Awareness is something that is inherently part of us, so developing awareness through the practice of mindfulness meditation does not mean adding something new or extra to the picture, it involves developing and enhancing skills that are already here, naturally within us. Mindful awareness can simply be described as knowing what is happening while it is happening. It is the knowing quality of awareness that helps us to develop all the beneficial qualities of mind that meditation brings. We don’t just see a flower, we know we are seeing a flower. Through consciously paying attention to what is immediately within our experience, we become more conscious of what is arising in our awareness, from moment to moment.
Whatever we experience, and whatever appears in the mind, whether it be a sound, a smell, a sense of touch, taste, a thought, emotion, or physical sensation, we can be aware of it. So everything can be part of meditation practice and a support for mindful awareness. It is not something we add to life, it is life itself. So moments of seeing the bare winter trees, smelling woodsmoke in the wind, feeling the warmth of water in a tap, hearing the clank of cutlery in a washing up bowl, can all be moments of meditation, and reminders that practice is here with us, and right under our very noses. It is not something elusive that we either “do” or “don’t do”. When we begin to explore meditation practice, with the subtle shift of effort involved in remembering to be aware, it is easy for us to make a big deal of it. But in essence, it involves a simple shift of focus, many billions of times. And it includes recognising clearly, when awareness has drifted, and we are not present. This is not something that has gone “wrong” or off the rails, it is part of the practice itself.
It is through recognising awareness and in countless ordinary moments, that meditation practice builds, outside of any more formal practice that we may do. As long as we are are aware, we are meditating. So the process of building up a practice, deepening concentration, mindfulness and compassion, stems from this very simple fact of human life, that awareness is a capacity we can develop beneficially in our lives to bring us greater clarity and connection to life. And it can be completely part of our ordinary, everyday life as we go about our business.
The Tibetan meditation master, Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, gives the most wonderfully encouraging advice to us all as follows:
” As long as you maintain awareness or mindfulness, no matter what happens when you practice, your practice is meditation. If you watch thoughts, that’s meditation. If you can’t watch your thoughts, that is meditation too. Any of these experiences can be support for meditation. The essential thing is to maintain awareness, no matter what thoughts, emotions, sensations occur. If you remember that awareness of what occurs is meditation, then meditation becomes much easier than you think.”
From “The Joy of Living: Unlocking the Secret and Science of Happiness“.