Nonduality teacher Jeff Foster offers an alternative perspective on meditation. Jeff describes meditation not as a ‘doing’, a process, a state or a goal to reach, but as an effortless noticing and welcoming of present experience. Ultimately, meditation is not something you do – but who you already are – the vast open space of consciousness, already intimate with all form.
True meditation has nothing to do with getting rid of anything in present experience. True meditation has nothing to do with changing present experience, or manipulating present experience. It has nothing to do with transforming present experience, or escaping present experience, or even becoming something. It’s got nothing to do with achieving some different state, some altered state, some transcendent state. It’s got nothing to do with getting rid of feeling, or getting rid of thoughts, or getting rid of anything. True meditation is not actually a doing at all.
So this brings us to the question, “Who meditates?” Before we even begin to talk about meditating or not meditating, we need to ask the question, “Who is the one who meditates?” What is this meditator?
1. NOTICING THOUGHTS
The invitation is always to just gently, effortlessly, [notice the thoughts]. There’s no effort in this. The effort is in the attempt to change this moment. That’s the effort, that’s the doing. We put so much effort in trying to change this moment, or escape this moment, trying to push this moment away or push the feelings away, or push the thoughts away. That takes so much effort. That’s the efforting, and that’s the doing.
So this noticing cuts underneath all of that doing and efforting.
I invite you right now, again as an experiment, without any expectation, just to begin to notice what’s appearing in the present experience, the “waves” of present experience, the waves that are appearing in the ocean that you are. So thoughts, sensations, feelings, sounds, smells – these are all waves in the ocean that you are.
So just begin to notice these waves appear and disappear, thoughts coming and going. Again, without trying to change them, without judging them, without pushing them away, without trying to cling to them, without trying to transcend them, or get rid of them, or obliterate them. Just to notice, just to acknowledge, what’s here. Just notice thoughts as they arise, all thoughts, thoughts that we label as negative and thoughts we label as positive. Just notice thoughts arising and dissolving.
And what you begin to notice is that thoughts come and go. It seems to be the nature of thought. Just the nature of these waves, they appear and disappear. And what you are, somehow, doesn’t appear and disappear. What you are is the space in which waves, in which thoughts, are allowed to appear and disappear. What you are is the ocean in which all these waves are allowed to come and go. Not because you are allowing them, they’re naturally allowed. They’re naturally allowed to arise and dissolve.
I’ve spoken before of the true meaning of acceptance. Acceptance is not a doing, it’s not an achievement, it’s not a goal. It’s actually where it points to what you are, which is always somehow allowing thoughts, feelings, sensations, to arise and dissolve. What you are is just the capacity for the thoughts, feelings, sensations, sound.
So the invitation is to just notice the thoughts coming and going, and to recognize yourself, and just noticing, as the capacity for thoughts. What you are, ultimately, is not thoughts. It’s what you are that notices thoughts. In that noticing of thoughts, there’s a built-in recognition that I am, ultimately, not these thoughts. What I am cannot be defined by these thoughts. These thoughts appear and disappear in what I am. What I am doesn’t appear and disappear. What I am, however, allows thoughts to come and go.
I can’t even say that I am not the thoughts. That’s going too far. That’s another thought. But what can be recognized is that thoughts are allowed. They may not ultimately define what I am, but what I am at the same time is inseparable from thoughts. It allows thoughts. It gives permission for thoughts to come and go. So thoughts are deeply allowed in what I am. Just like every wave is deeply allowed in the ocean.
That’s the intimacy that I sometimes talk about, the inseparability, the nonduality, of what I am and everything that appears.
2. NOTICING THE BODY
Again, just notice this very alive, tingly, mass of sensations that we call the body. We call it as the body. It makes it sound like something fixed, something solid that’s somehow outside of me. We talk about “me and my body.” But actually, again, that’s all just an assumption. When you just gently return to present experience you never find anything solid or a body, my body. You never find a static, unmoving, fixed, set lump called body. You find, when you gently return to present experience, this astonishingly alive… you can’t even talk about it. That’s the thing, it’s so alive, whatever this is is mystery. It’s so alive. But the moment you speak about it, the moment you even call it sensation, that’s already memory. We use memory to label present moment experience. Even to call it sensation, even that can’t capture it. Ultimately this can’t be put into words.
That’s the beautiful thing to begin to notice is that present experience, this tingly, alive, dance of present moment sensation can’t be ultimately put into words. We call it the body, and really we don’t know what it is. We talk about the body as if it’s something that exists in time, but again when we come back to present moment experience we just find this present moment sensations, moment by moment, always dancing, always changing, never the same moment from one moment to the next.
So the invitation is to just begin to notice this aliveness we call the body, this alive presence, and to begin to notice any feelings that might be arising. These feelings are part of life too. This is really just about acknowledging what’s here, acknowledging all of the life that’s appearing exactly where you are. You don’t have to look in a different moment. You don’t have to wait. Life is already appearing as all of this.
So just notice any feelings that might be arising. Again it’s not about trying to manipulate them or it’s not about changing them, not about judging them, it’s not about trying to get rid of them. It’s not about analyzing them. You don’t even have to name what comes up. Naming can happen, thoughts can arise that name this as fear or anger or excitement or joy or bliss or sadness or helplessness. So thought is always labeling present experience. But that always comes after, thought tells you later what you are experiencing.
But the invitation is to just come back to what is actually here without the labels. What is life before it’s labeled, before it’s cut up. What is life before it’s divided by thought. So just begin to notice, to acknowledge, whatever it is that is arising, whether we call it sadness or fear or excitement. The invitation is just to even drop those labels—excitement, fear, anger, feelings of powerlessness. Whatever the label says, come back to the actual sensation, what does sadness actually feel like? What does excitement really feel like? Come back to these tingling, alive sensations, the present sensations, even pain.
I talk to a lot of people who are in a lot of pain, and it’s so easy to get into your story of your pain, where you talk about yesterday’s pain, or this morning’s pain, tomorrow’s pain, or even talk about a lifetime of pain. The invitation is to come out of that story. And the way to come out of that story is by noticing what’s actually here now. For a moment drop the label ‘pain’ because the word ‘pain’ can’t begin to touch what this actually is. The word ‘pain’ is a label, it’s a memory, it’s a judgement. It’s a very heavy word. But whatever this is comes before words.
So the invitation is to just for a moment drop the label and come back to the actual alive sensations that are always changing, never the same from one moment to the next. When we call it ‘pain,’ we somehow fix it in time. This thought is always in time, whereas present experience is never in time.
So again the invitation is just to return to what is actually appearing now.
3. THE SILENT BACKGROUND OF REST
What you notice is this effortless – constant, effortless – arising of life, this upsurging of life, this dance of life that is always in this. This is what true meditation is really about. It’s about this noticing. When you just gently return to present experience like this, you never find anything static or solid or fixed. You never find this ‘lump’ called the present moment. Because when we think about it, we even call it ‘the present moment.’ But that’s still thinking about it. We call it Now, or we call it present experience, or we call it This or whatever words we use. There’s still language, there’s still words, concepts. There’s something a little bit dead about thoughts. There’s something a little bit fixed about thought. It’s memory. Thought is memory. It’s from the past, it’s conditioning, it’s learning.
So no thought, however beautiful is thought, no thought can begin to capture this raw, alive presence energy that we call life itself. Life itself is so alive, like a bonfire, like a fire, that will burn up any attempts to capture it in words. Words burn up in this never-ending fire of present experience.
So you never find anything fixed or solid in the present experience. You find this never-ending dance of waves in the ocean arising and dissolving, thoughts coming and going, sensations coming and going, feelings coming and going. And what you are doesn’t arise and dissolve, doesn’t come and go, doesn’t appear and disappear.
One way of talking about it is, it’s this Silent Background of Rest that’s ever-present, no matter what the waves are doing. The Silent Background of Rest is always here. It doesn’t move, doesn’t change, it’s not in time, wasn’t born, isn’t going to die. It’s the ocean that is allowing all of its waves, it is ultimately inseparable from all its waves.
Then you can’t even call it the ocean and its waves. Even that metaphor breaks down. It’s just this miracle of life itself, the miracle of this, of what’s appearing.
4. IS THERE A MEDITATOR?
So where a lot of people get stuck I think with this stuff is, they’re sitting there, noticing, and what they begin to notice is this huge resistance to this moment. They begin to notice a big ‘No’ to this moment. They begin to notice a fight against this moment, and then they think they’re doing something wrong. They think the resistance shouldn’t be there, the fight shouldn’t be there. They have an image of what meditation is and they think meditation is about being a certain way or feeling a certain way. They think that they’re doing something wrong if resistance is appearing.
Of course from the perspective of who you are, even the upsurge of a wave of resistance or a wave of pushing this moment away, even that is allowed. Even that is just another wave that is available to be noticed. Everything is allowed to arise and dissolve in this noticing. There’s no ideal, there’s no image you have to live up to.
That’s why there’s no meditator. When we talk about meditator, we’re talking about meditation wherein we’re trying to be a good meditator. I want to be a good meditator. I want to be a successful meditator. I even want to be an enlightened meditator. I want to be the perfect meditator.
But what I would say is that true meditation takes the meditator out. True meditation is, as Krishnamurti said, the destruction of the meditator. It’s the destruction of the controller, of the one who is trying to control the present experience. That’s the image of a meditator.
So the image of the meditator isn’t who you really are. What you are is not the meditator, the one who is meditating, or the one who is trying to meditate. So even if that image appears, that’s something else that can just be noticed in what you are. What you are notices the meditator, notices the one who is struggling to achieve something, notices the one who is trying to meditate in a certain way trying to reach some kind of goal. That’s something else that is allowed, deeply allowed to arise and dissolve in what you are.
You can see that what you are doesn’t actually do meditation. You could say that what you are is not the meditator. What you are is this wide open space in which all thoughts, all sensations, all feelings, all images, everything in the entire world is allowed, deeply allowed to arise and dissolve. You can say that what you are doesn’t do meditation but what you are is the space of meditation
“Life is so close you can’t see it. Don’t be the rider who rides all night and never sees the horse beneath him.” Rumi
About Jeff Foster
Jeff Foster studied Astrophysics at Cambridge University. In his mid-twenties, after a long period of depression and illness, he became addicted to the idea of ‘spiritual enlightenment’ and embarked on an intensive spiritual quest for the ultimate truth of existence.
The spiritual search came crashing down with the clear recognition of the non-dual nature of everything, and the discovery of the extraordinary in the ordinary. In the clarity of this seeing, life became what it always was: intimate, open, loving and spontaneous, and Jeff was left with a deep understanding of the root illusion behind all human suffering, and a love of the present moment.
Jeff’s teaching is simple. He helps people discover who they really are, beyond all thoughts and judgments about themselves, even in the midst of the stress and struggle of modern day living and intimate relationships. His style is direct and uncompromising and yet full of humanity, humor and compassion. He believes that freedom is everybody’s birthright. He belongs to no tradition or lineage, and makes his teaching accessible to all. To learn more about Jeff’s work, please visit www.lifewithoutacentre.com