Guided Nondual Meditation with Michael Taft
Streamed live on Apr 14, 2022
So let’s start out by just stretching up and if you can get up on your tippy toes and really, really reach up to those ceiling tiles and just get as much of a nice pleasant stretch in your torso as you can—really feel that, okay?
Then if you can, keeping your knees pretty straight, come down and touch the floor. Get a really, really pleasant stretch in the back. If you’ve got to bend your knees or if this is uncomfortable, don’t do anything weird. Make it feel good.
If it does feel good though, you know, bend one knee and get the stretch in the back of the other leg and then bend the other knee and get the stretch in the back of the other leg—feels great.
Come back up again, stretching towards the ceiling. Then get your legs a little further apart and we’ll do some of these real fast, however, you want to do them, whatever feels good. Make sure it feels good, nice, and slow. We’re not trying to impress anyone or break any records, we just want to kind of get our body happening here a little bit.
All right, there we go, that’s it, that’s the big movement program for tonight; just to get everyone stretched. And now we’ll begin meditating. We’ve got some SFDC-ers showing up, hi you guys.
Okay, so we’re going to meditate for an hour, so get ready to sit still for an hour and the idea is don’t move and when I say don’t move, I mean don’t move—if you have to, don’t move. But other than that we’ll just sit and do whatever meditation you need to do for an hour. But also I’ll guide one that you can follow if you want to, or you can ignore completely. If you’d rather just sit in a room and meditate with some folks and do your own guidance, either way, is fine.
So as usual let’s talk about our posture and it’s easy on our cushions, right? So on the cushions, you want to sit so that your lower back has a nice little curve in it, right? That’s what the cushion does and then that allows your upper body to just kind of naturally, almost like, lift upwards without any effort. Get in that one nice, balanced spot with your spine where it just keeps itself upright. It doesn’t feel like you’re doing anything. And the very tip-top of your head feels, like, in a way it’s almost like, suspended from the ceiling in a very pleasant manner, okay? And as you’re doing this, as you’re getting into your posture, you’re just letting go of everything. Just drop everything you’re worried about, stop thinking about shit if you can, if you can’t, that’s okay. But I invite you—you have total permission to just drop it for the next hour.
And then allow your shoulders to relax and kind of open, right? And your arms can be just loose either—you know most people got the idea—either on your knees or in your lap like that, okay? So you’ve got this posture that just feels both very alert, very upright, and yet is very, very stable and very relaxed, okay?
Now let’s just breathe for a moment, just check yourself breathing, simple breathing. And the question I want you to ask yourself right now is: what’s it like to be me right now? What’s it like to be me right now? This is just a very general, open question. The answer might be, “it really sucks” or, “I’m, you know, I’m feeling so much joy” or maybe, “I’m just kind of, you know, busy” or, “my leg hurts,” or whatever. But any answer is fine as long as it’s how you’re doing right now. So just check in with what it’s like to be you right now and whatever the answer is, for the length of this meditation, let that be completely fine. At least for the length of the meditation, whatever it’s like to be right now is okay, you’re allowed to be that. And just feel like yourself letting go of trying to change yourself, trying to control yourself, trying to dominate and boss yourself around, trying to be somebody else, trying to be something different, trying to look different, trying to act different, trying to be better, smarter, skinnier. Whatever is on your mind, just set that aside and let yourself be whatever you are right now; exactly the way you are right now. And see if you can settle into that a little bit. Just let that be a place you get kind of ‘homey’ with. And you might feel the urge coming back, “oh no, I don’t want it, not that.” Let it all just be just the way it is.
Okay, good, now for our opening metaphor. We’re going to have a metaphor for our meditation which we could, you can just think about, or do as a visualization, or whatever. Last week we used an alembic, a sacred vessel of transformation, as the image. This week I want you to meditate like the sky, okay? So the metaphor for our meditation is—be the sky. And the properties of the sky are that it is vast, it’s open, it’s effortless. Everything happens in the sky but the sky doesn’t do any of it; it’s just resting as the sky. It accepts everything, rejects nothing and it’s beautiful. The sky is so beautiful without any effort. So just either picture that sky right now or be the sky, but either way just notice any of those properties in your experience right now, no matter how small, no matter how partial or very, very quiet they might be. Notice vastness and openness. Notice this total receptivity, everything is welcome. Sky is uncomplicated, everything can happen, all kinds of crazy stuff can happen in the sky but the sky itself is completely uncomplicated and the sky is beautiful.
So notice any of those properties that are present in experience right now. And see if you can take in that sky or allow yourself to be a little skylike. You can’t do it wrong and it’s not a contest. However skylike you are is the right amount. But just notice those skylike properties and sit with that now for a few moments.
And the sky is full of air, so now just notice the sky breathing. If you want to you can do some deep breathing with really long out-breaths, really slow, extra long out-breaths, if that’s comfortable. Or you can just breathe naturally—regular, old sky breathing without any change—just natural breathing, whichever works for you. But allow this awareness, this skylike awareness to just be aware of that breathing. We’re not, you know, drilling down into our breathing and we’re not trying to follow it right at the point of your nose or anything like that. We’re just allowing the movement of the breath to be noticed in awareness. Totally effortlessly, the wave of the breathing in is noticed in awareness, the wave of breathing out is noticed in awareness. And notice how obvious that is. It doesn’t take a lot of effort to be aware of it, it’s right there. So let this be really simple, really simple; just aware of the breath moving in and out.
Awareness is naturally aware, it’s aware of breathing. It doesn’t take any special focus, doesn’t take any special effort—awareness welcomes everything. So maybe a lot of thinking is happening, that’s fine. We don’t need to change that, just let the sky of awareness notice the coming and going of the breath, in the easiest way possible. If you want a little bit of an anchor with that, just make sure you notice the end of the in-breath and again the end of the out-breath. End of the in-breath, end of the out-breath and that’ll just give you a little bit more to hang on to if you want that. But this is not like one-pointed laser beam focus. This is wide, wide open, vast as the sky awareness, simply noticing the breath arising.
Little by little, I want you to see if there’s anything that just wants to sloth off, just fall off. You might notice you’re keeping yourself really tense, and that’s okay. But if it wants to, it can just fall away, no tension required.
Or maybe there’s a lot of real planning going on right now but maybe, just for the time of meditation, that just feels like it can just drop off. If not, that’s totally fine. What can you just effortlessly and easily, what burden can you just set down right now? Set it down, it’s okay, it’ll still be there if you need it when you get up. Let it go—it’s gonna be okay.
Continuing to just let the sky of awareness notice the breathing, that’s it—very very simple.
It’s funny, you don’t really have to pretend or imagine that you are like the sky because that is the actual nature of your own awareness, your own mind. Already, since the very beginning, your natural mind is wide open, utterly awake and aware and bright: effortless, welcoming, clear, and beautiful. So just notice that nature of your own mind and just rest as that. It’s not something you’re generating, it’s always been there. It’s not something you have to find, it’s the thing that’s looking. Rest as what you naturally always already are, before everything.
And whatever arises in the sky of the mind, just let it happen but don’t get involved with it.
If there’s just a bunch of thinking happening, that’s okay. Just find what knows the thinking and rest as that. Don’t spend any time trying to control the thoughts, resist the thoughts, change the thoughts. It doesn’t matter if they’re good thoughts or bad thoughts or ugly thoughts or beautiful thoughts or thoughts you’re supposed to have or thoughts you’re not supposed to have—none of that applies. Thoughts are just like reflections in a mirror; be the mirror which is not bothered by any reflection. Simply rest as what you already are—naked awareness itself.
Maybe some emotions are happening. But what if you just gave up entirely trying to change what you’re feeling? Whether it’s really difficult or feels too big or feels like the wrong emotion or, for whatever reason, you want a different one. What if instead you just let them all be just the way they are, exactly the way they are? Not controlling them, not suppressing them or denying them, were struggling with them, or trying to change them. But the vast, open sky just welcomed any emotion that came into it. It’s totally fine, the sky is not bothered by any particular winds that move through it. Everything is completely fine just the way it is. Find the thing that knows the emotion, this natural mind, this naturally spacious, open wakefulness that’s already present without any effort at all—rest in that, rest as that.
In the desert, there’s arches of sandstone carved by the wind. They make a beautiful frame for the sky and that stone has been holding itself up for 100 million years. Eventually, something very slight, maybe just the brush of a bat wing in the night, touches that rock and it just all lets go, completely drops and leaving only open sky, just as beautiful.
Is the moon bothered when a stone in a pond ripples its reflection?
Dharma Talk / Q&A
Good. So now let go of that. Feel free to move and stretch, allow your body to feel good. In fact, let’s do our stretching together again. Get your legs back in action a little bit but make this work for you. As usual, don’t do anything that is gonna tweak your back or whatever.
So let’s very slowly, slowly, slowly stretch up. If you want to you can go up on your toes. I believe that feels good. Then bring it back down. Then bring it back up, stretching up high again and then leaning one way, however that feels good. The other way, however that feels good.
There we go, just a little bit of movement. Remind yourself and your legs, they get to move to.
Normally this would be a dharma talk moment but I feel like the guided meditation tonight was the dharma talk. I’m just going to open it up to reports. So if you want to say how that was for you or ask a question, then consider it to be a meditation AMA. AMA about meditation, not really anything, this particular kind of anything. Just raise your hand—yes?
Q: Of all the meditations you remember, do you have a favorite?
A: All of them really. I mean, I’m just glad I did them. I don’t think of it as, like, particular this one or that one. But more like the—it’s almost like, you know, what’s your favorite song you ever played? Or, you know, the most beautiful walk you ever had, or something. They’re all kind of great, right? So it’s more like the practice in that real sense of practice, right? Where it’s the doing of it every day over a whole lifetime, right? Decades and stuff, that it just, that’s my favorite part. But, you know, I have this relationship with the practice. How about you?
Good. Other questions arising for anyone?
Q: Last week the sequence was to engage and then let go of thoughts, emotion, sense of self and sensations and I wonder if there’s anything more to say about that sequence?
A: Yeah, good memory, right? That was the sequence last week and the thing is that the sequence doesn’t matter unless it does, right? If it works for you in a particular way, right? Then great, use that sequence. What matters is that each of those things is, you know, seen as empty or dropped or let go of or not engaged with, or whatever. And we could go on, we could talk about, you know, the sense of time, the sense of space, the sense of doership, the sense of all kinds of things, right? So anything that the mind is clinging to or congealing around or encrusting upon, or whatever, we notice the emptiness of that. Even though it seems like, you know, you’re, there’s something to hold on to, there really isn’t something to hold on to. And so the real sequence is—notice whatever you’re holding on to and let go. Not push it away, not get rid of it but just, you know, literally like you were holding on to it, just relax. If it goes away, fine. If it stays, fine. But no need to hold on to it. So that, you know, we notice that primordial, already existing groundlessness, right? The fact that we just pretend there’s stuff to hold on to because that is ‘pretend safety’. It feels like, supposedly feels good. Although the more you notice it the more, you know, trying to hang on to the wind is really actually kind of anxiety-producing, right? So when we let go it’s a big relief. So yeah, for each individual the mind is a little different so there’s stuff that’s easier to let go of or easier to see the emptiness of and other things that are maybe a little stickier. So the sequence is: try the easy ones first and it sort of snowballs and then the things that are harder to release or relax or just let be, but not engage with, are gonna get a little easier, right? So use whatever sequence works.
Q: Maybe this is just me but I seem to be most attached to my most painful thoughts. Why do you feel like we’re, I don’t know if that’s just me, but if you’ve experienced that at all? Why do you think it is that our most painful thoughts are the most difficult ones? Like the ones that keep on wanting to resurface?
A: Why do you think that is? I’m curious, I’m not asking that, like, as to put it back, I’m just actually curious.
Q: Well my intuition tells me that it’s because it’s the parts where there’s the most work to do. So that’s what my intuition says. But, there’s a lot of, the most painful stuff comes from a space of memory, nostalgia, I would say. Which is not really real.
A: So are you, I’m just curious, you don’t have to answer if you don’t want to. Are these painful thoughts of, like, something bad that happened or painful thoughts like nostalgia where it’s actually something good that you miss now?
Q: I think for me it’s more current, more present. What’s happening today.
A: Yeah, so there’s a couple things to say about that one. That’s part of our makeup as, not just as people and not just as primates but, like, any animal that evolved has negativity bias, right? So for complicated reasons, difficult stuff is more interesting. Our brain sticks to it because, you know, it’s the thing to solve, it’s the problem. So there’s a kind of a sciency answer in there or, you know, ‘ish’ answer in there. But, you know, that sense of, that I was just remarking on over here—that sense of sometimes wanting something to hang on to, just so there’s not nothing to hang on to—I think goes even more deeper. And that the safety and security even of a painful cage is better than the, like, the momentary scariness of freedom, right? And so there’s a kind of a game you can play of just seeing what it would be like to relax, having to hang on to that just for, like, a half a second.
And so in this way of working here, you’re not trying to stop them and it doesn’t matter if they keep going, but notice the thing that knows the thoughts. Instead of aiming awareness at the thoughts, aim awareness at the thing, in quotes, thing that’s aware of the thoughts. And rest in that. And you’ll notice that thing is not bothered by those thoughts even a little bit. Like I was saying, it’s like the mirror that’s reflecting. It doesn’t matter if there’s, you know, really ugly things being reflected in the mirror or really beautiful things or really boring things or really exciting things. The mirror is fine and yet it’s perfectly reflecting those. So instead of trying to do anything at all to, or with the thoughts, or to get them to go away or keep them from arising, or whatever. We are being the one who knows the thoughts and resting as that and noticing that that knower is fine. It’s fine with any kind of thoughts, they can never ever, ever harm the knower, okay? So it’s really when I say, like ‘rest as’ I really mean that word—rest. Don’t do anything to them. Be the one that knows them and just rest as that because that’s always there.
Q: I find myself dropping into problem-solving mode. And I find myself having to stop that.
A: Or even more deeply, let problem-solving mode happen. Just be the awareness that is aware of the problem-solving. Instead of getting right in there in, with the gears and doing it, just almost, like, allow it to reflect. Okay—problem-solving is happening, so what? Solve away. But I’m not giving it any energy right now, just knowing it, okay? It’s a little bit of a different move there. It’s a much more of a ‘just letting be’. I want to say letting go but sometimes people hear that as, like, pushing away. But I don’t mean pushing away, I mean, like, just let it be just what it is, okay?
Q: Along those lines, your experience with negativity bias, you know, this is a deeply ingrained thing that happens across all creatures to keep us safe. With practice over time do you feel that that fades, that bias? Or the capacity to be okay? That’s happening.
A: It’s about the capacity to be okay with it. I mean, I think it probably does shift to some extent but there’s nothing more dangerous than someone who thinks they’ve overcome their biases, right? It’s always a big, red flag. So I would say at least you’re okay with the fact that that’s happening. That’s much deeper anyway, right? So, you know, what knows that this is occurring? And just keep pointing back at that, point back at that, okay?
I do think over time when we don’t really feed that kind of material it does diminish, but trying to diminish it is feeding it. So you just, it’s kind of a hands-off policy, in terms of meditation. Other stuff, yes.
Q: Sometimes when I lean into spaciousness or equanimity it’ll come with this kind of unpleasant flattening of affect for me. It’ll feel sort of dull and negative. I’m just curious if you have any suggestions for how to approach that.
A: What’s leaning into this openness? What is it that is leaning into this emptiness or this openness?
A: The openness itself. So is that going to somehow flatten anything?
Q: No definitely not. It’s what’s arising in openness.
A: And maybe there’s some efforting of trying to be open, or whatever. And that’s like the imagination of what openness would be like, is flattening stuff out, or whatever. So don’t try so hard. Openness doesn’t mean there’s not a lot happening. This, you know, there’s a lot happening in the sky all the time but the sky’s still wide open. So probably not, just don’t try so hard. But openness has always been there, it will always be there. You don’t have to do anything at all, just rest as it. And if it’s flat for a while, okay, let it be flat. It’ll—people pay good money to have, you know, some flatness happen in their affect, you know. It’s like, kind of, it’s a good, old neutrality, you know? But if you sit there like that for a while it’ll start bubbling again, right? So that’s okay.
What else is on your mind, your single mind?
Q: What’s your experience with the relationship between psychological work like trauma resolution, IFS, shadow work, and the continuing, deepening stability of resting in awareness?
A: They go hand in hand, they help each other. So if you’re doing lots of meditation and especially if that’s loosening up the sense of identification with all those psychological processes, it’s going to be much easier for them to individuate, to grow, to change. You can improve them if you want to, all that. Because they don’t seem as much like your identity. So a lot of times what’s blocking our psychological growth is, “no, but I am my depression.” You know, “who would I be without my depression?” Right? And so that kind of identification is locking it in place and so the meditation releases the identification. Then that can change, “oh I can be a different person who’s not depressed.” And that becomes much easier. So all the psychological processes are kind of like, lubricated by meditation.
But also it works the other way around. The psychological growth really helps the meditation. Because, of course, if you’re just sitting there, I don’t know, seething with rage and despair and you can only, like, think about, you know, how awful you are as a person, or whatever, it’s hard to meditate. I could sit here and say, “be this guy” as much as I want and if you’re just really caught up, it’s psychologically, it’s going to be very, very difficult. Or let’s say trauma from the past just keeps bursting up and it’s hard, right? So we want to do that kind of work and that sort of clears the decks a little bit and makes it easier to find some stability in awareness. Otherwise, the psychological knots and holdings and traumas and distress is so big that someone telling you to, like, relax is like, you know, “don’t tell me to relax, shut up!” You know, you just get reactive. But the two help each other a lot and working simultaneously on both is like, you know, you get synergies, it really moves a lot faster. But they’re different, right? They’re different. In as, you see, when we’re just sitting we’re not trying to fix any of that stuff. Although actually, of course, just accepting, accepting it all with this tremendous openness and welcoming is actually helping to fix it, right?
But we’re not getting in there and trying to manipulate it, so they’re different processes. But if, like, after meditation or before meditation you’re doing therapy, you’re doing some other kind of work on your psychological stuff, those two things start really helping each other. The big, big one is if you’ve got a lot of trauma to do, it’s hard to meditate. In fact, when you’ve trauma work to do it’s hard to meditate so that when you, you know, like, relax and open, you’ll just, trauma will come up. And so if it’s small enough, that’s okay. But if it starts really taking over it’s super important to go do the psychological work on that trauma now. Because otherwise just having it, you know, volcanoing up while you’re meditating is serially re-traumatizing you. So you don’t want to do that. So there, but the two really, really engage each other very powerfully, okay?
Q: Can you talk a bit about stream entry and, like, what would be some of what, are some of the indications if you’ve entered it?
A: Right. So stream entry or sotapanna, it’s the original term, it’s like a technical term from early Buddhism, right? And I’m not super interested in the technical details of that, how it’s, like, really specifically defined.
But, as using even a term like that in a much more general way, the main thing is just noticing directly that you are not the thing inside you called the self—it’s that simple. And, or that there’s no such thing in, you know, an object in you called a self. And we can notice that shallowly and maybe, you know, like kind of bounce off it or we can notice it a little more deeply, a little more deeply. But at some point, you notice that with such an intuitive and visceral, experiential impact—that you can never unnotice it. Or even if you do, the minute you remember, it will just, you know, be totally present.
So that kind of, “oh I’ve had such a visceral impact of this that it can never be forgotten,” I would say that’s basically stream entry. And again, that’s kind of different than how it would be traditionally described, okay? It does, I mean why do you care about that term, and you know?
Q: Well if I had myself I would say… I’m just kidding. I’m just, I think that a few things, there’s a certain when I try to talk about my experience both meditating and not meditating, in the last year or so I just noticed I hit some place where I can’t put words to it. And I keep hearing about this term, stream-entry, and something wiggles inside when I hear it. I’m not quite sure exactly what it meant.
A: So if we go, like, right into the real tradition, there’s this idea of, like, a lineage transmission from the historical Buddha, like moving down through time, okay? And it’s a stream of, like, this wisdom energy. And most of the world is, you know, just going to live and die and, repeatedly and never touch that. But eventually at a certain point with enough, you know, clarity and realization you get into that stream.
Q: That’s gorgeous.
A: It’s a good, it’s a nice image. And then once you’re in, you’re in forever, you know? You will, you’ll never leave the stream. And it just deepens and deepens and deepens until, you know, you’re—I’ll say it in a ‘later’ Buddhist way—but your innate Buddhahood is realized. So that’s why they call, that’s the stream you’re entering, you know? The stream of this enlightened wisdom. But, you know, it has a whole bunch of other properties that are supposed to happen with it, and so on. But in general, that thing, that quivering or, you know, the fact that it’s indescribable, or whatever. That’s good, go into the indescribable of that place, right? Like that spot where there’s just nothing to say about it and yet it’s, it’s not nothing or flat or boring, or whatever. It’s really powerful and yet there’s nothing to say. And just rest there. There’s nothing to do there either. You don’t have to be anybody there or you don’t have to imagine anything, right?