The Art of Effortless Meditation
We often approach meditation with a purely utilitarian mindset; we like the way it feels. But meditation, in both eastern and western traditions, wasn’t originally designed as a means of intoxication but rather as a window toward self-transcendence and unity with the Godhead. Meditation as medication, as is often used, will always fall short of its intended function unless the practitioner is equipped with a spiritual understanding of what meditation really is. My goal is to present the essentials of meditation without going into their psychological origins so that we can start meditating without worrying about the symbolic aspects of meditation; these aspects will depend on the individual temperament.
Understanding the essence of meditation is so important that its acquisition can save the practitioner years of futile time and effort: Meditation is possible only with the right posture; but often we only take care of the physical posture while ignoring the intellectual posture. Unless these two complement one another we cannot enjoy the full fruits of meditation. Our aim here is to introduce the intellectual posture, or mental attitude, necessary for the practice of meditation.
Human beings are essentially goal-oriented, some actively and some passively. We are goal-oriented because to be human means to be engaged in the world in one way or another, and engagement is the interplay of means and ends. Almost everything we do on a daily basis, our jobs and routines, is for our minds a movement from point A to point B: We wash the dishes to have clean dishes; we eat because we are hungry; we work to pay the bills, etc. We can hardly say that any of these activities are ends in themselves. In other words, we are always oriented toward an end, often mindless, and if the end didn’t have anything for us we would not engage in the task.
The problem with most failed attempts at meditation is that we look at it as just another task, another human activity to be added to the timeline of our routines. We sit to meditate and our goal is to find ourselves in a point B that is better than point A, always looking out for an end point that lies further in time. This mindset must change or else we won’t get far in meditation. Why? Because meditation is NOT a human activity but lack thereof. Meditation is by definition a no-task: It is the practice of temporary abstinence from goal-oriented consciousness.
The best analogy that comes to my mind is this: Think of consciousness as an ocean. When the surface is calm it is in meditative mode; when the surface is wavy it is in active mode which is our everyday, goal-oriented, human mode. If we want to go somewhere on this ocean we have to paddle or swim, which is the only way of moving in it. But if we want to experience the calm, meditative mode of the ocean, no amount of swimming or paddling can help us. Trying to relax the mind by effort is like trying to calm the disturbed surface of a pond by pressing down on its waves.
Correct meditation must be effortless; our only effort should be before meditation, that is to sit for it.
We should not understand meditation as something that we do. Meditation is something that happens when we don’t do anything. Meditation is never made happen; it happens when we stop trying to make things happen or don’t happen.
A fundamental mistake in the practice of meditation is expecting a thoughtless state. Look at a very clam ocean; look closer and you will see there are tiny waves still present. There is no ocean without wavy surface, and in much the same way there is no state of consciousness without something of which it is conscious. As waves belong to the nature of ocean, thoughts belong to the nature of consciousness.
What distinguishes the meditative consciousness from the active consciousness is our detachment from the content rather than reaction to it. If we start the meditation thinking we are at point A moving toward point B we have already introduced a preference, a sinkhole, within consciousness; we have made a task out of it. To meditate is to refuse to have a goal; it is a state of goallessness. There are no points A and B; there is only consciousness; It has no before and after, no here and there.
It is crucial that we do not impose anything on consciousness, especially the idea of goallessness and making a goal out of it. It will be difficult at first because we are by default task managers, making a task out of everything. Do not try to suppress this default mode; instead step back and stay aware of the impulse without aiming at its assassination 🙂 (I have added a practice at the end to deal with this impulse.)
During meditation: Have no aim, no goal, no expectation and anticipation. Pretend there is nowhere to be and nothing to do because there is nothing left undone in the world.
The beginning challenge, if at all, of not engaging in the impulse will last only for a week if we practice everyday. The fist glimpse of what lies beyond will by itself keep us hooked forever, but do not anticipate anything; think of meditation as a safe free fall in which gravity does all the work. Whatever comes, including thoughts and emotions, refrain from looking at them as good or bad, as something that should or should not to be there.
Practice: When you meditate there are usually some natural sounds around, like the wind, rain, chirping of birds, etc. We never mind these sounds and some people even find them helpful for meditation. Now, when you are meditating and thoughts arise view them as natural sounds in the environment, as something there in nature (this is actually true; it only appears that we own them because of a slight misunderstanding.)
Treat your thoughts and the natural sounds of the environment on equal footing. Thoughts become problematic because we are possessive about them, we identify with them, and hence impose expectations on them. Imagine the thoughts to be sounds coming from the surrounding nature; they are just hanging there having nothing to do with you. Even if they are accompanied by emotions just be aware of the emotion as another species of natural sounds out there in the world; don’t become possessive. After all, no emotion or thought has ever hurt us on its own and without our permission.
Our possessiveness towards thoughts and emotions are acquired and not inborn. Thoughts and emotions disturb us as long as we see them as our possessions. By the practice of goalless meditation you will see that these seemingly internal disturbances will recede into the background where other natural sounds belong.
Once we learn to remain in that zone of consciousness where we are no more possessive of anything, and hence no more judgmental and existentially lacking, then our daily lives and relationships will turn into the lost paradise. We always try to change our loved ones, including our thoughts and emotions, when we become possessive towards them. What we hope to learn from this goalless meditation is not that we shouldn’t be possessive; the only goal is to realize that we can never possess even if we wanted to.
During meditation: The only goal is to realize that there is no goal. The only point is to see that we are the point.
The deepest level of this meditation which may take months or years to attain is the point in which the “I” realizes that it is the pure transcendental witness standing at the edge of a totality that contains the mind, body, ego and personality, and everything it thought it were: You are that transcendental witness.