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What Is Noticing?


Guided Nondual Meditation by Michael Taft

Okay now, we’ll get into our meditation. So if you haven’t been here before, we’re going to sit for an hour, and the idea is to sit for an hour without moving. We’re going to have a guided meditation, which means me guiding you through a practice, but as long as you sit quiet and still, I don’t actually know what’s going on inside your mind, so if you want to do a completely different practice, feel free to do that and just enjoy the energy of meditating with the group. You’re always welcome to do your own practice. 

If you think you can’t sit still for an hour, I encourage you to go in the room next door where we have this camera broadcasting into there. So you can do the whole meditation, but you can wiggle quite a bit or rearrange your legs quite a bit. Stuff like that. So if you need that, do that now, because once we get going you’re locked in. Literally. (laughs)

All right everyone. Everyone’s staying, so very good. Let us begin our guided meditation. So as always, we start out by just asking the question, “What’s it like to be me right now?” And then looking. What’s it like to be you right now? Just check your thoughts and your emotions and your body and just take the weather report on you right now. How are you doing? And at least for the duration of the meditation, whatever is going on is absolutely perfect, regardless of how difficult or intense or whatever. 

Whatever you’re finding it’s like to be you right now just completely let that be that way. Don’t try to change it, just try to be with it, accept it, let it be there. Several folks have glasses on. You might want to take those off. You don’t have to. Good.

Next, I just want you to imagine being a lake, meditating like a lake and this lake has a spring feeding it from beneath, of cool, fresh, clear water. So there’s this continuous refreshing of this very cool, clear water from below. And from above, the lake is very still, placid, wide open and extremely relaxed. Water is good at being really, really relaxed.

So this is an imagination exercise. Just imagine being a lake. What’s it like to be a lake and to meditate like a lake? So just play with that for a minute.

So here we are, meditating like a lake that’s fed by this wonderful spring. It’s a beautiful, clear, fresh spring and every once in a while the rain comes from a different direction and this very, very gentle rain. And sweet gentle rain falls on the lake and refreshes the waters that way too. And various fish live in the water and deer and badgers and marmots and so on come and drink from the water. So it’s not some kind of sterile, all-alone lake. It’s got lots of activity, lots of life. It’s friendly, and it has friends. 

Now just specifically let your mind and body come into total relaxation, just like the water of that lake. Feel your body just really letting go, really settling, and your mind too, just like water, just settling, settling, and becoming tremendously still because it’s so relaxed. 

It doesn’t mean it’s stuck or rigid or somehow sterile. It’s alive and moving and flowing, but it’s, in another way, very relaxed, very pleasantly still. And this lake, again, accepts whatever is going on right now. Totally lets it be that way, totally is good with whatever little critters are coming and having a drink or whatever. Fish are in the water; it’s all good. So you may be picturing this, or you might just feel it, maybe just feel what it feels like to be a lake. 

Now just allow the mind to fall all the way open. No force. Don’t try to make it open but just allow it to be as wide as the sky, utterly relaxed, utterly broad.  And just notice the breath rising and falling into the sky of awareness. The breath not being something that you’re focused on. You’re not intensely directing attention to the breath; you’re just relaxed, open, spacious sky-like awareness just without any effort, noticing the rising and falling of the breath. 

And as we’re noticing the rising and falling of the breath, let’s just make sure that we notice that our face is fully relaxed. If there’s any kind of tension in the face just let that fall away. The eyes becoming really relaxed, not focused on a point, unfocused, and the cheeks and lips and mouth relaxing. The upper and lower teeth not touching. So the whole face and head just feels really gentle and soft and open.

Continuing to just allow that breath to rise and fall in awareness. Allow your neck and shoulders to release. Just allowing. Just almost like the idea of relaxation, or just feeling them letting go. And your arms and hands becoming utterly limp. Limp like wet rags. Zero tension in your arms and hands.

If you get your arms and hands relaxed enough, you’ll immediately notice some tingling and maybe even warmth as the blood flow increases. Your hands–your palms–can tend to get a little warmer and a little tinglier. So now your face and your neck and your shoulders and your arms and your hands are all released and relaxed and open.

And just notice how that allows you to effortlessly just drop into a much deeper sense of openness and ease now where that breath is coming from an even deeper and more effortless place. And the mind feels fine just staying very broad, very open, not congealing around anything.

Good. Now notice the whole torso relaxing, the front of the torso, the belly, but also the back. All the way down the back just releasing, opening, softening, becoming gentle, becoming restful and at ease, especially that belly just letting go, opening up layer after layer of tension just falling off the belly.

Feel how good it feels. Notice how good it feels to be so relaxed and open. When you notice that that feels pleasant, it allows you to relax and open even more completely. Even more fully. Allowing the breath to rise and fall in the sky of the mind, easily and without any tension just noticing. And allow your hips and legs to relax. Your legs and feet especially just becoming utterly limp, utterly and totally relaxed. Zero tension.

And notice that you can feel your whole body now. Everything from the head to the feet, from the front to the back, from side to side. The whole body is open and at ease, pleasant and relaxed. And just breathe here for a little while, feeling that openness. Really feeling the parts of it that are pleasant, not fighting with anything, not struggling to relax some other part. Feel whatever is already released, whatever is already open and just enjoy that as you breathe. 

Simply feeling how good that feels. And allowing the body to now model relaxation so that the mind can follow suit, the mind can simply also completely even more fully relax, fall even more totally open. Remaining untight, uncongealed, but also wide awake, bright, crisp, clear. Utterly free, utterly natural, utterly authentic.

And if the mind starts to tighten up around anything, get involved in something, just let it relax and nothing will fall away of its own. No need to hang on to anything. As the breath comes and goes in the sky of awareness.

Good. Now just allow awareness of body sensation to arise and experience. Again we’re not focusing on it, it’s just happening. So just notice that happening. Just feel your body in the most natural, untechnical way. Just feel the feeling of your body. And as you’re feeling the body and its various sensations, I want you to look at what’s feeling it.

This is an active looking look at what’s feeling it. The body sensations will continue to arise but how do you know they’re arising? What’s noticing? Where is the noticing coming from? Look deeply into the noticing. Do that now. And if you think you find something that’s noticing, then look at that thing that’s noticing. What’s noticing that? What’s noticing that? 

Continue to look deeply into the noticing. If you’re getting drowsy remember you can open your eyes. Also, it’s just good to open your eyes during this meditation, if that works for you. 

Good. Now, in addition to the body, notice any emotions that are arising, feeling them in your body. If you’re bored or joyous or frustrated or maybe a little bit sad, whatever’s arising, maybe all of those at once. Notice the emotion of course, as you feel it in your body, that’s where we feel our emotions in our body, but then I want you to look at what’s noticing. How do you know you’re having it? Where is the noticing coming from? What is it? If you think you notice a place it’s coming from, look at that place closely and then ask yourself “What’s looking?”

So we’re having our emotional experience and at the same time, we’re not denying any of it. We’re fully allowing all the emotions, pleasant, unpleasant, awful, wonderful, neutral. They’re all fine to be there, but I want you to look carefully. How do you know you’re even having one? Where is that noticing coming from? What is it? If that’s an easy thing for you to do, then just rest there doing that very deeply. What’s noticing? How do you even know you’re having an experience right now? Look into that experiencing. All emotions are completely welcome. There’s nothing we’re avoiding feeling. All welcome.

Good. Now notice thoughts arising. Thoughts as words, thoughts as pictures. Maybe both happening, arising in awareness. All thoughts are welcome. We’re not trying to stop thoughts. We’re not trying to control thoughts, we’re not trying to have good thoughts versus bad thoughts. They’re just thoughts. But look at what is listening to the thoughts. what notices the thoughts? How do you know there’s any thoughts?

Notice what knows the thoughts, that’s the important part. Look deeply and carefully. What knows that there’s a thought at all? Or if there’s no thoughts, maybe your mind is silent. Okay, what notices the silence? Look into that deeply. 

All that energy going into trying to think this thought or trying to stop thinking that thought or learn certain types of thinking or unlearn other types of thinking. None of that matters here. We’re simply knowing what knows the thinking. More and more deeply experiencing what experiences the thinking.

Very good. Now notice the sounds of the world around you. There’s the sound of the guidance, there’s birds, there’s the sound of the air circulators, there’s other sounds, the sound of your own breathing. The sound is like a 3d experience, it’s in all directions all around. We’re not trying to only get good sounds happening and remove all the bad sounds. There’s just sound. A world of sound. 

Listening very carefully. Notice what’s listening. What hears? What hears all that? What is hearing right now? Look carefully. Listen. What notices the listening?

Very good. Now feel just like we did at the beginning, what it’s like to be you right now? The thoughts, the feelings, the body sensations, the general way it is to be you. All that’s good about that, all that’s terrible about that, all that’s somewhere in between about that. Bring up the feeling of being you very clearly.

You can probably guess, I want you to now look at what notices that feeling of being you. Very carefully notice what notices what it’s like to be you. How do you know what it’s like to be you? That’s just an experience that is arising. What’s experiencing that? Look. 

What is knowing you in this moment? What is experiencing you? Hint, it’s not you.

Now if your eyes are closed, just open them at least a little bit. You can open them all away, but if you don’t want to, just a crack and see that there’s a room here. There’s a room around you. There’s a world. We were listening earlier. Now I want you to see it. Having the experience of there being a room around you with people in it and plants and electric candles and such. 

What knows this? Not what sees it, because of course you’re seeing it, but what is experiencing the seeing, and therefore, experiences this room? I almost want to say what experiences room? 

How do you know there’s a room here? What knows that? Look at that knowing. What sees this space? What sees this room? What experiences the seeing? Look now. Notice the shocking fact of experience it just keeps happening. Nobody’s doing anything to make it happen. That is fucking insane. It’s a miracle. How is that happening? Just look at it now. If your brain doesn’t explode and fall off your head, keep looking until it does. 

Now just rest in that experiencing. Notice you can’t ever find what’s experiencing because it’s not a thing. There’s just experience happening. Nobody knows how. Rest in that. It takes no effort at all to experience so just rest in that effortless experience.

It’s always fresh and always bright and clear. As soon as you notice turning it into a thing try to find that thing and notice you can’t because it’s not a thing. It’s not in any place. It’s utterly unfindable. Drop right into this moment right now. It’s not even a moment. Just drop into this experience. 

It’s this radiant, vibrant display in awareness rippling with color, light, sound, feeling, energy and yet also oddly unfindable or unlocatable and even what knows it is unknown. Now when I sound this bell. What’s the question? The question is what knows this sound?

Okay good, let’s end the meditation there. Feel free to move and stretch. 

Questions and Answers

Michael: So questions comments reports

Questioner 1: Did you hear my head explode over here?

MT: Is that what that was!?

Questioner 1: I had a lot of fear around that.

MT: Which that?

Questioner 1: That place of awareness.

MT: How come?

Questioner 1: I’m not sure. I always find it difficult to verbalize the experience. I feel like there are no words that seem accurate. It feels like there is a lot of energy and it’s concentrated in certain parts of my body and I go there and it’s like whoa!

MT: And what it came blurping out in the open.

Questioner 1: Blurping? Yeah, you know it feels like it’s already doing that.

MT: Oh my god and is that the scary part?

Questioner 1: Maybe.

MT: And what else?

Questioner 1: My daily experience is very curated and this is like an uncurated experience.

MT: Is the daily curated experience being experienced by something else? No! So it’s really not any different right? In that sense yeah?

Questioner 1: It’s less in my head and more just…

MT: So why do you think you might go into the head to curate a daily experience that doesn’t contain this noticing of the experience itself?

Questioner 1: Conditioning

MT: Or because it’s scary or something. But isn’t it interesting that it’s only you doing it. It’s only you that’s trying to not feel that.

Questioner 1:  But then I’m like what’s the ‘you?’

MT: What is the use? I ask you that. What is the use? 

Questioner 1: If you maybe that’s what’s scary, like there’s really not a ‘you’ here.

MT: Oh, did you say what’s the you? 

Questioner 1: Yeah, the Y-O-U.

MT: Well, it depends on what you mean–so the thoughts and feelings and emotions and the body sensations and being in one place not another place that’s all experienced right? 

Questioner 1: Yeah. 

MT: But on the other hand, you can’t find the experiencing thing, because it’s not a thing, but there’s still an experience. So isn’t it kind of fascinating that you can’t actually find what you are? Now that that could be terrifying but in another way it’s not fat or skinny or ugly or beautiful or this or that right, it’s beyond all that or outside of it, it’s a different dimension from all that stuff. So there’s a kind of extreme freedom there, maybe freedom’s scary. We talk about that every week about how freedom is scary. Okay, very good. Someone will glue your head back together so you can drive home.

 Other comments or questions? Yes?

Questioner 2: A two-part question.

MT: I can’t guarantee I’ll answer both parts.

Questioner 2: Yeah, you might not want to answer the first part and I’ll move to the second part. The first part is: how did you come to learn this? Did you find this in reflection? Were you helped along with one of your own teachers?

MT: Both and a lot of other stuff, you know, sometimes it really helps to have another person “keep going, no not that, look at this part, this part.” So having someone guide you really helps, but also every once in a while you just come back to this basic, the only fact is there is literally only one fact and that is —- Right and so sometimes you just find yourself going ‘gonk’ and so that helps and then there’s other things too that bring you there, a friend, an intense experience, all kinds of stuff. But it’s super easy. It’s the most obvious possible thing and if it’s difficult at all to notice, it’s because you’re making it too complicated and it’s not complicated.  That was the first part?

Questioner 2: Yeah, and the second part is I can’t help but still look for it, or conceptually look for it, just because it’s so interesting, that absence and I wonder if maybe it’s just external. Like a blanket.

MT: And still it seems like one would be able to find it, even if it was external. But that’s interesting… Look. “Okay it’s external.” Go find the spot it’s coming from.

Questioner 2: The other thing is that it’s just the nature of this, the condition of sentience, but it’s invisible to a certain… beyond a certain point. 

MT: Yeah now we’re thinking right, now we’re really thinking. So just drop all that and come back. That’s cool stuff but for what we’re doing here it doesn’t really help.

Questioner 2: Thanks

MT: Thanks for coming again this weekend.

Questioner 3: Can you ask who is seeing or what you’re seeing? 

MT: What you’re seeing.

Questioner 3: Is it correct –  is that the thing to be noticing?

Are you saying that there isn’t a scene to be seen?  

MT: It’s just there. As long as you’re making a scene you’re adding something. As long as you’re making a scene you’re adding something. 

Questioner 3: And that seems really interesting. It seems like something that I can settle on. But this sounds cheeky 

MT: Oh good! Come on! Come at me bro! I mean that this is everyone’s chance to ask some stuff and everyone’s being really…

Questioner 3: Well what do I do, so what?

MT: So what? Why do I care? Well, maybe you don’t. Most people don’t. I mean certainly it’s not like we’re in Madison square garden doing this with thousands of people, right? Maybe most people don’t and that’s okay. 

Questioner 3: What I mean by the question I guess, meditation or moment-to-moment experience was unpleasant.

MT: And how do you know you’re having an unpleasant experience? 

Questioner 3: Right a collection of bodily sensations and like this negative valence…

MT: Sure and so what everyone tries to do is change the valence of those experiences, and to a certain extent that’s skillful. And of course, let’s say that if, for example, the negative valence of bodily experience was coming because you kept hitting yourself in the head with a mallet. Stopping that would probably be smart. Nothing wrong with that. On the other hand, life keeps happening and it just keeps happening and there’s always going to be some really difficult shit happening. Some really wonderful stuff too. And let’s say, you know, there’s like a basic condition of just not really liking various things. Or feeling some really heavy shit about stuff. All of which is part of what’s arising. It’s just part of life and we can attempt to change that and to the extent that we attempt to change it and we’re successful, great. 

On the other hand, there’s all the stuff you can’t change at all. Which is a lot. And so what do you do there? What do you do there? You notice that the thing that’s noticing is fine. The thoughts and feelings, the emotional valences, all of that can be upset, but the thing that’s noticing is never upset. Neither is it actually neutral. It’s joyous because it’s free. It’s totally unabhängig, unchanging. It’s totally unconditioned. It’s got this kind of joy and that’s really interesting.

And furthermore, that’s sort of like a practical operationalized thing because you ask why I care. But beyond that, there can just be the joy of exploration because it is an unfathomable mystery that’s incredibly deep. And it’s right at the core, not somehow peripheral to what matters, the core of what matters. And so just going into that can be beautiful, exquisite, meaningful etc. So those are some answers. I could give lots more. Does that make any sense? Doesn’t mean you have to care. You don’t have to agree. 

Questioner 3: I do find it really interesting 

MT: There you go. Other stuff? 

Questioner 4: Yes, much more a practical question. Every time I sit on the cushion my leg falls asleep.

MT: So what. That’s the real response. Your leg falling asleep won’t hurt you. It doesn’t rot and fall off or turn purple or anything. It just feels numb a little bit and if you sit for a little longer it’ll feel numb in a way that feels fine. And so just don’t get up fast and you’ll be fine. People who do this for their whole life and their legs get a little numb when they sit. Their legs work fine. So it’s just a little bit uncomfortable at first. Once you get used to it it’s fine. The other answer is: sit in a chair. Both are cool, it’s not like we must do this posture in order to notice our experience. 

So, solve it in the most practical way that makes sense for you. But what I’ve noticed is you know once your legs kind of do that little semi-numb thing you can sit there forever and they’re still fine. They’re getting all the blood and all that, it’s just a little bit of nerve pressure has made them tingly. That’s it. So it’s really not a problem unless it’s like you just can’t stand the feeling. Okay, sit in the chair. On the other hand, if you’re actually hurting your joints or something by trying to sit in a posture you can’t really hold. Don’t do that. That’s definitely… Do not damage yourself. All right. Very good, thanks. Other stuff? 

Questioner 4: So when you said ‘where are you feeling the emotions in the body?’ Usually, my answer is I can’t find it in the body. 

MT: How do you know you’re having one?

Questioner 4: Yeah, I just know it. I don’t know where I’m feeling it. Even when it comes to anxiety, people ask me where I am feeling it… I find the access to the body more difficult.

MT: It’s just the case that some people find that harder at first, but once… You know the thing to do is wait until you’re feeling a gigantic emotion like you’re really sad and your face is distorted, you’re crying and there’s snot coming out of your nose… You’ll feel it in your fucking body. It’s not like a thought. 

And so just notice, Oh right, now I really feel that in my body, or you’re enraged and your face is scrunched, your jaw is tight and your heart is racing and you just feel your muscles like you’re going to do something. It’s very physical. So when it’s really big it’s easy to notice and once you kind of, oh it’s like that, then when you get a little more sensitive to when it’s just little tickles of emotion coming up in your body. So it’s just a matter of getting used to noticing it.

However, if you’ve been really used to not noticing it, you might want to walk in there slowly, because it can be really intense when you start to actually tune into the physicality of it. But I would say one in five people start out there or report that it’s a rough guesstimate. So it’s not that uncommon, but I’ve never worked with someone who couldn’t eventually feel it. So it’s just a matter of getting used to it.

Questioner 4: Notice it more?

MT: Notice it more or notice it when it’s really easy to notice. And then that will start to make it easier. But feeling the embodied emotion is very important. So I would say that’s a worthwhile venture.

Questioner 4: Why is it important?

MT: The answer is like a 90-minute talk but just let’s just say knowing what you’re feeling matters, especially when it’s subtle. What else you guys? Yes 

Questioner 5: When you say the thing that you experience is not a thing?

MT: I said the thing that’s experiencing is not a thing. 

Questioner 5: What does that mean?

MT: Did you find something that was experiencing? What did you find?

Questioner 5: I don’t know. 

MT: That’s what I mean, that’s straightforward, thank you. Other stuff. Somebody really bust out with a really incredibly weird or incredibly stupid or incredibly difficult question. It’s crow o’clock, so we know it’s sunset. There they all go. Yes?

Questioner 6: I don’t know if my question is any of that, but I don’t remember the person’s name in the yellow shirt but your answer to their question made me a little uncomfortable because it felt like it was speaking a lot to what could become spiritual bypassing. Like there is this really joyful sort of backdrop of awareness, so why not just bliss out on that all the time.

MT:  Sure, did I say to bliss out in it all the time?

Questioner 6: No.

MT: Okay, so this is a question that comes up, I appreciate the question. However, so there’s a but, it’s like if I say, here’s this beautiful pen and paper and a well of ink. And you can write with it, you can draw with it, you can make paper airplanes, and draw insignia on it, and fly them and all that. And you say, But you can also use the pen to stab yourself in the eye and I’m afraid I’m uncomfortable that you’re telling people to use the pen to stab themselves in the eye. And so my answer, and I’m being serious, my answer is, so don’t spiritually bypass. Don’t do that. That’s it. Just don’t. You could do that, but it’s an unskillful thing to do. 

Questioner 6: What is spiritual bypassing?

MT: Yes, oh good will you define it please? I can if you don’t feel like it.

Questioner 5: I would say that it’s finding ways to avoid doing sort of the either emotional work, growing up or being engaged in this world in a way that produces suffering for yourself and others. 

MT: Very good definition thank you, I couldn’t have defined it better. So like how I was saying that awareness is always joyful. Certainly one could use that to just say, well I’m an owner of a factory and I’m ripping off all my employees and actually none of them can live or afford to live and that is kind of making me feel bad, but I’m just hanging out in my awareness and just kind of blanking that all out. So I’m good. It’s fine that they’re all starving to death and their children can’t go to school. So that would be an example of spiritual bypassing and so it is a problem. People can do it that way. And yet, no solution I give is more effective than saying don’t do that, right? Although bringing it up is useful, so I appreciate that. 

It’s like okay, it’s worth pointing out, but that’s an unskillful way to work. On the other hand, if we are really checking into experience itself, the miracle of just being alive right now, right here in this moment, not as an idea, but just —- it’s hard to spiritually bypass. It makes it really hard because you’ve got to want to hide something to bypass. The whole move of bypassing is about hiding something from yourself. And so that assumes that that kind of openness that I’m describing allows for hiding something from yourself, if you see what I mean. 

So if we take this to the direction it wants to go deeper and deeper, it becomes very hard to want to hide like that and instead, very easy to start engaging. And that’s another part of the answer is that people don’t want to engage with those kind of difficulties because it hurts and it’s hard and it’s work. But if we can tune into that joy and tune into this openness and the ability–we can do the work and we can experience the difficulty in a way that we can manage and we can actually be open since it’s less threatening to change ourselves. We can change how we’re acting in the world. So thank you for bringing that up. It’s very important to not do that.

Questioner 7: Hi, one of the instructions that I thought was kind of hard for me was when you said open your eyes and be aware that you’re in a room and I noticed…

MT: It’s hard to notice you’re in the room?

Questioner 7: Well, it’s hard to like –  if I look at the plant I’m having this experience in the now of seeing like, oh this plant is green and I get all that. And the experience of the awareness that I’m in a room or that that is a plant it didn’t really feel like, it was well it wasn’t always there or something it didn’t feel like it was sort of arriving… 

MT: Okay, so what I said is notice you’re in a room right now. I didn’t say it has to arrive in this moment or be something new. Did I? 

Questioner 7: Yeah. 

MT: Nope just, I’m coming back that’s what I was saying. It’s so simple. Just notice you’re in the room, not in any special way. Just the fact of experiencing being here okay? So it’s again, it’s kind of easier than it seems to do the thing. So it’s not a special looking or a special experience. It’s just regular miracle experience.

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1 thought on “What Is Noticing?”

  1. Verty helpful, Michael. I bought your “Mindful Geek” book when it first came out and have been listenning to the guided meditations you made for the book for years. I am happy to see of your evolution! I agree here–> you can’t find the experiencing thing, because it’s not a thing, but there’s still an experience. So isn’t it kind of fascinating that you can’t actually find what you are?” And I am just fine resting in mystery! Thannks!

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