Guided Nondual Meditation with Michael Taft
Let’s begin, as always, by just tuning in to the question: What’s it like to be me right now? So what is it like? Feel your body, your emotions, notice your thoughts, whatever else is going on in the ecosystem. Checking it out. This is a very important point: whatever is happening in there right now, just let that be okay right now. We’re going to let go of the fundamental aggression toward ourselves, that constantly says we need to change our internal state. Instead, simply let whatever is happening in there happen, just the way it is right now. Even if it is not that pleasant, or it’s super pleasant and you don’t want it to go away, ever. Just for now, for the length of the sit, let it be however it is. So let’s spend a few moments tuning in to how it is to be you right now.
Now, just tune in—this is like a poem or a mood thing—just allow yourself to meditate as if you are the sky. Let yourself be wide open, boundless, spacious, free; very bright and clear–wide awake. That is always part of our experience, so we are just tuning into that part of our experience that is already like that already sky-like, already wide awake, already wide open. So, even if you only find a little hint of that, tune into it. We are not tightening down or constricting, or trying to make it different or make it big. Just notice the natural easy openness that is already part of our experience. From the wide awakeness that is part of that openness, the bright, clear, crisp awakeness that is already there, just allow awareness to tune into the rising and falling wave of the breath. It is like this boundless openness, this open sky is aware of the rising and falling wind of the breath. We are not focusing on it, or microscopically or phenomenologically deconstructing it, we are just noticing that the breath is rising and falling, that’s all. Very simple.
Just allowing the breath to be the breath, and that that feels good, the body loves to breathe. So there is a background hint of pleasantness, of joy, or funktionslust, with this sense of how pleasant it is to breathe. The light wind of the breath, rising and falling within the sky of awareness, wide open, wide awake, sky of awareness. Notice a really easy, natural sense of stillness that comes into the body when we allow ourselves to be wide awake and wide open; breathing very easily. This is not stillness from rigidity or discipline, this is simply becoming relaxed enough that the body is enjoying stillness, really loose, open, relaxed stillness. Sometimes when we stay ready to act or move, we have a background tension. Here we are releasing that, settling in, simply sitting.
Good. Now, if you already know how to do alternate nostril breathing, go ahead and do that. If not, I will demonstrate. Put your right thumb on your right nostril, closing that nostril. Then breathe in through the left nostril. Then close the left nostril with the middle and ring finger, and breathe out through the right. Then reverse, breathing in the right nostril, closing the right, breathing out the left. We’re going to do this for a while–about 5 minutes. You don’t have to do it if you don’t like it.
It is very good for balancing, opening, and getting the brightness of awareness quite a bit clearer. If you have been practicing this for a while, feel free to do longer exhales or breath holds, or anything like that if you are conversant with it. Otherwise, simply do this back-and-forth breathing. It helps if you sit up real straight, with the back really straight. We are getting bilateral, bihemispheric stimulation doing this.
If you want to combine this with a visualization, you can, on the in-breath see the breath going into the belly, see the breath and the belly lighting up. On the out-breath, see the 3rd eye lighting up. If you want to combine it with a mantra, on the in-breath, say so-hum; on the out-breath, say han saha. This is a nondual mantra. The so-hum means “I am he/she/it”; han saha is “That is me.” We are connecting with coming out of the sense of a limited identity into the much larger, groundless identity of empty awareness itself. So-hum on the in-breath; han saha on the out-breath. Feel also, besides the balancing, soothing quality of this, feel also how you sense the energy body a little bit. Minimally, tingling, but often, a greater sense of embodiment coming forward.
Now, we started with an in-breath in the left nostril, so keep going until you do an out-breath on the left nostril. Then allow yourself to finish the breath, and simply rest as the wide open sky of awareness. Feel, not only the breath rising and falling but also, the energized body and the wide, wide, wide awake awareness.
Again, in this very open manner, not focusing hard or constricting the attention, just be with the breath. Particularly the feeling of the movement of the breath, so that energy quality. If you are sensitive to it, you can even feel the energy behind the breath, that sense of vibratory movement that is almost the source of the breath. So, in this very relaxed, wide open, wide awake, very open manner, we are just following the breath, but now in a much more energized manner. Feeling the buzzy/tingling/vibratory quality, perhaps throughout a lot of the body, many areas of the body. Let’s just be with that for a while. Bringing bright clear awareness without any tightness in attention. See if you can notice, just directly–this is not a visualization, you are not imagining something–see if you can notice how that feeling, that quality of energy in the body is actually moving the breathing, it is behind the breathing.
We might think of our bodies as being filled with pumps and hoses and electrical wiring, and pulleys & levers–all the metaphors about how the body works, based on our machinery and equipment–but this sense of vibratory energy is how the body feels about itself when we tune into the energy behind the breathing. The body starts to feel really good, to relax and open. This is its native language, so to speak. So, it’s less of us impinging and colonizing it with our ideas of how we think of it, and rather feeling how it feels about itself. Very natural, very relaxed. The body starts to open to this way of seeing. If you are sensitive to this at all, you’ll feel this energy all throughout your body, limbs, face, torso. And as you tune into it, not focusing on it, just relaxing into the open awareness of it, it will start to become more obvious and even grow and expand. When we notice it even more clearly, even more deeply, we see that, to put it in this funny way of talking, the energy is behind the breath, and behind the energy is groundless openness. Just absolute spacious openness that has no bottom, no ground. It is just wide open. Right inside the energy is boundless space.
If you are very good at noticing this, you may be able to follow how space bubbles forth with energy, and the energy becomes the in-breath, and the in-breath collapses back into energy, collapses back into space as the outbreath. Not as a visualization, but a direct perception. You may even begin to feel how the entire body, not just the feelings of the breath, but all the feelings of the body, are just wide open, boundless space, exuberantly dancing, so to speak. Every sensation is simply the vibrant expression of this groundless openness. Very pleasant to notice that.
If you work with this for a while, you’ll notice that it affects the mind, the thinking process. Just like the feelings in the body can be noticed as energy and vibration, if we do that enough, we start to experience thoughts that way. Not as cognitive information, they will start to feel like vibratory energy flows, just like the body feels. It will start to affect how thinking is perceived. Arising thoughts, instead of being strings of cognitive information, will feel like a wave of buzzy, tingly flowing energy. Still thinking, but in a very different mode. And very obviously coming from the same source as the breath, the same emptiness that is vibrating and dancing its way into being the breath, is also exuberantly expressing itself as flows of thought, that are simply movement, energy, change. We are not analyzing them as linguistic or cognitive content.
If that’s too hard, just stay with the body and the breath. But if you can notice that thoughts are simply flows of energy as well, as a direct experience, not a visualization or imagination, just tune into that. Surrender into that, and notice how that changes the openness of awareness to even more unrestricted, uncontained, very awake place.
If you find yourself getting sleepy, sit up straight, but keep going. This is not a sleepy time, but a very wide awake time. Just a different mode of being wide awake.
Notice how tuning into the vibratory quality of thought, the flow of continuously changing thought energy will tend to dissolve the more crystalline, rigid, controlled, and defined aspects of the mind, and start to open up the playfulness, openness, non-linearity, wide open, wide awake and simply spontaneously flowing.
If any part of the body starts clamping down or tightening up, just notice how the breath energy lets that open right up. Not in a fighting or struggling way, just simply relaxing and opening. Similarly, if the mind starts clamping down, trying to make sense, interpret, frame, control, just notice that the flow of thought energy moving and changing, transmogrifying continuously just melts those attempts, dissolves the control frame, and lets a sense of ease, spaciousness and spontaneity come into the mind. Very natural sense of wide openness. No need to control.
Groundless space itself is thinking. Bottomless openness without any boundary is breathing. Whatever that feels like, if that is there, feel the energy behind that. The feeling of being somebody doing anything at all, especially breathing, thinking, or doing a meditation, has some body sensation components, some emotional body sensation components, thought components, all of which are already experienced as flows of energy that are then coming out of groundless wide openness. So see if you can notice that the sense of “I am somebody doing something” has a vibratory energetic quality behind it. You can break it down into thought and feeling, but it is also available just directly. There’s the feeling of me being somebody doing something. Feel the vibratory change, the energy flow behind that. It may be easily available, or it may be beyond your ability right now. If that’s the case, that’s ok, just come back to something that is easy to contact.
Notice the energy behind somebody doing anything at all. Then, as you have probably already intuited, notice the space out of which that is arising. The vast, boundless openness that has no ground at all, absolutely wide open, out of which the experience of “I am somebody doing something” is arising. It is really interesting, when we are aware of it, because, of course, it is not that there is no experience of somebody doing something. Just like, obviously we are breathing, we can feel breathing happening, but it is arising out of groundless openness, and obviously there are thoughts happening, but those, too, are arising out of groundless openness. They are kind of there but not there. In the same way, the sense of “I am somebody doing something” is an obvious experience that is there, but is also flow, change, vibration, energy, arising out of groundless space; arising out of nothing, essentially. There, but not there. Wide open, wide awake. Continuous flow of experience.
You can say that awakeness itself, space itself, is breathing; space itself is thinking; space itself is becoming somebody who feels like they are doing something. But never fixating there. Flowing back into energy, back into boundless open awakeness without any ground at all; nowhere to land, no box to put it in. You may notice an exuberance, a kind of background joy, a kind of deep pleasantness that comes with just letting this flow of experience flow without ever crystallizing into any particular thing. Continuously aware of the groundless openness at the core of it, and yet, the vivid and exuberant display of all experience.
Notice if anything does feel stuck, tight, contracted, dense, or crystallized, crimped, you can just find the energy quality behind it, the vibratory flow of continuous change behind and within it. Not as a visualization, but as direct experience. Then follow that flow of continuous change into the vast space of wide-awake wide openness right inside it. So that even the thing that is appearing as super dense or tight, dense, problematic, is, at its core, just wide awake wide openness, flowing with energy and spontaneity into being what it is expressing as. We don’t have to change it. It doesn’t have to be loose and open. It can be as tight and weird and problematic as it wants, and be in total touch with the open, spacious, wide awake groundless wakefulness that is its nature.
Even the room around you, the lights, colors, shapes, textures, colors, patterns, rhythms, you can notice as the continuous field of change, vibration, flow. Notice that it, too, is arising moment by moment from a kind of exuberance of awake space without any ground at all. Never stuck, never crystallizing, never flattening. Always fluid, spontaneous, playful, wide awake, wide open, flowing. It has no boundary and no center. Wide awake, wide openness. Never putting itself in a box or getting stuck, a continuous flow of spontaneity, of whatever is next.
Very good. Let’s end the meditation there. Move and stretch; do what you need to do.
Dharma Talk, Q&A
As I said, we are not trying to visualize or imagine energy. I’m using that word – energy – not in a physics way, but the feeling in your body. The idea is that by tuning into that and following it, it will pull you into a clearer sense of what is actually available, what is happening in experience.
If you do the breath one, did anyone feel a lot of energy in their body when you did that? That can pull you into a deep absorption. It starts to get stronger and stronger–but that’s not what we are doing. We are not trying to go into an altered state. Instead, we are trying to see what is going on in a different way. We are used to putting it into a box and making it into a thing and defining it in a certain way. When we do that, it can be useful for all kinds of things, and that’s when we are visualizing, you are experiencing more of your ideas of what’s going on rather than what is going on. The more that you start to make a thing out of experience and decide what’s going on. You are dreaming experience into what you think it is supposed to be.
We are kinda doing anti-visualization. Instead of imagining what is supposed to be there, we are tuning into experience itself–not that you can ever have naked experience. But, just by working in such a way we see the continuous changing quality, it brings in a different mode of experience. If that is easily available, you can notice the groundlessness. It’s an experience, it’s not not there, but you can’t find a bottom to it. It’s not coming from anywhere. In a deep sense, it is nebulous, indefinable, and that is interesting. But, that’s not the only interesting thing. It’s not that we just want to go to the undefinable groundlessness and stay there, which lots of people chose to do, and that’s cool, but that’s not all of what I’m showing you. You can see how that totally groundless, nebulous, undefined–whatever–comes back into being everything. And when you see it that way, all the stuff that is coming into experience is super awake, spontaneous, flowing. None of it is stuck, it’s not in a box. It brings the primordial undefinedness back into being, and that is tasty, really feels good, is beautiful and fresh.
One of the things we do is our yogic breathing; the alternate nostril breathing, Anuloma Viloma, an ancient technique that has many benefits. One is that it starts making the vibratory quality a little clearer. Another is that it helps take you out of your rote patterns of thought, starts taking you out of the worn pathways of your mind and opens you up to something different. It’s actually, surprisingly good at that, just for doing something that’s really mellow. It starts to make some of these other experiences available. And what’s interesting is it’s taught in practically every Yoga class. If you go to yoga at all, they’ll show you how to do that, but they never really. I don’t know. They’re just cool. That’s some energy, or like, that’s a good thing, or it’s gonna clear your chakras, or whatever. But it’s very, very rare that they’ll show you what you can really do with something like that. Even something really simple like that. You can work with it a lot. It’s very interesting. It’s very powerful. It comes from Tantrism or Vajrayana, which is a super powerful way of working, but a lot of the background of understanding has been left behind, and is now used in a much more pedestrian way, which doesn’t really give you the keys to opening it up. So just know that, even though you can learn to do something like that all over, learning to work with it is often not explained. We are doing a little bit of that here.
Are there experiences or anything coming up from people out there? Any questions, comments, intense critiques?
Questioner 1: It seems to be that in one part of the practice it is very energy-arousing, and another part that is completely relaxing. I wonder how to navigate between the two; Do I just follow what feels nice? Is there something else I can look for? How to balance it because they are so opposite.
Michael: This is the core of what meditation is: a balance of getting really relaxed and getting real awake. Normally we have these two modes of being–super relaxed but unconscious–being asleep–or being awake, but being very agitated and tense. Those are the default modes of human experience. What we are doing is blending the good parts of both. You can imagine [sound went out]. So, in this meditative process, we are getting more deeply relaxed while being more awake. More awake while being more relaxed, and getting deeper and deeper into that. So that’s what you are describing – the nice place, the balance between dullness and agitation.
But we are doing something more here, because that’s just shamatha. We are doing more, which is the further step of: now look at the emptiness quality, the wide-openness, the spaciousness, nebulosity, undefinedness, groundlessness. But that’s just one direction in meditation that leads you–to Advaita, to this real transcendental place. And you can stay there, but don’t! That’s only halfway there as far as I’m concerned. That’s cool how it is spacious, it’s nebulous and undefined. But there can be a strong habit to turn that into this pure land of wide awake awareness, and this whole world of experience is somehow polluting, or is a nonsense dream, and it’s just my groundless wide awake awareness that is the only reality. To me, that is just a real dead end.
Instead, because that is something so obvious, so disembodied; there is something else that is staring you in the face, and that is that emptiness is exuberant, it’s spontaneous, it’s filled with energy that wants to come back into being. It’s making everything happen every moment. You can ride that back out, which is different from relaxation and awakeness. It’s emptiness and form, to use Buddhist terminology, or groundless wide openness and exuberant display. So, we always want to come back to that exuberant display also, that’s when it’s really the full experience of being alive instead of putting yourself into an emptiness hole.
Right? So we are playing back and forth, from just display, into the vibratory quality of the display, which takes you into the openness, but instead of just hanging out there, we feel how the openness has energy, and it brings you back into being, everything is rendered suddenly, and that is interesting.
Questioner 1: These two qualities of the emptiness part and the exuberant energy – to move back and forth? Or do you see it as from the emptiness comes the exuberance – a progression, rather than finding a balance?
Michael: Both are totally cool ways to experience things, but eventually it’s kinda just all happening. We can, for the sake of meditation/experiment/having fun, you can go into one or the other, or go back and forth, or just kinda rest. The distinction I’m making is that it is all just happening at the same time. So, we can just sit with it all happening at the same time. But, until you do the extremes back and forth, back and forth, it’s hard to notice it happening all at once.
Questioner 1: Very good
Michael: Thanks for your question. Other stuff?
Questioner 2: Just a little preamble to my question. Working with energy, experiencing energy behind feelings has helped me a lot with understanding equanimity. That’s been very interesting; like attachment and anger all have a similar nature or value now. But one thing that is difficult to work with is ennui; it’s kinda hard to describe what it is.
Michael: You’re in a roomful of Americans, so let’s say “boredom.”
Questioner 2: Existential boredom, as I have experienced it in my life, is as “so what”–the state of “so what-ness.” It’s more like a lack of value.
Michael: Are you describing what we might call depression?
Questioner 2: I don’t know how it arises, it just randomly comes up. There’s probably some karmic storage, also all the moments that I have experienced throughout my whole life, even as a kid or teenager. So, when I want to work with this in the form of energy, first, I sought the energy behind it, but it is tricky because it questions even the wide awake space, it questions everything in form of value. And second, with thought, it felt like the energy behind it was fear, like lack of value or meaning, but then I felt the feeling behind it was death, there was no energy in it. And so, the fear of death, of lack of meaning or energy, because there is energy in everything.
Michael: Why would that be bad?
Questioner 2: Yeah, I don’t know. It feels bad. There is no motivation to do anything, there is just death. There is no value.
Michael: Have you ever been able to not do anything?
Questioner 2: Umm…Kind of.
Michael: But only kind of, right, you’re still breathing, getting up to go to the bathroom, you still end up sleeping. There is actually quite a lot of doing in all of that “no reason to do anything.” And so it is interesting.
Questioner 2: Yeah, I think it is not doing anything valuable, so that’s what the boredom is about. So, I was wondering if anyone else experiences this?
Michael: Lots of people experience it. It’s powerful. It’s a little bit deeper of a place, right, when you start noticing that? The key is that if it is really so dead and all of that, why would that even matter? If it was really dead, it wouldn’t matter to you that it felt that way. But there is still fear, there’s still “you don’t want it,” so there’s tons of meaning wrapped up in it. As soon as you notice that there is valence there, then you are out of it, or at least potentially out of it. So there is that route, just noticing: why does some of this get to matter? If it really didn’t matter, you wouldn’t care. So there is some mattering there, and that’s one way to work with it.
Another way is to find that fear. That is some really, big, energy–not some small energy–that is really interesting, and notice the same thing: it’s got all that spontaneity, intensity, flowingnes, and then that is already starting to have the aliveness in it. Let yourself feel the fear. We do death sangha in here, which is coming up here on the weekend of Halloween. A big part of that is feeling the aliveness of that super fear, right? And disgust, shame, hatred, all that. So we are not trying to suppress that, deny it, make it go away or control it, but rather, feel the energy of it, and then notice that that energy is wide open groundless space, too, and super awake. Then we can ride back even into the ennui and the flatness, and notice that it has a new quality. It’s not really new, but we can notice the quality, that it is actually very alive. So that’s the energy way in. That’s a couple of ways of working with it.
Questioner 2: Yeah, that makes sense. There are all sorts of peripheral energies and I can work with them. Thank you.
Questioner 3: Feeling like I have a good sense of touching into emptiness and coming back when we are working with energy behind the body, behind a sense of self. I notice when I have open eyes in the room sometimes I get a hint around temporality and playing with that a bit. Visual phenomena are interesting. I can notice the flow of change within it, but I don’t have the sense of going into a voidness and effulgently coming back out of it. Part of me is seeing that there is an expectation that there should be blinking of phenomena or some perceptual distortion.
Michael: Do you have any perceptual distortion in your visual field?
Questioner 2: Sometimes I get a little fuzzy, intensity of colors, the brightness can fluctuate.
Michael: For everyone, different sense gates are easier to notice this stuff in than others. For lots of people, external visual sight is the one that is the most concrete. This is simply a way of seeing, a way of perceiving. Notice it in the other senses as strongly as you can, and then work with the visual field. Over time, it will start to reveal its openness. If you’ve done way too many experiments with funny molecules, like many of us have, it’s usually pretty fucking obvious. It’s just constantly doing that. So, it just depends. For some people, the sound is harder, for some, the body sensations, but, work with the ones that are easy first. That opens that way of seeing, and then it starts to kinda infect the other sense gates.
One last question
Questioner 3: When I think about the infinite potential of awareness, there should be an infinite number of possibilities that could come out of it. When I sense my reality, it’s always the same sort of set of things. There is a pattern to being myself. So, what is it that from all the infinite space of infinite possibilities is funneling it towards a specific set of outcomes, which is my experience?
Michael: Sure. The answer is “I don’t fucking know.” It just does that. We could say habits, or samskaras, or your set of priors–I could give you a bunch of explanations, but, it is all just sewage coming out of my mouth compared to “that’s your experience.” Then notice that as you start to tune into the fluctuation and change that is there, it will start to come back in different ways. Sometimes minor, sometimes major. It won’t be as stuck.
Questioner 3: So you can sense how the infinite potentiality is merging into one experience.
Michael: That’s not what I said. What I’m saying is that if you start noticing your own experience, that potential more and more often, what comes forward will be less rote, less habitual. Whereas, if it is continuously out of sight, you’re kinda stuck in the habitual. I hope that’s helpful. I could give a bunch of explanations, but you could read those anywhere, and I don’t think it helps that much, honestly.