~ awake in this moment, at home in the world ~

Open Awareness Meditation

May 4, 2014
If you are hoping to start a meditation practice, open awareness practice is a perfect place to start.

How does one practice awareness mediation? The instructions are simple: Sit, stand, lie or move quietly with an attitude of friendly openness and receptivity. Breathe, relax and soften. And then focus your attention on the experience of the moment, fully experiencing the sensations of life happening as you notice them.

That's it! Your job is to rest your mind in the here-and-now with an accepting and curious sprit. And when you catch your mind wandering off into some other place (rehashing the past or fantasizing over the future, perhaps), gently return your awareness to the raw sensations of life.

The idea here is to become one beautiful set of nerve endings whose job is to receive the news of the world. The idea here is also not to get to tangled up in this news - to not build stories about them or to judge them. You simply receive with gentle and loving awareness.

I use one simple question, borrowed from Gestalt psychology, to guide my practice of open awareness: "What am I aware of, in this moment, right here and right now?" What sounds am I aware of? What sights? What smells and tastes? What sensations are passing through my body and my mind? And what does my breath feel like?  (You can explore this approach with me in a guided meditation shared here.)

In the beginning, it can be helpful to gently name the sensations as they enter your field of awareness. This gives the mind a little something to hang its hat on as you delve into the experience of life. The meditation goes something like this: birdsong-birdsong, breath-breath, sweet tea-sweet-tea, thought-thought, warmth-warmth. Sunlight, exhale, heaviness, tea, shade. Worry, plan, birdsong, breath. Bunny in the yard! Regret, softness, inhale, ease.

As you cultivate this practice, try to break experience down into its most basic energetic sensations. When you notice that you are feeling tired, for example, ask yourself what tired feels like in the body. Tired might become  heavy, dark, dense, cold. Anxious might become fluttery, hot, busy, breathless. Reducing experience to its rawest ingredients - to its basic energetic qualities - cultivates what the Buddhists call "bare attention," and puts us into clear and deep relationship with all of life.

As your mind acclimates to the practice, you may be able to let go of the process of naming the experiences (planning-planning, slamming door-slamming door, bunny-bunny) and simply float in the experience of life in the here-and-now in a more nameless way. If you're lucky, and if your mind and the world cooperate, with each passing moment you may find the sharp boundaries of your skin softening, and you may feel more and more immersed in the experience of life. You may even find your sense of self dissolving, leaving you feeling like a beacon of life and of light, an instrument through which the music of the world is played.

This exploration is portable. You can do it standing in line at the grocery, lying on a beach, walking in the woods, sitting at your computer. And because all experiences are welcome equally, you can do it when you're happy, when you're despairing, when you're passionate and when you are cosmically confused.

This simple awareness practice can serve as a powerful way to anchor yourself to the experience of life and to reconnect to the energies and delights of the vast and beautiful universe, of the experience of being fully alive in the world.