The Secret to Effortless Meditation

*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

Egology IV

This article is the fourth and the last post of the 4 part series Egology.

In Egology I and Egology II we expressed in detail the nature of ego as such and introduced the two types of ego operative, in a hierarchical order, in the constitution of the world and experience: The Transcendental Ego who constitutes/creates the world and its experience, and the Empirical Ego who lives these world experiences and identifies with various roles in it through the narratives it tells itself. While the empirical ego is human, manifold, and exposed to consciousness, the transcendental ego is non-human, the one in the many, and concealed from consciousness. In Egology III we introduced in detail the principal modalities of the empirical ego, the human subject: Empirical ego has two principal modes of vibration or behavior, the Proactive mode and the Reactive mode, which are associated with the types of narratives the empirical ego tells itself and with which it identifies. We also added that the empirical ego can vibrate in the proactive and the reactive modes simultaneously which is really a superposition of the two principal modes. This superposition state of the empirical ego has an important spiritual function to which we have devoted our present post.

In the previous post, Egology III, we stated that the empirical ego can also vibrate in the proactive and the reactive modes simultaneously which makes it somewhat neutral or indifferent to circumstances, for when the reactive mode and the proactive mode superimpose they tend to cancel one another into a relatively flat line which constitutes a kind of passivity or detachment from the ups and downs of a narrative. We call this mode of the empirical ego the superposition state, its detached mode, or the passive mode which is far from a passive personality truly belonging to the reactive mode.

The passive mode, thus, is not really another principal mode of vibration of the empirical ego but rather the result of the two principal modes, proactive and reactive, superimposing on one another. The empirical ego in its passive mode tends to be more objective in the sense that it identifies itself with circumstances with much less intensity than the ego in either of the two principal modes separately; its narrative is more like the life of a monk. Note that the passive mode of the ego does not necessarily imply a passive personality which is a modality of the reactive mode; ego in passive mode may even be a very active person but it doesn’t identify too much with these activities; it is more detached from and less identified with its narrative compared to the other two modes of the ego. A natural consequence of this detachment is that the ego in passive mode is not too much affected by favorable or unfavorable circumstances, by loss or gain. While the ego in proactive mode uses obstacles to its own advantage and in reactive mode laments over them, nonetheless they are both always entangled in the world and its ups and downs, and hence they are naturally always affected by world events and phenomena. The proactive mode tends toward worldly success while the reactive mode tends toward worldly failure, but the passive mode which is neutral and detached from the worldliness tends more toward liberation from the world as such.

Here is a summary of what we said: The empirical ego which is the constitution/creation of the transcendental ego and also the object of knowledge of the Witness has two principal modes of vibration/behavior which are associated with the nature of the narratives the empirical ego tells itself about itself and its surrounding world. The empirical ego can vibrate in the proactive mode in which it situates (narrates) itself in an epic story and welcoming environment. The empirical ego can also vibrate in the reactive mode in which it situates (narrates) itself in a tragic story and a hostile environment. The empirical ego throughout its world-life usually switches back and forth between the two principal modes; however, in each empirical ego one or another mode of vibration is more dominant.

The empirical ego can also vibrate in a mix of the two principal modes. This vibration of the empirical ego, the human person, is called the passive or detached mode, or the superposition state, of the ego whose narrative is more neutral than either of the two principal modes separately. While the detached ego may be a very active ego in the world, it does not identify itself with those actions and the fruits of those actions. The proactive mode tends toward worldly success; the reactive mode tends toward worldly failure; and the detached ego tends toward liberation from the world as such.

It is important to note that in all these cases, the success, the failure, and the liberation are only narratives and not concrete realities: They are only narratives created by the transcendental ego and told by the empirical ego which is itself a narrative constituted by the transcendental ego and experienced in light of the Witness Consciousness, or what in Hindu metaphysics is called Saksin and in Phenomenology The Disinterested Onlooker.

The true essence of everyone and everything is the Witness, and hence the empirical ego, itself illusory in its existence since it is nothing but a narrative, is a fundamentally free agent that can choose to vibrate in the proactive, reactive, or the mixed passive mode. Liberation or Deliverance consists in liberation from the empirical ego as such and hence from all narratives associated with it. Thus, one who is liberated no more perceives itself as an empirical ego in a world of phenomena, and hence it doesn’t vibrate in any of the modes of the empirical ego: As long as we are empirical egos, perceiving ourselves as human beings in a world, we can’t but vibrate in either of its modes or the mix state. Narrative is essential to the life of the empirical ego which is itself only a vibration; there is always a narrative attached to the empirical ego even in its passive and detached mode who tends toward liberation but not yet truly liberated; its narrative in this mode is the narrative of detachment and liberation from the world.

However, the truly liberated one is in fact liberated from the bonds of all narratives, and hence of worldliness and humanity; it is no more identified with an empirical ego and hence is free from all its vibrations each of which is really a narrative mode. The phenomenal world too, which is itself a mega-narrative against which all other narratives of the empirical ego play, vanishes for the liberated one. This is a very logical meaning of liberation or Deliverance: Since liberation is in fact liberation from all narratives, and since the phenomenal world itself is nothing but a narrative constituted by the transcendental ego, naturally the liberated one becomes free of the world-narrative also, and hence the world ceases to exist for the liberated one.

Change, decay, and, mortality which are the essential features of the world narrative and all its constituents do not apply to the liberated one who has already transcended the world. The liberated one achieves immortality, for it is now identified with nothing but the Witness which is its true nature and essence. We said earlier in Egology II that the Witness which lies entirely outside the world-narrative, space and time, and hence unaffected by it is not subject to any change or decay; It is immortal and immutable. Therefore, the liberated one who directly perceives and realizes its essential identity with the Witness, known as The Supreme Identity, becomes truly immortal and immutable.

We always start things from the human state, from the empirical ego. To ascend the hierarchy of states and stations, that is, egos and vibrations, moving up toward the Witness and Supreme Identity we must first move from the proactive or reactive mode to the passive mode of the empirical ego. This horizontal movement from the two extremes to the middle point takes place in the plane of human existence. Once in the passive or detached mode of the empirical ego we begin our vertical ascent toward the Principle, an ascent which requires leaving behind the human state and moving up through all conditioned states and finally merging in the The Unconditioned, The Witness, The Absolute and The Infinite Principle.

Egology III

In our two previous posts, Egology I and Egology II, we expressed in detail the nature of ego and introduced the two types of ego, Transcendental  Ego and Empirical Ego, which are constantly at play in our everyday experience of the world. The former is concealed while the latter, itself created by the former, is exposed to natural consciousness. In this post we introduce the modalities of the empirical ego.

The empirical ego has two fundamental modes and it can, and actually does, switch back and forth between these modes. We can view these modes as the two principal modes of vibration of the empirical ego. The same way that a string of specific length and tension can vibrate only in certain frequencies, the empirical ego too can vibrate only in either of the two principal modes or sometimes in a mix of the two. These principal modes of the empirical ego are its Proactive mode and Reactive mode. We refrain from using the terms proactive ego and reactive ego because proactivity and reactivity are not the nature of any ego but only the two possible modes of behavior, and hence only attributes, for the empirical ego. We remember that the main function of the empirical ego, and any ego for that matter, is constitution of a narrative, context-creation, or meaning-bestowal. Thus, the essential difference between the proactive mode and the reactive mode comes from the essential difference between the structure of the narratives associated with each. We can naturally associate the proactive mode and the reactive mode of the empirical ego with epic and tragic literary genres respectively.

The empirical ego in its proactive mode tells a narrative in which it is a proactive character in the story. In the proactive mode the ego perceives itself and the surrounding world, which is in fact the underlying narrative it tells itself, as a place of opportunities that can elevate him/her; it situates itself in a context in which it is the hero, dominating circumstances and using the obstacles to its own advantage. In other words, this mode of ego is optimistic and not fearful; it doesn’t find the world a hostile and tragic environment. Thus, ego in its proactive mode tells the narrative of goals and achievements rather than failures and negativity or others’ judgments about it. As a result, the ego in proactive mode is less inclined to feel insecure compared to its reactive mode and only because it doesn’t spend time focusing on them. Thus, the proactive mode is more generous; he/she tends toward nobility and courage; his/her life is an epic story.

The empirical ego in its reactive mode tells a narrative in which it is a reactive character in the story. In the reactive mode the ego is always engaged in self-defense, and hence naturally offensive at times because offense is only the outward mode of defense. The reason for this behavior of ego in its reactive mode is that it perceives itself and the world, which is in fact only a story it tells itself, as a hostile and tragic environment. Ego in the reactive mode cannot rise above situations and instead always perceives itself in a losing battle, and as a natural consequence it manifests itself as a defensive type of person. Ego in this mode is focused not on goals and achievements but on flaws and failures only, on the obstacles that keep him from achieving a goal rather than on strategies to overcome them, and on how others perceive and think of him/her.

The ego in its reactive mode tends to feel more insecure, not so much because it fundamentally lacks something but simply because it focuses only on the negative aspects of every phenomenon which are equally present also for the ego in its proactive mode though this ego chooses to respond differently. feeling more insecure, the ego in reactive mode becomes more timid and often offensive and dangerous in unfavorable circumstances. These are the typical characteristics of passive, cynical, or sarcastic personalities who are always either on defense or in the attack mode. An ego in the reactive mode doesn’t tend toward courage, nobility, and generosity which are the main characteristics of ego in its proactive mode. You can imagine how destructive the ego in reactive mode can become when it gains power over others, be it as a husband or wife, or as a leader of a nation. The life of an ego always in reactive mode is a tragic story of loss and failure, not so much because it fails but simply because the narrative it tells itself is focused only on losses and failures, and in general on the negative aspects of the narrative. From an objective point of view, the world is almost equally favorable/unfavorable to the empirical ego, the human person; it is the reaction of the empirical ego to these circumstances that constitutes its proactive or reactive mode. Which mode is adopted is always only a matter of perspective and not of a fixed and rigid reality as if out there.

We must note some important points: As mentioned above the proactive and reactive modes of the ego are only the modes of behavior or vibrations of the empirical ego and not its nature. Thus, any empirical ego usually switches back and forth between these modes and not always in one or another mode: An empirical ego, a particular human person, may adopt the proactive mode or attitude in one circumstance and the reactive attitude in another. However, sometimes and for some people one mode is more dominant than the other, the cause of this domination being the intensity of a person’s identification with the proactive or reactive roles in his/her narrative.

It is not that certain people are losers by nature and certain people are winners by nature; in their essence all are the same thing, an empirical ego, the rest being only the narratives it chooses to tell itself, whether of triumph or of failure. All empirical egos are constitutions/creations of the transcendental ego which is one in all; the empirical ego which tells our narrative is itself a narrative being told by the transcendental ego, our life being a narrative within a larger narrative. It is as a result of identification with this mode or the other mode of the empirical ego that our narratives appear to be either epic or tragic. It is always a fundamental choice of the empirical ego to move from the reactive mode to the proactive mode or vice versa. In fact, it is this fundamental independence from these modes, our primordial freedom, that makes change and radical transformations possible.

The empirical ego can also vibrate in the proactive and the reactive modes simultaneously which makes it somewhat neutral or indifferent to circumstances, for when the reactive mode and the proactive mode superimpose they tend to cancel one another into a relatively flat line which constitutes a kind of passivity or detachment from the ups and downs of a narrative. This mixed, or superimposed, mode of the empirical ego has a spiritual function which deserves attention in separation post. In Egology IV, the last of these series, I go into the details of this neutral mode of the empirical ego and its spiritual functions and aims.

Egology II

In a previous post, Egology I, we discussed the nature of the ego as such and the different types of egos at play in our natural, everyday experience of the world. I emphasize that by ego we didn’t mean selfishness or any of its negative connotations, which are only a few possibilities for the ego along with its other possibilities such as kindness and generosity, etc. By ego we mean in general “I” at the center of all our experiences, the center of the acts of consciousness, namely the subject of experience as such. We mentioned that the primary function of any ego is to create a situation around itself, to provide a narrative in which it is also the main character: Ego tells the story, and as in every story there is a set and setting in which the story unfolds. The largest setting in which the ego defines itself and narrates its story is the experienced world. World is the background of ego’s narrative, and hence it is also part of that narrative since every narrative is essentially tied to the setting in which it unfolds. World is the largest context, and ego is the story teller that gives meaning to this context and makes it dynamic. We note that by world here is meant the largest context, that is, the horizon of all actual and possible experiences. So, this world-horizon is not the physical universe of sciences; instead, science and its world-picture, along with religions and philosophies and their stories, are themselves narratives within this larger world-horizon which is always in the background of all experiences and which the ego can choose to accept to reject. Gods, angles and demons, creation and destruction, heaven and hell, etc. are all narratives played against this indefinite world-horizon. Thus, we use the sense of the world similar to its sense when we say “a baby was born into this world.”

We also saw that there are different types of egos at play against the world-background: The Empirical Ego and the Transcendental Ego. The empirical ego is the ego that we experience and are constantly aware of; it is our human self which for us has a character and a personality, an identity which is tied to a definite past and a possible future; it is the ego that lives our everyday life. The transcendental ego is the ego, or act-center, that constitutes (creates) and supports the empirical ego but is itself a concealed agent; it is the ego that provides the existence and experiences of the empirical ego. As empirical egos immersed in world-experience we are not aware of the transcendental ego which is constantly operative in the background and hence constituting us and the world of our experiences. The same way that the empirical ego constitutes a narrative for itself as a person-in-the-world attached to an identity, the transcendental ego constitutes the empirical ego and its world-experiences with which the empirical ego identifies itself.

While the empirical ego experiences itself as an object in the world, the transcendental ego is not a part of the world and instead stands outside it; the world is itself a narrative constituted, or created, by the transcendental ego. Here is an analogy: When you are telling a story, say to your child, your voice is that which keeps the story together and hence meaningful; it is the support of that narrative. Your voice itself is not part of the story, nor is it something entirely detached from the story: The story in its every moment depends on your voice; its existence is derived from the existence of your voice. The moment you stop reading the story it collapses into oblivion. In other words, your voice is something outside the story and yet tied to it, imparting existence and reality to the story. In a similar fashion, the transcendental ego is not part of the phenomenal world, and is not something human, and yet the existence of this world and the empirical ego depends on the continuous operation of the transcendental ego who is the agent constituting the phenomenon of world-horizon and the empirical ego itself as another phenomenon within it.

It is the transcendental ego that is constantly constituting the empirical ego and its experiences of the world, while the empirical ego takes this world for granted and situates itself in various roles and identities within this world-horizon, roles like a male or female, a lawyer or a beggar, successful or failed, etc. Transcendental ego constitutes all our experiences as phenomena within world-horizon while the empirical ego identifies itself with these phenomena and creates narratives that strengthen this identification. Thus, the world we experience is a mere phenomenon constituted by the transcendental ego and has no independent existence; like a narrative that borrows its existence and reality from the existence and reality of the narrator, our world too owns its existence and apparent reality to the transcendental ego which within the religious context is known as God or Ishvara.

There is a another level without which the constitutions of the transcendental ego, which are the experiences of the empirical ego, would not be known at all, without which there would not be an awareness of any experience whatsoever. This deeper level is called the Witness: it is associated with pure light; it is the light that shines on the constitutions of the transcendental ego, and hence makes the experiences of the empirical ego possible. It is in virtue of the light of the Witness that we know anything at all. Thus, the source of all knowledge is the Witness which itself is not involved in any constitution or creation at all; it is pure and perfect, and though it shines its light on the constitutions of the transcendental ego, it itself is unaffected by all things and also cannot become the object of experience, for it is itself that which makes all experience possible and thus must always lie behind all experiences which are by nature objectifications of the transcendental ego. To be more precise, the Witness cannot be objectified. Therefore, we can interpret the empirical ego and its world-experiences as the creation, and the transcendental ego as God the creator, and the Witness as the Godhead and the Ground of Being the first and the highest manifestation of which is the God the creator, that is, the transcendental ego.

If we happen to be religious and believers in God, the above descriptions must help us to understand the true nature of our relationship with God: God is not an agent that created the world at some point in time and then sat back entirely outside and detached from the world, watching and judging us as if we had our own wills and choices. In reality, God is at the center of our Being, and we are in our essence one with Him. Every moment of existence, and every state of the world, is actively held together by God. Thus, God is constantly sustaining the world, creating it each moment anew and afresh and according to the fundamental orientation of our empirical egos; He does so from within and not from without. Every moment of our being depends on Him and His light. In truth, there is no moment that God is not within us and not aware of everything inside and outside us; all our knowings are in fact His. It is His knowing that runs through all acts of consciousness, a knowing by which we know the contents of the world and of our minds, even the most private thoughts and feelings. Our true relation to God is that of a character in a narrated story to the voice of the story teller.

In another post, Egology III, I will continue this discussion with focus on the fundamental orientations, or fundamental vibrational modes, of the empirical ego.