According to many of the great Eastern spiritual traditions, our inner awareness or energy is exactly the same as the energy that creates and sustains all life. If we quieten our mind we can sit within this energy, experiencing stillness and a deep sense of peace.
In Kashmir Shaivism it’s called Chitti, or universal consciousness. The Hindu Upanishads refer to it as Brahman, or the vastness. Some branches of Buddhism will refer to it as the Dharmakaya, or body of Truth. A modern, scientific approach might see it as the quantum field. Finally, across a plethora of spiritual traditions, it’s also of course referred to as God!
‘No words are necessary to see into reality. Just be and it is.’
Awareness and the mind
Behind our ever-changing flow of mental fluctuations, we can experience an unbroken sense of being; an ongoing ability to witness. Imagine a sky full of clouds. While the clouds constantly move every second, behind them is the unmoving sky. Identifying with the ‘sky,’ or this constant backdrop we can observe the movement of the clouds (our thoughts) with a sense of detachment. After all, there’s something bigger right behind them!
In our last article, we raised the idea of the mind being an instrument. The clouds and sky metaphor reflects this idea perfectly. The mind is a tool which awareness works through, like a car that a person drives. On the other hand, awareness has no form, function or even movement. It’s not located in time or space, but stands apart – witnessing. It isn’t affected by ‘good,’ or ‘bad,’ or indeed any actions at all.
To feel this awareness, we have to learn how to go beyond the mind and disconnect ourselves (for a few moments at least) from its movements. As long as we remain embedded in the sphere of the mind, we’ll always be impacted solely by the external world, and unknowing of our internal, inner bliss.
‘Everything within the universe is within you. Ask all from yourself.’
Tapping into this awareness takes practice, dedication and some gentle effort. There are endless ways to do this and through exploration you’ll likely find what best works for you. In the meantime, we’ve created a couple of exercises for you to try at home!
Exercise 1: Become aware of your awareness
With your eyes closed, sit in a comfortable spot with your back upright, yet relaxed. Take a few deep, calming breaths and spend a few minutes listening to the sounds of the place you’re in. Then, bring your awareness to your own body. Pay close attention to how your body feels. How your legs feel resting on the chair, the temperature of your body, the sensation of the air touching your skin, or your clothes against your body.
Next, move further inwards within the body. Notice if you’re stomach is empty or full, listen for your heartbeat, try and notice the areas (such as the eyes or shoulders) that hold tension. Pay attention to your breath, and notice the slight coolness with your inhales, versus the slight warmth upon exhalation.
After this, turn your attention to the workings of your mind. Observe the images and thoughts which across your ‘inner screen.’ Pay attention to any deeper feelings or emotions that arise. How are you feeling? You mentally refreshed or depleted? Happy or sad? Observe this from a third party perspective.
Finally, ask yourself who is the one watching? And turn your attention to Awareness itself: the inner spaciousness, which holds all of the feelings, thoughts and sensations of experience. Pay attention to attention itself, and let yourself be nothing but that Awareness. This may seem tricky at first, but with practice it will become more and more distinct. Experiencing this may start with only a couple of second flashes at a time, but will eventually lengthen. Your sensations and thoughts will start to gradually subside and you’ll reach stillness, which is really always there!
‘There is something beyond our mind, which abides in silence within our mind. it is the supreme mystery beyond thought. Let one’s mind and spirit rest upon That and not anything else.’
– Kena Upanishad
Exercise 3: 360 degree awareness
For me this exercise is particularly effective. When I don’t have a huge amount of focus or calm, it just seems to be the easiest to slip into, so have a try!
Start by sitting or lying down with your eyes closed. Take a few deep breaths. Then envision your body. It’s surprisingly easy to do, through a combination of visualisation and feeling your body itself. Picture exactly how you look in the setting you’re in. Then, move your awareness around and view yourself from all angles. Birdseye, left, right – circle your inner vision around your body. You’re your time until the image is quite sharp, and occupies most of the space within your mind. Then, similarly to the last exercise, whilst still holding this perspective, ask ‘who or what is the one creating this image and witnessing my body?’ Don’t let try to conjure an answer, rather, let your attention turn to the experience and feeling that arises in response to the question.
There are a hundred and one ways to sharpen our ability to act as witness to the mind. Mindfulness techniques, mantra meditation, Reiki, creativity, exercise, prayer – really the options are endless!
The common thread here is a gentle surrendering. As well as explaining a little more about this in the meditation talks, many of Happy Buddha’s retreat activities encourage this skill, such as yin yoga and the (ridiculously fun) drum circle!