This was written originally by me as an answer to the meditation experiences of a friend. I rewrote it slightly for this blog.
In many traditions one usually starts with meditation techniques like this: Sitting silently and watching ones breath, sensations, thoughts, whatever there is present at the current moment.
I started out with a technique that watches thoughts, and gradually over many years it developed into an awareness of everything else too. Not only thoughts, but also my body and my emotions and the field I live in.
Watching thoughts feels to me very easy, it feels like watching bubbles arising from the bottom of the ocean.
Unless you are fully established in the pure witness though (and it is not at all difficult to be that), you will drift off again and again with every thought. You will not find any standpoint in the mind. Thoughts have only a limited life span. Once the thought is gone, you are lost. Until you realize it and you start to watch another thought. So this is not leading anywhere. It is like watching a monkey climbing in a tree swinging from branch to branch. There is no sense in it and it becomes just tiring and uninteresting after a while.
What you can watch is the whole process itself, the coming and going, but only if fully sitting in the pure witness, in the silent inner awareness, in a stand-point beyond the mind. If you are not fully in that, you get hooked by one thought and dispelled by others, attraction and aversion. Any wish you may have to avoid this, or to re-live a beautiful past meditation experience, makes it even worse.
There is only one way – pure acceptance of what is.
If there is anything you want to avoid, or anything you want to have, even the slightest notion, you are standing in your own way. You need to have pure love for the current moment, if you don’t love it, you will not be let in.
For understanding: Any avoidance of the current moment, is a result of your identification. You think you are what you are thinking, when in fact you are actually the being-ness of the current moment. You are the witness of what is. You ARE even without any attributes. No thought, no adjective you can think of, can ever define your nature!
Using the intellect, a valuable tool for discrimination and understanding, you may recognize, that there are thoughts that drift by easily, where you have no notion towards them in any way and where you remain indifferent. On the other hand, you may notice that there are thoughts that have the inherent quality of ‘I am thinking this’, like the thought ‘How long do I meditate now?’ or ‘Should I scratch my leg’, this are thoughts you may not recognize as easily as thoughts, because you identify with them in that moment. You think you are this thought, thereby this thought is beyond your current perception. There is nothing wrong with that, but realize that also this thoughts are not your nature. Everything you think is not you, its just a dress you take on.
So it is very natural to drift when watching thoughts, jut because there is no center in the mind. If you watch the mind with the mind, you get nowhere. If you are mind-centered in meditation, you will watch some thoughts, and others you will be less aware of.
The trick is to jump out of the mind, and thats sometimes easier said then done, just because it can not be done. All it needs is love, complete acceptance, the understanding that there is absolutely nothing to avoid in this current moment, most of all no pain and fear to avoid. Whatever you feel or think NOW, bless it and you “fall into the arms you can not see” as Mooji describes it so beautifully. It is complete and utter surrender, or devotion, and it is existential. You are literally naked. And it is not an emotional state, it is surrender that arises out of knowledge and the experience, that all what mind ever can be, is being a useful tool for doing something in the world. You are not the tool, you are the one who handles the tool. You do not identify with the tool and think this is you, as a carpenter does not think that he is the hammer. He may feel one with the hammer, but he will not forget that his nature is being a carpenter.
Following practices, following meditation techniques can not teach you this last step. This is where a teacher, someone you trust is helpful, but in the end, you must jump alone, and therefore it can happen anywhere, anytime. Most likely – surprise yourself – in the least expected moment and place.
Nevertheless, in the beginning, meditations are helpful as they help quieten the mind. You will find it easier to watch the mind when it is quieter. Your mind becomes quieter by letting it die out naturally, or lets call it ‘breathing out’ of thoughts. Silence and a contemplative life is helpful for that, so don’t bother if you find yourself wanting to meditate more and more in the beginning. Its quite natural and very helpful. You may need to breath out a lot and let go of old thoughts, emotions, understandings, identifications. That can take time.
With some practice of meditation you may recognize, that there is constantly a presence inside you, which is aware of your whole mind and being, even in turmoil states of the mind. Bob O’Hearn calls it so nicely “… a mysterious presence endures” in his wonderful poem Left to Say.
I can say from my own experience, that the awareness of this presence, gives me a great feeling of confidence and trust, even when I feel sad, even when I am crying. I just know and feel, that all this is ok, and nothing has to be changed, even though I am in the middle of great changes or maybe even pain. My life goes on as normal as everyone else’s. This presence just is my being, being aware of all this, non-attached to anything, and not separated from anything, in fact feeling connected to everything and everyone. This presence does not judge, it does not do anything, and yet it is what you are. You are it, even when doing, not only in meditation. There is no ‘in’ and ‘out’ of meditation anymore, as your nature can not be ‘in’ or ‘out’ of anything.
I learned to meditate long ago by using a Mantra. I use it still nowadays sometimes if I find the mind wandering, attached to some thoughts and to others not, if I get dragged away by thoughts. It helps to center, it helps to calm. You don’t need any technique at all if you are already non-wavering, sitting like a mountain of blissful silence. I use the mantra therefore in all other cases, and I don’t use it as a weapon against anything. I do not use it to escape the present moment. If I have strong emotions, I face them, while sitting silently, not using any technique than just witnessing whats going on in my heart, mind and body, lovingly. I use the Hakomi-principle of watching the body for its sensations and listening to what it tells me. If I don’t escape this, if I accept it lovingly, I usually find myself almost falling into this silent state of awareness again, this awareness where no wishes remain.
When you notice, that your meditation is like skating on ice, a journey on the surface, from thought to thought, use the mantra and begin with it like this:
Start thinking the mantra consciously, silently and tenderly in your heart. Repeat it. Feel the sound inside you, like the sound of a bell that is constantly ringing. And its sound is saying “remember, remember, remember your true nature, …”
Once you started like this, listen to the mantra. You will notice that it continues to ring in your mind on its own. You don’t have to do anything. Listen to it. It is the sound of awakening.
It may become slower, or quicken up sometimes. It may become fainter or clearer, it may change its rhythm, it may change its place in your body, it might be in sync with your heart beat or your breath, or not in sync at all – all this does not matter, and there is no reason to interfere with it in any way. Once let loose, listen to it, follow it, wherever it goes.
You may recognize sometimes that the mantra gets finer and finer and finer, and your breath becomes more and more shallow, you need less and less oxygen. This is a sign that you are diving inwards, towards the source of all thoughts. The mantra is like a dolphin that you cling to that takes you to your silent depths.
Sometimes you may recognize that the mantra becomes louder and clearer, and you may suddenly take a deeper breath. This is a sign that you just came up from a deep dive with your mantra to the surface again. This is fine.
This is how the play goes. You take the ride and let the dolphin go. Sometimes it goes down to the source of all thoughts, where every thought feels like a compressed seed with immense possibilities, sometimes you dive up again and take a deeper breath and enjoy the sunshine on the surface of your mind.
Just cling to the dolphin, and clinging to the mantra is very very easy. Just favor it before any other thought. It is a very very fine attention, no effort at all.
Just stay with the mantra. It is your protective figure in this ocean of the mind. By clinging to one thought, the mantra, you avoid clinging to any other.
If at any time you recognize that you are not with the mantra, move your attention back to it, very effortless. Don’t scold yourself of not being able to stay with the mantra. There is nothing wrong with that. When riding on a dolphin you may fall off from its back many times, thats no reason to worry about, its part of the play. So have a notion of laughing about it and just continue the ride. Just move your attention back to it, listen to it again, and it will appear immediately at your command. It is a very trustful companion and every part is enjoyable.
The moment may come, where you feel even this slight attention on the mantra, to be too much of an effort.
Be bold then and let it go.
You will realize, that you are present even in the midst of emptiness, not having any attributes attached to yourself, being naked.
“I came a long way to forget myself, forgetting the one who remembers.”
Left To Say, Bob O’Hearn