*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.
You are meditation Itself
Meditation is not about having a pleasant, calming experience; it is about being fully open to the richness of experience as such. Meditation is the state of least resistance; it is the Tabula Rasa on which our individuality with the coating of personality is projected. I am not what is projected; I am the screen. I am meditation itself.
Writing has not come easily to me within the past couple of years. I went straight from writer’s diarrhea to a total, painful writer’s constipation. There have been sudden bursts of ideas but none has been able to reach the mother egg so far. This consciousness, this mass grave of ideas in which everything that is and was has been laying from the days of yore where my father was my mother, this unbroken and unbreakable symmetry in which everything seems to be eternally disintegrated and reintegrated, this infinite ocean with its ever receding horizon must have swallowed my aimlessly drifting raft.
There is an uprising in the soul of a sensitive spirit; a gnawing dissent and discontent has crept into the hearts of the people of the city of the heart; these men and woman have quantum jumped between the two extremes of joy and sorrow without ever seeing the light of the golden mean. When the pendulum of the heart crosses the invisible line into the eternal chaos, when the spiritual asymmetry of irregular polygons propagates into mental obsession and physical compulsion, our only savior is the unmoved mover, the origin. A person of this type must experience the origin: he must experience the birth of meaning.
Behind the scenes of religion the prophet pulled me over to the water cooler and whispered into my ears, “To surrender is to be open to meaning.”
Every being strives to return to the lost homogeneity of its primordial state. The collective form of this strife is found in the phenomenon of history and its singular form in the phenomenon of the individual person. For humans, the closest glimpse of the Platonic reflection of that transcendent homogeneity is given in the purity and simplicity of childhood, much like the peasant life that represents the collective form diachronically and the pre-civilization culture that represents it synchronically.
The struggle toward something entails a persistent, however subtle and concealed, consciousness of the end. A progress or evolution of any kind is initiated on the ground of a pregiven impetus and teleology at least potentially present in what evolves. Actuality is the dance of potentiality. Seeing things from above, the common struggle of all existence is a struggle to return to the Ideal; however, it is felt in the form a return only from the inside; from above it is a struggle to remember the Ideal, and at the peak of this holy mountain, the real and the ideal are one and the same. After all, we can only forget what we already know.
“A good flight with a bad landing is still a failure,” the prophet kept whispering with all the intention to annoy me. I went to flight school in my late 20s but I didn’t attend any of the landing trainings. I am a one way flight man; I just like to take off and keep going. Maybe I should’ve become a Falcon driver if there is such a thing.
Outer space has always called for me and it is a perfect one way flight. I remember when I was five I became aware of a passion for going to space. My parents thought I wanted to become an astronaut and advertised me as a bright and ambitious kid! Little did they know that I wasn’t looking at a 9 to 5 or a career in space. I just fancied the idea of being absorbed in total freedom and no sense of orientation. My one desire was to become totally desire-less. But the family didn’t need to know about my ulterior motive, neither would they ever grasp the breadth and significance of it as the prime driving force of my life. They eagerly watched the trajectory of my life with all the pride in the world until Boooommmm, the untold explosion of the noema on August 20th, 2013: the family watched the following crash and burn in awe as did the spectators of the Challenger disaster. A detailed report of the flight and the consequent failure generated by the Omission Commission remains classified to this day except a leaked excerpt stating “the man’s desire was met.”
Even now as a grown ass man I still have a love of deep space, deep space both as the Self and the Other. It is included in my will that my lifeless body be shot into empty space in a disposable capsule so that I can forever fly away from mundane origins and relativities and like my spirit become the origin and the source of all relativities.
I love the moon with its dark side. I love the Truth with its oblivion. Unlike the Pythagoreans, I love the undetermined and the unlimited.
“The Great Way is not difficult for those not attached to preferences. If you wish to know the truth, then hold to no opinions for or against anything. To set up what you like against what you dislike is the disease of the mind.
When the fundamental nature of things is not recognized, the mind’s essential peace is disturbed to no avail. The Way is as perfect as the vast space, where nothing is lacking and nothing is in excess.
Indeed, it is due to our grasping and rejecting that we fail to see the true nature of things. Live neither in the entanglements of outer things, nor in ideas or feelings of emptiness. Be serene and at one with things and erroneous views will disappear by themselves.”
Jianzhi Sengcan, from Xinxin Ming
“It is not so easy to be good. What are you but mere machines until you are free! Should you be proud because you are good? Certainly not. You are good because you cannot help it. Another is bad because he cannot help it. If you were in his position, who knows what you would have been? The woman in the street, or the thief in the jail, is the Christ that is being sacrificed so that you may be good. Such is the law of balance. All the thieves and the murderers, all the unjust, the weakest, the wickedest, the devils, they are all my Christ! I owe a worship to the God Christ and to the demon Christ! That is my doctrine, and I cannot help it.”
Swami Vivekananda, Complete Works, Vol. 2., p. 34.
If death of a loved one is felt as a finite loss for those left behind it is seen as an infinite gain for the departed. His death is in truth your death, the death of multiplicity and the rebirth into an eternal unity. What is apparently perceived as a loss of a loved one is our loss of his/her glance, the look in their eyes, a look that turns away from you and toward God. If the body is lost, the glance is never lost as it is only turned inwardly and reabsorbed into its immutable source in the Disinterested Onlooker, the Witness.
Thus, a man, insofar as he is identified with his consciousness, never really dies but only looks away, hither and thither, appearing as this or that. In his death and looking away you disappear from his sight more than he disappears from yours: If your thoughts of the them are with you, nothing of you is with them because their apparent death is their waking up to your absolute nothingness. For the departed soul it is you who are departed from his eternal glance, now turned away from you and looking into the void where he always dwells.
The glance is the indestructible center of the soul. If I tell you this it is because I have lived so many lives and died so many times, and all this in a timeless instant, the source of all duration but itself not a duration. This worldly life is for the soul like being buried alive, and the apparent worldly death is but the resurrection of the soul, an emerging from the mass-grave that this world is. You people who roam around as if living and willing are indeed the dead and nothing more.
Your worldly death is in truth the death of the world and worldliness of your glance. Death is the withdrawal of your celestial gaze from its captivation with this world-mirage. This worldly life of yours is but a passing deja vu. You think that when you wake up from a dream your dream characters mourn your departure!? No; no one lost anything, for you only left behind, and below, that which never was.
Your worldly death, being the death of the world, is the death of death, hence an eternal birth and breakthrough into the other side of Darkness. When I die in the world I immediately realize that there has been no world to begin with, no life; how could there be any death?! Thus, my life in the world is a living amongst the dead. What you perceive as life is death, and what you perceive as death is birth, an awakening to the nothingness of the world and creaturely existence. Ontological death, i.e. liberation from suffocating existence, is a waking up to the supra-ontological life in the permanent actuality of the Self, a Self that is infinitely like void as is infinitely unlike it. This you shall See for yourself.