Getting Started with Awareness Watching Awareness
This is part of my Start Here series of posts aimed at teaching beginners the basics of the meditative journey.
If, like most meditators, you have learned to meditate by watching an object (the breath, a mantra, etc.), then switching over to Awareness Watching Awareness probably seems very unintuitive. The method of watching an object does not really map onto AWA, because there is no object to watch in AWA.
We should therefore start by renaming AWA to “Noticing I am aware”. This is the starting method which informs the practice later down the line. So, take a moment now to completely rename the practice as “Noticing I am aware” in your mind. This will remove the tendency to try to “watch” something.
This practice, “Noticing I am aware”, can be done anytime, anywhere, eyes open or closed. I actually recommend starting off by practising outside while walking. This is to avoid slipping into old habits acquired during eyes-closed sitting meditation. Remember, this practice is nothing like what you are used to, so try to cut all ties to your old ways.
A twenty-minute walk is ideal to begin with. The terrain doesn’t really matter, either; this is not a concentration meditation, so distractions aren’t much of a problem.
While out walking, simply notice that you are aware. Have a little conversation with yourself, if it helps. Point out that the only reason you can see, hear and feel things, is because you are aware of being here. You might get a tiny little glimpse of your own consciousness noticing itself at this point, which will likely last a millisecond at most, then fade away. (Or maybe it was not even noticeable at all, in which case, try again!) Now, walk on a little further.
Now, gently notice again that you are aware. Just notice that you’re here, experiencing this moment. Again, this little glimpse of awareness noticing awareness will probably last less than a second. That’s all completely fine. This is not a concentration meditation, and you are not in competition with anybody. There are also no goals, besides just stopping every now and again and noticing you are aware.
That’s all it is. For the next two weeks, just stop and notice you are aware, either during a set practice time, or just whenever you remember. Do it while washing-up or cleaning the house, if you want. There is no need to do hard, austere practice. Just spend a little time every day getting to know what it’s like to notice you are aware. Feel free to create a meditation log describing your practice.
- Don’t try to grab hold of the “awareness feeling” when it flashes up. It’s not an object you can mentally grab hold of. This isn’t a concentration meditation. Just noticing you are aware will gradually build the introspective habit we are looking to cultivate. It is extremely powerful in and of itself, even if it does not seem so at first.
- Don’t repeat the words “notice I am aware” (or anything similar) over and over in your mind, as this will simply turn it into a mantra. This isn’t a mantra meditation. Mantras create relaxation but not insight. The rule is, each time you ask yourself to notice that you are aware, you have to take the time to actually notice that you are aware. There is no shortcut through simply repeating words over and over. The work has to be done each time.
- Don’t try to attain an altered state of consciousness through this practice. Ordinary awareness is, itself, already the most dazzling phenomenon in existence, and the habit of noticing you are aware will reveal this to be the case, in time.
- This method can be adapted into a sitting practice, and the rules are the same. I advise that you only sit seriously with it once you know what you are looking for. The walking meditation in this post is the best method for getting started, in my experience.