Guided Nondual Meditation with Michael Taft
Let’s begin with a little bit of seated movement, whatever you want. Circles would be good. Don’t just move, actually tune into moving. Feel your hands moving. If you can, notice the feeling of the hands moving. Then get your elbows going, too. Tuning into it. Move your head some. You don’t have to follow what I’m doing, just let your body move, but keep tuned in: don’t check out. Then get your spine going, your shoulders going, so lots of circles. Everything’s a circle, but you can do it in whatever pattern you want–or non-pattern–or mixture of both pattern and non-pattern. Or neither pattern nor non-pattern. The tetralemma of circle movements. Just keep feeling how it feels to move like that. If you can, find something that feels good, and do it a couple of times. Just let your body feel good.
Wake up a little bit to the body. Tune in, and feel the circles, okay? Then start bringing them in, making them smaller, not tighter, just smaller. Still loose, still open, but they can be little. Really feel the sense of energy more and more to the center. Then gradually smaller and smaller, feeling it, feeling it. Stay tuned in. Then gradually you’re making a circle that is so small that you can’t actually tell if you are making a circle or not. But you can still feel it, feel it, feel it, as you are doing it. Now, are you still, or are you still kinda making a circle? Then, that’s the spot.
Very good, then from this place, as usual, I want you to ask yourself the question: What’s it like to be me right now? Don’t assume you know the answer, but rather, look, feel, tune in. What is your thought realm like? What’s your body sensation realm like? What’s your emotional world like? What’s the overall psychic weather for you right now? Just tune into that. And see if, instead of analyzing it, or criticizing it, or trying to change it or control it, you can just let it be the way it is. Exactly the way it is right now. Let’s sit with that for a few minutes together.
Now, begin with just allowing your mind to be wide open. Sometimes I say, Meditate like you’re the sky, which is the same request, but I’ll say it with less fervor, and say, let your mind stay nice and open. Your awareness, nice and open, relaxed, bright, clear awareness. Remember, there’s nothing to do to make awareness open or bright or clear. It’s already like that, just noticing that.
And, as usual, notice if you are engaging with thoughts, hanging onto thoughts, following thoughts, spinning with thoughts, tumbling like a tennis shoe in a dryer with thoughts, you just let go of that. And by let go, I mean don’t engage. The thoughts can be there, we like thoughts. Thoughts are cool, they can happen as much as they want. Just don’t engage. Metaphorically, we are just going to set the machinery of thought aside. It can run as much as it wants, but we are going to set it aside. Instead, stay in this nice, clear presence. It’s really easy to do, as long as we set aside engagement with thought.
If you find yourself engaging with thought, disengage. Come back to presence. Presence just means wide open, bright clear awareness that is already there. So, sitting with spacious clear openness. Any engagement with thought, we just drop it. Simply drop it. And you might have to drop it every 5 seconds for the whole meditation, and that’s fine, you just drop it. You’re not fighting thinking. Thinking can happen, you’re just not engaging. Not struggling to disengage, just disengage, and come back to presence.
So, we come back to presence by dropping the ball of thought, just drop it. The image is of a kind of dog that when you play fetch, they grab the ball and won’t let go and just growl at you [grrr]. And you go drop it, drop it and they won’t. Here we want to just drop it–open your mouth and let the ball drop out. What we tend to do all day long is bite on and go grrr and not let go of it. Here we are just dropping the ball. We open and the ball drops out.
There’s no struggle at all. There might be work in the sense of: you have to do it over and over, but it’s not a struggle, you just relax and let the ball drop out. It might be work because you have to do it a lot of times, but still, all you do is relax, and come back to presence. If it’s not that easy for you to rest as open awareness, even though that’s already there, it might be not that easy to find. It’s ok to come back to some other presence, like listening to the room, or feeling your butt on the cushion, or something with your breath. Whatever you are coming back into presence with, don’t get tight or stiff or narrow and concentrated. We are staying relaxed and open and spacious.
It can be much easier to stay alert and present with our eyes open. With this kind of meditation, you don’t have to have your eyes open. It’s not a requirement, but, it does tend to make it a lot easier. Simply because you want to remain spacious and alert. Sometimes when we close our eyes, we can get dull or kind of collapse inward, and we want to stay awake and present and spacious.
Each time you find yourself latching onto the spinning wheel of thought, it’s going to start spinning you and spinning you, just let go, and you’re back to spacious presence. All you’ve got to do is to let go again and again of that wheel you grab onto. The wheel of samsara is really just the wheel of thinking that you grab onto. It’s always a choice, it’s never making you hang onto it, just can’t let go. This won’t lead to a special state, it will lead to a really simple presence in the normal moment, but it will be a normal moment without samsara.
The trouble with doing this is that you can’t be involved with all your stories. And when we are not involved in our stories, we are not distracted, and when we are not distracted, we are forced to feel what we are actually feeling. And to be with this actual moment, and that’s usually what people hate the most. Wouldn’t want to be with my actual feelings and just face the groundless space of this moment. I’d much rather be caught up in my drama or in my stories, or my stories about stories, or my Harry Potter part 7a, or whatever, than just be in this moment, nakedly.
We use all those stories like thick padding and mattresses and football pads and armor against just the naked brilliance and openness and groundlessness and almost intolerable beauty of this moment. But it also has pain.
All we are doing is just, every time we are grabbing onto the thinking, just drop the ball–drop it, drop it! And then, being with whatever you’re feeling or whatever is there. Maybe you have a stomach ache, that’s what’s there, okay. Just keep returning to the spacious open presence of clear awareness in this moment. And you do that by just dropping the ball. If you pick it up, drop it again. Sometimes it stays dropped, and you just have to be with that. Even if it is painful or unpleasant, boring, upsetting, or whatever. Even if it is actually quite difficult, without the wheel of thought, the turning wheel of thought being engaged, it will still be spacious, it will still be free. It will still be alive.
Really, meditation comes down to the question, Can you sit in a quiet place without any distraction and not get eaten alive by your mind? This is one way to do that, learn to drop the ball. Every time you pick it up, just relax, let it drop.
I’m going to ask you a question, and I want you to answer without picking up any thoughts. You don’t need to use your thinking mind to answer this question. All you need to do is look, or just do it, in fact.
So here’s the question: Am I present for my life right now? Right now? You can look, or you can actually be present, but don’t think about it. It is a question to look into, to investigate. Am I present for my life right now? Look again. I’ll just keep asking, so just keep looking. Am I present for my life right now? Again, when we come into presence, it might not be any special moment of anything but presence. That’s what’s special about it–you’re present, you’re not lost in the samsara of thought, you’re not lost in the machinery of thinking. So keep asking yourself the question, and keep looking. What’s the answer right now? What’s the answer right now?
When we’re caught up in thinking, it’s like we’ve put ourselves in a cage. The minute you drop engagement with the thought. Again, the thoughts can still happen, we’re not stopping, we’re dropping the engagement. The minute you drop the thought, you’re out of the cage!
So that’s the next question I want you to look at, not think about. Am I in the cage right now? And, of course, if you notice that you are, drop it. If you notice that you’re not, then, that’s good! Am I in a cage right now? If you are, it’s you that’s putting yourself there, so just drop it. Am I in a cage right now? Look. Which cage? The cage of all my thoughts, all my stories, all my ideas about stuff. Are you in a cage right now? Or did you forget, and engage, and put yourself right back inside. Probably you just keep doing it. That’s ok, don’t make that into another thing to worry about, just drop it. Come back to presence, openness, spaciousness, ease, clarity, brightness. It’s all there the minute you come back into presence, come out of the cage. Most people prefer their cage, by far, they love their cage. They decorate it inside bars, they’ve got little ribbons and little decorations all over. It’s painted just the way they like it. I’d rather be in my cage. Outside of the cage, you are exposed to the naked clarity of actual existence. You can’t numb out, you can’t distract. Can’t dramatize. But you’re alive, and it’s spacious, free, and deeply joyous. Even if it is really uncomfortable moment sitting with a toothache, and cold air. It’s deeply joyous.
Are you present in your life right now, in this moment? Are you in the box?
Next question. What is it that’s awake right now? Don’t think about it, don’t engage thoughts. Look. What is it that’s looking? What is awake? Right now. Find it, find the awake thing. If you’re like Well, I know what he means is that there is no awake thing because everything is empty. You’re in a box! Stop it, you’re in the cage. You’ve engaged thought. Look: what is it that is awake right now? Find it. If you keep out of the box, you may be noticing that you are quite present right now, quite outside the cage. It’s not very hard, you just have to be relentless. There’s not just seven horcruxes, there’s like seven million. Just keep going after the next one, the next one.
What is it that’s aware right now? What is it? Look! Don’t drift off into grabbing onto the thoughts and then starting to spin the cocoon of numbness around yourself again. The wheel of thinking just spins this thread of numbness that turns into a sleeping bag that you can go to sleep in. Sleep with total suffering. When we’re out of the cage, unengaged with the wheel of thought, we’re very spacious, very wide open, and it’s very clear, super relaxed.
Next question. Don’t engage with thinking, just look. What time is it? What time is it? Look. What time is it? Right now. Maybe your mind is like a tricky Buddhist mind that’s saying, It’s now! That’s still in the cage, just look. Now isn’t an answer, it’s a dodge. Look. Tricky answers get you flunked. Immediate flunk.
Are you present in your life right now? What time is it? What is it that’s aware, right now? These have all been super easy questions, but you guys are doing pretty good, so I’ll give you a hard question. Remember, you can’t think about it, you just have to look. It might hurt. What am I avoiding feeling right now? Or, better, What am I avoiding right now? Not some other time, right now. By looking, you’ll find it, and you won’t be avoiding it. If you think about it, you can think about it forever, and that’s avoiding it. If you just look, What am I avoiding right now? I don’t want my leg to feel uncomfortable. I don’t want to feel that emotion–oops! What am I avoiding right now? When we look, we’re not avoiding it.
This is what’s so awful and brilliant about working like this: You can’t avoid. If feelings are there, there they are. What am I avoiding now? Am I present for this moment? What time is it?
What physical discomfort do you keep trying to move away from, and keep trying to move away from, that you can actually just face. Or emotional discomfort, or some other type of discomfort. Notice, how, even in the presence of that discomfort, the spacious clarity is still there, just as spacious, just as clear. As long as we don’t get wrapped up in the thinking.
What am I avoiding now? All you have to do is look. You know what you are avoiding. Just look at it. Just feel it: don’t avoid it. If you are really tricky, you might say, well, Michael, I’m avoiding engaging in thinking. But, that is avoiding. Maybe there are some feelings in there that you are feeling. There it is–now you are present, wide awake in this moment. Present for your life, present for what’s happening. Engaged. What am I avoiding? Look
Next question: Remember, don’t pick up the thinking, just look. What is spaciousness? Look in your own experience right now. What is spaciousness? What is spaciousness? Look. The minute you look, there it is: spaciousness. If you start to think about it, it starts to fade or go away, so you’re back in the cage. So, ask yourself again: What is spaciousness? There it is.
Just to switch gears, without engaging, simply because it seems that somebody is really stepping on the gas pedal of the Kalidah Death Machine right now, the murder machine, is really working overtime. Let’s see if we can just generate some goodwill and kindness and love and caring within ourselves. Then allow that to fill all the space, all that spaciousness that intermingles with all the other spaciousness everywhere. All the people in this room, feeling love and kindness and compassion and caring, and beaming it outward. Every other person in the room, feeling it from all the other people in the room, and then beaming it outward, outward, outward, and feeling it coming back from all the other hearts everywhere, in all directions. The simple, kindness and joy and love and caring that’s present when we’re not involved in our mental drama. It’s just immediately there. Just allow that to radiate out in all directions, and be received back from all directions. This simple wish that everyone care for each other. Everyone care for each other. May we all care for each other.
Dharma Talk and Q&A
So, in a way, this is the crux of the issue. And maybe, the simplest way to approach it, a very, very stripped down, utterly simple way to approach it. Just disengage with that kind of thought. Don’t fight it, don’t struggle with it or try to change it, just disengage, and just come back to your own immediacy, your own wakefulness, your own presence, and your own feelings. Emotions will be there, the full richness of everything is there, you’re just not grinding on all the drama. So this is dead simple, this is as simple as it gets. And that will take you all the way that you’re going to get.
On the other hand, it’s also super hard. Very simple, and super hard, because it’s like, Okay, throw yourself back into the naked experience over and over again without really working with it in any way, just being with it. So it can be really gnarly–doesn’t have to be–but it can be. So the upside is super simple. The downside is that you’re not getting a lot of tools, just sit there. Some weeks you come here and we are doing energy stuff and space, a little vipashyana. That’s way more complicated. There’s a lot to do and things to understand. On the other hand, it also maybe gives you tools to make this thing a little less gnarly, so you have more ways to work with it. So, sometimes we do the dead easy thing, sometimes we do stuff that is more complex, but maybe less raw.
For some people, they are really attracted to the simplicity, just sit there–beautiful, total ease–but it’s also super gnarly. Other people like the complexity, and also the skillfulness that we can work with it using complex methods like energy, vipashyana, getting in there. If you’re like me, you like doing both. They are both kind of interesting. They are both powerful, and both have their uses. Some days you want to do one, other days, the other. They are not in conflict. Especially if you understand that it all fits together in one path.
The downside of the complexity is a) that it is complex, there is stuff to learn, and b) you can get lost in it–it can become something else you can get distracted in. I’ve got these 97 methods, and I’m trying to tweak on them–that can start to be its own mental spinning. So that’s why it’s kinda nice sometimes to just go, Fuck it! Sit. Shut up! So both are good–different days, different moods. Space dragon. Sometimes you’ll notice the naked wide-awake openness can be terrifying: there’s no ground, there’s nothing to hold onto, there’s no cage to be safe inside. Is the cage keeping you safe inside, or is it keeping you locked in? Sometimes it feels like it is keeping the sharks out. So, as you come out of it, there’s no ground, no safety, in a way. It’s not really safety, it is the ego safety of numbness and distraction and story that we build around ourselves. so it can be really scary–Wiley Coyote off the cliff, running in air for a moment before you fall. The good news is, you never hit the ground. The other thing is that it can be really intense, especially if we have been using numbness and distraction and drama to not feel something. Anything but that! Then when you drop out of thinking, here comes the feeling that you were avoiding. Now you’re going to feel it. And I’m not going to sit here and tell you that That will be great! because it might be really awful for a while. Some feelings really hurt, and maybe they hurt for a while. Although they will hurt for a shorter time if you’re not engaging the thoughts that are keeping it going, keeping it going.
So, we let go of engaging the thoughts, then here it comes–the monster you were keeping at bay, the sharks that are out of the cage, you get eaten. But, whew! Need some mint aftershave! But it ends–emotions arise and it’s intense, you’re with it, and it’s passed. You’re not living to avoid that anymore, and that’s a relief.
In the end, this way of working–any of these ways of working, if they keep leading to the spacious, open, wide-awake place, it is the definition of relief. It’s joy and freedom. That’s why you do it, because living in the wheel of samsara really sucks. All the suffering, the worries, the problems and grinding that is there; and it doesn’t help anything. When you step outside, then, even if it’s uncomfortable, there can be peace and freedom and openness and ease. You can still think, do math, write. It’s not like you’re lobotomizing yourself. It’s the particular kind of thinking where you’re getting involved in drama, stories, chains about yourself. That’s the particular thing we are setting aside.
So, questions about that, comments, reports? Stuff coming up?
Questioner 1: I was really curious about the question, What time is it?
Michael: Yeah, what time is it? Everybody? What time is it? Look.
Michael: That’s the wrong answer. [laughter]. You’re out!
Questioner 1: I mean, I kinda went with Now. I was like, that’s not good.
Michael: That’s still an answer coming from thought. Now is still a location in time–it is different from the past and the future. It’s a thought. Just look. The minute you look–do it right now. What time is it? Tell me what time you find.
Questioner 1: I don’t really find it.
Michael: Right! That’s not a thought, that’s not even now, that’s just, huh? Right? Time–what the fuck is that? Look, I’m not kidding, it’s just an idea. So, now you’ll go–oh, there isn’t any–that’s a thought. You have to look each time, and notice, you can’t fucking find it, and yet, we torture ourselves with this stuff. It’s not even there. Look.
Questioner 1: Thanks.
Michael: What else? Any other questions, comments coming up?
Questioner 2: I guess my experience of the time thing was that there was always something happening, and so the way that I answered the question in the moment was that this was the time that I’m having this experience, of whatever sensation was coming up. But maybe that’s just a way to put story on it.
Michael: But what story is it, you’re just saying this experience. That’s a great answer, because, where is time in that? It doesn’t mean nothing can happen. Everything keeps happening. This experience, beautiful, seems like a perfect answer.
Questioner 2: This is a report/question. I found while doing this, I wasn’t able to relax, or there was unpleasant body sensation, sorta like bracing. It felt like there was some kind of tension or negative feeling tone.
Michael: Yeah! So, that’s the thing you’ve been avoiding. As soon as we drop out of the distraction–there it comes. It might not be a pleasant moment, there may be some body tension. The more you sit with it and don’t engage the story about it, it will at least become open and known to you. I won’t say it will necessarily go away, because maybe someone has a terrible illness, and it’s going to hurt. But I will say that the less story that’s there, and the more they just sit with it, we can engage other tools that help us interact with it more skillfully, it will become no problem at all.
Questioner 2: Yeah, like there’s no need to come up with some scheme for changing it.
Questioner 2: Thank you.
Michael: Yeah. It’s not necessarily a happy moment, but it can still be joyous.
Questioner 3: You’ve talked a lot about the perspective of people feeling discomfort outside the cage. For me, outside the cage is always awesome. There is usually pleasure there, and the mind wants to stay on what is pleasurable, interesting, whatever. And yet, sometimes when the habit of the mind machinery has been so strong, it’s like, I want to be outside the cage, but the cage keeps jumping over me. I’m not going back into the cage, the cage is coming back over me.
Questioner 3: Yes.
Michael: That’s what I was talking about. You just let go again, drop it again, drop it again.
Questioner 3: But that’s not a choice to get in, the choice is to get out.
Michael: Something’s choosing there but, right.
Questioner 3: There are times that I try to look underneath that stuff, and sometimes it’s pointless to go there. It’s just, I guess that would be vipashyana, to look.
Michael: That’s what I mean. You can work with a different technique, get in there with skill, and deconstruct it, and there’s nothing wrong with that. And you could also just drop it again, drop it again. And eventually–you know the rolled-up map metaphor, right? You have a paper map in a tube, and you bring it out and you have to put weights on the corners, otherwise it keeps rolling up. But if you do that enough, it will lay flat. So we just drop it and drop it and drop it until eventually your mind just lays flat.
Questioner 3: This is mostly shamatha, but we are just really leaning in on the do-nothing?
Michael: This is non-meditation. Depending on the view.
Questioner 3: I’ve found that, after the instruction to drop the thought was repeated a number of times, the motion of dropping the thought itself felt like a motion, and I wanted to drop the dropper. To drop the dropping.
Michael: That’s the difference between dropping as a struggle and an effort, and just relaxing. I did try to point out the difference between those two things. Right? There’s a doing dropping, and there’s just relaxing. Okay? So, when you’re doing dropping, there’s still some story in there, there’s still some engagement with thinking. I’m doing it. But eventually, you just relax.
Questioner 3: At a certain point, I did do that, allowing the experience of not dropping to stay there, as a relaxed back in there.
Michael: If it doesn’t just wrap up again, then that’s good.
Questioner 3: A more integrated version, then, would be to have it drop deeply in a full way, or would that be a continuation?
Michael: It depends on what you mean, honestly. When you’re just letting it stay dropped, if it’s wide open, not engaged, that will deepen over time, dramatically. But there’s not more to do. Just sit there, wide awake, letting it stay open. Then you’re present, you’re in it. You might be present in a really reified world of stuff, but that’s what starts to dissolve, because if you’re not feeding the engine of the thought machine, it will slowly allow everything to de-reify. Okay?
Questioner 3: Thanks.
Questioner 4: That was dope! My question is, in that space, that dropping, how do you approach unifying the dropping back with words, when you are talking with people?
Michael: It just takes time. After a while–it doesn’t mean you can’t think, it’s just a certain relationship with thought. But, at first, you just don’t. Then eventually you notice that you can still talk just fine. But it might at first sieze back up, so you get good at dropping the ball, and eventually, you’re talking without getting seized up. So, it’s just habit, you work at it. It’s like when you get good at vipassana while you’re sitting, then you start working at it when you’re walking, but you walk real slow. Ever do that? Really? Slow walking.
Questioner 4: No, never.
Michael: Really, you’ve never been a vipassana zombie?
Questioner 4: No, I’ve never done vipassana.
Michael: You do slow walking, I’m feeling the ball of my foot rolling onto my toes. You do that for days and you get used to moving, then you can move faster. It’s a similar process. You just try saying one word to someone and try to stay open. Maybe you can’t, but eventually, you can. Okay?
Questioner 5: That was great, thank you. When I’m meditating with my eyes open, sometimes I wonder whether I’m getting distracted by my visual field, or whether it’s ok to kind of intensely engage with the visual field, since it is part of the current experience.
Michael: The answer is, go ahead and engage with the visual field. I wouldn’t recommend getting real narrow with it, like focusing on that one spot. You can, and it will bring you into presence, but don’t get tight. It’s like when you’re meditating on body sensations or whatever–stay real broad with it. So, the same with the visual field, still stay broad. It is really easy to tighten up, and we want that openness flavor. Sure! Mark’s blanket is enough to put me into meditation, if I just gaze at it. It is powerful. But it isn’t narrow, keep it open.
Thank you for your questions.