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Taking the Mind as Path

mind as path

Guided Nondual Meditation by Michael Taft

Streamed live on Jan 27, 2022

Let’s jump right in. Tonight we’re going to work on what is called taking the mind as path. It will be our main thing. 

Let’s start out with our posture. As usual I want you to basically wiggle your body, feel good, be goofy with your body, wave it around, shake your mouth out – all those kinds of things just to loosen up and open up. Let your body feel nice and good. Crack your neck if you’re one of those people that always cracks their neck. But once you’re ready then I want you to sit up straight. That’s the essential point. You gotta sit up straight. If you’re on a cushion I want your knees to be lower than your hips, so that you get a nice curve in your lower spine. If you’re sitting in a chair it’s best if you sit forward, so that you’re away from the back of the chair. You can get it to the place where you let your knees hang off the front edge of the chair, so they’re further down than your hips. Then you get that nice back curve and you cross your feet. You won’t have your feet flat on the floor depending on the height of your chair. Without even trying – just by having your knees and hips in the right position you get a nice upright spine. That’s the main posture whether you’re in a chair or you are on a cushion. But as I always say you can also “sit” or meditate lying down. In that case you want to use a bolster or a strap to keep your knees up so your lower back feels nice and comfy on the floor. Only do that if you do not get sleepy. The other thing you can do particularly if you’re sleepy is stand up and do the whole meditation in a nice relaxed standing pose. 

So get into your meditation posture and I want you to kind of – especially if you’re sitting and you’ve got the upright spine – I want you to just slowly wave back and forth like you’re a piece of seaweed in a very gentle, very soft ocean. And your head is that part of the seaweed that has like an air bladder in it, so the very top of your head is just rising straight up. And then the current in the water gets smaller and gentler and slower to the point where eventually you’re just sitting perfectly straight up. It feels like your head is just being lifted up – the very very top most part of your head is just lifted up. That causes your chin to tuck a little bit. And now you’re in that sweet spot, that goldilocks zone where your back stays upright with the absolutely least amount of effort. 

From here what we do next is we set our intention. You get to set whatever intention you want. Why are you meditating at all? If you don’t do this what tends to happen is you’ll sit down and you’ll just start sloppily meditating. It’s like you wade in and your mind is still back in whatever you were doing before you’re meditating. So what we want to do is to set our intention. After taking your posture, setting your intention is the next step in leaving everything behind and moving into the meditation with purpose. So leave everything behind and say “I am meditating because ‘x’ or I am meditating in order to ‘why’.” Get it nice and clear.

The next thing I want us to do is our resource building period or we could say our resilience building period. It’s interesting because when we meditate, it’s different than other things we do. If you’re gonna paint a fence or you’re going to create a web page or you’re going to work with some physical stuff or some virtual stuff, your mood matters. But it doesn’t matter that much. It matters how good you are at the technique. It matters what the situation is. And especially if you’ve done a lot of it your mood is almost superfluous – it’s not superfluous but almost superfluous. It’s more situational. It’s more what’s going on with the stuff. Like if you gotta unclog your kitchen drain at home your mood about it helps a little bit or hurts a little bit. But it doesn’t really change the facts of what you’re going to do to unblock that drain. But when we’re working with internal things, psychological things or meditation things the mood really matters. And people tend to think it’s like external, physical stuff. Like “oh, my mood doesn’t matter if i’m doing the technique right. That’s all that counts.” And that’s true for the exterior world if you’re going to change a tire on your car. Being in a good mood helps but it doesn’t help that much. However, if you’re going to meditate, getting your mind in the right place to meditate really matters because the mind is the thing we’re working on. So the state of your mind is crucial.

What we’re going to do here is we’re going to work on building resources. And if you’ve done a bunch of these videos you know that we do this in many different ways. We can visualize deities or visualize various kinds of lights and beams coming into chakra. There’s all kinds of stuff we can do. Lately I’ve just been doing the gratitude one. It’s very simple. It’s very straightforward. It doesn’t require a lot of visualization. We’re going to do that again tonight. So for the next few minutes all I want you to do is the following: I want you to just sit and think of things that you actually feel grateful for. And then feel gratitude. That’s it. That’s the whole practice. But you gotta do it. You got to sit there and think of the stuff and feel the feelings. Okay, so let’s go.

Now, notice this isn’t a practice of things you should feel grateful for. That ends up becoming basically a ‘feeling ashamed’ or ‘feeling bad about yourself’ practice because you don’t feel grateful for the stuff you should feel grateful for. So I don’t want you to do the practice of things I should feel grateful for. Rather I want you to do the practice of things you actually feel grateful for. I’ll tell you every single night when I go to bed I feel grateful for the cup of black tea I’m gonna have in the morning. That cup of black tea tastes so good and every day it really just.. I just wait for it. And love it and it’s just such a sweet moment and it’s just the right warmth. I usually drink PG tips. I really like PG tips and it’s like super bitter in just the right way. Everything about it is amazing. So especially if it was in the evening I might sit and say I feel grateful for my cup of PG tips I’m gonna have tomorrow or the one I had this morning – whatever. And you know I actually feel grateful for it. It makes me feel good. You might even sit there and go ‘I feel grateful for the air that I breathe in’ or ‘for my mother’ or whatever. And those are the things you’re supposed to feel grateful for. If you do then more power to you. However I’ve noticed that sitting and trying to feel grateful for the fact that there’s air to breathe or whatever. For a lot of people that just doesn’t resonate. So use something that resonates. That’s something you actually feel grateful for or many things you actually feel grateful for. Notice, when you do things you actually feel grateful for, you get a smile on your face, your heart feels more open, your heart feels more melty, your sort of body armor falls away a little bit – you’re just more open and your mind state is more positive and pleasant. That’s the mind state we want to be in when we meditate. That’s how we want to start. It just helps.

From this state of feeling gratitude – that there’s air to breathe and that there’s water to drink – I then want you to begin with me to do our unification meditation, our settling meditation, our staying meditation, our shamatha with an object. In this case you could always use whatever shamatha object you want. This time – as usual – we’re going to do kind of the Dzogchen version of shamatha with an object, where we rest as vast spacious awareness and we just notice the breath wave coming and going. That’s it. It’s very easy. 

Now, something I’m going to add this week to this meditation while you’re doing it – so go ahead and do it – is that I want you to notice that it doesn’t take any effort to have a spacious awareness. It’s not an altered state. It’s not something that you have to work to achieve. Right now you don’t have to work to achieve feeling your body. Your body is just presenting feelings into awareness. The feelings are just there. If you want to concentrate on it then that’s work. But just feeling your body it’s just there to feel. If your eyes are open you don’t have to do any work to see. The visual field is just blasting into awareness. It’s just there. Same thing with sounds: You’re not working hard to hear. It’s just presenting itself in awareness. Now all those things – the visual field, the sound field, your body, everything else – all that’s just arising in this big space of awareness. And you don’t have to do anything for that awareness to be there. That’s what I’m saying. It’s just there. How do you know it’s there? Well, if your eyes are open, sights are blasting into it. sounds are trumpeting into it and your body sensations are burbling up inside it. And that thing, that awareness, that’s just there without you doing anything. That’s vast spacious awareness. There it is. It’s just there!

When people say to me ‘Well, I’m working to get into vast spacious awareness’ that’s talking inside out and backwards. You’re not working to get into vast spacious awareness. What you’re doing when you do that is you’re trying to relax out of being tightly focused on something. You’ve been tightly focused all day. And it means you’ve kind of forgotten the vast spacious awareness that’s always there. And so you don’t have to do anything to have spacious awareness except let go of the death grip, of the tightness around whatever you’re trying hard to pay attention to. Just relax. Just relax. Vast spacious awareness is already vast. It’s already aware. It’s already spacious. You don’t have to do anything at all for it to be that way. And then the practice here is, just notice that bubbling wave of the breath that’s presenting itself effortlessly into that awareness. The awareness is effortless. The breath is effortless. If there’s any effort in this part at all it’s that when you start getting wound up in thinking again, you let go of that and come back to this effortless breath wave that’s arising and passing in awareness. So let’s do that now.

Awareness is already spacious. Awareness is already open. Awareness is already at ease. It never leaves that. It’s always open. It’s always spacious. It’s always at ease. It’s always peaceful and settled. It’s always soft and gentle. That’s what awareness is. You don’t have to do anything special for that to be that way. And the body sensation of breath is just arising in that without you doing anything for it to arise in that. In fact here’s what I want you to do: Stop breathing! Just hold your breath for a minute. Notice that sensation of holding the breath arising in awareness but it’s a holding-the-breath sensation. Now you’re doing something. You’re holding your breath. Okay, stop holding your breath and just go back to breathing normally. Notice that that breath wave is just doing itself. That’s different than holding your breath which is doing something. Body sensations of breath are just arising in awareness effortlessly. And you’re just staying with that and allowing yourself to ride this peaceful openness. This is shamatha with an object and shamanta is peaceful. It’s settled. It’s staying. It’s easeful. So let’s stay with this for a little while longer.

Okay, good. That’s our shamatha with an object. Now we’re going to dig into the main shamatha object here which is going to be the mind itself. We’re taking the mind as the path. We’re going to sit with this for a while. But the instructions are easy: Rest as vast spacious awareness and observe the stream of thinking. That’s it. We’ve already talked about the vast spacious awareness. You’re not doing anything to get vast spacious awareness. It’s just the awareness that’s naturally present. And all we’re doing here is instead of being aware of this breath wave arising and passing – that’s of course going to be in the background. But we’re not particularly staying with that. Now we’re staying with the stream of thought. But the trick here is, to not get involved with the thoughts. We’re resting as awareness and just noticing that there’s this stream of thinking happening. We’re not trying to make thoughts happen. If thoughts stop – great. Observe the stop-ness of the stream right then. It’ll start up again probably. But it doesn’t matter if it’s streaming or not. We’re just noticing the thoughts. And that’s it – not getting involved in any way. Now we’re going to do this for a while. This is your concentration object. If you find yourself getting caught up in the thinking, just come back to resting as vast spacious awareness and letting the thoughts go by. But if it’s too hard because this is more challenging usually than meditating on the breath. So if this is too hard go back and do the breath meditation instead. Rather than just sitting here, getting real frustrated, meditate on your breathing. For the rest of us who are going to continue with the ‘taking the mind as path’: We typically do this with our eyes open. And just rest as vast spacious awareness. You’re not narrowing down with tight focus on the thoughts. You’re resting as vast spacious awareness. And again allowing the thoughts to just be in awareness. They’re already there. You don’t have to do anything to like bolt your mind to them or something. It’s like no. Awareness is already aware. Thoughts are arising in awareness and you’re just being with them – as like a stream of thought activity. That’s it. That’s the whole meditation. Let’s go.

As you can see this can be a little bit tricky because in most other meditations of this sort we’re looking at something else, like body sensations and not getting caught up in the thinking. But here we’re looking right at the thinking – or really more like listening, most of it is auditory. We’re listening directly to it and not getting involved. We’re just resting as vast spacious awareness aware of the stream of thinking and really noticing it. Using it as a meditation object. We’re resting on it. But not getting involved.

Besides getting caught in thought, the other way this can go wrong is if you get kind of drowsy. Sometimes if we’re not paying tight attention and we’re resting in awareness like this, you can start to get drowsy. So if that happens sit up straight, make sure your eyes are open, reaffirm your intention, your commitment and keep going. If you’re really drowsy like really really drowsy then do the meditation standing up.

Okay, good. Now let’s just let go of having a meditation object at all. So even though the breath might be there in the background we’re not paying any attention to that. And even though we were paying attention to thinking and thinking might continue we’re not now paying any attention to it at all. And we’re just resting as vast spacious awareness. This is called shamatha without an object. There is no meditation object. Or another way to describe it is, awareness is simply aware of itself. Okay, that’s not an object. But we could say roughly you’re concentrating on awareness – or a better way to say it is, awareness is aware of itself and we’re not getting involved with anything. If you get involved with anything that’s called ‘grabbing onto the ball’. The dog grabs onto the ball. If you notice yourself grabbing on anything at all – thinking, the breath, anything at all – just drop the ball. And just come back to resting as naturally occurring vast spacious awareness that’s always present. This meditation is often called ‘do nothing’ because there’s nothing to do. You can’t make yourself have vast spacious awareness. It’s already there. Rest in that now. Again, if this is too hard, come back to one of these meditation objects.

Remain uninvolved with anything. Awareness is bright and clear. It’s very very awake. It’s also vast. It’s spacious. It’s open. It’s at ease. It’s restful. There’s a sense of space, of room. It’s just wide awake and resting – resting like an ocean, resting like a mountain. It’s just being. It’s wide awake itself – uninvolved with anything. Notice that any idea, that you’re even doing something, is a kind of involvement. So let go of the sense of doing a meditation, of trying to do a technique. Just rest as the vast spacious awareness you already are and always have been.

Okay, good. Now we’re going to let go of that and come back to some ‘state of the mind type’ practice that takes a little effort. So, I want you to just notice any joy in your being and radiate that out to the entire world, to the entire universe, to all universes everywhere, to all sentient beings in all universes everywhere. If there’s any peace that you’re feeling, I want you to radiate that out to all sentient beings in all universes everywhere. If you’re feeling any love, any kindness, any caring, I want you to radiate that out in all directions to all beings in all universes everywhere. And just keep radiating love and kindness and joy and peace in all directions. Continuing to just beam out that love and peace and joy and kindness to all beings everywhere – even beings in the future, even beings in every other multiverse. Just beaming and beaming and beaming love and joy and kindness and caring, friendliness and peace to all beings everywhere.

Okay, good. Let’s end the meditation there. So you can now feel free to move and stretch and shake out your hands and feet again if you want. Have a drink of water. Do whatever you need to do to allow your body to be happy. 

Dharma Talk

I want to return again to this idea of the effortlessness of awareness. So often I just hear this comment. And again it’s a comment that is kind of inside out and backwards. Even though it’s a normal way of speaking – a totally normal way of speaking. But from the viewpoint of the nondual meditation it’s just inside out and backwards. So the thing that I often hear is something like “I’m working to find vast spacious awareness” or “I’m trying to make my awareness vast and spacious” – something like that. And like I say it’s not that that’s bad or whatever. It’s a totally normal way of speaking. But I want to make sure that you understand that that’s impossible. You can’t work to make your awareness more vast and spacious. you can’t try to do anything to awareness and a particularly ‘inside out and backwards’ one is when someone says “I’m trying to notice vast spacious awareness” – so my question is who’s noticing. Right, if you’re trying to notice your own vast spacious awareness, who’s doing the noticing. Right, the answer is “the awareness is noticing the vast spacious awareness” or to put it even more clearly “vast spacious awareness is noticing the vast spacious awareness”. So the whole sentence like “I’m trying to notice vast spacious awareness” as soon as there’s that word ‘notice’ in there – that’s the awareness. It already notices itself. There’s nothing to do.

Except rest in that noticing. It doesn’t mean, “hey, there’s nothing to do, so go and play Pokémon Go right now. There’s some really interesting Pokémon around the Pokéstop in your neighborhood. Maybe you should go and do that instead because awareness is already…” no, no, no, I’m saying that awareness already notices itself. Now rest in that, effortlessly. If we’re going to do ‘shamatha without an object’, awareness is just resting in itself. Awareness is just resting in itself. So you can say the sentence “I’m trying to notice my vast spacious awareness” but – and again it’s not that I’m criticizing that, I’m just trying to point something out which is – that thing that’s noticing is the vast spacious awareness itself. You already are vast spacious awareness. It’s always there. So there’s nothing to do. 

Furthermore it’s not like awareness is sometimes narrow and sometimes vast. It’s always vast. It’s always spacious. So again, right now, do it with me. Don’t just listen to me. Do it with me right now. With your eyes open, notice the whole visual field. It’s like pouring in the front of your head. Right, there’s just visual stuff – just like an ocean of vision pouring in the front of your face. You’re not doing anything to make that happen. An ocean of sound is just coming in your ears right now. It’s nothing you’re doing, it’s just happening. An entire universe of body sensations is just bubbling up in awareness right now. You’re not doing anything for that to appear that way. And of course, as we noticed, there’s this stream of thoughts just pouring through awareness all the time. We’re not doing anything to make that happen. And all of these things – an ocean of vision, an universe of sound, another universe of body sensation, further multiverses of thinking – all of that is somehow, so to speak, inside of awareness. Awareness is already spectacularly vast, totally wide open, effortlessly infinite, effortlessly boundary-less. With all these things happening within it. 

Okay and so from that understanding then we did three different meditations:

  • We did ‘shamatha with an object’ – the object being the breath. And again the awareness is already vast and without doing anything special, you just notice the breath within that awareness. That was the first one we did. 
  • The second one we did was ‘taking the mind as path’. All that means is meditating on purpose, instead of on the breath, on the thinking. The thinking becomes the meditation object. Notice how that’s really different than almost any meditation tradition where you’re either supposed to stop thinking or meditate on something besides the thinking. When we ‘take the mind as path’ – the second one – it’s still a kind of ‘shamatha with an object’ – the object is simply the thinking itself. Now we’re not following the thinking in the sense of getting caught up in the train of thought. That’s just called sitting there thinking. When we’re doing the shamatha on the thinking or what we’re calling ‘taking the mind as path’ we’re on purpose paying attention to the thinking but not getting involved in it. Another way of saying it – again it’s not super accurate but – we’re outside the thinking, looking at it. That would be a more vipassana way of describing it. That’s not really what’s happening. We’re resting as vast spacious awareness and the thinking is arising. But the thinking is our object. That’s the thing we’re resting on – without getting involved in the content. The content is irrelevant. In fact you may have noticed – even though you weren’t supposed to notice the content – you may notice that the content gets really really weird sometimes. Why is that? Because when you’re not paying attention to the content very much, the normal filter on your unconscious mind becomes permeable and might even just not be there at all. So the deep unconscious mind starts to throw up thoughts that normally you’d only have in dreams or something. There can be disturbing thoughts, violent thoughts but often they’re just weird – like the jellyfish thoughts that are just strange. But we’re not paying attention to that. So I don’t want you to think “Oh, I hope there’s some strange thoughts and then I’m really going to pay attention to them” no, you’re just allowing thoughts to arise and that’s the attention object. 
  • And then the third thing we did was ‘shamata without an object’ – again that’s just ‘dropping the ball’, that’s ‘do nothing’. We just rest as our naturally occurring vast spacious awareness not even resting on the thinking, not even resting on the breath. You’re just resting on awareness itself. 

So those were the three things we did. And to do them the way I described requires this foundational understanding – that awareness is already aware without you doing anything. It’s already wide awake without you doing anything. All this sensory stuff is occurring in awareness without you doing anything. That’s the foundational understanding. So when you sit and I say “rest in vast spacious awareness”, it’s like saying “sit there and just be awake”. Do it right now. Just sit there and notice this awakeness that’s happening – the fact the whole visual field is just pouring in the eyes, sound is pouring in the ears, body sensation is flowing up through the body, thoughts are streaming through the brain, all of this is occurring within awareness itself. And awareness doesn’t do anything to be aware of it. It’s just aware. That’s what it is. 

The metaphor for awareness – the clearest most precise metaphor – is awareness is like space. Notice space is vast and of course spacious, spacious, spacious… Awareness is spacious 

So awareness is like space. But just like all metaphors, it’s not perfect because space – like physical space – is just non-sentient whereas awareness is sentient. Awareness has a gnostic quality. It has gnosis. It’s knowing. So we could say ‘awareness is like knowing space’ or ‘like space that knows’. 

So when we rest as vast spacious awareness it’s just tuning in to the fact that awareness is happening now and not narrowing it. See, this is the thing: You can’t make it more spacious but you can try to narrow it – doesn’t really work because everything’s still coming in. But that’s the real issue that normally we’re narrowing it and only giving any credence to that narrow part – and that narrow part we call attention. But when we relax the narrowing – the obsession with the narrow part – we recognize that awareness is vast. It’s always been vast. It’s always been spacious. It’s there. And then that makes these ‘shamatha with an object meditations’ much easier. You just sit, resting as awareness, allowing whatever the object is to have just a slight amount of attention on it. Instead of saying ‘attention’ we just say that ‘we allow the vast spacious awareness to in a way rest on that object, so even though technically the awareness of the breath is rising into the awareness. It’s almost tautological to say ‘the body sensations of breathing are arising in awareness and we’re just kind of resting on that when we’re doing the ‘shamata with an object on the breath’. Then when we’re ‘taking the mind as path’ we’re just allowing this stream – and it feels like a stream, it feels like a river – of thinking that’s just pouring effortlessly through awareness without us doing anything at all – and we’re just resting on that. In a way that’s uninvolved. Let’s say that river has lots of fish in it. We’re not catching and eating the fish – yummy fish, little gollum. No, we’re not gollum. We’re not eating yummy fish. We’re just observing the rushing river. That’s it. And then, when we do the ‘do nothing’ or  when we do ‘dropping the ball’, we give up all those objects and we allow the awareness to just rest in itself. And that’s very very pleasant. So that’s how that works.

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