Opening to loving awareness
Meditation is a deep listening with the body, heart and mind to find graciousness, wisdom and ease amidst all the change around us. We can invite a sense of calm and steadiness with each breath. We can become the loving awareness that is tuning into our heart and listens deeply.
We can follow Jack’s invitation to “Breathe. Relax. Live each day one at a time.”
Meditation helps us to become “the One who Knows” as the Thai Buddhist monk Ajahn Chah called it, the natural open awareness that knows and holds everything. We become the witness to all our experiences.
Jack Kornfield gives the image of watching the movie of our life as it is right now, and you can reflect about your own life movie as I speak: you can notice the plot, is it an adventure, a tragedy, a romance, a battle, or a comedy? At times you are an actor, completely caught in the plot, but you can also be the audience. For this, when you feel lost, stuck in a scene, contracted and caught up, you just need to take a breath, visualize yourself stepping back, looking around, taking some perspective and becoming the witness, the spectator to it all… As you step back, you can relax and rest in loving awareness, holding all your struggles, emotions, thoughts and circumstances with great love and compassion.
Even as you read these words right now, you can witness yourself sitting in front of the screen, reading and making sense of my words.
You can begin each day with loving awareness, opening your curtains and looking through the window, or stepping outside into your garden or your balcony, and tuning in to the space around you, the landscape outside, the trees, the buildings, the sky…tuning in to the vastness of the space that holds all the planets and galaxies… As you look outside you can see the clouds floating in the sky, and allow your mind and heart to become the clouds and the sky, feeling them in you as well… let yourself open and merge into space with an open heart and an open mind. You can start each day by relaxing and resting in the immensity that surrounds you, the immensity that is you, making space for everything that arises, anger, fear, boredom, joy, pleasure, pain, suffering…
Self-reflection: opening to spacious awareness
Think of a time in your life when you felt the most expansive, open and loving. It may have been walking in the mountains, looking at the night sky filled with stars, surfing the waves in the ocean, or after the birth of a child. And now let the mind be quiet, and see if you can remember how present you felt, and how it felt in your body and in your heart, that spacious loving awareness and aliveness.
And now take a few deeper breaths to help relax the body, resting back … and see if you can connect to the space of loving awareness here and now, feeling the same presence and vastness here and now. In loving awareness the river of thoughts and emotions flows without judgement. Everything is welcome. As we rest in loving awareness we grow our trust in life. We listen better, we see more clearly, and our inner life becomes clearer too.
Anything you give space to can be transformed. Whatever the situation, see if you can widen your lens, remember vastness, and allow ease and perspective.
When we rest in loving awareness, we shift from our sense of small contracted and fearful self to a larger sense of who we are. By relaxing deeply we can shift from the fight, flight, freeze stress response activated in our survival brain, to a more peaceful and calm state of being, we re-connect with our heart, and a wise response can be born. We gain perspective on the events in our life.
Bringing loving awareness to our body, heart and mind
Last month, we have seen how meditation helps us to bring a loving awareness to our body, learning to open to all physical experiences without fighting them or denying them. As we slow down and sit quietly, we practice bringing a kind attention to whatever sensations arise in the body, staying with them, making space for them, and then learning to respond wisely instead of reacting blindly. In time, we notice how layers of tension gradually release and energy begins to move where it used to be blocked. When we bring a mindful and loving attention to our body, it changes our relationship to our physical life, we are more in touch with the rhythms and needs of our body for appropriate nourishment, rest and exercise.
In the same way, during meditation, we can bring a healing attention to our heart, to become aware of our emotions, feel them fully in our body and stop identifying with them, so they don’t control us. When we take the time to stop and quiet ourselves, we begin to tune in to the very rich feelings that we all carry, and as we open to them, it allows us to live with a greater understanding, a fullness of being and a greater wisdom. The point is not to stop feelings, nor to react to each one, but it’s to know the feelings that arise with loving awareness, and to decide how to respond to those feelings.
We can bring the same healing attention to our mind, and learn about the nature of our thoughts. When we sit down to meditate, we become aware of the endless stream of memories, plans, expectations, judgments, regrets, doubts… We realise how the mind is forever planning, analysing, strategizing, imagining, and creating endless struggles and scenarios to change the world and improve our life. When we bring our attention closer to the energy in the mind, we come to realise that at the very root of this activity of the mind is dissatisfaction: most of our thoughts are dominated by ideas of like versus dislike, higher versus lower, self versus others. All the stories in our mind are about ourselves, our successes and failures, our security and insecurities, who we think we are in comparison to the others… This dualistic thinking tends to create separation and suffering. It creates a sense of separate self, that needs to be protected, and this creates tension, constriction and stress.
Mindfulness practice helps us to step back from our thoughts, by naming them, and recognising they are simply stories that our mind tells us, and that we don’t have to believe them. We learn to let go of our identification with them.
To learn to let go of our thoughts we practice resting our attention in our body and in our heart. Over and over again, as we get lost in all our stories and thoughts, in the sense of a small separated self, we come back to feeling the body and to feeling the heart. As one great Indian master, Sri Nisargadatta put it: “The mind creates the abyss and the heart crosses it.”
When we slow down and quiet ourselves, we learn to listen deeply to our body, heart and mind and to open to a sense of spacious loving awareness, that brings ease and perspective to any situation we find ourselves in, so we can develop a more peaceful and loving state of being, amidst of all the changes in our life.
Jack Kornfield, A Path with Heart, 1993