Effortless Meditation

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.

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.

Last Updated on January 3, 2016 by

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  38. 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:

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  47. Jesper

    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?


    1. 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.

        1. 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.

  48. Jesper

    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?

    1. 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.

      1. Jesper

        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.

        1. 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.

  49. N

    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 :-).

    1. 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.

      1. N

        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.

        1. 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.

          1. 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.

  50. Here’s a list of the benefits of transcendence from TM that have been studied in scientific research. They also summarize journals that have published the research and institutions that have done it.


    Turiya or samadhi is a 4th state of consciousness. This was established by research in the 1970’s but is yet to gain widespread acceptance. This means it’s huge benefits to quality of life continue to be missed by many.

    It’s fundamental to Yoga and Vedanta but the understanding has also been lost in many spiritual traditions.

  51. Joel

    Hey David,

    I have been been meditating to some degree or another for around 10 years now. What meditation “was” or why “I did it” has changed drastically over those years. I’ve done varying degrees of intense concentration, practicing mindfulness in many different ways and now I kind of just sit at this place of doing nothing.
    I know Adyashanti talks a lot about this when he speaks of meditation, that it’s really just about sitting down and doing nothing, maybe with the lightest hint of awareness placed on breathing. But even that doesn’t really make sense to me anymore. What is there to do? That essence of awareness, of silence, of nothingness is always there, we never “leave it” into thought or something. I don’t feel like I need to do something to find it, or to come back to it, or to rest in it. How can you not be anything but it? When I sit down, I just kinda see it as an opportunity to let go, kinda like you would when you put your head down on the pillow to go to bed.
    Adyashanti mentions, someone who has awoken can never really explain how they awoke, just as someone who falls asleep can never really say how they fell asleep. They just kinda were awake and then they were asleep, and I guess vice versa for spiritual awakening. Now my question is in regards to practices like TM or Ishaya’s meditation (These “effortless” mantra meditations). These still seem like a doing, that they kind of trap you in these idea that there is someone that needs to do something in order to be nothing. I know J. Krishnamurti has in multiple videos I’ve listened to of his on youtube seemingly mocked TM, that it’s a scam in a way. From what I’ve gathered also, Adyashanti kinda makes the same conclusions, without ever naming anything, saying that it’s just something that our mind has gullibly bought into.
    So this confuses me, because I see people like yourself and others who practiced TM or Ishaya’s meditation and have awoken, then recommend/teach said practice. There’s a part of me who feels, “I want to become fully awake”, but I don’t really believe that thought. For who wants to become awake? Are we not already awake in this moment, and it’s the wanting and the belief in the wanter that is actually the only thing keeping us from being awake to the Truth in this moment?
    I hope this makes sense, and I mean no insult or such towards yourself or anything like that, just pure confusion on my part haha. Thank you David

    1. Hi Joel
      Some of this comes down to competing traditions. Some dismiss other approaches out of hand.
      TM is controversial with traditionalists as Maharishi was in the wrong caste to become a swami and thus be qualified by birth to be a teacher. Some have softened since because so many millions learned TM and many have made great progress.
      Others dismiss TM because a typical teacher didn’t have a lot of depth of knowledge. And yet some of the principles they taught simply are missing from many teachings, like how to recognize and allow purification.
      When I explored the topic, I found that teachers close to the source teach something very similar.
      If you look at Indian traditions like Yoga and Vedanta, the key they point to is samadhi/ turiya. If a practice brings regular samadhi, then you can make good progress for awakening.
      The trick with what you describe is there has to be enough presence developed for the practice to be effective.
      Unless we can take a step back from the mind, it’s just mind thinking about being quiet. Mind trying to control itself. Samadhi is the best way to develop presence in my experience.
      Some people are born with enough presence already established to find such practices effective. But not most.
      Adyashanti comes from a Zen tradition. He jokes about how difficult his practice is. Some people do make progress through such techniques but many, not so much. I’ve found his feedback about the awakening process very useful and have written a number of articles on his related books. But I don’t recommend his practices as i don’t see the means to reliable results.
      It would surprise me if he’s dismissive of TM. He’s said he’s helped many TMers who have woken. He may well be dismissive of their support for people waking up though. That is indeed lacking.
      Yes, awakening is not something we do, it is grace, driven by the Divine. Thus, we cannot describe how it was “done.” Someone may point to things that clearly contributed for them, things that brought greater clarity and prepared the ground. But we don’t wake up through practices.
      Yet when grace arrives, if the ground isn’t ready, we will have a passing experience and not be able to sustain it. This is where practices are beneficial.
      I continue to find benefits with TM long after awakening. Same with many I know. It continues to deepen although the experience of the practice has evolved a great deal.
      The mantra has an effect of massaging the field of experience which aids in refinement and draws the attention deeper. We don’t stop with the available presence but go ever deeper into it.
      The technique itself also cultures the experience of letting go. You don’t hold on to the mantra, you just use it as a vehicle to get there. You leave the car in the parking lot when you arrive.
      There is a “doing” but it is very subtle. In the practice you describe, there is also a doing. You’re drawing the attention to the presence and sitting with it. “Practice” inherent means doing, however subtle. But does the doing lead to non-doing or does it sustain itself? Do you step off of doing and just be?
      Yes, there are proponents who say any doing encourages the me sense. This is taking a position based on a concept. All living is doing. It’s not the doing that’s at issue. The very awake still act. The difference is they’ve lost attachment to those actions.
      Krishnamurti did not progress past Self Realization and frankly had a lot of attitude about a lot of things.
      OK – this business about what is awake is mind games. It is the experience at a certain stage that everything is awake and always has been. But in a real and practical sense, the majority don’t experience this so it’s not useful to apply one experience to all people.
      Ditto for what wants to be awake. To pretend there isn’t a person there who wants to wake up leads you into bypassing. Sure there is. But it is useful to understand that you won’t wake up. You wake up From the person. Same with the idea you’re already awake. If that is not your experience, it’s just another story that can become a barrier to living it.
      The wanter isn’t a belief. It’s an identification that leads to beliefs. The best way to end that identification is for the Self to recognize itself here. Then it washes away that identification.
      There are many approaches to the journey. The best I’ve found is to find one of the better ones that gets results and go with that. If there are not awake people in the community, they’re not getting results. Many have lost the understanding of how to help people shift or never had it in the first place. If that’s the case, are they worth getting confused over?

      1. Joel

        Thanks so much David. This response took me a bit to kinda confront. I’ve been searching for the means to awakening for what feels like a long time and it’s difficult at times when you feel almost like you’re getting no where with your practice. I just wanted so badly to believe that I had finally found a means to awakening. I really appreciate your response, it was very thorough and made a lot more sense then what I was hearing other places.

        1. Hi Joel
          I understand. i felt so near and yet so far for decades. Life called me away from a spiritual focus for awhile. It wasn’t until that cycle ended that it became apparent how much progress had been made in the background. Mostly, it had been a cycle of grounding and integration.
          But then, when the opportunity arose, the shift came clearly and was sustained. I see now that it would not have been if it had come sooner.
          There are a lot of groups who feel they have the answer because it worked for one person. Or that are not getting results, so they start adding things or manipulating students. Or that have interpreted the teachings of someone before them and are working from theory (concepts). If they have something that works, there will be lots of people with results. Those groups are still pretty rare.
          But yes, i appreciate the frustration for something so key. Yet in the end, it’s about letting go of control, not finding the answer. The answer just satisfies the mind. It doesn’t wake you up. 🙂

          1. Joel

            Hey David,

            I can relate very much to your first paragraph. I do agree with you, the most pressing message in my life for the past year has been to let go and surrender. I believe this is our last “doing”, which is that of the final cessations of all doing to realize we have never been doing or the doer.
            Thank you for replies they’ve been uncomfortable and difficult for me to hear, which let’s me know it’s exactly what I need to be hearing 🙂

            1. 🙂
              Curiously, waking up is the easiest thing that will ever happen. Like falling off a log. Yet we’ve spent so long holding on to the log that letting go of it can be the hardest thing.

              In both cases, it’s a non-doing, an allowing. And then when the time is right for the whole, it simply happens.

    1. Hi Christopher
      No, I haven’t. I’d agree mindfulness should be effortless. Here, it arises spontaneously and has never been a formal practice.

      To be clear, mindfulness is distinct from what I call meditation. The latter is a formal practice for samadhi whereas mindfulness is recognizing what is experiencing and what is arising in experience. Meditation cultures samadhi, purifies, and helps set the stage for awakening. Mindfulness can help make the growing presence more conscious. However, without samadhi, it can just be mind noticing itself. This is why I place effortless meditation as primary.

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