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Meditating on the Stream of Thought

Live Nondual Guided Meditation with Michael Taft

Streamed live on Mar 17, 2022


Hey you guys, welcome to tonight’s guided meditation and of course, we’ll also have a Dharma talk and a little bit of Q&A. So all of that awaits you this evening. Notice I’m wearing my most colorful, fun, crazy shirt, which I really like; I hope you like it too. It really matters to me whether you like my shirt. I’m going to think about this a lot tonight, based on your comments, about my shirt. Anyway, the reason I have the shirt is we’re going to work with some more of what we were working within a previous week, which is equanimity with confusion or equanimity with chaos. So even though to me this is a kind of harmony, for others they might see this is chaos. So I thought well, what’s my most chaotic shirt? So this is the chaos shirt. We’re gonna work with equanimity with chaos and confusion but in a different way than usual.


So let’s begin our meditation this evening by settling into our sitting posture. So what I want you to do is take your seat and, as usual, it’s best if you’re–let’s see, myself in position here–if your knees are below your hips; it gets you sitting up nice and straight. Feel free to also lay down or stand up, whatever you want. But if you’re sitting down I want you to sit in such a way that your lower back is doing that nice thing that makes your spine sit up straight. And because you’re doing it kind of mechanically by having your knees below your hips, it doesn’t take a lot of muscle power to keep your back upright. So we have our spine nice and upright in a very comfortable way. And just kind of sway back and forth like a tree, like a sapling in a rainy breeze, right? Saplings really like rainy, soft, rainy breezes, so it’s just kind of doing this: it goes forward and back and side to side, and eventually, the young sapling of our spine finds that spot that’s just perfectly balanced, that feels just right. The Goldilocks spot of your spine where it’s just floating upwards with almost no effort. It’s almost like it wants to just, in this one spot, it just wants to flow upwards towards the sky, effortlessly. 

Once we’re in that spot then we let our, for example, neck and shoulders and arms and hands relax. And then we’re just gonna stay in this posture, we’re not gonna move at all, okay? You might see, if your eyes are open, you might see me move every once in a while but that’s just because I’m guiding a video and so I need to control the computer or I need to take a drink because I’m talking. But if I was meditating only, I would sit completely still for the entire meditation and that’s what I hope you can do is sit completely still. Not scratching your nose, not, you know, shifting your posture or trying to, you know, adjust your neck. But just rather sitting nice and still and feeling that stillness, okay? 

So once we’re sitting in that way then let’s set our intention, why are we meditating? What are we here for? So I’ll just let you do that for a moment. It really helps to tune into our purpose. Sometimes we forget our purpose when we come to sit down. We just know, ‘it’s time, oh it’s time to meditate’. We sit down, we start meditating and we can’t even remember what we’re doing here, you know? And that never leads to a good meditation. So what I’d like you to do when you sit down is always be like, ‘okay, here’s why I’m meditating’, or ‘here’s, you know… I am now meditating’, is the point, right? ‘I’m doing a thing, so I’m fully here’. 

Good. And then what we’re going to do tonight is, first of all, we’re going to do one of my favorite standbys, one of my favorite metaphors for meditating; we’re going to meditate like the sky. So just become the sky. Vast, open, perfectly clear, bright sky, okay? 

So what’s interesting about the sky and why we meditate like the sky is that there’s no, nothing bothers the sky. There can be planes flying through it, there’s all kinds of birds flying through it, there’s noises in it, there’s clouds, there’s weather, there’s rain; but none of that bothers the sky. The sky is always unruffled, undisturbed, completely peaceful and vast and spacious; there’s room for everything in the sky. So I want you to kind of imagine or take on those properties of spaciousness and room and of unruffledness. And this unruffledness does not mean nothing’s happening, all kinds of things can be happening: all kinds of mind weather, all kinds of emotions, all kinds of, you know, feelings about this or arguments in your mind about that, or whatever. But none of that disturbs the sky. So it’s not that the sky has to have nothing going on. It’s that the sky is so vast and so clear and so open that no matter what’s going on, that’s okay. So let’s sit for a little while like the sky. And just like the wind comes and goes in the sky, as you’re being the sky here for a few minutes I want you to just focus on the breath coming and going. 

So you’re being the sky, you’re being vast and spacious and, unlike the sky probably–you know I’m not sure if the sky is a being or not–but we’re going to say we’re definitely sure that we are beings. And so we’re going to not only be vast and spacious but we’re wide awake, we’re aware. And in that vast, spacious awareness we’re simply allowing the breath to come and go. Allowing the wave of the breath which is like a wind rising and falling, right? In many languages, the word for breath and the word for wind is exactly the same word. So just let that breath come and go in the sky of awareness. Let’s do that now. 

Just continuing to rest as the vast, open sky of awareness with the wind of the breath rising and falling, rising and falling effortlessly in awareness. Now if you want to and only do this if you want to, you can change your breath just a little bit. You can let the breath have longer exhales if that feels comfortable. You have a regular inhale and then just a little bit longer of an exhale. And I want you to notice the end of that exhale. Don’t force it of course, just wait ‘till it happens but when it happens just notice that it ends. And you may notice, depending on your breath–it’s different for different people at different times of day–but sometimes they’ll even be kind of a pause there. Like, the long exhale will come to an end and then there’ll just be a moment where it’s just sitting there before the inhale begins. It might not, it might be very fast, very seamless: end of exhale then – [straight] into the inhale. But sometimes you do a long out-breath and then it just rests there and then the inhale will start. So I don’t want you to manipulate that. I do want you to, if you want to–you can do long out-breaths–but just wait for the end, wait for the end, wait for the end. And then notice when it arises, and notice if there’s a pause or not and if there is, the length of the pause before the in-breath begins again. Now we’re just noticing, but I want you to be especially aware of that. The sky, the mind is paying attention to how the wind of the breath is moving. 

Remember that the sky is vast, the sky is open, the sky is not bothered by anything at all. All the things can come and go and the breath, the wind of the breath, comes and goes in the sky. And we’re just allowing that naturally, already existing awareness of the sky to notice the breath. The wind of the breath as it rises and falls in the vast, open sky.

Okay, good. Now continuing to simply be the sky, be the vast, spacious, open awareness of the sky. Let’s switch our focus from meditating on the wind of the breath moving through the sky, and instead, we want to focus now on the wind of thoughts moving through the sky of the mind. So thoughts are simply moving through awareness and we’re aware of them. We’re not staying completely uninvolved in the way that we would if we were doing dropping the ball. We are actually meditating on them as an object but we’re staying uninvolved in terms of the content. So you’re not getting caught up in thinking, but awareness is aware of the thinking. The sky of awareness feels, notices, hears the wind of thought moving, the wind of thought whistling in the sky. And so we’re actually meditating on our thinking. And to do this we treat verbal thinking as just some sound, ‘blah, blah, blah, blah’, or visual thinking, if that’s arising, is just some lights changing. So we are paying attention to it but we’re not engaging, we’re not getting caught up in the content. So the wind of thoughts is moving through the sky of awareness and we as the sky are unperturbed by the thoughts and yet we’re meditating upon them. This is taking the mind as path: we’re meditating on the stream of thought without changing it in any way. 

Again, simply letting the stream of thoughts, the wind of thoughts move through without really engaging it. And yet we’re still focusing on it, we’re noticing it, we’re hearing the wind but just not manipulating it at all. Not trying to have good thoughts, not trying to have bad thoughts, not engaging with the thoughts at all but simply focusing on them, letting them just–let the winds go.

Now, continuing to allow awareness to meditate on the flow of thought, you may notice something interesting. Even though we’re not really getting involved in a deep way in the content or following the content or thinking on purpose, you know, thinking is just ‘occurring’. So I want you to notice that thoughts are simply occurring. The wind is blowing in the sky but there doesn’t, you’re not really trying to think: the thoughts are just happening. And furthermore, as we sink deeper into this you may notice something interesting and that is, the thoughts might not really, sometimes, make that much sense. There might be incomplete sentences, there might be garbled thoughts. Sometimes it doesn’t even sound like the language English, or whatever language you normally think in. Sometimes it might sound like several streams of talk. It can get kind of weird in there. And what I want you to do is to not try to force it to make any sense. Let it be as fragmented or jumbled or garbled or muddy, in terms of the content of the thoughts themselves, as it wants. Don’t try to make it into logical chains of verbal thinking; allow it to be just as, allow it to be however it’s actually showing up. 

This is part of the chaos that I was describing. Sometimes the mind is quite a bit more loose and open and incomplete in a way than we’re normally used to. So just let it present how it’s presenting.

Good. Now continuing to just rest as the vast, open sky of awareness. Observing, aware of the stream of thoughts as they pass. On purpose just allow yourself to kind of gently notice the part of thinking that seems the most non-linear, broken up, muddled, incomplete, or jumbled in some way, and just kind of allow awareness to notice that part more. So there’ll be parts that are, you know, speaking in regular sentences and guiding you and thinking. But I want you to go towards the stuff that’s the most jumbled. And this is just very, very light; you’re not jamming gears, switching between. You’re just very lightly allowing awareness to be more aware of the part of thought that is even more non-linear, non-rational, jumbled, broken up, muddled. And I want you to just meditate on that. And let it be okay that there’s a part of the mindstream that’s quite chaotic, okay? So, and maybe you’re only noticing that a little bit, or maybe you’re not even noticing that at all. So just go with what’s there. I don’t want you to change the content on purpose. Don’t try to change how you’re thinking. This is just about–kind of like, an example would be, or a metaphor would be; if you were listening to a song and I said, “I want you to just listen to the bass guitar in that song.” The rest of the song goes on and you’re not making a bass guitar happen, you’re just picking out that one part and listening. So let’s pick out the part of the mindstream, the part of thinking that is the most, let’s say chaotic, and just be okay with that; let it be there.

Good. Now let’s come back to just being the sky. Allowing the stream of thoughts to move like the wind through the sky and allowing awareness to notice the entire spectrum, the entire wide range of every kind of thought. Not just more narrowly looking at the one band but rather all the thoughts moving like wind in the sky. Notice that we’re not trying to change them, we’re not trying to control them. The wind gets to blow whatever way it wants; the many winds get to blow in whatever directions they want and the sky is not disturbed. The sky is aware of the thinking but it is not involved in the thinking and it is not disturbed in any way by just allowing the thoughts to flow. This is our actual mind, this is what it does, that’s okay. The sky of awareness has room, more than enough room, for all those thoughts.

Sometimes it’s just so pleasant to let go of all control of thinking, all evaluation of thinking, all critique, all trying to make thoughts always make sense or be nice, or whatever. And just allow the train of thoughts, or the wind, the flow of the wind of thought, to just do whatever it wants and to not interfere with that at all. There’s a kind of vast relief in letting go of that control and letting go of that anxious monitoring and simply to let the thoughts do what they want. You may notice that thoughts just happen. There are thoughts without a thinker, right? Nobody’s actually in there controlling that. It’s just happening and awareness is aware of it. 

Now let’s let go of that now and simply let go entirely of monitoring the flow of thought and just come into resting as the open sky, uninvolved with anything. We’re just wide awake, wide aware, vast, spacious, totally accepting. But not even monitoring the breath, not even monitoring the thought. If you want to you can keep that sort of wind of the breath rising and falling in the background. But for the most part, we’re just sitting doing nothing. 

Sometimes when we’re just resting as awareness, doing nothing, we want it to be a certain way, we want it to be peaceful. But awareness itself is always peaceful. We want it to make sense or have a pattern but awareness itself doesn’t need that at all. It’s vast, it’s spacious, it has room for everything. We want it to not be distracted or somehow not be filled with upsetting emotions, or whatever. But awareness is never upset. Any emotions can arise and it’s fine. So whatever is happening right now, just let that be okay, just let that be okay. Allow the sky of awareness to just let everything be what it is, without interfering in any way. And yet totally accepting, not ignoring or denying, accepting everything, just as it is. 

Good. Now just for the last moment of the meditation here, the last minute or so, I want you to, on purpose, to send out this peace that you’re feeling. Any peace at all that you’re feeling, send it out to the whole universe. Any sense of joy that you’re feeling, send it out to the whole universe. Any sense of loving connection and caring about others, send it out to the universe. And just let your open heart send out open-heartedness to every other being in the whole universe. 

We still have problems, we still have difficulties, we still have interactions, we’re still human beings with human problems and yet we have goodwill. We have friendliness, we have openness, we have kindness and we’re sending it out to the whole world, leaning into the light, as it were. And just radiate that now with as much genuine kindness and genuine caring and genuine openness and even playfulness as you can.

Good, so let’s end the meditation there.

Dharma Talk

Allowing yourself to move and stretch. If you want to do a nice cat stretch, letting your fingers and toes and hands and feet, or paws as it were, stretch, stretch, stretch, stretch in a way that feels really nice. Allow your body to move in whatever way feels good. Have a drink of water or, you know, scotch. Whatever feels good right now, and probably not Scotch–good, so–but if I did have Scotch I’d have some Highland Park. 

So tonight is the full moon and in fact, as we’re recording this, let’s see Pacific Time, so about five and a half hours from now the moon will be perfectly full. So right now we’re really feeling that full moon energy. And it’s funny, you know, there’s different moods on different days. Today has a definite full moon feel. And something that I talked about with several different people in several different conversations today was the fact that: it was about the ‘wisdom mind’.  We were talking about the wisdom mind. It was just funny, I did not bring this up, it came up independently in different conversations. So maybe this was today’s full moon theme, who knows? But we were talking about the wisdom mind. And the funny thing about the wisdom mind, or what in Sanskrit would be called prajna; in, you know, in Buddhism or Hinduism we would talk about prajna which means wisdom. But it’s better translated as the wisdom mind because it’s not typically what in the West we might think of as wisdom, which is like, you know, knowing some smart, deep shit about how to deal with stuff. That’s not exactly what is meant by the wisdom mind. What is meant by the wisdom mind is that the part of your mind that is linear and rational and kind of put together is just like this surface of the mind. It’s the uppermost surface of the mind. It’s barely one or two percent of your mind, right? It’s a tiny part that is logical and rational and everything makes sense in a kind of normal way. And we might call that just the regular mind. But just below that is, you know, the dreaming mind: the unconscious, the part of your mind that is non-linear and non-rational and speaks in the language of metaphor and is in a way, to talk metaphorically now, in a way is always dreaming. And it’s funny because in the West we don’t really, I don’t know, we don’t like that part of our mind very much because it doesn’t make sense in that normal, linear, rational way. 

Of course, it does make sense in dream logic. It makes sense in a metaphorical, associated, symbolic way. But it doesn’t really work in a linear, rational way. And so, because we in the West are so focused and give so much attention to and give so much credence to being rational and logical and linear, we don’t really like this other part of our mind very much. And so, as you do more meditation on thinking, we’re taking the mind as path. But even if you, there’s different ways we can meditate on thinking, one of them would just be regular old vipassana on thoughts, you know? Or as we did tonight, taking the mind as path, and just allowing thoughts as we kind of pay attention to them, and other ways too. As we meditate on thinking we notice after a while, you’ll notice that you’ve got this predilection to stay in the part of thinking that is clear, that is linear, that is following a sequence, that is orderly, that is rational. But you might start noticing, maybe even to your dismay, you might start noticing that there’s a whole lot of non-rational, non-linear thought going on.

So, when I say that, you might not have a concrete idea of what I mean. So to make it concrete I would say, for example, the thoughts are broken up; the thoughts are garbled like the language, you know, is garbled. Maybe it doesn’t even sound really like language, it just sounds like sounds, like phonemes. Like, sometimes it sounds like many different trains of thought at once. Sometimes even if the sentences are complete sentences they’re like, they don’t make any sense, you know? Even though those are all perfectly legitimate English sentences, they’re not, they’re, they’re like a dream. They’re saying something that doesn’t really seem to mean anything. So there’s all these different things going on in the mind.

As I said, it’s like a dream, okay? Or like hypnagogia or hypnopompia, it’s dreamlike, okay? And so you may notice–you might not but you probably will notice that you have a preference. You don’t like that part that’s kind of dream-like. You don’t like that part because you want things to be clear. And so what we’re doing in these, when we meditate on thought, it’s very important to let the thoughts be as unclear, as non-linear, as non-rational as they want. Just let them do their thing, we’re not trying to control them in any way. And the first thing most people notice is like, ‘whoa it’s, you know, it’s a little weird, there’s all… you know’. But after a while, if you just let it happen, you don’t try to control it, don’t try to force it to make sense, don’t try to force it to speak in proper sentences, or whatever. After a while, you’ll notice something interesting happening which is that that feels really good for some reason. It’s a real relief, it’s a real load off: take a load off, it’s a real load off. Why is that? Why does that feel so good? It feels so good because we’re not controlling the mind, we’re just letting it be itself for once. Just letting it breathe easy, letting it take a load off, letting it do what it wants. Instead of constantly trying to whip it into some kind of artificial shape. ‘I was just letting it be’. 

But if you work with it even more in this way, if you just sit with it, even more, it gets even deeper. It doesn’t just feel good, it will start to do a funny thing, a really interesting thing. You will start to notice that there’s creative thoughts coming up. Like, you suddenly have a new idea for a project or you suddenly understand how to do something in a new way or you suddenly will have solutions to problems arising without you having tried to make a solution happen. You weren’t sitting there thinking about that but a solution to some problem in your life will just arise. So there’s a kind of creative problem-solving thing that just starts to happen. Now you’re not trying to make that happen. This is when we’re totally just letting the mind do whatever. And it will just, every once in a while, you know, not all the time but every once… well, super creative thoughts, problem-solving thoughts will arise. 

Now don’t stop your meditation to write those down, if they’re important you’ll remember it. Just let it go and afterwards you can write it down. So there will be that level of, you know, creative problem-solving. But then if you continue to work with, you know, taking the mind as path, meditating on thinking, letting the thoughts be whatever they want to be, it will go even deeper. And you’ll start to notice you have insight into yourself, like your personality and why you do stuff. You’ll have insight into other people, what they actually want, what’s their deal? What’s going on with them? That can be really, really – especially when it’s about ourselves – it can be sometimes unpleasant. Maybe you don’t want to see that about yourself but it will be deep, it will be meaningful. So you get insights like, kind of like psychological insights into yourself and others. And you can’t say why necessarily. It’s not like, ‘oh, I suddenly understand this about myself and this is why I know that’. Again, it’s just presented as a fait accompli; it’s like boom, here’s this insight. But when you go to work with that insight it will ring true, it’ll actually work. 

So we have kind of this creative problem solving and then we have these psychological insights. And then even more deeply we have insights in, well, spiritual insights. Insights into the deepest questions about life: who am I? What is the meaning of life? That kind of stuff. It also is, those answers aren’t logical, they’re not rational, they don’t make that kind of sense. They make sense in this other way, the dream logic, this non-linear, open-minded kind of sense. And all spiritual traditions, especially mystical or meditative traditions, really agree on this point. It’s like, that sort of dreaming mind, the deep mind or what we’re calling the wisdom mind speaks this other language, the language of metaphor, the language of dream. But you’re going to find as you just allow the mind to do that, these very deep, spiritual insights arise every once in a while. Not just creative thoughts like, ‘oh I figured out my screenplay’, and not just psychological thoughts which are deeper, like ‘oh I suddenly get this really clear understanding, a deeper understanding of, you know, why I do that thing sometimes’. But every once in a while we’ll get even these deepest kind of answers to the questions about life.

So that’s prajna, that’s the wisdom mind and to get there you have to allow the thought process. Again, whether it’s visual thought, the images in your mind, or verbal thoughts, the words in your mind, you have to let it just do whatever it wants. Because if you control it then you’re forcing it to be this kind of linear, rational thing, okay? So it’s super important to understand that we want the mind to, at least during meditation, have this kind of real freedom, real acceptance, real openness. I’m not saying that you show up for work and start babbling or, you know, making non-linear statements. I’m saying, in your own meditation you allow the thought process to just do whatever it’s going to do, in whatever way it wants to do, and not control it. And you’ll find it has this very deep, very powerful, and even really, actually beautiful feeling when you do that. It feels really, really nice and it will have a powerful effect on your life.

So, you know, this is intimacy with our own mind. This is, you know, the opposite of what we typically do, which is, you know, there’s stuff we don’t want to think about, stuff that’s too scary to encounter, stuff that we don’t want to deal with and we kind of lock it away in the basement of the mind and we stay up here. But what that means is we’re always hearing the monsters in the basement and we’re afraid of our own mind, right? And that’s not a pleasant state of being. We want to be friends with our own mind, we want to be intimate, meaning really, really know deeply our own mind. And to do that we have to like open the cage door on the basement and let the monsters in and make friends with them, make them tea and have some conversations with those monsters. And sometimes, especially if they’ve been in there a long time – they’ve been locked away a long time – at first, that might be really scary and so we only do it, you know, maybe a little bit. But eventually, you’ll realize that all the monsters are just you and they’re your friends and you can talk to them, right?

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1 thought on “Meditating on the Stream of Thought”

  1. Yup. Creative problem-solving mind is at first another distraction. I must have spent many weeks solving problems in my head, if I could add up all the time spent this way on the three 3 month retreats I have done, plus all the other ones…and I whole-heartedly agree this is a prelude to deeper insights, and this wisdom unfolds as long as you allow thoughts to unfold. Many thanks for this.

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