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The Freedom of Groundlessness

Nondual Meditation with Michael Taft


Wow, got a lot of people here tonight. That’s great. So let’s begin simply by checking in, not meditating, not doing anything special, just tuning in to how it feels to be you right now, the thoughts that are present, the emotions that are present, body sensations that are present and simply allowing what’s ever there to be there. So we’re really comprehensively just noticing what it’s like to be ourselves right now and accepting that entirely. Whatever it feels like is fine, no matter how awful or let’s say explodingly too energetic, or something, whatever it is, it’s all fine. But just notice it. Be with what’s actually going on.

And now, I want you to find that most brokenhearted place within yourself, the saddest spot, and just feel that just for a moment, the really sad place, and just let that be present without trying to change it or control it or deny it. Notice that that’s there and that’s okay, and just let that have its room, have its place.

Now, I’d like you to begin doing some deeper breathing, I’m gonna do some belly breathing or whatever deep breathing works for you but the idea is simply that you do

a large in-breath and then a really long exhale. So the exhale is much longer than the inhale. That’s the important part but it helps if it’s a nice belly inhale to begin with. Make it work for you, don’t struggle, don’t make the out breath so long that it’s difficult or uncomfortable, but we want to have a nice deep in-breath and then a really, really long out-breath. And so let’s be with just that for a while together. 

If you want to, if it helps you to stay focused, make sure, of course, that you’re feeling the body sensations of that in-breath very clearly and feeling the body sensations of that out-breath very clearly. How’s that feel in your belly? How does that feel in your rib cage? How does that feel in your perineum? How’s that feel everywhere? And noticing all the sensations in-breath and out-breath. And if you want to you can label breathing in, ‘breathing in,’ for the in-breath, and breathing out, ‘breathing out,’ for the out-breath. So let’s just be with that together for a while here.

Feel how good it feels to breathe. Body really loves to breathe. It will help if you feel the beginning of each in-breath. Make sure you notice that moment of the beginning of the in-breath and make sure you notice the moment of the end of the out-breath. They’re right next to each other but they’re different. Just sink even more deeply into that breath.

It might feel lovely. It might actually feel kind of painful. It might feel a lot of different ways but just let it feel that way. However the breath feels is the right way for it to feel right now. Really sink into that.

Good, now notice what is noticing the breath, notice the noticing, notice this–the awareness that is present. and just notice that that awareness that is present that’s aware of the breathing is very open, it’s very spacious, it’s boundaryless, it’s wide, it’s free. And I want you to mainly just rest being that awareness while allowing the breath sensation to simply arise and pass in the awareness. So instead of kind of focusing on the breath, or focusing on the body, we’re doing something different now, we’re simply resting as open awareness within which the wave of the breath rises and falls and awareness notices that wave of the rising and falling breath without any effort, without any difficulty, it’s just already aware. So we’re still in a way meditating on the breath but in the lightest possible way, mainly like 98% just resting as awareness with the breath simply rising and falling in awareness. Let’s do that together now.

If you like meditating with your eyes open, that’s sort of the traditional way to work it with this part, try to remain absolutely still, do not move, don’t scratch, don’t shift, remain still. Notice that this spacious awareness is already aware. It requires no work to be awake. It’s already aware of the feeling of the breath. So we’re just resting in awakeness, feeling the breath, remaining uninvolved with thinking but not fighting the thinking, just being the open awareness noticing the breath. Awareness is awake. Stay awake. If you’re having trouble staying awake, sit up straight, open your eyes. But, of course, awareness is awake no matter what. It’s just the mind that’s sleepy. 

We’re resting outside the mind, simply awareness itself feeling the breath, resting in wakefulness, feeling the breath. In one way we can notice how spectacularly ordinary this feels, not a special state, not altered, simply resting as the awareness that’s always present. It’s easy to go into an altered state, we do it all the time but that usually serves as some kind of entertainment or distraction from this that is here all the time, but wow look at this thing that’s here all the time. Let it see itself, awareness seeing awareness, awareness showing itself to itself. Notice that it has no boundary, it’s utterly vast, unconstrained, not cramped, open, free, as wide as the sky without any effort. Notice that now. Rest in that vastness effortlessly now.

If it feels like it’s closing in or becoming cramped or tightening down just relax, notice it effortlessly comes back to openness, it’s always open. This is the natural state of awareness and look, look right now, not only is it boundless–how long has awareness been here? How long has it been aware? This boundless awareness has been here since beginningless time. It has no beginning, it’s unbounded in space and unbounded in time. Look in your own experience, when did it start? When did awareness start? Not in your memory, not in ideas, not in thoughts, but right now. Look! When did awareness start?

It has always been aware. This is the natural state of awareness, boundless and timeless, but look even more closely, now, right now, look in your own experience. Awareness has no damage, awareness has no trauma, awareness has no scars, it’s absolutely perfect and pristine at every moment. Our thoughts and emotions and bodies and spirits can have difficulty and damage and scars but awareness itself never does. Absolutely pristine, always perfect, always utterly healed in every moment, and utterly indestructible.

Look now. Notice your own completely pristine, perfect, clear, undamaged, unsullied awareness. Remain perfectly still, still means still, in this natural state, totally unaltered, totally normal state of awareness. Notice the boundlessness, the timelessness, the perfection, the pristine quality of awareness. But look, right now, in your own experience and see also the loving quality of this awareness which comes from its openness, rejects nothing, it accepts and welcomes everything (partially because it cannot be ever harmed in any way.) It is utterly welcoming, utterly accepting, utterly loving. Notice that now.

Its wide open arms accept every thought, every emotion. Everything that comes into awareness is aware, is seen, is noticed. It’s deeply loving, this is the natural state of awareness utterly open, utterly loving and accepting, rejecting nothing, greeting everything. This awareness is utterly real and yet look, right now, in your own experience. It’s not a thing. You cannot make a thing out of it. It’s not an object in awareness. Noticing doesn’t make an object out of noticing, it’s what’s noticing. It’s not a thing, this awareness which is utterly real and yet not a thing. 

Notice now where it comes from. Where is this awareness coming from? What is the ground from which it springs? Look closely, you’ll notice there is no ground. You might have ideas about where awareness arises from but those are just thoughts. If you look carefully in your own experience, right now, you’ll see clearly it has no ground, it has no source, it’s not itself resting on anything, it’s groundless. Look now at this boundless, timeless, perfect, vast, loving, groundless awareness and notice now that it’s what’s looking.

Very good. Now let’s let go of the meditation.

Dharma Talk, Q&A

Notice that we’re not breaking away from some special state, the awareness is still there. The awareness itself hasn’t changed. It’s utterly just the way it’s been and the thing that can get in the way with the way we’re working in this meditation is if we start to think about it, for example, if I say something like, ‘awareness is boundless or awareness is vast,’ we can start to do just really kind of two things, we can either think about it or we can start trying to do something. So a lot of people attempt to make their awareness big somehow, like pushing or kind of expanding or whatever, just like feeling like they’re looking in different directions and stuff like that. But that’s completely unnecessary. Awareness is already vast, it’s already wide and if you’re not noticing that, it’s just because you’re paying attention right now in a narrow way, but if you relax it just comes back to openness. 

Or, if we’re thinking about it, we can say something like, well, let’s see, your eyes are open, typically we would do a meditation like this with our eyes open, you don’t have to but that’s kind of traditional, you know, say something like, ‘it’s boundless,’ and you’ll think, ‘but I see a room around me so it’s bounded by a room,’ or ‘there’s a floor.’ That’s an obvious boundary but we’re talking about experience here and so what’s really there is an image of a ceiling arising in the mind or an image of a floor and that’s not a boundary at all. In terms of my sitting here experience, right now, it’s just some image arising, right? Same thing when I say, ‘it’s timeless,’ we can have ideas of, ‘oh, it started because my brain assembled in my mother’s womb,’ or whatever, cells came together and then at some point there was a–then a miracle happens and there was you know this these knock-on effects and somehow consciousness happened but that’s an idea, right? That’s a story, we’re telling ourselves about what happened. And I’m not commenting about whether that happened, or not. That’s not what we’re doing here.

Rather, we’re looking in our experience, right now, about what–to put it in a funny way–how long does it feel like it’s been there? Or seem like it’s been there? And if you look, it feels like it’s been there either forever or that the question makes no sense. Those are kind of the two answers. They’re the same answer, in a way, if you want to call them an answer. It’s like a divide-by-zero error or something, it just doesn’t make sense to even ask that. It’s just either always been there or it’s timeless in your direct experience not ideas about it, not in trying to talk about, you know, the science of development or something, we’re just looking directly into experience, the same thing with the indestructibility of it, or the fact that it cannot be hurt, it cannot be damaged, that’s just directly noticeable. And of course, human beings can have a lot of hurt, a lot of wounding, a lot of scars, a lot of psychological issues, trauma, etc., but that is not in the awareness. So that’s not touching the awareness. The awareness is noticing that. The awareness itself is always pristine. It’s never hurt in any way. 

Don’t believe me, look at the awareness itself and notice that it’s boundless, notice that it’s timeless, notice that it cannot be hurt, it’s indestructible. It’s one of the–if we got into some traditional language, we would say, it’s one of its vajra qualities, it’s indestructible. That’s what vajra means, cannot be harmed. And same with loving, I’d say it’s loving.

Sometimes you get a lot of pushback; but isn’t it neutral? How can it have a quality? An emotional quality? etc. But I’m not talking about the emotional quality, although that’s related to it, I’m talking about its very openness, the fact that because it can’t be hurt, it’s not trying to push anything away. The fact that awareness just is aware of everything that arises. It doesn’t just filter out the stuff it doesn’t like and only lets in the stuff it likes, it’s all the way open, all the way welcoming, all the way accepting, all the time. The thoughts and feelings might not be. I might really be having some thoughts and feelings about stuff but awareness itself? Wide open, completely accepting, no judgment, totally loving.

And just look, again, don’t believe me, look in your own experience, you’ll see it’s like that. Then the actually really weird stuff comes next like the fact that it’s not a thing. As soon as I start talking about awareness, you try to start finding a thing called awareness, and we’re saying words about it, we’re trying to point attention at the thing called awareness. But, of course, it’s where the thoughts are arising, it’s what’s looking. You can never make a thing out of it. Nothing is a thing but we can still make things out of them, right? Really they’re never a thing but we can do that with our mind. But you can’t make awareness into a thing, it’s outside of that, it’s never, ever, ever an object. Objects, if there are any, they arise within it and pass away from it. But, of course, they’re all made of awareness too. So really nothing is a thing.

And then the very, very–maybe most challenging, most terrifying, most upsetting, but most deeply satisfying thing about awareness is; there’s no ground. There’s no place to find the source of it. You can’t get to the end of it. You can’t resolve it. It’s not going to allow you to curl up and rest on your little cat bed, you know, curled in a circle, snoring, your toe beans hanging out like you have 15 legs. It doesn’t do that. It’s, in a way, always falling through space. It’s just utterly groundless. And that amount of freedom is scary, at first, to the thinking, feeling mind.

But eventually, that amount of freedom becomes the ultimate refuge, right? The fact that it’s groundless, in that way, is what’s so wonderful about it. It’s not dependent.

When, you know–if we talk in traditional languages about this quality, they sometimes in English or western languages will use a word that means enlightenment but that’s not the word, that’s not the right translation. The translation into English is freedom or liberation, and that’s the freedom we’re talking about, that groundlessness, absolute timeless not thingness of utterly pure, crisp, wide open, loving, accepting awareness.

Right? That’s freedom and whatever thoughts are arising, awareness is fine, whatever feelings are arising, awareness is fine. It’s not ignoring them because it’s aware, right? But neither is it accepting and rejecting them or, we could say, they’re all accepted. It’s not grabbing onto or rejecting them. And again, don’t believe me, it’s not like a belief system. Just look. I’m just pointing out what’s there for you to notice about your own awareness and instead it’s–we’re not doing it through ideas, I have to talk in ideas to kind of point to it but if you try to do this with ideas you’re in doing the wrong thing, you’re like going about it incorrectly. It’s rather, just look at the awareness itself with the awareness itself. It’s direct, okay? 

So that’s what we’re up to and that’s the, you know, freedom that’s available. Notice it’s not some kind of special state. We can do meditations and get in very altered states, that’s fine but altered states come and go. This does not come and go.

So questions, comments, reports?

Questioner 1: So possibly a strange report, but I noticed that I was like relating to you

as like an angry figure who’s gonna hit me if I move. Is that like–I had a lot of anger towards you about it. 

Michael: Awesome. So notice that awareness is fine with that, right? You’re projecting anger onto me, you’re feeling anger back. Obviously, I’m not angry at anyone for moving. We agreed to all stay still before we started but it’s not like I’m gonna come and hit you. At the same time, we’re not in here to have some nice emotions and not other emotions, so if anger’s arising that’s interesting, okay? That’s what’s happening now. But of course, I will never hit you.

Questioner 1: I feel like I actually did need that so that was helpful.

Michael: I might just come over there and really yell at you. Maybe I’m taking that back.

Thanks for your report. I think it’s interesting to notice that. 

Questioner 2: This is my first time in your class. I’ve never tried this approach to  meditation before, so when you told us just to rest I was like, oh, what do I do? I don’t know what I’m doing. Maybe I’m just bored.

Michael: So the answer is; just rest, don’t do anything, and if you’re bored then be bored. Okay? And there’s something that’s noticing the boredom, that’s what we’re really here for, okay? It’s not about, oh I need to be in a state of doing something, because we’re noticing the thing that wants to do. It’s not that, oh I need to engage my thinking so that I don’t have this emotion of boredom. It’s; notice that boredom is arising in awareness, okay? Is that so bad? Be bored. But it’s; how do you know you’re bored?

How do you know you’re bored?

Questioner 2: I don’t know.

Michael: You don’t know. If you know it, okay. Well, find out, right? Find out whether you’re bored or not, and if you are, how do you know? Right? Just look. Again, meditation is not entertainment—so we’re not trying to not be bored. In fact, if we’re super bored, that might be really, really interesting. Okay, we’ll just sit with that and notice that urge that wants to fill the mind with new material, what’s that covering up? If we’re bored for more than a few minutes what might come up that we’ve been avoiding? 

How do you know anything? I’m asking you, how do you know anything? Think of the word I’ve used about 600 times in this meditation, maybe 700, because you’re aware of it, right? The awareness is central. So boredom is a state out there that awareness is noticing, that’s interesting, okay? Whereas, if we take on the ‘I am the boredom’ that’s kind of a misapprehension.

What else? Yes.

Questioner 2: Hey Michael, in my meditation practice but in my life, as well, I’ve

come across a common theme of asking myself a question; when is action appropriate and when is inaction appropriate? So for example, in some meditation techniques, they have you developing an intense focus on the breath and in other meditation techniques, they feel more like this one, where it’s kind of just like, settle into what’s always been there. What are resources I guess you recommend on like not just in meditation but deciding, generally like, when it’s fine when everything is fine, there’s nothing to do, nowhere to go, etc., and when, you know, to hop on the proverbial like hamster wheel, I guess.

Michael: Let’s all be hamsters, together. Hamsters are cute. I like hamsters. I have a nice wheel, nice safe wheel. Do you ever do any sports?

Questioner 2: Yes, Tae Kwon-do.

Michael: Okay, so you know how in Tae Kwon-do you can do a roundhouse kick or you could do a sidekick, right? Which one should you do?

Questioner 2: It depends on the context.

Michael: Yeah, or, you know, which one do you want to do? It’s not that one is right and the other one’s wrong. They’re just different things you can do. So everywhere everyone is claiming that they have the one right meditation technique that everyone should do and I’m like, you know, that’s like saying my paintings all have the one true color I use this perfect orange and all of the colors are banned from painting. Rather, you know, each technique or each even non-technique is appropriate for what it’s appropriate for, okay? And so maybe that’s a non-answer in terms of which one to do but it’s how to approach it and start to work with which ones seem to be intuitively in tune with you, that they feel more appropriate, they feel like, oh when I do that kind of meditation I feel a little more at home, etc., etc., and that’s a good way to begin. 

And then over time, you start to get challenged with the ones that feel a little less at home but are worth doing, and so on, and little by little you expand your palette from just this perfect orange. You get some other colors in there and you start to be able to experiment. And so it’s on you, you know? And it’s when teachers start telling you that they know what you should do that I would look out. Okay? Rather, it’s like hey, here’s access to tools, here’s some stuff you can use, here’s cool ways to use them, here’s the way I use them, and so on, but still it’s your work with yourself. Thank you. 

Questioner 3: Yes, so in my meditation today when I noticed that awareness, I…

Michael: Who noticed it? Or what noticed it?

Questioner 3: I definitely felt like it was still me. There was still a sense of separation but like an appreciation for it and it felt like heart opening and softening and then all these answers came in. It was like a very fruitful awareness. And then I was experiencing a lot of physical discomfort and I tried to just be aware of that physical discomfort. 

Michael: That’s what we do.

Questioner 3: And I could do it but then I felt like I was free falling.

Yeah, it was a little bit terrifying 

Michael: Yeah! You’re doing it! That’s it! Remember I said it’s groundless, you’re falling, it’s terrifying, I used all of those words.

Questioner 3: yeah, it was terrifying and then after that, I started meditating with my eyes open, it was easier to handle somehow.

Michael: Yeah, usually that’s what I say, in this style, sometimes it’s easier to have our eyes open. But notice no matter how much you free fell through space or felt scared nothing bad actually happened. You’re fine, right? 

And so, this is just the terror of a chicken that’s been inside a tiny cage for like its whole life and it comes out of the cage and it’s like, Aaaaahhhh, there’s no cage! for just a minute, and then it’s like, Oh! Right? You’ve heard me before, I talked about the animal videos on Youtube, where the–like for example cows that have been stuck in a dairy barn their whole life are suddenly let out, and they’re all at first kind of, what’s that horrible blue thing up there? It’s so gigantic and finally, they’re like, Oh! They start jumping around and, you know, you ever see cows jump? Or gamboling, right? They’re just running around and that’s the move. 

So at first, it’s scary and it can feel like I said, it’s groundless. You’ll feel like you’re falling because you’re used to imagining a ground but the awareness is free! So what you’re feeling is free. And at first it’s just scary but notice nothing bad happens, so after a little while, you’re not scared anymore, and you start–the freedom part of it becomes the really salient part, but also it’s loving, right? It’s really super safe. So yeah, so you did it! You’re getting there, right? You noticed it.

Questioner 3: Yeah, I mean being free of that cage that’s totally helpful.

Michael: Yeah, right. So gambol when you get outside. Do some gamboling. Other reports or questions?

All right. Thanks for putting up with my totally irrational and super-intense need for you all to be still, and I hope to see you all next week when we can be still together again.

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