June 12, 2016

Embracing Yin: Dialing Down the Effort in our Meditation Practice (& our Life).

Beverly Nguyen/Unsplash

Out of the blue,
absorbed in the boundless,
the world arises
like a light mist in a meadow
after a sun shower.

~ Jim Malloy

In my 50 years of daily meditation practice, my deepest, most authentic experiences haven’t occurred as a result of my own efforts, but have happened spontaneously, catalyzed by something beyond my personal effort.

These experiences typically occur while I’m meditating with no more than relaxed effort, and no aims or expectations. I’ll simply be going through the steps of my method when I suddenly find myself in a deeper state of awareness.

What are these deeper states? If you’ve been practicing meditation, there’s a good chance you’ve experienced some of them. They can range from ultra-deep relaxation, to profound inner peace, to the silence of pure consciousness—the ground of being. The possibilities and variations are endless.

According to the descriptions I hear from my students, this spontaneity principle holds true for them as well. However, until they’ve experienced it first-hand, they generally have a hard time accepting the premise. Along with our tendency to approach most things with effort and control, this is largely because of the notion that meditation is essentially a yang practice. This age-old belief is deeply embedded in our collective consciousness.

A yang approach to meditation—and to life—mainly involves control, discipline, and effort. In contrast to this, yin approach involves letting go of effort and surrendering to “the flow.”

What is that something which catalyzes the deeper states of meditation? I’ve discovered it to be a sudden increase in the flow of inner life force energy—also known as Chi or Shakti—occurring in that moment, to produce a spontaneous deepening of awareness. I call this phenomenon “spontaneous submersion.” Am I suggesting that you do something to increase the flow of this energy? Absolutely not. Our theme here is not trying.

The yin paradox: Often, the less we try, the more we attain.

When we surrender our attempts to try to control our experience, and simply trust in the intrinsic intelligence of our inner life force to know exactly what we need in each meditation, deeper states are more likely to occur.

You may think that the experiences I’m talking about only happen to advanced meditators, but I’ve found that this is not the case. As a teacher, I’ve observed that any meditator, no matter how new to the practice, can have a profound meditation experience at any time. I’ve also found that the deeper experiences aren’t dependent on the method used. I’ve experienced and witnessed these deeper states occurring through mindfulness, vipassana, mantra meditation and others.

Here are some tips for taking a more yin approach to meditation:

Medium effort.

Make only a medium effort to stay focussed. On an effort scale of one to 10, that would be somewhere between four and six. Full-on effort to stay focussed is not really necessary, and can even be counterproductive. Holding the reins of your attention too tightly tends to keep it on the surface of your mind, disallowing it from fathoming the deeper realms. However, when your attention wanders off on a train of thought, that train can sometimes become a “subway,” taking you to deeper states of awareness.

Don’t tweak the technique.

If you’re a ways into your meditation and it seems like nothing is happening, you may be tempted to make a little on-the-spot change to the method you’re using, hoping it will make something happen. This typically occurs when a meditator assumes that something ”should’ be happening, or if he or she is simply getting bored.

If you’re taking a yin approach, you’ll resist the temptation to engage in this sort of mental gymnastics. Why? One, less effort. And two, it will serve you better in the long run if you learn to trust that you are getting what you need from each meditation. One of my teachers used to say that even when it seems like nothing is happening, something is happening.


One, accept your thoughts, giving them the space to come and go. And two, put aside whatever you think you “should” experience, and accept whatever you “do” experience.

So if your meditation practice—or life—feels like too much work. Or if you’ve been trying to deepen your practice and have been getting nowhere and frustrated, I suggest you try a more yin approach. Dial down the effort and control, and simply trust the process.


Author: Jim Malloy

Image: Beverly Nguyen/Unsplash

Editors: Katarina Tavčar; Caitlin Oriel

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