Mindfulness may be "Effortless", but that Doesn't Mean it's "Easy"

Some teachers, like Loch Kelly, teach an approach to mindfulness and liberation that is described as "effortless" . While this brand of mindfulness, based on so-called nondual teachings, may be "effortless", it is not easy. If it were easy, everybody would be enlightened. There would be no need for meditation retreats, meditation blogs, podcasts on awakening, or subreddits on stream entry.

To be sure, it is most certainly easier to access a nondual state by following nondual type teachings than it is by following more dualistic traditions, such as those of Theravadan Buddhism. But, and this is a very big "but", it is not easy to stabilize the nondual state if your primary technique is engaging in glimpse practices of the sort that form the backbone of many nondual traditions. Instead, you will get a short-lived peek into nonduality, which will then rapidly dissipate. And little to no insight will come from it. If you want to be truly awake, simply being able to briefly glimpse a nondual state will not be enough. You will need to access these states hundreds, or thousands of times in order for them to stabilize. Each one of the individual glimpses may be "effortless", but the practice of committing yourself to having hundreds or thousands of these glimpses is surely a lot of work (effortless or not!). And it is that process that is most likely to lead to awakening.

These reflections are not meant as a dig on nondual traditions. As my practice has continued to mature, I have found great wisdom and comfort in nondual teachings and practices. My mindfulness on and off the cushion has benefited immensely from engaging in nondual glimpse practices, such as back-body awareness and looking for the looker in the way developed by Douglas Harding in his "On Having no Head". In fact, my primary and most enjoyable style of mindfulness practice off the cushion is to perform a wide range of activities, including driving and walking, in an open and spacious state that Loch Kelly calls "panoramic awareness".

That being said, I have noticed that some meditators, especially those practicing in more dualistic traditions, are often perplexed by the claim that mindfulness can be "effortless". Others are seduced by the promise of a kind of mindfulness and liberation that can be achieved without effort. I think that the puzzlement and attraction that these "effortless" mindfulness practices produce in certain yogis is a product of a misunderstanding of the nature of these practices. As I see it, the misunderstanding is, as I mention above, to confuse "effortless" with "easy". American Buddhist meditation teacher Joseph Goldstein makes a similar point in his masterful "One Dharma", where he explains that:

"We need to devote ourselves to training our minds and to learn thoroughly, and in some depth, whatever practice we undertake. This takes time. Even in the various schools suggesting we are al- ready enlightened and that we simply need to recognize it, the task remains to accomplish that recognition and remember it in the midst of our everyday lives. This does not happen without the right kind of effort, whether it is called effort, remembering, or staying present."

In sum, while glimpse practices of the kind that undergird many nondual traditions may be "effortless" for many, the awakening that is sought by those who employ these practices is far from easy. And it is this misunderstanding that I am attempting to shed light on in this blog post.