Are you tired of obsessive thinking, the pain of negative emotions and the way they control your life, if so then this meditation technique is for you. Awareness meditation gives you the tools you need to break free of the constant chatter, to no longer be controlled by stress, anxiety, anger, disappointment etc. The freedom that comes from this is true freedom, its there for you, if you want to take it, if you really want to be free. Are you ready to take the first step?
Awareness meditation (Vipassana) was first taught by Siddhartha Gotama, more commonly known as the Buddha, 2,600 years ago. The word Vipassana means to see clearly, separately, with clarity and understanding. It is also known as insight or more commonly mindfulness meditation but I prefer to call it awareness meditation as the word mindfulness has been given a different meaning in western society.
The word Buddha means “one who is awake”, one who lives in and clearly knows what is happening in each moment. So awareness meditation is about waking up, waking up to reality, from the fantasies and stories inside our head, from the uncontrollable thinking that defines our life. It is used as a means to understand and break the cycles of suffering we find ourselves in throughout our lives. Understanding is the key point here for it is only when we truly understand and see clearly the patterns that cause suffering and unhappiness in our life that we can know how to break them.
We all think too much, obsessive thinking is the most common disease in our society, it leads to many other illnesses and problems in our lives. Not having a break from constant thinking leads to the strengthening of negative emotions such as stress, anxiety and depression etc, this is because our patterns of thought and the emotions that they trigger rely on our indulgence in them. Like anything else they get stronger the more we practice them, through lack of understanding we create our own demons, our own suffering.
To start to break this cycle we need to anchor our attention to the each moment as a means of giving us space from our obsessive thinking. To do this we need to pay attention to our experience of each moment, this is because the content of thinking is always based on the past and the future, so by focusing on the present moment we can free ourselves from it, allowing us to see what is actually going on, what reality really is. Literally stepping out of our heads and into each moment.
This develops the strength of our mindfulness, the ability to know what is happening in each moment. It anchors our attention in the present moment causing concentration to deepen. Concentration is a magnification or unification of the factor of awareness or knowing in the mind.
E.g: When our mind is not concentrated it is as if we are looking at a crowded shopping centre and can see many people walking around. There is so much activity that we can’t really see any detail or pick out the individual people. We can’t see what they are wearing, how they move or how they are relating to others around them. We also can’t see what they are doing and where they are going, we have no chance of recognising them even if we had seen them before.
When our mind is concentrated it is as if we have focussed in on one person. We can see what they are wearing, how they move and how they are relating to others around them. We can also see what they are doing and where they are going, we might even recognise them if we had seen them before.
Developing concentrated awareness allows us to separate from the busyness of our thoughts so that we can see clearly, how they look, move, what they are doing, where they are going and how they are relating to other things around them. If we look often enough we will come to recognise them as old recurring patterns. Since we are now observing our thoughts instead of being lost in them they will lose their energy as we are not feeding them anymore.
If we take a plant, give it food, water, and light it will grow up strong and eventually flower and fruit. But if we take the same plant and remove one of these factors the plant will start to struggle, it will not grow healthy and strong, it will never flower and therefore never fruit. Any fruit on the plant will then shrivel up and die.
In the same way by observing through heightened awareness our thinking and emotion patterns we can come to know clearly their pattern of growth, the process by which they come into being. Then by removing some of these factors like energy from our participation they will start to starve and shrivel up and die, just like the plant. Therefore freeing us from their grip and control, but the only way we can do this is by observing them, getting to know them well.
To understand our patterns we need to create an observation platform, we need to have a base that we can come back to, something that is available in each moment. For this we begin by building up awareness on our body. Our bodies contain sensations within them like tension, hardness, movement, tingling, hot, cold etc. Usually we don't pay much attention to them unless we find them particularly pleasurable or painful. The beauty is that they are present all the time, making them the perfect object to start our meditation practice on.
Take a comfortable sitting posture that you can stay in without moving for the desired length of your meditation or lie on the floor or your bed on your back. Close your eyes and take a deep breath then breathe out letting all thoughts and tension drop away. Slowly scan from the top of your head to your feet and release any knots and tensions you come across by breathing into them. Every time you breathe out allow your body and mind to relax and grow heavier.
Be aware of your whole body, of its heaviness and the sensations within. Turn your attention to the point in which your buttock is touching the ground or chair. It may feel strange at first but try to feel the different sensations that are present. There is probably hardness, a feeling of pressing, heat, maybe vibration or aching. All of them are ok. Try to look even closer at them with your minds eye. Can you separate them? Now try to see where your buttock ends and the chair or ground begins. You can’t; this is the beginning of experiencing the world through meditation.
The starting point in the sitting practice is to establish your attention on the sensations in the abdomen caused by the expansion and contraction of your diaphragm when you breathe. Each time you breathe in and out there are sensations associated with this movement, your task is to observe these sensations, to experience them as they are happening in each moment.
This is done by synchronising mental labelling of the movement by gently repeating “rising, rising” as you breathe in and “falling, falling” as you breathe out. You use this technique of mental labelling as a sign post that points towards your experience of the present moment. Try to be concurrent with the actual experience of the sensations involved in the movement. As the movement of the abdomen becomes steady and clear, increase the amount of observations that you notice during the movement of the in and out breath, such as “hard” “soft” tingling” “hot” “cold” or anything else you experience. If the movements contain too many sensations then just note them in a general way.
Do not disturb the natural breathing by taking sharp or deep breaths, this will make you tired, the breathing should just be normal and allowed to happen naturally.
When objects other then the sensations involved in your breathing appear and dominate your attention such as sounds, thoughts, bodily sensations etc label them appropriately as you see them as “hearing, hearing” “thinking, thinking” “feeling, feeling “ "aching, aching" and so on. At first it is not easy to note such a variety of objects, but with increased awareness you will be able to do so. When the secondary objects have passed away then go back to noting the primary object, your experience of the abdomen during breathing.
Although we are taught in the beginning to watch the rise and fall of the abdomen we must be careful not to get attached to it, for it is not the only object that awareness can be developed on. The observing of the rising and falling of the abdomen is initially used to increase your concentration, once your concentration is strong then place your attention on whatever is the dominant experience in your meditation, be that pain, thoughts or sensations.
Awareness of daily activities is a very important part of your meditation practice, if it was something that we only did sitting down on a cushion it wouldn’t have an effect on our day to day life. We should try to maintain as best possible our awareness during all our activities, as without awareness meditation ceases, along with concentration and deepening understanding. The faculty of awareness becomes powerful by constant and uninterrupted attention to every activity throughout your day.
Constant mindfulness gives rise to deep concentration, and it is only through deep concentration that we can realise the intrinsic nature of physical and mental phenomena. This then leads to deep contentment and peace.
In your daily life you can remain aware of how you are relating to people or situations. Instead of giving your full attention to your external problems you can turn your attention inward and watch how you are relating to them. What are your reactions, what feelings, emotions and thoughts are present? Watching them as an observer will separate you from them and therefore you will not get lost in them, taking away their power over you.
Through this practice you will come to understand better any negative habitual ways of reacting that you might have. If you watch closely enough you will stop feeding them and eventually their momentum will run out. Negative mental patterns only stick around because we invite them to stay, we give them constant exercise and food. Cut off their food supply and they will be like a vine cut off at the base. The fruits will just dry up and drop off. Awareness meditation cuts off the food supply to negative mental patterns through understanding and wisdom that comes from deep observation
Once we understand deeply enough we can cut the cycles and end suffering –what could be better then that?
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This article was written by Stephen Procter, instructor from Tai Chi Health for Life, Australian College of Tai Chi & Qi Gong and Meditation Instructor from Meditation in the Shire, Kirrawee NSW, Australia. If you wish to post this article on another website or in a publication please respect the author and reference / link back to this website, thank you