Effortless mindfulness is a unique form of mindfulness. What most people in the West know as mindfulness, I call deliberate mindfulness. I love these practices because they provide a way of cultivating calm, patience, and intentional lovingkindness. I have taught deliberate mindfulness for decades and have seen the practice help countless people.
Effortless mindfulness can be considered a different form of mindfulness, which is sometimes taught after having developed a deliberate mindfulness practice. It can also be a helpful alternative approach for those who have had difficulty with concentration practices or sitting meditation.
Effortless mindfulness has its roots in the world’s wisdom traditions that are often described as direct path, essence traditions, or nondual traditions. The primary nondual tradition that the effortless mindfulness map and practices I’m drawing from is called Sutra Mahamudra, which began in North India. Sutra Mahamudra was primarily a movement of lay practitioners who developed a style of practice to facilitate awakening—a shift and upgrade of awareness, mind, and identity—in the midst of everyday life. Effortless mindfulness is ideal for our contemporary Western culture in that it demonstrates that awakening is possible for anyone without having to leave home, friends, work, or family. The premise of the direct approach in all meditative traditions is that the awake, loving nature we are seeking is already here within us and can be accessed immediately.
Introducing Mindful Glimpses
One of my main techniques for connecting and experimenting with effortless mindfulness is through what I call mindful glimpses. They are “micro-meditations” or “rest stops” where we can refresh or reboot our whole body-mind system. A mindful glimpse is similar to a Zen koan, a simple inquiry that can’t be solved through logic and that takes you out of your conceptual mind and small self. You can see glimpses as invitations to pause and shift your awareness, to have a chance to taste the peace beyond conceptual understanding.
The effortless mindfulness glimpses can be done with eyes closed or open, anytime during your day. They initially take from ten seconds to ten minutes to do. I have found that different glimpses work well for different people depending on their learning styles. So if one glimpse doesn’t click for you, no worries. Just keep reading and try the next one.
- Allow your awareness to move from reading these words to hearing the sounds around you.
- Now shift from hearing sounds to an interest in the open, objectless space all around.
- Rest into this alert wordless awareness.
Eyes of Awareness
- With a soft gaze, simply see what is here in front of you.
- Notice the awareness that is looking through your eyes.
- Now close your eyes and notice the same awareness that was looking out is still here.
- Simply rest as this wordless awareness, which is now aware of itself.
- Without creating a thinker, be the awareness that welcomes and includes everything.
Relax the Problem Solver
To begin this glimpse, start from wherever you are. Notice the sense of “me” that is here now. Notice the feeling of having a sense of self as a doer or problem solver. The small sense of self keeps its centrality by being a problem solver. It can be helpful in solving everyday problems, but it is mainly trying to solve the problem of identity, which it can’t do. This manager part is usually felt within your body looking out of your eyes. Notice the location, shape, size, and feeling of this “me” that is trying to be helpful and undertake this mindful glimpse. It usually has thoughts and worries, like “Am I doing it right?” or “I don’t think I will get it” or “How do I do this?”
The goal is not to escape everyday problems, situations, or issues that need to be dealt with. Instead, experience what it’s like to step out of the problem-solver identity: relax this manager and notice what’s here. When awareness looks directly, notice what changes. What is absent and what new qualities arise? What is the new feeling of what or who is here?
- With open or closed eyes, ask yourself: What is here now when there is no problem to solve?
- Let your awareness unhook from the problem solver, drop, open, feel within and all around. Who is here? What is aware? What is here when there is nowhere to go and nothing to do? Nothing to know or create or become? What is here, just now, when you are not the problem solver? What is here when you are not orienting by thought, you are not going down to sleep, and you are not going back to daydream? Just feel; what is this?
- Now, ask yourself: What’s aware now, when there is no problem to solve?
- Feel the qualities that arise. What’s absent that was here a few minutes ago? What natural qualities are here now?
- Where are you aware from? What is this feeling of being?
- Now, from fresh beginner’s mind, inquire: What’s here now when there’s no problem to solve?
Adapted from The Way of Effortless Mindfulness: A Revolutionary Guide for Living An Awakened Life, by Loch Kelly. Sounds True, June 2019. Reprinted with permission.
For more, check out Tricycle’s online course on Effortless Mindfulness with Loch Kelly. In this 6-unit course, you’ll learn to go beyond basic mindfulness and discover an effortless awareness that is experiential, embodied, and boundless.
Thank you for subscribing to Tricycle! As a nonprofit, we depend on readers like you to keep Buddhist teachings and practices widely available.