A Matter of Subtraction


Math was never my strength but I realized fairly early on studying meditation that getting to the core of things was a matter of subtraction. Every time I would try to figure things out with the intellect, I only added another layer of pseudo realization. Every time I thought “I got it”, I lost it.

The mind always wanted to add its two cents.

Every time I found a new teaching, a new teacher, a new meditation, I would think, “This is it!” But it wasn’t it.

Every time I would have a deeper experience in meditation, the mind would grab hold of it and tell me all about it. How expansive it was, how subtle, how freeing.  But it wasn’t any of that. It was the experience itself, not what the mind added to it.

Eventually I saw the pattern. I would strive and strive. Then, when I finally gave up, I would come upon something uncontrived.

In the end I have come to realize that it is fruitless to reify any experience. The moment I do, it is already gone. I found that the only way to be free is to be free from wanting that experience to stay. That has led me to not wish for any particular experience to come in the first place. I found that the steps between where I was and where I wanted to go, were wholly self-imposed.

It is the notion of striving for something to attain that is the main obstacle. Instead of striving to get somewhere I now simply direct my mind to look at my mind. Yet, I look like there is nothing to find. The looking is enough.

Same with the heart practice; I look at the heart and the heart stirs on its own. One time I was trying to force my way into compassion. I was trying to do a particular heart opening practice and a fly kept interrupting me and I began swatting at the fly as I wished for all beings to be happy! Crazy mind. The mind was so set on doing a specific practice, to achieve something, that it forgot the purpose of the whole thing!

The balancing act here is to realize the we do need effort. We need seeking, we need to absorb the teachings, we need meditation techniques, and we need to get to the cushion. And we also need the wisdom to trust when we don’t need them anymore. It is like leaving a stoplight in a car. At first it takes effort for the vehicle to get up to to speed. Once the car is at speed we need very little to keep it going. The vehicle is running off of momentum at that point. Our meditations are like that. The effort to get to the cushion, and to do the technique gets us to the point where we can release the striving; we can rest and just be.

We have to trust that we already are what we are seeking. I think it is the one thing we miss. We miss the part where we let go of the striving, let go of the technique, let go of what we think we know. The more we let be, the more vivid the meditation becomes. Let the mind settle in its natural state, all you need to do is not fiddle with it along the way.

12 thoughts on “A Matter of Subtraction

  1. Victoria

    Interrestingly, what stood out to me the most about this blog post was the situation with the fly. I think it is perfectly acceptable to wish happiness for all beings AND take steps to keep those who cause you harm out of your life. In the case of the fly, I do not want to harm it and I wish it to be happy, but I also don’t want it landing on my face. I’m still going to shoo it away. In the case of people, I can wish someone all the happiness and love in the world, but also take steps to keep them out of my life if they are causing me harm. I actually had to do this to someone recently, which is perhaps why this example stood out to me so much. Our minds are powerful and wonderful things, creating thoughts that can cause great suffering and great joy. I think if we can be mindfully aware of this, we can learn when to follow intuition that is meant to protect us and when to tune out thoughts of unrealistic threats and unnessesary suffering.

    1. Cayce Howe Post author

      Thanks Victoria for the insight! I agree that we are able to do both- wish for the happiness of others and also take appropriate action for our own self-care. Very important clarification. In this particular situation with the fly I had a lapse in my intention of kindness.That was my main fault there. Whatever we do, we should saturate our actions with the waters of compassion first, as you mentioned, then we are free to proceed.

  2. kathleen

    I always enjoy reading your blogs! They are full of wisdom and daily practical use. I subscribed to your 30 day 5 min daily guided meditations in January of 2014. It truly enriched and deepened my meditations. Thank you so much for that gift. I always refer anyone I come in contact with that is struggling with meditation and quieting the mind to your website.

  3. Gabrielle

    great read. insightful, accessible, funny and such a tender reminder that inspired me. thank you for your cultivation and ease that comes right through the screen into my heart. xo

  4. Anonymous

    Hi Casey! thank you for the knowledge and wisdom.I like the personal examples that you share with each meditative experience

  5. Anonymous

    great blog !the mind is exquisitely narrating our life journey.the mind is doing a performance and if I watch it for the Entertainment vaule.Then I can easily separate myself from it.if we can remain focused from this perspective then all of nature is a show the greatest show

  6. Bob

    Sitting with the intention to just sit is what I sense you are pointing out. Allowing the mind to just be without a goal… add the goal or objective and we can see a path appear and then we have to stay on the path and that is not freedom. That is bondage. Perhaps the intention to surrender to the moment as it unfolds on its own is even less structured than sitting with an intention to “just sit.”

    Regarding the fly: The fly could be seen like the pain in the knee or the bottom when sitting for long periods with “strong intention” as taught by S.N. Goenka. The fly brings awareness of a host of sensations including sound, touch and of course thoughts. Perhaps the game is to just be with those and see what unfolds. Of course if it becomes too unpleasant we care for ourselves by moving or swatting the fly both with the compassion for self and other.

    Cayce, thanks for this teaching.


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