What Is Awake Awareness?

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June 11, 2019

What is Awake Awareness Blog Header Image You might be asking: If awake awareness as the source of effortless mindfulness is already here, why haven’t I discovered it yet? This is a good question. One reason we don’t discover it is that we don’t have awake awareness on most of our Western psychological maps. Many people who have longed and strived to be free of suffering have missed awake awareness, not because they lacked desire or commitment but because they didn’t know what to look for or where to look.

The Shangpa Kagyu tradition of Tibetan Buddhism gives four insightful reasons we don’t naturally discover awake awareness, which I find quite helpful:

1. Awake awareness is so close that you can’t see it.

2. Awake awareness is so subtle that you can’t understand it.

3. Awake awareness is so simple that you can’t believe it.

4. Awake awareness is so good that you can’t accept it.

GLIMPSE: Awake Awareness Knows Without Using Thought or Attention

In this glimpse, instead of focusing on what we are aware of, we will have awareness be aware of itself. This may be something that has never crossed your mind. In learning about using awareness, instead of attention, we will look back to the source of mind, awake awareness, and then focus from here. Instead of following the flashlight of attention out to the movie screen of experience, we see if we can feel awareness directly. We have learned to experience life as a subject looking at objects, even internal objects like thoughts and emotions. One helpful practice of deliberate mindfulness is called “mental noting.” In the mental noting practice, our mindful witness becomes more precise by labeling thoughts, feelings, and sensations as they arise. In this mindful glimpse, we will let go of labeling and instead learn to trust the intelligence of awake
awareness. Now we will have awareness feel what awareness is like when it is both the subject and the object. It will be helpful to have this invisible, contentless awareness know itself as we separate the awareness-based knowing from thought-based knowing.

1. To begin, simply close your eyes while allowing your awareness to remain open. Feel your breath moving within your body. Feel your whole body from within while noticing your breathing happening by itself for three breaths. Be easy and comfortable. Relax while remaining alert.

2. Take a moment to see what is here now. Notice how your body is feeling. Is it uncomfortable, comfortable, agitated, relaxed, tired, or neutral? Just be aware of your body without trying to change it. Just be aware of it as it is.

3. Now simply notice what is aware of these feelings and sensations. Feel the awareness in which these sensations are happening. Rather than being aware of sensations, feel the awareness that is aware. Notice that the awareness is not tired, is not in pain, is not agitated or anxious. Feel how this awareness is with your body.

4. Now notice the activity of your mind and thoughts. Just be aware of whether your thoughts are agitated, calm, tired, emotional, anxious, or neutral. Without changing anything at all, allow your mind and thoughts to be as they are.

5. Now notice the space in which thoughts are moving. Be interested in the awareness instead of the thoughts. Shift to notice not just the content but the context. Feel the awareness that is aware. Notice how awareness allows your mind to be as it is without changing anything.

6. Begin to notice that awake awareness is alert, clear, and nonjudgmental. Feel the awareness that is not tired, anxious, or in pain. Notice that awake awareness is all around and inherent within your body and within your mind. Instead of being identified with the states of your body or mind or trying to accept or change them, simply become interested in what is aware.

7. What is awareness like that is already accepting of things as they are—right here and now? Notice the awareness of the next sound you hear. Does awareness have a location or size? What is it like to be aware of experiences from this pain-free, spacious awareness?

8. Now simply rest as the awareness that is aware of your thoughts and sensations. Hang out as awareness without going up to thought to know or down to sleep to rest. Be the awareness that welcomes your sensations and thoughts. Ask yourself: Am I aware of this spacious awareness? Or, What’s it like when I’m aware from this spacious awareness, which is welcoming thoughts, feelings, and sensations? Notice that the awareness is aware from all around and from within—spacious and pervasive.

9. Just let go of focusing on any one thing. Be aware of everything without labeling. Feel that your awareness is no longer knowing from thought. Feel what it is like to be aware from awareness, which includes your thoughts and sensations from head to toe.

10. Simply let be and remain uncontracted and undistracted, welcoming without effort.

This is an excerpt from The Way of Effortless Mindfulness: A Revolutionary Guide for Living an Awakened Life by Loch Kelly.

Kelly Loch Headshot Way of Effortless Loch KellyLoch Kelly, MDiv, LCSW, is a leader in the field of meditation and psychotherapy. He is author of the award-winning Shift into Freedom and founder of the Open-Hearted Awareness Institute. Loch is an emerging voice in modernizing meditation, social engagement, and collaborating with neuroscientists. For more, visit lochkelly.org.

Buy your copy of The Way of Effortless Mindfulness at your favorite bookseller!

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Loch Kelly

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Loch Kelly, MDiv, LCSW, is a teacher, consultant, and leader in the field of meditation and psychotherapy who is affiliated with Adyashanti. The founder of the Open-Hearted Awareness Institute, he is an emerging voice in modernizing meditation, social engagement, and collaborating with neuroscientists to study how awareness training can enhance compassion and well-being.


Listen to Tami Simon's in-depth audio podcast interviews with Loch Kelly:
The Way of Effortless Mindfulness »
Pointers to Open-Hearted Awareness, Part 1 »
Pointers to Open-Hearted Awareness, Part 2 »

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Open-Eye Meditation (And Why You Should Be Doing It)

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It can be helpful to begin with some retraining of the relationship between our eyes, our small mind, and our small self. We can begin to return our eyes to their natural condition and have the information move to awake awareness.

According to the American Foundation for the Blind, “vision is the product of a complex system of which the eyes are only one part. The processing of visual information—the receipt of visual stimuli through the eyes, its interpretation by various brain centers, and its translation into visual images—has been estimated to involve as much as 40 percent of the brain.”

When our eyes are darting around or scanning for a specific threat, we are on alert. Sometimes our attempts to focus ourselves by narrowing our eyes and concentrating can keep our brain in a fixed, task-positive mode. Our goal in practicing effortless mindfulness is to be able to shift to another operating system, the end point of which is open-hearted awareness, in which all our senses and systems—including vision—are functioning in their natural state: open, relaxed, clear, and integrated. To do this, we need to learn how to shift our awareness and live with our eyes open.

Here are some helpful hints for sustaining an open gaze while shifting awareness. You don’t necessarily need to experience all of them as I describe them. Use any of the following hints that work for you:

  • Relax your eyes and soften your gaze so that your eyesight is not dominant and all your senses are experienced equally.
  • Instead of looking through a narrow tunnel of vision or in a pinpointed way at one object, see the forest as well as one tree. Put your pointer fingers together up above your head in front of you and then part them to either side, drawing a big circle in front of your body. Let your gaze open to include the entire circular area all at once so that you are seeing in a more open way.
  • Rather than looking at one object, create a diffused view like a soft lens of a camera by looking to the wider scene of what’s in front of you.
  • Extend one hand in front of you with your palm facing you at the distance you would be looking at a friend’s face. Look at your hand and the space around it. Now drop your hand and look at the open space. If your eyes habitually focus on the first object you see, repeat the previous steps until you get a feel for resting your eyes on objectless space.
  • Notice that your eyes do not operate like your hands. You do not go out to see something as your hands go out to pick something up. Your eyes work in a similar way as your ears. Just as your ears are receiving sound, light is reflecting off objects and coming into your eyes. What does it feel like when seeing is receiving?
  • Rest back as the light comes to your eyes and then goes to open-hearted awareness while all your senses are open. Feel like you are equally aware of all your senses rather than focusing on seeing or thinking as primary.
  • Feel like you are receiving light as you soften your eyes while having a wide-open view of the periphery.

This is an excerpt from The Way of Effortless Mindfulness: A Revolutionary Guide for Living an Awakened Life by Loch Kelly.

Loch Kelly HeadshotWay of Effortless Loch KellyLoch Kelly, MDiv, LCSW, is a leader in the field of meditation and psychotherapy. He is author of the award-winning Shift into Freedom and founder of the Open-Hearted Awareness Institute. Loch is an emerging voice in modernizing meditation, social engagement, and collaborating with neuroscientists. For more, visit lochkelly.org.

Buy your copy of The Way of Effortless Mindfulness at your favorite bookseller!

Sounds True | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound

Effortless Mindfulness for Pain Relief

Effortless Mindfulness For Pain ReliefWhat Is Pain?

Pain is a normal part of human life. And pain hurts. Although pain feels like a threat, pain is not attacking us. Pain is designed to help us survive. Pain and pleasure are signals. Pain is a signal that something is out of balance in your emotional, mental, spiritual, or physical life and that something needs attention. It is meant to be unpleasant, for a good reason: to bring our attention to a potentially dangerous situation until the issue is treated. The sharp, unpleasant signal is designed that way to make sure we drop everything else and attend to the situation immediately. When pain continues unabated after our best healthy efforts to tend to it in a physical way, we look for ways of stopping it, reducing it, or escaping it in any way we can.

For example, if you’re walking barefoot, thoroughly engaged in a conversation with a friend, and you step on a piece of wood and get a splinter, the strong unpleasant pain signal is meant to get you to immediately stop all other interests and attend to the wound. If you had a sharp piece of wood in your foot and it didn’t cause pain, you might not bother to take it out, resulting in infection or worse. Once you take care of the immediate problem, or source, the nature of pain is to eventually go away. Pain by itself is not an entity or an enemy that has any motivation of hurting you. It is an important survival mechanism of our body—a communication tool.

By way of our senses, we have contact with experience in and outside of our body that tends to feel either pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. We tend to like pleasant sensations, which leads to craving what we like and trying to get more pleasure, and we tend to dislike unpleasant sensations, which leads to rejecting what we don’t like. When that strong craving or rejection happens, there is a contraction of our greater sense of self into a specific identity of “craver” or “rejecter”: we configure our consciousness into a “me” that is a “thinker” or “manager” that has a strategy to get its goals and desires met, and believes that that strategy is real and right. Craving and rejection are a normal part of our physical survival, like craving food when we’re hungry, but they also become our primary source of suffering when they become our identity.

Rather than reacting to the pain, we must treat the underlying condition that is causing pain in order for it to subside. It is important to first check out the cause of the pain in every way possible so as not to ignore, overlook, or deny a potentially dangerous condition. In some types of chronic pain that we know the cause of, like arthritis or sciatica, the nerve signal system is alerting us of an issue, but there’s no splinter to be removed from our back or foot. If we’ve attended to all the medical and alternative diagnoses and treatments, and the pain still persists, we still have the opportunity to learn some approaches using our own consciousness to relate to pain differently. Effortless mindfulness is a wonderful approach that does not in any way attempt to replace or deny diagnosing the cause of pain and working to cure it through any and all means. I am simply sharing this practice as a suggestion of what can be done in conjunction with any medical treatment.

With effortless mindfulness, we can learn to become present with the unpleasant—an important skill that we often avoid learning until we experience inescapable pain. We may already have experienced, through effortless mindfulness, how chattering thoughts recede into background awareness or can be met by open-hearted awareness. The great news is that we can do this with pain signals as well! They can become like thoughts and go into the background of awake awareness. When the pain signals recede to the background or significantly lessen, we no longer have to suffer silently or try to escape the pain through behaviors of shutting down, numbing, addiction, or acting out. By changing how we relate to pain, we can find a doorway to a freedom that allows us to respond to pain from courage and intimacy. We can learn to be present with the unpleasant, remain sensitive without being defensive, and be responsive but not reactive. When the intelligence of awake awareness knows directly that there is no immediate danger, the pain signal can go into the background.

In this video below, join me as I guide you through this practice of using effortless mindfulness to help you be present and work with your pain for lasting relief.

This is an excerpt from The Way of Effortless Mindfulness: A Revolutionary Guide for Living an Awakened Life by Loch Kelly.

Loch Kelly HeadshotWay of Effortless Loch KellyLoch Kelly, MDiv, LCSW, is a leader in the field of meditation and psychotherapy. He is author of the award-winning Shift into Freedom and founder of the Open-Hearted Awareness Institute. Loch is an emerging voice in modernizing meditation, social engagement, and collaborating with neuroscientists. For more, visit lochkelly.org.

Buy your copy of The Way of Effortless Mindfulness at your favorite bookseller!

Sounds True | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Effortless Mindfulness: A Universal Practice for Every...

Effortless Mindfulness: A Universal Practice for Everyone Blog Header Image

My introduction to the immediate effects of effortless mindfulness in Nepal allowed me to see that I did not need to remain in the East, join a monastery, or practice in a cave to discover the well-being, clarity, and open-hearted awareness that were already within me. I returned to the United States to continue to train with eyes open in the midst of my day-to-day life.

I have no doubt, as I look back now, that it was the natural compassion of open-hearted awareness revealed by effortless mindfulness that propelled me to pursue a second master’s degree in clinical social work. As I felt a deeper connection to everyone, I wanted to train for a life of service to those most in need. I also got sober, went to weekly psychotherapy, continued psychotherapist training, and got married to the love of my life, Paige. At this time, I was also asked to join the Teachers Council of the New York Insight Meditation Center, where I taught deliberate mindfulness practices. I continued to attend teachings and retreats to develop and deepen my practices and studies with a variety of nondual and effortless mindfulness teachers.

Right after graduate school, I went to work in New York City at the Brooklyn Mental Health Clinic. This was an outpatient community center that provided psychotherapy for people who had been psychiatrically hospitalized or were living in a halfway house and attending a psychiatric day-treatment program. It was during breaks or when clients missed sessions that I began exploring and developing the mindful glimpses found in my book, The Way of Effortless Mindfulness, that are versions of the ancient wisdom practices I learned during my travels.

As I gazed out the window into the open sky from my seventeenth-floor office, I began to explore my own mind to see how suffering was created and relieved. I noticed how identification with a thought, feeling, and parts of my personality collapsed my thinking into a narrow perception of both myself and others. I practiced shifting my awareness from a contracted small self to a new way of seeing and being, which was more open-minded and open-hearted. I also noticed how, when I intentionally separated awareness from thinking, I could awaken to an already spacious and interconnected view that was free of a deep kind of suffering.

For example, if I was feeling upset, I would acknowledge my feelings and shift awareness out of the cloud of stormy emotions and then, from this open mind and open heart, return to the emotions with a new view. This brought such relief and joy! It was like emerging from a dark tunnel to a beautiful view, except I was not only seeing the view. It was as if I were viewing from an open, quiet, loving intelligence that was connected to everything. How could this freedom be so close and yet so hidden from most people’s day-to-day experience? How was it that despite all the progress humanity has made in other areas—like medicine, communication, and technology—that shifting into awake awareness was not something that was recognized and taught to everyone?

I approached these explorations of the anatomy of awareness with curiosity and wonder. It was exciting to experiment and reverse-engineer practices from the wisdom traditions I had studied in India, Sri Lanka, and Nepal. One of the approaches to awakening that I draw from, Sutra Mahamudra, originated in North India. It is a tradition that is like a bridge between the three main traditions of Buddhism: Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana (Tibetan). One reason I was drawn to it is that it focuses on practices for everyday people, not just monastics, to awaken in the midst of their daily life. One of my teachers, Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche, wrote that Sutra Mahamudra “is seen as a profound method because it does not require any of the sophisticated and complex tantric rituals, deity yoga visualization practices, or samayas [vows]. Sutra Mahamudra has a tradition of skillful means that contains profound methods of directly pointing out the selfless and luminous nature of mind.” I began to try to translate ancient practices I had learned from many teachers and texts into accessible, contemporary language and forms. I checked in with teachers such as Traleg Rinpoche to make sure the practices were staying true to the essence of the teachings as I translated them. I also began to notice that if I remained receptive, it was as if awake awareness started showing me the anatomy and principles of awakening. I started calling these contemporary versions of ancient wisdom practices “Brooklyn Mahamudra.”

This is an excerpt from The Way of Effortless Mindfulness: A Revolutionary Guide for Living an Awakened Life by Loch Kelly.

Loch Kelly HeadshotWay of Effortless Loch KellyLoch Kelly, MDiv, LCSW, is a leader in the field of meditation and psychotherapy. He is author of the award-winning Shift into Freedom and founder of the Open-Hearted Awareness Institute. Loch is an emerging voice in modernizing meditation, social engagement, and collaborating with neuroscientists. For more, visit lochkelly.org.

Buy your copy of The Way of Effortless Mindfulness at your favorite bookseller!

Sounds True | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Effortless Mindfulness: A Universal Practice for Everyone Blog Pinterest

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