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The Burning Fire of Awareness

Burning Fire

Nondual Guided Meditation with Michael Taft

Okay, so let’s begin. I want you to simply check in with yourself, ask yourself the question; what’s it like to be me right now? And by me, I mean you. And just tune in to your mind, your body, your emotions, all that and just see what it’s like. Kind of a naked noticing, not an evaluation but just more of, oh yeah, that’s what’s going on. And whatever it’s like, whether it’s pleasant or unpleasant, chaotic or smooth, painful, pleasurable, neutral, whatever, simply accept that situation, that state, that weather report exactly the way it is and let it be exactly that. However it is, is just right.

Good, now in a very reductive, simplified way of talking about it, the meditation we’re doing is more about openness and less about constrictedness. So openness in the mind is important, just feeling that sense of spaciousness, openness, relaxation in the mind and the analog for that is just openness and relaxation in the body. So let’s do some shamatha here. Remembering that we’re staying nice and still, not moving and you’re simply following your breath in a very open way. We’re gonna relax the body for a while here just to get into that embodied spaciousness. 

So with your awareness, your attention very broad, very, very broad just notice the breath rising and falling, not focused on the breath you’re not narrowly attending to the breath, simply noticing that it rises and falls, rises and falls. That takes no extra attention at all. It’s simply as we sit we notice the rising and falling of the breath while the mind awareness stays nice and wide, nice and open, broad expansive like it naturally is. So remember it’s not an effort, it’s not some kind of pushing effortful exertion to make awareness broad. Awareness is broad without us trying. Forcing awareness to be narrow attention takes effort but allowing it to just be naturally broad, naturally spacious, that’s just relaxing. So just let it be broad and spacious.

And it notices the rising and falling of the breath, the rising and falling of the breath.

So let’s do that for a few minutes and then I’ll begin doing a guided relaxation of the body along with it so that our body becomes more and more expansive.

Now with the awareness very broad, very open, very relaxed, and noticing the rising and falling of the breath very naturally just begin to notice the releasing of any tension in your head and face. We’re not moving at all, not stretching, not forcing any muscle activity, we’re just relaxing. Very often when I suggest that we let go of tension people focus on the tension and try to fight with it instead what we do is simply notice any part that feels relaxed and open up into that.

Let the relaxation just feel good and kind of grow and that naturally, without very much effort, just allows the tension in the face, the head, the eyes, the cheeks, the lips, the mouth area to just drain away. And instead, a feeling of, kind of, slack, warm release, and openness enters the head and face. Any fixed expression releases, any tightness in the mouth just releases, any tension in the jaw just let’s go so that your upper and lower teeth are no longer touching. and then you just feel into how pleasant that relaxation feels. And the rising and falling of the breath just seems to open that up even further. And notice now that tension is draining out of your neck and throat and shoulders. 

That muscle, that if you tighten it makes your voice a little higher, relaxes. And it’s as if your voice is going deeper, that muscle just releases, your neck becomes soft and supple, and your shoulders let go. It’s a real feeling of openness and ease and relief, not only through the head and face, but now through the neck, the throat, the shoulders. Don’t fight with anything, just notice the part that’s already released, already relaxed. It may feel very neutral and that neutrality feels nice. 

Continuing to breathe in this very open relaxed manner, noticing that awareness remains bright, awareness remains clear and wide awake. In fact, the more relaxed we get, the more awake awareness becomes. And with this awakeness, we notice that the arms, the hands, and fingers all release and relax and let go. Arms come to a complete rest, so limp and so much like noodles that you can’t move them anymore because it would take tension to move them. Instead, they’re just utterly loose, utterly relaxed. You may even feel the warmth and tingling in your fingers of the increased blood flow as your wrists relax and hands relax. And then the shoulders, the muscles of your chest and upper back relax and release and open.

Feel how good that feels, even the areas in the armpit region and even inside your upper chest all release and relax and let go. And as you notice the pleasant feelings in your face, your head, your throat, your neck, your shoulders, your arms, your hands, your upper chest–all so relaxed, all so released–you simply and without any effort drop now more deeply into a state of wide-open relaxation and spaciousness, simply breathing like wind moving through a vast empty sky. Wind effortlessly blowing in a vast, open, empty sky, tremendously free, tremendously fresh, utterly clean and clear.

Now, noticing that tension is releasing from the diaphragm region, the diaphragm is relaxing, softening, opening, making it much easier to breathe freely. Belly region is relaxing and the kidney region in back opening, allowing you to breathe much more deeply, much more freely, much more pleasantly, less impedance. Noticing how the spaciousness and openness of the mind is now becoming the spaciousness and openness of the body, very natural, very easy, no big deal. And notice the pelvic region is relaxing and opening, letting go. The hips are releasing, finding freedom, letting go. And then the legs, too begin to completely release, the large muscles of the thighs, the knees, the calves, the shins, ankle joints releasing and opening, the feet, especially the soles of your feet, opening. And the toes relaxing so you can actually feel this warmth and tingling of much greater blood flow in the legs as they become jello-like, tremendously relaxed, so relaxed that there’s just no way to move them anymore. Because you’d have to tighten them up to move them and if they’re still tight enough to move just see if you can let go just a little further so that they actually can’t move.

And then let that sensation of; so relaxed that movement is impossible, so relaxed that it would just be too much effort to try to move. Let that permeate your entire body so that it’s just utterly like a big water balloon, perfectly settled into the bottom of a bowl. Really, really, really partially full water balloon that’s just flopped with zero tension. And notice that feeling of zero tension permeating every part of your body now so deeply that it just allows you to simply and naturally express a kind of fundamental freedom by just allowing every part of your being to just drop now into an even deeper sense of total non-doing.

Awareness just noticing the breath moving like a fresh wind through pine trees in the mountains. And notice how this deep openness, this profound spacious feeling in the body now feeds back into the mind, allowing the mind to just melt. There’s no need to hold the mind together in any way. The mind just falls apart, falls open, opens like a flower becoming the sky, perfectly clear sky of awareness with no effort. Let’s sit as this clear sky of awareness just noticing the rising and falling breath for a little while together here.

Now into this vast spacious sky of awareness comes a seed of fire and the fire begins burning away the entire body. The whole body burns away, and burns away, and burns away, leaving only ashes, white-gray ashes. And then, all emotions burn away. Any emotion catches on fire and burns away completely, leaving no trace.

And then, any thought in the mind bursts into flame and burns away without any trace, and then any sense of any boundary in any direction, any building, any boundary, anything in any direction catches on fire, bursts into flame, roars, and then vanishes without a trace.

And then, any sense of time; the past, the future, even the now, any sense of any time catches on fire, bursts into flame, and then burns away utterly, leaving no trace. And then, any sense of evaluating or measuring or tracking, judging bursts into flame, roars brightly, lighting the vast sky for a moment and then vanishing without a single trace. Any urges of any kind, any discomfort, any itches, any pain, anything pleasurable all bursts into flame, and burns away completely leaving no trace of any kind.

And then any sense of self, of me, of a location, or a history, or a personality burst into fire, burns powerfully, roaringly, ragingly, and then vanishes leaving no trace. And then, any sense of anybody doing anything at all, any effort, any intention bursts into flame, flares brightly, and then vanishes leaving no trace.

All that’s left is bright, clear, shining wakefulness with a sense of vast ease, openness, and space. If you’re feeling sleepy sit up straight open your eyes and continue the meditation. Now all these things have burned away so we’re just going to rest in this vast open space of awareness with no objects of any kind to grab onto remaining perfectly still the entire time. Anytime the mind tightens up in any way, grabs onto something, engages a thought, that just instantly burns away and we drop back into just vast openness, the openness so vast that it can sometimes, at first, be uncomfortable or even scary until you realize there’s no problem.

Just let it be wide open.

Notice that this vast spacious awareness is perfectly still it never moves, it’s never ruffled, utterly still. It does not need to focus on anything, it’s already perfectly clear, perfectly awake, perfectly still without any object at all. Whatever story you’re telling yourself in your head right now is meaningless. Come back to just awakeness without hanging on to a thought object. Whenever something arises in the sky of awareness be what notices the arising. It doesn’t matter what it is, maybe your whole meditation is just about discomfort. That’s just an arising. Be what knows the discomfort, be what notices it. If there’s a thought, be the awareness that notices the thought. 

Notice how totally easy this meditation is simply resting as the open awareness you have always been, there’s literally nothing to do, it’s impossible to fail. Notice that there is a kind of joy in this openness, a kind of enjoyment of the freedom and space.

It might be subtle at first, but if you tune into it you’ll notice there’s a tremendous sense of joy, tremendous sense of openness, and kind of freedom in that openness that brings a real sense of wanting to share that, to give that to others. And so allow that to really blaze forth right now, really open up in your heart a fire of love and kindness that burns away all cynicism, all doubt, all fear fire burns away that sulky, crappy part of yourself, the cynical, complaining, sarcastic part and instead opens up to that sky of just kindness and laughter and peace and joy that radiates out the warmth of this fire in all directions. Feel that fire burning away, burning away all crusty tight restrictions leaving no trace, burning away all thoughts of our inadequacy or imperfection or inability and leaving no trace. Radiating out the warmth of love and kindness to others no matter how imperfect and leaving no trace of ill will, no trace of judgment.

All that’s left is a radiant fire in the heart, a burning fire that is both sorrow for the world and love and kindness towards all beings

Om, gate gate para gate para sam gate bodhi swaha 

Om, gate gate para gate para sam gate bodhi swaha 

Om, gate gate para gate para sam gate bodhi swaha 

Okay. Good, now let go of the meditation.

Dharma Talk, Q&A

Noticing that nothing has changed when we stop. Our awareness is still vast and spacious, absolutely relaxed and awake, and rather than involving ourselves in all the arisings, just be what knows the arising. That’s it. We already are that but we just noticed that. 

In one way of looking at it, this is the easiest possible thing, right? We are simply tuning into what we’ve always been since beginningless time. In other words, tuning into what we can’t help but realize, can’t help but notice we always are. So in one way of looking at it, there’s no more obvious, no easier possible thing to do or to notice. And in case that’s still not clear; be what notices. And since experience is happening, noticing is happening already without you doing anything at all. 

In fact, try to turn off experience right now, give it your best shot. Try to turn off awareness if you’re doing awareness. If awareness is some kind of activity that you’re making happen then stop doing it. Shut it off right now. Notice that that is a little bit hard to do. You could do it, I mean with a chainsaw or something, I mean probably, or maybe a momentary cessation if you were really up for that but it’d still come back, still come back.

So notice, it’s not an activity, it’s not something that you’re with-effort making happen. Rather, it’s always there without any effort of any kind. It’s happening right now. Oh look, it’s happening again, never stops happening. And so what everyone keeps focusing on is the stuff that’s happening in awareness, and trying to change something about that–like get real focused on some arising in awareness and keep attention on that continuously or whatever, which is cool. I mean I’ve done a lot of that, we’ve all done a lot of that but that’s not what we’re doing here, really. The arisings in awareness are interesting, there’s nothing wrong with them, they’re cool, they’re beautiful, etc. but that’s not what we’re doing, you know? 

It’s like–there can be whatever arisings you want, that’s not the point–be what notices the arising. Pay attention, if you want to put it that way, to the fact that you’re aware of it at all which, when you think about it, that’s a very different game. It seems like just a variation on the game but it’s a very different game, it requires no attention at all. And in fact, attention almost makes it harder, it doesn’t really but it almost makes it harder. Because the wakefulness, the awareness, is there with or without attention and if we’re paying attention to something that’s rising in awareness and that’s potentially kind of, to put it in a funny way, distracting us from the fact of the awareness itself, which is not tense, it doesn’t take any tightening, it’s already there. It’s always been there. Think of some moment in your life when it wasn’t there. You can’t because you could only remember what was before or after such a thing anyway. So all experience is, of course, experience of awareness. It’s like a tautology.

So we use sometimes special states, we use attention maybe to get in special states because it tends to usually simplify what’s going on in the mind a little bit, so there’s fewer arising, so we’re grabbing on to fewer arisings. That makes it easier to notice the noticing, the awareness itself. Or maybe it raises our energy to the point where we can come out of grabbing onto things and just notice because there’s such a habit around grabbing onto all the arisings that maybe our energy needs to raise up a little bit to notice the noticing.

There’s a whole bunch of reasons that we might do special concentration exercises at first, or visualizations at first, or even working psychologically at first, simply to make it easier to do the easiest thing in the world. And this is the paradox is that–as someone who tries, with some measure of success sometimes, to show people how to do this thing, it turns out that describing it is hard because we don’t talk about it as a society basically ever. We talk about arisings, that’s what we’re interested in–the stuff that’s in the awareness. 

And so even though it’s like, okay, you’ve spent your whole life as a fish looking at everything in the water but now someone’s saying no I want you to see the water and you’ve just never been, never done that. And so it’s hard to describe. But even if you do it for a minute you’re like, okay, I did it for a second, so what? And by the way, if you were able to do it even for a second good, that’s cool. You’re getting the idea, but so what is now do it again and do it again and, in fact, start noticing that all the time. Then it starts to be a big SO WHAT, starts to really actually be useful, important, helpful, beautiful, deep.

Because that background, we can call it ‘the background’, it’s not really the background but that background of awareness is because it’s the foreground and the middle ground too, it’s everything, right? But we’ll call it the background of awareness is stable and sane and clear and unruffled, nothing bothers it. And it’s, to put it in a funny way, it’s in kind of a good mood all the time. It’s not really a mood but openness and freedom and non-constrictedness just feel good. And then, no matter how clogged up all the arisings get or painful or difficult or overwhelmingly whatever, that background or foreground or middle ground or total ground of awareness is just fine and at rest and open and easy, and it’s always there. and if there’s anything that you “actually are,” that’s what you actually are. 

And so, as you’re tuning in to the story in your head, just recognize that that’s just an arising. The story in your head is not really–it’s not a bad thing, we use it for various stuff but notice how much the story in your head is about what’s wrong right now, and it just goes on and on about it, or why you can’t be/do this thing, or why you’re not like that, or why this other person can’t be different, or whatever. And, you know, in some ways that can be useful for manipulating the relative world, but it’s–especially when you’re identified with that as who you are–that’s a pretty miserable place to live. Nothing’s ever right. This is wrong, this is not, this isn’t, this is wrong, this is not good, I’ve got to change it, change it, change it, change it. Notice no matter how much you’ve changed it, the amount of change that seems necessary is the same. It’s an endless game that, you know, it’s part of being alive. 

We need to just continue, you know, no matter how much you clean the kitchen you’re gonna have to clean it again tomorrow. So that’s just part of reality but this sense that, ‘I can’t rest until it’s fixed,’ and it will never be fixed. That’s the trap that if we’re stuck being fixated on the arisings or if we’re identified with a story in our head and that’s all that’s going on for us that’s going to be a pretty miserable place by definition.

Whereas, the thing that it’s not a thing, but the thing that’s noticing that I’ll say, the noticing itself, doesn’t have any of those problems. You could, even if you fixed all those problems, the noticing itself wouldn’t change. It’s already fine. It’s always been fine. On the day that you were born, you were a miracle, like a shocking miracle. Coming out of nothing into, you know aware, sentient somethingness.

We have all these baby birds in our backyard and the fact that an egg can plop out of a bird and then eventually grow and start flying around and singing a song and hanging out with other birds and splashing in the bird bath. And yesterday one landed on the chair with me, right there in the back of the chair, a blue bird. I mean a jay, you know, a bird that was blue, not a blue bird, a blue jay, I mean that’s fucking insane.

Think of your closest person, let’s say your closest friend or relationship partner the person you know the best, and think about the intricacy of their being; their likes and dislikes, their feelings, the things they are very involved in that they know so much about, their history, the sensitivity they have towards this or that…All of that came out of nothing. And we’ll return to nothing and in between, it’s just hanging there in awareness, it’s a miracle, it makes no sense, it’s insane. 

How is there wakefulness even happening right now? The awareness that’s here, how is that happening? Notice that it’s nobody’s doing it but it’s here. There’s an experience happening, that miracle of the day you were born is still happening, something’s awake, something’s experiencing. Did that experiencing come from anywhere? Look at it right now. Did it come from anywhere? I’m not talking about going to your ideas and your memories or biology or something, I’m talking about looking at experience right now. Did it come from anywhere? Did it start at some point?

Look at it right now. It’s a miracle and notice how compared to that our ideas of the story of our life, or what we’re involved in, or any of that, which is all super fascinating, compared to that miracle is like a side effect, or like an ornament, just another cool thing that amazing miracle can do.

So in this kind of meditation, we’re looking at that, or that thing is noticing itself, it’s not a thing, but it is noticing itself. The miracle notices itself. Watch yourself slipping back into mundanity, to quotidian thoughts and cut through and come back to the wakefulness the awakeness that is beneath that, that supports that, that is the substrate of that. That is amazing.

Questions or comments or reports?

One time I saw in the courtyard of our apartment building a baby hummingbird get born which they’re about the size of like an acorn or something teeny and then there were these two morning doves and they killed it. Morning doves had a nest nearby and they’re very territorial and they you know they killed this baby hummingbird, which pissed me off it was like hanging out of the nest, all messed up. So I yelled at the morning doves. 

But then a couple of seasons later, another one was born, another baby hummingbird, little the size of a marble, and that one lived. And the parents, parent hummingbirds, right, are feeding the baby, and eventually–we were watching this very carefully–it’s time to teach it to fly. You know a hummingbird is like a helicopter, right, because it’s barely controlled chaos. It shouldn’t even be able to fly, certainly not in a controlled way, and that, at first, was the hilarious thing. The baby hummingbird would get to the edge of the nest and then like kind of just zoom off in one direction then just stop and, you know, the parents would go try to help it out. It’d stop on a branch and be like oh because it couldn’t control the direction you know and then it would be like over to another branch. It’s basically the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.

And then one day–took about a day and a half of that just totally chaotic, sort of like, you ever see someone try to ride a motorcycle who’s never done it before and they hit the gas too hard, which makes the motorcycle lurch forward, which makes them hit the gas harder. It’s like, yeah, that’s what a baby hummingbirds like. And then they’re wildly trying to hit the brakes. Anyway, after about a day and a half the mother hummingbird like zoomed straight up and over the apartment building back to where all the flowers were, because we had huge wall of morning glories back there, like purple and blue morning glories that the hummingbirds liked and lots of other flowers and the baby saw the mother go over and it. You knew what was going to happen next but it kind of like was thinking about it and then finally shot over the apartment building and that was it. It knew how to fly then. I just had to have some uncontrolled freakout flights first. So, thus endeth the lesson.

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1 thought on “The Burning Fire of Awareness”

  1. “All that’s left is a radiant fire in the heart, a burning fire that is both sorrow for the world and love and kindness towards all beings”

    Thank you

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