Focused vs. Open Awareness

As we deal with our various mental, emotional and physical states in practice, how do we know when to rest in a field of open/spacious awareness vs. bringing in a more focused, sensory awareness?

Our simple answer is:

Let the state itself tell you what to do, not the conditioned mind.

Notice that when there is a lot of activation in the system, the awareness quite naturally wants to anchor and ground more deeply. This generally involves being more conscious of our sensory connection to the body, to the earth and to the environment. It is a basic re-establishing of the sense “I am here.”

We all have slightly different ways of feeling “I am here” – different aspects of the sensory experience get emphasized in different individuals. But even as practice matures, we never want to lose touch with “first gear.” The basic sense that when things go a little sideways, there is a way we can shift attention to bring ourselves back (for instance, mindfulness of body – the sense of the whole field of the body at once.).

However, as presence deepens, as the system deactivates, and as our perception becomes more relaxed and subtle, the gear of awareness very naturally shifts.

In that sense, “open awareness” is not a practice or a “technique choice.” It is simply what is revealed when the system is grounded and open.

The key is to drop any and all judgment we have about which state is appearing. Let’s say that again for emphasis, because it represents the core of good vipassana practice:

The key to practice is to drop any and all judgement about what state is arising now. And if you can’t drop the judgement, notice that you can’t drop the judgement. And if you are tired of not being able to drop the judgement, notice that you are tired of not being able to drop the judgement.

The gear of awareness (even in advanced practitioners) is meant to shift! The skill is meeting the state as it is and shepherding it to completion, not in pretending like our life should be some permanent still forest pool.

So, make the way you attend to states an inquiry.

The basic question is always “how do I be with this skillfully right now?” Not, “how do apply this technique someone told me to do.”

Probably the most pernicious example of the latter is noting practice. Mental noting should be allowed to “disappear” as deep stillness emerges. If it is not allowed to disappear, the mind will be continually “yanked” back up to a more superficial layer of consciousness.

There is no technique formulation that works for all states at all times. This is a fantasy of a mind looking for control.