*This is an extended & revised version of an earlier article I wrote back in 2015
The Art of Effortless Meditation
We often approach meditation with a purely utilitarian mindset; we like the way it feels at the end. But meditation, in both eastern and western traditions, wasn’t originally prescribed as a means of intoxication but rather as a window toward self-transcendence and unity with the Godhead of which intoxication was a byproduct. Meditation as medication, as is often used nowadays, will always fall short of its intended function unless the practitioner is equipped with a spiritual understanding of the essence of meditation. My goal is to present the essentials of meditation without going into their traditional & psychological origins so that we can start meditating without worrying too about the symbolic aspects of various methods of meditation, for variation in method serves no purpose other than addressing the diversity of individual temperaments.
Understanding the essence of meditation is so important to the practice that its acquisition can save the practitioner years of futile time and effort: Meditation is possible only with the right intellectual-spiritual posture. Most meditation enthusiasts often give the physical posture priority over the intellectual posture. Taking into account the three dimensional reality of human being, i.e. physical-mental-spiritual, it is crucial we adopt the appropriate posture in all the three in order to 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, seeking an end of some kind sometimes actively and sometimes 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, from our most serious vocations to the most mundane 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 serve some cause or just pay the bills, etc. We can hardly say that any of these activities are ends in themselves. In other words, as human beings we are always already oriented toward an end that transcends the given present. To be oriented-outside-oneself is so tied to the essence of human existence that if we won’t initiate a task with no conceivable end in view.
The problem with most failed attempts at meditation is that we look at it as just another task, as another human activity to be added to the timeline of our daily routines. We sit to meditate with the intention of finding ourselves at a point B that is better than point A, and in thinking this way we are always anticipating an end point that lies further in time. This mindset is entangled to a feeling of anticipation which is in principle contrary to the nature of meditative state. This looking and seeking out is the very thing that keeps us from experiencing the meditative state which is in fact our natural and permanent state, the state upon which our individuality with the coating of personality is superimposed.
This end-seeking 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 in its essence a no-task: It is the practice of temporary abstinence from goal-oriented consciousness. Once we drop from all participation in this intentional consciousness we will instantly find ourselves in deep meditation, that is, we are dehumanized. Entering a sacred place we take our shoes off at the door; we can enter the meditative state only if we take off our human disguise at the entrance.
To try to meditate is not to meditate
Think of consciousness as an ocean. When the surface is calm it is in its meditative mode; when the surface is turbulent it is in its active mode which compares to our default, goal-oriented, human mode. If we want to move around in 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 look at 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 make them don’t happen.
A fundamental mistake in the practice of meditation is anticipating a thoughtless state. Look at a very clam ocean; look closer and you will see there are always subtle 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 contents as opposed to reacting to or engaging in them. If we start the meditation thinking we are at point A moving toward point B we have already introduced a preference, a sinkhole if you will, within consciousness; we have made a task out of it. Setting up a goal as necessary as it is in human reality is counterproductive to meditation; it produces an inhomogeneity in consciousness whereas the meditative state coincides with a perfectly homogeneous state of consciousness. 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, and that includes imposing 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 whole world.
The beginning challenge, if at all, of not engaging in the impulse will last for only 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 and bottomless 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 be there.
Practice: When you meditate there are usually some natural sounds around, like the wind, rain, chirping of birds, etc. Ordinarily when we meditate 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.)
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 judgment and 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; they have nothing to do with you. After all, no emotion or thought has ever hurt us on its own and without our permission.
Nothing has anything to do with the real you
Our possessiveness towards thoughts and emotions are acquired and not inborn. Thoughts and emotions disturb us only as long as we see them as disturbances, even more so 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 become comfortable with that homogeneous state 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 naturally and without effort manifest the paradise and bliss we always sought elsewhere outside ourselves. When we become possessive towards our loved ones, included among them are our own thoughts and emotions, we always try to control or change them which will make us more inhomogeneous, hence lacking and unhappy. 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.
The inner bliss liberates but the outsourced and manufactured happiness corrupts
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 to attain is the point in which the “I” realizes, i.e. recognizes, that it were the pure transcendental witness all along, the 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.