Freedom in Meditation and Effortlessness

Below is the first paragraph of the Preface of my first book, Body Over Mind: a mindful reality check: attaining psychological freedom by confronting thought with reality.

“In my early 20’s, I found myself suffering from anxiety. I was dating someone at the time who exposed me to readings that embraced themes like effortlessness and inquiry, in particular Stephen Levine’s book, A Gradual Awakening. Levine’s book presents concepts from the Buddhist Vipassana meditation practice, which I found to be comforting and easy to grasp. At the time, I was living in Boston, where another friend directed me toward the Cambridge Transcendental Meditation Centre. I thoroughly welcomed this mode of meditation which has remained with me until this day. It allowed me to see my thoughts, not attach to them or push them away, and somehow manage some of the anxiety I was experiencing. What I came to appreciate in Levine’s book was the comparison of life itself to a meditation, where there is no need to attach to events or experiences as we would not thoughts, as they are like clouds in the sky, no one being more important than another, and all consistently coming and going.”

This passage brings me back to 1986, when I had just graduated from college, was in graduate school, and was suffering from a lot of anxiety. This Stephen Levine book made a huge mark on me. I was only beginning to be exposed to elements of Buddhism and meditation, though I was naturally oriented to an acceptance of what is, or at least an acknowledgment of it. I have since reread that book, though many years ago—and quoted parts of it in my second book The Myth of Doing. And as stated, what I took away from it—to this day—was an appreciation of meditation on the everyday (every moment) level, beyond an exercise in a sitting practice. Additionally, I was somehow left with the impression that there was value in a practice not only of nonattachment to thought, but nonattachment to events in one’s life (which of course the memory of are simply thoughts).

How does this work? Well, if you are familiar with meditation, the kind where one notices thoughts in the background of whatever mantra is being utilized and does not cling to them or push them away, you apply that to any thought all day long. When I state that this is a nonattachment to events in one’s life, it is necessary to really understand what thoughts are, and be able to recognize them. I say this because in a sitting meditation, it is obvious what we are doing—but when we are living our day, it is easy to forget to treat thoughts the same way, that is, with apathy and disinterest (as with the sitting practice). Even though events in our life (whatever they may be) somehow read differently than what we consider thoughts to be, any inner reflection, analysis, opinion, or general commentary on those events are just thoughts!

As my opening paragraph relays, I had simultaneously also been introduced to Transcendental Meditation which helped me tremendously. I was given a mantra, and for 20 minutes twice a day I would sit and meditate. It did wonders for calming down my anxiety. Though my book Body Over Mind is not a meditation practice per se, it is grounded in the understanding of what meditation is. As someone who took naturally to these types of practices, I had a sturdy base in realizing that if thoughts were not to be taken seriously, in a meditation or in my daily living, then something else must be going on that I can surrender to. Surrendering to life (without taking it too seriously) is a form of letting go, which for me translates into effortlessness. Something other than my thoughts is making things happen and directing my life so I can sit back and watch.

This effortless way of life is integral to the body of work I have developed (Mindful Reality), which is at the heart of my books and coaching practice, and at the core of the mental freedom my work instills. In essence, if thoughts are not to be clung to, their messaging that promotes effort and willfulness is also to be disregarded. That leaves us with an effortless participation in life; our days do themselves and there is no reason to believe anything needs to be figured out or drummed up. Those who are deeply familiar with my work know I have taken these themes to further extents, but I wanted to point out here that it all began with my background in meditation and the ability to detach and step away from the usual way we relate to and believe our thoughts.

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