Guided Nondual Meditation with Michael Taft
So let’s begin the meditation by simply checking in with yourself. The question is: what’s it like to be me right now? So just look directly inward, what’s the thoughtscape like? What’s the emotional-emotionscape like? What’s your body feel like? What’s the world seem like to you right now? So what’s the internal temperature of your being? The internal weather of your being, and whatever that is, just completely accept that, let that be a hundred percent okay. Even if you’re feeling completely miserable, or really upset, or totally chaotic, or whatever. We’re not about judging that right now. Right now, we’re just noticing what’s going on. So I’m going to give you a minute or two to just do that.
Now, let’s begin doing our shamatha in the open awareness style. So this is what would normally be called concentration meditation, but instead of narrowly concentrating, we begin by just noticing wide open awareness, keeping awareness wide open, or, to put it more accurately, allowing it to remain in its broad, vast natural mode. It’s like that on its own, without us doing anything. And then, we’re just noticing the breath wave rising and falling within awareness. Okay?
So you’re aware right now, you can hear my voice, and just like you can hear my voice, notice that breath wave rising and falling. The only difference is: you’re allowing the breath wave to just slightly be like an anchor, just a little bit. But you’re not focusing on it. It’s not
like when you attend to the breath at the nose or some of that high-concentration style meditation. This is a different style of concentration. So we’re–it’s inclusive concentration,
instead of exclusive. So we’re allowing awareness for me very broad, very wide, vast open and just noticing that breath wave rising and falling. Each time you notice yourself contracting into attention on something, you’re going to relax that attention, and instead allow the mind to fall open, fall back into its natural state of vast spaciousness.
The most accurate metaphor for awareness or the Mind with a capital M–i.e. awareness itself–the most accurate metaphor is: it’s like space. The only real difference is that it’s knowing space, right? It’s space that’s aware. So just allow the mind to fall into its already existing natural state of spaciousness, which is what it’s like when we’re not on purpose contracting into attention. So let’s do that now.
Each time the mind seems to start to constrict around an object to pay attention to, just let it relax, just let it naturally unfold. You don’t have to push it to do that. It’s just what it does. It’s like trying to push yourself to breathe, you’ll breathe without trying. The mind will fall open without trying. That’s its natural state.
And so, the breath is just rising and falling in awareness, functioning as just enough of an anchor. The stability here–because in shamatha, stability is part of the game–the stability here is in awareness itself. You’re never not aware, the awareness is always on there and naturally open.
So, let’s keep going with this.
Effortless breathing, effortless awareness, effortless spaciousness.
Your mind might get excited and want to hang onto an interesting idea and start to constrict around that but just relax, just drop that and come back to open awareness but with a little tiny bit of landing on the breath.
Good, now we’re going to let go of that, and I want you to picture a full moon against an indigo blue sky–so deepest blue, maybe even aubergine sky. And then a full moon, not quite perfect white, a little cream colored because–just a little bit–but very beautiful like a color of light, of whitish light that you find tremendously attractive. So picture that clearly. If you can’t picture it clearly, just do the best you can. This is going to be more about mood than about how good you can visualize. Now zoom in on that moon, zoom in on that moon, and I want you to just feel the beauty and pleasantness of it, the softness, the gentleness of that light. It’s not like the sunlight, which can be a little harsh; this is gentle, beautiful light, soothing, healing, nurturing light. And see if you can notice the three-dimensional quality of that sphere of the moon as you get even closer and it gets brighter.
And now we go further into the mood of this moon, which is essentially the moon of the awakened mind, right? The moon of bodhicitta, the moon of your own deepest already existing primordial purity. And so the light of this moon is reaching out and touching you with a sense of tremendous compassion. It’s very kind, very loving, it’s really open; it’s delighting in your presence rather than judgmental; and you feel a real sense of friendship and warmth and being known and understood. Furthermore, this moon is tremendously wise and confident. It has perfect confidence and authenticity. It is what it is. And you feel, again, these waves of wisdom, clarity, confidence, authenticity, even nobility pouring from the moon into you.
There’s another aspect to the moon which is: it’s spontaneous, it’s playful, and it’s lively; it has a lot of life energy, zest, vigor, health; it’s very playful, spontaneous, unafraid. Feel that, waves of this spontaneity and vigor, and playfulness radiating from this moon into your being, filling you up with these qualities and even beyond. Filling you up so much that your own body begins to shine, begins to be less like flesh, less like bone, and more like moonlight–a shining moonlight with these qualities of wisdom, kindness, and energy. Your body growing brighter and brighter and your mind becoming clearer and clearer and clearer. And notice how your heart starts really taking on these properties of really being soft and open, filled with a gentle sense of love and appreciation, and acceptance, and kindness, caring, including everyone, rejecting no one.
And this moonlight body begins to shine even brighter, and feel like it’s seething with energy, with liveliness, and it brings up a sense of playfulness, a sense of spontaneity, vigor, and even stronger joy. And now, breathe the moon outside into this moonlight body, so that the external moon becomes internal, and the light of the body becomes very bright, and there’s no more separation. You are the wisdom, the awakened wisdom, of this moonlight. You are the deepest compassion, you are the tremendous liveliness and playfulness and all the other properties shining in the vast sky of awareness, stronger and stronger, and at the same time more and more soothing, more and more deliciously gentle and open.
And feel the light of the moon that you are radiating out to all the others in this room and, in fact, becoming one, joining together into one larger moonlight, radiating out to the city around us, and the entire world, radiating out to the whole universe, and even other universes. There’s just the light of wisdom and compassion and life energy filling the universe, and all possible universes, and all beings everywhere. And see if, in a very gentle way, you can tap into it, even more deeply and even more strongly, so that it touches the whole of the whole mass of sentient beings everywhere, even more deeply, even more sweetly, even more profoundly.
Good. Now, the light of this moon has a sound and the sound is the mantra Om Mani Padme Hum. So repeat that with me.
Om Mani Padme Hum
Om Mani Padme Hum
The light getting brighter and brighter.
Om Mani Padme Hum
Om Mani Padme Hum
Om Mani Padme Hum
And even brighter.
Om Mani Padme Hum
Om Mani Padme Hum
Om Mani Padme Hum
And then the moon itself and the moon body and everything completely vanishes into space, and we’re just left with wide open, unblemished, bright, clear, unbounded space of awareness. And let’s just meditate on that space for a moment, the space noticing itself. Just like you were doing before but without even centering on the breath, centering on nothing–just awareness itself, wide open. Each time you find yourself constricting around an object with attention, just relax that and let the awareness naturally, effortlessly fall open again, fall open again, fall open again.
Each time the mind constricts, contracts, tightens down on something, just relax. Drop it, and the mind will naturally just open up again. The habit of constriction might be strong but you don’t have to fight it. Fighting it is just another kind of constriction. You don’t fight the constriction, you just let go, just relax and it naturally opens back to awareness.
Let there be no tension of any kind in the mind. If there is tension don’t fight it because that’s just more tension, just allow the mind to relax.
This is its own kind of stability, this wide-open tensionless-ness is very stable. If it’s not right now, it’s just because you have a habit of tension but as you continue to do this, that habit will gradually relax. It takes a lot of effort to have a habit of tension. The habit of relaxing the mind is much easier.
If you’re contracted around anything, especially a thought, but really anything at all, just relax that, come back to wide openness, natural wide openness that’s always there. It’s always already been there.
Good. Now, notice whatever thoughts keep trying to arise, and just like the breath wave was rising and falling in awareness, notice that those thoughts are just arising and congealing and then falling away again in awareness. You don’t really need to pay attention to them, they’re just rising and falling, rising and falling. And see if you can notice that they’re not coming from anywhere or anything, they’re just thoughts that are appearing in the vast sky of awareness, and that they just also disappear from the vast sky of awareness, and they don’t actually have any basis, they don’t actually have any fundamental underlying thingness. There’s just a wave of experience of thought happening, it’s not a thing at all. The thoughts don’t even have a thinker, they just appear in awareness and then disappear from awareness. Awareness remains utterly unchanged. They don’t cause some kind of scar of unawareness or even a marring, they don’t leave scratches, they don’t even cause the slightest ripple. They simply appear and do their dance and disappear, like images on a TV screen, the images do not harm the screen or even bother it in any way.
This is emptiness. Notice the emptiness of these thoughts. Emptiness doesn’t mean they’re not there or somehow they don’t matter, it means that they’re just appearances, appearances that come and go, and that if we’re centered–or resting stably is a better way to put it–if we’re resting stably as awareness, the thoughts just come and go and don’t really bother or change awareness at all. So notice that now.
Notice how the whole world of thought, the internal world of thought, which we spend so much time with engaged with like it’s so important, here it seems just like maybe some northern lights in the sky, or something, just something that is appearing and vanishing. And so, it’s a phenomenon, but it’s not really fundamentally important. It doesn’t define awareness even a little bit.
Good. Now let’s switch, as usual, to emotions. Maybe there’s some emotions arising, maybe not. Maybe you’re just experiencing a kind of vast equanimity, but if there’s emotions–there may be frustration or irritation or joy, perhaps, maybe you’re bored and checking the time, emotions are arising–feel those emotions in the exact same way that you noticed the thinking. The emotions are there; they’re rising and falling in awareness, and yet awareness itself is not bothered, harmed, or touched by the emotions in any way. It just notices. Emotions arise and pass, and arise and pass, maybe more slowly than thoughts, but still, they arise from nothing, do their dance, and then vanish again into nothing. They don’t come from anywhere. They’re just there and awareness itself is not bothered by them in any way.
We spend so much of our time trying to have different thoughts and different emotions but really they don’t affect us, they don’t affect our awareness at all, not the slightest bit.
Good. Okay, now, notice the sense of self arising and passing; in general, it’s made of the thoughts and feelings, but there can be a little more there–some other body sensations, memories, the story of your life, who you are, your kind of social being–allow that sense of self to arise. It exists; we’re not trying to get rid of it. Be really you for a minute, as if you were introducing yourself at a party or something. Here’s me and the personality I manifest, which is fine; no judgment there, right? And at the same time, notice it just arises in awareness. Awareness notices it, does its dance, and then it passes away again, vanishing from awareness. It doesn’t come from anywhere. It doesn’t change awareness at all.
If it does something that everyone thinks is great and it gets all proud, that’s cool, good, good for it, good for it. Nothing wrong with that. If it’s a personality that people tend to really like, great, good for it, but it doesn’t change awareness at all; it simply arises in awareness and vanishes away again, not leaving a single trace, not leaving a mark of any kind. And the same is true if you do something really socially bad and you feel all ashamed, or you have a personality that people tend to dislike. Okay, that sucks, but it doesn’t harm awareness the tiniest bit; it doesn’t leave a mark ever.
And because you’re not that personality, you’re free to change it, improve it, make it more effective. Why not? But no matter how effective it becomes, no matter how likable, no matter how smooth in society–all of which is a good thing, right? But it’s never going to improve awareness. The personality simply arises in awareness and vanishes. Notice that now very clearly, over and over again. The you that you spend all this time thinking that you are is just some experience arising and passing in awareness, arising and passing in awareness.
Now, what is this awareness? Is it God? Is it some kind of soul? Is it an undying light? What is it? Allow the awareness to simply know itself–this thing in which all the other things are arising and passing. Allow the awareness to just see itself. Notice something really interesting: it’s not coming from anywhere; it has no center; it has no boundary; it has no beginning that you can find or end you will ever find; but it’s not a thing either; it’s just awakeness coming from nowhere.
The undeniable fact that it’s awake, it’s there, there’s an experience. Yet you can’t find the basis
of this awakeness. You can’t look into it and go, Yes, there’s the root, that’s where it comes from. It’s just there.
So all experience–the experience of thoughts, emotions, your sense of self, and the room around you, and the world around you, and all that–is appearing like a magic show. It’s there as an experience, clearly, and yet, it’s not coming from anywhere. It just appears. There’s this experience; it just appears, and that appearance is like the deepest unfathomable mystery. Look at that now, let the experience experience itself, and notice: you can’t find the bottom of it. It’s a bottomless well of mystery. It’s not nothing; there’s an experience, and yet, in another way, it’s not something either because it’s just experience. It’s the one and only miracle–experience happening.
Now into this vast space of awareness, bring up again the moon: the moon of wisdom, the moon of love and compassion, the moon of joy and playfulness, and spontaneity. It arises in the sky of awareness, full and bright, radiating through your entire being, bringing wisdom to your mind, clarity, authenticity, bringing joy, love, kindness, connection, openness to the heart, bringing liveliness, vitality, health, playfulness, spontaneity into the body, and shining bright in all directions. In fact, shining so bright that it brings these qualities to all the beings in this room and all the beings everywhere. When we say beings, we mean sentient beings. What do we mean by sentient beings? Anything else that’s having an experience. It’s the same miracle radiating bright in all directions; feel especially the joy, feel the acceptance, feel the kindness, friendliness, togetherness, open-heartedness. That is one of the main qualities of awake awareness. As we imagine those feelings, and feel those feelings, our own innate bodhicitta, our own innate buddhahood, our own innate awake awareness shines through brightly, powerfully, beautifully, authentically. Feel that now.
Om Mani Padme Hum
Om Mani Padme Hum
Om Mani Padme Hum
And then drop the visualization and just come back to the wide open space, crystal clear, utterly open. Good, and with that let’s end the meditation. Feel free to move and stretch.
Dharma Talk Q & A
There can be a real tendency to–when we talk this way when we meditate this way–there can be a real tendency to make the awareness into a thing, to make it god, to make it a goddess, to make it the soul, to make it the light of the universe, or something. All of which is fine; if you want it, great. Make it into that. I’m not against that. That’s cool. At the same time, remember that you can’t find the basis, so in the same way as everything else, it’s not like it’s the one solid thing you can hang on to. It, itself, is also kind of oddly appearing from nowhere, oddly present in some kind of mysterious, unexplainable way.
So if you find yourself, I’m gonna, I’m gonna, I’m gonna, you know, the world and my thoughts, and my emotions, and my sense of self, and everything might be some kind of dreamlike arising, but the awareness is real! Well, the awareness is a dream-like arising also, right? It doesn’t mean they’re not there, but it’s not like the one, you know… At least we’ve got awareness. It’s equally–go find some. You can’t really find the basis. So if you notice yourself kind of reifying it, or even deifying it, try to find the basis of it. Look. Where is the awareness coming from? Immediately, you can’t find it, right? And if you look again and again and again, you can’t find where it comes from.
And so it has that same unfindability which is that’s emptiness, right? It’s just as dreamlike as everything else in that sense it has some interesting properties, right? It’s primordially pure, it’s another way of saying it’s empty, but it has this kind of perfect purity, or we could say completeness. Nothing ever can harm it or stain it or adulterate it or make an admixture with it, it’s always just completely pure and it has the other property that there’s all this spontaneous arising within it, right? This continuous spontaneous arising, everything appears and what’s interesting is there are those things–we can talk about them as separate but they always come together, right? The awareness is there and the appearance is there and they’re always together. So there’s that. Don’t make it into a thing.
You can certainly have devotion towards awareness. It’s kind of a weird way to talk about it but it’s an interesting thing to be devoted to. So we can do things like that with it. It’s not like, Oh, it’s nothing. I’m not saying it’s nothing but just don’t think of it as just a stand-in for god, or something, right? If there’s gods, they exist in awareness. So there’s that.
And it’s not that you are over here looking at awareness over there, right? Think about how impossible that would be; to step outside the awareness and then look back and have awareness of the awareness with some other awareness. That’s not how it works. You can’t step outside it and there’s no like little you, that’s a homunculus inside your head, stepping outside and looking at it. It’s very common to try to do that but it doesn’t work really. It’s just: awareness is aware of itself and it doesn’t need any distance. It doesn’t have to, it’s not physical, it doesn’t need to step to a different position to look back at itself. It’s just aware. So if you’re making that move, Okay, I’m going to get some distance, I’m going to turn around and look back at the awareness, all of that is just a waste of time. That does nothing except waste your time. Instead, awareness is aware of itself. It’s easy, too easy that’s why you try to do the whole other thing but just let go of that. So there’s that.
And then a third thing to not do, this is the don’t do this list, and that is: imagine that because the self and thoughts and feelings and everything else is a kind of appearance in experience, an appearance in awareness that you can’t find the basis of, that doesn’t mean it’s nothing, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter, that doesn’t mean it’s–or sometimes it can be even worse–we can say that it’s a delusion or some kind of problem getting in the way of awareness or something. No, no, it’s just awareness manifesting as experience. So it’s just as pure, just as sacred, just as beautiful, etc., etc. in that perspective. So, kind of making this division between: here is the perfect pure sacred awareness over here, i.e. god; and then, here’s the world over there that’s dirty and smelly and has armpits and nose hair and you know it’s gross and not awareness, right? Samsara or the fallen Eden, or whatever, that people tend to do that, it’s like no, they’re one thing, they’re one thing, that’s not a thing, right? But they’re never separate. So that’s another No-No.
Questions or comments about what I’m talking about? Or anything else to do with your experience or meditation? Raise your hand if you have one.
Questioner 1: Just a report, I notice that searching for awareness.
MT: What’s searching for it?
Questioner 1: The sensation I get is like getting my nose closer and closer to a piece of glass until eventually I just give up and in that moment is a feeling of just being awareness.
MT: What you can’t find is the source of it. So that’s right. Just keep–you don’t actually have to go through the whole thing of getting closer to it, but okay, if that works, but then just the being it, great. But notice if you then as awareness search around for where do I come from? When did I begin in time? What’s my boundary or edge? Where’s the center of awareness? What’s this fountain what’s the origin the source, the Quelle. Where’s the awareness come from? You can’t find it. So that’s the unfindability part. Drop looking for the source.
Excellent. So this is super common because the metaphors for awareness are visual metaphors and because so much of our experience is eye-based coming from the eyeballs, we can feel like awareness is our vision. But vision just arises in awareness. So that’s a really important distinction to keep clear. Do you see what I’m saying? See what I’m saying, right? So it doesn’t mean you’re becoming vision in some way or that the vision is even deeply related, it’s just another thing arising in awareness. In fact, the whole–relax your eyes and see the whole visual field at once–how do you know there’s a visual field? How do you know there is a visual field? Because you’re aware of it, right? It’s arising in awareness, so isn’t that interesting. Thanks for your report. That’s cool.
Other questions about that? Nope, what else? Are you guys just so blown away you’re speechless?
Questioner 2: I was thinking about vision, as well. It seems like what’s been working for me
is to see like when you were talking about the moon I was frustrated that I couldn’t bring the moon into my visual awareness.
MT: So you’re talking about external visual site type awareness, or internal mental visualization?
Questioner 2: Okay, so imagination. I gave up trying to pop the moon into my visual field.
MT: Good. That was the right thing to do. You’re not required, in this way we’re working to see it in your mind’s eye. If you can that’s good but as long as you feel the qualities that’s the important part.
Questioner 2: That was really helpful because I was really tuning into the indigo sky that you were talking about. So I was getting these really pleasant colors and just trying not to attach to them, but that’s what letting my mind kind of focus on that was what was allowing me to get to notice awareness more.
MT: What was noticing the awareness? Something different than the awareness?
Questioner 2: For me it’s more just like a state, a feeling state where I’m not claiming anything more. It’s beyond me. It works I mean I I deeply know what you mean when your talking about the groundlessness of it and the timelessness. I can’t always get there but this time I did. What tricks did you use and what’s–I feel like using the visual stuff maybe one way. Is there a more basic way or something?
MT: That’s the whole topic of multi-year classes, right? Because there’s so many different ways to work with it, but what we did tonight was get all calm and focused, but also really open, really open-hearted–that’s a quality, we just took on the qualities of awake awareness. As I’m
always saying, if you sit in here and imagine taking on the qualities of a brain surgeon, you can do that all day but please don’t go operate on someone’s brain, right? It’s not gonna–might help one percent but you’ll still cause catastrophe. But because you really are–the basis of your being is this awake awareness, imagining these properties of awareness takes you into that actual–at least closer–to that true experience inside yourself or that true experience, right? So it’s an imagination that is actually leading you into that part of yourself. So that it’s yidam practice, right? We’re just guiding our internal experience into our wisdom mind into our compassion mind into our playful spontaneous mind, right? So that’s the trick we’re using tonight but then we did a second trick which is: now look at the things that are keeping you out of that, look at your thoughts, notice their emptiness, notice like that. So we did several different ways of dropping into and clarifying that experience. You with me?
Questioner 2: Yep.
MT: But there’s hundreds more. The awake awareness, the wisdom mind, your Buddha nature, whatever, that’s the basis from which we’re coming from, the groundless ground. So everything leads back to it, so there’s potentially infinite tricks. These are just some of the perennial favorites. Okay, yeah good, thanks for the question.
What else? Comments?
Questioner 3: I’m just wondering, why do I always get so exhausted instantly in these kinds of energetic settings?
MT: I don’t know. Why do you think? Do you get enough sleep? And are you potentially working through a lot of psychological emotional material these days? Yeah, so I can’t answer that. I’d have to talk to you for a while one-on-one and really get in there. Some of it might be there’s just a lot of internal work going on and there’s resource here so you’re kind of plugging in–you’re like Seven of Nine going into your charging chamber and just energizing yourself, or maybe when you get into this charged atmosphere you start to go into Insight material, and this–I’m not saying this is you–but for some people, some of the time they don’t want to encounter that material and so one of the ways out is to go into distraction, Oh, I’m getting really bored, I’m getting really distracted because I don’t want to see that thing down here, but another thing you can do is go unconscious. It’s actually a pretty common move. I’m just going to fall asleep, even though I’m not tired because I’d rather do that than see that thing so that’s another possibility.
Questioner 4: I just wanted to say that in a group setting like this, if we are all kind of resonating, most likely our heartbeats are synchronizing, and I think it feels like a really held safe environment that someone can like lean into.
MT: Almost like Seven of Nine’s recharging chamber.
Questioner 4: Sometimes it feels like I have to–like there’s like a little bit of oomph to to stay kind of focused on this because to me this feels all cushy and wavy in there.
Questioner 3: Yeah. Part of me just wanted to curl up and let the Zees in.
MT: Yeah and you know that’s right. It’s a very resource-rich environment. So That’s what you might do sometimes in Yoga Nidra, you really do curl up on the floor and just soak up that vibe. It’s wonderful. So that is a possibility though yeah, thanks for unpacking that. But the other one is sort of the potential avoidance and I’m sure there’s more, but those are the two that come up right now.
Questioner 5: Yeah, I want to build up on that, on what was said. I had a beautiful regression experience. When–I think like halfway through the moon–I was essentially a baby in a blanket and then I think laying in the crib, with all these different toys and lights hanging above. And my attention was so–like my attention was definitely there–I was so wide and kind of like almost completely not discriminating. So I could look at different thoughts or feelings as just toys or lights and just being entertained and happy and joyful. The attention span was so quick but not like in an annoying quick way. It was more instantaneous. I could pay attention to all the things at once.
MT: Yeah, that’s a great metaphor. I’m spending a lot of time with a brand-new baby, right? And a brand new baby has that kind of like they can’t constrict attention, it’s wide open attension all the time, but very awake. And everything’s kind of interesting, unless you have to poop or whatever. But it’s not regression and why? Because you still have the mind of an adult with all the memory and experience and understanding of the world and all that so it’s not about regression into some oatmeal brain or something. All the material is still there so it’s actually a step up. It can feel regressive because it has qualities like the mind of a baby and everyone talks about that, it’s like fresh mind, beginner’s mind, don’t know mind, it’s like playful spontaneous like a child. It’s a really common metaphor because it does have all these properties.
A really famous dialogue between Freud and this one French author, I can’t think of the French author’s name, but he had gone and seen Ramana Maharshi, and he came back and was talking to Freud about all this open awareness stuff and they’re both hanging out with their cigars and cognac, or whatever and Freud decides that this is just pure regression. It’s just totally regressive and so he names it the oceanic experience, it’s a thing, but it’s bad because you’re just turning into a baby. I forget but I think that’s the opening chapter of Civilization and Its Discontents, if I’m not mistaken, I might be mistaken, but he talks about it at length. And that’s actually a real misunderstanding. It’s an interesting thing that Western psychology thinks this is just–or used to think–it’s just like turning into a flatworm, or something. They used to say that meditation was just like taking a nap; it just had no value. So there’s a culturally habitual thing of making it regressive but like you said, it’s actually wonderful. And there’s more to it than what a baby would know. It’s a full wide awake adult mind taking on that mood of playful spontaneous openness which is actually a step up, not a step back. So yeah, thanks for your report.That’s really cool. I love that metaphor: the shiny toys–good.