Sitting for a moment after an exhausting day or on a calm weekend, we might notice that it’s not easy to just “be.” Nevertheless we feel a longing for the peace of “just being.”
A friend of mine learned a wonderful habit from his father. Coming home from work each day, his dad would lay down on the sofa, and my friend his son would crawl on top of his father’s belly. They would rest for some time to “let their thoughts fly” and their muscles relax. This allowed them to calm what was still busy in their bodies and minds from the activities of the day. What a beautiful way to recognize and relate to that busyness. Maybe we can find a similar habit suitable for our own life?
The Field of Awareness
In the deep ground of our existence, between and behind all of the contents flowing through our consciousness, there is a field of awareness. We mainly experience this field or ground of existence without noticing it consciously. This experience happens again and again between one thought and the next, or between one occurrence and another within our consciousness. The atmosphere of awareness is naturally open and peaceful. It is still. This ground was there before all our challenges began and it’s there in every moment.
What is Awareness?
Awareness is simply happening. It’s the space, the background of our experience. It is the space in which everything appears and disappears: thoughts, feelings, memories, identifications, sensations, pain, the different events of our lives. Awareness is merely “aware.” We all share the same basic ability to be aware.
“Awareness is simply something that’s happening. It’s not a thing that your mind can hold on to. It’s the aware ground which makes it possible to be conscious of anything—thoughts, feelings, the sound of my voice. Awareness is.”
How can we turn our attention to this field and experience what contemplative schools are talking about? There is much that can be said about this. One approach starts with noticing the sensations in our own body: “simply noticing.” We might enjoy for a moment the relief of just being, and then notice thoughts quickly coming. But the noticing itself has no commentary; there is a simplicity to it. It doesn’t follow up on any sensation, thought, or emotion. It is and stays at peace, it simply is aware. Can we taste just being aware without opinion or description?
Since awareness is simply aware, thoughts and feelings can also appear in it similar to pictures appearing in a camera lens or a mirror. So experiencing awareness can mean being consciously aware of different sensations, thoughts, and emotions appearing and disappearing. It also can mean being aware of the space of awareness. Our awareness is merely aware and it’s just the space in which all of that is happening.
The Role of Attention
Having developed the ability to be consciously aware of this space, even for very short moments, allows us to come back to it. This background behind different appearances is a still inner place available all the time. But it is not a place we can locate with effort. A taste of relaxation is the right direction, and that will guide us better than any concentrated searching. As soon as we start following our thinking again, we can know that we are not “just aware” anymore.
Knowing this “space” in our experience allows us to shift our focus towards it as a resource. We can take refuge in this simplicity of being at times. This can help us to get less caught up in the fields of thoughts and emotions and to know a mode in which we can take a break from our busy mind. It’s not important to stay there for a long time, but it’s very beneficial to come back to this awareness, this space, this stillness, again and again. We can learn to relax our mind in the ground of its deeper nature, and this is very balancing for our well-being.
How to learn this?
It is actually very simple, so simple that we tend to overlook it. We might need some introduction and training at first. The challenge for most of us is that it is “so close we can’t see it, so deep we can’t fathom it, so simple we can’t believe it, and so good we can’t accept it” (a traditional Tibetan Buddhist teaching).
Basically, all of the exercises previously shared in this blog can aid us by easing this shift of focus. And we can discover that we are not shifting to something foreign or new, but ever deeper into our own natural presence. I’d like to share some links that might help approach “simply being aware” in an inspiring and guided way:
♥ Tara Brach guides two short Meditations:
♥ Mingyur Rinpoche guides a meditation from posture to awareness (about 10 min.):
♥ Adyashanti gives a very nice talk about awareness (10 min.):
I hope you all will have a good week in which you can enjoy some moments of peace and calm within and in between the many outer and inner activities.
In case you’d like a longer talk, here is another link:)
♥ A long talk from Mingyur Rinpoche about Awareness and Meditation: