When we begin to meditate, or even if we just reflect quietly for a few moments, it is easy to appreciate two things. Firstly there are things that we are aware of, and then there is the awareness itself. We can be aware of things, people, events, all that outside stuff. And we can be aware of the inside stuff too, like thoughts, feelings and emotions.
But then there is the awareness itself. We are aware of things outside, and inside, and we can be aware that we are aware. We can be aware of the awareness.
First, however, consider this. Mostly when we become aware of something, we tend to react to it. In broad terms we tend to like some things and want to hang onto them or have more of them; and we tend to dislike some things and want to avoid them or get rid of them. In meditation jargon, these two responses or reactions, are often called attachment and aversion.
Here is the trick. Most of us probably know that these reactions are a major source of stress, anxiety and unhappiness. Thinking “if only I had …”, or “if only I did not have…” can easily create inner tension, along with chronic biochemical changes in our bodies and all that that leads to.
This then is where “letting go” comes in. When we talk of letting go in meditation, and in life, what we are talking about is letting go of physical tension as well as attachment and aversion. Importantly, we are not talking about letting go of awareness. When we do let go of the reactions we normally have to things, when we do let go of attachment and aversion, we are left with a clear and calm mind and we may well end up with a heightened sense of awareness.
As a consequence, we tend to see things more clearly and to think more clearly. This means that rather than becoming dull or passive because we have let go of reacting, we have a clear sense of what needs doing, what is appropriate, and we have the energy, clarity and confidence to carry things through.
What this means for our meditation is that it makes sense to begin our practice by relaxing and thoroughly letting go of any physical tension. Because it is commonplace these days for people to be chronically tense and used to the feeling of that tension, unless we actively take time to consciously and methodically relax our bodies, we may just not manage it effectively enough to be really helpful.
But then we need to let go of mental attachment and aversion. We need to let things come and go, free of reaction, free of commentary. We need to let go physically and mentally to relax, to become calm and clear.
The physical relaxation helps with this. Because of the Mind-Body connection, if as we relax our bodies, we actually focus on the feeling of relaxation, and then just allow our minds to go with that feeling; it is as if the body leads the mind into the relaxation.
Of course, mindfulness is the word we can use to summarize all that we learn to help with simply being aware of our present moment experience, free of any reaction, judgement, attachment or aversion.
Now it will be helpful to point out that in doing this, in letting go with our minds, it is possible we can relax our awareness. Have you ever had that experience of meditating and finishing unsure of whether you were asleep or in some pleasant, drifty, wafty sort of state? This is probably when you were in what can be called a sleepy meditative state. It is a state where you let go of your awareness. Importantly, this state is excellent for healing and regeneration, because it involves being deeply relaxed physically and deeply relaxed in the mind. The key point here is that this deeply relaxed state takes us into a natural state of balance, and in this balance, the body and mind are both exquisitely designed to function in that way we describe as healthy and normal. Along with this, in that state of balance, the body is also exceptionally well designed to heal itself.
So while this low awareness form of meditation may not be much value if you are on the spiritual path or wanting to heighten your awareness and clarity, for those seeking healing or to recover from a heavy workload it can be quite useful.
Therefore, while in a general sense, retaining our awareness in meditation is the ideal, in some circumstances it does not matter and it may even be useful to let go of that awareness.
When we do want to remain aware, what helps is to know that it is possible and useful to do just that. Then it is as simple as when we go to a good film. At a good film we want to stay awake so we do not miss the show. So we are alert, but at the same time, we can relax. There is nothing we need to do. We do not need to direct the film or act in it; we do not need to present the film or make sure it runs OK. We do not need to put in a three hour essay on the relative merits of the film; we can just sit back, relax and take it in.
However, there are two ways to watch a film. One is to become engrossed in it; to become caught up and lost in the film itself. The other is to remember you are in a movie theatre, watching a film. You are aware of watching the film.
When we do go to a movie for entertainment and a bit of a break from life, it makes sense to let go of our awareness and get lost in the film.
When we meditate, and we want to be clear and present, it makes sense to remember we can be an impartial observer. It makes sense to let go of the tensions, attachments and aversions and to remember our awareness.
So that is the Christmas present. Let go, relax, be aware and be present!
1. Mindbody Mastery, the new downloadable meditation program I have been developing for the last year or so is now live, along with its extensive support package. I hope many of my readers will try it, benefit from it and I look forward to your feedback.
2. Sogyal Rinpoche is giving a public talk in Melbourne on the 20th December, talks in other centres and the annual summer retreat at Myall lakes.
3. Jarek Czechowicz will be presenting New Year's Eve Chanting and Meditation at the Augustine Centre, suitable for anyone seeking a more meaningful celebration. If you would like the details click here.
Wishing you Peace and Good Health for Christmas,