The following exercise helps build the everyday skill of being aware of awareness itself. Give open space mindfulness a try for yourself.
This is the fourth and final post in the series on developing mindful presence. In Part Three, we did a little mindfulness meditation to “tune-up” our mindfulness and concentration skills. Now, we are going to distill that mindfulness meditation down to its very essence: abiding as awareness primarily, with little involvement with or even sense of the contents of awareness, almost indifferent to them.
The focus is on the open space of awareness itself – which is the name often used in Tibetan Buddhism for this sort of meditation.
By the way, profound forms of this meditation go very very far, and are sometimes associated with the viewpoint that the primordial essence of awareness is “Buddhanature,” “stainless and pure and unconditioned,” and perhaps even mysteriously Transcendental.
We are not aiming so high here – instead, the aim is pursuing the everyday skill of being aware of awareness itself, and being able, at will, to rest – for at least seconds at a time – in such a way that awareness is the bulk of what one is experiencing, rather than its contents.
A few seconds spent abiding primarily as awareness is great! In the beginning, it is normal for that sense to “crumble” and for the field of experience to become dominated, as it usually is, by various thoughts and feelings, desires and plans, etc. With practice, the duration of your abiding as awareness will lengthen, but for today, it’s just fine to go into and out of it.
You’ll also note that I keep using the word “resting.” Abiding as awareness is rooted in a deeply rested feeling – which is, of course, the epitome of the experience of the parasympathetic nervous system, whose motto is “rest and digest.” (Even more fitting, perhaps, is the motto of the Turtle Club: “Start slow and taper off.”)
In fact, a traditional instruction for open awareness meditation is to imagine how you would feel at the end of a long day of good work, and you come home and just sit down and rest. That sense of abandoning yourself to resting deeply, with a related feeling that it is healthy to do so, is a doorway to abiding as awareness.
Since you are taking your home in awareness itself, the contents of the mind don’t matter much. This includes perceptions such as sights and sounds. That is why people are encouraged, as they become more practiced with this mode of meditation – actually, this mode of being – to do it with their eyes open.
Since sight is such a central sense – literally about a third of the cerebral cortex is devoted to visual processing – if you can become relatively disengaged from what you see through being deeply invested in awareness itself, then you’ve come a real way. You can experiment with this yourself during the brief meditations we are about to do, and try them sometimes with eyes open and other times with your eyes closed.
A couple more tips, and then we’ll try it:
- Some people find that it helps to bring to mind the spacious or luminous quality of awareness. Though sometimes the effort to sense spaciousness or luminousness simply turns them into more contents of the mind when, in fact, you want to disengage from contents.
- You may find that when you are resting in awareness, that thoughts and feelings come and go almost out of sight, as it were. That’s fine. To quote Mingyar Rinpoche again:
The real point of meditation is to rest in bare awareness whether anything occurs or not. Whatever comes up for you, just be open and present to it, and let it go. And if nothing occurs, or if thoughts and so on vanish before you can notice them, just rest in that natural clarity. How much simpler could the process of meditation be? – The Joy of Living, p. 131
- Don’t worry if it seems hard at first. Awareness is completely natural: you’re aware right now, right? In open awareness meditation, you’re simply abandoning involvement with everything except awareness itself. Since awareness is your natural home base, your natural resting state, Mother Nature is on your side as you settle more and more into simple awareness.
- But keep in mind that resting in awareness is a skill like any other, and therefore takes time to practice. Try not to be frustrated or angry with yourself if this doesn’t come easily for you. If you bump into difficulties, there will still be benefits, since you will be gaining a good deal of insight into the activities of mind that carry you away from simple awareness.
Let’s try this for a few minutes at a time.
To repeat, get a sense of resting deeply, not trying to do anything at all, with your body deeply relaxed – especially the trunk of it – and simply have most of who you are in the moment be just awareness.
OK, here we go.
[Take a minute to focus on the meditation]
How was that? Let’s try it for three minutes.
[Focus on the meditation]
OK, how did that go? Now, let’s try it again for a few minutes, but this time, how about trying it standing up with your eyes open?
[Maintain your concentration]
Alright, how was that? Were you able to maintain your mindful awareness?
I hope you enjoyed this series on developing a more mindful presence.
Try to be as mindful as you can in daily life, and see what that’s like. Try to take your sense of mindful presence from exercises like those in this series, or from your meditations, and bring that out into the world. Enjoy!
This is Part Four of a four-part series.
Part One- Mindful Presence and Your Inner World
Part Two- Developing Mindful Presence
Part Three-Tune-Up Your Mindfulness