Streamed live on Apr 21, 2022
We’re just gonna do very, very light stretching. If any of this is beyond your capacity, which it probably will not be, but if it is just don’t do it. Okay so, you’re in charge of your own body. What I’m suggesting is that we start out by reaching up and even on your tiptoes just stretch out, pop up and really even stretch your fingers apart look up, look up, look up… And again, within the capacity of your body and then if you can come down and touch the floor, which today for some reason I can do almost my palms, but we’re not trying to set any records. Just get a nice back stretch. If you can bend one knee, get the stretch on the back of the other leg and the other knee get the stretch of the other leg… and then come up. Just rest here for a breath. Feel your body. Feels nice to put your hands forward sometimes. Just really, really, really gentle, relaxed. Okay, and then let’s do one over, so this arm travels down your leg, just see if we can get a nice stretch over here. Okay, again super easy, nothing, no big deal. Everybody try to go in the same direction. And bring it back up again, just rest here, feel how you feel. And then lastly, do like one of these spins, so you’re holding your pelvis on the other side to pull you around just a little bit, and then the other way. Give it a nice smile to this and then come back to center, just breathing and relaxing, nice and easy. Okay, that’s it, nothing hard.
Okay, so just in case you wandered in here accidentally, I’m Michael Taft, this is the Alembic. We’re gonna do a guided meditation. The guided meditation is gonna last for an hour. Now, the whole idea is you’re gonna be sitting meditating, not moving for an hour. So, the very first thing I want you to do is get your posture correct. And the correct posture is: your body feels good. That’s the most important thing: your body feels good. Secondly, you are seated on one of the cushions or the chairs in such a way that your lower back is kind of curved in–you’re not slumping or rounding, and if you need to have two cushions to make that happen, it’s totally worth it. Because sitting for an hour trying to hold your back up with intense muscle strain is not going to feel good, whereas if you get the cushion right, your back just kind of holds itself up with really light muscle tension. Okay so, we want that spine almost floating upwards, a feeling of just like floating upwards. Okay, your chin is tucked a little bit so don’t have your chin stuck out. Don’t touch the microphone. Have your chin tucked a little bit and then everything else. So your spine is floating upwards, your chin is tucked in, everything else is utterly, completely, totally relaxed, arms are relaxed, shoulders are relaxed, belly, just let your belly hang open, and of course, your legs and feet are relaxed. So everything else is just at ease.
Okay, so you know meditation and even, I would say awakening and even liberation is embodied, right? It’s embodied practice. So getting your body in this nice posture actually begins the process right there, it’s both alert and relaxed, which is the quality of awakened awareness, right? It’s incredibly awake, alert, clear, bright, crisp but also utterly at rest, utterly relaxed, utterly at ease. So we’re placing our bodies in a posture that reflects that–both highly alert upright and at the same time tremendously at rest, tremendously at ease.
See if you can tune into that quality in the body, and in fact let’s just begin like we did last week with a self-check, just ask yourself what’s it like to be me right now? And then just check how’s your body feel? How’s your emotions doing? How’s your mind doing? How’s whatever else is in there doing? So what’s it like to be me right now? Just check and whatever comes up that’s completely fine, we’re gonna accept that totally, not trying to change it, not trying to judge it, not trying to control it. Whatever it’s like to be right now is completely–for at least for the duration of meditation–utterly okay, utterly fine, utterly and completely accepted just the way it is.
Okay. Good, now tune into that sense of awareness that is just spacious and open and easy. It’s not something you’re generating, it’s not something you’re struggling with. Just whatever part it might only be, it might only seem like a tiny part of your mind but it’s just spacious and open and at ease. And just tune into that for a moment, that kind of skylike, vast, peaceful openness that is simultaneously at rest and wide awake. It’s the meaning of awake. And just hang with that for a moment, resting as this wide open easeful wakefulness. Maybe there’s a lot of the mind that is busy thinking but this is outside of that, it’s just the part that’s awake and open and still.
Now we’re just going to do a brief imagination exercise. I want you to picture a vibrant sun, the sun in the sky a few feet in front of you and maybe just slightly above but it’s a beautiful golden radiant sun. If you’re not good at picturing things just imagine it in whatever way you imagine it. It’s totally fine. It’s not about getting some kind of perfect image. It’s evocative. We’re just trying to get the feeling of it. So picture this beautiful golden sun, it’s spherical, it’s radiant. But I want you to begin noticing the other properties of this sun which are that it is wide awake tremendously, tremendously awake, and it’s also fearless, absolutely without fear. Furthermore, the sun is–this imaginary sun, just imagination exercises–utterly wise, it is filled with wisdom and confidence.
Picture it just getting stronger and brighter and radiating out this wisdom and confidence and awakeness and also kindness. It’s accepting. It’s loving. It’s very, very kind. And I want you now–into that vast sky of the mind that you found earlier–just with one breath bring this sun into the sky of your mind. Bring it in the imagination within you and feel those properties of wisdom and clarity and fearlessness, confidence, kindness, even joy radiating out now from deep within, deep within the sky of your own mind. And feel those properties filling your entire being. Now this is a visualization and this is an imagination exercise but it’s not just imaginary because these are the properties of your own deepest already existing awakening.
And now you can let go of that visualization and just come back to the wide open, vast, empty sky of the mind and from there I want you just to notice the absolutely natural rhythm of the
breath rising and falling. We don’t need to point attention in a sharp way at the breath, rather the feeling of the breath in the body just rises in the sky of the mind, and then as the breath empties out that feeling passes in the sky of the mind and it rises in awareness without any effort because awareness is naturally aware. And then that feeling of the breath passes out of awareness without any effort because awareness is already completely aware. So we’re just noticing the rising and falling wave of the breath with as little effort as possible, letting awareness do all the work and just being with that breath wave.
The breath is just like wind moving in the sky of the mind not disturbing the sky at all. this wakeful space, this knowing space of the mind is effortlessly aware of the breath no effort needed. If you’re scrunching your forehead and trying really hard to concentrate just let go
of that effort, just allow and open together with the breath. There are other body sensations arising in awareness, the feeling of the whole rest of your body, notice that as well. Just more winds in the sky. Feeling of your butt on the cushion or chair, feeling of your arms and legs, feeling of the face–all just moving winds in the sky of the mind.
If you’re getting drowsy remember that awareness itself is never sleeping, never tired, always wide awake, brilliantly awake. If you need to or want to; it’s fine to sit with your eyes open. Just relaxed and open, not gazing at anything. All the feeling of the body, the whole body, just arising in awareness and passing away in awareness. Just a flow of activity, just wind in the sky…
See if you can notice directly, just in your own experience, where these body sensations are arising from and where they’re passing away to. If you allow awareness to be aware of body sensation very, very directly, not going to memory or into cognition, or concept, you’ll notice that body sensations aren’t coming from anywhere, and they’re not going to anywhere, and in between they just seem to be flows of activity. There are other winds in the sky; there’s the wind of thought, sky itself, the vast boundless sky of awareness is not disturbed by thought in any way. The wind of thought can move through the sky without any problem. It doesn’t matter how much thought there is, the sky of awareness is simply effortlessly aware of the thought and totally uninvolved, totally unengaged. There’s so much room in awareness, it’s so vast, it’s so boundless, no amount of thinking could ever disturb it. But neither does it become involved. It simply is aware, notices the flow of thought without engaging, no need to change it, no need to control it, no need to judge it. But also no need to engage, just aware of it.
See if you can notice where these streams of thought come from or where they go to. Looking carefully awareness will notice that the thoughts aren’t coming from anywhere, nor do they disappear to anywhere, just wind moving through the sky.
Very good. Now notice if there’s any sense of doing something arising in the sky of awareness and passing away in the sky of awareness. A sense of somebody doing something or trying to do or efforting, an agenda, a plan, a control…and just notice that that’s just arising in awareness and passing in awareness. It doesn’t come from anywhere. It doesn’t go anywhere. From beginningless time, this vast awake awareness has always been here without any effort. Now simply rest as that wakefulness itself, without doing anything at all, without becoming involved in anything at all, not doing, not controlling, not judging, simply resting in awakeness.
Nothing to change at all, nothing to control, nothing to make different than it already is.
Nothing to do at all. Just resting in being that’s always been there already completely perfect. Rest in this wakefulness you already always are. This vast sky of boundless, timeless awakening, crisp, clear, and bright now notices the sun rising again and in it the sun is radiant and effulgent and powerful, radiating out a kind of tremendous peacefulness and joy in all directions. It radiates out kindness and love in all directions, radiates confidence and nobility in all directions. It radiates belonging and connection in all directions growing brighter and stronger and fuller with each breath, more and more beautiful with each breath.
Let’s end the meditation there.
Feel free to move and stretch, allowing your body to feel good in whatever way that feels good.
If nothing else you can say you sat for an hour today that’s good.
If you need to use the restroom or whatever that’s fine otherwise I’m going to open the floor to
questions. So if there’s anything on your mind or a report about your sit bring that up now otherwise I’ll just start monologuing which I’m capable of doing at any point. So raise your hand if you have anything you’d like to ask.
The thing about these instructions that I’m giving tonight and you know throughout the weeks is that I’m not making–or I want to say there’s a particular way to take these instructions and that is–I’m not making claims about reality or claims about how the world works or what’s out there or anything like that. These are practice instructions. They’re a view. They’re a way to sit, okay? And so if there’s any part of your mind like–oh he said awareness has been there since beginningless time, how does that work? and does that fit with evolution? and like that kind of thing–at least while we’re practicing just throw that out because that’s not what that instruction–it’s just an example–but that’s not what that instruction is about. It’s not like a statement about the truth about how long awareness has been here. It’s a way to practice. This is a view to sit in while you’re practicing, right? And they’re all like that, so if you find yourself, oh he’s–you know we’re imagining this thing and that’s not really–just take it on as a way of sitting, not as a way of understanding the universe or something, okay? And it becomes much much easier to work with.
Q: So I’ve done a lot of guided meditations…
MT: What’s a lot? How many is a lot?
Q: Maybe like a few hundred hours sitting in retreat.
Q. Someone was giving a kind of instruction.
Q: I mostly found it hideous
Q: This feels like a good word.
MT: And yet you had hundreds of hours of them
so that’s an interesting comment on your um…
Q: Maybe it’s not that many maybe like one hundred. Generally, my experience is if I like try to incline towards the way of seeing that they’re suggesting the whole system is just like absolutely fuck that…
Q: Sometimes I’m like that has happened but it like it’s not going to happen now. I feel like it has ever happened that like there’s like an instruction or just like a picture that’s being painted and it’s like, yes, okay, this is like accessible in this resonance now, but usually it’s somewhere between irrelevant and awful.
MT: Irrelevant in what way
Q: I’m not saying like irrelevant like indeed it’s bad and irrelevant, I mean like in the moment as I’m trying to practice like I receive instruction and it’s like not available from the state that I’m in. Something like that.
MT: Because I would, you know, at least with a good guide to meditation it should be utterly relevant whether you can connect with it or not but it’s trying to point to maybe the most relevant stuff.
Q: Yeah, I don’t mean relevant…
MT: No, I know how you mean it. I’m just saying there’s a way to take it that might be different than the way you’re taking it.
Q: I’m not sure that I have a like a concrete question. I’m trying to like gesticulate in a question…maybe my question is something like what’s up with that? What’s your experience event? What’s your advice for people who have that shape of experience? There’s a teacher that I’ve worked with who’s like, yeah I don’t know guided meditations, they’re like, it’s like a whole like funny, like I’m not sure about that. Some people seem to just find them absolutely wonderful and like I continue to be somewhat confused with this.
MT: Yeah, well I mean the easy advice is don’t do that. You know like there’s lots of ways to meditate, if you don’t like that kind of meditations don’t do it. And if you’re in this room and there’s a guided meditation or any room, and there’s a guide to meditation happening and you’re not into it just ignore it. Sure, just do your own meditation. That’s the easy answer. Honestly, like hey you don’t like doing hot yoga? Do regular yoga. I mean you know sure just
find something that works for you, rather than struggling for hundreds of you know, like don’t struggle that hard. However, when you–so that’s the real answer don’t do it. However, if you also ask what’s up with that? And I would say, I don’t know, but I suspect that for many people, I don’t know about your case, and I’m not really commenting. I don’t know you, right? So I’m just saying in general the instructions are being heard and then there’s a layer of judgment and defense and control and so on layer after layer of kind of non-openness towards that and that’s usually the issue, okay? Which is fine and I’m not saying that’s bad. I’m saying that however–
to the extent one can drop that and just allow the instructions to kind of go right in, it works better, okay? And that might be a thing a person can control or not, but the mood is just allowing, letting it come in, trusting it, going with it, you don’t know what the purpose of that guidance is
necessarily and so you’re trusting it. And again, if that doesn’t work then okay try something else. Is this making any sense to you?
Q: Sure. That was very comprehensive.
MT: I’ve achieved comprehensiveness for one question. This is excellent. Thanks.
Other stuff coming up?
So, it’s very common–just to continue with what I was saying–it’s very common to you know
imagine that you’re going to come to a meditation course and get instruction i–I don’t know, like the meaning of the universe, or how the world works, or what subtle beings exist, or how many heavens and hells there are, or what’s the truth, or something like that. And certainly, in the past, that would have been the role of this too. Spiritual type practices previously had many other roles than they do now, but at least in my meditations I’m trying to not do that but rather just giving
meditation and structure that is pointing to the things that will cause awakening to occur, or if that’s already occurred, to engender more of that and more that and more of that. So they’re just practice instructions, like saying you know now we’re going to stretch up on our tippy toes and touch the ceiling, okay? It’s just like that, not any comment about the meaning of the ceiling or something. So it’s really important to just let go of all that here. People who’ve worked with me for a long time know that if you ask a question like well, what’s really? I’ll just not answer it because I don’t know. Yes.
Q: Thank you.
MT: You’re welcome. Thanks for coming.
Q: So I don’t often do the style of kind of ‘do-nothing’ meditation but I think it’s pretty powerful for me and I was wondering–what I would like to do is like bring some flavor of the ‘do-nothing’ into like non-meditative like just like going through life.
MT: Sure, so would everybody else. We’re not here just to get good at meditating, right? It’s like we’re here to get good at life.
Q: But specifically like to do nothing versus like often bringing my meditative state into the world there is like a doing. I’m wondering if you have guidance on that. The way I approach when I’m sitting is like notice the urge to do something and just kind of let it bubble but in the world often you want to act on the thing
MT: And maybe you should, you know, you should act on the thing.
What do you think I’m going to say? Just curious?
Q: Now that you say that, maybe do nothing
MT: A good guess but no, that’s not what I’m gonna say. But I like that guess. Why did we look at feelings in the body and thoughts and stuff before we looked at the doing part? And especially remember I kept saying there’s still breath. I didn’t say this but you probably noticed you were still breathing and still feeling your body while you were noticing that it’s just not coming from anywhere not going to anywhere and it’s just kind of this experience. And then, when we were talking about thinking or when we were meditating on the thoughts just moving through awareness and they’re not coming from anywhere and not going to anywhere, again there I definitely did say they can just happen. There could be as much thinking as you want or as much as there is, we’re not trying to change it, not trying to control it , not trying to make them go away but we’re seeing them in a different way, right?
So now what do you think I’m going to say about doing? There can be as much activity, like in the physical sense of doing, and noticing that the sense of a doer is just another thing that comes from nowhere, goes to nowhere, and has no ground of any kind. In other words, the idea of doership is the thing I’m talking about not how much your body is moving.
Okay? So when you, you know to put it in colloquial terms, right, regular English, it’s like yeah you’re washing the dishes but notice that that activity is just happening. Where is the activity coming from? Where is it going to? Can you find a doer there? Or is it just happening? That’s how you bring it into every bit of your day, right? Yeah, is there like–am I working really hard right now to answer the question? Or is it just answering itself because that just happens? That’s how you work with it over and over and over again, okay? So that sense of doership is a thing, that is it’s an imaginary creation of your mind, and you work hard to create that thing, and yet all it does is cause trouble, and if we just relax and open you’ll notice everything gets done without this like irritating nugget of doership in there. Okay, so that’s how you do it. Now that might not be easy but that’s–you play with it over and over again, especially sitting in meditation, especially towards the end of the meditation after you’ve noticed these various things, can you then notice that the meditation is just happening? It’s doing itself and then if you get to where that’s kind of experientially kind of familiar for you then try walking in the woods, or something it was really easy, and notice that same thing–your legs just move, you know the hearing and seeing of the woods just happens. Where’s this doer in there?
And then gradually, gradually, gradually do it into more and more complex and difficult situations and honestly in the long run it’s just a matter of trust. It’s just a matter of trust because you’ll see that everything happens, everything gets done, right? It’s like that line from the Tao Te Ching right? Where it says the Tao doesn’t do anything at all and yet everything gets done. That’s exactly that flavor, awareness doesn’t do anything at all, and yet everything gets done. The awake aware already enlightened buddha that you already are and always have been doesn’t ever do anything and yet everything gets done. So you just keep playing with it. If you’re struggling stop it. Stop struggling. Just let it be open. Let it do its thing. But a little bit at a time.
There used to be these guys, long ago when people were in the origins of the axial age, and there’s all these monks and nuns that were trying to figure out how to work with all this stuff. There were groups who decided, okay you know we’re going to not do anything. And so, but they literally they meant it physically. I’m just gonna not do anything. I’m just gonna lay there all day and that’s my vow. Never gonna do anything and of course, this is involved with ideas of karma and because if you do something you accrue karma, so you don’t want to accrue karma, so don’t do anything. So try it sometime, it turns out to be really hard to like not breathe and not eat and not take a shit, not ever move, not ever. It was quickly discovered to be totally hopeless, right? As long as you’re alive you’re doing stuff. But they discovered in the process something much, much, much, much, much deeper which is that the idea of doing is the issue not the doing.
The idea of who and what is doing is the issue.
Okay, so that’s the thing to look at. What feels like it’s doing something right now? What is that? Where is it exactly? I guarantee, if you look closely you cannot find it, it’s unfindable which is a synonym for empty, right? It’s empty.
Q: About the the sense of doing, so there is no doer, right? But sometimes what gets me out of meditation is not necessarily a sound or something in the body because I can hold that in awareness at least some of the time, but this thing that’s most sticky is usually thoughts that take me right out, especially in guided meditations when thoughts like disagree with what I’m supposed to be doing, right now. And I can see that there’s a sense of those are not like my thoughts, I’m not conjuring them up, it just happened. But that makes it worse because then I’m frustrated by the fact that those thoughts come up that…
MT: Are you frustrated right now by the fact that you’re breathing? Are you frustrated by the fact that your kidneys are at work or that you know your eyes work? Yes or no?
Q: I can’t say that I am.
MT: Right, so why be frustrated by the fact that your brain is working? It’s just doing what it does. Okay, so we let it do its thing. However if the thoughts are really sticky and they keep grabbing attention like that then we do–you know you’ve been in the Vast Sky Mind courses, so you know what I mean when I say I want you to just do vipashyana on the emptiness of thought
over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, forever
until they’re not sticky.
Q: Vipashyana is frustrating, as well because it’s not I’m not sure where or how to detect it and
the thoughts are just way too fast for the other part that’s trying to do the vipashyana.
MT: So we do easier things like emotions and body sensation until we get really good at
deconstructing them. You know as your concentration gets better something that previously seemed fast doesn’t seem quite so fast anymore, not because it has changed but because the quality of attention has improved, and as the quality of intention improves and improves those things that were really fast start going kind of like this… and it and seeing the emptiness becomes easier and easier. So we just–if that’s all frustrating like that, it’s simple–we just back up. Do the earlier steps really thoroughly you know and it might take a while to just really thoroughly work with that. But it works, it’s not useless effort and so if it’s too hard with the
thoughts do it on emotions. If it’s too hard on emotions do it on just breathing, whatever it
takes to get to the place where the emptiness is clear.
Q: To me, it sounds like I can do vipashyana on the emotions for example at a different time when I’m calm enough or concentrated enough to do that but is that you know like a quick hack that can get me out of the moment?
MT: The quick hack is: be the sky in which the thoughts arise. What is knowing the thoughts? And it might, you might have to hear that once and just oh, or you might have to hear it dozens of times and then oh, or you might have to hear it a thousand times. I don’t know but eventually hearing me say, don’t be the thoughts be the thing that knows the thoughts, that’s it. It’s not a thing, but just to speak in normal language, it’s then be the knower of the thoughts, okay? And then that’s the quick hack. Then you’re not in them because you can’t both be something and observe it. As soon as you’re observing it you’re now disentangled, right? So what is knowing the thinking right now? Come from there and suddenly they’re not sticky or they’re at least less sticky. But you know doing that I’m particularly slow and very stupid it took me decades to be able to do that well, most people get it much much faster than that, so you’ll probably get it quite a bit quicker. You’re still all frustrated yeah it’s like be the thing that is aware of frustration right now. The awareness knows the frustration just that’s it indeed yeah of course you’ll get it. You’ll get it. You’re putting in the time.
Sadly, we’re getting towards the place where we have to end our discussion this really is my favorite thing in the world is hanging out and talking with you all. Just even coming here at all, I get just like a joy bomb. I just love doing it. So thanks for being here and interacting in this way. It’s really really fun and cool.