June 30, 2014
I just responded to an email with a great question — in fact, I’m surprised I’ve never gotten this question before. It’s an opportunity to remind everyone how to listen to our guided meditations. Here’s the Q&A —
Q: I like the app (Simply Being) but what the guide is saying there is somewhat confusing : on one hand it’s “open awareness to whatever is happening right now” and on the other hand “easy, there is nothing to do”. These are 180 degrees different states of mind, as far as I interpret it.
A: Great question! The words are meant to help you experience a relaxed, meditative state. It is impossible to do that through precise instructions, so the instructions can seem like mixed messages or a paradox if they are taken too literally. The phrases are really just gentle prompts to allow the mind to do what it can naturally do — let go. “Open awareness to whatever is happening right now” is not so much an instruction as a description of a natural state. If there isn’t openness — if you notice resistance to what is happening or some attempt to change it, you can let that go. The phrase “easy, there is nothing to do” is to encourage that letting go. (Resistance to and manipulation of what is naturally happening involves effort, “doing”.)
You can just listen easily to the meditation, not trying to make sense of all the words. That’s why we say in the instructions, “just let the words wash over you”.
For those of you who do not have our apps — I am copying our How to Listen instructions below. These instructions apply to all of our meditations, whether they are on an app, a CD or in the podcast.
“Listen easily to the guided meditations, allowing the words to ‘wash over you’. You don’t need to understand, or even hear, all the words. The words and phrases aren’t instructions that are meant to be followed precisely. They are just gentle prompts to the mind.”
November 18, 2011
Comment from Kathy — “I have trouble meditating in general. I can relax completely but then the slightest things disturb me. Things like my eyelids fluttering or an itch. My limbs become restless. Can you advise any strategy to help deal with that so I can stay in that relaxed state?”
11-19-2011 — Meant to add my comments before publishing this post yesterday. So here they are now — better late than never!
The obstacle to staying in a relaxed state is TRYING to stay in a relaxed state. You can feel restless and have fluttering eyelids and still be relaxed. The key to remaining relaxed is non-resistance. Let it be OK if you feel restless or your eyelids flutter. Go ahead and scratch an itch. Although some meditation styles may require that you stay perfectly still, we don’t subscribe to that approach. Naturalness is the key. Learning to let go of resistance to what is happening is the essence of the practice. Take it as it comes, and when you find your are resisting that, let it go. Even the resistance when it comes up, is part of the process. In our approach to meditation, you can’t make a mistake. Everything is part of the process of meditation!
September 17, 2009
Usually the term “effortless effort” is associated with Taoist philosophy and its concept of “Wu Wei”. It has to do with how we act, or experience action, in daily life. I like the Wikipedia description of Wu Wei as “natural action” giving the example of a tree growing. It is doing growing, and yet it is not doing it.
I like to use “effortless effort” when talking about how to meditate. It’s indicates that the art of meditation is not one of following instructions. It’s the art of allowing the mind to experience a natural state.
I often tell people not to take what I say in my meditations too literally. Sometimes I am asked what I mean by something like “not minding thoughts”. It’s impossible to answer those questions. The words I use aren’t meant to be instructions to follow precisely. The words are more like confirmations of the correct experience. Quite naturally the mind will start relaxing into a state of “not minding thoughts”, and if there is some resistance to that happening, words can give you permission to let go. My words are more like “reminders” to gently prompt the mind to let go of effort. But that letting go is an effortless effort!
How can effort be effortless? It’s a paradox. The paradox happens because in guiding someone in meditation, we pretty much have to use words. You can’t demonstrate meditation like you can dance, because it’s an internal process. Although music alone can sometimes induce a meditative state, more often than not some verbal guidance is necessary. And yet, using words and phrases to guide that process is full of pitfalls. The meditative state is actually something that the mind falls into, not something you can make happen through following instructions. The instructions can only set up a situation where the mind can slip into that state.
Meditation is a state of effortlessness and sometimes a phrase here and there can help us to let go of effort. For example, I might say “let thoughts go”. The idea isn’t to actively let them go, like when you open your hand to drop a ball, but rather hearing the phrase “let thoughts go” may help the mind let go. That’s because the mind is naturally drawn into a meditative state when given the opportunity, and there may be some resistance to that happening. The words can help dissolve the resistance. Letting go is not an active doing. No words or concepts can tell you exactly how to do it.
September 11, 2007
True meditation is by its nature effortless. A meditative state is a state without effort. The basic nature of life itself, actually, is effortless. So what is trying in meditation all about? That’s something worth investigating!
Of course, we can’t become effortless by trying. Hopefully our latest Effortless Meditation podcast will support you in being effortless.
Much of what I wrote about the Letting Go meditation applies here. This is simply another angle on the same theme that runs through all of my meditations and blog posts, and yet I truly feel the less said on this the better!