Total Relaxation – Deconstructing Yourself

total relaxation


Guided Nondual Meditation with Michael Taft

Streamed on Dec 16, 2021

Let’s begin meditating as usual. Let me get my timer, my meditation thing, going here so I know where we’re at. What I’d like you to do meditation fans is begin by setting up your posture. Meditation posture is crucial. Meditation is an embodied practice and your body feeling good and also expressing the meditation is a big part of it, right? So, what do I mean by feeling good? I just mean, even though we’re going to take a nice posture with an upright back, having your spine upright, I want it to feel good. I don’t want you to feel like you’re sitting at attention in an uncomfortable way. You should make sure your body is happy with the way you’re sitting, especially because we’re going to be still for a whole hour, right? When we’re doing these meditations the idea is to stay quite still because if you move the body the mind starts moving. Also if you keep the body still, the mind will become still as well. We do, especially at the beginning of these sits, kind of want to chill things out a little bit, get the mind nice and calm, so there’s that. 

And then also what’s interesting is that, in a way, the essence of the shamatha part of meditation is to be both alert and relaxed, and what’s interesting is that we always think of that as occurring–this alert relaxation–we think of as occurring in the mind, but of course alert relaxation can also occur in the body. So the alert part is to sit up straight, right? That’s the signal to the nervous system, when the spine gets upright, that we’re alert, right? We can even call it sitting at attention, right? We sit up straight, get that spine nice and upright, and that signals–or we can say that’s the body’s expression of alertness and then the rest of our posture is relaxed. So we get our spine nice and upright and then we let everything else relax and so we’re embodying the essence of the shamatha right there; alert relaxation, the body is actually doing it and that’s really interesting. That’s also why we stay quite still because that’s the deep peace or the deep relaxed part of the body. This is not a tense-tight or stiff-stillness. It’s the stillness of complete relaxation, the stillness of utterly letting go. 

So, I want you to sit up nice and straight. You can wave your spine out, wave your spine around like a young sapling in a fresh breeze. It’s kind of moving in various directions until you find that spot where the upright spine feels perfectly balanced. There’s this beautiful balance point. It feels just right. Once we get that we relax the rest of the entire body and, in fact, tonight we’ll do for the shamatha part a progressive relaxation like we do sometimes before moving into the rest of the meditation. So find that perfect upright spot, top of your head pulling upwards in a really pleasant manner, chin tucked just a little bit so the back of your neck is open. Your chest should be–actually it’s really nice if it feels good. Again don’t do this if it doesn’t feel good. But if it feels good the chest is quite open, you’re not hunched forward in any way, or caving the chest. It’s actually; the shoulders are down and back, and the chest in a very, very, very light way, not an exaggerated way, but in a very light way, feels almost like it’s pulling outward and upward just a little tiny bit. It’s got this kind of upward, outward, expanded mode going on, just a very gentle relaxed flavor of that. And, of course, the lower back has that curve in the spine, so that your like hips are slightly rotated forward so the spine kind of goes up just a little bit when you when you roll your that lower spine back you kind of slouch and your head goes down you roll it forward just a little bit the whole spine goes upright.

Okay, so we’ve got that nice upright spine expressing the alert part of shamatha, and then the rest of our whole body is relaxed expressing the tranquility of shamatha. So, alert tranquility, alert relaxation, that’s the shamatha portion. Now, before we go into that entirely, let’s just very quickly recall that we are already fully awakened beings. We are already fully enlightened beings. At the very basis of your being is already complete awakeness, already complete awareness, already complete buddhahood. There’s nothing you have to do at all to make it more complete, to make yourself somehow more awakened. It’s already there, right? And all we’re doing when we sit is recognizing that fact, right? We’re coming out of the dream of non-recognition and just recognizing that fact. 

So for just a moment here at the beginning of the meditation I’d like you to picture in front of you–today we’re going to use the visualization of a rose, the flower, a rose, right?  Just imagine the most gorgeous, open, red rose. Okay. I actually can make it any color you want but I’ll do it a red rose and it’s like that kind of rose in a cheesy photograph where it’s even got some little water droplets on the petals and stuff. It looks entirely fresh. Imagine that rose scent and really see in your mind’s eye, a rose in front of you.

Okay. This is just the visualization we’re using tonight.Sometimes we use a bodhisattva being, sometimes we use a sun, or whatever. Tonight I just feel inspired to have it be this beautiful rose. Okay. This rose is a symbol or an external–even though we’re doing it internally in our imagination we’re projecting it externally as a symbol–of our own already existing awakening, our own already existing enlightenment, our own already existing buddhahood. And that’s why this rose is so beautiful, and so perfect, and fresh. It’s representing our own awakened mind, which is already present. And so what I want you to do now is allow that rose to give forth the scent of wisdom. Normally we use light. Tonight it’s going to be a scent of wisdom, right? Just that rose scent wakes up the deep enlightened wisdom, the deep buddha wisdom in the mind. Okay. And just feel your mind clearing and opening with that rose scent. Obviously just an imagination exercise and yet because the buddha awakening, the enlightened awakened fully realized mind is actually there already, this imagination or visualization exercise actually has a powerful effect of helping us to recognize our own indwelling awakening. 

So, we have that scent of wisdom that opens the mind, opens the wisdom mind, and then another scent pours forth from the rose, and we feel our heart of love, compassion, and joy opening. Blossoming, unfolding like an opening rose with this feeling of love, this feeling of joy, this feeling of kindness. And then a third scent arises from this rose and we feel in our belly the energy of life, the energy of playfulness and spontaneity filling our bodies, just pure life energy, the scent of pure life energy. And we know there’s a lot of Buddhist scriptures and Hindu scriptures where there are beings of scent, beings made of smell, and in fact, whole universes made of wonderful scents. One of them is called Sarvagandha Sugandha. That’s the name of the universe: Sarvagandha Sugandha, and in Sanskrit that means “everything good smelling.” It’s a universe composed of wonderful scents. So that’s what we’re tuning into here, the scents of wisdom, the scent of compassion, and joy, the scent of this playful, spontaneous, beautiful life force that is flowing through our body. 

So just feel that now, and then bring in this rose of wisdom, this rose of awakening, this rose of your own Buddhahood into the heart where it fully blossoms and gives forth this fragrance to the entire world. It’s beaming out the fragrance of wisdom, beaming out the fragrance of compassion, bringing it, beaming out–or effulgently giving forth radiant spontaneity and life force. So feel that now. And it’s just filling your whole body, filling the whole mind, filling the whole being with this wonderful scent of awakening, right? Scent of awakening, and then let that rose vision just dissolve into this pure, radiant, emptiness of wisdom, clarity, compassion, love, joy, spontaneous, playful vigor, and life force. And just feel that essence of awakening coursing through the body, mind, through the heart, and beaming out to the entire world.

Okay. So that’s just the beginning, that’s our opening visualization and just if you want to you can then just let that whole visualization vanish like a scent on the wind. And then it’s just vast spacious awareness, just open empty awareness and from this place, I’d like to do as I promised a progressive relaxation to get us into the real relaxed part of shamatha, deep, deep, deep into the relaxation part of shamatha. But remember that’s only half so as we’re doing this relaxation we also want to remember to stay very alert, very awake. The awareness is bright and crisp and clear. Remember the word Buddha means awake, right? Not asleep, not dreaming. Awake, it literally means awake. So the Buddha’s title is not like ‘god,’ or ‘the holy one,’ or something, it just means ‘the awakened one,’ ‘the one who’s not asleep.’

So our already existing Buddha nature is of the nature of wakefulness, alertness, clarity. So even while our body becomes more and more relaxed, we want our mind to be bright. And even the body in relaxation is bright, right? There’s energy there. It’s not dull. It’s very up and alert. And yet, like cat muscles, just totally–you know how a cat relaxes the whole body. It’s just got that goopy wonderful sense of deep, deep, deep core relaxation, right? At the skeletal level. So let’s go into that now. And I want you to begin with your forehead and eyebrows, and you let that relax. And the meditation object here is to feel that relaxation happening there. Now if something doesn’t want to relax, something is tight, something feels like it wants to stay tight in your body for whatever reason, do not force it at all. Let it do whatever it wants. 

So this is just an invitation to relaxation and I want you to get focused on the parts that do relax, and the parts that do open, the parts that do feel ease and soft and open. Don’t focus on the stuff that’s tight, and get all involved in it, and, “why is it tight? And now I’ve got to relax it.” Nothing like that at all, it’s the opposite, I want you to double down, triple down, quadruple down on the parts of the body that feel relaxed. So feel your forehead relaxing, and your eyebrows relaxing, and really feel that deeply. Take it in. Breathe it in. Notice how good that relaxation feels, even in that tiny area of the face. And then next allow your eye eyelids to relax, and your eye muscles to relax in such a way we can close our eyes during this shamatha meditation. Allow your eyes to relax in such a way that you can’t open them even if you try, because in order to open them you’d have to put tension back into the muscles to use them. And so the eyes are so relaxed, the eye muscles are so relaxed that you actually can’t open them without getting tense again. And same thing your cheeks, relax your mouth and lips, relax your whole jaw. Let go. And the scalp and the whole rest of the head just experiences this kind of deep pleasant letting go. And I want you to just tune into that right now for a moment and just feel how good that feels.

Good. Now continuing to tune into that relaxation and just feel the letting go, feel the release, feel the relief in that. Let’s tune into our throat, neck, and shoulders where we release and relax and let go. Now you’re keeping your head upright, but again, we found that place where the spine just feels so good, so balanced that there’s kind of a minimal tension or minimal effort required to keep your head upright, and other than that the whole area becomes relaxed, open, and released, including the throat. When your throat relaxes it’s that muscle that keeps your, regulates your vocal cords to be tighter or looser, so it’s the thing you do when you lower your voice. That’s relaxing the throat. Relax the throat all the way, and to talk normal, I’ll put a little bit of tension back in my throat, but you keep doing the relaxing of the throat, and letting the shoulders release. 

And then, this is the important part, feeling that release, feeling the tension fading away, and the softness, and the openness, and the pleasantness, and ease coming into those areas. And really focusing on that, and breathing that in, and taking it in, and allowing yourself to enjoy it. So that’s what we’re doing with this progressive relaxation type of shamatha. And so your face and head are relaxed, your neck and throat and shoulders are relaxed, and now we’ll just allow the arms to let go of all the doing, all the tension, all the tightness, all the busyness of the day. We use our hands and our arms to do so much, right? We’re thumb typing, or we’re keyboard typing, and swiping on screens, and swiping on trackpads, and all of that keeps your hands very tight and so we want them to be loose. We want our arms, our elbows, our wrists, our palms, our fingers to just release all that tension and feel the tension draining out, feel the tension draining away. And furthermore feel the arms and hands getting as limp as wet rags. So there’s not even that background tension where you’re keeping your arms ready to move even though they’re still. Sometimes we keep them ready to move. I want them to shift out of readiness to move mode into complete non-readiness to move, where they’re just limp like wet noodles, and feel the limp like wet noodles in your arms, and in your hands, and in each of your fingers. Really feel that. Spend some time going down the right arm, and going down the left arm, and feeling that relaxation, and tuning into it, and allowing your mind to be within it and resonate with it, and open, open, open. 

And feel that relaxation in your arms and your neck and your head just kind of permeating awareness. Good. Now let the front of your chest relax, your pectoral muscles, and the whole   upper part of your chest, and also in back around your shoulder blades and lats, and so on. Let your whole upper chest region in front on the sides and back just release and relax and let go. And feel all the tension drain away, drains out, and it’s replaced by almost like relief and relaxation, and openness, and gentleness just almost descends into the upper chest. You feel it, boom, land there and just allow the whole area to just relax, and release, and open, and let go of all tension, let go of all cares, let go of all worry in the body, all tightness in the body, and it all just drains out. Again, not fighting anything, not moving, certainly not stretching in any way, but just allowing pure intention, and pure care to allow the body to release. And feel how good that feels now that your whole upper chest, and upper back, and your arms, and hands, and your neck, and throat, and face, and head have all relaxed?

 I’m tuning in, drinking and savoring that relaxation in a really open, easeful, pleasant, playful manner. I want you to just notice that that feels so good, that feels so relaxed, that it allows your mind now to just sink down into a deeper, deeper relaxation where the whole upper body, and the whole body, and even the mind just kind of drops now into a much deeper sense of openness, much deeper sense of undefendedness, a much deeper sense of relaxation. So just tune into that now. Spend some time with it.

Good. Now, in this much deeper mode of relaxation, allow your diaphragm to release and open, and feel how good it feels when the diaphragm releases and opens, relaxes, finds settledness and peace. And then the belly releases and opens, the sides of the belly, and in back in the kidney area all relax and open. And just feel how good that feels. We sometimes keep a lot of tension in our belly. It’s very common spot for anxiety, tension and so just noticing that the actual muscles in the front of the belly can be very very relaxed, letting go of all that tension, just letting the belly flap out. With a sigh, you notice yourself becoming much more relaxed at this point.

And then the whole pelvic region releases and relaxes and lets go.  Your hip joints feel so good when they release and let go and are filled with a sense of easefulness and openness. The perineal region can relax and open. And then just allow the entire legs and feet again to do the wet noodle thing. They just become completely like wet rags. There’s no sense that you’re gonna do anything with your legs right now. They’re just completely allowed to flop and so you notice the huge muscles in the quads and the glutes all releasing, and relaxing, and opening, letting go. Those are big enough muscles that you can really feel that when they relax. The whole body relaxes further and then your knees release and open, and the calves and shins relax and open, and the ankle joints relax and open, and the feet relax and open, soles of the feet open, tops of the feet open, and the toes relax, and even between the toes relaxes and opens.

So when you feel now the diaphragm and the belly region, and the pelvic region, and the hips, and the legs, and the feet releasing and opening.  Joining the chest and back, which are released and open, and the arms and hands, which are totally, totally relaxed and open. Feel how your palms now are wide open, the backs of the hands wide open, the throat wide open, face wide open. Everything relaxed and released, calm and tranquil and yet energized and alive, not asleep, not powering down into sleep, but rather feeling a kind of energized release, energized openness. Just feel that now. Tune into that now as you drop into an even deeper, even more profound, even more completely relaxing depth of openness and release and tranquility. Let’s just be with this now for a few minutes, breathing together, feeling how good the body feels to be this relaxed. Noticing how the core of the mind–that tension at the core of the mind–also relaxes, also melts, also releases and opens, so that as the body relaxes and opens, the core of the mind releases and opens, and there’s a sense of deep tranquility and yet tremendous alertness, tremendous awakeness. So let’s sit with that together now.

Feel how with each in-breath we become more awake, more energized, more alert. And with each out-breath we become more relaxed, more at peace, more open and soft and gentle.

Okay. Good. Now continuing to stay alert and relaxed, I want you to notice that in this belly region where we were talking about the life force, the energy, centered just below the navel, a few inches below the navel, and back in, you can feel, if you check in that region, you’ll feel a kind of center of–it just feels like a place where the energy is centered. I don’t know how else to describe it. And I want you to just imagine now, in a very relaxed, gentle, alert way, that the life force energy in that spot, the playful, spontaneous, vivacious life force energy in that spot becomes tremendously more harmonious, regulated, open and healthy, strong and regular, and healthy and harmonious. And just on the in-breath feel that center filling with energy and then the out-breath feel that center becoming more perfectly patterned, perfectly harmonious, perfectly healthy and strong, perfectly tuned. So on the in-breath that center gets more energized, on the out breath it becomes more harmonious. We feel the effects radiating through our whole body. The whole body feels healthier, stronger, more alive. It’s purring like a kitten. It’s more perfectly tuned as that center becomes filled with more and more energy. Breathe in. We feel the energy in that center. We breathe out. We feel this tremendous harmony radiating through the whole body. So let’s do that together now.

Notice how good that feels. Very good. Okay. Now up to the forehead. Feel in the center of the brain, at the level of the forehead, in the center of your head, feel, on the in-breath, the mind becoming more and more alert, more and more awake, more and more clear. Feel the mind filling with clarity and also, again with a sense of wisdom on the in-breath, and on the out breath let this clarity and wisdom radiate through the whole body, right? Our body has wisdom and it shares that with the mind. So let this clarity and awakeness and wisdom that we feel filling the mind on the in-breath then radiate out to the whole body and mind on the out-breath. A kind of perfect tuning of the mind itself.

Good. And now moving between the two, in the heart center on the in-breath, taking in a sense of love, feeling a sense of joy and kindness, and love growing strong in the heart. And then, really tuning in on the out-breath, just allowing that love and kindness to flow through the entire body, wisdom of love and kindness and caring flow through the entire body, which is already, again, tuned and healthy, and already wise and clear, and now this energy of love and compassion is just moving through the entire body. So on the in-breath we’re taking in more of that feeling, the energy and the heart growing, then in the out-breath that love, and kindness, and caring, and joy move into every tissue in the body. 

Now from this place of tremendous clarity, and aliveness, and compassion, and love just come to resting in open awareness, in the vast space of awareness. You don’t make awareness space vast. It’s already wide open on its own, so just bring this sense of total relaxation, total openness, total awakeness and aliveness into the sense of vast spacious awareness. And this vast spacious awareness is simply resting, it’s clear, it’s bright, it’s awake and yet it’s absolutely relaxed. It’s absolutely at ease. It’s just resting in itself. And allow this awareness to just simply rest in itself, uninvolved with anything, not really meditating at all on anything. It’s already completely awake. It’s already completely a Buddha. There’s nothing to do. There’s absolutely nothing at all that needs to be done, nothing needs to change. There’s just resting in this awakeness. Let’s do that together now.

If you find yourself involved with thinking at all, just drop it, come back to just resting in openness, resting as vast spacious awareness. The awareness does not get involved with any thought. That doesn’t mean thoughts stop but we’re not getting involved in any mental content. We’re resting as vast spacious awareness.

Okay. Good. Now allow that wisdom energy to gather in the heart, and that life force energy to gather in the heart, together with the love and joy and compassion that’s already existing in the heart, and allow that to radiate–not only out to your own body and mind but–out to the whole world around you, everyone around you, everyone in the whole world, and in fact everyone in all the worlds and all the universes everywhere, including Sarvagandha Sugandha. Let that love energy, the compassion, the kindness, the wisdom, the clarity, and the joy, and the playfulness, and spontaneity, let that energy radiate out, radiate out powerfully in all directions. Imagine it actually impacting the minds, the hearts, the beings of all the people, all the animals, all the beings around you and in the world, and in fact, everywhere.

So just let that radiate out. Let that energy beam out, pour forth, pour forth from your heart to the whole universe.

Dharma Talk

Okay. Good. Let’s end the meditation there. So just allow yourself now to move, and stretch, and maybe have a drink of water, or something. And just bring your body now into movement and a different kind of ease. I find it really fascinating because, you know, the shamatha style meditation–again the word shamatha means resting in one spot, it’s like peaceful or restful staying, right? And yet so many of us bring a kind of tense, yang, doership energy to this practice, like we’re gonna meditate our butts off. Almost the opposite mood, right? A kind of striving graspy acquisitive or aggressive energy to this practice and then wonder why we don’t get very far with it. You know you can sort of muscle your way to some level of shamatha but at a certain point you just can’t do it by force. You just can’t do it by getting tighter or more motivated because–and you especially can’t do it by getting more aggressive and pumped up to do it, you know. That’s just not the mood at all. 

Instead, again, remember the name is peaceful abiding or tranquil resting and so the main mood is opening, and softening, and ease, and relaxation, and alertness. We’re still alert. We’re not falling asleep and, in fact, we don’t want to get sleepy while we’re doing it. That’s going too far in the other direction. We want to be alert and relaxed. And so, that kind of like curling up like a cat on a couch in the sunshine–that energy– like, “oh, I’m just so cozy. I’m gonna curl up,” that’s going too far, right? That’s going too far into the relaxation part. We want to be alert and relaxed but at first I find people who are really motivated to meditate and want to do their meditation and especially if they’re like, “I want to get enlightened,” and all that kind of stuff. There can be this kind of force energy in there in intensity and just–I don’t know, competitiveness and it’s just the wrong mood to bring to this if you want to go deeper into the practice, right? And so in our relaxation we want to find relaxation, we want to find peacefulness, and openness, and ease, and have that kind of tension release from our bodies. 

It’s really fascinating. I’ve talked about this before, you know in the West, especially in America, but in the West generally, we kind of think of a really intense and also tense tight state as joyous. Like, “yeah, I’m feeling great,” you know as your neck muscles bulge, “I’m feeling really good. I’m super excited.” We in fact kind of think happiness and excitement are synonyms, you know, but in a way that kind of intense Yeah! energy, I mean, it’s got its place in our lives, but that’s not necessarily what joy and happiness and openness are about. They can have a very different expression that’s really upbeat and has energy but is smooth and open very–again like that kind of cat energy where no matter how much they’re doing there might be a moment of tension but it’s mainly ease and smoothness and relaxation even when they’re doing something really physically demanding that kind of looseness and wateriness and openness is there, right? 

So we want that in our practice both in our body and even in our mind, where the mind is relaxed, the mind is open, the mind is at ease. As I sometimes put it, you know, I said it tonight, the core of your mind relaxes. There can be that tight core in the center of your head where it’s like; I’m directing, and I’m taking action, and I’m doing this, and I’m not doing that, and I’m really clear about… and it’s like… That’s not exactly what we mean by clarity. You know, clarity is different than that. That is a kind of tight solid seeming aggressive mind. And what we want to do is have that core of the mind release and open, and relax, and become almost like a pool of liquid mercury reflecting the world with total clarity and awareness and yet utterly relaxed, utterly at ease, utterly at peace, right? 

So remember that coming to this and allowing yourself to be at ease is a big part of this. And so when we do the kind of meditation we did tonight, a progressive relaxation, that’s really helping us to find that ease. Sometimes because of coffee, and because of anxiety, and because of work stuff, and life stuff we can come to our meditation really amped up, and really tight. And so sometimes it’s necessary to just take the time to do this whole progressive relaxation, progressive opening in order to find more ease, to find more openness, to find more peacefulness, to find more tranquility. And usually, because if we’re starting out amped up, usually the awakeness, the awareness, the clarity of mind is already going to be there. So that’s how we do that. 

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