty, thoughts are empty, body sensations are empty.
Now notice that even that sense of being you has that same quality, it’s like a reflection in a mirror, there but not there. That whole story of you; likes and dislikes, your history, the what you’re like, and where you’re coming from all of that is simply a reflection in the mirror of awareness. It’s definitely there, it’s just also kind of not there. It’s like a dream, dreams are there but when you wake up where are they? Notice that that whole sense of self is like a dream. Don’t be the sense of self. Be what notices it. Notice that even the idea that you’re doing a meditation, am I doing it right? am I doing it wrong? how am I doing this? its going well, this isn’t going well, that’s all just empty concepts, just some passing thought and feeling, like ripples in the ocean of awareness, utterly empty, utterly not to be held onto.
And when we finally actually notice our own already present, utterly easeful, open awakeness it’s always been there since beginningless time, we notice that that is just fine, that is at peace. But it’s also playful and spontaneous and very alive, not caught up in a story, fresh and present and natural. It’s never not been there, it’s never not been the ground of your own being, nothing to fix, nothing to change, wide open, utterly present.
When awareness recognizes itself, recognizes what it’s always been it feels a kind of joy. It’s just the joy of openness, the joy of no constriction, and also the joy of connection. There’s no lack of connection and togetherness. Just notice that kindness and joy and connection radiating out in all directions, bringing relief in all directions to everyone everywhere. Kindness, peace, and ease to all beings everywhere.
Good. Go ahead and let go of the practice. Feel free to move and stretch.
You might also notice that the spaciousness, the openness, the wakefulness, the awareness doesn’t go away, didn’t go anywhere. It’s still there because we’re not generating it, or somehow by getting in just the right spot of meditation making it happen, or something like that. It’s always there. We’re just getting still enough to notice that. When you tune into that over and over again, because it’s always there to tune into, eventually, instead of the idea of you tuning into it, you sort of realize that you’re just returning to where you’re already at, or kind of recognizing what’s already there. The more that happens the more it’s kind of a funny thing.
I think I was mentioning this verse from Rumi Jalaluddin the other day. It’s pretty famous and I won’t quote the poem correctly but you know the poem is describing the anguish and angst and effort of knocking on the door and knocking on the door trying to get inside and then realizing, oh, I’m knocking from the inside, already there. All of that was just kind of like a mistake or a funny game, I’m already here there was nothing to do and that’s the feeling. That’s the feeling when we recognize our own awakeness. It’s like you’ve been trying to do the meditation right, and you’ve been trying to get concentrated, and you’ve been, you know, you’re warring with distraction, or you’re warring with your kleshas, or you’re warring with you feel too tired or you feel too–what’s the proper term I’m looking for here? the word that’s coming up is feisty that’s not the actual word I’m looking for. Flighty, a little flighty, you know, just kind of too much speed in your head so you’re trying to change that, or you’re just constantly fighting with the system to like get it right. Got to get it right.
And that’s the same thing, I’m knocking and knocking and knocking, and then you realize you’re knocking from the inside. There was nothing to get right there because it’s the awareness that is already there, that’s already stable, that’s already clear, that’s already wide awake, that’s already completely free and joyous. There’s nothing to change about it. And all of a sudden, you can just relax, it’s okay. The awareness is already awake. And then, you tighten up and forget that again, but just relax and recognize again, and then relax and recognize again. Once you recognize that even a little bit, and then you get kind of confident, oh yeah, I am recognizing it.
You can’t ever forget what that is because it’s just–it’s such an unusual thing. Have you ever read in A Stranger in a Strange Land they talk about how Michael Valentine Smith pushes people 90 degrees to everything. It just disappears them in this sort of magic way in the book, stated as a kind of geometry. Like there’s a place 90 degrees from everything and that’s sort of what it feels like the awareness permeates everything but in another funny way it’s 90 degrees from everything that we’ve been taught to pay attention to, like emotion, and of course, emotion is extremely important, helpful beautiful, useful, deep, rich, sometimes disturbing, upsetting, life-wrecking, sometimes the most important thing and most healing thing.
And so, there’s no sense in which I’m saying that’s not important or not there. But also it’s different than we think it is because it’s a reflection or arising in awareness. If you didn’t know it was there, that’s different. Same thing with thoughts and for most of us either our thoughts or our emotions are going to be kind of central to gluing our sense of self together, usually both. But some of us are more like kind of mental construct people, some of us are more, you know, deep emoters, but everyone’s got both of those going on. But in the case of thoughts, it’s really easy to just glom onto those and grab onto them and not–I don’t just mean words, it’s not just words, like we tend to think of thoughts as like the sentences in our heads, but it’s also just the overall structures, the concepts, the frames that we’re setting things in, and the viewpoint. I don’t mean visual
viewpoint, I mean kind of our sense of where we are compared to them. All that is coming under the word thought or we could say thought construct, or concepts and all in the same way as the emotions, that’s there. We can build an airplane using that and it will fly and you know the stuff is useful but it’s also different than what we think it is. It’s reflecting, it’s an arising in awareness, like a ripple in an ocean and it’s not separate from the ocean. It’s not something to grab onto.
Just like emotions, you can’t hang your hat on it, you can’t rest on it, you can’t attempt to be that. And that’s all we do is attempt to be those things. And when we attempt to be those things, we notice over and over, that you can’t actually do that and that’s frustrating. So we try to continuously struggle to make those somehow stable, somehow a place to rest, somehow something to be. And they never can be that. And there wasn’t a millisecond in your entire life where you’ve been that. That’s like believing you’re the avatar in your video game. It’s there, you can see it, but that’s not something you can be. But what’s noticing that? How do you even know it’s there?
Again, the awareness is central. It’s how you know there’s a thought construct there at all, or what the thought construct is. And so, the game here is to not to do it right, or not to be the correct thought construct, or not to have the correct emotion, or to somehow stabilize those, or somehow make those all come into focus just right, but rather to just stop grabbing on to any of that long enough to just notice the thing that’s always there.
The noticing itself. The noticing itself. And that’s what I mean, it’s kind of 90 degrees to everything because we’ve never been trained to do that. It’s really actually quite easy but because we’ve never been trained to do it, it feels like the weirdest thing in the world. And the standard formula, the standard kind of like–if you get into sort of the traditions and the scriptures and stuff what they will say is that it’s–I’ll forget the full list–but that it’s like so easy you just can’t believe you’re doing it right. And it’s so obvious that you can’t believe that that’s what people are trying to get you to see, and it’s so good you can’t believe that that’s really it. There’s one more, I can’t remember what it is right now, but it’s like really that easy, and really that obvious, and really that good. Once you kind of get the hang of what we’re trying to get you to notice, which is the noticing.
In a bunch of my classes, we’ve been going through this beautiful translation of a poem a 16th-century Tibetan poet and master, Jigmé Lingpa. The book is translated by Ken McCleod, it’s called A Trackless Path. But in there, he says something really interesting, which is: instead of glomming onto the arising, be what knows the arising, be what notices it. And he has a really interesting metaphor for that, he says that’s like being an oak peg in the hard ground. It’s a very odd metaphor when you think about it. All these traditions talk about space and openness and ease and there’s nothing to hang onto but he’s saying that sense of coming from awareness itself, openness, not a thought construct, not any kind of construct, but just awareness, even awareness, not as a construct not as a thing, that has this property of being like an oak peg in the hard ground.
And even though it too is empty, it does have this interesting sense of being super stable and very unruffled, even though lots of things are changing. It has this sense it’s always been there, it’s never been different. And so on now we’re not deifying that or refining that into the one permanent thing, it’s still empty as I’m saying but still it has this property of–compared to
the constructs–of being like an oak peg in the hard ground. It’s very interesting when we learn to meditate by, let’s say, focusing on the breath, which is a beautiful thing to do, I mean please do that, it’s a great meditation. We’re kind of borrowing the stability of the breath to stabilize our mind, right? Or let’s say, you’re meditating on looking at a cushion in front of you, we’re kind of borrowing the stability of that visual presentation to still our mind. But eventually, as you do that kind of meditation more and more and more you realize the thing itself is not stable at all, it was just comparatively stable.
But the more you notice it the more–depending on how you’re doing the meditation–you might see it turn into a kind of like buzzy super vibratory static or just directly see its emptiness, which is like just a reflection. And so the thing that you are using to stabilize the mind, eventually, you see is completely unstable and what’s actually stable is what is like Mind with a capital M. The awareness itself is tremendously stable and the objects of awareness are not. And so, we can allow what’s already there nothing special, just the fact that you’re awake, right, now to be its own stability.
It’s very interesting, it’s very powerful, it’s kind of freeing, or I could say radically freeing.
Especially the more you notice that that’s always available, always available and that’s when you’re like, oh I’ve been knocking and knocking to get inside to the good place but I’m knocking from inside, the good place I totally got it like I’m already there. It’s already there, I didn’t have to make it, I didn’t have to like crawl my way there. It’s already there. So good, that’s my raving for this evening. Any questions or comments or even reports from you all?
Questioner 1: What’s the function of this not moving in the meditation?
Michael: Total relaxation.
Questioner 1: What about the pain that is building up?
Michael: Yeah, so if pain is building up then number one feel free next time to sit in the wiggle room and not experience that pain, that’s great. But as you get more and more used to sitting like this, you’ll notice that the pain doesn’t arise because your body just gets used to sitting still, or if it does, that becomes another object to notice the emptiness of and allows you to connect more deeply with the awareness that’s noticing. It’s actually really, really helpful to sit still but you don’t want to do it before you’re ready because then it’s kind of just agony, which is why we kindly provide the other space. Eventually though, you’ll notice that when you relax enough your body just–that’s what I was saying we don’t stay still rigidly, we’re not holding ourselves still here, you’re relaxing to the point where you can’t move because if you were to try to move you’d have to tense back up. And If you get used to doing that and you sit like you’re sitting in a way that you’re used to sitting, your body will find this spot where it can sit, where it just feels good the whole time.
So it just takes a little getting used to, but once you’re used to it, it’s like there’s kind of a BING! You just want to just be so relaxed and open that you just, kind of, can’t move. So it’s really eventually very, very nice.
When I was first learning to sit this way it was like prison and oh I just gotta make it through it, and that can be useful. Actually, lots of traditions work with that but it’s okay to not push it further than you can push it right now. But eventually, you’ll notice–it might take months or years or whatever–but eventually, you just sit there and it just feels good to just really relax. Because all the time you’re ready to move–this is the funny thing–readiness to move is like 15-20 percent tension in the muscles. That’s what readiness is. And so if you let go of that, really let go of it, you settle into a kind of stillness that is very, very pleasant and then your mind will start to relax. So the body and mind are one thing, right? So that tremendous relaxation style stillness in the physical body starts to induce relaxed open stillness in the mind, whereas if we’re keeping the body really tense and that’s like we’re trying to keep the mind tense. Sometimes we try to get thought-free by keeping the mind tense. That doesn’t help. It totally doesn’t work. Or you know, if we’re just constantly fidgeting and scratching and changing our hair and zipping and unzipping our clothes, or whatever, our mind just will do the same thing. So eventually, we just learn that really, you know, this is even the secret of jhana. The secret of jhana is not somehow high concentration, it’s actually learning how to relax, really relax. Because when we really relax the body, the mind really relaxes, and instead of being some kind of tight control that’s the real real concentration, the mind is just totally still. And it comes from opening, releasing, letting go, freeing tension, right? So that’s why we’re sitting still, okay?
Yeah but, you know, one thing I’ll say is sometimes it feels with your legs like if they fall asleep they’re gonna–you’re gonna be done meditating and your right leg from the knee down will just snap off or something and that’s not gonna happen. They just get a little numb sometimes because the nerve is just slightly pressed just a little bit and as long as you get up slow they’ll be completely fine. Great question though, thanks. What else?
Questioner 2: Is there a point beyond which we can’t go? Is there a point that’s actually invisible when we try to focus the awareness? In other words, I was surprised how much I could feel that happening but mentally I’m thinking I need to be able to pick the thing up and look at it which means you’re separate from it.
Michael: Yeah, and so that’s coming from concept, right? That’s coming from the idea: there’s me over here looking at awareness over there and so naturally like you’re saying, you get that feeling of–I’ve got to be able to pick it up and look at it or hold it or focus on it. But you can let go of every bit of that and because awareness is aware it doesn’t require any focus. You don’t have to look at it with tight attention in any way, it’s already aware of itself. It’s not a thing that you’re putting into focus, it’s already there. Otherwise, you’d be dead or unconscious or something. Is there an experience happening right now?
Questioner 2: There’s a consciousness…
Michael: No, answer the question. Is there an experience happening?
Questioner 2: Yeah
Michael: That’s it. You just did it, you don’t have to tighten it at all to look at it in some special way. That’s what I mean. It’s so easy that you can’t believe it. It’s just that nakedness of the fact that there’s experience. So anything you’re doing to try to get an angle on it or turn around to look at, all of that is just nonsense. And I did it for years, so I totally relate to why you’re doing it but it’ll be quite literal, throw it out, just come back to it’s already aware of itself. It’s that easy.
Okay. does that make sense to you? Can you do it right now? Yeah? No?
Questioner 2: Yes.
Michael: Okay, right. It’s right there, no focus necessary. So isn’t it interesting, we kind of make what I would call like a cartesian theater in our head, like okay there’s a me over here and I gotta put it up that thing over there. All of that is just adding stuff in that does not need to be there.
So just every time you notice yourself doing that, just drop it, it’s just a waste of time.
Okay, awesome, great question. Other folks?
Questioner 3: You said something a little bit earlier that where you were kind of talking about thought and motion and my question is how do you feel as though thought and motion aren’t different from each other and how the function of them is different?
Michael: It’s a complicated question because it’s like on many different layers, right? And so in the context of this discussion, I’ll just answer briefly although there’s more to it. I would say in the most kind of childlike regular way we notice that thoughts are either sounds or pictures, right? They’re going to be talk talk talk or pictures or even if they’re deep concepts they’re going to have that kind of structure, whereas emotions are going to be a body sensation basically, we might have ideas about the emotion but that comes back to thoughts. The emotions themselves feel like a kind of movement in the body. So to put it in sort of an experiential but maybe childlike way; thoughts are going to be sounds and pictures, and emotions are going to be feelings in your body, okay? So what’s interesting is as we go deeper and deeper with those they all start seeming like a kind of movement and eventually they sort of come together into one thing, right, and it’s just stuff moving. And then eventually you recognize it’s just awareness moving, it’s not even a thing, it’s like an empty phantom in awareness.
And yet again, when we say empty it sounds like I mean nothing but I don’t mean nothing, there’s an experience there. But as we go deeper and deeper into what we would call the mind sense, right, it seems to just be more and more movement, whatever that means. And then the movement–like I was saying, like ripples on the ocean of awareness–are just made of more awareness. You realize that the thoughts and feelings and body sensations and even the world around you, it’s not made of anything but awareness. Even though it’s not made of it but it’s not different than it did anyway so but to get into the function and all that, that’s a whole other…
I’ll say I don’t know. Does that answer your question at all?
Questioner 3: Yeah.
Michael: Okay. Good. Yes?
Questioner 4: So you’re talking about awareness as part of the self and to me…
Michael: I never said that.
Questioner 4: Okay, are you talking about awareness? But what about the will? Is the will assumed under awareness or is it a separate thing? Or is it…
Michael: When you say the will what do you mean?
Questioner 4: I don’t merely have the sense that I’m aware, I also have the sense that I can do things. I can do whatever I want.
Michael: Where does that come from? How do you know what you want?
Questioner 4: I choose it.
Michael: How do you know what to choose? Like so you choose to, I don’t know, go to the bathroom?
Questioner 4: It’s a mixture between determining and choosing, sort of.
Michael: All I would say is look really closely at the idea of will and tell me where it comes from and if you decided it. Just in your own experience look really closely. Because I can sit here and say I think it’s this or that but I don’t know the truth of the universe, I just invite you to see if that thing of like well…
Questioner 4: I just do it because I want to.
Michael: Okay, well look into the wanting really how do you even know you want that? Where does that come from? It’s an interesting thing to look deeply at.
Questioner 4: The wanting is not the important thing, I didn’t will anything even something I don’t want to I can watch nothing and I have five options in front of me I just will this one.
Michael: Okay, notice that moment of willing then. Where does that come from? Look really closely. When does it–is there a moment before the willing? What’s there before the willing? And what’s changed once, right in that moment, when that sense of willing it appears? And where did it come from? Check it out. I guarantee that will be fascinating.
Questioner 4: Okay
Michael: It’s more important than my ideas about this or that. Just look into your own experience.
Okay, awesome. Time wise I should go here. I actually would love to keep talking and really enjoy being privileged to hang out with you guys and hear your questions and stuff.