Effortless Meditation

For a core practice, I recommend an effortless meditation. While this is not what everyone needs, it is one of the most potent tools for most of us. Not only is there the rest and release, but the direct experience of allowing and of the inner Self.

However, I was reminded recently how poorly the idea of ‘effortless’ is understood by most people. Modern culture has a “work ethic” and we learn how to focus, concentrate, and try, try again. While these are valuable tools in the field of doing, if we leave out being, life is out of balance. Doing becomes a strain.

How do we learn to be? It is just innocent attention, noticing what is. Really, it is an experiential thing, simply because we already are. We only need to experience it and be reminded of what is. How it is in the moment.

Some try to teach such things on a CD or from a book, but unless the experience of ease is there, old habits will rule and results will often be stilted.

Effortless meditation typically gets quick results. People continue because it is enjoyable and brings continual and increasing benefits. It is a lifetime tool.

Almost always, the only reason a person stops is because some effort has crept in. Contrast this with many meditation techniques where one is instructed to quiet the mind, silence thoughts, stay focused or similar. This is the exact opposite. After an experience of effortless meditation, these are the strain to be avoided.

And yet ironically, the results of effortless meditation are what has been seen to be the practice of other techniques. In other words, what has been sought arises spontaneously with natural simplicity.

The mind withdraws into the practice naturally and falls silent, awareness expands, and a sharp focus of attention arises. In this allowing of the experience, one transcends the mind into moments of samadhi. Deeper and longer arise over time.

Here we have 4 of the 8 limbs of yoga in a single simple process.

“…the mind is infinitely flexible. We all experience that in our thoughts or imagination, we can go anywhere in the twinkling of an eye; we can accomplish anything. The mind is ethereal, without substance. It is therefore very easy to ‘bend’ the mind in the direction of its source — pure, self-referral consciousness. With its innate flexibility, the mind naturally and instantaneously moves toward samadhi once it has learnt the proper technique.”
— Barbara Stienmann

It is difficult to review a range of practices without someone trying each for some time. That’s counterproductive. Those who have switched from one form to another have their subjective experience but this would require large numbers to get a balanced review.

Some practices claim to be effortless but are not. Does it use more than simple attention? Is it as effortless as a thought or memory arising?

For some, one uses an ishta-devata or chosen form of God. Others use a bija or seed mantra. Others, a phrase. Some object of attention that is not held but simply considered.

This process is one of the keys for the spiritual journey. To learn to just be, to allow, to surrender deeply. Having a practice that both gives you the experience of source and teaches you how to allow at the same time is a blessing indeed.
Davidya

Update:
To be clear here – a properly taught practice has 3 aspects.
1 – suitable vehicle for transcending into samadhi. Samadhi is what brings Yoga or union and soma for refinement. The most common vehicle is a mantra or sound, as above. It should be one of known good effect, suitable for the lifestyle of the student.
2 – correct technique. As noted I recommend an effortless practice so the vehicle is not kept in the mind and leads to regular samadhi.
3 – correct experience of correct technique. Because this is experiential, it is best taught by a trained teacher. As I note above, learning from a book or CD will not likely result it correct experience. Effort is a very common habit in western minds.
Best of all are instructors that use something like a guru puja. While it may seem quaint or strange to a westerner, this raises the consciousness of the teacher as high as possible and allows “planting the seed” most deeply. The value of that becomes clear further along in the practice.

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64 Responses to Effortless Meditation

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  38. Davidya says:

    Those who have read my About page know that I practice Transcendental Meditation or TM. It is the best researched and one of the most widely available practices. It’s not cheap but is well worth the cost as it will serve you for a lifetime. I learned almost 40 years ago.

    This and some similar techniques are what I mean by effortless. Something like Vipassana as typically taught is not.

    I touch on some of the distinctions here:
    http://davidya.ca/2010/12/27/choosing-a-meditation/

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  47. Davidya says:

    I added the Update with the 3 parts. Here’s an article that discusses them in more detail.

    http://davidya.ca/2014/01/24/the-importance-of-proper-technique/

  48. Jesper says:

    Hi David

    I am wondering what you think about japa? I know the TM-movement doesn’t encourage it, but Swami Brahmananda Saraswati mentions it quite a bit in “Rocks are melting”.

    I think I’ve seen you write that it diverts the attention and interferes with proper focus during daily life. However, I experience very great benefit from it and would like to continue doing it. I haven’t used the mantra I got from TM, but instead “Ram”. What are your thoughts and is it ok to use another mantra for japa than the one given for TM?

    Thanks,
    Jesper

    • Davidya says:

      Hi Jesper
      Japa is quite a different technique with a somewhat different purpose than TM. In the “Hindu” tradition, devotion is a much larger part of the culture. One normally has an ishta devata or chosen form of God, often derived from the family or ones jyotish. The mantra is chosen from that. The techniques used include japa.

      Simply repeating a mantra in the mind while counting repetitions may help someone relax a bit but would have limited benefit, to my mind. Using it more devotionally and with attention directed in specific places would have more benefit. Again, this is why I recommend proper instruction.

      If one lives life and practices techniques separately, then it would not be a problem with focusing. The issue is when people try to use techniques continually throughout the day.

      The specific mantra you mention has a long A, as in Raam, and is a householders mantra. I would not recommend using what you where taught with TM in any other way. It’s good to consider practices distinct and practice them separately. Doing pranayama while doing asana would be problematic, for example.

      The point of an effortless mantra meditation like TM is samadhi (transcendence). Thus there is no counting of repetitions or meaning or anything else that would keep you in the mind. We might call it a secular version for the west.

      That would be my take but of course it’s good to go with your experience. Just make sure it’s taking you where you want to go.

      • Jesper says:

        Thanks.

        I think I may be overdoing it with all the practices I’m doing.

        • Davidya says:

          Yes, that’s not uncommon. It was not many years ago when long hours of practice where common on retreats. But now it’s not necessary. Consciousness is clearer.

          Key now is integrating growth through suitable activity. Otherwise, things can get a little mushy and ungrounded.

  49. Jesper says:

    I could imagine that. Often when I give up trying to hard with different things during the day, I open up to a more spacious experience where Isness and witnessing sometimes jumps in by itself more easily. But I’m kinda afraid that if I don’t keep “practicing” something or keep being present, then I’ll get unconscious and become asleep. I suspect, however, that it is actually my ego that I’m afraid to lose.
    Also, when the emotions are tough, I tend to want to fix it even more with some practice.
    I’m finding a better balance now though.

    In your talk with Rich you mentioned that witnessing is more easily cultivated on longer retreats. That seems to go a bit against what you are saying here – can you elaborate on that a bit?

    • Davidya says:

      Well – theres a few dynamics. Overdoing practices, like trying to remain present all day, can lead to what Rose calls “spiritual addiction”. Sometimes this is driven by avoidance of normal life but the ego can also be trying to control or distract you from seeing through it.

      Witnessing arises from a shift in being, a loosening of the hold of the ego. Samadhi helps, acting as if doesn’t.

      Emotions would be a good example. Emotions resolve by being experienced and completing. They don’t resolve by avoidance through excess spiritual practice. Samadhi can sometimes resolve emotions as a side effect but key is to “take it as it comes”.

      On the interview, I don’t recall exactly what I said but it’s as above. Samadhi leads to a shift in being which leads to witnessing. Longer retreats can help with clarity to help that happen.

      However, I’d also say that what “longer” means today is different. In the 70’s, it took me months to get there. More recently, I’ve had shifts on 3 day retreats. Last week, one happened at home.

      What a given person needs varies widely. But overdoing the practice and getting mushy is not a platform awakening can build on. You want steady, clear awareness cultivated through deep meditation alternated with vibrant activity in the world.

      • Jesper says:

        Thanks. Yes, I read your article on spiritual addiction a little while ago, and found some aspects that seemed to fit my behavior. I have tried to let go of a lot of anxiety by doing different techniques, but it seems to have made things worse. At the moment I just let go of emotions if the come up strong during the day and otherwise don’t do anything (except 2x20min TM), which seems to work better for me.

        Good to hear that very long retreats aren’t necessary to experience shifts.

        Thanks for your feedback.

        • Davidya says:

          Hi Jesper
          Yes, I found TM was great for anxiety. It also deepened things in ways I didn’t realize it was until later. This is why I’ve come to recommend effortless meditation as a primary technique amongst the cornucopia out there.

  50. N says:

    Hi David,

    What can I do to progress faster if my meditation practice is effortless?

    It seems like I can’t do much but just wait. However, I would think that there is something I can do or not do if free will plays a part in the spiritual and personal development.

    Thank you :-).

    • Davidya says:

      It can be a tricky balance – the desire for fast progress with the ability to integrate the changes. A lot of our progress takes place below the mind and thus somewhat out of awareness so it’s hard to gauge how we’re doing.

      Key with an effortless meditation is transcendence or samadhi – that’s what brings the greatest benefit.

      If we want to support that practice, then it’s good to be getting sufficient rest. A regular routine such as described in Ayurveda can help. Effortless yoga asana and light pranayama as a preparation for meditation is good.

      Things that can boost progress are occasional things like short retreats (TM calls them residence courses), the study of masters, and some energy healing to increase clarity.

      If you’re finding presence growing, then it can be good to spend time with the awake. Someone awake we resonate with can help stir the awakeness within. Things like satsangs, retreats and online events are means.

      There is an old saying – slow and steady wins the race. And another – those that run fast are more likely to fall.

      Part of the dance is finding an OKness with what is here. This allows an undoing the can help. Waking up is not something we do. It is a letting go. And that brings us back to samadhi.

      • N says:

        I’m starting to actually see that my meditation helps a lot, so that is nice. Before I felt a lot of releases during my meditation but not much when I came out of meditation. Over some time I have started to see how things in my daily life have changed as well.

        In some forms of Zen will and effort is given quite a bit of attention. The tradition seem to equal genuine effort with faster progress. That feels tangible to me. With TM it feels like all I do is start the ball rolling and then wait. Especially now where we can easily pratice too much.

        I understand the benefits of effortless meditation, but I also want to get there faster while not getting into spiritual addiction.

        You don’t think that I will get into spiritual addiction by adding some asanas and pranayamas or by going on retreats sometimes?

        Will achieving my worldly desires in some way help my progress also? That would help my get more motivated to overcome my human challenges such as getting over procrastination before projects. But that seems like I’m just getting further into my attachments.

        I hope this makes sense, otherwise I can of course clarify.

        • Davidya says:

          I’ve found the practice goes in cycles. Sometimes, there doesn’t seem to be much going on, but then there’s a surge and it becomes apparent there was progress – it just wasn’t obvious.

          Yes – in TM you set the angle and let go. It basically does itself. With other practices, effort can equal results, but what results? Are they actually equivalent?

          Keep in mind spiritual addiction is about the astral. If thats not an issue, TM isn’t going to increase it if you use it as instructed.

          And no, stretching exercises and such will not increase the hazard. The issue arises from becoming ungrounded through excess and spending one’s day in unfocused ways. A weekend is not an issue – its ongoing habits that are.

          And yes – a lot of why we’re here is to resolve desires and karma. We don’t overcome attachments by avoiding them. The art is in living life in ways that progressively allow us to see our entanglements and unwind them. Not via force but via clarity and letting go.

        • Davidya says:

          It’s worth noting that life is here to be enjoyed and desires fulfilled. The art is not being in a race to get out of what is here but rather finding how to be OK with it and use life in ways that we find fulfilling.

          • N says:

            Thanks. The enjoyment part is something that I struggle with – meaning I find myself thinking that if it feels good, I probably shouldn’t be doing it. So good that you mention it.

          • Davidya says:

            Like so much of life, it’s about balance. Pleasure is a good thing but can be addictive.

            But there are deeper kinds of enjoyment like the satisfaction of a job well done, the simple happiness of a life we’re OK with, and the tickling of bliss.

            One thing that worked for me was culturing gratitude. Not making a mood but just here and there in the day, noticing something I was grateful for. This gradually shifted my tone up and allowed healing and greater enjoyment.

  51. N says:

    Yes, balance. Always important to keep in mind for me.

    OK, I think I will try to gently bring that into my life a little more. Thanks.

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