Teacher and author Jeff Foster talks about what meditation is (and isn’t!), and explains what non-duality means and how it’s connected to yoga.
What is meditation?
Meditation is all about coming alive, right now! In meditation, we invite our attention to come out of the drama and complexity of our lives, out of the already-lived past and the uncertain future, and to return to this precious moment, the only moment there is. It’s about being in contact with life as it happens; with breathing, with the heart beating, with all the sounds and smells and sensations of this unique, unrepeatable, irreplaceable instant of our lives.
Meditation has nothing to do with trying to fix ourselves, change ourselves, attain spiritual states or have special experiences. All kinds of states, experiences, thoughts and feelings may come and go during meditation, of course, but they are not the goal. There is no goal – that’s the beauty of it! Just an invitation to be the space in which all thoughts, all feelings, all urges, even uncomfortable ones, can come and go, arise and fall freely. Meditation has nothing to do with trying to get there, wherever we think there is. It’s all about being here; allowing ourselves to be exactly as we are, curious about the present scene in the movie of our lives.
Some people call you a non-duality teacher. How would you explain non-duality to a complete beginner?
Well, non-duality is a very complicated word for something very simple! It’s something we all know very deeply in our hearts: we are all One, all made of the same ‘stuff’, and separation is the greatest illusion of all.
I don’t think non-duality is something you can actually understand with your mind; but you know it with your heart. You’ve always known it, actually. It’s like when you look out at the ocean, you see hundreds, thousands of waves, of all shapes and sizes, which seem to be very separate from each other. We are like the waves. Every person, every animal, every tree, every drop of rain, every planet. We appear to be separate beings, but actually, we are all expressions of the One Life, the ocean of Consciousness; no wave is actually separate from the ocean at all.
We are like the waves. Every person, every animal, every tree, every drop of rain, every planet. We appear to be separate beings, but actually, we are all expressions of the One Life, the ocean of Consciousness.
Beyond all thought, feeling, success and failure…
In our deepest essence, beyond all our thoughts about who we are, our life dramas, our past and future, all our feelings, beyond our joys and our sorrows, our successes and our failures, we are life itself, consciousness itself. We look in each other’s eyes and see ourselves. The billionaire and the homeless person, the Buddhist and the Christian, the saint and the sinner, the enlightened guru and the disciple, the lover and the beloved; all expressions of the very same life, despite our very different appearances, perspectives and life stories.
So non-duality is not a state, or an experience, or a place to reach in the future. It’s not something some people have and others don’t; it’s our nature, exactly as we are. It can’t be reached, but it can be remembered. We don’t have to become perfect and enlightened, we don’t need all the answers, we don’t even need to be ‘worthy’; we are embraced by life even in our pain and doubts, even in our sorrow and longings, we are beloved children of the universe. Non-duality is really a very complicated word pointing to something very simple: unconditional love.
How are yoga and non-duality connected?
Well, yoga, at its heart, is about remembering who we are; the ever-shining light of non-dual awareness. In yoga, we shine our light on all the ever-changing physical sensations of the body. We allow ourselves to become curious about this very alive dance that we call the ‘body’. All all the tingly, pulsating, vibrating fluttery, sharp, soft, warm, living sensations.
In yoga, we are not thinking about the body conceptually, or remembering the body with our minds. We are being present with the living body of this moment, making contact! We are not judging bodily sensations, or trying to get rid of them, or trying to create new sensations. But we are allowing all kinds of sensations to rise and fall, appear and disappear in the warm embrace of an open and receptive, loving non-dual awareness.
In yoga, we are not thinking about the body conceptually, or remembering the body with our minds, we are being present with the living body of this moment, making contact!
Yoga, at its heart, is not a competition. It’s not a path towards perfection, trying to pull off the most difficult and fanciest postures, trying to be the ‘best’ yoga student, or trying to have the most perfectly toned and shaped body. It is a much deeper exploration than that. What we call the ‘body’ is not a thing, not an object, not a solid unchanging lump.
It’s a present, alive, ever-changing amorphous mass of sensations, never the same from moment to moment. Like the breath, or waves in the ocean; like the sun itself during a day, bodily sensations rise and fall, always moving and changing. Like the breath, the body is such a wonderful anchor to the present moment. Thoughts live in the past and future, the body is alive only now. And in yoga, we get in touch with that aliveness; it’s all a wonderful invitation to be present.
Tell us a little about how you work?
I see myself not as a spiritual teacher, some kind of expert or authority on life, but more like a friend, gently pointing people back to the present moment, the home they never left.
In many different ways, I invite people to come out of the drama of their lives. Their seeking and suffering, their attempts to run away from where they are. And their resistance to ‘what is’.
I invite them back to their breath, to the sensations in their bodies, to what is alive in them. I encourage them to touch the untouchable, to dignify every part of themselves with life. Inviting them to honour themselves exactly as they are. No longer trying to ‘fit in’ or be ‘perfect’, but to see the sacredness in their present experience – even if it is uncomfortable. I want to remind them that they don’t have to become anything other than what they are. They don’t have to have all the answers, they don’t have to fix themselves, because they were never broken. And even their doubts, their fears, their sorrows, their deepest longings are holy, worthy of love.
It’s about accepting themselves exactly as they are..
As consciousness itself, unlimited in nature, vast enough to hold the most profound joy and the deepest sorrow, certainty and doubt, excitement and boredom. They can’t become enlightened, because they: are already light; are already what they seek. In fact, they are the light that illuminates every thought, sensation, feeling. They are already complete, even when they feel incomplete; perfect, even when they feel completely imperfect. It’s not something to understand with the mind, or take on authority, it’s something to see for yourself.
It’s about accepting yourself exactly as you are, and even accepting your non-acceptance. Even accepting your inability to accept yourself right now. Saying YES to the present scene in the movie of your life, even if it’s not the scene you planned!
Jeff Foster’s series on EkhartYoga
Ekhart Yoga members can follow Jeff Foster’s series of talks on our program page. In this series of 9 videos, Jeff answers questions on meditation, creativity, acceptance and more. He invites us to stop trying to fix, change, heal or perfect ourselves. His series is appropriately named Falling in love with where you are.